“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift that is in you….” (II Timothy 1:6) “Of these things put them in remembrance….” (II Timothy 2:14).
Today, I spent the morning hours in a school in North Carolina giving my little presentation we call “Lessons in self-esteem from drawing 100,000 people.” I sketch a lot of students, then segue into the talk which, among other things, urges the kids to stop comparing themselves with others, accept themselves as the persons God made them to be, and to smile. Then it happened again.
Only five minutes after the talk, we invited the students to crowd around and I would sketch as many as possible in the remaining time. “Look at me and smile,” I said to the first teenager. “I don’t smile,” he said. I stopped, looked at him sternly and said, “You didn’t hear a thing I said, did you?”
In truth, he had heard, but the lesson had not penetrated.
I said to the young teacher, “My telling the students these things once is not enough for them to get through. The only way to change their behavior is for you to say it over and over again. Eventually the lesson will ‘take’ with some of them.”
Some lessons have to be repeated ad infinitum.
“Let me remind you….” is a phrase that shows up a lot in the epistles of the Apostle Paul.
The most important spiritual truths need to be emphasized again and again if the hearers are to truly learn them and benefit from them.
Here are seven biblical truths we pastors need to keep telling our people in the hope that eventually most will “get it.” (The list is not meant to be exhaustive. You’ll think of other essential truths that need hammering home again and again.)
1) Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the only Savior.
That is the theme of so much Scripture anyway, isn’t it? How could we not keep the focus on the Lord Jesus–His identity, His life and ministry, His teachings, His headship over the church, and His place in our lives–if we are being true to the Word?
Pastor, keep telling them–over and over again; the theme never wears out–“Why we make so much of Jesus.” Just last evening, a man here in North Carolina (where I’m in revival) told of the state legislature voting to make a certain Baptist preacher their chaplain, then firing him when he refused to take “In Jesus’ name” out of his prayers. And they call this perversion “inclusiveness.” Go figure. (Note: Many a New Testament prayer did not use the actual words “in Jesus’ name” and we should not feel ours must always, either. However, tell me that I must leave Jesus out of the prayer and I’m gone.)
Jesus Christ is Lord, for now and for eternity, and no one else is.
Always stay focused on the Lord Jesus with your people.
2) The Church is an essential part of the Lord’s plan, for now and forever.
And we are most definitely not referring just to your local congregation. As important as that is–this will come as a surprise to a lot of lonely myopic pastors–the Kingdom of God is more than your church.
When Jesus saved you, He knew something you were about to find out: “You cannot live this new life in isolation. You need the family of God.” They hold onto you, you hold onto them. They instruct and nurture you; you turn around and do the same. This symbiosis has been God’s plan from early on.
“I will build my church,” the Lord said in Matthew 16:18. It’s His and He builds it. The Christ-follower who claims to be able to live for Christ better without the church is insulting His Lord. The church-leader who would run the Lord’s church “for Him” is asking for big trouble fast.
3) Salvation is all about the cross.
Salvation is not by works of righteousness but humility, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on Calvary.
The threat to turn salvation into a matter of works will never go away. It’s grounded in man’s way of thinking, his human (and thus self-centered) reasoning. To my knowledge, most of the religions of the world teach variations of “do this and you’re saved” or “do not do this and you are saved.” Only one to my knowledge proclaims that everything necessary has already been done and our task is to repent and receive it (“Him”).
When people tell me they believe their good works will get them to Heaven, I ask, “Then, what was the point of the cross? If all God had to do was tell us ‘Y’all be good now, hear?’ then He sure went to a lot of trouble for nothing by sending Jesus into this world to die on a cross for our sins.” (They have no answer since they have never given these things the first thought. If you need further evidence of man’s sinful heart, there it is.)
Celebrate the grace of God, preacher, with your people. Keep them at the cross.
4) We are not saved by good works, but saved “unto” God works. (Ephesians 2:10)
Good works have a definite place in the plan of God for His people. But they are the results–the fruits, the evidence–of our salvation, not the means. One wishing to become a member of the military does not do so by wearing a uniform and saluting officers. But once he is officially inducted, he wears the uniform, obeys commands, and salutes officers.
What good works does the Lord want to see in our lives? Scripture answers that again and again in places like Micah 6:8, Jeremiah 22:16, and of course, Matthew 25:35-36. I enjoy telling Harold Bales’ story of the time his church in uptown Charlotte NC was bringing in the homeless from the park across the street and feeding them breakfast before the morning worship service. A woman who had belonged to that church for generations and resented the presence of the unwashed in their services, approached Pastor Harold one Sunday and said, “Pastor, why do we have to have those people in our church?” He said, “Because I don’t want to see anyone go to hell.” She said, “Well, I don’t want them to go to hell either.” He said, “I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about you.”
5) If you have faith, you will pray.
In fact, nothing tells the story about your faith like your prayer life. Nothing.
Consider that you are praying to a Lord you have never seen and cannot prove. You say things to Him you would say to no one else and believe that He hears. Furthermore–and this is the clincher–90 percent of the requests you make, you’ll never know whether He answered them or not since He may choose to do so in subtle ways or another time. But there you go, praying to Him day after day, as though He were occupying the chair next to you and everything you do today is dependent on His presence and guidance.
Pastors keep prayer before their people by encouraging them to pray at the altar during the services, and by having a prayer room at the church, and by encouraging prayer for specific people, needs, events, and concerns.
6) A church exists by evangelism and missions as a fire exists by burning.
Sharing our faith is not an option, not for the gifted only (although admittedly some are more fluent and effective than others in this), and not to be done sporadically. “As you go, make disciples” was the command of our Lord in Matthew 28:18ff.
I stood in the foyer of a church of another denomination one day, reading their poster on evangelism. (You do not need my help in identifying the denomination by what follows.) The poster said something like, “Spread the word. Tell people about John Wesley.” I thought, “Wesley? Tell them about Wesley? That’s not evangelism! That’s the sort of in-house instruction one might wish to do with those who have been converted to United Methodism. But it’s no way to reach the unchurch, uncommitted, or uninterested.
Churches must be creative in finding ways to mobilize their members in spreading the faith, must be aggressive in supporting those who are getting it right and doing it well, and must be alert to the distractions which would push evangelism down the list of priorities in the church’s ministries.
7) The Bible is the inspired word of God and the spiritual nutrition of believers.
If you thought other church programs would crowd evangelism off the agenda, know that life has a way of pushing God’s Word out of the mind of believers. The process seems to be the same for everyone, and works like this….
You go a few days without reading your Bible and soon, you find yourself resisting the inner urge to get back to it. The more you cave in to that laziness that resents picking up the Word and opening it, the more you will find yourself saying (or thinking, or both): “I’ve read the Bible. I know it already. There’s nothing new there. It’s boring.”
Those are all lies out of hell. You do not know the Bible. You have not read it. (You may have read “at” it, but there is a world of content there which you have not yet mined.) It is not boring. You are boring, not the Word.
Job said, “I have esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food.” Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” David said the godly man’s “delight is in the Word of God and in that Word (law) doth he meditate day and night.”
Keep telling them, pastor. Keep preaching its insights and delighting in its treasures, and eventually they will get it.
Repetition is a great teacher. In fact, it may be the best teacher on the planet.