The Road to Marble

In 2000 I wrote the following article in remembrance of a distinctively unique experience in my life and the lessons that I learned from that experience.

Thinking about…Vietnam, mistakes, and ministry

In the summer of 1968 I was a youth pastor and had taken my youth group on our second annual Western Camping trip to the mountains of Colorado.  We were camped near the ghost town of Marble, which is approximately twenty miles across the mountains (as the eagle flies) from Aspen.  On a warm afternoon the group, which included teens from several churches, was rappelling on the cliffs surrounding the marble quarries a mile or so above the old town.  From these huge quarries had come the marble used to construct the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and other famous structures in our nation’s Capitol.

The Group in 1968 at the Yule Quarry, above Marble, Colorado. Elevation: 7,992 ft.

I had taken a small group on an errand back to the campsite.  We were slowly driving a four-wheel vehicle back up the steep trail when we came upon a couple hiking up the mountain.  As they stopped to let us pass, we recognized that it was former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who had only a few months before he resigned from President Lyndon Johnson’s cabinet amid the growing controversy swirling around the unpopular Vietnam war.  For the next couple of hours our combined youth groups played host to this famous couple, demonstrating our daring exploits on the cliffs.   

A camper demonstrating rappelling down the 100+ ft. opening.

The fact that is significant about this encounter is that at the moment we were entertaining Secretary McNamara, the infamous Democratic National Convention of 1968 was being held in Chicago.  And at the very time we were showing off to the man known as “The Architect of the Vietnam War,” protesting students and police were waging a bloody battle on Chicago’s streets.  From then on the national turmoil over Vietnam worsened until the war was finally stopped in 1973.  Actually the distress of that conflict still lingers today in our country. 

The Yule Quarry was reopened for mining in 2011.

Recently, I’ve read two books that McNamara has written during the last five years: In Retrospect (1995) and Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (1999).  In the first book Mr. McNamara attempts to take responsibility for and explain the mistakes that he made, as well as those made by President Johnson and the other top advisors who led our country at that time.  Not everyone agrees with his assessments, and further controversy has resulted from this book.  The second book is actually a collection of thoughts from former U.S. leaders, scholars, and even representatives of the enemy nations.  Truly, the title accurately represents the contents of the book, and it typifies the disagreement that still exists about this troubled era of our history.

There are three openings, or quarries, in the mountain.

I’ve wondered several times over the past 30 years, “Why was McNamara hiking in the mountain wilderness when his political party and his former boss, President Johnson, were struggling in a battle of such strategic importance?” I don’t know, and these books don’t give me answers to that question.  But that experience of many years ago has given me pause to ponder.  Perhaps he was just trying to get away from it all.  Perhaps he was weary of the battle.  The irony was – we were in the mountains trying to prepare young people for battle.   We were trying to prepare them to avoid costly mistakes caused by a failure to implement God’s strategic battle plan.   We were engaged in youth ministry, and our mission was to prepare teenagers to develop purpose, focus, and integrity in their lives. 

When you read the books and articles about Vietnam, you find a rather uncanny accord among the disagreeing commentators.   The quarreling parties find common agreement that the worsening situation stemmed from a lack of clear purpose, a decidedly wrong focus, and a resultant loss of integrity.  Even though the leaders stridently disagree about the reasons for these failures – and the solutions that should have been invoked – agreement nevertheless exists that the great nation of the USA failed in purpose, focus, and integrity.

Today, bloody battles and conflicts continue to plague our world.  Vietnam has faded, but Kuwait, Somalia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and many other hot spots have emerged to trouble our great nation, and world.  Mistakes are still being made – and human suffering continues to persist as a result.

But I feel that the battle for the lives and minds of young people is really the most important battle being waged today.  Those of us in ministry best be warned that we dare not fail in our PURPOSE, FOCUS, INTEGRITY.  In our ministries, in our lives and in the legacy we leave for our youth – we must strive to achieve God’s purpose, focus and integrity.

This was the 1967 group that also camped at Marble, and blazed the trail for the 1968 trip.

“…but this one thing I do…I press toward the mark for the prize of God in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13-14

The Road to Normal

On a cold Minnesota February day in 1966 — 54 years ago — I found a letter in my seminary mailbox that shaped my life, and the course of our family. The letter was an invitation from Bud Weniger to consider being his youth pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, Illinois. I said to myself, “ Boy, I’d like to do that!” But how could it be possible? I was not slated to graduate that spring, but I was intrigued by the idea of going to Normal.

I began to research seminaries relatively close to Central Illinois where I could earn credits that could be transferred back to Central seminary in Minneapolis for my degree completion. This was obviously in pre-internet days, but at that time Christianity Today magazine published classified ads that included summer studies in theology. Two schools were advertised: Winona Lake School of Theology in Indiana, and Temple Baptist Seminary in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Winona Lake did not offer what I needed, but Temple did. So, in early June I drove our new Ford Galaxy 500 Coupe all the way down the old two-lane U.S. 41 to Chattanooga, and Connie followed two weeks later on the train after fulfilling her teaching contract. We had no idea that 30 years later our not yet born daughter would become a life-long resident of that beautiful city on the Tennessee River. But God was leading and directing our journey.

Those were the hay days of the legendary Highland Park Baptist Church, and Tennessee Temple Schools, led by the dynamic Dr. Lee Roberson. We became exposed to a whole different cultural world from our Minneapolis and Chicago backgrounds. That summer we explored the history rich area and spent many hours studying and hanging out in the school’s air conditioned library, because our rental house had no cooling, except for a box window fan. It was an experience.

Student Body @ Tennessee Temple Schools in Chaucey-Goode Auditorium, Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga

Then at the end of August we took up residency in Normal and began four years of fruitful ministry. Actually, it was an amazing ministry experience. When we arrived, the church was running a little over 200 in attendance, and four years later it was averaging 600. We started with a very young youth group, because seven young people from the church had just graduated with most going off to Bible college. Four years later the youth group had grown tremendously with often 75-100 teens attending our youth activities. It was an exciting time.

Calvary Baptist Church after first Educational Wing completed

Those years in Normal were truly unusual, and not normal at all. The growth and spiritual development of Calvary Baptist during those years was truly remarkable. Many adults, university students, teenagers, and children came to Christ during those years and following. The church was thriving with activity and outreach. We led the youth group on four adventurous Colorado Camping trips that were spiritual mountain top experiences. It was a blessed time of God’s grace in our lives.

Calvary Youth Group on a Colorado Camping Trip

At the same time, Calvary attracted many people who had been faithful members at a number of area churches that were slipping into theological liberalism. A robust and growing economy, plus expanding employment opportunities, brought new move-ins to the area. Several of these folks, although from varied church backgrounds, found Calvary to be a welcoming environment for their biblical convictions. The church grew numerically and spiritually.

Pastor Weniger was a tireless worker, and he drew people in with forceful preaching and exposition, but he also recruited and motivated members to put their hands to the plow and work to build the church. Thousands of dollars were saved on building expansion projects through volunteer work days and nights. Additionally, those work projects brought the people together in purpose, and fellowship.

They were great days of working, learning, growing, and serving. Looking back now I realize what a great privilege it was to be part of a not-so-normal ministry experience. Our participation in the church and youth ministry at Calvary was a crucial step in God’s leading down the Grace Journey road that we have been traveling all our life. What a privilege!

The Story of a Nail

During my senior year in high school I attended a youth retreat at Cedar Lake Conference grounds in northern Indiana. At that retreat I heard missionary-evangelist Hubert Mitchell speak and I have never forgotten the impact of his ministry on my life. God is truly gracious to give us these experiences and encounters with choice servants of His during our personal grace journeys.

Hubert Mitchell and his wife were missionaries in Indonesia. They had 4 children when his wife died. Annie Flint’s poem “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater” brought comfort to his heart and the Lord inspired him to write music for it.

Story by Hubert Mitchell, and relayed by Linda Morken

The Story of a Nail is the singular account of one missionary’s encounter with the miraculous. The setting of the story is the central area of Sumatra, Indonesia. The time is 1937. The players are an aboriginal tribe called the Rawas Kubus and a missionary from America by the name of Hubert Mitchell.

Most of the other native tribes of Sumatra were of the Islamic religion, but the Rawas Kubus held to no religion, worshipping only nature. Thus, they were a people despised by the other inhabitants of Sumatra. They were also a people who had never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hubert Mitchell begins his tale with his entrance into Sumatra in 1934 with his wife and his two year old son. After three years of tramping the jungle trails ministering to this people, he desired to reach yet another more secluded Kubus tribe in the Jambi Kubus area.

With guides and machetes hacking through the almost impenetrable forest he finally found himself face to face with the tribes people, he with Bible and they with blow-pipes and poison darts in hand. His guide explained to the chief that Mitchell had come to tell them the story of “the Great Chief” who had died for their sins. The following morning all were gathered to hear this tale.

After having explained the life of Jesus and having begun the tale of the crucifixion, Mitchell realized he was beginning to lose their interest. The concept of a cross and of a nail held no meaning to them; they had never seen either one. His efforts at explanation seemed to bring no understanding and the impact of the story was lost. His audience finally began chatting among themselves and drifting away.

Discouraged, he decided to take a lunch break and pray for God’s help. A well-known poem came to mind: “For want of a nail a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, a horse was lost.” And he added in his mind that for want of a nail it was possible that a whole tribe would be lost.

He sorted through his backpack hoping to find some kind of a nail to show them. Neither he nor his guides could find any nail at all. Discouraged, he sat down by a stream and opened a can of mandarin oranges he had bought in Japan.

After emptying the contents, he started to toss the can but stopped short, hearing a clinking sound in the can. Examining it, he found to his amazement and joy a three-inch nail in it!

Quickly he explained to the people what it was and told them that he had never heard of a nail getting into canned food. Believing him, they responded to this God who wanted them to know about Jesus and had helped them, and the whole tribe was converted. This story is told often in our family gatherings, for Hubert Mitchell was our uncle.

Below are some resources about Hubert Mitchell and this true story.

A fuller telling of the story, with complete illustrations, is available through the Billy Graham Center archives at Wheaton College. Click on link below. The video is an oral retelling of the story by his son.

https://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/bulletin/bu1303.htm

A TALE OF TWO CHURCHES

The following article is offered as a prospectus for hopefully more extensive research into the invasion of the two main Baptist conventions in the USA during the 20th Century into local church autonomy. If anything, a Baptist church is to be an autonomous body that is ruled by congregational polity. Both conventions – Northern and Southern – disregarded Baptist polity and utilized the secular courts to force their organizational will on local autonomous congregations.

Charles Dickens began his historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities with the famous words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Dickens goes on to weave a tale of intrigue and treachery midst the period leading to the French Revolution. The two cities of London and Paris reflect the contradictions and conflicts of that period when democratic ideals clashed with powerful political, and dominant social, forces.

Because my wife and I were members of two different unique churches, I am led to rephrase the Dickens dictum to say: “It was the worst of times, which led to the best of times.” These two church congregations suffered the loss of property and buildings, all because powerful denominational machinery and muscle was brought to bear to crush their congregational autonomy. But God meant it for good! New churches emerged that grew and flourished, and the old Convention controlled churches faded. One has relocated and exists under a new name, and the other exists no more.

Connie and I are perhaps the only people who were members of congregations that lost court cases to the American Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention respectively. In 1966 we moved to Normal, Illinois, where I became Assistant Pastor at the Calvary Baptist Church. That church came into being four years earlier after the majority of the members of the First Baptist Church of Normal were denied an appeal before the State Supreme Court due to a lawsuit filed by the minority of church members. Even though the majority won a Circuit Court decision, the minority gained an Appellate Court reversal that led ultimately to the majority being ejected from their house of worship.

The orginal Logan Chapel and subsquent addition at Calvary Baptist, Normal, IL

That group of faithful believers mortgaged homes and raised money within a few weeks to purchase property one mile north of the original building. In God’s timing it became obvious this was a great blessing. The old brick building, known locally as the “Green Church” due to a curious paint job, was land-locked by the rapidly expanding campus of Illinois State University. When the legal battles began in 1955, ISU was an institution of less than 5,000 students. When we arrived over ten years later it had exploded to more than 15,000 students and continued to grow. Twin 16 story high-rise dormitories were built a half-block from the church and the old Green Church was dwarfed by the continual campus development. Today that church building no longer exists and an apartment building occupies the strategic corner lot at School and Mulberry.

The old First Baptist, Normal, building (“The Green Church”)

Another facet of the story is that my dad, Dr. George Carlson, testified at the trial on behalf of the majority group in Normal, Illinois. Dad was called as an expert witness by the defense lawyers to give testimony relating to Baptist History and Baptist Polity. This trial was only months before dad was killed in an airplane crash while flying to a hunting camp in Northern Ontario in a small aircraft. Less than ten years later I was called as Assistant Pastor by that majority group in their new church. Today Calvary has a beautiful facility that has undergone six building programs over the past sixty years.

Main Entrance at Calvary Baptist Church today

The second church we were members of that experienced a losing legal battle was the Falls Road Baptist Church of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. It was thirty years after going to Normal that we moved to Eastern North Carolina to join the staff of Positive Action for Christ, a Bible curriculum ministry that grew out of the Falls Road church. This church was birthed through the struggles of the North Rocky Mount Baptist Church that some Southern Baptist’s believe was the spark that ignited the fire that led to the conservative resurgence in the SBC.  Many Baptists across the South were appalled that their beloved Convention would trample the autonomy of a local church, in order to advance the cause of bureaucratic power and control.

The old North Rocky Mount Baptist Church building on Falls Road

Like the Normal church body, the folks of the North Rocky Mount Baptist Church endeavored to practice democratic congregational church polity, and were sued by a minority of members. Both churches, by strong majorities of over 80%, voted to withdraw from their respective Conventions because of creeping theological liberalism and definite doctrinal deviation. The North Rocky Mount Baptist case went to the North Carolina Supreme Court who handed down a devastating decision flatly denying the historic Baptist distinctive of local church autonomy. The rejected majority went one block down the street and established the independent Falls Road Baptist Church.

The former Falls Road Baptist Church building that was sold in 2015

Like the Illinois case the Rocky Mount case was messy, and both situations received negative news coverage that characterized the opposing sides as battling Baptists who just couldn’t find a way to get along. In both cases the new churches, with new names, eventfully escaped the bad press and local antipathy to become healthy, growing and productive churches in their communities. But their separate stories are fascinatingly similar in a number of ways, even though they fought different ecclesiastical organizations, in different sections of the country. The similarities are captivating and instructive to the current theological and ecclesiastical climate of the 21st Century.

In 1996 I was called to serve on the staff of Positive Action for Christ, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. That organization grew out of the ministry of Dr. Frank Hamrick, who first was the Youth Pastor and then Pastor of the Falls Road church. Frank founded and authored the club program and curriculum of ProTeens, which became the launching pad for Positive Action Bible Curriculum that now sends Bible teaching materials around the world. Today the Falls Road Church has been renamed Crossroads Baptist and is relocated four miles west on over fifty beautiful acres of prime land. God truly is faithful to His churches.

The new Crossroads Baptist Church building on Highway 48, near Interstate 95

Here are some practical lessons, in abbreviated form, from these two churches that I hope could be investigated in the future by an interested research scholar.

  • Theological liberalism is real
  • Baptist churches are either autonomous or not
  • Power can be corrupting
  • Unbelief is degenerative
  • God’s purposes are not thwarted 

The purposes for a future study of this subject are threefold: (1) to tell the story of denominational intrusion into these two distinctive local churches, and other churches; (2) to highlight the pernicious encroachment of theological liberalism and legal/social progressivism; (3) to stimulate further serious research into the historical and legal record of denominational interference with autonomous Baptist churches.

Resources:

  • Central Bible Quarterly, Volume: (Summer 1966) Article: An Investigation Of The Abandonment Of Certain Historic Baptist Principles By The Northern Baptist Convention In Court Cases Against Local Churches. Robert Johnson
  • Twenty Years of Faith: History of Calvary Baptist Church, Normal, Illinois. Compiled by Mrs. Lillian Stockton, May 1982.
  • Southern Baptist Free Press (Periodical) December 1956.
  • Tears to Joy: The Amazing Story of a People That Dared To Do Right. W. Gene Gurganus, 1985.
  • Also archives are available at both Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC, and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Plymouth, MN.

Old Age is Blessed

Recently I gave this devotional in our morning chapel service on the Maranatha Village campus. This daily gathering is held weekdays to pray for our supported missionaries and share a short devotional challenge. The Bible has much to say about the value and blessedness of old age. May we heed the Psalmist who taught us, “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭90:12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

God provides for our Journey

“I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread.” Psalms 37:25 NKJV

God preserves us during our Journey

“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; Do not forsake me when my strength fails.” Psalms 71:9 NKJV

God empowers us throughout our Journey

“Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.” Psalms 71:18 NKJV

God promises fruitful completion to our Journey

“They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing,” Psalms 92:14 NKJV

“For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart (my departure) is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!” 2 Timothy 4:6-7 NET

Grace Alone

We who have lived in the USA during last half of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first century have known little of hardness and difficulty. We have been blessed with relative prosperity and peace through our whole lives. Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ have known great personal suffering and sorrow, but even then we have safety nets in our society that include medical wonders, social and spiritual support systems, and most importantly – the grace of God.

Still it is challenging for us to comprehend the richness of God’s grace when we have so much. We know the truth of Eph. 2:8… “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…” But the redemptive truth of grace alone is much greater than any of the wonders of our age. What a blessing God gives us to trust in Him alone, for salvation alone, for His security alone, and for the enablement alone to seek to glorify Him. God’s grace is truly amazing!

In days to come, the Lord willing, I plan to work on a writing project that focuses on the greatness and glory of God’s grace. Several lifelong friends in ministry have agreed to read my thoughts and give input, suggestions and guidance. Pray with me that God would be glorified in this venture that I see as part of our Grace Journey.

This blessed gospel song came to mind last night as I went to bed meditating on this project.

Grace 'tis charming sound, 
Harmonious to the ear;
Heav'n with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.

Refrain:
Saved by grace alone!
This is all my plea:
Jesus died for all mankind,
And Jesus died for me.

'Twas grace that wrote my name
In life's eternal book;
'Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.

Grace taught my wand'ring feet
To tread the heav'nly road;
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.

Grace taught my soul to pray,
And made mine eyes o'erflow;
'Twas grace which kept me to this day,
And never let me go.

O let Thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine:
May all the pow'rs to Thee aspire,
And all my days be Thine.

Political Grace

Over forty years ago, the Lord led me down a distinct path through an interesting twist in my grace journey. While pastoring in St. Paul, Minnesota, I was introduced to two politicians that God used to lead me in a different direction that would alter the course of my ministry and our family. God’s grace has led us all the way!

I was asked by the fledging Minnesota Association of Christian Schools (MACS) in the winter of 1975-76 to “look into” the Minnesota Capitol as a legislative liaison. I was clueless, but agreed to try. Our church had not yet launched a school, but we were located less than three miles from the seat of government in Minnesota. Our sincere goal was simply to operate Christian schools that were legitimate educational entities, but free from governmental interference. Our assumption stemmed from a strong conviction that religious liberty was granted by our country’s Bill of Rights.

My first step toward assuming these responsibilities was to ask for help. My good friend, and church member, Wes Budke was a state trooper assigned to guard the governor, and I asked Wes if he knew of any Bible believing Christians in the legislature. Wes said that the governor recently visited the home of a politician in the southwestern part of the state, and the governor asked for a beer. The legislator said he didn’t have any beer, but they could offer him a soft drink. Wes said, “I think his name is Representative Menning, and maybe he is a Christian?”

Armed with those slim facts I headed for the Capitol complex on a cold winter day. In the House of Representatives building, I asked a uniformed guard for directions to Representative Menning’s office. After he searched the office listings, he said, “Nope, don’t see anyone by that name.” What he, and I, didn’t know at the time was that Marion “Mike” Menning was now a State Senator, and thereby had an office in a different building and was not on his list.

I thanked him and headed off to find an information office where I obtained literature about the workings of the legislature. A clerk in that office gave me pamphlets containing information about the legislative calendar and short synopses of proposed legislation. I also signed up to be on a mailing list. As I began to study this material I learned that a state representative had introduced a bill endeavoring to outlaw obscene movies from drive-in theater screens. I thought, “That’s a good idea,” and called the rep’s office and asked what we could do to help him with that effort?

The representative himself, Glen Sherwood, came on the line and I repeated my question. I’ll never forget Glen’s response. He asked incredulously, “Do you mean that?” “Of course” I replied, and explained who I was and why our organization would be interested in something that was a good idea for Minnesota, both morally and spiritually. That phone call led to a deep and blessed relationship with a godly man who is a sincere and brilliant Christian man. 

Glen had a Ph.D. in wildlife biology and was a careful, no-nonsense protector of hunting, fishing and environmental issues in his northern Minnesota district. And he was a Democrat. He was a smart, gracious, gentleman who was originally courted by both political parties to represent the area north of Brainerd, Minnesota. The story was the Democrats got to his house first, and he said, “Yes.” He was from an independent non-denominational church background, and I would learn later that he was as solid as a rock. After I left the state, he ran for governor as a Republican — by conviction. An amazing man.

Our group from MACS helped him move the bill out of committee by literally jamming the hearing room with over 100 Christian school students, teachers, and a few pastors. Nobody on that committee wanted to defend obscene movies (that were being shown in Glen’s district on an outdoor screen within easy view of the highway). I later learned that it was Glen’s wife, and her prayer group, who became burdened and determined that something be done. When that bill finally came to the House floor, the vote was something like 102 to zip. The ACLU guy who opposed us was livid, but was unable to convince committee members of that era to support his defense of obscenity that today might be considered sex abuse by even liberal politicians and pundits.

Glen introduced me to Senator Mike Menning, and we hit it off immediately. Mike was from a Christian Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota, in the southwestern part of the state. Mike is still a friend today and he sends a weekly “Great Commission Utah” email that chronicles his incredible missionary work among needy souls of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) so-called church. This is the group that is led by infamous Warren Jeffs, the man serving a life sentence in Federal Prison due to sex crimes against women and children.

Glen and Mike introduced me to a group of Christian Senators and Representatives who met every week for Bible study and prayer. They would invite their follow legislators to join them and offer to pray for their personal and family needs in a caring and godly way. I had a standing invitation to attend their meetings, and went often. I remember the men vividly. Glen, Mike, Senator Wayne Olhoft, Senator Gilbert Esau and Representative Gaylin DenOuden were the leaders and they met consistently. Gaylin is Mike’s brother-in-law and is now my facebook friend. These men were all from different church backgrounds, but they were all unashamedly born-again Christians who made their stand known publicly and privately.

These politicians had a wonderful bi-partisan gospel ministry. Years later, Mike Menning said in a phone conversation with me that it was us Baptist preachers (I introduced him to many of my fellow pastors) who taught him to be a “soul winner”. When I was asked to join the staff of the American Association of Christian Schools, because of these experiences in the Minnesota legisature, my dear pastor friends, led by Ed Johnson and Clarke Poorman, maintained a close and supportive relationship with these godly witnesses for Christ in the legislature.

Great Commission Utah

Mike & Dawn Menning

Both Glen and Mike went into the ministry after they left public office. Glen became a Bible college president and professor, before retiring to take a pastorate in Montana for a number of years. Mike became a pastor in the Salt Lake City area and served there for many years. Since stepping out of pastoral ministry, Mike has led in the launching of several missionary ventures. Most recently he has focused on his long-time interest in reaching lost souls in the FLDS communities of Arizona and Utah. I read Mike’s weekly emails now, where he regularly reports detailed accounts of leading specific FLDS men, women and young people to trust Christ alone as their Savior. What a joy! What grace!

Minnesota State Capitol

Over the last forty years in my travels all over the country, the Lord has allowed me to meet and be blessed by scores of politicians, and other dedicated servants of the Lord, involved in political endeavors. These have been men and women who serve in elected office, or in supportive roles, who give bold and clear witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. They are leaders in the affairs of life and in the ministry of grace. May their tribe increase!

More Grace

Last week I was again quoting the old baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, who sagely observed “it is like déjà vu all over again.” Exactly a year ago I was exiting the hospital from heart surgery, and this week I was undergoing emergency gallbladder removal. Glad to escape the hospital the day before Thanksgiving, and then quietly celebrating a very grateful day at home. Not real fun, but once again graciously orchestrated by a faithful God. 

There were no warnings or symptoms — just, wham! I got to the hospital before the surgeon left town for his previously planned Thanksgiving vacation. He did the surgery and was gone the next morning. But our Lord was in control of everything. I was even current with my preparations for winter guests at Maranatha Village. Snowbirds are beginning to arrive, and by January 1 things will be in full swing. Our team of helpers is functioning at high level and I will be able to answer questions from home as I heal.

A thought came to me from the phrase in James 4:6, “But He gives more grace.” Several years ago I embarked on an over-arching journey to explore Bible truth about God’s grace. This week I could not miss the realization that God’s grace toward me was again abundantly evident. Several truths jumped out to me as I meditated on numerous scriptural gems. The imprint of His grace on my life was noticeable and so encouraging. Again, I cannot miss the impression that God is not finished with me yet, and a great God organized personal circumstances to give me more grace.

That thought sent me on a quick search, and I found that in scripture there is never a hint of little, or small, or weak, or insufficient grace. The apostle Paul mentions and expounds on the subject of grace in many passages. He declares that grace abounds, is exceeding in riches and is sufficient for us in times of weakness and infirmity. Grace does not promise that everything will be easy or painless, but that God’s grace will be enough for our every need.

It is interesting that the Lord Jesus spoke several times about little faith, and at other times of great faith. And many scriptural passages highlight the greatness of grace, but never about “little” grace. Never. The book of Acts makes it clear that the “good news” of the gospel was spread and received widely — but it was all the work of grace that drew people to become believers in Christ and His redemptive work. Grace spreads and delivers the truth of the gospel, and grace confirms the power of the gospel in the lives of believers.

And here, this week — God was giving more grace. 

Annie Johnson Flint captures this thought in her poem…

  He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase,
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
 
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half-done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
 
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.

Searching to See God in the Psalms

One year ago today I was recuperating from my second heart procedure within a two week period. I wrote the following thoughts four months later when I returned to the hospital for very difficult bladder surgery. My resulting study in the Psalms during the intervening months sent me on the course to launch this blog Grace Journey.

In November of 2018, during the time I was dealing with several heart cath procedures, I began studying the Psalms with the purpose of focusing on God as I read. I wanted to especially key on what the Psalmists reveal about God’s person, character, works, and glory. This has been a very rich study and blessing.

I use the YouVersion Bible app on my iPad as I read. With the use of technology I can compare reliable versions as I study a Psalm each day. The app allows me to highlight verses in various colors. And I highlight in a yellow color any verse that says something specifically about who God is, what He does, how He acts, and especially what He promises.

I use other colors to highlight commands, lessons to be learned, and truths to ponder. But my main focus is on seeing the overriding message of God’s goodness, greatness and glory in each of the Psalms. This approach has been very enriching. I find each day that I have an eagerness to learn more about my God.

This week I reviewed the first 22 Psalms and made a cursory list of things that the text declares about our God. He guards, decrees, protects, delivers, vindicates, makes us safe and secure, leads us to righteousness, gives good favor, hears our appeal for mercy, is just, sovereign, majestic, does amazing deeds, rules, shelters, is faithful, restores, guides, and on and on. These are just some of the revelations of God’s greatness that are spelled out in Psalm after Psalm.

Not all of the Psalms are words of comfort. Some are Psalms of lament, instruction, warnings, and judgment. Many are Psalms of praise, promise and encouragement. But all of the Psalms are rich in theology – the knowledge of God. The Psalms magnify our great God and they reveal the coming Savior. What a privilege to daily ingest these truths and see the greatness of our God in His eternal Word.

Guest Post from Pastor Steve Benedict, entitled: “Lost!”

Gerry Carlson: For many years I dreamed of hiking the famous Appalachian Trail. Well, it is not going to happen. My time for such adventuring is past. But in 2012 Connie and I camped several days at Harper’s Ferry, WV, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is located. This building and store is considered the half-way point on the 2,200 mile trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. We enjoyed examining the small museum at the HQ, purchasing a memento ball-cap, and meeting some bona-fide hikers. I’ve always admired those who hike the Trail – whether partially, or completely.

This past year I learned that one of my valued former students from Maranatha Baptist Bible College did a ten-day expedition through the Shenandoah National Park section in Virginia. Steve Benedict had completed 18 years pastoring at a Virginia church and was taking a sabbatical to consider his next steps in ministry. As part of a season of prayer and seeking God’s will he embarked on a solo hike on a segment of the Trail in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Below is an excerpt from a personal post that Steve wrote last June on his own blog. I asked Steve if I could reprint a portion of his excellent post on Grace Journey. His words of experience and learning are wise and profitable for us all. Read and be blessed!    

LOST!

Hogwallow Flats Overlook

On the Appalachian Trail there’s a special blaze to indicate a sudden or unexpected twist or turn in the trail. Instead of a single blaze, there’s a double blaze.  This warns the hiker that the trail is about to take an unexpected turn, so pay attention.

Somehow, I either missed that section in the hiking manual or forgot it.  So, as you can imagine, I was in for a rude surprise when I blew past my first double blaze on day two of my hike.  I had just passed Hogwallow Flats and reached the summit of Mount Marshall.  The trail meandered along the ridge of the mountain for maybe a half mile, getting more rugged and narrow all the time.  The views were stunning and there were striking rock formations all around, where ancient movements of the tectonic plates had thrust massive sedimentary rocks into all kinds of crazy angles.  The terrain had an other-worldly look. And then, there came the double blaze.  The trail took a sharp turn down the mountain and I, assuming that there was another scenic overlook just ahead, took a sharp turn up the mountain.

I didn’t notice anything for maybe 10 minutes.  I just kept wandering down what looked like a trail.  Maybe it was, for deer or bear or something.  But there came a point at which I knew I was lost.  Then, I compounded the error.  Since I assumed that the trail had gone up the hill, I headed off at a 90 degree angle to intercept where I thought for sure the trail would be.  It wasn’t.

At this point, there was no retracing my steps.  I stopped, got out my trail map and compass and tried to figure out what went wrong.  What I discovered was, even though I thought I was right, I was headed in the exact opposite direction and had been for a long time.

I charted a new course and headed out over some of the steepest, rockiest terrain imaginable.  It took me a good 45 minutes or more, but I eventually found the trail.  But there were some consequences.  I had blown about 2 ½ hours of time and energy- both valuable commodities for an out of shape hiker like me. And I had also shredded my feet.  The hard angles and rocky surfaces, untamed by a trail, created blisters and a stress fracture that dogged me the rest of the hike.

I learned some valuable lessons that day which carry over well into the journey of life.  Maybe you can benefit from them too.

Lesson 1) When you realize you are off track, STOP and return to where you lost your bearing.  Don’t try to fix it on your own, it only compounds the error. It was self-reliance that got you there in the first place.  The very moment you discover your’e lost, stop and return, God is waiting for you there (2 Chronicles 15:4).

Lesson 2) When you’re lost, everything looks like a trail. Have you ever noticed that?  The woods appear to be full of trails, but most of them lead nowhere.  When I was a kid, I’d walk in the woods near our house and follow supposed “trails,” imagining that they were Indian trails or deer trails, or bear.  Usually, the trail would dissolve into nothingness and leave me standing in the center of a briar patch. We call these rabbit trails.  When we stop relying on the Holy Spirit as our guide and lose our way, we become susceptible to all kinds of worldly rabbit trails. We think these trails will lead to fulfillment, but they never do.  Are you chasing a rabbit trail right now?

Lesson 3) When you’ve lost your way, don’t trust your feelings, trust your instruments. When I finally broke out the compass and map, I had an incredibly difficult time believing that I was headed in the exact opposite direction.  I’m headed east? That can’t be right! I looked at the map and the compass and double and triple checked it. It was really hard to turn around. To do so meant admitting that I had been going in the wrong direction for a long time.  Even in spite of all of the evidence, a part of me still thought, “Maybe if I just go a little farther, I’ll find that trail.”

God’s word and Spirit are the only true north in our lives.  God has given us completely reliable resources, but like Peter walking on the water, the surest way to sink is to get our eyes off Jesus and trust in our own strength and resources.

I learned a lot on the trail that day.  Sometimes people think they are lost but they aren’t, they just need to keep walking. Sometimes people know they’re lost and the battle is to find the humility and courage to turn around. But the absolute worst place to be, is to be lost and not know it.  It’s from that place of arrogance or ignorance that our souls are truly in danger.

Which describes you?