God tells pastors to, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season.” 2 Timothy 4:2
Let me tell you how my first pastor did it.
When I was 16 a friend of mine invited me to his church.
I had not gone to an evangelical church before. I still remember what the pastor preached about.
It was the subject of Faith. I understood it.
He preached the Word in season in church.
I continued to go and listen. He was not polished but he was sincere.
That summer my friend invited me to help with Vacation Bible School.
He told me we would be in the class with the older kids and be in charge of the refreshments.
I was in! Who taught the class? The Pastor did.
He preached the Word in season at VBS.
He talked about heaven and how to get there.
He said if we were sure we were going to heaven to sign a sheet.
I wasn’t sure. I asked if he would explain how to get to heaven.
He preached the Word to me in season in his 1956 Chevrolet.
Right there I opened my life to Jesus.
Sometime after that he discovered that I wanted to learn to drive – remember – I am 16.
My parents didn’t want to teach me. The pastor took many hours and taught me how to drive.
He preached the Word out of season as he taught me to drive.
He taught my friend also. On one occasion my friend started the pastor’s car and jammed
down on the gas pedal while turning the key — until the engine raced to a loud roar and died.
The engine was shot! The pastor didn’t tell his parents.
He preached the Word out of season by taking a second job driving a school bus to pay for the new engine.
I will be in heaven because of that pastor. I am a pastor now.
Pastor, you are important today to the people in your church.
Continue to preach the Word in and out of season. God is pleased with you today.
The word that Jesus prays in John 17:20-23 is a very joy-filled, optimistic message about what the church could be like as we come together in unity. Let's take a look at part of the message in John 17:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
The topic of this month's post is not going to be much fun. I'll warn you in advance; if you prefer not to take a deep, hard look at some realities in our North American Christian culture, either delete this or save it for another day. I also want to emphasize that this post is not intended to bash anyone or any institution. My hope is to simply look deep into the heart of the church, of which I am a part.
The scripture quoted above is from Jesus' prayer immediately preceding his arrest, trial and crucifixion. He knew what was to happen next, so I have to believe that in this prayer we get to hear the passion and depth of Jesus' heart. It was time to sum up his ministry and desires for his followers after spending 33 years here on earth.
The prayer starts with a simple request that Jesus now be restored to what was since the beginning of time — that he once again be glorified with his Father. "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." He then prays for those who have followed him while he was on this earth, those we now call "the disciples." Then Jesus prays "not for them alone" but "also for those who will believe in me through their message."
It still blows me away to this day that Jesus, while he was in the flesh over 2000 years ago, prayed for me. And for you! We ARE "those who will believe in me through their message." What does he pray for you, for me, and for everyone who has believed through the writings of those disciples? He prays that "all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you."
It's at this point that I have to stop and take a deep breath. Then, with as much self honesty as I can muster, I have to ask myself this question: how am I individually, and, how are we, corporately, doing at "being one?" I'm ashamed to say that the answer is so obvious that we need not even say it aloud. In fact, I'm pretty sure that not only are we not "one," we may not even be three or five or twenty or a thousand. I'm not sure I know what that means, but I say it to make this point: we are deeply missing the mark on this one.
Jesus goes on to say, "so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."Complete unity? Have we been "brought to complete unity?" I'm not sure where we're at, why we're there, or how we got here but I'm fairly sure that no one would describe us, the "church," as being in complete unity.
And the price for not being there? Look at the next line. As a result of our missing the mark, the world — and more specifically, our next door neighbor — does not know that Jesus was sent by the Father and that the Father loves them. That seems to be a very high price for others to pay for our desire to live out our individualistic, self-driven, locked in our own home, "personal" form of Christianity. It doesn't seem very biblical and it certainly is not seeing us reach the world.
I'm afraid that in this case the culture has far outstripped the church in its influence on our lives. We "go" to work, we"go" to our meetings, we "go" home, and then we "go" to church. When we're not happy, we change our place of work and we change our "church" until the next time we're unhappy and we change again. Then we read the most recent hot Christian book on sale at the Christian bookstore or listen to some new podcast of the new hot preacher and we try to change again. So it goes — we continue, in our Christianity, to try and keep changing things so that we might eventually be "happy." I believe it was K. P. Yohannen, in his book "Revolution in World Missions" that said "The church in America has caught a cold. It's "Ahchoo! Bless me! Ahchoo! Bless me!" And on and on we go, chasing happiness instead of pursuing God.
I believe with all my heart that everything man truly desires is wrapped up in our relationship with God. It is there and only there that we will find true love, true joy, and true peace. But we MUST come to some basic agreement, complete unity, on what that looks like and how that happens. That's never going to happen without true discipleship.
We have to stop birthing baby Christians and then setting them on their feet and telling them to "go and prosper." Babies must be raised up to become adults. Baby Christians must be raised up to become adult Christians. This responsibility is yours and mine and ours. If I'm not a part of the solution, I'm just a part of the problem.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts. I continue to be humbled by your love and your support.
You would naturally think that our obedience to God brings His immediate blessing.
Consider Abram’s call by God. He is told to leave his home and family and move to a new country.
He is promised blessings and that he would become a great nation.
“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home,
and go to a land that I am going to show you. I will give you many descendants,
and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous,
so that you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12:1-2
But look what happens when he arrives at God’s new home for him.
Verse 10 says there was a famine in the land.
What?! How could God send him to a place of famine?
Where is the blessing? He decides to go down to Egypt.
Was that a good decision? Did he ask God what to do?
Some commentators have said that Egypt is a picture of the World.
Before he even gets to Egypt he tells his wife to lie about being his wife.
Why didn’t Abram stay in Canaan? Couldn’t have God taken care of him there?
Often there are problems at the beginning of a task.
William Carey went to India as a missionary from England.
His wife didn’t want to go. A few years after his arrival, his young son died.
His wife was furious and even tried to kill William. He stayed and became,
“The father of modern missions.”
Where has God placed you? Can you stay there by His power and trust His provision?
Have you asked God to do something and He didn’t do it?
Don’t be tempted to walk away from Him and go to Egypt (the world) for answers.
We can do that with our finances (take out another loan),
our appearance (this will make me look good),
our walk with God (I’m upset with God’s apparent silence so I will turn away from Him and look to the world),
or our relationships (I shouldn’t do this but I think it will bring me acceptance.)
God’s blessing will come if we stay faithful to His direction, but it may not be immediately.
He is God and we can’t make Him perform like a little puppet.
I was listening to the news today and came to the conclusion that there isn’t much good happening in the world today. Wars, skirmishes, inflation, poverty, lack of gas, lack of food, murder, scandals, high prices and the list goes on and on. There is nothing positive or happy in the world. The left hates the right, and the right hates the left. No one can get along. The weather is disastrous, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and drought. Have I got you feeling bad yet? If your only source of news is what the world offers then I can understand.
Let me give you an alternative. It’s often referred to as the “Good News”. It’s history, future, and daily living rolled into one exciting dialogue. Let me recite some of the things that it says:
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
the news that the God of Israel reigns!
Isaiah 52:7 (NLT)
And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (AMP)
Of course, you know I am talking about God’s Word, The Bible. The Bible can be and is very practical. In fact it has stated succinctly the reason for our bad feelings: our thought life!
For as he thinks within himself, so he is … Proverbs 23:7 (NASB)
God also gives us a practical approach to not being defeated in our thinking. This is found in Philippians chapter 4 and verse 8:
For the rest, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]. Philippians 4:8 (AMP)
Our way out is by thinking about that which is good! It must begin with what we put in our minds. So if we continue to put what the world dishes out on a daily basis in our mind and hear this only, this will become our point of reference! This becomes our reality and it truly is very bleak. If however; we fill our minds with the Good News, constantly and consistently we will see the glass as half full, the lining as silver and our future as exciting!
I recently attended a board meeting where a dear friend was let go. I was one of two dissenting votes. I made my points and the others heard but they still voted to let him go. Now how do I respond? Was I going to quit because I did not get my way? Was I going harbor ill-will toward my fellow board members? How was I going to handle this very sad situation? It occurred to me that God has spoken to just such situations. In fact there are hundreds of verses that deal with our response to these hurtful episodes in our lives; and I have chosen just a couple to make my point.
In James Chapter 5 verse 10 and 11 we read:
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
The prophets of old did indeed suffer. They spoke the word God gave them for Israel the Israelites did not like what they heard and many of these prophets were persecuted for doing what God told them! James puts a wonderful spin on this by telling us that these prophets were counted as blessed because of their endurance.
In Job 42:10-17, we get to see how God handles those who persevere. We hear about the “perseverance of Job”, in the midst of extreme difficulties, Job was faithful and endured and at the end of his tribulation God returned to him much:
And the LORD restored Job’s losses[a] when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and each a ring of gold.
Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first Jemimah, the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-Happuch. In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.
After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days.
Another of my heroes of faith William Wilberforce showed great perseverance as a parliamentarian in England. For twenty years Wilberforce brought to the floor of parliament laws to abolish the slave trade. Ridiculed, mocked and scorned he did not give up and because he persevered the slave trade was indeed abolished after twenty long years.
Now to my recent problem, I truly believe in my friend and I truly believe in the cause, helping to get jobs for ex-offenders. For me to quit is to give up on the overall program. If I proceeded stubbornly and quit because I did not get my way even though I felt justified I would miss the blessing of being one who perseveres and in this case see hundreds of ex-offenders become gainfully employed.
Winston Churchill in a speech at an American college put it best: “Never, Never, NEVER GIVE UP!”
Consider the total commitment of the priests in Leviticus 8:22-23
This was the ceremony of ordination for the priests.
They were being set apart to serve the Lord.
He then presented the other ram, the ram for the ordination, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on its head. Moses slaughtered the ram and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. (NIV)
What was this to demonstrate?
Could it be that the ear symbolized the head of a person.
This would include the eyes, the ears, the mind and the mouth.
All of these parts of the body were to be dedicated to the Lord.
God wants us to dedicate our conversations, looks, listening, and thoughts to Him.
Holy things are dedicated to God. They are to bring Him glory.
How will this conversation bring glory to God?
How will watching and listening to this movie or TV program bring glory to God?
Are these drifting or fantasy thoughts bringing me any closer to God?
The right thumb could indicate action or service or work with our hands.
How can I connect this job to God and ask Him for strength, wisdom and ability?
Obviously these priests were serving God in the tabernacle.
Your work at home or the office or wherever can also be for God. It can bring glory to Him.
The right toe could signify movement or direction for our life.
Where are you feet taking you? It is a place where God will be glorified?
Is God involved in this decision which will affect your future?
Remember the children’s song –
Oh, be careful little eyes, what you see.
Oh, be careful little eyes, what you see.
There’s a Father up above, looking down in tender love,
So be careful little eyes, what you see.
Be careful little ears what you hear
Be careful little mouth what you say…
Be careful little hands, what you touch…
Be careful little feet, where you go…
Take time today and dedicate your entire body to God.
Ask Him to use your eyes, ears, mind, mouth, hands and feet to bring Him glory.
You are His royal priest! 1 Peter 2:9
James the brother of Jesus is acknowledged to be the author of the book of James. In it we read in chapter 2 verse 17:
Thus also faith, by itself, If it does not have works, is dead.
In the book of Hebrews chapter 11 verse 6 we read:
But without faith it is impossible to please God.
These two verses are not at odds. One tells me that if I am to be pleasing to God I do so by exhibiting faith in Him, and the other says that He will know my faith by what I do for the Kingdom. I am convinced that faith lived out is not just observable by God but man sees it
and it is generally appreciated.
As we observe history we see believers throughout the years exhibiting great faith through their works. Let me site some of my favorites.
William Wilberforce climbed the political mountain in England and with great perseverance over 20 years ended the slave trade in England. He also exhibited great compassion for animals and has been credited with starting the SPCA.
Paul the Apostle showed his faith as a believer in prison. In the book of Acts chapter 16 verses 16 through 34 a story unfolds of magnificent faith. Paul and Silas find themselves in the dirtiest and worst part of the prison. They were exhibiting great faith as they sang songs and prayed to God at the midnight hour. The story tells us that the fellow prisoners were listening. All of a sudden there was a great earthquake, and all the prison gates were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.
The prisoners could have escaped without any problem. The jailer ran into the prison expecting to see that they all had left and he was prepared to fall on his sword but Paul cried out don’t do it we are all still here! What was it that Paul and Silas did to make prisoners who could have escaped stay? I am convinced it was their expressed faith as they prayed and sang, rather than complain and cry, that this mesmerized the other prisoners to the point that they did not leave. The outcome is that the jailer and his family came to faith in Christ through the magnificent faith of Paul and Silas.
I recently took a trip to India where I met the most amazing husband and wife. It was the last day we would be in Manguru, India and they had just spent three days in our SALT Marriage Conference. They requested a time to meet and pray for us. Their leader, Bishop Jacob, made the introduction but prior to the meeting Bishop Jacob told us a story. This couple pastor a village church. When the husband became a Christian he began exhibiting great faith. He began evangelizing his village. The radical Hindu leaders came to him and told him to stop this immediately or face the consequences. He did not stop and they both faced the consequences.
Threats turned into action and the radical Hindus came to their home in the village and beat them and left them for dead. They found the pastor’s father hiding under a bed and them jumped on the bed crushing him and they left him for dead as well. The villagers were frightened but God saw a different ending. He not only brought the husband and wife out of their life threatening injuries He healed the father. The villagers saw the miracle and because these people exhibited great faith by their actions a church has grown and flourished in that village. Today they are making plans to build a new church that will house the 350 new believers.
History is replete with men and women of faith who have exhibited courage and integrity in the face of great danger. Some have been martyred, given their very lives for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I reflect about these saints I always look into the mirror of my life and ask this question, “Ray would you be willing to give your life for the Gospel”? Let me ask you – how about you?
As a young man growing up I remember going to graduations, school assemblies, and civic events. They began with a local clergyman or Rabbi praying for the function or school or those involved in the event. It was customary and it truly honored America’s faith and her clergy and churches or synagogues. We would say the pledge of Allegiance and the words, “One nation under God” would sing out throughout the auditorium or football field. It is also worthy to note that many of these event were held in schools or high school football stadiums. There was never any concern of offending anyone and separation of church and state wasn’t a problem.
Fast forward just 40 years and I am attending, a high school graduation, an eighth grade graduation and even a kindergarten graduation and two college graduations from very large prestigious schools in Arizona. My sensibilities were rocked. There was no mention of God or even a higher intelligence, no opening prayer and no benediction. No man had eliminated God completely. I am reminded of the poem Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, where in the last two lines we read:
I am the master of my fate
I am the master of my soul.
Finally man has come to a place of being in charge. We worship now at the altar of man, or education, or government anything other than a creator God.
The Word of God speaks to man and tells us what we are when we say there is no God. It is found in Psalms 14:1:
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good.
Yes we have become fools according to God’s word. I also think that we get another glimpse of where man has come and it is found in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 7:
… always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
When God considers man’s wisdom and intelligence he declares this in 1 Corinthians 3:18-20:
Don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God’s fool—that’s the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid. It’s written in Scripture-He exposes the chicanery of the chic. The Master sees through the smoke screens of the know-it-alls. (The Message)
I know that those who think man is the answer to all of life’s ills would disagree with my findings. They might think me quite infantile and probably call me a religious fanatic.
I want all to know I PLEAD GUILTY to being a follower of the Source of all intelligence and His fool, the One who truly is the master of my soul.