According to Wikipedia, a benediction “is a short invocation for divine help, blessing, and guidance.” From the earliest, Christians adopted benedictions into their worship, particularly at the end of a service. Such benedictions have been regularly practiced ever since. Perhaps the best known biblical benediction is the one at the end of the tiny book of Jude, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25). Only three times in the New Testament is praise offered to God “who is able” – Romans 16:25, Ephesians 3:20, and here, where Jude offers praise to God who is able to “keep you from stumbling.” Further, Jude offers praise to God who can “present you faultless” before Him and finally, Jude gives praise to God who can present us “with exceeding joy.” Jude’s benediction offers divine help, blessing and guidance. Ernest Shurtleff was a student at Andover Seminary near Boston. He wrote a prayer to be sung at the conclusion of commencement, as fellow students promoted, moved on, commenced. The third verse seems especially appropriate for today – for divine help, blessing and guidance:
“Lead on, O King Eternal, we follow, not with fears;
For gladness breaks like morning where’er thy face appears;
Thy cross is lifted o’er us; we journey in its light:
The crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might.”
As he admitted to a wrongdoing, the young man said, “I just couldn’t control myself.” Self-control is a difficult thing. It has to do with discipline, and discipline is hard. We live in an out-of-control society and If you don’t discipline yourself, someone else will control you. Thus the importance of self-control. It is similar to a muscle in that the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The idea of self-control gains in importance when you realize that if a person can’t control themselves, it is highly debatable if they can control others, thus they disqualify themselves for effective leadership. The Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend, Titus and told him to, “Encourage the young men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6, NIV). So, what is there in your life that you need to bring under self-control? It is after all, a God-given ability.
It is finally healing – the scar left following my ninth skin cancer surgery, and it’s not my mother’s fault. I remember my mother often telling me that if I was going to play outside, I needed to wear a hat. No way! Sissies wore hats. Many decades later, I am paying for my disobedience, as I endure one skin cancer surgery after another. I asked my Surgeon why I had so many skin cancers. His answer was, “You have fair skin, and you grew up in Texas.” Obadiah didn’t grow up in Texas, but he may have had a better answer, even though his comment is probably taken out of context – “As you have done, it shall be done to you” (Obadiah 15). I played in the sun, without protection, and now the sun is paying me back. There really is a larger lesson here. When you disregard the laws – whether it be the laws of God or the laws of nature that God created – you can expect to have the results “done to you.” Artists, to playwrights, to philosophers, to musicians all have referred to life as “a day in the sun.” Well, I had my day in the sun and now the sun is having its day in me.
After he confessed a sin in which he had been caught, the student seated across my desk, shrugged his shoulders, and with a sigh, exclaimed, “Oh well, God has forgiven me!” While I could not disagree with him, in regard to the possibility of God’s forgiveness, I could assure him that, even though forgiven, he must now live with the consequences of the sin. I have a Bible Reading Group on Facebook with a little over three hundred members. We read one chapter in the Bible per week and comment with our thoughts, sometimes with our questions. (BTW, if you are interested in more information about the group, send me a private message on Facebook.) In the later part of this month, we are reading Hosea. In fact, we just read Hosea 3, a very short chapter of only five verses. Yet in those five verses sin and punishment is presented. In his book entitled, “Studies in Hosea,” Dr. K. Owen White, for many years Pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston, wrote, “To enjoy sin’s pleasures, is to know its penalties also.” Do not take sin lightly. Whereas God stands ready and willing to forgive, the aftereffects are devastating, sometimes to the point of deadly.
I spoke recently at a Men’s Breakfast for a nearby church. Present at that gathering was a man who had been a member of a neighboring church where I had served as Interim Pastor thirty-two years previously. Unfortunately, his wife was having memory issues, and it prompted him to share a story with me. A few days earlier he had been going through one of his wife’s purses in an attempt to help her find something, when his hand felt a cassette tape at the bottom of a purse. Removing the cassette, he looked at the writing on the side, which said, “Dr. Crawford’s Sermon” followed by a date. Following a brief “Wow’ and a comment or two from me, he said, “Dr. Crawford. You have no idea how many of your sermons are at the bottom of women’s purses.” This man went on to recall in some detail, another sermon I had preached as his Interim Pastor – 32 years ago. What an awesome encouragement that was to me and a timely reminder that we who preach and teach need never take our presentations lightly. Some who hear us, will remember. The writer of Ecclesiastes was correct, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).
I completed another Interim Pastorate yesterday. I only served as Pastor of two churches before I went to work for the denomination, but since then, I’ve served as Interim Pastor of twenty-six churches. This time I was asked if this was my last interim or if I planned on taking on another one. Since number twenty-seven may be only a week or so away, my response was that one doesn’t quit preaching because he gets old, but rather he gets old because he quits preaching. I think that is a paraphrase from a quote in another field of endeavor, but it works here as well. I will soon enter a new decade, and unless God has another idea, I don’t plan on slowing down. When I retired from my Seminary faculty position, I said I was retiring from a position, not from a calling. So, I’ll keep on working, following my calling. The elderly professional baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige said, “When I works, I works hard. When I plays, I plays hard. And when I stops, I falls to sleep.” I know what he means. I’m claiming Isaiah 46:4 (NASB), “Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will carry you! I have done it, and I will bear you; and I will carry you and I will save you.” Carry on, Lord while I preach on!
Last week’s Monday Morning Manna was deleted by Facebook. Some thought it was because I quoted scripture, but I quote scripture in every issue of Monday Morning Manna. Others thought I offended the FB standards because of my comments on “men and women.” Still others believed it was a computer program, not an individual that caused the deletion. Could have been any of these reasons. I requested an explanation from Facebook, and I was ready to apologize if in the wrong. I was/am a guest on their website and whether, or not I believe their regulations are right, I must live by them. They reviewed my post and replied, “We’re sorry we got this wrong. We reviewed your post again and it does follow our Community Standards. We appreciate you taking the time to request a review.” Can we all learn a lesson here? No matter how stringent the standards, nor how strongly the belief in them is, when you make a mistake, you apologize and move on. I appreciate Facebook for their response and will try to pass it forward. After all, “His banner over me is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4).
My mother was a great student of the Bible, but I’m not sure she cared much for the Book of Esther. She often said that my father was the head of the house, but then added, “I’m the neck, and the head does not turn without the neck.” Not sure where she got that idea, but it was not from Esther 1:22 where the King “sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language, that each man should be master in his own house” (Esther 1:22). I have a friend who likes to impress others by saying that he always has the last words in his house. Then after the friends seem duly impressed, he adds, “The last words are, “Yes mam.” A lot is being said these days about the role of women in society, and rightly so since we now have women occupying the top positions in everything from politics to church staffs. Sir William Gerald Golding was a British novelist, poet, and playwright. He once wrote, “I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men. They are far superior and always have been. Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater … If you give her a house, she will give you a home. If you give her groceries, she will give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she will give you her heart. She multiples and enlarges whatever is given to her.” Come to think of it, a man would have to be about half crazy to write an article on the role of women these days. So, I think I’ll just stick with Mark Twain’s quote – “What would men be without women? Scarce, sir…mighty scarce.”
Do we have to ask God to hear our prayer, or does He automatically hear? When Nehemiah was preparing to go before the King to request permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city, he prayed, “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant” (Nehemiah 1:11). Furthermore, Daniel prayed, “Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications” (Daniel 9:17). Finally, David prayed, “Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech” (Psalm 17:6). Unfortunately, most of us just begin our prayer as though God is already listening, with nothing else to do except wait for our communication. While God is eager to hear from us, He does have a few other things to do. I once heard a new believer begin his prayer, “God, this is John. Remember me? If so, please hear this.” I know what the Bible also says, for instance in 1 John 5:14: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” So maybe we don’t need to ask God to hear us. Perhaps to be heard by God, all we need is just to pray according to His will. How do you pray? Think about it.
According to Wikipedia, bullying is “the use of force, coercion, hurtful teasing or threat, to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate.” It is a serious issue in our culture today. While I am totally opposed to bullying, especially when it happens to the young, I think there are times, we can laugh it off and go on with life, thankful that we were noticed. These times come when there is a lighter, less-serious side of bullying that, depending on the recipient, might be called “bantering,” (defined as “to address in a witty and teasing manner.”) In my global travels, I have endured the Mexican people calling me “Gringo” (which I was told meant, “person with the green money, go back home”) the Chinese people calling me “big nose” (for obvious comparative reasons), the little west African children singing to me, “Yovo, Yovo, bonsoir.” (“White person, white person, good day.” But “yovo” can also mean “talking dog.”), and the Hispanic children calling me “Bobo Grande” (“Bobo” meaning “fool” and a big one, at that). I watched teen-agers in Germany laugh as they called my wife, “Big hair” (again for obvious reasons). As for my students, I don’t even want to know what all they called me. Actually, neither bullying, nor bantering, is new. When Elisha went from the spring of water up to Bethel, the scripture says, “Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” (2 Kings 2:23. Read the rest of the chapter to see the tragic ending for the “youths.”). Again, let’s do what we can to stop bullying, especially among the young, but let’s also take some things less seriously. Lighten up, and have a good day.