Threshing The Wheat From The Chaff

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I will never forget the night we heard Billy Graham preach before a crowd of thirty thousand, gathered in Jet Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, several years ago. A storm was threatening, rains were beginning to blow, and Billy was mingling among a crowd seeking autographs, just prior to his sermon, while workmen overhead were already removing the organ and piano to keep them from getting wet. I chatted a few words with Mr. Graham, something about a book I was writing. He was very friendly, but I was certainly not famous enough for him to know on a 'first-name' basis.

After the instruments had been removed, Billy mounted the podium and began preaching the Word. His voice fought a constant battle with the flash of lightning and the roar of thunder, but he persisted to the end of the sermon quite true to his style, despite the antagonizing elements hurled about him.

Upon seeing our own pastor, the following day, I told of our great experience the evening before, how Billy Graham preached to thirty thousand during a thunderstorm, and the crowds stayed. The preacher said a few kind words, then left briefly with a sadness in his eyes.

The same day I told of the same experience to another young minister. And he replied, rather discouraged, 'Yes Billy can pack them in, but I can't'.

Then I realized my mistake. I had unintentionally hurt the feelings of two lesser servants of the Lord who had spent their whole lives in serving God and yet the image of a Billy Graham's success was anything but joy to them. 'He could pack 'em in' but they struggled for years and at best only a bare thirty filled the sanctuary.

My own Father and Mother were always holding up outstanding individuals in the fields of religion, music, politics, art and sports for 'us kids' to pattern our lives after. There was Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Paderewski and Fritz Kreisler, Teddy Roosevelt, Billy Sunday, Gypsy Smith, Norman Rockwellthe lineup of famous ones we were taught to admire seemed endless. And I always was grateful that our parents aimed our sights high in our boyhood world of idols.

But over the years, I have many times wondered just why only a certain few seem to fly so high, while thousands of lesser souls work just as hard, are just as sincere and just as deserving as the successful, yet theirs is the discouraging road of plodding failure. They are always 'reaching for the stars' but never touching them. The small town musician practices religiously his instrument for perfection, but never can muster an audience to listen. But when Paderewski sat down at the piano, thousands waited breathlessly for the first chord. The village preacher devotes his life to God, hoping to convert the world to Christianity, but throughout his life his sermons fall on empty pews and barren walls.

It's the age old-truism, spoken by Jesus 'Many are called, but few are chosen.' But to us lesser ones, we cry out 'If we are called, and found worthy why not are we chosen?' It's the plaintive wail of the human predicament, begging only an honest answer.

Recently I heard Billy Graham again-only this time he was preaching over my T-V tube in the parlor. There were the thousands listening breathlessly. There were many coming to the front to make their decisions for Christ that evening. I was happy to see that. But afterwards I was still pondering the same question 'Why are not more given the success of Billy Graham, so that many more can be reached?' Why is success limited to but a few, even in the work of God's Kingdom?

As I sat meditating in my basement before my type writer I glanced over to see what time it was getting to be. There was the one clock that ticked ever so furiously, its little pendulum wagging back and forth many times a second as if it couldn't keep up. But the noise it was making left me rather nervous. I then looked at another clock which had a large watch-type balance wheeland this big wheel was slowly revolving back and forth at a much slower rateyet the time was the same. Looking at my big wall regulator, I could barely hear its dignified pendulum, swinging but once every second, yet its hands were pointing to the very same time. And lastly, the little brass clock in the beveled glass caseits revolving foliot pendulum was turning right, then left, very slowly and making no noise whatever but the time, it was always the same.

From the several clocks I had around me, I was learning a bit of philosophy about life itself. The nervous, fast-ticking little clock, despite its loudness and its efforts to impress me, told the time no better than the slower, silent clocks whose hands were pointing to the same minute and hour. The dignified, large regulator, its pendulum following an arc much longer and slower, was just as much on time as the clock that wanted to impress me the most. Even the foliot-escapement clock, with silent movement that runs 400-days with but a single winding, was also right on time without trying to impress me at all.

I turned my thoughts from clocks to humans, and therein lay a parallel. Some people make a great big show a monumental fuss of what they do for the Lord. Then there are those, more quiet and dignified, who go about doing the Lord's will, without so much noise. And last, there are the very silent ones who are prayerful, obedient to the command, 'Be still and know that I am God.' The quiet ones are often closer to God and doing His will more fruitfully than the noisy, braggadoccio kind. Even, Himself, is most silent of all.

Jesus taught the lessons of life by parables. But to me the clocks ticked this parable off, in their own sweet time. And the answer came true, as if from pages of scripture.

Reading a very interesting book, THE MEMOIRS OF CHIEF RED FOX, the dignified old Indian chief, now 101 years wise, tells of how the early christians came to his people to 'civilize' them and make them Christian. Some were very kind and understanding, admiring the American Indian as one of the finest examples of physical and spiritual man in the world. They believed in The Great Spirit whom we call our 'God.' They were healthy, strong, erect, great family people, kind to their children and loyal to their oaths. But there were the other kinds of Christian (so-called) preachers and evangelists that invaded the Indian territory who claimed they were trying to 'civilize and christianize' them yet who denounced their every virtue, their Great Spirit (God), and belittled every effort in their noble culture as the children of God. These were nothing but sadists, of spiritual wolves, hiding under sheeps' skins, Pharisees of the frontiers.

Nothing could be more hypocritical or distasteful to the honest, believing and fearless Indian of the plains than dishonesty among white men who pretended righteousness, especially among those who claimed they were saving the Indian from his terrible ways.

'If you white Christian brothers claim to have the only Word of God, why is it that all of you are disagreeing, having read the same Book,' said Chief Red Fox 'God gave my people no Word, printed in a Book. But my people have no way in their vocabulary to use the name of The Great Spirit, or God, in vain while your men disgrace your God in profanity and vain language. Your people talk smutty and vulgar. My people talk with respect of one another.'

How noble and spiritual, the way of the true Indian, had not many of the white men, hiding in sheeps' clothing, murdered, plundered and burned their homes and crops while pretending to evangelize them in the name of Christ. Luckily, a few of the more dedicated Christian missionaries saw good in their Indian brothers, decrying the wicked ways of the white pretenders, bringing Christ to the Red Man 'by their walk, instead of their talk.'

Not long ago, I became involved in a biblical discussion with some very close and dear friends. They are christians and live that way, to the extent of their ability. But, when I would quote a certain biblical phrase, letter perfect, they would pounce upon me as not knowing the scripture. Then they proceeded to turn to the page in their Bible to show me my error. Throughout their Bible, there were pen markings, removing commas here and placing them there, changing quotations, marking out this and adding that.

I referred, in our discussion, to the crucifixion scene, where mention is made of 'two thieves that were crucified with Him.' But they hastily corrected me, to inform me that there were not two thieves crucified with Jesus that there were four, and they were not thieves, but malefactors.

In reply, I explained that all four gospels, in every translation of the New Testament I had read, reported that there were two thieves not four malefactors.

Finally, the young husband informed me that the interpretations in the Bible were mostly erroneous.

To him I answered, 'At the time the King James Version was written, the finest Greek scholars available were commissioned in that day to do the interpreting as accurately as possible. Also that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John the writers of the Four Gospels were present at the crucifixion and all reported seeing two thieves.'

The answer came quickly and finally from the young husband 'Well, I know Greek I once took a two-week course in it.'

To this his wife added, 'I know there were four malefactors crucified with Jesus, as I once saw a photo of the crucifixion scene.'

After scanning their marked up Bible, I said, 'If any book I had was as totally wrong as you claim your Bible is, I'd pitch it out of the house. I wouldn't want a book with all those errors on my shelves.'

We haven't discussed the Bible interpretations since. We live side by side. We both believe in living and treating each other like christians. But how easy it sometimes is to 'lose the love of God' by pretending that one knows all about 'God's Book of Love.'

The Bible speaks of many 'ways.' 'There is a 'way' that seemeth right to men, but that leads to destruction' 'Others will come in My Name, saying, 'I am the 'way' deceiving the very elect. But they that come other than by Me, the same are as robbers and thieves,' saith the Lord.

And speaking of ways there is a way to that feeling of health and wellbeing, which is pleasant, inexpensive and available in the spice cabinets of almost every farm kitchen, and the shelves of your nearest country store which the huckster wagon will fetch, next time he comes chugging up your turnpike road. The herb we're speaking of is a most common farm ingredient used in many dishes, especially the dressing at Thanksgiving time and the sausage at butchering time. It is none other than sage tea, which, if sweetened with honey, makes one of the most delicious and refreshing beverages a fine stimulant for almost anything that ails you, wonderful for that sore throat feeling and good to help ward off the common cold. My wife and I often prefer it to the more advertised and expensive oriental teas, which have no benefit for the health of one's body. But sage tea is much praised by herbalists as one of man's finest tonics. For years, even centuries, the crafty Chinese sold us their expensive teas, which gave no health benefits, for high prices, while the occidentals sold them our beneficial sage tea, which they valued for health, for a mere pittance. It has taken occidental man many centuries of being bilked in the world markets, before he finally wakes up. But by all means, make your next beverage a cup of hot sage tea, pleasantly sweetened by honey. You'll sing praises to its wonderful 'lifting power' when you have that 'let down' feeling. Don't worry if you can't find some sage on your spice shelves. Just give three yanks on that old party-line telephone, and ask Aunt Effy or cousin Matilda up the road, to loan you a few leaves. Put them in a strainer, pour boiling water over them and allow to steep for twenty minutes in the cup sweeten and note how much perkier you feel while you sip it. It is a great, all-around medicine.

Drink a cup to me! You-all hear, now?