Remembering Gospel Music Heroes
Pastor Dan Betzer |
From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous.
Tonight my wife and I plan to attend a Bill Gaither Gospel concert in a local arena. I can hardly wait! I am not alone in my love for gospel music. Several years ago, the New York Times reported that Gaither videos were the two best-selling videos in America, including rock concerts and movie DVDs. Strange, isn’t it, that there are those among us who claim no one likes that kind of music anymore? Why, there are millions of us. I can only wonder why we don’t sing those great gospel songs in church much anymore.
A recent Gaither video I purchased was Bill Gaither Remembers Homecoming Heroes. I think maybe I should not have watched it, this presentation honoring George Younce, Jake Hess, Bob Cain, Rusty Goodman and others. They are all gone now. I actually broke down in sobs. Dear God, how I loved those people! I remember preaching in northern Alaska one summer. Someone pounded on my cabin door saying, “Dan, there’s a long-distance call for you down at the camp phone.” I ran to pick up the receiver. “Hey, Dan,” the voice said, “this is Rusty Goodman.” Oh, what songs he gave us in his short lifetime such as Leavin’ On My Mind and I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now. I never knew Bob Cain. But when I see his Gaither video of Beautiful Isle of Somewhere I just weep. Takes a lot to make me cry.
And there were so many other gospel heroes, now gone: James and R. W. Blackwood, Bill Lyles, Big Chief Wetherington, Dot Ott, Cat Freeman, and the list goes on and on. Many of them had dinner in our old house in Iowa. One can only hope the world does not forget these great people and their anointed music a generation from now. God bless Bill Gaither for helping us remember.
Prayer: O God, someday we will make wondrous music around the Your holy throne. There will be tens of millions of us singing with voices with unlimited range and timber. What a day that will be – when our Jesus we shall see! Until that time we make music in our hearts. Receive our musical praise this day – until THAT day. Amen.
The Wonder Of Great Books
Pastor Dan Betzer |
John 21:25 …I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
John’s reference to books in this scripture referred to all the works of Jesus on this earth, known and unknown, which would fill all the existing libraries. We are aware of only a tiny portion of the knowledge available. Curiosity alone demands disciplined reading. I try to read three books each week, not counting daily encounters in the Bible. Do you think there might be a Barnes and Noble in Heaven? Just asking. My goodness – great books and strong coffee! Sounds like Heaven to me.
I suspect that my choice of books, for a pastor, is quite eclectic. Yes, there are the requisite rows of commentaries and research books. How valuable they are! I also have a pretty good collection of sermon books, many of them written by me on the Revivaltime radio network around the world. I enjoy reading sermons by others, but I can’t – or won’t – preach them. The styles differ too widely from my own, which become “Saul=s armor” to me. My two preferences in reading material are biographies and history books. What richness in delving into the lives of the famous and infamous through the centuries! Sprinkled into my reading list are current event books. And a number of newspapers. Not all my volumes are serious. For example, shortly after acquiring a hairless cat, I was given a book by Stephen Baker called How To Live With A Neurotic Cat. Funny!
Reading is essential if you plant to grow mentally and spiritually. Try stretching your mind by occasionally reading books that are counter to your own thinking, but only if you possess some spiritual maturity. If you are new in the Christian faith, read books and periodicals that will bolster your walk with the Lord. The bottom line is this: books can be great friends to you. Why not get acquainted with some this week?
Prayer: O God, I am thankful for the ability to read, to comprehend, to learn, to expand my personal universe. Thank you for all the great authors who have increased my faith and vision through all these years. Somehow, bless each one of them, I pray. Amen.
John Wilkes Booth And The End Of The Matter
Pastor Dan Betzer |
Galatians 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
It was the middle of February, 1869. America was still licking its wounds from the bloody and deadly Civil War. Nearly four years had passed since President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. His killer, actor John Wilkes Booth, had been shot through the throat in a burning barn and died a paralyzed, agonized man. His convicted cohorts in the assassination plot had been hanged at the Old Arsenal in Washington, D.C. The President, Andrew Johnson, had sent orders of pardon for others implicated in the assassination, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold and Edward Spangler.
On that cold, wintry day in ‘89, a broken man from New York wrote the President an imploring letter. The writer was Edwin Booth, the brother of Lincoln’s assassin. He asked for the body of his brother to be returned to the family for proper burial in Baltimore. The President acquiesced to the request. Five days later, a sturdy wood crate was unloaded in Washington and temporarily stored in a stable. Even the Washington Evening Star newspaper commented on the irony of the situation. The remains of John Wilkes Booth had been temporarily deposited in a stable behind … Ford’s Theater! It was the exact stable where Booth had tethered his get-away horse the night he shot President Lincoln. Now his withered and skeletal remains lay in a rough wooden box at the very same site.
It was a real-life fulfillment of Eliphaz’s terse line from Job 4:8 so long ago: “Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity and sow wickedness, reap the same.” History has proven again and again that God is not mocked and that whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. That divine principle is as valid as the law of gravity. A person, who sows to the wind, will reap the whirlwind.
Prayer: O God, as Paul recognized, may Your Spirit help me keep “my body under” so that at the last I myself am not removed as a castaway. Your laws can be broken, but only at insurmountable cost. Thank you for your warnings in Scripture. Those warnings will keep me safe at all times. Amen.
You’re Going To Be “Where” On The Lord’s Day?
Pastor Dan Betzer |
Hebrews 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Do you plan to be in church this Lord’s Day? You ought to be there, you know. The Scriptures say so. It’s to your benefit. There are so many blessings to be received by the person who faithfully attends a solid, Bible-preaching church. Let me tell you a for instance story.
In my state of Florida, people often rid themselves of exotic pets they can no longer handle because of their size. More often than not, they release them in our nearby swamps. As a result we have a veritable plethora of various creatures here not native to our region. We have monitor lizards, for example, by the thousands. Folks thought they were cute when they were a foot long, but once they reached six feet they weren’t so much fun and they were let go in the wilds. We have lots of big snakes not indigenous to this area either. The other day, a fellow ran over a 7 2 foot python. The way police gathered around, including camera people from the news media (the picture made our front page!), you’d have thought it was the Loch Ness monster. The python was actually harmless to any adult. He just looked scary. In our annual Noah and the Ark drama, I have often hoisted a 16 foot python onto the ark. Now THAT’S a beast that can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing. But, see, I know a lot about animals so they are not frightening to me. You don’t fear what you know!
In church we study God’s Word which tells us over and again, “Be not afraid.” And “God has not given us the spirit of fear.” We don’t fear because in church we learn the nature of our enemy, Satan. We learn how to deal with “his devices.” We learn that God is infinitely stronger than any foe on earth. We fear only those things about which we are not informed. So you see, there are many reasons for being in church faithfully each Lord’s Day. Why not make it this weekend – and everyone thereafter? You’ll be so much better for it.
Prayer: O God, thank You for the Body of Christ, the Church, on this earth. I want to be a contributing, faithful member of that congregation near me. I will not forsake the assembling together with brothers and sisters in Christ. Count on me! Amen.
Faith, The Absolute Ingredient To Pleasing God
Pastor Dan Betzer |
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him:
Read that verse again and again. Let its truth sink into the bedrock of your soul. The verse doesn’t mention charisma, talent, money or prestige. It mentions only faith, and that, without it, it is impossible to please God. This verse does not refer to “saving faith.” It refers to the ability to trust God for everything, even though there isn’t even a hint of the divine provision materializing (Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.)
I grew up in a home where my parents were people of remarkable faith. My earliest pastor was a man named Willis Smith. I remember him so clearly and dearly. He was a man of faith, who preached faith, who lived by faith, and as a result over 70 of my relatives eventually came to know Christ as Lord. Pastor Smith walked into St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1936 and was led by the Holy Spirit into a cancer ward. There he saw a 20-year-old woman dying. She was already in a terminal coma, according to her physician. Pastor Smith prayed a simple prayer, anointed the woman with oil (according to James 5:14) and walked out of the hospital. Several days later….Faye walked out, too. She lived another almost fifty years of active and effective work for her healing Lord. How do I know this story? Faye was my cousin. Pastor Smith’s faith was contagious, and like falling dominoes, one after another of our family came to know Christ through that miracle, either directly or indirectly.
Faith is not some “wizard of Oz” experience. Faith is based on substance (again refer to Hebrews 11:1). We learned from our beloved pastor that we can do anything God calls upon us to do through Christ Who strengthens us. In your world today, all things are possible. Faith is the key to unlock God’s provisions. Together let’s ask the Lord to greatly increase our faith today.
Prayer: O God, if I truly cannot please you without faith, then increase my faith, I ask. My faith is bolstered by Your Word, either reading or hearing it. So I saturate my soul today with the Scriptures that my faith be built up and in so doing I please You. Amen.
Mule Train Churches In A Space Station Society
Pastor Dan Betzer |
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
On January 20, 1937, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his second inaugural speech as President of the United States. John Garner was his vice-president. On the very next day, my mother gave birth – to me! Boy, was it ever a different world from today! The nations were gearing for the global maelstrom fomented by Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. Sixty million people would die because of war-related causes within the next eight years. The average annual American income in >37 was $1,788. A new car could be purchased for $750. A new home could be bought for around $4,000. At the grocery store you’d find a loaf of bread for nine cents and a gallon of milk would set you back fifty cents. A gallon of gas? A dime. Remember, America was just emerging from the Great Depression. Life expectancy in the United States was a mere 59 years. The shifting of social sands have almost blotted out remembered yesteryears.
Now we come to this day and time. This is the era of space travel, of computers in every home, of iPods, of criss-crossing interstate highways, of cars that sell for tens of thousands of dollars and homes that cost at least fifty times more than they did when I was born. It’s a different world, my friend! Face it! Yet many churches still operate as if we were still in the >30’s or >40’s.
It has been observed by social scientists that the typical church shows change in methodology every half century while the average business changes every three to five years. I do not refer here to tinkering with the timeless message of the Gospel; I speak of the antiquated delivery systems still employed by far too many churches. “This is the way we’ve always done it,” comes their cry. Small wonder the percentage of Americans attending church regularly is in decline. We’re in mule-train methodology in a space-station society.
Prayer: O God, as I grow older, don’t allow me to grasp tenaciously to things of the past that are no longer relevant. I will enjoy their memory even as I go from victory to victory through the power of the Holy Spirit, grateful that You have allowed me to live to see this very day – and to be a participant of it. Amen.
Shammi, Our Hairless “Attack” Cat
Pastor Dan Betzer |
Genesis 1:25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
On my 70th birthday, my church family got me a most extraordinary gift: a hairless (Sphinx) cat. I had seen one several years earlier at the home of a family member and just loved it. What a strange and quite wonderful creature! Some folks don’t like these cats because they have no hair. None! They have enormous ears and luminous green eyes. They are just magnificent. Hairless cats have the temperament of a dog, that is, they come running when you call, they like pampering and develop quite unusual personalities. So here came this four-month old critter into our lives.
Holding a hairless cat is not unlike holding a chamois – you know, the animal skin used for drying a car. So that’s what we called him: “Shammi!” His official name on the breeder’s docket is Chamois Suede Betzer. Honest! Now Shammi is an attack cat, somewhat like Peter Seller’s weird helper Kato in the Pink Panther movies, if you remember. He pounces at you from the strangest places. He’s not much of a “guard-cat” though. At night, while we watch television, Shammi jumps up on one of our shoulders, curls himself around our necks and is gone for the night, sound asleep. Strangest thing – Shammi craves human touching. How can you not like an animal like that? And weird looking or not, I think he’s just gorgeous with his tuxedo markings.
You know, God created a magnificent world. Little Shammi has helped me just slow down a bit to enjoy it. We go so hard that we sometimes miss the wonder all around us. We tend to forget or neglect many aspects of life that can bring us joy and laughter. Like the purring of a hairless cat, draped sound asleep over your shoulder.
Prayer: O God, don’t let me get so busy today that I neglect Your creation all around me. Help me be observant to all the wonders You have made, a grove of trees, a garden of bright flowers, the marvel of a flying bird, the touch of a snowflake, the laughter of a child. And let me remember that You made me and redeemed me – and You love me. Amen.
Standing On A Glass Deck – 4,000 Feet Up!
Pastor Dan Betzer |
Psalm 139:3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
Recently a spokesperson for the Hualapai Native American tribe in Arizona announced a startling construction project that now graces their reservation. In order to bring in needed revenue, the tribe has built an observation deck 4,000 feet above the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The visitor walks out about 70 feet from the canyon wall and stands nearly 400 stories above the river on what will seem like – nothing. You see, the floor of the deck is GLASS!
I saw something similar, but not quite as spectacular, on a trip to Macau, China. There is a 65-story observation tower there from which you can stare into mainland China. One exits the elevator of the tower on the 65th floor and steps out onto the large observation deck that circumnavigates the entire structure. As one walks to the railing, some 40 feet away, he or she notices that the last 20 feet of the deck floor are glass. The spectator looks straight down nearly 700 feet, nothing between that person and the ground far below but that allegedly safe glass. I made it clear to the rail, but not easily. I had to make myself do so because a person’s mind plays terrible tricks. In your brain you know that glass is very thick and would hold an elephant probably, but your eyes tell you that you’re just simply stepping into empty space. Now the observation deck at the Grand Canyon is over 5 times that high and will have people clutching for skyhooks. From that height, the Colorado River far below will look like a tiny, meandering ribbon.
Think of God’s view of this planet. Small wonder David wrote in Psalm 139 that there is nothing hidden from His view. Why, not even the darkness hinders His vision. The darkness and the light are both alike to Him. On a clear day, God can see forever. On an overcast one, too.
Prayer: O God, the fact that You can see me at this very moment does not trouble me but rather brings me blessed comfort. You see every circumstance of my life, yes, even how it will all finally culminate. My trust is in You, my Father! Amen.
Has Anybody Seen The Apostle Paul?
Pastor Dan Betzer |
2 Tim. 4:6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
Many years have passed since I stood on the stone floor of the dungeon in Rome’s ancient Mamertine Prison. It was believed to be here that the great Apostle Paul was incarcerated in Emperor Nero’s death row 2000 years ago. He was beheaded for the sake of Jesus and his missions work. Paul was taken by guards to the third milestone on the Ostian Way north of the city. It is believed that the execution party stopped at a place called Three Fountains where an abbey stands today in Paul’s honor. The following morning Paul paid with his very life for his walk with Christ and the ministry God entrusted to him.
Now news sources report that Paul’s actual grave may have been located beneath Rome’s second-largest basilica (the largest, of course, is St. Peter’s at the Vatican). The second largest is St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls, a truly magnificent structure. A marble sarcophagus has been found that some believe may contain Paul’s bones. The coffin dates from at least A.D. 390 although Paul died three centuries earlier. I am always somewhat leery about such proclamations of historical findings. For example, in my travels I have been shown two skulls purported to be that of the Apostle John. Having two heads would NOT be better than one, not even for this man Jesus called a “son of thunder.”
Of course, Paul himself won’t be found in that sarcophagus, even if his bones are. His spirit and soul have been with the Lord since the moment the axe descended on the back of his neck. And just this warning: if the rapture takes place before the experts secure their findings in that coffin, those bones won’t be there either. They will have risen at the trumpet sound, reunited with Paul’s body and spirit. As he would have said,”…and so shall I be in the presence of the Lord.”
Prayer: O God, always let me keep fresh in my thoughts that this world is not my home. I truly am just passing through. Let me values be eternal in their nature and scope. Let me make investments in forever this very day. Amen.
CRACKED ECCLESIASTICAL BOTTLES
Pastor Dan Betzer |
Matthew 9:16 17 No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.  Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.
Have you ever heard of a fellow named Jonas Hanway? I hadn’t either until the other day. He’s the fellow who introduced American society to a gizmo he called an umbrella. I am told by one historian that when Hanway first walked down a public street, holding the opened umbrella over his head, that he was subjected to a barrage of things, including insults. Why? The “throwers” had never seen an umbrella before.
The dislike, or distrust, of the “new” enters into every sphere of life. Unfortunately, even into church life. The fact that we are born again, or saved, does not automatically mean our old nature has been crucified with Christ that day. So often, in church, if a new idea or a new method – or any change – is suggested, even when the change is vital, various objections are raised, usually to the tune of, “We never did it that way before.” Yet Jesus Himself opened the door for change in the scripture that heads this column, taken from Matthew 9.
I know, I know, there are some who will howl when this text is used in any treatise encouraging acceptance of change. “Improper exegesis,” they cry. This howl usually comes from those who are inextricably welded to the past. The fact is, Jesus was perfectly aware of how difficult it is to get a new idea into peoples’ minds. No, we never change the timeless message of the Gospel. But the delivery system generally used by churches often grows moldy and ineffective. In this day of ever-changing technology, linked with the desperate need of mankind for Christ, we need some new ecclesiastical bottles!
Prayer: O God, forgive me if I cling to old ways that are now counterproductive simply because I am obstinate about or afraid of change. Amen.