“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles…and you have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you….” (Revelation 2:2-4).
The Lord has “something” against certain ones calling themselves true believers while perverting the gospel and slandering His disciples.
When I heard of Florence Foster Jenkins, I thought of these who are both deceived and deceivers….
This woman who lived from 1868 to 1944 was a patron of the arts in New York City. She was rich and generous and in a hundred ways kind and gracious. Her one over-riding fault was that she thought of herself as a gifted singer. She was not. In fact, she was comically bad. And yet, her husband and those around her conspired to keep the truth from her. When she learned the truth, she was devastated and died soon afterward.
In The New Yorker’s review of the new movie–the title is her name–the opening paragraph is wonderful and poignant and lends itself to our application.
I awakened the other morning with this scenario playing in my head.
A young friend was being called into the ministry. He was trying to get his bearings. In my dream–if that’s what it was–I was saying to him, “Please learn to study. Learn to discipline yourself. Because we don’t need another lazy preacher.”
So, as I come to full consciousness, I’m concerned about lazy preachers?
Wonder where that came from.
Do we have lazy preachers? Of course. Always have had and always will have. You see laziness in ministers in a hundred ways, including some of these…
“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23 NASB).
It’s time to “spill the beans,” say my friends.
Bertha Fagan is her name. She is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and lives nearby in the community of Pearl where she teaches English at the Rankin Center of Hinds Community College.
Bertha is the widow of Dr. Gary Fagan, a seminary classmate of mine. But even though Gary and I knew each other for fifty years, and at one time we all belonged to First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, we did not know one another’s families. Gary went to Heaven in May of 2014.
My wife Margaret died the following January.
Bertha and I met for the first time on February 15 of this year (2016). Within days, we both knew the Lord had done something special here.
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
I stood before the congregation holding two letters in my hands. “Both came to my office this week. I thought you’d like to hear what they say.”
“The first letter is from a member who moved several hundred miles away last year. She is missing this church. She wrote, ‘The churches here are not friendly like our church back home. No one speaks to visitors. I miss our loving, friendly congregation.”
I said, “Do we have a friendly church?” Heads nodded all over the building.
“Well, then, listen to this.”
“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40)
“For we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
You should read my mail.
Well, maybe you shouldn’t. You would come away disgusted with the notion that our churches operate in faith, trust God supremely, and always want to do the honorable thing. Some do; many do not.
A young minister I know is well-trained and very capable, he is called of God and has a heart for ministry. Some church is going to love having him as pastor. If they ever decide to call him.
Search committees are deathly afraid of him.
If I were a newly ordained deacon, I would be eager to learn my craft, to honor my Lord, and to serve my church. So, here are some of the things I would do:
–I would stay on my knees, asking the Father to purify me, make my motives holy, and to give me a heart to serve.
–I would read Luke 17:7-10 again and again until it became part of my DNA. I would resolve never to seek appreciation or expect honors. We are servants.
–I would find the godliest, most effective deacons now serving our church and latch onto them. I would pick their brains, and ask if I could work with them until I learned all they could teach me.
“No chastening for the moment seems enjoyable, but painful. But afterwards, to those who have been trained by it, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).
In the middle of the pain, no one enjoys the experience. Only in looking back–at some distant day–do you see how God used it.
Life is understood only in looking backward, the saying goes. But it must be lived going forward.
It doesn’t work that way for everyone, Hebrews 12:11 is implying. For some, the trials are fatal. It just depends. “To those who have been trained by it” surely means “the people who have learned to give their woes to the Lord for His purposes.”
We can wallow in our defeat, be chained in despair by our sorrows and troubles, or we can rise above them by putting our trust in the Savior and finding His purposes.
In her book Character, Gail Sheehan tells of the lengthy rehabilitation Bob Dole endured after his World War II injury. (German machine gunfire hit him in the upper back and right arm. Medics gave him the largest possible dose of morphine, then wrote “M” (for morphine) on his forehead with his own blood, so no one who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.) Dole went through multiple surgeries and experienced recurring blood clots, life-threatening infections, and long periods of recuperation and therapy.
An interviewer once asked Senator Dole, “How did this delay your career plans?”
I was speaking to the medical staff at our Southern Baptist International Mission Board at the request of one of their physicians. She asked that I talk about how cartooning figures into the ministry to which God called me..
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them accordingly….” (Romans 12:6).
As a young pastor I drew a sharp line to distinguish between natural talents and spiritual gifts. The first you are born with; the second reborn with. The first might involve talents for music, art, science, math, etc. But spiritual gifts–those strengths in our heavenly DNA–would be more along the lines of preaching, teaching, service, prayer, witnessing, and such.
I’ve altered that a little….
It’s all His. And whatever natural talents and gifts He gave us can be given back to Him and used for His glory.
I began drawing at the age of 5 when Mom put me and my 3-year-old sister at the table with pencil and paper and told us to draw. I learned immediately that I loved to draw. The next year, the first graders at Nauvoo (AL) Elementary School would gather around and watch as I sketched.
As a 16-year-old, I took a correspondence course in cartooning. But mostly I was self-taught.
“Behold, Lord, half my goods I will give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I will give back four times as much” (Luke 19:8).
Let me hear Donald Trump saying that and I might believe he has been truly converted.
And to those who say (correctly) that no one else we know makes the kind of reversal which Zaccheus did in Jericho that day, I would say, “Well, how about something in the general area, then.”
Let’s see (and hear) something from the candidate himself to indicate he has changed his way.
I’d say that about The Donald or Hillary or the local candidate for coroner.
What we should question is preachers calling news conferences to announce that “the candidate has assured me that he has been saved.”
I’d like to hear it from the candidate’s own mouth. And I would like the preachers to be silent.
When the Bible says something unequivocally with no question and without complication, God’s people are on safe ground saying, “God said this and it’s so.”
Such statements would include salvation by grace through faith, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the inspiration of Scripture. The resurrection of Jesus is attested by all four gospels and Acts, plus the various epistles.
Only those who deny that holy scripture is God’s Word say otherwise.
But when good and faithful followers of Jesus see Scripture passages differently, for one to accuse the other of denying the Word can be most unfair and unChristlike. Rather, they should “man up” and do the adult thing and say, “This is how I see it; many good people disagree.”
In teaching our people, we can say, “God’s people differ on this, but I’d like to share with you what I believe this is saying.”