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“A Book” – A Poem by Beth Ann Cangelosi

My 10-year-old daughter Beth Ann wrote a poem this morning. It perfectly describes her love for sneaking off to a quiet corner to read – she’s a lot like her mommy and daddy…

A BOOK
by Beth Ann Cangelosi

Once I read a book,
and that book I took
from a bookshelf,
and nobody else.

I like to read,
but not when somebody else
reads to me.
I like to read by myself,
with nobody else.

When that book ends,
I might read it with a friend,
or I might read it by myself,
with nobody else.

Do you do your best to have a clear conscience before God and man?

I’ve been reading the Bible since I was a child. I’ve read it all the way through many times. Yet it is such a gloriously rich book (and perhaps my memory is so poor?) that frequently I come across a passage or phrase that will make me wonder, “Have I ever seen this before?”

That happened to me the other day while reading the book of Acts. I came to chapter 24, in which Paul is making his defense before Felix the governor. As a part of his response to the charges the Jews had levied against him, he admits “that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection both of the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before man” (24:14-16).

There’s a lot in these verses: that Christianity was identified as “the Way” – that Paul understood Christianity to be the culmination of what the Law and the Prophets had written – that the Christian’s hope (like that of many Jews in Paul’s day) was the hope of resurrection – that both the righteous and the wicked will be raised on the last day (see John 5:28-29). But what struck me as if I’d never seen it before was the last sentence – in view of the fact of a general resurrection of all mankind, Paul “took pains” (the ESV translation) to have a clear conscience in relation to God and to man. Two things stand out to me: 1) that the resurrection is that which motivated Paul to aim for a clear conscience; 2) that maintaining a clear conscience was a passionate pursuit of the apostle.

Does the reality of a future resurrection motivate us as it did Paul? Do we think on our future hope, and does it lead us to give greater concern for holiness? Do we have regard for our conscience? Do we take pains to keep a blameless and clear and good conscience, living according to the standard of God’s holy law that we have learned from God’s word? Do we desire to have our consciences informed by that standard, so that when we deviate from it, our consciences are pricked, and we are quick to confess our sin, believe the gospel and turn back to God, confessing and making restitution (as necessary) to those we have sinned against? Is our conscience sensitive like a radar that can pick up the motion of a mosquito, or is it seared and hardened like a steak left on the grill too long?

Do a study of the New Testament use of the word “conscience,” and you will see how important the conscience is to the Christian life, and how undervalued it is among modern Christians. Pray that the Lord would give you the same cognizance and concern for this moral faculty that the apostle had. Search your heart – is your conscience clear? If not, do you care? If you do care, do you know the way to a clear conscience (faith in Jesus and repentance toward God)? Will you, like David in I Samuel 24, allow your conscience to strike you when you have sinned against God or man? Or will you ignore and suppress the witness of God through your conscience (as David did in his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba)? May the God who will raise us from the dead give us a heart to do our best to keep always a clear conscience before him and our neighbor!

Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes

This poem by the African-American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) powerfully expresses the grit and endurance I desire for myself, for my family, and for the sheep I pastor. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “Forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead…” (Philippians 3:13).
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

A forgotten verse to Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

I’m not sure why we don’t sing this verse by Wesley any longer, but I wish we did. Perhaps it’s because we don’t use the word “efface” in common speech today…

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, 

Stamp Thine image in its place:

Second Adam from above,

Reinstate us in Thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,

Thee, the Life, the inner Man:

O, to all Thyself impart,

Formed in each believing heart.

Grace for the Nations: Some Reflections on Our Trip to Zambia

From June 9-22, three men and eight women from Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, MS, and one woman from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS, served the Lord with gladness in the country of Zambia. Jet lag is beginning to wear off, though I’m still going to bed and waking up a lot earlier than I did before the trip (Zambia is seven hours ahead of MS, so 8:00 p.m. here is 3:00 a.m. there). Before I forget more of what I saw and experienced, I offer these reflections for those who prayed for us, and continue to pray for Bennett and Bonnie Ndelemeti, and the ministry of the Centre for Christian Missions (CCM) in Kitwe, Zambia. Certainly each team member would have his or her own perspective and thoughts about what they saw and experienced, but hopefully mine are broad enough to reflect the team as a whole.

  1. Our team served CCM in a variety of ways. CCM consists of an Academy (preschool-7th grade), a Bible college, and a seminary, as well as a number of missionaries that it supports on the African continent. I taught the book of Galatians to 17 students at the Bible college. The rest of our team taught God’s word, music, art, and played with the students at the Academy, and mentored the students and staff of CCM. We all participated in evangelism and outreach in the neighborhoods surrounding CCM, and shared testimony of God’s work in our lives to the people of CCM and to churches in the community. One thing that stood out about this trip was how each person was able to use the particular gifts and talents God has given them, whether teaching, encouragement, creative arts, service, etc. – and each of us was stretched in areas outside of our relative strengths.
  2. The Lord graced us with sweet unity as a team. Every mission trip I’ve been on has been a bonding experience, as you share life together in a way so unlike life back home. This trip was no exception, as the twelve of us shared a small dorm building with six rooms, two bathrooms, one sink, and one shower with intermittent hot water the first few days. We traveled for 48 hours there, and nearly the same amount of time back again, as well as another 16 hours last Saturday from Kitwe to Livingstone to see Victoria Falls. When people who don’t really know each other that well (even though they’ve been fellow members of the same church for many years perhaps) spend so much time together, so close together, you might expect there to be friction, short tempers, and hurt feelings. But the Lord was so very gracious to us, and unless something happened that I didn’t see or wasn’t told about, not once was there a relational difficulty that had to be dealt with. The Lord granted us the graces of self denial, patience, love, and a servant spirit. We delighted in one another, laughed with one another, encouraged one another, and helped one another. We came to know one another on levels that only trips like this can foster, and Lord willing these relationships will only continue to grow.
  3. The people of Zambia are hungry for the word of God. We saw this in the churches on the two Lord’s days we were there, in the Academy with the children, with the Bible college students, and in the community as we went out to share the gospel on the streets and in the marketplace. Perhaps the people were attracted to us only because we were a group of white Americans handing something out (the gospel of John), but I doubt it. There was an openness to hearing the gospel, a desire to know God’s word, a willingness to hear us sing and speak of the grace of Jesus Christ. Our outreach in the marketplace (something that is nearly impossible to do in the States, with anti-solicitation laws in place) felt like that of the apostle Paul in Athens or another city in Asia Minor, as we opened our mouths in the public square to a receptive audience. To be sure, there were many in the marketplace and on the streets who had no interest, but the Lord’s word was sown in many hearts, and we pray that follow up visits by the Bible college students will bear much fruit. We were convicted of our lack of evangelistic zeal and boldness, and challenged to testify of Christ’s love more faithfully and publicly.
  4. The Bible college students were my primary ministry during the week we spent in Kitwe. It was such a privilege to open up the book of Galatians over a 15 hour period (three hours a day). They were familiar with it to some degree, but we were able to go deeper into the text than they had gone before. We were also able to frolic in the gospel of free grace, justification through faith alone in Christ alone. Legalism, nominalism, and prosperity teaching abounds in Zambia, even as it does here in the States. I saw God work in the hearts of the Bible college students (not 18-23 year olds, as here; their ages ranged from early 20s through mid 50s, and many were already involved in church ministry in some way), growing them in their knowledge of the gospel, enabling them to rest even more soundly in Jesus Christ alone, and equipping them for ministries both present and future. We spent time not only studying God’s word, but praying and singing together, fellowshipping around meals and in small groups, and playing football (soccer) and Ultimate Frisbee together. Through modern technology I hope to continue to be able to encourage and be encouraged by these men and women who have a passion to spread the gospel around Zambia and the whole continent of Africa.
  5. CCM, through the leadership of Bennett and Bonnie Ndelemeti, has a huge passion for seeing the Zambians engage in missions beyond the borders of Zambia. So they are training not only pastors but missionaries, and supporting missionaries. As Europe and America grow darker, and dark Africa is enlightened more and more with the gospel, who knows but that some of these missionaries might not travel to our shores one day with the message of hope and truth? If you’re looking for a ministry to support in Africa, check out CCM. They have big plans, and need the Lord’s people to give generously to see those plans come to fruition.
  6. The joy and gentleness of the Zambia Christians are so palpable as they worship the Lord in song. Experiencing worship with this very different culture was a highlight of the trip. Though we could not understand the words, we could see their delight in the Lord. In spite of the material poverty of many, there is a richness of spiritual enjoyment and experience that runs far deeper. I will not soon forget the smiles that overcame the faces of these brothers and sisters as they began to sing and pray. As a pastor, I look out over many an unaffected face Sunday after Sunday, and wonder if there is any spiritual life present, any understanding of the words we sing. There was no doubt these Zambia believers believed and loved the words that came out of their mouths, as simple as they sometimes were. I hope that my joy in worship continues to be affected by their joy.
  7. We came to Zambia to be workers for their joy (II Corinthians 1:24), and I believe the Lord granted us that request. But even more were the Zambians workers for our joy, through their love for one another and us, their deep faith in the Lord, their love for the Bible, their hunger to see the lost saved. We came to be a blessing, knowing all the while that we would receive a blessing. The grace of God for the nations came to Zambians and Americans this past week. We saw the glory of God, not only in the splendor of His creation at Victoria Falls and the animals of Chobe National Park, but most of all in the people of God in Zambia. Jesus is building His church among the nations, and it spurs me on to greater diligence and zeal in the work of evangelism and discipleship in my own local context, greater holiness, greater knowledge of the Bible, and a greater passion for the work of missions around the world.

Hopefully I will be able to post some pictures soon, but for now may these words paint a picture for you. If you supported our team financially and with prayer, we thank you and thank God for you. May He continue to use us all to bring the blessing of Abraham to the Gentiles!

David Dickson’s beautiful, gospel centered dying words

David Dickson was a 17th century Scottish pastor. When lying on his death bed, a friend of 50 years asked him how he found himself. He answered: “I have taken all my good deeds and all my bad deeds; and cast them through each other in a heap before the Lord; and fled from both; and have taken myself to the Lord Jesus Christ; and in Him I have sweet peace.” 

(from Truth’s Victory Over Error, page xxi)

Invictus vs. My Captain

How do you respond to the afflictions, trials, and suffering that is our lot in a fallen world? So often, we respond by collapsing under the weight of them, even to the point of taking our own lives; by trying to escape the pain in all manner of idols, whether alcohol or sex or shopping sprees or work or 24 hour sports TV or movies; by a stoic resignation; by a fierce bitterness again other people, “the man,” or God Himself; or by a self-courage that pulls itself together and relies upon itself by a mighty act of the will.

Or, by the grace of God, we can respond like Habakkuk. While not denying the pain and confusion of his trials, he confessed his faith in one of the most beautiful declarations in all the Bible: “I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us. 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. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:16-19).

These two responses have been eloquently expressed in poetry, the first by William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus,” and the second by Dorothea Day’s poem “My Captain.” The contrast is stark. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” said Paul in Acts 14:22 – may the Lord give you grace to sing the song on the right as you journey to glory!

Out of the night that covers me,                        Out of the light that dazzles me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,                     Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be                            I thank the God I know to be
For my unconquerable soul.                               For Christ the conqueror of my soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance                     Since His the sway of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.                   I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance                    Under that rule which men call chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.                      My head with joy is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears               Beyond this place of sin and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,                  That life with Him! And His the aid,
And yet the menace of the years                        Despite the menace of the years,
Finds and shall find me unafraid.                       Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,                    I have no fear, though strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,     He cleared from punishment the scroll.
I am the master of my fate                                    Christ is the Master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.                                 Christ is the Captain of my soul.

— William Ernest Henley                                           — Dorothea Day