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Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Brief Christmas Message to All of the Friends of This Ministry

To those of you who follow, support, pray for, and help this ministry with financial gifts, I say to you with all sincerity that I wish you a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

And I say that with the full meaning behind the term 'Christmas.' We celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is what Christmas is about to all who believe in Him.

As much as we may enjoy the peripherals, such as gift-giving, putting up a tree, watching the eyes of small children as they fill with wonder after Santa has left them shiny new toys, gathering with family and friends for meals, and such, these things do not form the real meaning of Christmas. If we had to live without all of the things I just mentioned, it would not effect or diminish the significance of Christmas one iota.

A person can commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ when they are homeless, penniless, childless, sick, friendless, and alone.

And so, my friend, I truly hope and pray that no matter what your circumstances you will pause to remember. Read the Christmas story out of the Bible in Luke 2. Find a church service tonight or in the morning, and attend. Light candles. Pray to God and thank Him for the gift of His wonderful only-begotten Son.

As for me, I will be spending Christmas as I always do in the Carolinas with family. I will sing carols about our Savior's birth. I will read the Christmas story out of Luke 2. I will be in a prayerful frame of mind as I express my gratitude for the gift of the 'dearest friend I ever had'--the Lord Jesus Christ.

This ministry is gearing up for some new stuff in 2012. A new CD of music is on the way...professionally produced with full orchestration. I am now booking for 2012. So keep me in mind when you consider special musical programs for your church. As always, these programs are free, as long as I can sell my CDs and as long as you take a special love offering to help with my expenses.

I am looking forward to seeing some of you out on the road this coming year. God bless you, each and every one, and may your Christmas be filled with love and peace!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Christmas Treasure

I have often said that Luciano Pavarotti had the absolute best voice in all of music in modern times. But running a close second is a 20th century crooner who spent 60 years in the music business and sold well over 100 million records for RCA--Perry Como.

Como sang all kinds of music, and he did them all equally well. He could also sing a crescendo with the best of the them, full voice, and then switch to a soft, light, head-tone with equal ease. His voice was absolutely amazing.

For Christmas, I went back and dug up this rendition of Como's O Holy Night from 1969 at Hollywood Palace.  The song has become one of the most beloved Christmas songs throughout the world, and Como sings it as no other.

May God bless you richly during this special time of the year.


Monday, November 28, 2011

20 Best Christmas Hymns of all Time

As most of you know, I am a music fanatic. Over at my political blog, The Liberty Sphere, I wrote an entry a few years ago that still gets a lot of attention even now, when the Christmas season rolls around.

It is the top 30 best Christmas songs of all time, including the artists who sang them. That post contains secular as well as religious Christmas songs.

But here, at the ministry site, I want to focus on the 20 best Christmas hymns of all time--those songs that are uniquely Christian in nature.

You are welcome to agree or disagree. This is in my view only and by no means suggests that I have the final word. :)

1. Silent Night
2. O Holy Night
3. O Come all Yet Faithful
4. Joy to the World
5. The First Noel
6. O Little Town of Bethlehem
7. We Three Kings
8. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
9. Jesu Bambino
10. Mary's Boy Child
11. The Holly and the Ivy
12. Hark the Herald Angels Sing
13. Angels We Have Heard on High
14. Away in a Manger
15. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
16. Go Tell it On the Mountain
17. What Child is This
18. The Birthday of the King
19. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
20. He is Born the Divine Christ Child

There are many hymns that have been written through the centuries for Christmas, but these, in my view, are the cream of the crop.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving Meditation

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing
He chastens and hastens His will to make known
The wicked oppressing, cease them from distressing
Sing praises to His name, He forgets not His own.

So begins one of the most beloved Thanksgiving hymns of all time--'We Gather Together.'

This uniquely American holiday was born out of the deep religious and spiritual life that our forebears brought with them from Europe. In today's erroneous 'politically correct' world of public schools and such, children are being taught that the purpose for the first Thanksgiving was for the Pilgrims to give thanks to their Native American friends who had 'saved their lives.'

William Bradford, the Governor of the Pilgrim colony, would certainly vehemently disagree were he alive today. Bradford kept complete records of the events of that era. And in those records, readily available to anyone today who wishes to find the truth directly from the horse's mouth, can read Bradford's words for themselves.

In short, Bradford stated that given that nearly half of the Pilgrims died during their first winter at the colony, they gathered with their Native American friends to give thanks to GOD for sparing their lives and enabling them, through a new system implemented by Bradford, to prosper.

That system was free market capitalism. Their initial practice of having all things in common ended in abject failure. Thus, Bradford gave each family a plot of land for them to work for themselves and call their very own. They could grow their own food and sell and trade it with the Native Americans as they saw fit.

Thus, by the time the next winter rolled around, the Pilgrims were living in prosperity and abundance. And they wished to share that abundance with their Native American friends by throwing a massive feast of wild turkey, fish, corn, and vegetables. And they gave humble thanks to God--the God of the Bible, as Bradford makes clear--for enabling them to discover the path to this abundance.

These things are not opinion or conjecture. In George Washington's first Thanksgiving proclamation as President, he referred to the distinct religious, Judeo-Christian heritage and belief system that led the Pilgrims to stage the very first of what would become a rich American tradition of bowing in humble gratitude to God for our blessings.

Don't let some school teacher fill your children's heads with modern-day revisionist garbage. Read to them the actual words of Bradford, Washington, and others. You may have to do some correcting to the filth and lies they are being told at school and college.

This is no time to allow the forces of evil to remove all truth from the public square. Defy it! Challenge it! And make sure the rich religious traditions of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA remain intact for future generations.

And, above all, my prayer is that you all have a glorious Thanksgiving Day!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Demons, Part 2

My discussion on the subject, 'Do Demons Exist?' created a stir among readers. It is, indeed, not only a fascinating topic but one which is prone to much confusion due to the fact that secular sources spread much misinformation about it in movies, books, and so forth.

Today I want to focus on one single aspect of this subject that is crucial for Christians--demon possession. Is it possible for a Christian to be 'possessed' by a demon or even the devil himself?

I will break this down into segments so that it is more easily understood.

First, the term 'Christian' in itself presupposes that a person is possessed by no one other than Jesus Christ. To be a Christian a person must open up their lives to Christ, inviting Him to take up residence in their inner being. Once that is done, it is Christ who resides within, not a demon nor the devil or any 'force of evil.'

Second, a person whose life is that in which Christ resides is automatically off limits to demon possession. It cannot happen. Why? How can a demon, or evil forces, possess a person when Christ resides there? The 2 are mutually exclusive. Think about it. A glass that has even some portion of milk in it cannot be filled or 'possessed' with Coca Cola. The presence of milk in the glass excludes the possibility that any other substance can 'fill' that glass. It already has something in it.

Third, a person who has Christ in his/her life may not necessarily be filled with the presence of Christ. It is possible, according to the Bible, to possess the Holy Spirit and yet not be completely filled by the Holy Spirit. This means that although a Christian cannot under any circumstance be 'possessed' by demons or the forces of evil, that person may well come under the influence of that evil because they are not 'filled' with the Spirit.

This is why Christians are not perfect. We are prone to come under the influence of evil in this world. That is due to two things. First, we are human and will remain so. We are flawed. We have a sinful nature. That is not erased when we become Christians. Second, as Christians we are not always filled with the Holy Spirit. That filling comes and goes and depends on how dedicated we remain, how sincerely we wish to follow Christ, and how consistent we are in the daily prayerful petition to be filled with the Spirit.

Thus, due to our sinful nature and the fact that we are not always filled with the Spirit, then we can, indeed, be influenced by the force of evil, or the demonic, but we will NEVER be possessed by it.

This is why Christians essentially have nothing to fear from demons. We will not be 'possessed.' We belong to Christ. But even so, we must be diligent in our daily walk with Christ. If we are derelict in our pursuit of spiritual union with Him, then there will be areas which are vulnerable to evil.

Going back to the glass analogy, in order to make sure that you will have a glass full of pure milk and nothing but milk, you will need to make sure there is no Coca Cola in the glass. Even a small portion of the soft drink will taint the milk when it is poured in. The goal is to make sure you have a clean vessel within so that only Christ can take full possession or control.

That way we can avoid inadvertently participating in any evil that pervades this world.

But be assured, if you are a Christian, you will never be 'possessed' by any form of evil.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Obedience to God May Mean Disobedience to Government

One of the central concepts of Christianity has been that no matter what governments or 'man's authority' says about certain issues, God is to be obeyed. This sometimes means blatant, outright disobedience to the dictates of governments.

Americans often forget that central aspect of the Christian life. We have had it so easy in a country that was founded on the principle of human freedom. So easy, in fact, that many modern Christians erroneously assume that it is always wrong to refuse to follow the law. They would equate man's law with God's.

But what if man's law is in direct opposition to God's law? What if Christians are forced to engage in disobedience to God in order to 'obey the law?'

In every instance, historically, Biblically, theologically, and spiritually, the Christian faith has taught that when man's laws interfere with Gods,' it is God who must be obeyed, not man.

A perfect example is found in Acts 5. Peter and the other Apostles had been jailed for preaching the Gospel. They had also been instructed upon their arrest that they were not to preach in the name of Jesus Christ. But in an act of divine intervention the Apostles were miraculously released from prison in a manner that defies all logical explanation.

It was then they proceeded to go straight to the Temple to preach in the name of Christ--the very thing they had been commanded by the local authorities not to do.

At that point the Apostles were hauled before the council where they were asked, "Did we not instruct you not to preach in this Man's name? But you have filled Jerusalem with this Man's doctrine..."

It was then that Peter laid out the principle that has guided true disciples of Christ for over 2000 years--"We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5: 12-29).

Human beings are not slaves to any man or any government authority. When government is wrong, it is to be disobeyed, period. Any person who would claim to be a disciple of Christ yet claim that he/she is 'unable to do God's will because of government restrictions' has good reason to question whether or not they are a true Christian at all.

Does this mean that Christians are to be lawless? Not at all. In those cases where governments do not require a person to act in disobedience to God, then the law should be followed in most cases. But when the law is contradictory to God's laws, or the principles set forth by the Christian faith, such as human freedom, then a disciple of Christ is obligated to disobey man in order to remain true to God.

This is the legacy left behind by Jesus himself and a host of disciples who were willing to pay the ultimate price for their willingness to disobey man--Peter, Paul, John, James, Timothy, Joan of Arc, John Hus, Sir Thomas Moore, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and hundreds of other martyrs.

The principle cannot possibly be any clearer. Nor can it be stressed enough in this era in which government increasingly views itself as God, with ultimate authority, to encroach on all of the God-given freedoms fought for by our forebears. Christians are obligated to send a clear message to government, that it does NOT have ultimate authority over us!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Do Demons Exist?

Public interest in the supernatural is at an all-time high in modern America. Of the movies that I see promoted on cable or satellite TV, or by providers such as Netflix and others, a significant number contain a theme revolving around ghosts, the paranormal, evil spirits, zombies, and other such manifestations of supernatural phenomena.

A significant percentage of new television programming at least on the surface appears to share this fascination with these things.

Recent surveys taken of Americans indicate that many believe in the existence of these manifestations of the paranormal. Ironically at the very same time, those surveys show a decline in the belief in angels, Heaven and Hell, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

How is it out of the question for rational people to believe in these Christian concepts but it is perfectly acceptable to believe in ghosts and zombies?

An interesting survey of Canadians from 20 years ago indicated that more people believe in witches, ghosts, and magic spells than in the classic doctrines of the Christian faith. Yet these very same persons indicated that the major reason for their rejection of concepts such as the Virgin Birth or Resurrection of Christ was that such things cannot be embraced by rational minds.

There is a distinct disconnect, an incongruence of thought, inherent in this abject contradiction..

But let us briefly delve into a related issue that many people seem to question whenever a major movie focuses on the concept of the demonic--do demons exist?

The short answer is that the Bible says that they do, and Jesus believed that they do.

When Jesus cast out the group of demons named 'Legion' who had possessed a man living in the caves of the region of Gadara, He spoke to them, and they knew Him. He commanded that they leave the man, at which time they entered a herd of pigs in the countryside nearby. The pigs then ran off the edge of a cliff and drowned in the water below. Luke 8: 26-40.

Theologians have offered various interpretations of this event. Some view it as symbolic. And indeed, there is a symbolic, allegorical element to the story, pointing to the fact that human beings are beset by their own 'demons' that need to be cast out. Such demons may be addiction or a mental health issue that renders a person incapacitated.

It is this to which a person refers when they say something like, "I struggle with my own internal demons."

Theologically speaking, the demonic can be viewed as anything that keeps a person apart from God. In order for an individual to take his or her rightful place in union with God through faith in Christ, their demons that prevent their movement toward that faith must be 'exorcised.'

But, as with all statements in scripture, the literal cannot be dismissed outright. Only a correct literal understanding of the meaning of the words within their original context can lead to a correct symbolic interpretation. And here, it is most obvious that Jesus encountered a man who was beset by a most unusual circumstance. A presence had entered his being, leading him to do things beyond his control. He shrieked. He harmed himself. He raged out of control. And he spoke in a pattern that indicated multiple voices. Whatever it was that controlled the man was plural. There were many.

The point of the story is not to lead to an unhealthy fixation on the demonic but to demonstrate the power of Christ over everything, even the most despicable forces of darkness in the world.

And make no mistake, in this world evil is very real. You may call it 'the force of evil,' or 'the powers of darkness,' or 'the demonic,' but whatever term you use you are referring to a fact of life--there is evil in this world.

Some people have been forced to stare right into the face of pure evil. Those who witnessed the Holocaust, for example, and lived to tell about it, often state that they stared into the face of pure evil when they looked into the faces of the Nazi SS officers, or the Gestapo, or even Adolf Hitler himself.

How else can we account for the senseless murder of 6 million Jews and another 5 million political dissidents, gypsies, mentally ill persons, and homosexuals? And an entire nation was complicit in this evil, blinded by their loyalty to a self-proclaimed 'savior' who would restore Germany to greatness and insure her superiority over all other nations on earth.

I have only rarely experienced the presence of the demonic. It happened to me twice, both of which occurred when I was a theological student working on a Master's degree. I will not go into detail quite yet, but I will say that the feeling was distinct and real. And the events surrounding those two experiences can only be explained by the supernatural. I never wish to encounter such a presence, such a feeling of impending doom and darkness, ever again.

In my training for Pastoral care I was privileged to be a chaplaincy resident in 3 different hospitals, one of which was a state mental hospital. Later as a full-time staff chaplain I served a hospital that had a sizable psychiatric program. I can say that in all of my years working with the mentally ill I have never encountered what I would term as 'the demonic.' I encountered troubled people who were in significant internal pain. And I discovered that once I got to know them, that beneath their rather intense manifestations of anger, or discontent, or anxiety, or hopelessness, there was a human being, most of them likable, who needed help.

These persons were not 'demon possessed' but very sick. And many of them improved with the proper medications and psycho-spiritual interventions and support.

Interestingly, I never encountered the demonic in a mental hospital. But I did in places one would not expect to find it, such as a theological school. I encountered it again on a long, little-traveled road in the middle of nowhere, puzzled as to the shiver that went up my spine and the feeling of coldness that came over me when I drove by a certain spot. It was so overwhelming that I began to shake and I sped up to get out of there as quickly as possible.

It was later that I discovered that the area had been the scene of a brutal murder of young woman by a man who was out to do nothing but kill--anybody, anywhere, at random. There are other aspects to that murder that I will not discuss due to their sensitivity, but suffice it to say that the circumstances surrounding that particular homicide were so evil that its only explanation is the demonic.

Can demons 'possess' people against their will? Not if one's spirit is filled by the presence of Christ. A Christian has the gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to us immediately when we place our faith in Christ. No force of evil can possess us when we are possessed by the very Spirit of the most High God, our Heavenly Father. But this does not mean that we are immune from the influence of the demonic. Having the Holy Spirit in ones life and being filled with the Spirit are two different things. A life filled with the Spirit has no room for the presence of evil. But a life that is only partially filled by the Spirit can certainly come under the influence of evil.

This is why it is important for Christians to seek to be filled by the Holy Spirit each and every day, leaving no room whatsoever for evil to take root.

Perhaps we will revisit this issue as needed, given the high level of interest expressed by many in the subject. It is certainly a rich topic into which to delve.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Graham

An icon in modern Christianity is having a birthday. Dr. Billy Graham, of Montreat, North Carolina, is celebrating his 93rd. Congratulations and a warm Happy Birthday to Mr. Graham.

As a full-time evangelist, Graham has preached to more people than any other minister who has ever lived. And here I am not talking about his television audience, which at one time was vast. He did it in person, practically everywhere on earth, including Communist China and the old Communist USSR.

One of his crusades in Southeast Asia drew over 1 million people on the final night--that's one million people in one place on one night.

Graham has had the ear of kings, princes, heads of state, and a slew of American Presidents, beginning with Harry Truman and going all the way through George W. Bush. It is unknown if Barack Obama has ever sought the counsel of Mr. Graham, although the 2 have met together.

He once told Winston Churchill, face to face, that Britain would never be saved by military might alone but by the power of God as exhibited through Jesus Christ. When Churchill pressed him to explain himself, Graham proceeded to share the simple Gospel story. Graham stated that Churchill's response was this: "If ever there were any hope for the world, or for mankind, it lies in precisely what you have just described."

As a boy Graham was one of my heroes. My family, all of them, would gather around the television whenever Graham would telecast his crusades, which was usually 3 or 4 times per year. These events were so immensely popular that at one time the major networks carried them.

And when I was 5 or 6, I remember my Mother took me to hear Graham in person when he came to our hometown. I remember imitating him, emulating his mannerisms, speech patterns, and such, as children sometimes do with their heroes.

This was just the first of many such times when I would hear Graham in person.

Billy Graham was born near Charlotte, North Carolina, not far from my place of upbringing. As a teenager he and a friend went to a tent meeting being held by a famous evangelist at the time known as 'Mordecai Hamm.' The 2 had gone there to make fun of the preacher. And they did. But by the time Hamm had finished with his sermon, Graham was overwhelmed with some entirely unexpected. The evangelist had touched something deep within his soul, and he found himself 'under a heavy load of conviction,' as he later related.

When Hamm gave the invitation, Graham 'hit the sawdust trail,' as it was called back then, that is, he walked down the middle aisle of the gathering, which was covered in sawdust, and stood at the front just under the pulpit area, where, according to Graham, he publicly gave his life to Jesus Christ.

As a young man Graham found himself preparing for ministry. People were drawn to him due to his winsome personality and natural good looks. And by 1948, Graham was holding tent crusades in such sophisticated places as Los Angeles, California, which began slowly but within a week had turned into a major event drawing multi-thousands. The crusade went on for weeks on end, and crowds continued to swell night after night. It would be a major watershed event in the life of Billy Graham. He was immediately propelled onto the national stage as newspapers across the nation reported the phenomenon that had happened in Los Angeles.

Everywhere he went his crusades turned into protracted events, lasting much longer than planned in order to accommodate the massive crowds. In England, in Madison Square Garden in NYC, in Canada, and in other major, high profile venues, what was planned as 2-week crusades turned into 8 or 10-week campaigns. This, of course, made front-page news all over the world.

Graham would be so exhausted after these events that sometimes he would have to retreat to his home in the North Carolina mountains for months at a time to recuperate.

By the end of the 1990s Graham was forced to cut back on his schedule due to health issues associated with aging. But as Graham backed off, his son, Franklin, stepped up and filled in for his father as often as he could. Although not preaching much anymore, close family and associates say he is still active sharing the Gospel through the written word, in books and in articles.

For many years Graham was a member of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, where famed Southern Baptist Pastor W. A. Criswell was the Senior Minister for nearly 5 decades. Now Graham belongs to the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the foothills of the mountains.

Unlike many well-known evangelists in the latter part of the 20th century, Graham managed to avoid scandal. He set it up that way. When he began the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, he set up a Board of Directors that made all of the decisions. Graham requested that he be placed on a salary so that there would not be any hint of impropriety. He never gave oversight to the financial records of the organization nor  had any dealings whatsoever with the money that came in. All of this was handled by those chosen by the Board.

This speaks well of the organization and of Billy Graham, the man. And as for his personal life, his well-known 64-year love affair with his beloved wife, Ruth, now deceased, was such a major part of his identity that there was never even the slightest rumor that Graham had as much as looked at another woman with a wandering eye.

When the history of Christianity is rewritten for posterity, for generations to come, the name Billy Graham will most definitely be given a significant place in that history, for no other person in the modern era has come close to spreading the Gospel to as many persons as Graham.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Calling Their Names

I am part of a local congregation that has a long history of specifically calling the names of persons with needs in prayer. Persons are mentioned by name in prayer during all services of worship. Those who wish that their privacy be protected are merely mentioned as 'unspoken requests' from unnamed sources.

In peering around the landscape of American Christianity today, I get the distinct impression that such a thing has become fairly rare. Over the past 10 years I have been in countless churches. I can't even begin to count the number. But other than my present 'home church,' I have only been in ONE that engages in the practice of calling the names of persons in prayer.

Perhaps this is due to the growing movement toward large, 'mega-churches' with multi-thousands of members. Such churches seem to be a perfect breeding ground for anonymity. It is much easier to get lost in such huge crowds and to simply fade into the woodwork unseen, unnoticed.

Some people are happy with that, which is fine. To each his or her own. But I will have to add that in my view something precious has been lost in such environments.

Church is not meant to be a place for anonymity. Christians are not meant to be 'lone rangers' who behave as if the rest of the Christian body is either unimportant, unneeded, or an optional luxury that believers can discard if they please.

The New Testament Church is the model, and there there is no such thing as anonymity or a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. You are either all in or you are all out. And if you are all out, then there is a big question as to whether or not you are a real Christian at all.

In addition, in New Testament churches, the Bible says that they 'bore one another's burdens,' and that they 'cried when their brothers cried,' and 'rejoiced when their brothers rejoiced.' This indicates a certain level of trust and intimacy, a sense of belonging.

And mark it down, if people do not get such an experience at church, they WILL get it elsewhere, which is precisely one of the reasons the TV series 'Cheers' was so popular for so long. It was the 'place where everybody knows your name.'

Interesting as to how something that was once a staple of Christianity can now, in many instances, only be found in a bar.

This is why I shy away from mega-churches. I am happy that they reach so many people, and I can rejoice with them on that score. But I would not want to worship there week after week. I need a church that is small enough to where people can actually get to know one another to the point that they can literally 'bear one another's burdens,' and cry when others cry and rejoice when they rejoice. I want a church where people know my name, my family, where I come from, and what is important to me.

And, I want a church that, when I get sick or have a special need, I am immediately missed if I don't show up. And I want to know that they will call my name in prayer when there is a special need.

It's awfully hard to 'bear one another's burdens' as the Bible directs if you don't even know who is sitting next to you in the pew or if you have no earthly idea of the burdens that person must bear each and every day.

So, a word to the wise. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This Is Hard to Do

I admit I am a worrier. Always have been. My Mother, God rest her soul, used to occasionally refer to me as a 'worry wart.' Of course, she was too. It takes one to know one, I suppose.

I am fully aware of the statements of Jesus that urge his disciples not to worry--'take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, what you shall put on,', etc, etc....meaning, of course, that if God cares for the birds of the air and flowers of the field, He will surely care for us too.

And I know these things are true. I believe God cares about each of His children. And worry is counter-productive.

I once did an inventory of my life, being the introspective person that I am, which showed that over 90% of the things I worry about never happen. That means that I am spending all of that time, energy, and mental resources on things that never come to pass--a precious waste of my abilities and gifts. I decided at that time that I would make it a goal to worry much less.

But that is easier said than done. I find that the old patterns creep back in when we least expect them. And the circumstances of life complicate the issue, particularly when one has health problems. We are naturally concerned when that is the case. But when does healthy concern become unhealthy worry?

It is a fine line that distinguishes them.

Part of the answer may well be our response to real issues that beset us. If there is a health problem, we do all within our power to address it medically, emotionally, physically. And then, having done all we can possibly do, we let go.

Once we know we are doing all that is possible to address the issue, it is easier to let it go and let God and His healing resources of modern medicine do their jobs.

But it is a daily battle. This is not a war that is won in one day--as if we can conquer it one day and be done with it forever. Rather, this is an ongoing battle that must be addressed daily.

The worries that I conquer yesterday can surely vex me again today, unless I am ever alert and vigilant.

Some days I do very well. Some days I do not. It is a mixed bag because we are human. But being aware of the problem is at least 50% of the battle to conquer it.

And with that I leave with the words of Jesus, "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in Me."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reminiscing

Today I am going to do a bit of 'spiritual reminiscing'--focusing on memories that helped shape my personal identity as well as my spiritual life. I do this with the hope that you will do your own spiritual reminiscing. It is an enriching exercise.

My memories today focus on the first time my parents took me to a Southern Gospel concert. This would be a significant, watershed moment in my life that would forever change the course I would take.

I was but a young boy, wide-eyed, and excited about seeing some of the famous quartets I had seen on TV. The church in which I grew up was rather 'high church' for Baptists. The choir had singers that read music very well, and many had received vocal training. Thus, their selections tended to be formal choral music.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love that kind of music. When a good choir can sing selections such as 'the Hallelujah Chorus' by Handel, and other such high-brow selections, I am the first to say 'BRAVO.' Not only am I blessed in my spirit but I simply love to hear quality music written by great composers and sung by singers who know what they are doing.

But, as was the case with many Protestant churches in the 50s and 60s, people began to note that the worship style had practically wiped all emotion out of the experience. Worship did not seem to be relaxed and enjoyable. And, people began to seek ways to worship God that included ALL of their emotions. Some turned to the charismatic movement to fill that void.

As for me, I never went down that path. But what happened to me was just as good.  My parents took me to a gospel quartet concert in my hometown.

The place was packed with 3000-4000 people, standing room only, and we were seated in the balcony with a direct view of the stage. It was perfect. There I heard four of the great quartets from that era--The Blue Ridge Quartet, the Harvesters, the Kingsmen Quartet, and, my favorite of all, The Florida Boys.

I remember to this day every song they sang and every move they made on stage. I watched in rapt attention, mesmerized by what I saw and heard. When the Florida Boys sang that night, I noticed something that set them apart from the rest. Even at that young an age I could pick out harmonies, balance, and tone. And I noticed that on that evening, the Florida Boys came as close to perfection as I had ever heard. The balance between the tenor, lead, baritone, and bass was perfect. Nobody overshadowed the others. All of the parts could be heard equally, except for the lead voice, which is meant to be slightly louder than the harmony parts.

And the harmony, to my way of thinking, was astounding. To me at least, it was music that resonated with me...exactly what I was looking for.

And then there was another thing that happened. Gospel music is by its nature emotional. The Boys seemed to love what they were doing. We clapped while they sang. We cried when they sang a moving selection. We laughed at pianist Darrell Stewart's antics on state...always good for 'comic relief.'

But the nature of the songs they sang touched me at a deep place in my heart...at a level never before reached by anyone or anything. I was a Florida Boys fan for life. I was a Gospel Quartet fan for life. And my spiritual life was molded and shaped by the 'plain-spoken Gospel truths' contained in those songs.

That night I also got the thrill of a lifetime when I was given the opportunity to go backstage and meet the Florida Boys. Lead singer/manager Les Beasley signed the printed program I was carrying. Bass singer Billy Todd smiled and gave me a pat on the head.

But the one who took the most time to just stand and talk for a long while was baritone Glen Allred.  Glen seemed to love children, especially those interested in Gospel singing. I told him that I wanted to sing in a quartet someday. I remember to this day what he said.

Glen said, "Good for you! We need clean cut young men like yourself, if you can stay that way as you grow up. And you have the looks, too. But let me hear you sing."

I sang the notes he demonstrated. He said, "Yep, you've got the pitch. I think if you apply yourself and learn how to use your voice properly, you can sing Gospel music."

Then, I asked Glen about Gospel singing and the spiritual life. I wanted to know what it was like to be on  the road. And he said, "To me the spiritual part is the most important part. Prayer is the key to my survival on the road. When I get through with a program, and we pack up the bus to leave, I just go back to my bunk, lay down, and pray. Staying in touch with the Lord like that is a big help."

Naturally, I had heard all of this before, about the importance of prayer and having a personal relationship with the Lord, but hearing if from one of my heroes seemed to be different. It just sank in and 'took.'

From that time forth, Glen Allred was a friend. Even in adulthood I would go backstage to talk to him when the group was in town--sometimes on the bus. The same with Les Beasley and Darrell Stewart. But it was Glen who had the greatest impact.

I am always thankful for the role these men played in the life of a young boy. Those 'precious memories' can never be forgotten.

And part of the reason I am who I am today is due to the influence of these men.  Thank God.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Whether in poverty or prosperity...

In the past I have written to you that it took a lot to get me through college, graduate school, and post-graduate education, given my propensity to doubt my gifts and abilities and to assume failure when there was no logical reason to do so.

At about the time I graduated from high school and went to college, I first came across the many books of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale of New York City, a Dutch Reformed minister who pastored the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan and who was a well-known motivational speaker all across the country. His book, The Power of Positive Thinking, is one of the best-selling American books of all time and has been translated into practically every known language on earth.

As a young man I traveled on a regular basis to New York to see Peale, both at his church and in his hometown of Pawling, which is roughly 60 miles north of NYC in Duchess County. We were not 'friends,' for I did not know him well enough. But I did know him.

The concepts Peale espoused were new to me. His view was that the Christian message was a positive one, empowering the individual to do far greater than they ever thought possible, and that, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me' (a verse of scripture from the book of Philippians).

These messages helped me to keep at bay my inner demons that constantly told me how worthless I was, that  I would never amount to anything, and that I certainly did not possess the intellect nor the ability to get an education.

But by focusing on the positive messages of the Bible pointed out by Peale, I was able to earn a B.A. and graduate on the Dean's List. I was able to earn a Master's Degree with a B average as well. A theological Master's degree is much more involved than a Master's in other fields of study. The basic M.Div. is an 84 hour degree, and the Master of Theology is at least 30 hours above that.

Then, I put in another 3 years in post-graduate education in Pastoral Care through an accredited program at 3 different hospitals, through the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education.

Thus, the 'power of positive thinking' was exactly what I needed at the time.

However, as with all schools of thought, one eventually discovers the limitations. It wasn't so much that Peale's message was flawed but that the way people interpreted it was flawed. That included me.

I fell into the erroneous notion that faith, or positive thinking, is the magic potion that leads to wealth and prosperity, health and wellness, or whatever else I desired. Unfortunately, in some Christian circles at the time this notion was embraced through what became known as the 'name it and claim it' brand of theology...that through faith, we can get whatever it is we want. All we have to do is to name it, claim it, believe it is ours, and voila. It IS ours.

Such magical thinking is not consistent with the scriptures and does not reflect the intent of the Gospel.

So, what IS that intent?

We are here to do God's bidding, to live in His will, whether it be in poverty or prosperity, in sickness or in health, in anonymity or fame. A realistic view of the disciples of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and centuries of other servants of the Lord, reveals that not all is sunshine and roses. These stalwart icons of the faith suffered greatly in this world. Many wound up in abject poverty and died penniless. Many were struck with physical maladies that threatened to prevent them from spreading the Christian message. Many were persecuted, beaten, shunned, scorned, and hated, sometimes to the point of being beheaded, crucified, or torn apart by wild beasts in the Roman Colosseum.

My point here is that if one makes the mistake of assuming that living the Christian life will result in abundance and riches, wealth and prosperity, wellness and lack of sickness, then one is setting himself/herself up for a rude awakening. It does not work that way.

Sometimes God wishes for us to minister to this world out of our abject poverty. So be it. Sometimes He wants us to reach out to others with the Christian Gospel out of our sickness or physical disability. So be it. Sometimes He allows us to be persecuted for the faith. So be it. My job is to be in the Lord's will, no matter what my standing in life or what will be my fate.

Sure, I want to be well. I would love to have enough money to be very comfortable. But that may not be what God wants for me. My task is to be at His disposal, to be His servant, totally submissive to His will.

It is not an easy way to live. But it is the only way I know, having arrived at this point through making some big mistakes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Artist Spotlight and a Bit of Music History for a Sunday

Over the last several months I have periodically shone the spotlight on some noteworthy Gospel artists and used the occasion to muse on some music history to boot. We continue with that today.

In my many comments about the famed Cathedral Quartet, retired in 1999, I have noted that Glen Payne and George Younce were responsible for introducing to Southern Gospel Music many top singers and musicians. At least 3 separate, full-time groups that are traveling today came out of the Cathedrals. We have discussed these already--Ernie Haas and the Signature Sound Quartet, Legacy Five, and The Mark Trammell Quartet. Now we will focus on the 4th.

Glen and George knew how to spot good talent, and the fact that all of these top-notch groups had their birth in the Cathedrals organization only emphasizes their influence. This was certainly true when, in the late 1980s, pianist Roger Bennett left the road for a couple of years. Bennett would return in 2 short years and stay with the group until their retirement in 1999.

But during the Bennett hiatus, Glen and George brought to the national stage a young pianist from the hills of East Tennessee who quickly established himself as one of the most amazing artists to come along in the history of Gospel music.

That young man was Gerald Wolfe.

Glen hired Wolfe to be the pianist for the Cathedrals, but it was discovered that this 'little man' (George used to kid Gerald about his small stature) had a powerful, crisp lead voice. Thus, in no time Glen and George were featuring Gerald's voice during their concerts, as well as his piano ability.

Perhaps no one in the history of Southern Gospel Music has ever established himself as a top talent in such a short period of time. In just a few months Christians who followed Gospel music were abuzz about Gerald Wolfe.

In 1986 or so, the Cathedrals traveled to London, England  to record an album with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It would become one of the landmark recordings in the genre, the first time a southern quartet had ever recorded with such a high-brow, acclaimed orchestra. Cathedrals personnel at the time were Danny Funderburke on tenor, Glen Payne on lead, Mark Trammell on baritone, George Younce on bass, and Gerald Wolfe on piano.

Several major hits came off of that album, but it was one solitary song that featured the voice of Gerald Wolfe that made music history. Glen decided that on this particular song Gerald would take the lead. And he  flat hit it out of the ballpark with the other guys harmonizing in the background, along with the thrilling sounds of the London Philharmonic providing the accompaniment.

That song was entitled, 'Champion of Love,' and from the time it was released until this very day the song has been sung each night whenever Gerald Wolfe performs. It became his 'signature song' and audiences today still insist that he sing it in his concerts.

'Champion of Love' was not only a major hit in Southern Gospel but found itself at the top of the playlists in the Christian Contemporary and Worship & Praise sub-genres.

After only 2 short years Gerald decided he wished to form his own group. On the strength of his mega-hit and the attention his voice was receiving all across the Christian world, Gerald formed a trio that he called 'Greater Vision.' For 22 years Greater Vision has been a staple in the top tier of Southern Gospel Music circles.

When Gerald started the trio he tapped baritone Rodney Griffin to join the group. Griffin was also a young songwriter. In time he would become one of the most prolific songwriters in the field, and Greater Vision has enjoyed a string of hits from the pen of Rodney Griffin to prove it.

When the Cathedrals were on their farewell tour, Mark Trammell reminisced on the influence that Gerald Wolfe had on his life during the short time he was with the Cathedrals. Trammell noted that late at night, as the bus was traveling down the road and he could not sleep, he would often get up and go talk to the bus driver. He would notice that on many nights Gerald was awake in his bunk as well, and as Mark passed by he would see Gerald's overhead light on, and there he would be, said Trammell, "reading his Bible."

Greater Vision under the leadership of Gerald Wolfe has been a shining example of what dedicated Christian men who not only talk the talk but walk the walk can do in this world of darkness and woe.

And now, here is an example of Greater Vision's music. This one is a favorite of mine, and it is from the pen of Rodney Griffin.  It is entitled, 'He's Still Waiting by the Well.' Turn up your volume on this one, folks. Not only is this a foot-tapping barn-burner, but the message is deep and moving. I like it. Hope you will too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

TEN DAYS ABLAZE ENDS AT MIDNIGHT TONIGHT, OCT. 22

TEN DAYS ABLAZE!!
Today is your last day to take advantage of the free gifts offered to those who donate.  


10 Days of Opportunity!


Join me in this ministry through your free-will gifts!


This ministry is totally dependent on the gifts of supporters.  The good news for you is that your donation could qualify you for free gifts from me!


Here's how it works:


BENEFACTOR LEVEL
A one-time donation of $200
You will receive 3 free gifts for your support: a new Bible, one CD of my music entitled 'By Request', and one CD of vintage Gospel Quartet singing by my group from 1972--the Royals Quartet--a collector's item! The Bible is a genuine leather-bound study edition called The Thompson Chain Reference Bible in the King James Version, which retails for $99. But it can be yours for absolutely free, along with the 2 free CDs, for a gift of $200.


SPONSOR LEVEL
A one-time donation of $100
You will receive 2 free gifts for your support--a new Bible and one CD of your choice--my music entitled 'By Request', OR one CD of the Royals Quartet, vintage Gospel music from 1972. The Bible is a leather-bound study edition called the Holman Christian Standard Bible, considered the most accurate of the modern translations. It retails for $56, but it can be yours for absolutely free, along with one free CD, for a gift of $100.

PATRON LEVEL
A one-time donation of $50
You will receive 2 free gifts for your support--YOUR CHOICE OF the CD of my latest music entitled, 'By Request' OR a CD of the Royals Quartet from 1972, AND a pocket New Testament. This pocket New Testament is in genuine leather and comes with the Psalms. It retails for $24.99 but can be yours for absolutely free, along with one free CD, for a gift of $50. .

BOOSTER LEVEL
A one-time donation of $25
You will receive 2 free gifts for your support--the CD of my latest music entitled, 'By Request,' AND a CD of the Royals Quartet from 1972.

Simply click the 'Donation' button at the top of the right column to make your gift.

All gifts, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated, $5, $10, $15, $20--no gift is insignificant.
Your support will keep this ministry going. Thank-you for your generosity.


Notice: Please allow at least 6 weeks for delivery of free gifts to allow time for processing of orders. Thank-you.

Friday, October 21, 2011

T-Minus 36 Hours and Counting

Well, my friends, you have only 36 hours left to take advantage of my free offers in exchange for your donations to this ministry.

At midnight tomorrow night--less than 36 hours from now--these special offers will end.

Go here to find out how you can receive free top of the line study Bibles, along with free music.

After tomorrow, I won't bug you any more about it. I don't like having to do this to begin with. And if it were not necessary, I certainly would not be doing it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Only 2 Days Left

Heads up, my friends!

There are only 2 days left in my 'Ten Days Ablaze' fundraiser here at Martin Christian Ministries. Click that link for the info.

Have you made your donation yet? You are running out of time.

At midnight on Oct. 22, these special offers will end. This is a golden opportunity for you to receive free top-of-the-line study Bibles and free music in exchange for your donation to this ministry.

I would not ask you if there weren't a dire need.

But I won't bug you about it.

I deeply appreciate all of you who donate and who remember this ministry in your prayers and in your support by reading, even if you cannot give a monetary gift. Some gifts cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Info About the Free Study Bibles Offered as Gifts from Me

Some have asked about the nature of the study Bibles I am offering for free to those who make donations at the $200 level and the $100 level during my 'Ten Days Ablaze' going on right now, until the 22nd of this month.

At the $200 level you will receive a full, genuine leather-bound Thompson Chain Reference Bible--the most comprehensive and complete study Bible ever put together. This beautiful King James Version Bible adheres to the old adage that the best commentary on scripture is other scripture. In other words, for each phrase, key word, or verse, there is a reference to scores of other places in the Bible where the same subject is mentioned or discussed.

I have used Thompson for years and have benefited more from it in my studies than any other study Bible on the market..

The version I am offering costs $99 dollars if you buy it retail. I am offering it for FREE if you send a gift of $200. You will also receive 2 other gifts--2 CDs, one of my latest music entitled 'By Request,' and the other a vintage Gospel Quartet CD from 1972 of my own group The Royals.

At the $100 level you will receive a leather-bound Holman Study Bible. This is a copy of what is known in conservative/evangelical scholarly circles as the most accurate modern translation ever put together. It is called 'Holman Christian Standard Bible.'  100 scholars from 17 different Christian denominations translated the scriptures from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, and provided complete study notes.

This version retails for $56.00. You will get it absolutely free for a donation of $100. In addition, you will receive your choice of either the 'By Request' CD or the Royals Quartet CD.

At the $50 level you will receive a pocket New Testament plus your choice of one of the CDs being offered. The pocket New Testament is genuine leather and contains the Psalms. Retail price is $24.99. You will get it free along with your choice of either the 'By Request' CD or the Royals Quartet CD.

Hope this helps you to decide whether or not you wish to donate.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Wandering Minstrel

'Wandering' is an understatement.

Soloists in Christian music by and large do not fare well in the marketplace, especially not in Southern Gospel Music, where the emphasis is on quartets and trios. And while such lone minstrels do much better in 'Contemporary Christian Music,' the field is much harder to break into, and the deck is stacked against more mature artists in order to appeal to the younger set.

Thus, mature, seasoned soloists who are a bit older and who tend to steer toward middle of the road music--a combination of Southern Gospel, hymns, worship and praise, and country gospel--have a much harder time getting bookings, recording deals, and attention. So, we wander around as starving artists, minstrels who are simply looking for a place to sing.

Take Buddy Liles, for example.

Buddy is listed in my list of preferred links in the right column. For over 25 years Buddy was the bass singer for the Florida Boys. Back in the late 1990s he decided to move into the realm of solo work, and while today he keeps a rather full schedule, he can tell you that for years the going was very rough.

As a soloist, and a bass vocalist in a quartet, Buddy has one of those smooth, mellow voices that are rare in Christian music today. He is plenty low enough, but he has a voice that is so melodious that he can take a lead and sing it like a lead vocalist.

Buddy doesn't get much recognition although he deserves it.

And this is my point. Many of us who get out there and sing week by week do it because we love it, not because we get recognition, fame, or fortune. If these singers wanted to be rich and famous, they would sing some other form of music.

This is where you can come into the picture. Struggling artists such as myself are dependent on those who support what we are doing. If you support this ministry and like my singing, consider a donation during my special 10 Days Ablaze.  You can also get free gifts if you donate.

Prayerfully consider making your gift. Thank-you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Don't Be Misled--I'm at the Bottom Rung

The public at large tends to think that anyone involved in the music business, particularly the artists, live in luxury, make truckloads of money they don't what to do with, and essentially lead a glamorous life that is far removed from that of ordinary people.

That may be true for Mariah Caray, Celine Dion, Toby Keith, Taylor Swift, or Sugarland, but for most nothing could be further from the truth.

Only a tiny percentage of artists make it to the top level. Most operate in the dregs of society, at the bottom rung, attempting to squeeze out a measly living by doing one-night-stands in various small-time venues.

This is even more true in Gospel music.

Take Southern Gospel, for example. Out of the several hundred groups that are out there singing, only about 30 or so manage to make enough money to stay on the road week after week. And some of these in the top 30 must supplement their income by working other jobs. The money is simply not there, not by a long shot.

I remember when Glen Payne and George Younce first launched the Cathedral Quartet in the early 60s. Many assume that the group has always been prosperous, rolling in dough, living the good life. Far from it.

Glen and George struggled for the first 20 years of the Cathedrals' existence.  I remember that Glen, as manager, would have the quartet out on the road for 28 out of 30 days of the month, singing almost every single night at every small church that would agree to have a quartet come in, just in order to scrape together enough money to meet expenses and pay the singers a little money. But times were very hard.

In fact, in 1979 when every member of the group departed except for Glen and George, Glen almost decided to hang it up altogether and put the Cathedrals to an early grave.

But, the group was blessed enough to add 3 newcomers to the field of quartet singing--pianist Roger Bennett, baritone Mark Trammell, and tenor Kirk Talley. By 1981 the group's fortunes began to change. The new sound appealed to a broad cross-section of listeners, and it certainly helped when they were able to get several of their recordings to the top of the radio charts. Soon promoters inundated the group with requests to sing at paid concerts.

Thus, from 1981 or so until 1999, when the group retired, they enjoyed tremendous success that only continued to climb right up until their retirement.  The 18 years of great success was far less than the 20 years that the group spent in small churches night after night barely making enough in love offerings to fill the bus with diesel.

My point in telling you all this is that contrary to the notion of many that Gospel singers are 'only in it for the money' is ridiculous. If that were true, they most certainly would NOT be singing Gospel music! For most, there is NO money in it, just a deep love for the Gospel, an abiding love for this kind of singing, and a desire to be out there spreading the good message of Christ's love.

And as for me, I am at the bottom rung of the faceless scores of good, solid folk out there every week trying to take the Gospel in song to people who need to hear it.

But, as you well know, it is impossible to exist without money. Many lament the 'profit motive' as evil but turn right around and engage in it to the max, because no matter what they tell you outwardly, internally they know that unless they get out there and work in order to make money, they will not eat or pay their bills.

And this is why I ask you, without hesitation, to donate to this ministry. We are over half-way through our '10 Days Ablaze' where you can get some mighty fine free gifts for your donation. Soon this special promotional will end.

I need your support. And if you support what I am trying to do, consider making a donation. Take a look at the various levels of donation and the free gifts you will receive as a result RIGHT HERE.


If you don't support what I am doing, or you hate my singing, or you wish I would go away, then don't donate. I don't want you to feel pressured to support something you don't want or like. But then if you were so dead-set against it, you wouldn't be reading this now, would you?

Thank-you sincerely for what you have done so far. And please, if you have not given, consider making your gift today so you won't miss out on free Bibles and/or free music.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Blazing a Trail

This ministry blazes a trail to some places that the Christian message does not normally go. With my extensive connections in the political world, some persons may click on these pages simply because they read my news stories and political commentary at The Examiner and The Liberty Sphere.

I am also engaged in taking the Christian message on the road--spreading the Gospel in song, word, and testimony. I write some of my own material, which is self-published and which does not bring much money, if any.

My programs at churches are free. I depend totally on what they are willing to give, and if they are willing to buy a CD. Some are unable to afford that, but the message is taken to them anyway. I have even given my CDs to some individuals for free, believing that it is more important for them to have the music than it is for me to make money.

However, such a practice does not come without some significant personal sacrifice. This is a shoestring operation that survives day-to-day. Sometimes I lose money. Sometimes I make a little money. As it evens out, I break even at best. In other words, I do not make enough money from this ministry alone to live on. Everything goes toward expenses.

This means that at any given moment in time, this operation will have to cease. Without funds I cannot get from place to place, nor get my music out to people who I feel sorely need it.

These are things to think about as you consider making a donation during my 'Ten Days Ablaze' going on right now, here at Martin Christian Ministries.

There are 4 levels of donations, each of which carry free gifts in appreciation for your support. The top 2 levels--Benefactor and Sponsor--carry a gift of a free leather-bound study Bible that I will send to you when you make either a $200 or a $100 donation. Other gifts are offered as well.

You can read all about the various levels of giving, and the free gifts that will be sent to you, right here.


This is a good opportunity for you to get free Bibles and free music--all for simply helping me in this ministry. Thank-you!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Note Important Changes to the Free Gifts Offered Below!

The free Bibles offered to those donating at the Benefactor Level and the Sponsor Level are leather-bound study Bibles.

In addition, I have just been informed that I can now offer a free pocket New Testament to those donating at the Patron level. This is in addition to your choice of a free CD.

The final change is that those donating at the Booster level will get both CDs--the vintage Royals Quartet recording from 1972 AND my latest CD entitled, 'By Request.'

So, the special offers just got much better to those who make donations in each of the 4 levels.

READ UP ON THE FOUR DONATION LEVELS AND THE GIFTS THAT ARE OFFERED UNDER EACH BY CLICKING ON THIS SENTENCE!  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Can Life's Adversities Draw One Closer to God?

Throughout the years that I have been involved in various types of Christian ministry--music director, Pastor, evangelist, chaplain--sooner or later the issue of life's adversities will come to the forefront of discussion. It is inevitable, for if you live long enough you will encounter loss, pain, disappointment, grief, sadness, and even despair.

Such is the nature of life.

And, as human beings who have been endowed by their Creator with a brain, we have serious questions to ask concerning such suffering that go to the very heart of our faith.

As one who has been heavily involved with ministry to those who are in crisis, I have observed that it can go either way--either a person finds themselves pushing God out of their lives due to the feeling of abandonment, or they will find themselves drawn closer to God in the midst of such suffering.

Thus, I can say that life's adversities can draw us closer to God, provided we keep a level head and think our way through it.

God never promised a life free of pain and suffering, but He did promise that He would be with us through it. His presence helps us deal with the devastating effects of illness, disappointment, grief, trauma, and hopelessness.

And, if we push away the very One who helps us during such times, then we are dreadfully alone in the middle of it.

I will confess that I have reacted both ways to various and sundry calamities that have befallen me.

Earlier in life, I had my plans mapped out. I knew what I wanted to do, how I would do it, and I set about to reach those goals with a single-minded purpose. Then, the rug was pulled out from under my feet. I was absolutely devastated to the point of complete despair, hopelessness, and overwhelming anxiety, having everything I had counted on taken away from me. God was at once a source of strength but also a source of my blame. At one point the blame was so deep and thorough that I wanted nothing to do with church or ministry.

Eventually I saw the absolute folly of that course of action and corrected it.

But then, in other episodes of deep pain, I have found the presence of Christ to be the only thing that kept me going.

Some of you are aware of my various physical maladies that have befallen me in recent years. I had no idea anything was wrong until one day, out of the blue, I was struck with a serious vision problem that sent me to a specialist on a emergency basis. I was then referred to yet another specialist.

The diagnosis was clear, but the underlying source of it was a mystery.

In the meantime, I began to experience other distinct symptoms involving multiple body systems such as the joints and skin. This gave physicians an important clue, which eventually led to a diagnosis. I was also diagnosed with yet another malady that had nothing to do with this one.

The good news is that the eyes, after 3 years, have stabilized. I still have intermittent problems, but nothing to the degree with which I suffered for the first 2 and a half years. I am told that, if the diagnosis is correct, the eye problem should gradually clear up--in about 7 more years. I kid you not. 7 years is a long time, but it is much better than going blind.

The other problems, however, represent the bad news. They are chronic and lifelong.

I cannot work a 9-to-5 job like most people due to the ill effects of the illnesses on the body, and the medications for them. I would qualify for government disability, but I will not do that if I can avoid it. For one thing, I don't believe in it, and for another thing, I am not ready to give up or give in to the maladies that beset me.

Thus, I am forced to work 3 different jobs in order to piece together enough money to squeak by--barely. That in itself takes its toll.

Through it all, however, I found that the presence of Christ has grown more poignant, my spiritual life deeper, and my faith enriched like it has not been in years. My troubles this time have not resulted in my pushing God away in anger but in drawing Him closer, infinitely closer. And I am most richly blessed.

My friends, do not push God away when life comes apart. He may be the only friend who can truly help you through it.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's Still True

When I was a boy I remember hearing some of the old-timers say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it."

Then, a revival preacher came to my church and put a new spin to it--"The Bible says it, and that settles it whether you 'believe it' or not!"

The man had a good point.

Some things are true whether people believe them or not. You can insist all day long that there is no such thing as gravity, but that does not make it any less true. You can claim from here to eternity that if a person jumps off the Empire State Building and crashes onto the pavement below, it will not kill them, but I will guarantee you that if you try it, you will be a greasy spot on the sidewalk no matter what you 'believe.'

In like manner, there are things in the spiritual life that are true whether you believe them to be or not. Truth is truth, and it does not require your approval.

To be sure, there are great mysteries that we will never quite grasp. The finite is incapable of grasping that which is infinite. For example, I like to read, study, and ponder quantum physics. The discipline holds rich implications for spirituality and Christianity, due to the fact that, as human beings, we are part and parcel of an infinite God who creates. And, as his offspring, created in His image, so do we create.

But, quantum physics is too vast, too complex for my mind to totally wrap itself around. This does not mean that its concepts do not hold truth. I may even deny that its concepts are true. But, that in no way makes it untrue. It is still true whether I believe it or not.

I like to draw parallels across various disciplines, to see relationships between, say, quantum physics and the Bible, or Christianity and psychology.

And being one who draws those parallels, I find myself reaffirming Biblical truth all over again.

The 'old, old story' has been around so long, and adhered to by so many, and placed under the refiner's fire of scrutiny, persecution, attempts at eradication, and the like, that it seems to me that the old, old story of Jesus and His love is as timeless as the concepts of quantum physics. The concepts inherent in the story of the Christ are timeless and all-encompassing. We may not be able to understand it all, but we can know enough to know  that something there is very moving and life-changing.

Perhaps it is the story of an innocent man put to death for the wrongdoing of others. Perhaps it is the fact that Jesus was willing to lay down his life to show his disciples and the world the ultimate value of unconditional love. Perhaps it is the fact that the Gospels tell us that we were here in antiquity long before we were born, conceived in the mind of God, and that we will be here long after we 'die' a physical death. This is one of the reasons I have no problem believing in the Resurrection of Christ. Everything I have learned in the realm of science, astronomy, and quantum physics only confirms the great truths of the Bible, in my view.

This is why 'the old, old story' never grows old. It is always relevant.

Here is a treat for you. It's one of the Florida Boys' great hits in the days leading up to their retirement in 2007. This one is great quartet singing at its best. And, to go along with the message today, it's entitled, 'It's Still True.'  I embedded the video below, but in case you can't access it, use the link. Enjoy...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Things That Should Not Be Forgotten

I was singing over the weekend and had the opportunity to present a relatively new song that has created quite a stir within Gospel music circles. People seem to take to it immediately, drawn by its simplicity of melody and message.

The man who wrote it lives near the North Carolina mountains, and the song has a mountain flavor. Unfortunately, I do not have a recording of it to share with you. But I can share the words:

I Have Not Forgotten
words and music by Lance Carpenter

I have not forgotten God's only begotten
And the price that He paid for my sin.
I shall not forget in love not regret
He died on the cross for all men.

Lord, I have not forgotten.
Jesus, only begotten.
I was lost without hope
When the Lord saved my soul.
I remember that hour
By His saving power
I have not forgotten...
I have not forgotten...

He was bruised and afflicted as the prophets predicted
Despised and rejected of all men
But in His agony He paid the ransom for me
His blood brings me joy without end.

Lord, I have not forgotten.
Jesus, only begotten
I was lost without hope
When the Lord saved my soul
I remember that hour
By His saving power
I have not forgotten...
I have not forgotten...

I've been washed by His blood
His crimson flood
I have not forgotten...
I have not forgotten...
-------
You see, America by and large has forgotten some very important things in her history that made her a great nation. One of those things is her great faith, a deep abiding belief in the truths of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I fear that unless those truths are recovered and affirmed once again, we will not survive as a nation. But there is always hope. As long as there is life there is hope.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting Adjusted?

I know quite a bit about psychology. While my degree is in English literature, composition and rhetoric, my 'minor' was in psychology. Later in theological school my focus was on pastoral care, which utilizes a combination of Bible and psychology.

Later on I had significant education in pastoral care from 3 different hospitals that were accredited to provide 'Clinical Pastoral Education.'

So, my background is heavily steeped in the various theories, nuances, and schools of thought associated with psychology/psychiatry.

I can say without doubt that all such theories are flawed. They are but attempts to understand the human psyche, and none of them actually 'get it' fully. They all make positive contributions to the process but still come up short. There is too much we still don't know.

In that regard, I remember a professor stating that the goal of psychological counseling was to get the patient to a place of 'relaxed acquiescence,' meaning that the objective is to help the patient move out of their present state of distress into a place of inner peace.

While I can affirm that manner of thinking to a degree, here again, it comes up short.

A person who is in the throes of emotional upheaval, inner turmoil, and extreme distress does, indeed, need to move to a place of at least some inner peace in order to function in this world. Unless we arrive at such a place, then all of life will be severely disrupted and hampered by the inner emotional demons that haunt us.

At the same time, however, to expect human beings to merely 'acquiesce' in a relaxed fashion to a world environment that is often hostile, is an unrealistic expectation. Mental health professionals tell people that we must 'get adjusted' to life and the world the way it is.

But how?

There IS significant danger all about. Think about it. At any moment the various underground volcanoes that form the earth's crust could burst forth at any moment, obliterating life as we know it for most of the population of the planet.

For example, geologists report that the entire region around Yellowstone, which includes Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and portions of Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, sits on top of a gargantuan volcano that erupted sometime back in pre-historic days. The area is so vast that a casual observer cannot even notice that the area is a volcano or that it ever erupted. But geologists have been able to determine its dimensions, and they claim it could erupt again at any moment, obliterating life as we know it for a large portion of the West, the Rocky Mountains, and portions of the Great Plains states, going all the way down to portions of Oklahoma and Texas.

This example only serves to illustrate the fact that human life on this earth is precarious.

'Getting adjusted' may be an unrealistic expectation. Rather, the goal is to arrive at a rational acceptance of the dangers while at the same time trusting that in any event we are God's offspring and belong ultimately to Him, and thus, it is futile to worry about it.

We were conceived in the mind of God before time began, according to the Bible. And when this particular manifestation of life on what we call 'a planet' is over, we will still exist in another realm, with God as always.

Jesus said, "He who trusts in Me shall never die." Amen!

Here is a great song from the Happy Goodman Family back in their heyday, which describes in song what I've been talking about. It's called "I Don't Want to Get Adjusted." Note how 'Happy' Howard Goodman plays that piano...appearing to beat the devil out of keyboard but actually letting his fingers lightly touch it. This is one of the things for which they are famous. Enjoy...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What If...

What if...

Today would be your last day on this earth.

How would you be remembered?

Would those closest to you feel forced to come up with some polite words about you so as not to be rude, or would they readily recount specific ways that you had endeared yourself to them, loved them, and thus became someone very special in their lives?

What would they say they saw in you?

Would they find sincerity? A sense of purpose? A deep, passionate commitment to what's right, to truth? A person of honor? A person with a sense of compassion, and a willingness to forgive?

One of the more chilling stories I can remember was told by a friend of mine whose wife was a nurse who had been hired to provide round-the-clock care for a dying man who had great wealth. After several weeks on the job she noticed that none of the man's children ever came to see him, and he had many.

Finally, one day she decided to call one of the children by phone, both to report to them their father's quickly deteriorating condition, and to find out if perhaps they would be coming to see him for what in all likelihood would be for the very last time.

"No," he said, "We won't be around. Just call when he's gone. You see, Ma'am, my father has been a bastard all his life. He made life so horrible for us that once we got out of the house, we wanted nothing more to do with him. He made his bed, now let him lay in it,"

I remember thinking at the time, "Wow, I hope the people closest to me don't think of me that way when I am at the end of life, or when I am gone. That would be one of the most horrible things I can imagine."

As I have told you before, I can be quite bull-headed, stubborn, and head-strong, giving a verbal shellacking to people at the drop of a hat. I still have that trait although I can say that it is not as bad as it used to be, especially not for those who are closest to me.

I don't want people thinking of me as 'a bastard' when I'm gone. I can only hope that along the way, through some small expression of kindness, or through my willingness to listen to them, or just simply being present with them in the dark times of life, people around me have come to treasure at least a few of my traits that are not so bad.

But it IS something to think about.

What kind of legacy are we leaving behind for those who will live on without us?

As the late, great Roger Bennett, former pianist for the Cathedrals, asked in one of his wonderful songs, "When the world looks at me, do they see Jesus?"

Monday, September 26, 2011

This One

This one is going to be different.

And 200% better.

I am talking about my new recording that I am presently gathering material to produce. I hope to have the entire thing complete by the end of the year, ready to be offered after the first of the year in 2012.

My new recording will contain mostly new material, written by yours truly. Yep, the words and music will be by Anthony G. Martin. Y'all didn't know that I wrote music too, did ya?

My last recording was a 'By Request' project that was based upon songs people have asked me to sing in various places. It was done on a shoestring budget and shortcuts had to be made to fit that limited budget.

This one is going to be different. It is going to have my signature on all of it, my stuff, done in my style. And I think you will be very pleasantly surprised.

Before the spring of this year, it had been nearly 38 years since the last time I recorded an album. There were no 'CDs' back then, only long play vinyl albums, or singles...and 8 track tapes. Now everything is digital and high-tech. So, my first effort using today's recording equipment was very different and took some getting used to.

My second effort will be a vast improvement. I now know what to do and how to do it. And I have learned some things about the production, arrangements, and so forth.

Now, here is where you can help.

Everything I do here at Martin Christian Ministries is free. Devotionals, songs, all if it. I never charge for anything. But, it is time-consuming. And money is in very short supply. I say that not to solicit sympathy. I don't want or need it. I am just stating fact.

During the month of October I will have a fundraiser right here. Of course, you can make a donation anytime you wish, using the donate button in the top right column. But this will be a concerted, coordinated effort to keep this operation going.

You will be offered a free gift for your donation, but I will tell you more about that when the time comes.

As always, thanks for your support, your prayers, your gifts, and your continued readership. I deeply appreciate all of you. Thank-you most kindly.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

True Confessions

The Bible says that we are to confess our faults one to another, as Christians. That is not an easy thing to do. The humiliation involved, the embarrassment, and the need to swallow one's pride and throw oneself on the mercy of others is a gargantuan task.

But it is necessary for its cleansing effect.

First, a stipulation. As one who has studied the Bible all my life both personally and in scholarly circles, I do not believe that the admonition to confess our faults to one another means to incessantly air out all of one's dirty laundry in public. That is foolish and a gross misinterpretation of those words.

There are times when 'confessing' publicly will hurt someone else. It is important to keep confidences. To blare out something about yourself that would also put another person in a very negative light is akin to a bull in a china shop. That is just as bad as whatever act you needed to 'confess.'

And then, some things are so personal that they simply do not need to be told. That is common sense. There is NO incident in the Bible where anyone, anywhere, EVER confessed publicly to things that should not be discussed in the open--except in a few very select venues, such as a support group perhaps, or privately to the person who was offended.

But, other things are good and helpful to be discussed. Other Christians can learn from our mistakes.

I remember growing up in church that periodically we would have 'testimony meetings,' where the 'saints' or 'Christians' would stand up and confess their past sins and celebrate how God had delivered them.

I heard alcoholics describe their broken, ruined lives and then recount how Christ turned them around completely.

The Church has lost something in the modern era in that there is no mechanism in place for Christians to 'confess to one other their sins.' The objective is not to glorify the sin but to glorify God for His ability to deliver. I get the impression today that a certain cancerous pride has invaded the Church where even Christians do not want others to think they EVER do anything wrong. That is a big mistake.

As for me, I admit I have a temper. I am a very passionate, emotional person who is prone to fly off the handle and say things I later regret. In some ways I am much better about it than I used to be, but in other ways it is worse. Strangers are usually the recipients. I have learned to spare those closest to me.

There are times when a person deserves a verbal raking over the coals. There are other times when such a thing is way over the top and uncalled for. I am still seeking a middle ground, the discernment to know the difference.

Anger itself is no sin. The Bible says, 'Be angry and sin not,' meaning that there are some things so bad and so unjust that to fail to get angry about them is sinful. But the Bible also reminds us that in other situations the tongue must be tamed because it tends to be like a raging torrent, consuming everything in its path.

I am still trying to learn the difference between the two. It is way too easy to justify one's verbal onslaughts as 'righteous indignation' that is fully justified. Sometimes, it IS justified. But in other cases it is clearly NOT. I have had trouble making the distinction.

But I am learning and hopefully growing. That is about the best any of us can hope for.  

Another Artist Spotlight and a Bit of Music History

So far I have talked about the top young gospel quartets today that were spawned by the world-famous Cathedral Quartet upon their retirement in 1999. I have already written at length about 2 of those groups--Ernie Haas and Signature Sound, and Legacy Five.

There is, however, a third major group that came out of the Cathedrals. This group focuses on one individual, and the quartet bears his name--the Mark Trammell Quartet.

Trammell began singing baritone and playing bass guitar for the Cathedrals as a young man in 1979. Out of all of those schooled in what is known in southern gospel circles as 'the Cathedral Way,' Trammell perhaps embodies that description more fully than any of the others who graduated from the Glen Payne-George Younce 'school' of gospel singing.

As the ultimate 'quartet man,' Trammell is a modern example of the tried-and-tested model set forth by The Vaughn Music Company and Stamps-Baxter Music when they first started sending professional quartets out on the road to churches across America to sell their songbooks.

These men were the consummate professionals--well-trained in vocal technique, stage presentation, and in selling the songbooks that paid their salaries. They were also self-sufficient, low-keyed, and even a bit shy about promoting themselves. They were there not to become individual 'stars' but to promote the songbooks.

George Younce once said that if you wanted to find the best quartet man in America today, you would look no further than Mark Trammell.

In 1990 after Danny Funderburk left as tenor for the Cathedrals, Mark had notions of leaving as well but stayed on in order to tutor a very young Ernie Haas, who had just joined the group as their new tenor. Once that was done, Trammell became baritone for the other top group in Southern Gospel at the time--the Gold City Quartet--due to his close and longstanding friendship with Gold City bass and manager Tim Riley.

A few years later, however, Trammell did what many of the top singers in Southern Gospel do when they achieve quite a bit of name recognition--they start their own group.

And today, the Mark Trammell Quartet is one of the absolute best gospel groups on the road in America. They are not flashy or gaudy. They do not go for cheap applause. They are not loud and boisterous. They just stand up and sing, and the quality of their music does the 'selling' for them.

Here is an example of the Mark Trammell Quartet, singing, 'How Long Has It Been.' As we say in the south, 'It don't git no better than that!'

By the way, there is yet a 4th major group that came out of the Cathedrals. I will tell you about that later.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conversation with an Atheist

Let me make clear at the outset that I am not the kind of Christian who goes around shoving my religion down people's throats. I rarely bring it up unless the other person does, except for those that share my views.

If I know the person shares my values and my views on faith, I am not reluctant at all to bring up spiritual issues. But for people in general I usually don't initiate those conversations, believing that the Holy Spirit will prepare a person who is ready to hear what I have to say. And a good indication that they are ready is when THEY bring it up.

However, there are exceptions. Not everyone who brings up the subject is ready to hear.

Such a conversation took place with an atheist the other day. In reference to a certain tragedy that was in the news, he wanted to know "why a loving God would allow such things to happen."

I said, simply, "I don't know. That is a question that cannot be answered adequately. Any 'explanation' that could be offered usually comes up short."

It was then that he unleashed his vitriol against Christianity and people of faith in general.

Said he, "Your answer to my question is only more proof that there is no God. I have never been able to get a Christian to answer my question. If everything you say about God, the Bible, and Christianity were true, you would be able to answer it."

I responded, "So, you would make a judgment about whether or not God exists solely on the basis of something I do not understand and cannot explain..."

"That's how all of you believers try to wiggle out of it," he snapped. "You can't honestly address the fact that if God were loving there would be no young kids murdered by a nutcase with a gun, no tragedies such as the Tucson massacre or the Japanese earthquake and tsunami."

I countered, "So God is obligated to do your bidding, to act in accordance with YOUR opinion of what constitutes justice or love. What if God simply decides not to intervene in the laws of nature in most cases? What if He expects men and women to make decisions on their own, without being forced to do so, and that when they make poor decisions people will get hurt? If God decided to stop bad people from doing bad things, then we as human beings would not be free moral agents who have the power to decide for ourselves. We would be mere puppets."

He then launched into a tirade that I tuned out, which was mostly knee-jerk hyper-emotional reaction arising out of his own internal rage than any rationality.

I just let him talk. And then when he was through, I apologized for anything I may have said that got him upset. It was not my intent to get him so riled.

He accepted the apology and we moved beyond the clash.

What else can one do at that point?

Arguing religion and spiritual issues with someone who is not prepared for the answers, or the non-answers, is futile. It accomplishes nothing.

But I will say that there is a part of this encounter that sticks in my craw and always has--the fact that many unbelievers wish to hold me responsible for that which I cannot explain or that for which God has not provided an explanation.

There is plenty that people of faith will never understand. The finite cannot fully grasp the infinite. Our limited human minds cannot wrap themselves around that which is unlimited in scope.

I don't have to understand everything nor offer an explanation for everything. I can continue digging, exploring, inquiring, studying, and growing. But that's about it. I am not worried about things I cannot explain or understand. I am much more worried about the things I DO understand and CAN explain fully.

Accepting reality means embracing the fact that we mortals are limited in our ability to comprehend certain spiritual mysteries. This in no way undermines faith. In fact, faith is enhanced by our acknowledgment that 'blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.'

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Artist Spotlight and Some Music History

Periodically I like to write about great talent in Christian music. Some of the best singers in the world can be found in Gospel music, particularly in the sub-genre known as 'Southern Gospel Quartet Music'--that is, if the singer in question is well-trained.

A study was conducted a few years ago by a major music school at a large university in order to determine which form of music was the most taxing on a singer. The study concluded that Southern Gospel Quartet singing is the most difficult on the voice.

This is due to a variety of factors, including the fact that such singers must perform at least 250 dates per year to make a living and that the nature of the genre is such that great demands are placed on the voice that are not present in other musical genres, such as the ultra-high tenors and the mega-low basses, not to mention that quartet fans want to hear those dramatic endings in which the singers hold a note for an extremely long period, with the tenor reaching the highest levels of the scale and the bass sliding down to double octaves at the other end.

For this reason very few groups make it to the top. There are lots of quartets and trios out there, but only about 25 or 30 or so are successful enough to make a living at it.

You have read my numerous stories about The Cathedrals, the Florida Boys, J.D Sumner and Stamps, Gold City, and others who maintained a consistent level of success for multiple decades. These are excellent examples of the quality it takes to reach the top and stay at the top.

But there are younger groups that have come along who have demonstrated that they, too, have 'the stuff.' One of those is 'Legacy Five.'

And now a short history on how Legacy Five came to be.

When Glen Payne and George Younce of the Cathedrals announced that the year 1999 would be their last on the road, the other guys in the group, Roger Bennett on piano, Scott Fowler on baritone, and Ernie Haas on tenor, had to go to work to plan for their future without the 2 icons whom the fans wanted to see--Glen and George.

As I have written before, Ernie started his own group called 'Ernie Haas and Signature Sound' which has enjoyed booming success, appealing to a much younger fan base while staying true to their southern quartet roots.

But Scott and Roger, who were best friends, decided to go in a different direction, staying with the tried-and-tested 'Cathedral Way' that had given them unprecedented success. And, with the backing of some financiers within Christian circles, some of whom are well-known mega-church Pastors, the two were able to put together a quartet that was worthy to carry on the Cathedral tradition.

Immediately the group was able, through their generous donors, to purchase a bus and garner some high profile venues at which to sing--such as the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Georgia, one of the largest churches in America.

Thus, Legacy Five was born. The group has been known to introduce some of the best singers in Gospel music to the national audience.

The group took a major hit, however, when Roger Bennett died prematurely from leukemia. Roger, in my opinion, was the absolute finest pianist in Gospel music, EVER. And that is saying a lot.

Roger and Scott were the backbone of the quartet, much as Glen and George had been for the Cathedrals.

But, as with George Younce who was instructed by Glen Payne just prior to his death to carry on and fulfill their obligations without him, so did Scott Fowler find a way to carry on without Roger Bennett.

The group has managed to stay at or near the top of southern quartet singing, winning several fan awards at the annual 'Singing News Awards' festival.

These guys are solid. Their stage presence captures the dignity of the legacy Glen and George left behind. And their commitment to Christ, the spreading of the Gospel, and 'walking the walk and not just talking the talk' are clearly evident.

Here is a great example of Legacy Five's music--I Found Grace. Click on the words.