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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.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Flawed Character

I will readily admit that I am flawed. Some would describe me as 'a flawed character'--a description that carries a rather negative connotation. And in some ways I suppose I am indeed a 'character.'

But a more accurate description would be that my character is flawed. This does not suggest that one is rotten to the core, or totally bad, or lacking in distinct positive qualities. But as a human being my character, regardless of how upstanding or admirable it appears to some, is still quite flawed.

I know very few Christians who attempt to pretend that they don't have faults. I will admit that I have met some, though. That is a big mistake. Sincerity, genuineness, and honesty demand that we readily admit our flaws, our tendency to sin, our mistakes and impure motives, and our weaknesses.

When a person of faith approaches other people with the attitude that he or she is better than those with overt flaws or fails to acknowledge his or her own failings, then those outside the faith can see right through such denial and come to the conclusion that the person is a fake.

And indeed to a great degree such a person IS a fake. That is one of the worst things that can be said about a Christian. If people do not believe us to be sincere, then we will be severely hampered in our efforts to spread the good news of Christ.

The Bible says, 'If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and the truth is not in us.' That verse is written to Christians, and not those outside the faith.

To be sure, some individuals are going to believe all of us are fake. Their skewed picture of Christianity leads them to conclude that all of Christ's disciples are not to be trusted and are totally lacking in any true sincerity. It is very hard to change such thinking when it is based entirely upon a knee-jerk emotional reaction rather than rationality.

But most people will appreciate the fact that a Christian can admit his or her mistakes, own up to their flaws, express regret, ask for forgiveness, and openly remind everyone around them that we all are just sinners saved by grace.

When I was much younger I thought that I had to live in such a way that I kept all of my flaws carefully hidden lest anyone think that I was a fake. As I matured, however, I found that the more I attempted to cover up my flaws the more I appeared to be exactly that--a fake.

Now I don't try so hard to pretend anything. I will openly admit that I am a flawed servant of the Lord. I have never claimed to be perfect, and I am not about to start. I can only say I am working on my failures as God continues to mold and shape me into what He wants me to be.

But remember, that work will not be complete until we reach our final destination--home with Him forever.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Great Men Teaching Great Things

When famed gospel singer Glen Payne was in a hospital in 1999 dying of cancer, his group, the Cathedral Quartet, was scheduled to embark on their much-publicized farewell tour prior to their retirement after 35 years together.

Little did Glen know when they announced their retirement and tour that he would be diagnosed with cancer, which would prevent him from appearing with the group.

Doctors and medical personnel did everything they could to help Glen but their efforts were to no avail. And when it became apparent that Glen would die within a few short weeks, a shaken George Younce--bass singer for the group--went to see him in the hospital.

"You know, Glen," said George, "We've been out there night after night singing the Gospel for 35 years. You have not only been my business partner in this group but my best friend. I don't think I can go out there, or ask the rest of the guys to go out there, and do this retirement tour without you. It just doesn't seem right to me."

In a weakened voice, Glen responded, "George, in 35 years we've sung no matter what. Our promoters and our fans depend on us. We sang when we were sick. We sang when there were family emergencies. It had to be done. We never let our supporters down, not once. You go out there and sing for the people. Keep our commitments to the promoters...all of them."

Reluctantly George did as Glen had asked.

I went to one of the Cathedrals' farewell concerts in a large southern city. They were the only group on the program, but it had been sold out weeks in advance--all 20,000 seats.

When the group walked on stage, George came to the microphone and stated somberly, "Friends, we are happy you all have come out to see the Cathedral Quartet tonight. We love you, and you know that. But I have to tell you right at the outset some bad news. Glen Payne died this afternoon at 3 PM."

You could hear one, big collective gasp in the audience. You could see women begin to cry and men reaching for their handkerchiefs. I admit I shed quite a few tears myself. Glen had been one of my heroes since I was a boy.

But once the announcement was made and the grief was expressed, the group sucked it up and did the program as never before...just for Glen.

They sang their hearts out.

The reason? It was not just for Glen but for the purpose for which they sang. Glen had always said from the beginning that when they started this quartet they wanted to do it for the right reasons and do it the right way--straight up, sincerely, honestly, and with integrity. He wanted the group to be a vehicle by which to spread the Gospel.

Both Glen and George had blemishes from their past, and they were the first to admit it. I don't know how many times I heard George give his testimony about how his drinking got the best of him in his early years in Gospel music. But God had a way of changing all of that. Both men came to see a better way. And in time they were molded and shaped by the Master Builder who turned their failures and sins into shining examples of what a life can become when Christ is the focus.

The lessons I learned from Glen Payne are numerous. Vocal technique, a love for quartet singing, how to present oneself on stage, a dogged determination to do what God had called you to do no matter what the obstacles, the need to give God the credit for whatever success comes your way, and, finally, how to die.

Great men teach us great things if we pay attention. Glen Payne is part of the reason I am who I am today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Come Home

Ever feel that you lost your way? That all your hopes and dreams in life have been dashed and lying in ashes?

Have you felt that you are basically alone, wandering as a ship with no compass, frantically trying to find direction in this crazy, mixed up world, but never really finding it?

Perhaps you grew up in a family where you were grounded in great, eternal truths that are timeless in that they have withstood the ravages of eons of human history. And yet, somewhere, somehow along the way you lost track of those truths, wandering off into some uncharted territory where the glitter that attracts you turns out to be nothing more than fool's gold in the end.

Perhaps you once lived as one who believed in the Lord with all your heart. You prayed to Him. You sang songs about Him. You read the Bible. You went to church.

But someone or something so severely disappointed you that you felt there was no alternative but to give up on it all, rejecting the very foundation of your whole life due to the misguided sins of some of the people of God.

And now, maybe you are feeling hopeless, that God has abandoned you and that you are beyond help.

Is there a message to you, just for you?

Yes. Come home!

The door is always open. You know where to go and what to do. The very same Lord you once claimed stands with arms wide open. The very truths that once gave your life purpose and direction are still there, waiting for you to claim them once again.

There is no need to hesitate or to wait, acting as if you are an outsider. You are not. You are one of His sheep who went astray. And the Bible tells us that He never abandons His sheep. You are His, no matter what you've done or how far away you have strayed.

Come home. This is where you belong. Those who love you wait with great anticipation. The Lord stands ready to throw His arms around you. All you have to do is walk through the door.

Your life is not over. You still have a chance. Turn back to Him. Let Him love you. Let God's people love you.

Come home, my friend, come home.

Song: "Come Home" by the Cathedral Quartet.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Prayer for 9/11

"Our Heavenly Father, as we remember the horrific events that occurred on this day 10 years ago, we humbly ask for your comfort as memories come flooding back into our minds like bad dreams. And in remembering may we honor the legacy left behind by the brave souls on United Flight 93, the fire fighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel, and hold as sacred the lives of all of the victims in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. We confess to you our collective failure as a nation to keep the truth alive concerning what happened that day, allowing the misguided, and the duplicitous, to revise the sacred history of 9/11 and cloud the national vision of who and what perpetrated the attacks. Renew our sense of national unity in fighting the good fight against the forces of evil. We ask that you, O Father, would also open the eyes of the spiritually blind, even those who are engaged in terrorism around the world, so that they may recognize the wickedness of which they are a part, repent of their sins, and come to the truth. Be a special friend to those who mourn this day. And in their deep sense of loss let them experience your loving presence and find solace. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Season of Woe

In the history of the Hebrew people, who became known as Jews, a theme arises that would become a means of describing the polarity of their experience and their relationship with God--'woe or weal.'

Weal is a word that denotes a period of great prosperity, happiness, fulfillment, well-being. Woe, of course, is the opposite--a period of poverty, despair, abandonment, and distress.

The ancient Hebrews, according to the Bible, were schooled by God Himself in the simple concept that if they obeyed Him and lived according to the covenant that they themselves had agreed to, then they would be blessed. If, however, they violated that covenant with God, they would suffer the consequences.

Those consequences were dire.

The books of Exodus, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and others depict how Israel paid the price for its disobedience to God. More often than not they were overcome by their enemies, slaughtered, and the survivors carted off into other regions where they lived as slaves. These were the seasons of woe.

Once having been taught a painful lesson, the remaining remnant of the Hebrew nation would repent of its failure to abide by the terms of the covenant, turn back to God, and eventually be restored. It was then they entered into a season of weal.

In many ways America today is firmly held in the grip of a season of woe. Those who have been running the country have failed us in every imaginable way. Economic disaster looms not only for the U.S. but for the entire world. Civil unrest could break forth at any moment. And war looms on the horizon as terrorist states continue to gain power, particularly the Palestinian push at the U.N. for 'statehood,' which they plan this very month.

Are we suffering the consequences of our failure to abide by the covenant?

To be sure, America as a nation never formally entered into a covenant like the one Israel had with God. The Hebrew nation from the start was a theocracy. The U.S. was never envisioned that way.

But, we have a rich heritage of deeply spiritual people who settled here and believed that this nation was a beacon of hope and the fulfillment of a divine promise to give God's people a place of freedom in a world of tyranny.

In time, however, we have gradually allowed that very tyranny to infiltrate the society. And now, it is ever-present with a fury. Our very Constitution is in danger of being totally negated by citizens--Americans--who no longer believe in its precepts. And their chosen politicians are faithfully carrying out their wishes to change this nation from one of freedom to a Marxist, totalitarian vision of centralized control.

There is a heavy price to be paid for allowing this Godless evil to take such a hold over such a large sector of society. And if God's people do not do something post-haste to stop it, then our 'season of woe' will only continue to worsen, resulting in the most ghoulish nightmare this nation has ever witnessed in its history.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

There Has to Be a Song

Gospel music mogul Bob Benson once stated, "There has to be a song."

Indeed.

Too many dark, lonely nights, too many painful events, too many days filled with hopelessness and despair, and too many memories of dear loved ones who have passed from the scene necessitate a song. A song is like a balm to the weary soul, giving utterance to the feelings deeply buried within.

When Paul and Silas were bound and jailed for preaching the Gospel, the Bible says that they sang songs to the Lord all night long.

My grandmother suffered from a terminal illness for 7 long years--an illness that eventually took away her ability to breath. Many a night when she needed oxygen, she would get up, put the tube to her nose, and begin to sing. She said it was a great help to her in her suffering.

On the day of the 9/11 attacks I awoke with a song running through my mind. I did not know at the time why I would be thinking about that song, replaying it over and over again in my head. It did not take but a few hours for me to find out. The song was of great comfort and strength to me on that horrific day.

Here are part of the lyrics:

There is never a day so dreary
There is never a night so long
But the soul that is trusting Jesus
Will somewhere find a song.

Wonderful, wonderful Jesus
In the heart He implanteth a song
A song of deliverance, of courage, of strength
In the heart He implanteth a song.    

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ask Me to Sing At Your Church?

If you do, I will accept! LOL.

There are some dates left in September, and October is wide open.

I do not charge churches a fee to sing. I only ask for a free-will love offering and the ability to sell my CDs. Sometimes churches want me to sing during revivals or conferences. Others want me to do an entire program. I can do either.

Oh, and by the way, I am also available to speak as well. This can be in addition to singing, or if you wish, I can just make a spoken presentation during which I share the Gospel.

I love doing this sort of thing. I got it in my blood way back in the late 60s and early 70s when I had my own Gospel Quartet. To this day I still love traveling to sing and mingling with 'God's people.' I always have a good time. And I think you will too.

But more importantly you will be blessed. Whenever Christian people share the Gospel through a song or the spoken word, people are blessed. I am glad and thankful to have a small part in that endeavor.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Good Deeds and Angels

I have received quite a few positive responses to my last post concerning my encounter with an unknown man on a bus in New York City back in 1978. Thank-you for your kind words. And I agree, it is always a good idea to treat people, especially strangers, with some degree of decorum, because we never know if we are in the presence of an agent from God, otherwise known as 'angels.'

People who are spiritually attuned know that life always presents endless possibilities for the divine presence to manifest itself. God works in mysterious ways.

Was the man who helped me on that bus an angel? There is no way to know for sure. Further, it depends on how one defines the term 'angel.'

Symbolically speaking, anyone can be an angel for someone at some time. For example, if you decide to purchase the meal of a member of the U.S. armed forces that you may see sitting in a restaurant, it could well be that he/she will consider you to be an 'angel.' If you send someone a monetary gift to help defray burdensome medical expenses, the recipient may consider you to be an angel, even if you do it anonymously.

In fact, I have always believed that the best way to give to someone in need is to do it anonymously. That way you can know in the depths of your soul that what you are doing is not for the praise, not for the attention, not for a pat on the back or any other pay-off. You are doing it merely because you want to help. And it is not important for anyone to know.

I remember hearing Norman Vincent Peale tell about comedienne Carol Burnett's experience in this regard.

Burnett related that when she first started out in comedy someone did something for her that helped her tremendously in the process of 'breaking in' to the very difficult arena known as show business. The person would not give his/her name. But they requested that in exchange for the gift, Burnett would promise to do the same thing for someone else once she 'made it big.'

I always liked that story, and I have shared it many times through the years.

My friends, if you give to the church or to someone in need only for the tax break, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. If you give a gift only for recognition or to be known in the community for your generosity or for being 'a great philanthropist,' you are giving for the wrong reasons. If you do good deeds for others only for the pay-off of a 'good reputation,' then your good deeds are doing you no good whatsoever from a spiritual standpoint.

Don't get me wrong, the gifts that you give and the good deeds you perform are still needed and much appreciated. But for you, there is no real spiritual value because your motivation is all wrong.

Unless your gift, your act of kindness, your generosity, comes from the heart out of a sense of compassion and out of a desire to obey the command of Christ to voluntarily, of your own free will, feed the hungry, visit the sick and the imprisoned, help the poor, the homeless, and the widows and orphans, then spiritually speaking your deeds are all in vain.

As the Bible says, "Let every man examine himself."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thought for the Day

Afternoon, my friends! Sorry for there being light blogging at this site for the past several days. It's been super busy around here. I am working on several projects at once, and time has been limited. I do apologize and will try my best to provide more regular and timely updates.

I do appreciate those of you who loyally follow Martin Christian Ministries. I depend on people like you to make all of this possible. A new CD is in the planning stage. More about that in time. But be aware that the process for doing these things is slow...so much to do just to get ready. Right now we are in the planning phase--choosing the songs that will go on the CD, which can be a most arduous task.

But, as always, I deeply appreciate your kind gifts to this ministry. A donation using the PayPal button at the top right column is a tangible way you can help keep this operation going.

And now, for the devotional thought for the day.

On a bus in New York City in 1978 I was attempting to make my way to Grand Central Station from LaGuardia Airport. I had been to New York many times, but I had always driven there. I was totally out of my league as a young man who was not accustomed to big city public transportation.

Seated next to me on the bus was a older gentleman. He, too, was dressed in a three-piece suit as was I. He never introduced himself, and I essentially ignored him, having been told that you can't trust those New Yorkers! LOL!

At one point he simply said, "So where are you going?" Just out of the blue. I said, "I am going to Grand Central Station, and I don't have a clue as to how to get there."

I am quite certain he could tell by my southern drawl that I was not from the area, but he never said a word about it. He said, "Well, my friend, this bus won't get you to Grand Central. You are going to have to get off of this bus and catch a cab. I will tell you exactly where to get off, and what to say to the cabbie in order to make sure he gets you to the station using the shortest route possible. This will save you a load of money."

He began telling me what to do.

It seemed that just as soon as the words left his tongue the bus stopped. He looked out the window and said, "This is it. This is where you get off. Now, you get off this bus pronto and catch that cab, and do exactly what I told you."

I thanked him profusely, and I asked his name. He said, "You don't have time for that. You have to get off right now. Now, go!"

I got off the bus just as the doors began to close.

And sure enough, there were cabs around. I hailed one, and when I got in I told the driver exactly what the man had told me to say.

We got to Grand Central in five minutes.

The cabbie was a big talker. And he had told me along the way that I must know a lot about NYC because he would have never gone to Grand Central using the route I had provided. I thought to myself, "Yeah, if he only knew the real truth. And I bet he would have taken 30 minutes to get there had I not given him complete instructions."

I never forgot the man on the bus.

Shortly after I arrived at Grand Central and boarded the train northward, I began to contemplate what had happened, and a Bible verse struck me. It said, essentially, that we never know who we encounter on life's journey and that sometimes we encounter 'angels unaware.'

I encountered an angel in what to me was a most unlikely place--in New York City on a bus.