Grace Shines Best in Dark Times

“The impiety of the times is a foil to set off grace all the more, and give it greater lustre,” wrote Puritan Thomas Boston in his masterful analysis of Malachi’s statements (3:16-17) about the evil days after the second temple was built in Jerusalem more than 300 years before the birth of Christ. A Christian “is most lovely, when he is (as Ambrose says) like the cypress, which keeps its verdure and freshness in the winter . . . An upright man is always worth beholding . . . he is most to be admired when like a bright star he shines in the dark, and having lost all, holds fast his integrity.” (The Great Gain of Godliness by Thomas Boston, The Banner of Truth edition, 2006, p. 8)

Boston, or even Malachi, would be astounded to see the impiety of our times. Still, their observations could not be more appropriate if they were on the editorial staff of the New York Times today.

Let every believer remind himself that though we were not present to stand with our Lord in Gethsemane, nor to kneel at the foot of the cross, we have the greatest opportunity of our generation to let His Light shine. We must take time to “speak often one to another” as they did in Malachi’s era, and “behold the upright man” as the Psalmist reminds (37:37).

 

Oil Field Wildcatters; Entrepreneurs

Oil Field Trash Transformed

by C.T.L. Spear

Wildcatters, the people who followed oil exploration projects from Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma to Wyoming, Colorado, and North Dakota were a transient bunch. Many came from poverty, hoping to strike oil and get rich. Many of them did just that.

An oil boom brings such fortune seekers in droves, expanding the population and stressing local services and law enforcement. Local residents usually resent the newcomers, looking down their self satisfied noses at the “oil field trash.”

Birl and Eunice Lynch started out poor and suffered insults and condescending airs of local businessmen, ranchers and society. When these wildcatters struck their fortune, they expanded their holdings, eventually owning several thriving businesses. One of those was a gift shop in Casper, Wyoming. Eunice and Susan, her daughter-in-law, designed a beautiful gold lapel pin which read, “Oil First Class.”

Wildcatters in church planting also bear reproach – from the ungodly; but sometimes from leaders of “established churches.” Some suppose these cannot qualify to ascend to the higher ranks. They are somehow relegated to Wildcatter Trash.

Circuit riding preachers, the hardy pioneers of evangelism like Francis Asbury and Peter Cartwright of Methodist fame, drew plenty of criticism. The amazing presence of Methodist churches across America is witness to the effectiveness of their effort.

Every generation seems destined to fight battles earlier generations thought permanently won. Today, a new breed of circuit riders, like oilfield wildcatters, strike out at their own expense, attempting the impossible. Their Heavenly reward will transform their status from “circuit riding trash,” or “Vacation Bible School rejects” to “church planters first class.” Or, as I prefer to call them, “Wildcatters First Class.”

 

Get Off My Place!

Get Off My Place!

The young pastor and I were visiting in a rural community in a western state. As we approached a ranch house and parked, he told me we might not be well received. We ambled across the yard toward the livestock corrals to meet the tall rancher with my usual greeting, “Howdy, Howdy.”

I learned his name and began the conversation asking about his cattle, horses and the hay crop. We had been warned that he might be combative, but he seemed friendly enough, so I assumed he might be “more bark than bite.” After a few questions and comments, I decided to launch into the real reason for our visit so he wouldn’t think we were just killing time. “Mr. Jones (not his real name), are you a Christian?”

We were standing side by side, facing the livestock. He wheeled around facing me, his face turning livid. “That’s it,” he snarled, “you’ve gone too far . . . now get off my place!” Thinking I might still salvage the contact and pacify him, I stood my ground and spoke up sharply, “I’m sorry, Sir.” He pointed toward the car, scowling with sudden rage. Then he spun on his heel and stomped away cursing loudly, reiterating the command, “Get off my place!”

Growing up in the west, I am acutely aware of how territorial these rugged men are. My mind flashed back to the story of my Granddad sitting on the chimney of the old log house with a 45.70 rifle ready to enforce his property rights over a dike he built for irrigation. Granddad fired a warning shot, but I knew I had already received my warning from Mr. Jones.

I started toward the car, but then realized my apology might be misconstrued. Turning to face him again, I said, “Sir, I’m sorry I offended you, but I can’t apologize for asking if you’re a Christian.” This only enraged him more. The pastor was several paces ahead of me, moving rapidly toward the car. I remembered he had warned me that the man was known for violence. His rage reminded me of other unreasonable men I’ve known, who dominate others by their intimidating wrath. Instantly, but with sadness, I admitted to myself that my time had expired.

Turning on my heel, I began walking toward the car, my back to my antagonist. I prayed that he would honor the western code of conduct and forego his opportunity for an ambush. I never looked back, knowing that if I faced him again he would interpret it as a challenge to his authority.

He moved in rapidly, closing the gap between us. I could hear his approach, breathing hard between curses. Then he grasped my shoulders and picked me up, shoving me forward. I landed on my feet and kept walking without a word, never looking back.

Through the years, I prayed for him and wrote to him, begging him to receive Christ as his Saviour. His son was a deacon at the church where I preached that week. As far as I know, he never repented of his hard heart of unbelief.