The Heartbeat
"In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will." – Ephesians 1:11 (ESV)

When I was growing up, I looked for four-leaf clovers. But I never found one. Then, about 10 years ago, while outside in summer, I said to Ruth, "My whole life I've been looking for a four-leaf clover and I have never found one." Ruth looked down, bent over and WHILE PICKING A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER (!!!!!) said, "You mean like this?" I was incredulous. How did she do that? Since then I have found a good number of four-leaf clovers…probably one or two per summer. When I find one I generally encase it in transparent tape and mark the date I found it. Our daughter, Esther, borrowed a book from me some months back and when about half-way through the book found one of my dated four-leaf clovers in the book.

But this year…ah, yes, this year…the terrible year no one will ever forget…this year I have not found a single four-leaf clover. What can I say? It fits the year.

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." - Ecclesiastes 3:1

As you read this, I am assuming that all went well yesterday for Ruth's and my third child, Esther, and her much delayed wedding to Marcus Shand. I say "much delayed" because the wedding had originally been scheduled for June 6. Then, because of COVID, it was moved to July 4. And then, again because of COVID, it was moved to September 5. But we all agreed that it was not about to be moved again. So, even though I am writing this BEFORE the wedding I am assuming it took place. Hopefully it "came off without a hitch."

Because of the wedding I am blessed to have my dad, two sisters (Shirley and Marilou) and my younger sister's husband (Wayne) in town this morning, along with the all of our children. I am hoping that many of them will still be in town so as to be here at church this morning. Many of you are already familiar with my dad. Unlike my sisters, he will be staying with us for a month or so.

1865 was the year that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Only 5 days earlier General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant and the American Civil War came to an end. 1865 was also the year when the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified (abolishing slavery), and it was the year the Salvation Army was founded. It was also the year that Charles Darwin's book, Origin of the Species, was first published.

1945 was the year that atomic bombs were dropped on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the two deadliest days in the history of mankind. 1945 was also the end of WWII. Guitarist Eric Clapton and singer Carly Simon were both born that year.

"One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." – Romans 14:5

I recently saw a number of articles that piqued my interest:

  • More stories about Sean Feucht and his leading of outdoor singing praises to God in California, Seattle and Portland. Indeed, on the same evening that some were rioting in Portland, he and thousands with him were lifting high the name of Jesus. And yes, few, if any, were wearing masks.

  • Pastor John MacArthur, now 81 years of age, leading a packed worship service in a study of God's word. All of this in clear defiance of the governor of California's order for churches to close.

  • Franklin Graham, giving a vote of approbation to both Feucht and MacArthur and then calling for a Prayer March in Washington, D.C. this September 26. If the Prayer March ends up being anything like this past January's March for Life in Washington D.C., I doubt there will be a whole lot of social distancing going on as that January event was so packed that Ruth and I were barely able to move. What should have been a 15 or 20 minute walk took hours because of the crowd.

Should you have the opportunity to take a summer vacation, and should you find you have more time than things to do, here are some films that I would recommend for your viewing during that time...

Amadeus: The music of Mozart, great acting, and a captivating story. One of my personal favorites.

The Artist: A modern black and white silent movie. Who would have imagined, right? Great story and a reminder that even with changes in life there can still be a future.

Ben Hur: If you have never read the book, watch this 1959 classic starring Charlton Heston. The chariot race scene is considered among the greatest 8 minutes of cinema ever filmed. The film exalts Christ.

"Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you." – Luke 10:19

It has always been a gripe of mine that Christians often take Bible verses that were written to a specific audience and then try and generalize that verse so as to make it apply to everyone. The most common example of this is Jeremiah 29:11 ("For I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope"). Jeremiah 29:11 was addressed to Israel, based upon them having a repentant heart. But we tend to hear it being applied to every believer regardless of what is going on in their life.

With that in mind, it is important to note the context of Luke 10:19 (quoted above). Luke 10:19 was addressed to the 72 followers of Christ who had been sent out by Christ. It was not addressed to you or to me.

"For everything there is a season…" – Ecclesiastes 3:1

On this very hot day, in this most difficult of years, allow me to take your thoughts elsewhere: back to a winter day when I was just a teenager, living in Michigan. By this point in my life, it had been several years since my dad had started collecting horse drawn carriages, most built in the mid to late 1800s. As we had carriages it only made sense that we would also get horses, and so we did. And as my two sisters and I each had our own lengthy list of chores, mine included taking care of the horses. So early each morning I would make my way to the barn to make sure they had water and hay; late at night I made sure they again had water and hay, but this time I would also give them grain. Every few days I would clean out the stalls and put down fresh straw. My sisters and I would brush them down and, in the summer, give them baths with water from a hose. The greatest number of horses we had at any one time was eight. By the time I was 14 I had purchased my own palomino quarter horse for $750. Working at an upholstery shop at $1.25/hour it took me a long time to pay for that horse, plus a saddle and bridle.

"Let God be true though everyone were a liar." – Romans 3:4 (ESV)

It was about eight years ago that Ruth, Jonathan and I visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. This was not my first visit to that house. As one who used to be a museum manager (overseeing an 18th century house, and regularly giving tours to the public) how a property is presented is of special interest to me. It was immediately evident, upon this latest visit to Jefferson's home, that change was in the wind. Sure, we were reminded of Jefferson's role in this nation's founding, his special role in helping to draft (and write) the Declaration of Independence, his role as President of the United States and his procuring of the Louisiana Purchase. His keen intellect, his architectural skills, and his theological musings – all these were again brought to our attention. But this time, something else was not merely mentioned but was, instead, the focus of the tour: Jefferson's owning of slaves, dependence upon those slaves, mistreatment of those slaves, impregnating of at least one of those slaves and eventual sale of those slaves (to help pay off his many debts as he was, for all his skills, a poor money manager). In short it was as if it was the determination of those overseeing the museum house that Thomas Jefferson be taken off of his pedestal and that we all begin to see him as he truly was: a very flawed man.

This past Thursday night, a number of church leaders were invited to attend the monthly Elders' meeting to discuss plans for future church meetings. When in early May the elders proposed our current two-service format (masked; masks optional) with the chairs being set up so as to maximize social distancing, we were pleased with how well it has worked out. But the desire to get back to a single service, have a nursery and classes for both children and adults has not been lost. So with that in mind we met on Thursday. The prayer going into that meeting was for wisdom and unity.

We believe that God answered our prayer. For after lengthy discussion, we unanimously came to a number of decisions. All of these "decisions" are considered tentative as it is impossible to know what the state of things (in regards to the coronavirus) will be two months or more from now. One of the elders was unable to attend the meeting and so all of these points will be reviewed again at the August Elders' meeting. We are committed to unanimity on these decisions. But so that you might know where we think we should be going, here is what we agreed upon…

"Wretched man that I am…" Romans 7:24a

In last Sunday's sermon, I mentioned, in passing, my surprise at the toppling of a statue of Francis Scott Key, the composer of our National Anthem. I had learned, somewhere along the line, that Key was an outspoken Christian and the author of a number of Christian hymns. Having witnessed the Battle of Baltimore in September, 1814 and seeing the U.S. flag still flying "by the dawn's early light," he composed The Star Spangled Banner. The motto "In God we Trust" (found on all U.S. coins/money) is attributed to Key and that song.

So I questioned why anyone would want to tear down a statue of Francis Scott Key. I understand the taking down of those monuments meant to honor those who were part of the Confederacy, but why Key?

Sunday afternoon I received a kindly worded email from a woman challenging me to do some research on Key. I told her I would and here is what I learned: Francis Scott Key, though a devout Episcopalian (and Christian), owned 6 slaves. As a U.S. Attorney working in the District of Columbia he took a number of cases in which he defended slave owners. And while he also was somewhat influenced by the abolitionists of his day, all in all his legal and personal record is one of being an anti-abolitionist. And thus the toppling of his statue.

"Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name." – Genesis 2:19

While attending Westminster Theological Seminary, I went with some other students to New York City to meet with a Chinese Christian pastor. That pastor (whose name I do not recall) arranged for us to see a Broadway play and also went with us to the top of the World Trade Center building while we were in town. While on the observation floor of that building and looking out over the city skyline, I entered into a deep conversation with this Chinese pastor. Along the way I made the comment, "I'm not very creative." This man immediately rebuked me (and rightly so) reminding me that I was a son of Adam, made not only in his image but also in the image of God. "Our God is a creator, and he made Adam in his image, making him also a creator. You also were meant to create. Never say you are not creative." Adam's creativity is seen in the very earliest of acts that we read of him: the naming of the animals. That may seem like a simple enough task except that there were and are literally thousands of different animals (Wikipedia suggests that there are currently 8.7 million species!). Okay, so I got it: don't ever suggest that any person is not creative. We may be disobedient to what we were meant to be, but we are all sons of Adam, meant to reflect the likeness and image of God.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived of the things that God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

Last Saturday night I had a most amazing dream…

In my dream I don't know where I was, but there were a number of people around, talking, laughing…in generally a really good spirit. And then, among the people I saw my dad. My dad is now a very old man (age 92): he looks old, he walks like a very old person. He is very much alive in his spirit but his body…well, that's a different story. But in my dream when I saw my dad, he was about 20 years old.

There are few things as enjoyable as driving a golf ball 225 yards or more in the correct direction. That can happen when one finds the "sweet spot" on the club. Hit the ball too much with the toe of an open-faced club and the ball will likely slice to the right; hit it with the heel of a closed-face club and it will likely pull hard to the left. The sweet spot is that middle spot…the middle of the club, meant to be hit square on.

To go down the road we started last Sunday (and this will be the end for this trip), there is a sweet spot that we, as followers of Jesus, need to find between understanding and conviction in regards to what is going on in our world these days. Let me explain.

"And I have other sheep that are not of this fold." – John 10:16a

By the time you read this, I will have already stood with (or even marched with) my good friend, Ed Bailey, pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lancaster. You see, I wrote Ed last week, following days of rioting across our country. I asked him, "Is there anything you believe I should be doing? I am open to your input." In response he asked me to come join him and some other pastors at the Lancaster Square in a "silent protest" on Friday, June 5, at 4pm. I wrote back, "I will plan on seeing you then, Lord willing." And so my assumption, as I write, that by the time you read this article I will already have stood with Ed.

It was back in early February when the elders at Burning Hearts met for our monthly Elders' meeting. News of the COVID-19 coronavirus had just started to circulate. Based upon how many people (at that point) had come down with the virus and died, it seemed much more likely that one might be killed by a lightning strike or a falling meteorite. A month later, as the elders again met, the threat of the virus seemed much more ominous. And so it was that by the fourth Sunday in March, Burning Hearts, like nearly every other church in America, was "closed down." It was only after many weeks that I learned that the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lancaster City had never closed. As I know that church's pastor (Ed Bailey) well, I corresponded with him about what they (at Bethel) had been doing. Feeling increasingly more and more uncomfortable with the idea of staying closed, and knowing the May Elders' meeting was coming up, Ruth and I decided to attend Bethel to see what was happening. There we saw a small attendance (of 20 or so), with some wearing masks, everyone keeping social distancing, and the pastor not wearing a mask. The singing was so-so (not many singers) but the preaching was terrific. We then attended the next two Sundays as well. And now, as of last Sunday, Burning Hearts is also meeting.

"I have longed…to come to you…" – Romans 15:23

Back in the late 1970s, while attending Westminster Theological Seminary, I got a job one summer working at a Baptist Church near Pontiac, Michigan. I was hired to be the youth pastor and the custodian. (These two jobs were in diametrical opposition to one another: encouraging teenage youth to come out and have a great time while trying to keep the building clean and neat.) That same summer, my close friend, Gene Johnson, was working for his brother who owned an A&W Root Beer stand. As I recall, customers could come into the A&W and order a drink or they could simply wait in their car and a teenage girl would come to the car, take the order and then deliver what was ordered. Many times, after some evening youth group event had ended, I would drive over to the A&W and help my friend and his brother close up. That always involved getting a free root beer. That was a treat. After that, Gene and I often headed back to his parents' home where, in the basement, we would watch Fernwood 2 Night. I have only the fondest memories of that entire summer.

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" – Matthew 23, five times

If there is any charge against the church that really bothers the church it is that the church is full of hypocrites. We have all heard the charge. Generally our response is that the world is full of hypocrites, so it is no surprise to find them in the church as well. But the recent pandemic has highlighted an area of hypocrisy in the church that I have yet to see addressed. Here it is…

From my earliest years, I recall people praying for those "behind the iron curtain." As a young boy I did not know what that meant. Later I would hear prayers for those "behind the bamboo curtain." These were, as I eventually learned, prayers for the saints that lived in either the former USSR or in China (and its neighboring countries): Christians who were living under oppression and who were meeting in secret.

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." – 2 Corinthians 3:18

In this most strange era of wearing masks (or veils), the above verse comes to mind. Here Paul is talking about two things that have happened to us because of Christ:

  • The glory that we have in Christ is an unfading glory. This is UNLIKE the glory or presence of God seen on Moses' face when he visited with God. Back then, when Moses left the presence of God, the glory faded so much that Moses chose to wear a veil so that the people would not see how the glory was fading. But in Christ we have a glory that will not fade away: it is the glory of his eternal presence in us – a presence which is ours to inherit, by grace, through faith.

Following lengthy prayerful discussion, the elders of Burning Hearts Community Church have reached unanimous consensus on the following guidelines for Burning Hearts to again begin meeting. All that you read below is based upon the idea that the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak will remain neither significantly better nor worse than it is at this time.

1. We will reopen on June 7. Should there be a significant spike (worsening) in the coronavirus in our area, as evidenced over a 2-week period, prior to that date our reopening will be delayed. Should such a worsening take place after we have begun meeting, we will discuss returning to our current status of having no public meetings.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:21

It is interesting how there are different sides in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is some history of previous Christian responses to pandemics over the past 2,000 years. These times of plague also helped spread the Gospel.

The Plague of Cyprian, during the middle of the 3rd century A.D., was a lethal pandemic that, at its height, caused upwards of 5,000 deaths a day in Rome. During the plague, Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote that the Romans "pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt ... " During the same time...

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generation. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." – Psalm 90:1-2 (ESV)

Recently I have been reading The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, written in the mid-1700s. The writing style is old; Edwards is extremely verbose; I highly doubt a publisher would print the book if presented to him today by an otherwise unknown writer. Yet the book continues to be printed and read because…well, because it was Edwards who wrote it. Cornelius VanTil spoke of trees that bear fruit that only giraffes can reach. The rest of humanity waits for the overripe fruit to finally drop to the ground. Edwards offers fruit that is high…way up high. And for those who are willing to try and get it while it is still ripe, the benefits are great. But boy is it hard!

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