The Blessing of Christian Education

Prior to the Second World War private education was generally associated with Catholic and Lutheran religious schools that were known as parochial schools.  There was a small group of Christian schools serving the Reformed denominations, and then an even smaller smattering of independent Christian schools. I believe the current Christian school movement received its impetus in the early 1970s spurred by the development of the curriculum publishers A Beka Books and Accelerated Christian Education. From that time Christian schools, and ministries to support Christian education, grew dramatically.

Connie and I served in and around the Christian school movement for 40 years. Initially Connie taught at all levels from kindergarten to high school and then at the college level. Then she joined me in administrating a national Christian school organization, two Christian colleges, and finally we served side-by-side in a Bible curriculum publishing ministry. In that final ministry we traveled to teacher’s convention and interacted with Christian school teachers and administrators. Ultimately we also exhibited at home-school conferences and interacted with several thousand home-school parents. In all of these years one could say that we saw the good and the not-so-good aspects of Christian Education and the Christian school movement.

Unfortunately not every school that opened during the boom years was an adequately conceived and supported educational institution. Many schools operated in less than ideal facilities, and were underfunded and understaffed. Still, we can attest to the fact that we’ve met thousands of bright, resourceful and dedicated servants of the Lord who labored in Christian education. And we know countless adults today who are products of Christian schools and home-school education who are very productive and impressive members of society.

During the presidency of Ronald Regan I served on the U.S. Department of Education’s Exemplary Private School Recognition Project committee for four years. This group of educational leaders represented all facets of the private school universe at that time. We reviewed dozens of school nominations and then voted to reward the most “exemplary” schools each year for their effort.

During that experience our entire group of participants learned some important things about effective schools. The most notable schools were not marked by financial prowess, or magnificent facilities, or faculties with distinguished intellectual accomplishments. Instead, in every case there was a head of the school who was a respected, caring, and strong leader in the institution. Faculty members were enthusiastic teachers who relished the focus and commitment of their leader, and poured themselves into their student’s lives. This was true in financially deprived urban schools or in well endowed suburban institutions. People made the difference. Leadership was essential, and caring instructors followed their leader in impacting students in the classrooms.  

Early in the 1980s I began to give a convention workshop that addressed the three greatest challenges that confronted the Christian school movement at that time. I said they were:

  • The challenge of governmental interference that was an ever-present reality facing Christian schools in the early days of the movement.
  • The challenge of demonstrating educational legitimacy and ultimately proving academic competency by student outcomes.
  • The final challenge mentioned in that workshop remains a persistent struggle for the movement today.  That challenge is the mission to produce godly young people, who are the products of the Christian school movement. 

Even though great strides have been accomplished in securing legitimacy and liberty the spiritual battle has not yet been won; the task has not been finished.  Perhaps because our battle with sin will never be completed until Christ returns.  Perhaps it is because we have not placed as much emphasis upon the spiritual dimension as we have upon the educational program.   Perhaps it is because ungodly societal influences have become more powerful and pervasive.  Nevertheless, this is still our greatest challenge in our schools, churches and homes.

In 1986, the late Alan Peshkin, a professor of comparative education from the University of Illinois, wrote a book entitled God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School.  I participated extensively with Dr. Peshkin during his research and became a personal friend. He was a renowned ethnographer who wrote penetrating studies about varied educational experiences all over the world based on extensive fieldwork.

Alan spent many hours in Connie’s classroom, as well as those of other teachers in the school. He told me that the level of education was excellent, and he was deeply impacted by the commitment and convictions of the faculty, staff, and students. Being a secular Jew, he was troubled by the evangelistic commitment of Bible believing Christians, but he did not doubt the sincerity of everyone involved. Perhaps his most penetrating analysis was his comment that the Christian school’s “total institution is imperfectly total, perhaps inevitably so, because unlike the Amish, its adherents live mainly within the world it rejects.” That was an astute observation, but I would disagree with his use of the word “rejects.” As believers we do not reject the world – but we are called to minister in the world. The Christian school may be an imperfect world, and it is, but the ministry of impacting lives for time and eternity is a blessed privilege.

Recently, in our retirement community, Connie and I attended the memorial service for one of our residents, who had been a shut-in since we came to Maranatha Village. We knew her only from Facebook posts and some email interaction. But at the service where her life and service for the Lord was celebrated, we learned that she had been a classroom teacher in two Christian schools for 39 years. It became apparent early in the service, from the testimonies of her family members, that Linda Bond had touched hundreds of lives. Her legacy was that of a “life well lived” in pouring herself into students. That testimony has been repeated over and over in the hundreds and hundreds of classrooms in Christian schools over the years. That is the blessing of Christian Education.

After reviewing records of the Exemplary Private School Recognition Project, I discovered that Linda Bond’s school, Arlington Baptist High School, was listed as one of the recognized schools among the 1984-85 recipients. That was the first year of the project and Arlington would have been presented their recognition certificate by then Secretary of Education William Bennett. Linda taught Spanish for 25 years at Arlington Baptist.

The Christian Education Road

I experienced twelve wonderful years of pastoral ministry during my time as a youth pastor and as a very young senior pastor. People asked me was it a difficult decision to leave the pastorate in St. Paul to take a position with the American Association of Christian Schools in 1978. I always responded that I never made a decision to leave the church; instead God just led me along.

Let me explain. In the mid 1970s I challenged the people of Faith to consider establishing a Christian school in our church facilities. We studied, planned, and prayed as a church; and then took a secret ballot vote that was 100% for launching the school. To seek guidance and mutual protection we aligned with the fledgling baby organization of the Minnesota Association of Christian Schools.

I’ve described in an earlier post entitled  Political Grace how the Lord thrust me into the political arena as an unschooled legislative liaison for MACS. And how, by His grace, I developed a deep personal relationship with two politicians who were bold believers and witnesses for Christ in the Minnesota legislature. I crammed an informal post-graduate course in government relations and religious liberty into two years.

AACS Leaders: Carlson, Davis, Janney, Walker, Munro, & Weniger

This whirlwind of experience landed me in the place where my former boss, Bud Weniger, asked me to help him with the new responsibilities he had acquired administering AACS. That process was a slow step by step journey that was God’s plan all along. I had no other choice than to follow His guidance each step of the way. Now I see that it was all a part of His grace journey for me, and for our whole family.

Bob Kelley was an encourager

So, in July of 1978 we found ourselves in the first home we were able to buy, and back in Normal, Illinois. It was just a few days after we arrived that I received a phone call from a dear friend of mine, Pastor Bob Kelley, who was on the board of the Tennessee Association of Christian Schools. Bob said, “Gerry, we are in a meeting, and the TACS board is considering pulling out of the AACS.” He went on to say that he stuck up for me saying, “Gerry Carlson has just been hired. I know him. Let’s give him a chance to see what he can do.” Boy, that was pressure right from the git-go.

Jerry Tetreau

At the time AACS had about 600 member schools scattered around the country that were mostly attached to 17 autonomous state organizations. However, AACS’ service and communication to the schools and state organizations was limited and undeveloped at that point. Folks were paying dues and feeling like they weren’t getting much for their money. My task was to get on the stick — and serve the state associations and schools. A new friend, Jerry Tetreau, said at the time: “Yesterday would be soon enough.”

Over the ten years we served with AACS I traveled to most every state and several Canadian Provinces promoting, organizing, communicating, and building relationships with people. I loved it! During that time I met hundreds of dedicated, talented, and godly servants of Christ in the Christian school movement. According to my records I took 280 trips and traveled about 325,000 miles by air and car. When we left AACS in 1988 there were over 1,600 member schools and 40 state associations. It was an exciting time and regularly I fielded questions from secular news reporters about the dynamic growth of Christian education.

Britt Airways Beech 99 commuter that I flew many times to O’Hare Airport.

Little did I know that on one of my first trips I would meet Charles Walker, the guy who made the Tennessee Association tick, and he would become our daughter Kristy’s father-in-law many years later. Connie and I sit in our Florida Room every morning in Maranatha Village and marvel how yielding to God’s leading in the 70s landed us in our present home and place of ministry. We are still able to serve and follow the Lord on our Grace Journey.

In my next installment of Grace Journey I will write about some of the triumphs and trials, blessings and burdens of the Christian School movement.

A Gangster for Christ – Audio Epilog

Here is a link to an audio recording of George Mensik preaching and giving his testimony. You will find this personal account to be the harsh truth about George’s sinful life, and then the glorious change that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ brought to his life.

This is the final installment of the “A Gangster for Christ” episodes. I encourage folks who knew George Mensik, or heard him speak, or know of results from his ministry, to post comments and any information you have about this remarkable man.

A Gangster for Christ – Reflections

On the day we moved in 1954 into the parsonage on Chicago’s south side, I remember being taken to the Gossage Grill at 63rd and Kedzie that was owned by church deacon Cecil Gossage. I think it was George Mensik that took me that day to pick up a bag of hamburgers for our family. Maybe it was another man…because at Marquette Manor Baptist Church there were several dozen faithful men who were always ready to serve. But George Mensik, former gangster, was a key personality in that band of godly brothers who possessed an unwavering passion for lost souls, and he instantly became a strong friend of our family. George was known as our “preachin’ deacon” during my dad’s short three year ministry at Marquette.

I learned just this week from Jim McCarty, a fellow Boys Brigade club member of that era, that George Mensik frequently hung out at Gossage Grill when he was not out preaching. As I remember, George and Elsie Mensik lived just around the corner and down the block from the little lunch-counter restaurant where Cecil doled out his famous chili, delicious grilled hamburgers, and a steady dose of the gospel to customers who would line up three-deep to be fed. I know that Cecil and George were ardent witnesses for Christ who unashamedly shared their faith constantly. And I can imagine that George shared his testimony with many a patron in that shop.

Cecil Gossage and helper at the 63rd & Kedzie hamburger shop.

Gossage Grill was a gospel factory. Almost weekly Cecil was bringing a recent convert to church that he had led to the Lord; or he was shepherding some down-on-his-luck soul he was witnessing to at the time. Cecil thrived on that kind of stuff. So did George Mensik. These men would regularly go with a group of Marquette men to preach and witness at the downtown Chicago rescue missions, including the famed Pacific Garden Mission. By the time I arrived on the scene, as a 13 year old, these laymen were well established in their ministry practice, and I was challenged and inspired by them all.

When my dad was taken to heaven three years later in a plane crash it was the men of the church who really stepped up to encourage and guide me in my Christian walk. George Mensik was especially significant in that ministry of mentoring me.

If you query the archives of Newspapers.com you will find literally dozens of articles published during the 50s and 60s in small town and city newspapers that announce the preaching of George Mensik in local churches. He traveled all over holding evangelistic meetings and getting into to local prisons wherever he could. But getting into the ministry was not an easy proposition for George.

I remember him a number of times saying from the pulpit, “Most preachers get their sermons with points 1, 2 and 3, but I get my sermons like a ball of string and then I try to unravel it. Amen?” George had no formal Bible training, and no college education. He was a graduate of many jails and prisons – and the school of hard knocks. His language and Chicago accent was smothered in street lingo and colorful gangland expressions. But his compassion was glowing and apparent. He would say with a tear in his voice, “Every time they threw me in jail they would say, ‘we’re going to make you a better man.’ But praise God when he saved me he made me a new man. Amen?”

While I was still in high school I remember being in a conversation with him when he told me how difficult it was for the church members at Marquette Manor to accept him for several years after he was saved. He very honestly expressed that he could not blame them. He knew that it was a great risk for the congregation to take him into their midst knowing that past gang members and various temptations existed right there in their neighborhood that was home turf for the mob organization. He said that he realized that he had to live the life of a true Christian to be accepted and trusted.

By the time I met him he had been saved for over fifteen years and the grace of God was powerfully evident in his life. He had also developed a burden for men serving time in prison – and especially for those awaiting execution. I heard him on a number of occasions talk about prisoners who he led to saving faith in Christ and then walked with them to the electric chair. All of this led him to acquire a deep concern for the families of the inmates that he met and ministered to all over the country.

When I was in seminary George came to Minneapolis to preach, and took Connie and me to a restaurant for lunch. After eating we walked to the cash register. He opened his wallet and fanned out seven $100 bills and said to the waitress, “Do ya tink dat will cover da bill?” I said to him, “George, you shouldn’t be carrying around a big wad of money like that! Somebody could rob you.” He looked up to me from his stout and rotund body, squinted and spat out, “Let ‘em try!”

The original Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago – Known as “The Old Lighthouse”

He then went on to tell me that he had to carry lots of cash so that he could help the families of prisoners that he visited. He said, “You can’t buy groceries for needy kids out there on the road with a checkbook, or plastic. If they have a need you have to have cash.” No one but the Lord knows how many families he helped. He carried 3×5 note cards in his shirt pocket that described the stories of families of prisoners that he fed, clothed, and led to Christ. After reading a short testimony from a card, he would lift his face to the congregation and say, “That’s my paycheck! Amen?” And then he would read another, and an another, and…every time adding, “Amen, brother, amen?”

He would say with a twinkle in his eye, “Da doc told me to watch my weight,” and then he would pat his considerable girth and growl, “I do. I keep it right where I can see it.” He carried all of the swagger and confidence of his underworld background and experience. Once early in my pastoral ministry I was with him, and a number of other preachers, at a famous huge south side Chicago restaurant. As we were walking across that enormous dining room I heard the buzz of chatter from surrounding diners. They thought George was “hizzoner” Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. As they say in the south, “he did favor” the famous Mayor Daley in appearance. I think George knew exactly what was going on and gave a little wink to loyal voters.

      

George Menisk was truly a trophy of God’s grace. We don’t see many conversions like his in our day. May we pray, and ask the Lord: “Do it again, Lord. Do it again.”

George Mensik went on to become an evangelist for the famous Pacific Garden Mission, and then became the very first missionary appointed by the Baptist World Mission.

A Gangster for Christ – Part 2

God was working on George Mensik. One day early in the year of 1937 he told his wife and little girl that he would go to church with them. They had not attended church since they became Christians and did not know just where to go. The radio provided their “church.” So a letter was written to the office of the Christian Business Men’s Committee asking for a suggestion as to what church they might attend. Instead of a letter, the Mensik’s received a visit from E.G. Zorn, at that time executive secretary of the committee. Then he learned the story. He then recommended the Marquette Manor Baptist Church, not only because it was close by, but because it also stood for genuine Christianity.

That is why on the morning of February 28, 1937, Mr. and Mrs. George Mensik and the daughter walked in the church. Rev. M.A. McCone was preaching during special services. Back home at the dinner table, George looked at his wife. “Did you ever tell that preacher anything about me?” he asked. She never had seen or known the evangelist before. Her husband was curious. The preacher seemed to talk about him all during the sermon. George decided he would go back that afternoon to check up. Again the message seemed for him alone. Mensik left the services deeply stirred.

Marquette Manor Baptist

6001 S. California, Chicago, Illinois

At the door Pastor E.O. Odegard grasped his hand very warmly. He asked Mensik if he were a Christian. George assured him that his wife and daughter were Christians. Mr. Odegard saw at once that he had a real opportunity to present Christ and pressed his advantage. He then invited Mensik downstairs to a quiet room where they might talk man to man. Before they left the room another sinner had turned to the Savior.

The announcement at home struck joy to the hearts of his family. Now the three could be united in fellowship and prayer. But George knew only how to make his living with his wits. At that moment he was a card dealer in one of Danny Stanton’s gambling joints, and for two and a half months afterward he worked steadily at his job. Then, one afternoon God spoke to him: “What are you doing here?” George stopped, realizing for the first time that as a Christian he had not business in such a place. He shoved the cards across the table to the boss and said he was through.

“What’s the matter, aren’t we paying you enough?” asked the surprised operator.

“I’m getting plenty,” explained Mensik, “but I took Christ as my Savior a couple of months ago, and I don’t belong here. I’m leaving!” And he did.

When he told his wife he had given up his place as a card dealer, she said, “Thank God! I’ve been praying that you would.”

The first job George landed was as a night watchman with a mail order house. Several months later he was told he would have to carry a gun. That meant obtaining a permit from the detective bureau. Apprehensive of what might happen next, George went with a company official to the bureau where he was listed under his right name and several aliases. In a few minutes his record was dug up. It was bad. There would be no permit. The mail order official was rather sympathetic but told George that, of course, the job was off until he could clear up his record.

Back home he sat down and wrote a letter to Chief of Detectives Allman, acknowledging his past life, but recounting his conversion and asking if the chief wouldn’t intervene on his behalf. He needed an honest job. That night George took the letter to prayer meeting and the entire group went to its knees.

A few days later a reply came from Chief Allman. Mr. Mensik was to return to the Detective Bureau and renew his application. He asked for Christian business men to accompany him as character witnesses. There, before his amazed eyes, the bureau officials not only granted him the desired permit, but removed his finger prints and photographs from the crime files, and destroyed them.

Mr. Mensik heard about the Fisherman’s Club in Cicero and began to attend Saturday afternoon meetings. He was thrilled with the testimonies of twice-born men, some of whom were saved from lives of deep crime. Their fellowship gave him courage and zeal to win others. He applied for membership and found that the application form had a “catch” in it for him. No smoker could be allowed as a member! George was a heavy smoker, chiefly of marijuana. The form stayed in this pocket for six months. One Sunday evening as he stood outside the church he decided on the basis of Philippians 4:13 that he could get along without smokes. He destroyed all he had.

Today this man is greatly used of God to point other men and women to his Savior. Frequently he is invited by churches in other cities to spend a week-end there, testifying for Christ. He has witnessed in a great many rescue missions, hospitals, jails. For four and a half years he has been employed by a steel company in the Chicago area.

His employers permit Mr. Mensik to carry on his Gospel work in whatsoever way he desires. Once a week at two company plants he holds a shop meeting. The company pays for all the supplies for a tract rack maintained in the plant, and they have provided him with $150.00 to spend for soldiers’ Bibles. Every afternoon a prayer meeting is held by 17 plant Christians, some of whom are Mr. Mensik’s converts. George Mensik is a living demonstration of the power of God in the life of a man saved from sin.

This account was published originally in “Power” magazine in August of 1944. That publication was produced and distributed by The Scripture Press of Chicago. Today Scripture Press is owned by David C. Cook of Colorado Springs, CO. The story was also reprinted in the book, “I Was Born Again” in 1947. That book was a collection of “Conversion Stories” compiled by Norman Wingert, and published by E.V. Publishing House of Nappanee, IN.

George Mensik went on to become an evangelist for the famous Pacific Garden Mission. And then became the very first missionary appointed by the Baptist World Mission, as a missionary to the prisons and prisoners of America.

A Gangster for Christ – Part 1

In August of 1944 POWER magazine, distributed as a Sunday School take-home paper, published the following testimony of George Mensik. George was a deacon in my dad’s church, Marquette Manor Baptist, when we arrived in Chicago in 1954. As a 13 year old kid this amazing man made a powerful impact on my life. Here is George’s testimony.

This story will be shared on gracejourney.blog as a two-part series. The second part will include an audio recording of George’s testimony given during a preaching occasion.

When POWER heard the remarkable story of George Mensik’s conversion we knew at once that it would be of intense interest to all our readers. But POWER well understands and thoroughly sympathizes with George Mensik’s desire to keep his past in the past. There is only one reason now why he permits the story to be published here; that it might help some teen-ager turn to his Saviour.

Danny Stanton, notorious big-time gangster in the Chicago area for a number of years, had been filled with shotgun slugs and the police were on the prowl to pick up the most likely assassin. They were sure they saw one in the person of George J. Mensik as he drove his along Washington Boulevard that Saturday afternoon on his way to the Fisherman’s Club in Cicero.

Actual Chicago Trib front-page headline from May 6, 1943

The police forced him the curb, asked what he knew of Danny Stanton.

“Haven’t seen Stanton for six years,” responded Mensik.

“Where ya’ goin’?” they demanded.

“To the Fisherman’s Club in Cicero,” Mensik replied.

“Likely story,” said the officer, “There are no fishermen out there! They’re down in the lake.”

“These fishermen are Christians who call themselves ‘fishers of other men,” explained Mensik.

By this time Mensik had been frisked for concealed weapons. One of his pockets yielded his Bible, another a package of tracts. At the police station he was plied with more questions because it was known by headquarters that at one time he was a Danny Stanton henchman – before he had taken Christ as his Savior. Mensik urged the officers to phone the Fisherman’s Club at the Cicero Bible Church and check up on him. They did, and E.F. Gibbs, business manager of the church, picked up the phone.

“Why, yes, we know George Mensik,” said Gibbs. “He comes here nearly every Saturday afternoon for a meeting of the Fisherman’s Club. Its members are men who have been saved from sin by…” The officer hung up. He had heard enough. Mensik was released immediately. But before he left he had given his stern captors a straight-from-the-shoulder testimony as to why he left the underworld and became a Christian.

He began a life of crime at the ripe age of nine. George came from “back o’ the yards” in Chicago, which meant a very tough neighborhood. He was one of 12 children. He knew nothing of the Bible; in fact, hadn’t looked within its pages. Wasn’t his religion to take him to Heaven? George thought so!

From nine to eighteen George developed big-time technique. He organized his own gang and was in and out of reform schools like jack-the-box. During prohibition days he turned to beer running, driving a truck for a notorious bootleg character.

There was a string of burglaries to the gang’s charge. Ransacking homes became routine, stealing cars simply a change to break monotony. He and his gang were picked up periodically, but the police couldn’t prove anything. There always was a lawyer smart enough to get them off, one who knew how to “get to the judge.” The cost was heavy, of course, but it was a lot better than serving time.

A payroll stick-up was one job on his gang’s schedule. They carried machine guns neatly wrapped in newspapers laid across their laps as they drove to the scene. Their plans miscarried, however, for the truck bearing the money failed to show up.

The notorious Al Capone – Mugshot from the Chicago Police archives

On another occasion George drove the car which carried a contemporary gangster on what was to be his last ride. The body was dumped off right in front of the hospital. The intended victim lived. Some six months later, as George and another underworld character who was primarily responsible for the attempted bump-off, stood together is a saloon, the now recovered “corpse” walked in. George’s companion and the newcomer saw each other at the same instant, drew their weapons, and a few minutes later both lay dead on the floor. By the time the police arrived the “evidence” had vanished – mysteriously.

George Mensik lived with his wife and five year-year-old daughter on the south side. Mrs. Mensik was not well and in 1935 faced a serious operation. At the hospital a few days before the operation she began to tap the ether waves, via her radio, for a program offering help and comfort. She brought in the noonday broadcast of the Christian Business Men’s Committee from a downtown Chicago theater. The Gospel message touched her and she accepted Christ as her Savior a few hours before being wheeled in the operating room.

Six months later little Shirley, seated at the radio listening to the KYB broadcast by Aunt Theresa over WMBI, also opened her heart top Christ. That made two Christians in George Mensik’s home to pray earnestly for his salvation.

George saw a change in his family. Something had taken place. One day he came upon his own little girl praying.

Fearful, lest he would be angry, she timidly explained, “I’m praying for you, Daddy.”

Surprised, he asked, in a less harsh tone, “Why are you praying for me?”

“Well,” she said, “I love you, and Jesus love you, and we want you to be saved.”

Deeply touched, the hardened father stammered, “You just keep on praying for Daddy.” Every time he recalls that scene today, tears fill his eyes.

Evangelist George Mensik – Missionary to the Prisons of America

Part 2 will finish the story of George’s thrilling and life transforming testimony.

I wrote earlier about George Mensik at: https://gracejourney.blog/2019/04/20/grace-walk-becomes-a-grace-journey/

Come and Dine

Recently I read a blog post that drew me to an old song we sang in the youth group many years ago. I can almost hear Youth Pastor Don Nelson fingerpicking the melody as the group would sing…”’Come and dine,’ the Master calleth, ‘Come and dine’, You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time. He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine, To the hungry calleth now, ‘Come and dine.’” The song comes from John 21:12 as recorded in the venerable King James Version.

“Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.” John 21:12

The writer of the blog quoted a Bible version that follows most of the contemporary translations which render “Come and Dine” with an understandable “Come and eat breakfast,” or Come and have breakfast in the passage. Charles Spurgeon in his devotional book Morning and Evening explained this passage by saying the phrase meant, “Come and break your fast” as an invitation to the tired and struggling disciples to take the next step in their faith journey to follow Christ.

Spurgeon wrote, “On your part, now is the time for the exercise of faith. And on His part, now is the season for the display of His power.” Truly the Lord had shown His power in conquering death and rising from the grave. But now Jesus is stooped by the shore of the Sea of Galilee preparing a simple meal for the beleaguered band of disciples. He was providing basic sustenance. Profound!

Think of it. The disciples must have been confused and dejected that the anticipated establishment of the kingdom had not materialized. Instead, their miracle working leader seemed to crash and burn. So they fled on a five to six days journey back to the anonymity of their fishing boats; and this is over 100 miles away from the vicinity of Jerusalem, the place of the crucifixion and the location of Jesus’ first appearances to his followers. And yet, here, Jesus appears on the shore cooking a meal featuring fish that He miraculously obtains for the bewildered lot. This had to be overwhelming and perplexing.

Jesus had just performed another miracle moments before by commanding them to cast their nets a few feet away from their fruitless efforts of all night fishing without catching a thing. But then the Savior invites these weary and defeated disciples to breakfast – simply to reemphasize again that He and He alone would care for them. They unwaveringly needed to “feast at Jesus’ table all the time” as the songwriter Charles B. Widmeyer wrote in 1906.

The resurrection provided an invitation to intimacy with Jesus unlike any other experience man could imagine. The provision and power continues on today. There is always abundant grace from our Lord that is enough for the journey.  

Jesus has a table spread
Where the saints of God are fed,
He invites His chosen people, "Come and dine"
With His manna He doth feed
And supplies our every need:
Oh, 'tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time!
"Come and dine," the Master calleth, "Come and dine"
You may feast at Jesus' table all the time;
He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now, "Come and dine."
 
The disciples came to land,
Thus obeying Christ's command,
For the Master called unto them, "Come and dine"
There they found their heart's desire,
Bread and fish upon the fire;
Thus He satisfies the hungry every time
"Come and dine," the Master calleth, "Come and dine"
You may feast at Jesus' table all the time;
He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now, "Come and dine."
 
Soon the Lamb will take His bride
To be ever at His side,
All the host of heaven will assembled be;
Oh, 'twill be a glorious sight,
All the saints in spotless white;
And with Jesus they will feast eternally.
"Come and dine," the Master calleth, "Come and dine"
You may feast at Jesus' table all the time;
He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now, "Come and dine."

 

It started with a question…

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “God moves in mysterious ways.” But that is not exactly how William Cowper (pronounced Cooper) wrote the line. Cowper, who was a friend and collaborator with John Newton the famed author of the song Amazing Grace, penned the words in a more personal way. He wrote, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.” This famous poem and hymn from the 18th Century came from the heart of a soul who had traversed the dark places of dread.

In the second stanza this most influential English poet of his time expressed his personal testimony that in facing “the clouds that you dread” you can trust God’s grace because “behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.” He knew this through periods of deep depression and what we today call acute mental health episodes.

We may not have traveled through those extreme dark valleys, but we’ve all faced the circumstances that stress us beyond our capabilities. It is usually only in looking back that we see the grace of God leading, guiding and protecting us. My dear friend Frank Hamrick says, “Study what God has done, and what He is doing.” Many times looking back in thankfulness we can see seemingly obscure crossroads, or perplexing decision points, that God used to set us on His path in a special way.

Recently I talked with an old friend and rehearsed with him a conversation from many years ago. I said, “It all started with a question that I asked you…,”and he knew exactly what I was talking about. In early 1976 I asked Wes Budke a question that I wrote about in a previous Grace Journey post entitled Political Grace. That question was, “Do you know a Christian in the Minnesota legislature?” Wes was a college friend and, at that time, a church member where I was pastor. It was a simple question fueled by my desire to fulfill a responsibility that I had accepted for the fledgling small Christian school organization just founded in Minnesota. But unknown to me at the time it was a life changing question.

The answer to that question led me to meet two Christian legislators and subsequently was drawn into the world of politics, and in turn the Lord thrust me into a ministry in Christian education. Initially it was a step that was for a local ministry purpose, but God meant it to be a small step toward a path that became a long and winding road. It is that road that I now call our Grace Journey.  

Several years later Wes asked me to have lunch with him, and he posed a serious question about his future. He had been a state trooper assigned as the main security person for the Governor of Minnesota. From that position he was given the opportunity to move into a new and challenging area of law enforcement. He already had a family and many obligations, but he wondered if he should go back to Bible school and go into the ministry.

Wes had a heart for ministry, but the Lord had given him a developing career in law enforcement, plus he was serving very effectively in our local church. He wanted to know what he should do. I knew his sincerity and desire, and I also knew about the valuable experience and respect that he had gained in his position at that time. I believe God led me to say, “Wes, I believe you have a unique opportunity to serve the Lord in a very strategic field. You will gain experience and opportunities that the Lord may use in a remarkable way.”

I don’t believe I saw myself as someone with a prophetic gift, but my limited perception turned out to be amazingly true. It is not possible to relate all that God led Wes to do, but the Lord literally took him around the world numerous times into places and experiences that have been amazing. Still, throughout his whole career Wes and his wife Dianne have been faithful servants in the various churches where God placed them. In fact, ten years after I posed that initial question to Wes, Dianne, worked with Connie and me in the newly opened office of the American Association of Christian Schools in the Washington, D.C. area.

Because of my simple question to Wes in 1976 God led me, and our family, down an unusual ministry road in Christian education and Christian publishing. Now that ministry journey continues into our retirement years, my present work at Maranatha Village, and my personal blog. And God keeps moving in interesting and blessed ways. In the last few months I have been able to join a virtual prayer group led by Mike Menning, one of those two former Minnesota politicians. Mike is a retired pastor who is giving leadership to a missionary effort to reach people trapped in the polygamist colonies of Utah and other western states. Yes, God is still moving, working, and leading.

“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”
by William Cowper
 
God moves in a mysterious way,
    His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
    And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
    And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
    The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
    In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
    He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding ev'ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow'r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
    And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
    And he will make it plain.

The Road to St. Paul

Generally, the Road to St. Paul, Minnesota, does not run through Colorado, but for our family it did. In the summer of 1969 I led the youth group from Normal, Illinois, back to Colorado for our third western camping trip. We joined several other youth groups and embarked on an ambitious trek that took the entire entourage of over 100 across the Rockies to the Colorado National Monument and down to the Four Corners Area.

I did not know at the time that I would return to that area a few months later to candidate at a church in Durango, Colorado. That church owned a parsonage with a picture window that perfectly framed the LaPlata Peak, a snow-capped mountain to the north. It was a beautiful spot. During our stay to candidate for the pastorate I spent a day on horseback with a church member to check his large herd of cattle grazing on 4,000 acres of land leased from the U.S. Government. I relished the idea of becoming a preacher in authentic cowboy country.

But it was not to be. After spending five days there, and preaching five times, the church became embroiled in a controversy after we left. The result was a closed door for us, and a disappointment at the time. However, one year later, while on vacation in Minnesota, I was asked to speak at Faith Baptist, in St. Paul. This time the Lord’s leading and timing was clear. We accepted a call to Faith, and arrived in St. Paul in early November 1970, to begin a blessed eight year ministry.

Not surprisingly, St. Paul was definitely different than the growing Bloomington-Normal community, amidst the flat farmland of Central Illinois, or the picturesque mountain setting of Southwestern Colorado. St. Paul was a classic blue-collar, Democratic Party controlled city, and the church location was surrounded by government housing projects. It was a unique contrast from my youth pastor days, but it presented an exciting challenge.

The church was an inner-city work that started ten years earlier because three single-parent ladies were praying for a church to be started in their area. God led Pastor Larry Johnson to meet them, and he began Bible studies in the Community Center of what was known as the McDonough Project in those days. When we arrived the church was reaching out to three housing projects and bringing children to Sunday School via a rusty old school bus and an unreliable van.

Over the succeeding years the Lord blessed the bus ministry with growth to three routes with more than 100 riders weekly. This ministry not only reached school aged children, but teenagers, and a number of parents too. Today, 45-50 years later, we still have contact with many who came to Christ, or were discipled through the Sunday School, youth group and adult ministries. As the outreach to the public housing areas grew, God sent us many choice servants from outlying areas to reach, teach and lead in the ministry. The challenge of serving the Lord in the city became a motivation to a number of families and young couples

McDonough Homes circa 1970s

The ministry grew and a new building addition was constructed that doubled our building capacity, and ultimately allowed the church to establish a Christian school in 1976. God gave us several fine assistant pastors, Max Day, Wayne Vawter, and Mike Kleeberger, plus a host of church leaders, talented servants, and workers. I would be remiss if I tried to list names, and left someone out because of faulty memory.  But one name stands out as an example of the dedicated individuals who served faithfully. Everyone knew Charlie Reed, and the unwavering testimony that he consistently manifested.

Charlie was a character. He was a former prize-fighter, and a strong patriot. But, most of all, Charlie loved to tell the story of how Christ saved him as a young, pugnacious man. Many times I sat with him in someone’s living room, and heard him tell his conversion testimony to a needy person. I can repeat certain parts of his testimony word-for-word to this day. He wasn’t the only one – but, he was a leader, an example, and an inspiration to many during those days of hard work and blessing.

We reached out to all people. While thinking about the recent tension and riots in Minneapolis and St. Paul I recalled an experience I had with a large black family. The mother and her bunch of kids came regularly to our services. They were in the welfare system at the time, and the husband was a day laborer who had a drinking problem. I developed a relationship with Billy, although he did not come to church. I visited the home, and at times he would pick up the family after services and I would talk with him.

Once he showed up after a Sunday evening service to apologize to the wife after sobering up from a drunken bender. I admonished him for his behavior and encouraged him to be a responsible dad for his kids. He showed sincere contrition and vowed to do better. My heart went out to him.

Following that incident I was invited to a meeting of a dozen social workers to discuss the perils of this struggling family. After some discussion I remember all the social service professionals turned to me and said, “Reverend, it looks like you are the only one here who has a relationship with Billy.” Sad, but true. Not long after that we were called to leave Faith for my new ministry, and within six months I was sent a report that Billy got in a fight and killed a man while drunk. That was Eastside St. Paul ministry. Often tragic; but always rewarding.

After being in St. Paul several years I learned that the notorious Chicago gangsters would hide out there during the bootlegging days of the Prohibition Era and Great Depression. The remnants of that ungodly influence were still in evidence during the 1970s, but God’s grace was sufficient to do a work of grace in many lives during our years of ministry in St. Paul. We are so thankful to be a part of that grace journey.    

The Road Home

Going home can be such a blessing. At this stage in our life Connie and I greatly enjoy the tranquil home we have in our small central Florida Christian retirement community. Every time we travel to the beautiful, but congested, costal beach areas, or the traffic gridlock of Orlando, we are so thankful to return to our safe and comfortable community and home. 

Home is so important because it is often where love is; or where security is, or where precious memories linger, or where the simple necessities of life are readily at hand. Sometimes we think of home as where we now live, but at other times the thought of home goes back to our childhood residence. 

But in our transient and mobile society many of us do not have a “old home” that still exists where we grew up. A house may be there — but it is not the same place any longer. It is where we played, grew, and learned life’s most important foundational lessons —but it is not home anymore.

What a joy to look forward to a new home someday; a heavenly home. We know that Paul says in 2 Cor. 5 “…that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord… We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” That home will be great because our Lord will be there. 

C.S. Lewis, in his book Pilgrim’s Regress, muses: “One road leads home and a thousand lead into the wilderness.” Even though one may not have had a joyous home growing up, or that old home no longer remains where family shared blessed times — the Lord Jesus has prepared a place. We need not wander in the wilderness when we can be sure of our eternal home.

James M. Gray, president of Moody Bible Institute, penned this gospel song during the onset of the Great Depression. The Road Leads Home

O pilgrim, as you journey, 
Do you ever gladly say, 
In spite of heavy weather 
And roughness of the way, 
That it really does not matter, 
All the strange and bitter stress – 
Heat and cold, and toil and sorrow, – 
Will be healed with blessed-ness!

O safe and blessed shelter, 
Heavenly mansions of content! 
There are the holy kindred 
From our hearthstone’s early rent; 
And our precious, loving Saviour, 
Who our sins on Calv’ry bore – 
Who would ever mind the journey, 
With such blessed-ness in store?

There’s comfort on the journey, 
There is also guide and chart; 
There’s wisdom for the asking, 
And there’s solace for the heart; 
And there is no need of turning 
To the left or to the right, 
And no fear need stir the bosom 
At the coming of the night.

For the road leads home, 
Sweet, sweet home! 
O who would mind the journey 
When the road leads home? 
For the road leads home, 
Sweet, sweet home! 
O who would mind the journey 
When the road leads home?