INJUSTICE: HOPE FOR EXONERATION

Some Thanksgiving holidays are memorable; not all in pleasant ways. This week we learned about the 1983 arrests of three 16 year old boys on Thanksgiving Day. The charge and later conviction was for murder; the sentence was life in prison.

I’m certain it was a time that Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins,  Andrew Stewart, and their families will never forget.

I won’t go into details of how injustices occurred that robbed these boys of 36 years of their lives. That’s been reported by nearly every news source already. I will focus on their exoneration and release from prison on Monday.

The three boys so wrongfully imprisoned are now much older guys in their 50’s and free finally. Freedom after 36 years means they are free to hug their families and loved ones, to live new lives without prison restraints, and to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with a new personal reality regarding the meaning of exoneration and thanksgiving.

“I’m going to spend Thanksgiving with my mama and live a normal life,” Stewart said. He acknowledged his journey is just beginning and added, “I got to learn how to live right now.”

Watkins explained, “It wasn’t easy. You see us out here; we’re smiling. We’re happy that we’re free, but we’ve got a lot to fix,” he shared and touched his heart. “This should have never happened.”

Chestnut revealed he never gave up hope and that he looks forward to spending the rest of his life praising God and taking care of his family. “I’ve been always dreaming of this. For this day,” he said.

I am deeply saddened when I consider the experience of these men. I am sure I cannot begin to understand their feelings or what they endured. I am thankful that an unimaginable part of their lives is now in their past.

I pray they will live their future lives with thanksgiving in their hearts. May they maintain the same kind of hope that sustained them until their exoneration became reality. We all know they deserve far more than a public apology from a judge — but how can 36 years of a life be returned?

It’s hopeful at least that organizations and individuals will work to find the truth and to right wrongs as best they can. For this I am thankful. I realize it is only by the grace of God that those were not my own footsteps that walked their path.

These newly free men face an unknown and different kind of challenge before them now. May they travel their new road with grace, love, and hope to become examples to the rest of us.

“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened…. Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, ‘Release those men.’ …They went out of the prison… and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.” (Acts 16:25-40)

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:2-4, 12)

“Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

“I still believe in Your faithfulness.
I still believe in Your truth.
I still believe in Your Holy Word.
Even when I don’t see, I still believe.” (from Jeremy Camp’s song, “I STILL BELIEVE”)

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS: HOPE IN THANKSGIVING

Are you  preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving Day? It’s a national holiday in the US observed on the 4th Thursday of November. It was made official by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

It is right to give thanks to God, the Giver of all gifts and good things according to the Holy Bible. Hope lives in a heart of gratitude. When thanks is given to God I believe He responds by giving hope. Surely thankfulness and hope may be considered as two sides of a single coin.

There’s an old hymn from the 1800’s that encourages more than thankfulness in general. It challenges counting — actually naming — each blessing one by one. It is a good spiritual exercise to strengthen one’s attitude of gratitude.

“Count Your Blessings” was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. His father was a merchant gifted with an excellent singing voice. As he grew up the son loved hearing his father sing church songs.

Passing up opportunities in the family business Johnson Oatman, Jr. studied for ministry. In his mid-thirties after becoming a minister he discovered his musical gift for writing songs.

Averaging about 200 songs each year he ended up writing 5,000 songs including “Count Your Blessings,” “Higher Ground,” and “No, Not One.” 

These musical compositions were blessings that gave joy and meaning to his life. Johnson Oatman, Jr. had found a way to “preach the Gospel.” Indeed the Gospel and blessings have reached millions through his well-known and well-loved songs.

Note real-life aspects of “Count Your Blessings.” There’s discouragement, burdens, cares, doubts, conflict…. See how the focus changes to hope, comfort, singing…. This change happens as God’s blessings are counted!

The best part may be that the blessings will last all the way to the end of this life’s journey. I’d say that Johnson, Jr. knew and believed the Bible. For anyone who does there are innumerable reasons to be thankful.

I hope you will celebrate Thanksgiving Day and remember to keep a grateful heart every day. An attitude of thanksgiving translates into a life of thanks-living that will be blessed with hope.

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. 

Chorus:
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by. (Chorus)

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. (Chorus)

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end. (Chorus)”

(Johnson Oatman, Jr.)

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 69:30)

“Oh, come let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our Salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!” (Psalm 5:1-3)

JOHN 3:16: HOPE IN A SINGLE VERSE

It has been called “the greatest verse in the Bible.” If you are familiar with Scriptures then you may quickly think I refer to John 3:16. You’re right.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Now let’s look at this verse more closely part by part as a way to study it. This is a suggestion from “How to Study the Bible” included in The Open Bible (Thomas Nelson Publishers).

(FOR) GOD — the greatest person;
SO LOVED — the greatest devotion;
THE WORLD — the greatest number;
(THAT) HE GAVE — the greatest act;
HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON — the greatest gift;
THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES (IN HIM) — the greatest condition;
SHALL NOT PERISH — the greatest mercy;
(BUT) HAVE ETERNAL LIFE —
the greatest result.

There definitely are great ideas revealed in this one verse. John 3:16 is likely the one verse best known by the most people. It is even more important to be known in the heart than in the head only. Do you understand the difference?

Of course, if we have opportunities to read… study… learn… meditate on additional verses then we should and will benefit. John 3:16 is a great verse with which to start.

It’s rich in its message. It’s deep in meaning. It’s great in its life-changing revelation. It’s a source of hope. May we learn it. May it lead us toward a lifelong love of the Word of God and of the God of the Word.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world but that the world should be saved through Him.” (John 3:16, 17)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

DALLAS HOLM: HOPE IN FAITHFULNESS

Last night I was blessed to hear Dallas Holm in concert as he shared his talent, music, and personal testimony. I find great hope in a Christian who has remained faithful to Christ and blessed Christendom for decades. While Holm is truly a legend, it is His Savior and Lord Who was the feature of the concert. Jesus Christ is the Source of Holm’s faith, hope, love, and musical success.

“Through God’s grace, I’ve been part of the Christian music ministry for a long time,” admits Dallas. His experience in Christian music includes more than 30 years of writing, singing  and ministry in approximately 3,000 concerts in every state in America plus many countries abroad. His 37 recordings have resulted in gold records, multiple Dove awards, Grammy nominations, number one songs, and countless devoted fans.

Also Dallas travels, speaks, and shares lessons learned in his Christian walk. Holm’s diverse musical style consistently points to Christ and the Cross. Songs such as “Rise Again,” “I Saw the Lord,” “Here We Are,” and “Before Your Throne” focus on Jesus. Holm still sings of His life, His death, His resurrection, and His plan for a personal relationship with each of us.

God has used Holm to impact today’s Christian music and musicians. Greg Long of Avalon says, “I rededicated my life to the Lord at a Dallas Holm concert.”  Steven Curtis Chapman says of Holm, “He’s still a hero to me.” Twila Paris remembers his 1971 album was the first contemporary Christian recording she heard.

Dallas also touched a certain college student in the early 70’s. His lyrics and music blessed my own heart. He was the Christian musician who wrote and sang songs that ministered to other young adults and gave us hope and encouragement. His relationship to Holy God was real, and today as then I appreciate that his music honors Jesus Christ.

As husband, father, and grandfather, Dallas’ family is a priority. “If I reached the whole world but lost my own family, I’d consider myself a failure. Early on, I set a priority system that put God first, family second, and ministry third. If I’m not the husband and father I need to be in my own home, I have no right to proclaim truths of the Kingdom to others.”

Dallas admits, “It’s been a remarkable journey, yet it hasn’t all been easy. I’ve had struggles, heartaches, and disappointments just like everyone else. But Christ remains preeminent in all things. No matter what has happened, what I’m going through now, or what I may endure tomorrow ‘nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.””

As a Minnesota teen, Dallas planned a music career in local rock bands until on October 17, 1965, he says, “I committed my life and my music to the Lord. I’ve never looked back.”

Life experiences have included Bible college, serving as youth pastor, joining David Wilkerson in youth crusades during the 1970s, forming Dallas Holm and Praise, concerts, recordings, music awards, world travel, marriage (to his beloved Linda) for nearly 50 years, parenting, grandparenting…. Through it all Dallas has consistently followed God, been blessed with an effective ministry, and still shines as a faithful example to us all.

He shares, “I love what I do now more than ever and consider it a privilege to be a co-laborer with Christ.”

Dallas explains, “In ‘Chariots of Fire’ Eric Liddell said, ‘When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.’ I say, ‘When I write, sing, and play these songs, I feel His pleasure.'”

Thanks, Dallas, for leading us last night to worship in Spirit and Truth. I’m still blessed by the beautiful music Dallas Holm shares. I’m blessed even more by the abundant life in Christ that he shares. His faithful example gives me hope.

“Nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God: For it is pleasant, and praise is becoming.”(Psalm 147:1)

PETER LEMON: HOPE AND THE MEDAL

Veterans Day is an important time to honor and celebrate our veterans’ sacrifices, honorable deeds, and acts of service. Thank you, Veterans!

Today I recommend an unforgettable book I discovered approximately 20 years ago that is worthy to be read again and again. From this powerful book we learn about ordinary humans who performed extraordinary deeds. I think reading it is a perfect way to commemorate Veterans Day.

BEYOND THE MEDAL by Peter C. Lemon is a compilation of true stories by Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in their own words. Their stories, full of hope and inspiration, are by real people whose real situations compelled them to act heroically. Their choices and actions resulted in their receiving America’s highest honor.

Lemon’s book gives us opportunity to ponder the dependency on God by so many of the recipients who credit Him with giving them strength for the task. That gives me hope that God guides and provides even in the darkest situations.

In today’s world of superficial heroes I find hope in knowing our nation has produced worthy examples to honor. BEYOND THE MEDAL offers more than 90 such heroes, of which author Peter Lemon is one. Thanks again, Veterans.

JOHN TRANTHAM: HOPE IN SOLID FOUNDATION

During the last century sounds so long ago, but today’s blog post comes from a time more than three decades ago. However it is said it still seems a long time ago, but the message is timeless.

My family knew an old retired pastor, B. John Trantham, who loved God and sharing the gospel of hope in Christ. He did those things well with the helper God had given him when he was a young man, the sweet and (in my memories) always smiling Mrs. Trantham.

Even at an advanced age this Christian brother still had powerful thoughts and messages to share. I remember one in particular that he called Fourfold Foundation of Faith. It neatly presents John 3:16, a summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If any one verse could be the foundation of Christian faith, then surely it could be this one.

John 3:16 offers four important aspects: God’s Love, God’s Gift, God’s Gracious Condition, and God’s Great Salvation. This Bible verse says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world” presents the first foundation part of GOD’S LOVE. “That He gave His only begotten Son” shows the second foundation part of GOD’S GIFT. “That whoever believes in Him” is the third foundation part of GOD’S GRACIOUS CONDITION. “Shall not perish but have eternal life” offers the fourth foundation part of GOD’S GREAT SALVATION.

Together these four aspects of faith are one firm foundation upon which the Christian faith can be built. Together they explain enough of the gospel for one who believes to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

One doesn’t have to know it as Fourfold Foundation of Faith. Know that trusting John 3:16 as the foundation of faith makes an eternal difference. Ponder that verse, and trust God’s Love, Gift, Gracious Condition, and Great Salvation. Do it today!