I will not die, but live…

“I will not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.” Psalm 118:17

It was not that the writer of this Psalm believed he would never die, but that God would deliver him from his present crisis so he could recount the Lord’s goodness and mercy. Martin Luther had this verse written on the wall of his study. In the face of an uncertain future, he believed that this word provided a firm conviction that he was perfectly safe until his work was done. The application to my own life is along the same lines as the psalmist and Luther.

I am entering a new phase in my journey with pancreatic cancer. A recent CAT scan revealed that the cancer, which is still confined to a few nodules in my lungs, has begun to grow again. The more moderate form of chemo that I have been on since February is no longer effective. Today, I have started a more powerful regimen of chemo—Folfiri, which I have been on before. I have also started interviewing at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for available clinical trials. I would appreciate your prayers for wisdom in this search—that the trial maybe effective in my treatment as well as paving the way for others.

And so as I sit in the hospital receiving chemo, it is with the calm assurance that I will not die before I have completed the work the Lord has for me to do. I do not know what that work is; certainly not as earth-shattering as that of Luther’s. Perhaps my work is that of encouraging the faith of my children, grandchildren, and friends who still look to me as a pastor, mentor, and friend. I know that God does not need my help in exalting him or making him known to my limited world. However, I do believe the small pieces of my life are part of a great mosaic by which God is being glorified in the extended world today. I am thankful to be alive on earth in order to serve him and share in reflecting his glory.

Some closing thoughts that form my confession of faith and may help in building your own assurance; taken from the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Q1:What is your only comfort in life and death?

A1: That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sin with his precious blood, and set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready for now on to live for him.

May God bless you with spiritual blessings and earthly joys!

Coming soon: a free course that I will put up on my website—Church History 101.

Learning about African American History… 3

The is the third in a series of blogs regarding what I am learning about African Americans in U.S. history that I never learned in school.

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“King Cotton” began to rule in the South and slavery flourished instead of fading., as the founding fathers had expected. Between 1820-1850, the number of slaves in this country doubled to 3 million even though slavery had been officially banned since 1808. The increase was due to slaves being smuggled into the country and existing slaves having children.

In 1819, the Missouri Territory petitioned for statehood. At that time the nation had 11 free states and 11 slave states. Northern congressmen protested and moved to ban slavery from Missouri which elicited a great reaction from Southern congressmen. Henry Clay of Kentucky proposed that Missouri be allowed to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine, which had just broken away from Massachusetts, to enter as a free state. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 also divided the newly purchased Louisiana Territory at 36.30 degrees, so that all territories north and west of the line would be free, the rest slave. Again, all of this after the Constitution banned slavery after 1808.

Elaborate theories were developed to justify the slave labor system. Alexander Stephens of Georgia said that “equality of the races is fundamentally wrong. . . . the great truth [is] that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to a superior race—is his natural and normal condition.” John C Calhoon of Soth Carolina claimed that slaveholders took “low, degraded, and savage” Africans and “civilized” and “improved” them. George Fitzhugh of Virginia said that slaves were “perhaps the happiest and freest people n the world.” The groundless and baseless theories were used to create the myth of superior and inferior people based upon race. Even though poor whites in the south were economically hurt by competition with slave labor, they believed this myth of superiority because of their white skin. Very few poor whites helped slaves escape north, but many were on the nightly slave patrols hunting runways slaves for rewards.

Speaking of elaborate theories that sinful people can create in order to justify their racist way of life, Dr. Samuel Cartwright of New Orleans, a respected Southern medical doctor, was convinced that African Americans suffered from special diseases. He called on dysaethesia aethiopica and claimed that it caused Blacks to “break, waste, and destroy everything they handle.” His other discovery was “drapetomania, or the disease causing negroes to run away.” This “disease of the mind” was sometimes cured by “whipping the devil out of them.” These crazy scientific theories coincided with the other non-sensical myth that slavery was a naturally happy life.

A quarter of a million free people of color lived in the South by 1860. In spite of many restrictions that limited their advancement in society, several achieved outstanding success. Norbert Rillieux of New Orleans perfected a vacuum pan that revolutionized the sugar refining industry in Europe and America. Dr. Charles Brown, of the US Department of Agriculture, said “Rillieux’s invention is the greatest in the history of American chemical engineering…”

Daniel Payne, a free Black of Charleston, opened his first school in 1829. He taught 3 children during the day and 3 adult slaves at night. Each pupil paid 50 cents a month to attend. As his expenses mounted, he became discouraged and quit. Then a white man told him that the difference between a master and a slave was “nothing but superior knowledge.” Payne decided to reopen his school which increased in numbers to the extent that he had to move into a larger space. Payne became a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and one of the founders of Wilberforce University in Ohio, becoming its president in 1863—the first African American college president in America.

There is a fascinating story about of a slave who mailed himself to freedom. Henry “Box” Brown of Richmond, Virginia, (1849) had a white friend help “Fed-Ex” him in a wooden box to Philadelphia. The box was 3 ft 1 in long by 2 ft 6 deep by 2 ft wide; 3 small holes for air. It was nailed shut and tied with straps. Brown had a small flask of water and a few biscuits. His friend (Samuel Smith) delivered box to the express office and sent a telegraph to friends in Philadelphia who would retrieve it. Brown was transported to steamboat by train, often having to withstand being upside down even though the box had written upon it, “this side up with care.” He arrived in Washington where he thrown on a wagon, head down again, but when more mail was added to the wagon the box was bounced right side up. The whole trip took 27 hrs. His abolitionist friends received the box gladly. It is said that when the box was opened Brown exclaimed “How do you do, gentlemen!” and sang a song based upon Psalm 40, “I waited patiently on the Lord and he heard my prayer.” Apparently, Brown believed that freedom was worth the risk. He became a well-known speaker for the Anti-Slavery Society. He eventually moved to England where he became an actor, magician, and mesmerist. (I was unable to find out how tall Brown was, but I doubt he was the size of LeBron James.)

More to come…

Some Thoughts on Revival…

Go to the menu portion of this (or any) blog and see a paper that I wrote on Revival. As a church, nation, and world, we are desperate for a new work of God. As you will read, the darker the night the more God’s people will be on their knees. And the more God’s people pray, the greater the hope of a fresh work of the Holy Spirit.

Learning about African American history… 2

The recent racial unrest in our country has given me a deep desire to understand the enslavement of the African people in U.S. and, among other things, why African Americans have been almost completely left out of the history of our nation, except for slavery. Most of us raised studying American history have gained little knowledge of the contributions African Americans have made to our nation. Over my next several blogs I would like to share some of what I’ve been learning about African American history. My goal is not to be controversial but informative and to recognize the African American as playing a vital role in the development of our country .

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Between 1500-1800, about 12 million slaves were brought to the New World in a system called “triangular trade.” The first line of this triangle consisted of bringing goods, textiles, and weapons to the African Coast to trade for kidnapped slaves. The second line was the transport of these slaves to the Americas—known as the “Middle Passage.” There, traders sold the slaves for sugar, tobacco, and other goods and headed back to England. The majority of slaves were sold in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Both slaves and free people of color contributed to the development of culture in the Colonies. Jupiter Hammon, a slave on Long Island, published a book of religious poetry. Gustavus Vasa wrote a book about his life in Nigeria, his capture, and his slave life in Virginia. His book sold eight editions in America and England. He bought his freedom and presented a petition against the slave trade to the English Parliament. A South Carolina slave named Cesar developed cures for certain poisons that earned him his freedom and an yearly annuity of 100 pounds. James Derham was a slave in the post-Revolutionary War era and was sold to a New Orleans physician, who taught him to prepare drugs and gave him lessons in French and Spanish. At age 21, Derham began to practice in New Orleans and was highly praised for his medical knowledge and practice by Dr. Benjamin Rush, surgeon general of the Continental army and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Banneker, a freed slave, was chosen by George Washington to serve on the commission that planned the City of Washington DC. Phillis Wheatley, a poet, published a book of verse in 1773 with the encouragement of her Boston mistress, who also freed her. Her poetry received favorable reviews from Voltairs, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and George Washiugton, who invited her to visit him at his Cambridge HQ’s in 1776.

The first known written protest against slavery was written by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1688…”have not these poor Negroes as much right to fight for their freedom as you have to keep them slaves?” The first known written African American protest against slavery appeared in 1788, published by Othello, about whom we know nothing. “In you [whites] the superiority of power produces nothing but superiority of brutality and barbarism….Your fine political systems are sullied by the outrages committed against human nature and the divine majesty.”

On March 5, 1770, Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave became one of 5 Americans to become martyrs— killed at the Boston Massacre. Lemuel Haynes was among the first African American Minutemen who fought at Lexington and Concord and whose “shots were heard around the world.” He also became one of Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys who captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British in 1775. After the Revolutionary War, Haynes became the minister of an all white congregation in Vermont. James Armistead, while a slave, became a spy for General Lafayette during the Revolutionary War. In 1786, the Virginia legislature granted him his freedom because he aided the American cause. While not as famous as Lafayette, Von Stubben, Kosciusko, many African Americans fought for the cause of freedom against the British. In fact, two months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Massachusetts legislature declared that slavery was utterly inconsistent with the struggle for liberty and many towns in the state voted to abolish slavery.

Many of the Founding Fathers strongly opposed slavery and the slave trade. However, the men who gathered in Philadelphia to draft a Constitution were there to build a strong and unified country, not solve the slavery issue. And in order to gain and keep the loyalty of the slave owning states in the South. Sadly, concessions were made to protect slavery and not demand its immediate cessation. In a compromise, the Constitution granted the African slave trade 20 more years to exist—a period ending in 1808. However, the compromise also provided that all runaway slaves be returned to their owners and because slaveholders were to be taxed for their slaves as property, they were allowed 3 votes for every 5 slaves owned. Thus if there were a census taken in those days, an African American slave would be counted as only 3/5ths of a person! Most felt that slavery was a temporary arrangement that would soon run its course. However, no one could foresee the invention of the cotton gin (short for engine) just 6 yrs. later nor the wealth gained from the European demand for cotton which dramatically increased the need for labor provided by the slave trade.

James Beckwourth was one of the most famous frontiersman of the 19th century. He escaped slavery and headed west to live on the frontier. He was “adopted” into the Crow Indian tribe and became its chief. But his place in history rests in discovering a pass (1850) through the Sierra Nevada Mountains which became a gateway to California during the gold rush days. The pass still bears his name. The Crows wanted him back as their chief, but he turned them down. Legend has it that they invited him to a feast where he was poisoned. If the Crows could not have him as chief, at least they could have him to bury in the tribal cemetery as their former chief.

More to come…

Learning about African American History… 1

The recent racial unrest in our country has given me a deep desire to understand the enslavement of the African people in U.S. and, among other things, why African Americans have been almost completely left out of the history of our nation, except for slavery. Most of us raised studying American history have gained little knowledge of the contributions African Americans have made to our nation. Over my next several blogs I would like to share some of what I’ve been learning about African American history. My goal is not to be controversial but informative and to recognize the African American as playing a vital role in the development of our country .

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Europeans did not introduce Christianity to Africa. Christianity came to Africa through Egypt and Ethiopia as early as the third and fourth centuries AD. And it was Africans such as Augustine, Tertullian, and Athanasius who clarified for us the very basics of our faith. They were theological “rockstars” in the development of our understanding of the dual-nature of Christ and of Trinitarian theology. (Africans not only had their tribal religions but were also exposed to Islam in the 5th century.)

Slavery, as it developed in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of S. America, was different than the system that developed in N. America. This was due primarily to the Roman Catholic Church, which protected slaves from abuse and preached their treatment as human beings thereby keeping slavery from being infected by racial prejudice. In countries such as Brazil and Cuba, slaves could actually purchase their own freedom.

In the early days of European slave-contact with N. America, a racial caste system had not yet been established. This has led many to the conclusion that race is a social construct—an intentional choice that a society makes that skin color determines who is free and who is a slave. (Jimar Tisby) When slaves first arrived in N. America in 1619, they were treated as indentured servants; workers bound to an employer until they could pay off their debt. They could marry, save money, and pay for their freedom. Some Europeans and Indigenous people also served as indentured servants along with Africans. The movement toward slavery of the Africans happened gradually due to a number of factors: the desire by Virginians to cash in on the lucrative European market for tobacco which demanded more workers, and a declining population of Indigenous people and Europeans willing to work as indentured servants in contrast to a steady supply of workers from Africa through the slave trade. By the mid-1660’s, each of the Southern Colonies had enacted slaves codes or laws that established the rules of human bondage.

As the colonies depended more and more on African slaves, the Virginia Assembly enacted a new law (mid-17th century) stating that if a slave became a Christian and was baptized, it did not include their freedom. It was at this point (it seems) that the religious establishment became a part of a system that encouraged the slave to be content with their spiritual liberation and compliant to their masters.

Slavery in the American Colonial period was marked by a more tolerant attitude towards people of color than the pre-Civil War period. Schools were opened by slave owners to teach slaves to read and write (1740). The farther north one went in the colonies, the smaller the slave population. New England slaves never reached more than 2% of the population (compare the 65% of South Carolina) and their labor tended to be of a domestic kind rather than working in the field. Puritan pastor Cotton Mather insisted that slave owners treat slaves as persons with souls and not as beasts of burdens. He told ministers to preach, “Thy Negro is thy neighbor.” All of this said, slavery still existed in the North and most ministers had one or two household slaves. This included Cotton Mather, who was given a slave by his church as part of his benefit package, and Jonathan Edwards, who questioned the slave trade but did not find the concept of slavery itself inconsistent with the Bible.

It was easier for a New England slave to improve his/her condition than those in the South. Slave soldiers received the same pay as whites. Some slaves successfully sued their owners for freedom. Newport Gardiner of Rhode Island opened a music school for Blacks and Whites. His slave owner took lessons from him. However, a growing discrimination against people of color prevented them from rising in society as far as they could have.

More to come…

It is Good for Me That I was Afflicted…

Things like this are not easy to read or accept, but I would like to share with you a section from Thomas Brooks’ “A Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod of God: Comfort for Suffering Saints,” originally published in 1659. It has been helpful to me. You may find the complete book in a PDF file at http://www.ChapelLibrary.org

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes.”—Psalm 119:71.

“A gracious soul secretly concludes, as stars shine brightest in the night, so God will make my soul shine and glisten like gold, while I am in this furnace, and when I come out of the furnace of affliction. “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Surely, as the taste of honey opened Jonathan’s eyes, so this cross, this affliction shall open my eyes. By this stroke I shall come to have a clearer sight of my sins and of myself, and a fuller sight of my God (Job 33:27-28; 40:4-5; 13:1-7)!

Surely this affliction shall proceed in the purging away of my dross (Isa 1:25)!

Surely as plowing of the ground kills the weeds, and harrowing breaks hard clods, so these afflictions shall kill my sins and soften my heart (Hos 5:15; 6:1-3)!

Surely as the plaster draws out the infectious core, so the afflictions which are upon me shall draw out the core of pride, the core of self-love, the core of envy, the core of earthliness, the core of formality, the core of hypocrisy (Psa 119:67, 71)!

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will crucify my heart more and more to the world and the world to my heart (Gal 6:14; Psa 131:1-3)!

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will keep pride from my soul (Job 33:14-21)!

Surely these afflictions are but the Lord’s pruning-knives, by which He will bleed my sins, and prune my heart, and make it more fertile and fruitful! They are but the Lord’s potion, by which He will clear me, and rid me of those spiritual diseases and maladies which are most deadly and dangerous to my soul! Affliction is such a healing potion, as will carry away all soul-diseases, better than all other remedies (Zech 13:8-9)!

Surely these afflictions shall increase my spiritual communion with God (Rom 5:3-4)!

Surely by these afflictions, I shall be made to partake more of God’s holiness (Heb12:10)! As black soap makes white clothes, so do sharp afflictions make holy hearts!

Surely by these afflictions, the Lord will draw out my heart more and more to seek Him! “In their afflictions they will seek me early” (Hos 5:15)! In times of affliction,Christians will industriously, speedily, early seek unto their Lord!

Surely by these trials and troubles, the Lord will fix my soul more than ever upon the great concernments of the eternal world (Joh 14:1-3; Rom 8:17, 18; 2 Cor 4:16-18)!

Surely by these afflictions the Lord will work in me more tenderness and compassion towards those who are afflicted (Heb 10:34, 13:3)!

Surely these afflictions are but God’s love-tokens! “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev 3:19)! So says the holy Christian, “O my soul! be quiet, be still. All is sent in love, all is a fruit of divine favor. I see honey upon the top of every twig; I see the rodis but a rosemary branch; I have sugar with my gall, and wine with my wormwood; therefore be silent, O my soul!”

Afflictions abase the carnal attractions of the world outside us that might entice us!

Affliction abates the lustiness of the flesh within us that might otherwise ensnare us!

Afflictions humble us and keep us low! Holy hearts will be humble under the afflicting hand of God. When God’s rod is upon their backs, their mouths shall be in the dust!

A godly heart will lie lowest, when the hand of God is lifted highest.

All this proves that affliction is a mighty advantage to us! ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted…’ Psalm 119:71).”

NOTE: Check out a new resource that I have written, “Slavery and the Use of Scripture”.” It can be found on the menu portion of this or any blog.

God Has a Greater Interest in Me, Than I Have in Myself…

I’m getting chemo right now and thanking God for the safe delivery of our new grandson, Micah Lucas McDowell, born to Danielle and Jeremy early this morning at 12:17 am. Micah is our 11th grandchild. Gloria and I are blessed!

I always bring a book with me to chemo and I would like to share a portion of that book with you. The book was written by Thomas Brooks and is titled, “A Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod of God: Comfort for Suffering Saints,” originally published in 1659. Here it is:

You have a greater interest in me, than I have in myself. The godly one gives himself up to God. The secret language of the soul is this,“Lord, here am I; do with me what You please, I give up myself to be at Your disposal.”

There was a good woman, who, when she was sick, being asked whether she were willing to live or die, answered, “Whichever God pleases. ”But, said one who stood by, “If God would refer it to you, which would you choose?” “Truly,” said she, “if God would refer it to me, I would even refer it right back to Him again.” This was a soul worth gold.

“Well,” says a gracious soul, “The ambitious man gives himself up to his honors, but I give up myself unto God. The voluptuous man gives himself up to his pleasures, but I give up myself to God. The covetous man gives himself up to his bags of money, but I give up myself to God. The wanton man gives himself up to his lust, but I give up myself to God. The drunkard gives himself up to his cups, but I give up myself to God. . . .The heretic gives up himself to his heretical opinions, but I give up myself to God.

Lord! Lay what burden You will upon me, only let Your everlasting arms be under me!” Strike, Lord, strike, and spare not; for I submit to Your will. You have a greater interest in me, than I have in myself; and therefore I give up myself unto You, and am willing to be at Your disposal, and am ready to receive whatever impression You shall stamp upon me. O blessed Lord! Have you not again and again said unto me, as once the king of Israel said to the king of Syria, “I am yours, and all that I have is yours” (1Kings 20:4).

God says, “I am yours, O soul, to save you!

My mercy is yours to pardon you-

My blood is yours to cleanse you!

My merits are yours to justify you!

My righteousness is yours to clothe you!

My Spirit is yours to lead you!

My grace is yours to enrich you!

My glory is yours to reward you!”

“And therefore,” says a gracious soul, “I cannot but make a resignation of myself unto You. Lord! Here I am, do with me as seems good in Your own eyes. I resign up myself to Your will.”

Amen!