My Hope is Built on Nothing Less…

This note was sent to me by Wes Ross, a dear friend of mine from Massachusetts. Wes is a musician-scholar-pastor and he recently responded to one of my blogs in which I quoted a portion of the famous hymn by Edward Mote, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” Listen to the hymn as you read the blog.

Check out this video on YouTube:

Hi Dave,

Thank you for these devotionals. They are often just what I need to hear. The hymn that you quoted at the end [of your blog] has always been one of my favorites. A few years ago, on one of our England trips (2017), I decided to try to find the church where Edward Mote was pastor in the town of Horsham. You may know that Mote was a cabinet-maker in London and would have been well-known to many of the leading evangelical leaders in the city.

Interestingly, he had been born (like George Whitefield) the son of parents who ran a pub. Apparently, young Edward did not have the benefit of a Christian upbringing and instead had to fend for himself on the streets while mom and dad ran the pub. At the age of 55, he left his career as a cabinet-maker (and the Christian community in London) and took the pastorate of the Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham. He was there for the next 21 years until his death in 1874. With just that to go on, Suzanne and I began our search by foot for the church. We found the local TIC and a lady there had heard of the Rehoboth Baptist Church and gave us directions.

When we got there, sadly it was locked, but peering through the glass door, I could see a plaque that celebrated this as the church where Edward Mote had written the hymn “My Hope Is Built.” I was ecstatic and insisted on walking around the church to see if there was another entrance. There was not, but soon the present pastor emerged from the church (he may have thought that I was casing the place!) and when he discovered our motive for being there, he invited us inside to see the small sanctuary where Mote would have preached. Then he said, “ He is buried out back, would you like to see?” Of course, I was thrilled.

The best news is that after all these years, the church is still healthy ( about 70-80 believers) and functioning with several strong elders and this young pastor who obviously had a heart for the community. In the short time that we talked, it became apparent that this man was Reformed in his thinking as well. I believe that Mote would be pleased to know that all these years after his death, this group is still reaching out with the gospel to the folk of Horsham.

We do not know the lasting influence of our ordinary lives, do we? Sometimes, it seems as if we are having no impact at all. May this story be an encouragement to all believers; just be faithful, my friend, just be faithful to serve the Lord in your little corner of the vineyard. Remember, your Hope in life is not in your success but in Christ.

Announcing “Just a Thought Ministries”…

For those of you who have followed my “Just a Thought” blog, I want you to know that it has now turned into a ministry. Here is the announcement:

Just A Thought Ministries is a new teaching initiative of Pastor Dave and Gloria McDowell (see their bio below). Their mission in this new chapter of retirement is to provide resources for the education, encouragement, and spiritual development of the wider Body of Christ. This will be accomplished through opportunities for preaching; writing books and recommending other written resources that would be helpful to growing a life of faith; speaking at seminars and men’s conferences for the purpose of challenging men to be godly, humble, and holy; continuing to write a weekly blog challenging Christians to think more deeply about the Bible, life issues, and current events; developing iPod lectures on church history, biblical interpretation, basic preaching and other academic subjects designed to increase the knowledge and understanding of those who desire to think more deeply or are involved in or preparing for ministry; mentoring younger pastors and leaders in church ministry who may not have had the opportunity to attend seminary or take courses in pastoral theology and practice; story-telling for children and developing CDs and DVDs for listening while traveling or before bedtime; developing a young theologians club designed to help younger people see the practicality and importance of theology in daily life; and helping individuals and churches to develop an ESL tutoring ministry.

In addition, Pastor Dave is also going through chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer and desires to be used as a resource to help others who are facing similar issues. He is in the process of writing a book to encourage fellow-sufferers called “The Goodness of Affliction.”

Why would you support this couple when there are so many other important causes to support? You may not choose to and that is fine, but please pray for them when they come to mind. However, it might be that the Lord has blessed you through their ministry in the past and for that reason you may want to continue to support them in this ministry now in the 4th Quarter of their lives. It could even be that you don’t know them very well or at all, but you just like the idea of old people still trying to be faithful to their life-calling.

What would your financial support be accomplishing? The most important thing for you to know is that it would not be going toward living expenses. Your support would only be used for ministry expenses. For example, if asked to travel overseas to encourage members of the missionary community or to speak at a church in the U.S. but the honorarium does not cover the out of pocket expense incurred, your support would supplement the remaining expense. If someone needed mentoring or tutoring and could not afford the material used, your support would cover that expense. If there was an opportunity to do a pod cast or produce a CD for children or create an interactive classroom for young theologians, your support would help pay for the production. No opportunity would be turned down simply on the basis of the limited resources of a retirement income, nor would there be the need to set a fee structure for ministry. Your support would enable ministry to take place without regard to anyone’s ability to pay. Would you prayerfully consider being a part of the Just a Thought Ministries team?

Just a Thought Ministries is a member ministry of a parent organization called Ministry Alliance www.ministry-alliance.org which is a 501(c)(3) administrative organization that provides guidance and accountability for all its member ministries. Ministry Alliance will provide such accountability for Just a Thought Ministries by keeping a record of all financial support, providing financial accountability for all donations, and ensuring that every disbursement conforms to IRS standards. Ministry Alliance will also send you a tax deductible receipt for your gift. You can donate online at https://secure.qgiv.com/for/jat/ or you may send a check for any amount to 

Just A Thought Ministries c/o Ministry Alliance, P.O. Box 49341 Charlotte, NC 28277

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Dave and Gloria have 5 adult children and 10 non-adult grandchildren. Their 48 yrs. of marriage and ministry have taught them much about life and about God. You would think that after all these years they would have have it all together, but they continue (sigh) to be imperfect people with an imperfect marriage. However, they have learned to live by God’s grace (and a few other things along the way) that will help them remain committed to their marriage, usable to God, and helpful to others. 

Dave graduated with Bachelor of Arts degree from Wheaton College (IL), a Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Masters in Sacred Theology from Union Theological Seminary (NYC), and a PhD. from Trinity College and Seminary (IN). Gloria received her Bachelors of Arts degree from Wheaton College and her Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language from Elms College (MA).

If you desire to have Pastor Dave as a speaker at your church or conference, you may contact him at mcd7@sbcglobal.net. If you desire to learn how to start an ESL ministry at your church, you may contact Gloria at the same address.

FYI: Pastor Dave is coming out with a new book, The Just Shall Live by Faith: An Expanded Outline of the Book of Romans. It is to be published this winter, He also writes a weekly blog that you can follow at davemcdowell.org as well as being on Facebook and Linkedin.

The Reality of Your Religion…

J.C. Ryle* in his book “Practical Religion,” has a chapter on the Reality of Your Religion which I have found helpful in the evaluation of my own Christian Faith. Perhaps it will be helpful to you as well.

You know the reality of your religion by the place it occupies in your inner man. It is not enough that it is in your head – to assent to the truth, or on your lips – to repeat the Creed daily, or say ‘Amen’ to public prayer in church, but it must be in your heart. It must occupy the citadel…hold the reins…sway the affections…lead the will…direct the tastes…influence the choices and decisions…fill the deepest, lowest, inmost seat in your soul.

As I apply this test to myself, I see that my faith drives everything I do and produces deep within my core a consciousness of God’s Presence, even when I am not thinking of Him. (2 Cor 4:16)

You know the reality of your religion by the feelings towards sin that it produces. It will see in sin the abominable thing that God hates, the thing which makes man guilty and lost in his Maker’s sight. It will also look on sin as the cause of all sorrows, of strife and wars, of quarrels and contentions, of sickness and death…the blight which has defaced God’s fair creation, the cursed thing which makes the whole earth groan and travail in pain. Above all, it will see in sin the thing which will ruin us eternally, except we can find a Redeemer.

As I apply this test to myself, I see that my faith causes me to see how deeply fallen and flawed I am and that there is no hope for me or for this world apart from God’s deliverance. There is nothing in me that has any power to save myself. Only Christ can save me. (Rom 3:10-12; Eph 2:1-3)

You know the reality of your religion by the feelings towards Christ which it produces. Nominal religion may believe that such a person as Jesus existed, and was a great benefactor of mankind… It may show him some external respect, attend his outward ordinance, and bow the head at his name. But it will go no further. Real religion will make us glory in Christ as Redeemer, Deliverer, Priest, and Friend, without whom we would have no hope at all.

As I apply this test to myself, I am absolutely convinced that apart from the work of Christ for me in his life, death, and resurrection, I have no hope of the forgiveness of sins or of life beyond the grave. My faith recognizes that without Jesus Christ I am lost, both in this life and in the life to come. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness…” (John 14:6; Rom 3:21-24)

You know the reality of your religion by the fruit it bears in your heart and life… It will produce in the person who possesses it repentance, faith, hope, charity, humility, spirituality, a kind temper, self-denial, unselfishness, forgiveness, temperance, truthfulness, brotherly kindness, patience, and forbearance. The degree in which these various graces appear may vary in different believers, but the germ and seeds of them will be found in all who are children of God.

As I apply this test to myself, I struggle with seeing these fruits consistently appearing in my thoughts and behavior. It seems that my human reactions and self-centered ways are still my default settings. However, there is one thing for certain, I am constantly aware of my need of repentance because of how short I fall of evidencing these virtues. This repentance is not a groveling worldly sorrow , but a godly sorrow that produces in me a desire to show God’s life through my own. (2 Cor 7:10, 11; Phil 1:20-22)

You know the reality of your religion by your feelings and habits about the means of grace. What are your feelings about public prayer, praise, preaching, and the administration of the Lord’s Supper? Are these things you tolerate…or are they things in which you take pleasure? Do you find it essential to your comfort to read the Bible regularly in private, and speak to God in prayer? Or, do you find these practices irksome, and either slur over them or neglect them altogether.

As I apply this test to myself, I find great motivation to care for my own soul by means of daily time in the Scripture and in prayer; by the practice of other disciplines that sharpen my focus on God and the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I also understand the importance of the community of faith, although I desire to see more reality in this area of my life, especially developing accountability structures so I don’t live such a solitary life.

Ryle concludes, Let reality be one great mark of your religion. Your repentance may be feeble; your faith weak, but let it be real; your desires after holiness may be mingled with much infirmity, but let them be real. Let there be nothing of reserve, double-dealing, part-time acting, of dishonesty, of sham, of counterfeit in your Christianity… Be all that you profess. Though you may err, be real. Though you may stumble, be real. Keep this principle continually before your eyes, and it will be well with your soul throughout your journey from grace to glory.

*John Charles Ryle was and Anglican Bishop of Liverpool from 1880-1900. CH Spurgeon considered him “the best man in the Church of England.” Ryle’s better known classic “Holiness” should be on your bookshelf along with this one

Teach me to number my days so that… (part 2)

In my previous blog, I referred to the Psalm 90, the magnificent song of Moses:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Moses here acknowledges that there is something terribly wrong in the world because we who were the crown of God’s creation are fallen and finite creatures. Our lives are short and filled with trouble, and our death is inevitable. In the face of this inevitability, Moses prays, Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. We must learn to number our days properly so that we can live our lives wisely.

Let me give you a few things to ponder which will go a long way in living wisely. I am only going to name a few things; they are pastoral and very simple, and yet incredibly important. I would invite you to add to the list and teach them to your children.

1. Make sure that those closest to you know that you love them. In fact- today is the day to learn to say “I love you” and to say it regularly. These are the most profound words you could leave as a legacy to your loved ones. Many a child has grown to adulthood and been left with words such as, “you’ll never amount to anything,” “you’re a mistake, we never really wanted you.” Many a wife or husband has been left wondering if she/he was really loved. And so, one of the ways to create a wise and lasting positive legacy is to make sure your loved ones know you love them. Today is the day to begin…say it, don’t assume it.

2. Make sure that you keep short accounts. Today is the day to learn to say “I’m sorry” and to say it often. Grudges are built up over time; unforgiveness turns to bitterness and to resentment; unreconciled relationships separate us and can be passed on to future generations. How many of the world conflicts today find their root in generational grudges and tribal revenge? And how many issues in our families are rooted in the hearts of people who refuse to forgive and seek reconciliation – until it’s too late, and all they have left is regret. You don’t always have to be right, but you should always be sorry. It is hard to die in peace when you are overcome with regret. It is not too late to begin to wisely learn to say, “I’m sorry.”

3. Make sure that you have thought deeply about where you will be 10 seconds after you die. Today is the day to get right with God. Since death is inevitable and we will all someday face our Maker, are you prepared? “I’ll deal with that when it comes”- you don’t know when it will come. I was talking to an old guy (older than me, so he was really old) two summers ago who wasn’t sure he believed in God, but he said “If there is a God, then he’ll know that I’ve done the best I could – He’ll understand.” I told him that the problem is our best isn’t good enough and God doesn’t grade on the curve. He demands perfection, which eliminates all of us from contention. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is why we need a Savior. The old gentleman looked at me with a little smile on his face and said, “Hmm, well I’ll take my chances.” He’s right; he is taking a big chance… not wise!

Remember the 2004 Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ”? The trailer was simply a dark screen with these words, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities…” This is a verse from Isa 53 and it continues…”the punishment of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray…” Our Messiah took our sins upon himself so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. Therefore, it is the one who believes in Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross who is ready face life and death and to stand before God without fear… very wise.

“No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.” (In Christ Alone by Alison Krauss and Keith Getty)

The following words were found on a note by the bedside of a man who had died after a brief illness: “What shall I think when I am called to die? Shall I not find too soon my life has ended? The years, too quickly, have hastened by with so little done of all that I’d intended. There were so many things I’d meant to try, so many contests I’d hoped to win, and now the end approaches just as I was thinking of preparing to begin.”

Lord, teach me to number my days

My feet had almost slipped…

Have you ever felt such deep disappointment that led you to believe that God was no longer there or had forgotten you?  Perhaps it was a situation where you didn’t particlarly like the way He was running the universe?   Maybe it hadn’t yet come to head, but you were simmering inside even though carrying on as if everything was fine. Maybe you are feeling like that now. You’ve noticed that your passion for God has started to ebb, you are beginning to lose your desire to be in the Word and pray; you’ve started to fall asleep in church; you’ve become critical and hard to live with, and you just don’t care much about the things of God.

If you feel this way, or think that you ever might, Psalm 73 is very important.  It is a tale of how a true believer became isolated from God through a crisis of faith.  It also shows the process that person (the psalmist) used to restore himself to fellowship.

The psalmist began by confessing that God is good.  This is important.  While he didn’t understand the ways of God, neither did he stop believing in God.  He began with what he knew to be true about God before he proceeded to address the things he didn’t understand. Many people are not successful with faith-crisis issues because they do not have a firm footing from which to deal with them.  Do yourself a favor and don’t reinvent the wheel every time you struggle with God.  Start your struggle by confessing those things which you know to be true and then proceed from there.

 The psalmist then proceeded with his compliant.  The psalmist (Asaph- writer of 12 Psalms) was a singer and chief musician in King David’s court. Asaph wasn’t engaged in a scientific study.  He merely looked around and saw the lives of those who did not have a heart for God and it seemed to him that they were getting along just fine, maybe even better than he was.  He wondered if it was even worth it to be righteous. He began to get the sense that things just weren’t fair and this began to distance him from God.

We do the same thing on a human level.  I know some people, for example, who go to church and make the observation that they are the only ones who aren’t happy or have it all together. Therefore, they feel out of place and stop attending.  It is not abnormal to make unsubstantiated assessments about people or situations which cause us to feel a certain way about ourselves. The psalmist did this as he looked around at the health and prosperity of those who did not love God, and it destabilized him.  He could not make any forward progress in his relationship to God.  Notice how he put it in v. 2, “my feet had almost slipped”. 

A number of years ago, when we lived in New England, I went up on my roof after a snow storm to shovel off two or three feet of snow along the edge to prevent an ice build up.  It was melting, so as soon as I shoveled a section it became very slippery.  I had to be extremely careful and deliberate with each step because I felt I was about to slip.  Finally, it got so bad I could no longer move in any direction, I was completely immobilized.  So it is when the feet of faith feel like they are almost slipping- we cannot move in our relationship to God.

And so Asaph poured out his complaint before God; he did not broadcast it to others.  He realized the effect that such spiritual turmoil could have upon the believing community, especially upon those who were less mature in the faith.  Instead, he kept pondering the issue and struggling with it before God until something happened. In v.17 we read, “till I entered the sanctuary of God and then I understood…” We’re not told what happened when he went to church that day. We know that he was on the church staff, being the chief musician in the Temple.  Maybe he was leading a worship song that he had sung a million times before, when all of a sudden he gained a new perspective of the Lord.  He ceased dealing with God as an object of speculation and began to see Him as the subject of worship.  He bowed himself before the majestic greatness of God and his whole perspective changed.  He bowed and then understood — that God was just and that the wicked and their wealth would be destroyed. 

 The psalmist also confessed his own humiliation and brokenness, v. 21, “when my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant, I was a brute beast before you.” This is a biblical response when we recognize the presence of God – like Isaiah, “Woe is me for I am undone!  For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the KING, the Lord Almighty” (Isa.6:5).  Or Peter, in Luke 5, after he had questioned Jesus’ authority and then witnessed his power in the great catch of fish; he fell down before Jesus and said,  “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.” Also, Job’s experience, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3, 4). 

Similarly, the psalmist confessed his humiliation and something else (v. 23-24); He also confessed the realization that God had always been with him, even though he felt far away.  God was present with him and would be even in death (“and afterward you will take me to glory”). You can sense the psalmist’s growing passion for God in v. 25, 26, Asaph turned from the wealth of the wicked that he once envied to his true wealth.  “And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. God not only satisfies completely, but He remains the true treasure that even death cannot take away.

Do you remember that I told you about being stuck on my roof, feeling that my feet were about to slip?  The only way I got out of that predicament was by falling back into the unshoveled snow on my roof. The very thing I tried to get rid of became the very thing I turned to in the end.  The psalmist did the same thing with God.  He pushed God away and his feet almost slipped.  He fell back into God and he found his refuge.

Stay at worship, my friend. Keep in the Word and maintain your prayers, regardless of how you feel because this is real faith. Hang onto what you know to be true: God is good, He will always be with you, He will never fail you, He is your refuge, He is enough!

[Note to my readers: I am going through chemotherapy. Therefore, if I have made any glaring grammatical or spelling errors, please be gracious and attribute it to my chemo brain and not to my ignorance, which is far more likely.]

              

How Can the Church Become What Jesus Intended?

The church is at the same time a spiritual organism and a human organization. We become members of the organism by new birth and baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13) and of the organization by covenant. Most of the controversy about the church failing to become what Jesus intended is focused on its organizational form. The real issue, however, is not with organization, but with people who run it (pulpit and pew).

We Christians still live with our own version of the flesh. We see the sin of others so clearly. We carry with us our own set of expectations as to what the church should be. We go from church to church in search of this ideal. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “Life Together,” writes, “He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.”

We all have our own dream of what the church should be like and when we cannot find it, we grow disillusioned. However, true fellowship is based upon faith and not dreams; upon truth and not emotions. Bonhoeffer boldly suggests that the sooner disillusionment comes, the better. “Therefore the very hour of disillusionment is instructive because it teaches me that neither I nor my brother can live to ourselves, but only through the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.”

The church (organizational) will become what Jesus intended it to be when we receive one another with grace and forgiveness and not measure one another by our own faulty expectations.

Thus for me to make a statement that the church has no relevance in my life, speaks more to my own unconnectedness and selfishness than to the nature of the church.

And by staying in the church, I place myself in the position of receiving from others the very grace and mercy needed most to help me work through the issues of my heart.

Marriage then and now…

Marriage then… June 26, 1971, a date that will live in infamy -wait, that was Pearl Harbor. Let me start over: a date that will live forever in memory. A day when a 22-yr old woman (a beauty) and a 24-yr old guy (add any adjective or noun that is appropriate) said their vows to each other. Those vows did not announce how much they were in love on that day, but the vows were commitments made that they would, by God’s unmeasureable Grace, love each other “until they laid each other in the arms of God.”

Marriage now…June 26, 2019           

48 Things I Love About My Wife, GLORIA   

G   od-lover, great (wonderful) grandma, giver, glad to help others, grateful when people help her, good cook, genuine servant, gold and diamonds are not important, glued to her marriage until death do us part

L   oves her husband and kids and is loved by them, longs for meaningful conversation, loves to explore and take back roads, loses things but they usually turn up (just found car keys in coat pocket after 3 yrs), likes to stay up late but not get up early, lavish prayers said daily on behalf of her kids and grandkids, loyal to her marriage vows especially the in sickness and in health part

O  pines often,  outdoor girl, ovulates no more, overlooks her husband’s faults, opens her home to the stranger and refugee, open-handed to those in need, oppressed by the computer, observes carefully whatsapp messages from kids about the grandkids, overwhelmed by the thought of selling our house and moving 

R ank means nothing, raspberry lover (especially black raspberry pie), reads good books (especially about missions), redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, regularly reflects on God’s Word, rather not do housework, really rather be hiking or kayaking, regrets living so far away from her new grandson in Switzerland, reads idiots guide to understand financial stuff

I   nterested in just about everything having to do with her kids and grandkids, intelligent, incurious about sports (except baseball), inflexible in her convictions, initiates conversations with strangers

A   lways faithful, always supportive of her husband, asks a few questions once in awhile, an accomplished pianist and marimbist, appreciates working together on anything, always likes apple butter, an amazing ESL teacher, age has enhanced her beauty, a woman who fears the Lord