The War on The West

Retirement has permitted me to read books that I wouldn’t have had time when I was an active pastor.

I have essentially ended these once-weekly blog posts and will probably close down the Welcome to the Front Porch Swing in February when my contract renews.

Occasionally a book is so relevant that I want to share it with my former blog followers. However, I usually don’t share anything, but today I will.

The book, The War on The West, was an eye-opener. The author is Douglas Murray, an international bestseller. His latest book was released only a few months ago, and I predict it will be another bestseller. It ought to be. In fact, it ought to be required reading for every person concerned by the dramatic social, political changes that threaten to tear the fabric that once held us together as a nation. Or as a civilization.

Murray lays out evidence exposing the sinister effort to destroy all western civilization. Nothing is sacred anymore, it appears. Western art and music that has endured and been cherished is under attack simply because they are the product of white men and women.

If you want to understand contemporary issues such as woke, BLM etc., this book is a must read. The root goes far deeper than racism.

As we watch, statues and memorials that once honored great men and women are being toppled or defaced, if for no other reason than an ancestor might have benefited by slavery. I emphasize “might have”. Buildings on college campuses are being renamed. Even the statue of an elk in downtown Portland was not safe because it was on land that once belonged to native Americans.

Yet, statues in honor of Karl Marx remain unmolested.

It is clear that much, if not most, of the anger supposedly driving this movement has nothing to do with slavery or race. The root goes far deeper than the death of a black man at the hands of a renegade cop.

Karl Marx, in personal letters to his friend, Friedrich Engels, are laced with racial slurs especially against Jews and blacks. Marx frequently tosses the “N” word around in his ranting. Yet, he is safe from all this madness.

We can determine the root of a tree by its fruit. The focus of Murray’s book is to expose the root that is driving this war against all western civilization.

Will they succeed?

Yes, unless enough people and enough corporations get enough courage to say, “enough!”

One final concept from Murray: He observes that there are no boats filled with migrants going south across the Mediterranean ocean. There are no masses of people crossing the Rio Grande going south to escape the United States of America.

Go figure.

The Air We Breathe

It is time to break my silence.

My focus has been on ministry in our local church over the past several months. Therefore, I have resisted writing new posts.

However, I recently discovered a book—so relevant—that I have read it a second time and have encouraged my friends to check it out for themselves. Now I want to share the challenge on the Front Porch Swing.

The book, The Air We Breathe, by Glen Scrivener reveals that the values we all—both secular and religious—claim to believe in are the products of the influence of Christianity. We value freedom, kindness, progress, education, democracy, compassion and equality. We oppose slavery and seek to protect the physically and mentally challenged among us. We abhor the tragic results of Nazism and Communism. We believe that every person should be free to choose their religious belief—even atheism.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence assumes that certain values are self-evident. That they are so obvious as to never be challenged. Consider these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States opens with the stated desire to pursue justice and tranquility and to promote the general welfare of every citizen.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

What profound thoughts from the minds and the pens of our founding fathers! Not all were practicing Christians, but each had been influenced by Christianity. It was the air they breathed.

But the question is, “Are these truths, these values, truly “self-evident?” Are they, or have they always been, obvious in other civilizations? Other constitutions?

No! A resounding “No!”

Not one ancient civilization or culture has ever held these values. In fact, most were constructed on the opposite. The mighty and powerful deserved to rule. The weaker deserved to be ruled and even abused. The Greeks philosophers did not offer true democracy. Only the elite, those privileged by the gods, had a voice in making and enforcing law.

 Pax Romana may have kept the peace but at what cost? Slaves and less” valuable” people served the powerful. Life, even that of a new born baby, was expendable at the whim of the powerful father or the emperor.

When did “everything” change? When did compassion for the weak become norm? When did every human life—women and children and other races—deserve equal protection and value under the law?

That is the point made by Glen Scrivener, author of The Air We Breathe.

Today, the Christian Church has fallen into respect in our secular culture. Sometimes, rightfully earned by those who call themselves Christ-followers. Our secular culture seeks to push us aside or to blame us for the social ills.

We may wonder if we need to apologize for something? For everything?

Let me share my response as influenced by this book:

Jesus, by example and words, brought light that exposed the evil darkness. His followers, nicknamed Christians by their critics, won the culture war through their unselfish, Christ-like lives. Unwanted babies were rescued from Roman garbage dumps and alleys. The sick and dying, during plagues, were cared for by Christians while the elite fled to safer ground. The bloody “entertainment” in the Coliseum ended through the influence of Christ-followers, sometimes at the expense of their own lives.

So, if you believe that women should be treated equally in the business place and honored in the home, thank Jesus.

If you believe the more vulnerable—the aged, infirm, mentally challenged or physically disabled—among us deserve protection under the law, thank Jesus. He honored women, blessed little children, touched lepers, healed blind and fed the hungry.

If you believe that a fetus, that has been diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, deserves an opportunity to live, thank Jesus.

If you believe that no human being—regardless of race or gender—should be bought or sold for profit, thank Jesus.

If you enjoy the blessings of scientific research, thank Jesus.

If you’ve experienced compassionate medical treatment in a hospital, thank Jesus.

Jesus and influence of faithful Christians have created the air we breathe- the blessings we enjoy today.

Jesus and His followers, have transformed the world—changing the way things used to be-and have created a revolution that declares every human being is valuable because he or she bears the image of their Creator.

I strongly encourage you to check out the book: The Air We Breathe.

Let’s get some dialogue going here on the front porch.

Clarification regarding the Potter’s Wheel post

Thanks to each of you that responded to the brief post last week about the sermon that I preached from Jeremiah 18-20. Several of you commented that you anticipated me once again publishing more posts on The Front Porch Swing

However, that was not my intention. I don’t know if I will continue the weekly posts or not. I am trying to determine where to most effectively use my time and gifts during this last leg of the journey. I want to finish strongly.

I wanted to encourage you to watch the video of the sermon since the topic is so relevant. The response to the sermon has been very encouraging. Even this morning at a men’s prayer breakfast several men commented on how the sermon impacted them.

I do not say that as a promotion but as an encouragement to listen to it. I share the address to the church website again since I am not certain it was done correctly in the previous post.

Go to: and find sermons. The most recent one is listed first.

Thanks for taking time to listen. As I stated, we are either on the potter’s wheel or may soon be in one of those situations when we are blindsided with situations that we do not understand.


In The Potter’s Hands

Five months go I stopped writing blogs. I was at a crossroad in life and trying to determine where to invest my time and gifts as I inch toward the big four-decade era.

Today, I feel strongly led to break the silence and share an update.

Mary and I are both doing quite well and are enjoying living so close to one of our sons and four grandchildren. We are also grateful for our church family at Pleasant Home Community Church where I have led a small group and have been teaching a class that I call “Trekking through The Older Testament.” Using the teaching gift that God has given has affirmed that my journey is not finished and that God has a purpose for these latter years of life.

Last Sunday I preached from Jeremiah 18-20. Yes, we covered three chapters!

Twice, God sent Jeremiah to visit the potter’s house to prepare messages that Jeremiah would deliver to the people in Jerusalem that were facing the imminent invasion from Babylon. The potter and clay motif is presented several times throughout Scripture, including twice in each Isaiah and Jeremiah as well as in Romans 9. The emphasis is always on God’s sovereignty.

Jeremiah’s first visit to the potter’s house was to receive a message that God, the potter, could do as He chose with rebellious Judah because of her love affair with idolatry.

The second visit to the Potter’s house was to purchase a clay flask to illustrate the message that God would use Babylon to shatter Judah and carry her into exile.

But, the reason I chose to consider three chapters from Jeremiah was to share Jeremiah’s emotional responses when Judah ignored God’s warnings and turned against the prophet with slander and physical abuse. Jeremiah felt like he was on the potter’s wheel and ricocheted between righteous anger and depression. Between psalms of lament and cursing psalms calling down severe judgment upon his critics. Between praise and a pit so deep that he laments the day he was born.

Life is good. Most of the time. But, there are times when we are blindsided with circumstances that threaten, like ocean breakers, to yank us off our feet and drag us like a riptide into uncertain waters. Suddenly we feel like God has thrust us onto the potter’s wheel as life spins out of control.

We begin to ricochet between confident faith in what we say we believe about God and questioning if God even cares or is aware of our circumstances. Our theology is put to the test. Faith is stretched to the breaking point.

These emotional responses and the struggle with faith in the midst of feelings of abandonment and fear was my focus from the story of Jeremiah’s experiences.

What are some lessons we can learn from the potter’s wheel? From His hands pressing severely?

Are there any answers when we cry, “Why? Why me? Why now?”

Sometimes these painful experiences are the result of poor choices. That was the case when scaffolding collapsed 38 years ago changing my life forever.

Sometimes we suffer because of choices and actions of other people. Bad people. That was the case when my seven-year-old brother, Danny, was killed.

Sometimes, God, the Great Potter uses adversity like a potter’s hands firmly pressing the clay to conform and shape us into the image of His Son, the most kind, gracious and loving person that ever breathed.

In last Sunday’s message I tried to share some of my experiences and lessons learned when I was on the potter’s wheel lying on my back six weeks in the hospital with casts on both legs, one arm and a full body cast. It would be six months before I would preach again, but this time from a wheelchair.

If you are interested in hearing my story and lessons that I learned while on the potter’s wheel, please visit the following site:

Thank you for letting me share. I welcome your feedback.


Bridging the Great Divide

Our culture has become so divided today that it seems we are about to unravel. 

But this is nothing new, is it?

American history is replete with eras of social and political unrest—even violence in the streets. In fact, the USA was birthed as a result of political unrest. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Americans were sharply divided between loyalists (those preferring to remain loyal to the British Empire and King) and the patriots demanding freedom from British control.

The industrial revolution also threw the status quo on its head.  Factories replaced family farms and small businesses, resulting in a struggle between labor and management as laborers began demanding better salary and safer working conditions. Strikes became violent with destruction of private property and loss of lives. In time, however, Americans learned to cooperate.

The Industrial Revolution and poor economic conditions in Europe led to an influx of immigrants seeking a better life. With every wave of immigration, there was a predictable pushback—including street violence—fueled by prejudice and fear of losing control of the status quo. Sometimes the response included enacting laws that directly discriminated against an ethnic group, such as the Chinese. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 re-enforced the already existing Page Act of 1875. The first law excluded all female Chinese from immigrating to America. With the additional law, all Chinese were excluded by a legal barrier. The new restrictions generated a strong social prejudice against these aliens from Asia.

Italian immigrants also faced severe prejudice and a fear that these “inferior” and “dangerous” people would steal jobs from American citizens. The KKK and other organizations instigated physical violence against Italian immigrants, including lynching. Eleven Italians were lynched by a mob in New Orleans in 1891.

The Irish immigrants, after passing through Ellis Island, would soon discover that the welcoming words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor huddled masses, yearning to be free” were just that—only words. 

Only one period of social/political unrest resulted in actual warfare. America was divided between pro-slavery and abolition sentiments. A great deal of blood would soon be shed to determine if America would—or could—remain “one nation.”

Even after The Emancipation Proclamation became the law of the land and the Civil War cannons had been silenced, racial strife continued for generations. Violence against Blacks became a shameful blot on our history. To this day, prejudice and fear still threaten to divide us. Clearly the problem runs deeply in the American psyche.  Legislation has not (nor can it) create true racial reconciliation. The problem is a heart problem.

Although labor disputes and ethnic prejudice have torn at our cultural fabric, we Americans have always learned to come together for the sake of the nation. Until now. 

So where are we today when words like toxic, noxious, venomous or malignant describe our conversations? I use the word “conversation” lightly, because conversations require listening—something too often missing in our public and private debates.

We have, it seems to me, flipped the wise counsel of James on its end: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19) Most of us, and I know it is true of me, prefer to be heard. That’s why we interrupt or, while pretending to listen, we are preparing our rebuttal. It’s always been this way, ever since we declared independence from God. The problem today is that the Internet and social media have created a platform that has amplified our communication problem. We don’t have to listen to anybody. We can just fire away, spewing out whatever vulgarity and negative emotion that we feel at the moment, no matter who is wounded or destroyed.

Sometimes we resemble a radio talk show or a cable news program with the host talking over guests and guests insulting each other.  Don’t you wish you could just shut off all their microphones? That is why I have essentially taken a fast from such nonsense.

Thankfully, politicians no longer challenge each other to a deadly duel with their derringers. Today they prefer to lob insults and ridicule at each other—each claiming to have all the truth on their side—each refusing to listen or to seek a solution. Men and women that we have elected and entrusted to act as mature adults more often act like adolescents, insulting each other while the can continues to get kicked down the street.

So what is the solution? Is there yet hope for reconciliation, or have we crossed the line? Is it inevitable that the shared hope that once bound us together has been forever been shredded? Is anarchy inevitable? 

I offer two alternatives. One is to return to just plain common sense and decency. Let us heed the wisdom of James. Let us learn to listen patiently to one another. Let us refrain from tossing out word bombs. Let us turn down the temperature on our anger lest we prove ourselves to be absolute fools.

I wish those simple prescriptions were sufficient to heal the wounds in our country and in our churches. But they won’t. The problem is not just our tongues (or our fingers hitting keys on our smart phones and laptops) but our hearts that have been infected, and our focus is only on self.

There is, I am confident, only one cure for our fragmenting culture. Only one bridge to span the gulf separating us from each other. One person that can dismantle the barriers that isolate us. One great leader that has all truth because He is the truth, the way and the life.

Most secular readers are probably, by now, ready to leave the front porch. But for you who are still with me, let me illustrate why the cross of Christ is the answer.

Paul, in two paragraphs (really two long sentences) in Ephesians 2, demonstrates that the death and shed blood of Christ dismantled the impenetrable barrier separating sinners like me and you from our holy God. No longer, Paul writes, are only the Jews God’s chosen people. Even Gentiles have received a special invitation to join God’s family. They were always invited, but man-made barriers and social prejudice had hindered the way. Gentiles are described as dead in their sins, disobedient and destined to face God’s holy wrath. “But,” writes Paul, “God being rich in mercy” raised them up to spiritual life. 

On the heels of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a vast earthquake did more than shake the ground. At the same moment, it ripped the great curtain that had separated everyone from the most holy place, demonstrating that the invitation was now open to all sinners to return to the Creator who loved them. That reconciliation between a holy God and fallen sinners is illustrated by the vertical pole suspending Jesus on the cross.

In the second paragraph (Ephesians 2:11-22), Paul describes how Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension tore down, totally removed, the barriers that once separated Jews from Gentiles. Gentiles were described by these painfully haunting words: “without hope, without God in the world, separated from Christ and alienated from Israel.” But now, Paul writes, Gentiles have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The legal and prejudicial barriers that once locked Gentiles out were now removed. The literal, physical wall that had prevented Gentiles from enjoying the Jewish festivals and temple worship was to be removed. (This literally happened when the entire temple region was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Imagine that day when the wall that once separated East Berlin from the west was demolished and families were reconciled again.) 

No more would the signs denying Gentiles entrance under threat of death be appropriate. The barrier separating Jew and Gentile has been replaced by a bridge—a welcome path—Jesus Christ. There would be no more second-class God-seekers. Warning signs with death threats have been replaced with signs welcoming new citizens into God’s kingdom and into God’s family.

The horizontal bar on the cross symbolizes, in my mind, that Christ has removed all barriers between ethnic groups. God has also, in His great love and wisdom, provided the power (desire and ability) to love one another, regardless of race or ethnicity or political persuasion.  This has been accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent to live in us and to continue the work of reconciliation.

No longer can we justify racial prejudice. No more excuses to shout down or insult those who perceive things differently—whether it be vaccination and mask mandates, gun control laws, global warming or any other issue that divides us. We can hold our opinion, but we must turn down the volume on our debates. 

We can learn to be slow to speak, quick to listen and slow to erupt in anger. 

The ultimate test tube to demonstrate this new way of thinking and speaking ought to be the local church. Let us put aside differences that seem petty, when compared to the realization that many of those outside the church are searching for meaning and purpose and for love and acceptance—for family. 

Let us offer hope and reconciliation in Jesus Christ, the great barrier breaker, bridge builder and way maker.

After all, didn’t He say they would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another?

 This Is My /HIS Story (pt. 4)

Coincidence or Providence?

I have appreciated your responses to the last three blog posts, sharing how God has led us to specific churches. Reflecting on 50-plus years of ministry, we are convinced that God has providentially directed our path and blessed us in so many ways.

God has also directed my path in other ways. Today, I want to share examples from a mission trip to India and Pakistan in 2002.

The first example of God’s providence on this trip was how I was chosen to go to India. I was serving as pastor at Foundry Church in Bend. (I shared last week how dramatically God directed us to Bend.) I was in the process of planning another mission trip to our sister church in Sigulda, Latvia—a small Baltic nation—once part of the former Soviet Union. I had ministered in Latvia several times and anticipated an opportunity to return. Dates had been set, I was preparing to purchase airline tickets. My plans for the trip to Latvia were firm.

God had another plan.

One morning I received a telephone call from a representative of Open Doors Mission, informing me that I had been chosen to be one of three American pastors to minister to the persecuted church in India. (Open Doors is a mission that was founded by Brother Andrew, known for smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. Today Open Doors serves persecuted Christians around the globe.)

I wondered, and still do, “How did they choose me?” I hadn’t applied, nor was I even aware of this mission trip to India. Why me? I was just a pastor of a medium-sized church in Central Oregon. Foundry had participated in the International Day of Prayer for The Persecuted Church, observed on the first Sunday of November. But how had we shown up on the radar of an organization like Open Doors?

When the man on the other end of the phone conversation shared the dates for the trip to India, I responded by saying that I had already made plans for a trip to Latvia at the same time. I agreed, however, to pray about the offer (how could I not?) and said I would get back to him. 

When I shared about the invitation from Open Doors with our elders and the global mission team, we concluded that I could always schedule another trip to Latvia. We decided, after praying together, that I should accept this unexpected invitation from Open Doors. 

Our team consisting of three pastors, a photographer and the Open Doors representative would meet in Paris and fly to India together. We would spend three weeks crisscrossing India by train, bus and airplane to spend a week in each of three locations where pastors and church leaders would gather to be encouraged by their American brothers.

With plans for Latvia off the table and three weeks scheduled in India, I felt led to also include a visit to Pakistan, where a couple from our church were missionaries. It seemed like a simple thing. I would serve with the Open Doors team three weeks and then catch a train across the border into Pakistan. The wheels were set in motion. All bases were covered. Visas were in hand. Days were flying by quickly.

Then a couple of glitches changed everything that I had planned. First, a border skirmish between Pakistan and India closed the borders. There would be no short train ride from New Delhi to Islamabad. Neither could I take a direct flight from India into Pakistan. I would need to fly into the United Arab Emirates before entering Pakistan. This meant leaving our team in New Delhi by myself, and flying to Mumbai to catch a flight to Dubai. (Sounds a little dizzy?) 

Several people familiar with the situation cautioned not to make that flight through Mumbai by myself. Jim, the regional director of the Conservative Baptist Foreign Missions (Now WorldVenture), emphatically warned me not to go. It would be too dangerous to make this trip by myself. Other people waved caution flags at me. 

I had to decide quickly because tickets needed to be ordered—as well as getting a visa into Dubai. I prayed. I worried. But it seemed as if God was saying, “Syd, trust Me. You won’t be alone.” My response to Jim and others went something like this: “Why should I doubt God now, in the shadows, when I had trusted Him when everything seemed good and peaceful?”

Then the second glitch occurred just one month before departure. On Easter Sunday, March 17, 2002, two terrorists threw grenades into the Pakistan International Church where I was scheduled to minister. Forty-six people were injured, including 10 Americans. Five people were killed, including two Americans. 

Now what should I do? Turn back? Take the safe route home and enjoy visiting the Taj Mahal with the rest of the Open Doors team? Or should I trust God? Stretch my faith?

I chose the latter option. Yes, I was a bit fearful, but still trusting God to go before me.

I am so grateful for that choice. The experiences of those five weeks in Asia were valuable for both me and the Indians and Pakistanis with whom I ministered.

It is one thing to pray for my persecuted brothers and sisters that I have never seen, but it was wonderful to personally meet persecuted Indian believers—some with physical scars suffered at the hands of militant Hindus. I cherish the memories of sitting around a fire in the evening and listening to their stories. Today as I write, I recall some of their faces and long to see them again. Perhaps someday in heaven we will embrace again.

My trust in God to protect and lead after I left the team in India was rewarded. I was sitting in the New Delhi airport waiting to board the plane to Mumbai when a handsome, well dressed Indian businessman sat down next to me. When I asked if he was from New Delhi, he responded in perfect American English, “No, I’m from San Diego.” When I shared with him about the warnings against going through Mumbai alone, he responded, “Don’t worry. I’ll lead you through and get you on the correct bus to take you to your next flight.” 

Coincidence or providence?

I flew through Dubai and spent a week at a medical mission compound in the southwestern tip of the United Arab Emirate, where I preached at Pakistani and Sri Lankan church services. I enjoyed their unique styles of praise and worship–and food! On Sunday morning I was the guest speaker at the large English language service. Talk about a triple-dip banana split with every flavor or color of ice cream imaginable!

Now, to share the last amazing example of God’s sovereign protection and provision. Arriving in Islamabad and going through customs, it appeared that every piece of luggage was being gone through piece-by-piece. I was nervous, because I was carrying Christian literature and had an Indian stamp on my passport. Just as I started to move toward the customs agent, an African woman dressed in a colorful, traditional dress cut in front of me. 

The agent gave her a strong, loud rebuke and sent her to the end of the line. Perhaps he was prejudiced. She didn’t wear the traditional Muslim burka hijab. All I know is that the custom agent hardly peeked into my luggage and waved me through. I don’t know why, but I believe God placed that woman to assure that I safely passed through customs with all the Christian material intact. After all, if God did that for Brother Andrew time after time, why couldn’t He do the same thing for a timid old preacher passing through customs?

The ministry in Pakistan was more special as a result of the terrorist attack on the church. Visiting the wounded in the hospital or in their homes, several shared how much they appreciated me coming to pray with them—when I could have remained safe and secure in America. Seeing an Islamic country and culture from the inside has helped me understand and identify with my persecuted brothers and sisters around the world today.

Thanks for permitting me to share my story. It has been a story about a loving God calling and leading and patiently growing a sometimes reticent, even rebellious, child. 

Truth is, I now understand that this has been His story all along. 

Sadly, many people have a diminished or distorted perception of God. Is He an absent landlord or is He still active in our world and our lives today? Is He cruel and malevolent or kind and good? One thing is certain: He is not safe, but He is good.

That is also the reason I authored the book, God in His Own Image: Loving God for who He is not who we want (imagine) Him to be.

If you have appreciated these stories about God’s providence in my life, please pass the word on to your friends.

This Is Mm /HIS Story (pt. 3)

Coincidence or Providence?

Welcome back to the Front Porch Swing where, for the past two weeks, I have been considering whether God sovereignly directs our lives?

After fifty plus years of pastoral ministry, it has sometimes felt like I made choices based on my preferences; other times God has clearly directed me. When I have been resistant, God has remained relentless. He has been opening doors and closing them to reveal His will for my life.

There are stories of God directing people in the Bible. For example, Peter was specifically told to go to Caesarea and meet a Roman Centurion that had been instructed by an angel to retrieve Peter from Joppa. You can read Peter’s story in Acts 10.

Paul was also called by God to preach the gospel to Gentiles and to plant new churches. He would eventually make at least three major missionary expeditions to places as far away as Rome.

Here’s how it all began: “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1–3, ESV)

God interrupted a prayer and praise meeting in Antioch in order to announce His plan for Paul and Barnabas. These two pioneering missionaries traveled through Cyprus and present day Turkey planting churches. Sometimes they experienced severe persecution and resistance, but they always knew they were doing what God had sent them to do.

In Acts 16, on a second missionary trip, Paul faced a dilemma. He had his route planned out, but God had another itinerary. God shut the doors and crossed off cities Paul that had intended to visit. Here’s the inside scoop:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:6–10, ESV)

In a night vision Paul saw a man from northern Greece calling for help. God had a plan to thrust the gospel message across the waters and into another continent. Paul and his associates sailed off to Europe ASAP. Today, you and I are beneficiaries of Paul’s decision to obey God’s call even if it meant cancelling his own plans.

Does God still open and close doors today? Yes!

Here’s my story:

Last week here on the front porch, I shared how God once led us to accept the pastorate of a struggling church in Portland. I was attending seminary and had no plans to pastor another church at that time. God had a better plan and used a teaching assistant to submit my name to the search committee of a local church. I eventually accepted the call to Powellhurst Baptist Church where I spent over thirteen wonderful, fruitful years of ministry in a once dying church.

Whenever I received invitations from other churches I would immediately decline, because I was committed to remain at Powellhurst.

 God had another plan.

First Baptist Church in Bend, Oregon (a very desirable place to live) was seeking a lead, teaching pastor and contacted me. I declined. Soon another letter from the search committee arrived stating that they had not received my resume. (I hadn’t sent one.) I declined again. Finally the regional director of our association of churches asked me to pray a week before saying no to Bend.

Mary and I prayed and even drove to Bend to check it out. While in Bend we visited a friend that had attended Powellhurst before moving to Bend. She had played the piano at Powellhurst and had served on the worship committee.  Jennie didn’t know that First Baptist was considering me as a candidate. When I asked about the church, her report was less than encouraging.

Once again I told the regional director that I wasn’t interested. However, deep in my soul, I felt troubled. First Baptist relentlessly continued to request my resume. It appeared the search committee was convinced that I was their man.

I remained stubborn and begin to give God reasons why it was the wrong time to leave Powellhurst; God removed each excuse within 24 hours. My last two reasons for not going to Bend were, I felt, valid. First, our youngest son was a sophomore at a local high school and was already playing some varsity football.

One Friday morning I told God this was the wrong time to move our son, because he would be so vulnerable. That night, after the game, as I waited for our son, I turned on the radio in my truck. The first words that came out of the radio were about a pastor in a larger city that felt called to a smaller community. (It was a panel discussion on God’s call to ministry.) The pastor’s teenage son and daughter begged him not to go, but later thanked their father and said it had been the best thing for them.

I was dumbstruck. It was if God was saying, “Syd, trust me. I can take of your son.”

Clinging to my desire to remain at Powellhurst, I found one more reason to not go to Bend. It was a Saturday morning when I told God (Imagine the audacity.) that I can’t leave Powellhurst because of Lonnie. Lonnie, a recent convert, had been abused by his biological father and a stepfather. He struggled with severe depression throughout his life. One day, sitting in my office, as I shared the gospel it was like a light went on in Lonnie’s heart. Somebody loved him unconditionally. Somebody who would never hurt him or abandon him. Although we were the same age, Lonnie looked up to me like dad. He loved me and I him.

That Saturday morning I prayed, “Dear God,” I said,” if I leave now, I will be one more man that has abandoned Lonnie.” I was serious.

 Next morning, between the two services, Lonnie asked if we could talk. Sitting there in my office in the chair where he had prayed and surrendered to Christ, Lonnie began to speak: “Pastor, I hear rumors that a church in Bend wants you to be their pastor. I don’t want you to leave, but God sent me here to release you.”

Those were his words.

 I felt my skin quivering. I fought tears. It was as if God Himself was speaking to me. “Syd, I am asking you to trust me. Follow me.”

And, we did.

Perhaps God had been using delay tactics and my refusal to accept the call in order to prepare us for the first two years at First Baptist Bend. These were the most difficult years in over 50 years of ministry. It was so difficult that Mary never placed furniture in our living room because we didn’t know if we would survive.

God healed the church, and we spent 25 years loving the people and being amazed at God’s goodness.

I have been reminded again and again that God gives the best to those who leave the choice to Him.

He has providentially led us. He has blessed so richly. He truly is a good and faithful Father who knows what is best for His children.

That’s my/HIS story.

I welcome your feedback and any anecdotes you have about God leading in your life.

This Is my/HIS Story (pt. 2) 

Coincidence or Providence?

Last week I shared how God uprooted all my plans when He providentially directed us to pastor a small rural church in Ohio when I was only 23 years old.

But does God always direct in such a specific manner?

Sometimes God directed men like Peter to go to specific place. At other times, it seems like Peter just went with the flow. Consider this passage in the book of Acts:

“Now it came about that as Peter was traveling through all those parts, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. [Present day Lod in Israel.] And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bed ridden eight years, for he was paralyzed” (Acts 9:32).

It sounds like Peter just meandered into Lydda, where the Holy Spirit empowered him to heal the paralytic. While in Lydda, an urgent message arrived from believers in Joppa (present day Jaffa) entreating him to come quickly. Tabitha, a beloved member of the Joppa fellowship who had faithfully served many people, had just died. Having heard of the amazing miracles being performed through Peter, the church in Joppa were trusting God to restore this saintly woman to life. 

The Bible doesn’t tell us whether Peter asked God whether he should go to Joppa or not. As far as we know, he just got up and went. It was, he probably reasoned, “the right thing to do.” And God used that trip to Joppa in a huge way. By restoring Tabitha to life through the power of God, the report of this miracle resulted in many people trusting in Jesus Christ.

So what do we conclude here? Were Peter’s decisions and the resulting miracles providence or coincidence—or both? Peter had chosen to go to Joppa, but the miracle of raising Tabitha was God’s work! 

Peter remained several days in Joppa, making himself comfortable at the home of a man named Simon. Peter may have seen the R & R as a nice break in his apostolic schedule. But God had another plan—a most surprising change in Peter’s itinerary. His next stop would be miles up the Mediterranean coast to Caesarea, to visit with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius.

I can’t imagine that hanging out in a Roman city like Caesarea was ever in Peter’s daily planner. But it was in God’s.

 Cornelius was a seeker of the one true God, and was respected for his compassion and generosity toward the Jewish people. One day, as Cornelius was praying, an angel appeared, instructing him to send to Joppa and bring Peter to Caesarea. Immediately, the Roman officer dispatched two servants and a “devout soldier” to retrieve Peter.

Meanwhile, back in Joppa, Peter had received a vision that would challenge his prejudice against Gentiles. Three times Peter pushed back, clinging to his Kosher tradition. And three times God responded, exposing Peter’s pride and prejudice. 

As Cornelius’ messengers were approaching Simon’s home in Joppa, the Spirit clearly told Peter to go with these Gentiles without misgivings. This time, unlike choosing to go to Lydda and Joppa, God had a sovereign plan for Peter.

I have experienced both of those options in my life: God has at times given me freedom to choose my own destination, and at other times, He has clearly and sovereignly directed me. 

Here’s another chapter in my story:

After serving seven-plus years in Pulaskivile and assisting in establishing a Christian school in Marion, Ohio, I was ready to go to seminary. I had planned to go to Dallas Seminary when I accepted the call to Pulaskiville. Now, ten years later, I knew my strengths as well as my weaker spots. Seminary would help fill in the blanks.

I considered three seminaries: Dallas, Trinity (in Chicago) and Western (in Portland). Even though I prayed, I never sensed a direct leading from God to attend a specific seminary. He seemed to be leaving it up to me. I remember asking myself, “Why would I return to Chicago or move to Texas when we could move to the Northwest?” When I was eight years old, my family had visited Oregon, where I had been impressed with the lush greenness and the beautiful mountains. Besides that, Western Seminary had a strong Old Testament department—an area that had been lacking in my undergraduate work. So I chose to pursue a Master’s Degree in Old Testament studies at Western. 

Moving to Portland was a family-driven decision. While in Portland, however, God once again revealed His sovereign plan for my life. I was in my mid 30s with ten years of local church ministry experience under my belt. One of my professors’ teaching assistants took note of that. Andy attended Powellhurst Baptist Church, knew they were seeking a pastor, and decided to submit my name. 

The search committee requested a résumé, which by now, after serving as a pastor ten years, I could provide. Reading Powellhurst’s annual report wasn’t encouraging. Nor was I seeking a pastorate. I was a full-time student at Western, worked a night shift at UPS, and we had two sons. My plate was already full. 

Pastoring a dying church wasn’t on my agenda. But was it on God’s? Was He opening a door? Was His plan—improbable as it sounded to me—better than mine? 

What do you do in a situation like that? You pray. With great intensity!

As Mary and I kept putting this decision before the Lord, I began to sense a tugging on my heart. One day I said to her, “If ever there was a church that needed to either be put to rest (closed) or, by God’s grace, to be raised to health and life again, it is this church.” 

The challenge was daunting, to say the least. Powelhurts’s building, large enough for 800 people, was in very poor condition. Less than a hundred people regularly attended. Powellhurst had enjoyed a great history, but was in severe decline.

I served 13-plus years at Powellhurst, and we grew to love our church family. God saw fit to breathe new life into the church. A large corporation purchased the original property, and we were able to relocate—debt free—on a very visible corner less than a mile away. 

The congregation grew, so that two services were necessary. 

When I began to receive offers from larger churches to candidate, I would immediately decline. I was planning to serve Powellhurst until retirement or death. 

But once again, God had another plan—another surprising chapter in my/His story.

But that’s another story for another visit here on the Front Porch Swing.

Oh, by the way, one of the ways God helped bring Powellhurst back to health was when thieves broke into the building one Saturday night and stole the sound system. Next morning the small congregation had to move forward to hear, not only the message, but to hear each other singing in the large worship center. I wonder if the thieves knew they were being used to accomplish something good?

Yes, God works in mysterious ways. That, I know, by experience.

This is My (HIS) STORY

Providence or Coincidence?

“God doesn’t care where I choose to serve Him.” 

At least that’s what I once thought. Certainly, God was more concerned about my motives than whether I moved to Texas or Oregon. I could serve Him in Philadelphia or Portland. Even Atlanta or Albany would be okay. Or so I thought.

I knew that God had clearly directed men like Peter and Paul to minister in specific locations. Consider Philip. In the midst of a great spiritual awakening among the Samaritans, he was specifically sent to a remote desert region to evangelize one Ethiopian man, a court official of Queen Candace. After baptizing the Ethiopian, perhaps the first African convert, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away while the official, now filled with joy, continued his journey taking the gospel with him.

No doubt about it, God had a very specific plan for Philip.  But that was way back in the first century, when the gospel needed to be taken to unreached places like Africa. Right?

Does God still have a specific plan—a unique calling—for his ministers today? Or are we left to make our own choices? Is it providence or coincidence?

I can’t speak for everybody else, but I can share my story—a story of God providentially directing my life. As I reflect on my life, I see strong evidence that God has led me all the way. I am who I am today because God had a plan for me. 

That is what I want to share over the next few weeks here on the front porch swing.

Every choice we make has consequences. It’s inevitable. The result of a choice may be positive or negative, but it is never neutral. For example: I chose to wait two years after high school before attending Moody Bible Institute. Mary worked one year after high school. We ended up in the freshman class. She caught my eye, and I was on pursuit. I won her hand in marriage and my life has been forever changed. Sometimes I wonder what if I had gone straight to Moody from high school, and Mary had worked a year. There’s a good chance that I, a senior, and she, a freshman, may not have met. What if I would have surrendered to “senior panic” and found someone else?

None of my five grandchildren or two great grandchildren would exist today. I would never have attended Ohio State to finish my undergraduate work. I would never have pastored our first church in Ohio. The list of changes in my life’s story would be almost unbelievable.

So this week, I want to share how God providentially guided us to our first pastorate in Ohio.

Mary and I had been married two years when we graduated from Moody. I needed one more year of liberal arts to earn my BA degree, so we returned to her home church in Galion, Ohio where we volunteered to serve as youth directors. It was a team effort, and we enjoyed it.

Mary was pregnant. I needed a job.

One morning before I left the apartment to apply for a job at North Electric Company in Galion, Mary and I prayed for God to provide a job, and to enable me to interview well at North Electric. When I entered the personnel manager’s office, Bert enthusiastically welcomed me and noted that I had just graduated from Moody. I waited for her to begin telling me about the job at North Electric. 

She never did. Instead, she excitedly shared that she was on the pastoral search committee for a small rural church 20 or so miles to the south. They had contacted Moody that week, inquiring if there were any alumni in the area that might be seeking a pastorate. This was, in Bert’s mind, a sign from God that I was their man.

But I had other plans! I needed a paying job in Galion. I was headed to Dallas Seminary the following year, after finishing one year at Ohio State University. It wasn’t the right time to accept a pastorate. Besides all that, I was only 23 years old and had zero pastoral experience. I wasn’t ready, and to be candid, I really wasn’t interested. I was passing through Ohio on my way to Texas!

Our pastor, however, after listening to my account of the interview at North Electric, encouraged me to at least look into the offer. “Perhaps God is in it,” he said. With a great deal of skepticism and very little enthusiasm, we drove down to see Pulaskiville Community Church. (Meanwhile, Mary was home wondering why the interview was taking so long.)

I met with the search committee, and after reading their doctrinal statement, I discovered a few red flags and told them that I wasn’t interested. (What a relief!) A few months later, however, the search committee contacted me again, asking us to pray before declining again. What could I say? Of course we would pray, and we did.

I didn’t want to be another Jonah running away from God’s call, so I told the search committee that I would consider their offer on these conditions: I disagreed with their doctrinal statement and would preach what I believed the Bible said, and I was still planning on going to Dallas Seminary in a year. Assuming those reasons would finally squash their persistence; I was surprised when the congregation voted to call me as their pastor.

We moved into the parsonage with Mary six months pregnant. Pulaskiville, once a small village on a country road, consisted of a half dozen homes or single-wide trailers begging for a little TLC.

Forty or so people gathered on Sundays in an old white building seated across the road from junked cars and a pig pen. The future didn’t seem promising, but Pulaskiville was now our home.

That little church became the best seminary I could have attended at that time. Preaching Sunday morning and evening, teaching the adult class and leading the youth ministry stretched me and helped me discover that the Holy Spirit could use me. I grew deeper in my appreciation for God’s Word and in my ability to preach and teach. We grew to love the people. They were our kind of folks: farmers and laborers in factories. I sat through numerous surgeries and buried and married several people. I learned to be a shepherd.

The church began to grow numerically. Several persons responded to the gospel and invited their relatives and friends to come to hear God’s Word. One Sunday the Holy Spirit was so present and powerful that there were almost more people at the front of the church responding to the message than those who remained in the seats. This has been the closest experience we have had with revival.

Eventually 200 plus people gathered in a building built to seat 100 fairly comfortably. We began to look for property on the main highway a few miles away to build a larger facility. 

Obviously, I stayed longer than that one promised year. In fact, we enjoyed over seven wonderful years in that rural church. 

Was it coincidence that Bert, the personnel manager, served on a pulpit committee that had just contacted Moody? Perhaps, but after 50 years in the ministry I think not. In fact, God has continued opening doors even when I wasn’t seeking.  

I am convinced those years at Pulaskiville were part of God’s plan for my life; it is His story.

And the best was yet to come.

Missing the Final Flight

Imagining the plight of thousands of panic-stricken people abandoned at the airport in Kabul is almost too tragic to comprehend. Some were American citizens. Others that served with us during the past 20 years are now facing the threat of death at the hands of the Taliban. It appears the current reports coming out Washington, D.C. have greatly understated the number of people left behind. 

Those words, “left behind,” resonate with the words of Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus, however, was warning about missing another final flight. Whether you or I depart this life via physical death or the glorious return of Jesus Christ, it is imperative that we be ready. That we don’t miss the final flight.

A couple of days ago as I was reading the Bible lyrics from a very old County Music song tumbled back into my mind: “How many, how many, I wonder? But I really don’t want to know.” The artist was wondering how many other people claimed to have loved him or her. 

It was reading and meditating on Psalm 1 that triggered a thought about how many professing Christians are truly authentic Christ-followers. The person whose life is based upon God’s Word is distinguished from those who choose to live their own way or by some other religion or philosophy. Choosing to follow God’s way will change our lifestyle—and our future destination.

For me, the question is simply this: How many friends and acquaintances are prepared for the final flight? How many are truly prepared if Christ was to return today? Tomorrow? 

Missing the last flight out of Kabul was tragic. Missing the “final flight” out of this world will be eternally tragic. Some that were stranded in Kabul waited too long to get to the airport with visas and tickets in hand. Some were at the airport on time, but without proper documentation they were turned away at the boarding gate. Many of these that were left behind now face potential persecution or even death.

When Jesus returns or the death angel comes for you and me, will we be ready? One fact is rigid: there is only one way to heaven—to God—and that is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I (myself and no other) am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes (can come) to the Father except through me.” Those are very strong, exclusive words. I’m sorry, but there is no way to put a positive spin on them and make them less severe or more inclusive.

The key is to understand and accept Jesus’ words and warnings. He, Himself, is the one and only route to heaven. He is—or has provided—the boarding pass through His sacrificial death and resurrection. If and when I believe this truth and accept (submit to) Jesus, He grants the right to join God’s family. Believing and trusting in Jesus not only changes our future destination and our present identity but will change our worldview and values—our code of ethics, priorities and life purpose.

It is not ours to judge whether another person truly believes in and trusts Jesus. I am responsible for myself. But we can look for evidence or fruit of a changed life in a professing Christian. If we do so, and discover little or no evidence of authenticity, it behooves us to encourage, even warn, them to test their own claim to faith. 

It’s not enough to listen to God’s Word or read it without putting it to practice. To do that is like a foolish person building his home on shifting sand. (Matthew 7:24-27) Jesus accused the Pharisees of reading and teaching God’s Law without obeying it. (Matthew 23:1-12.)

Self deception is so subtle, especially living in our materialistic culture.  Consider Jesus’ warnings: 

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34–36, ESV) 

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32–34, ESV) 

The routine of life can detract us from living in a state of preparedness for Christ’s return. That was how Jesus described the time of Noah, when the Great Flood caught all but eight people by surprise. This happened even though Noah had spent decades building the ark and warning his friends and neighbors.

Even the routine of attending church—perhaps singing on the worship team or teaching Sunday School—can create a false sense of security. Jesus spoke of that future judgment day when some will plead that they served faithfully, but will hear these devastating words: “Depart! I don’t know you.”

My credit card statements and bank account reveal my priorities. Am I investing in things of eternal value? Do I care about the hungry? Do I pray for and share resources with my brothers and sisters facing persecution and threat of death every day?  Am I even aware of their plight, or have I pulled the curtains?

Do I care about my friends and neighbors and family members still living in darkness and unbelief? Am I a  witness by my life and with my lips? 

All these things and more help expose where my heart is focused. It is good to stop and take inventory of my life. Do my actions and priorities match my profession?

I write today because I wonder how many of my friends and family remain outside God’s family. I wonder. I wonder. But unlike the lyrics of that old country song, I really do want to know. I want to know so that I can warn them before it’s too late. Before the last flight leaves our earthly tarmac and the gate has been closed. Forever.