…and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:25)
They’re always listening.
The world is constantly watching when God’s people go through disasters, experience heartaches, and deal with bankruptcies and setbacks. How will the so-called “God people” handle these trials? Will they grow angry and curse, lose their temper and drown their sorrows in the bottle? Or will they live up to this heavenly rhetoric they’ve been spouting?
The world wants to know whether our faith in Jesus Christ is just so much talk, just another religious alternative, or the real deal.
God is going to give us the opportunity to convince them.
This might not be pleasant. But it will be worthwhile.
Why should I be grateful when things aren’t going to suit me?
The woman “stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil” (Luke 7:38).
There is the picture of a grateful person. She is worshiping, humble, thankful, fully yielded to the Master.
Want to see a photo of an ungrateful individual? Find any reference to a Pharisee and you have it. For instance…
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12).
Without knowing any more, you find your spirit recoiling from this guy. He’s proud of his righteousness and will be harsh and judgmental toward anyone less committed. He addresses God as an equal. He is unteachable, unleadable, incorrigible.
Pity the pastor with Pharisaical leaders. They are ungrateful, self-righteous, demanding, and a pain to live with.
When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory. (E. E. Hewitt, 1898)
Last Sunday, as we sang that wonderful old song, something occurred to me. Sure, we’ll “sing and shout” the victory when we see Jesus face to face. Anyone would. But He wants us to “sing and shout the victory” now, in the middle of the battle.
Anyone can celebrate after the final whistle when the score is set in stone and no further plays are run. But how many can celebrate the victory at halftime when battles are yet to be fought, when enemies wait to be faced?
Rejoice in the middle of the contest. Scripture is loaded on this subject…
–“He giveth songs in the night.” (Job 35:10) “In the night His song shall be with me–a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8)
“Take words with you,” said the 8th century prophet Hosea, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).
Does the Lord want to hear words? Evidently.
Words are mighty important.
The Psalmist prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Before Job’s friends launched into the attack against him, one set him up for the fall. You used to be something special, said friend Eliphaz. But look at you now.
Surely you have instructed many, and you have strengthened weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have strengthened the feeble knees. (Job 4:3-4)
Imagine that, having the power to stand someone on their feet by the power of words.
You see these come-ons all the time—
The best restaurants in every state. The best small towns in every state. The best town for retirees in every state. The best beaches, best whatever.
So, don’t be surprised if you look up one day and someone has compiled a list of the best churches–best small churches, best mega-churches, whatever–in every state. People are so shallow as to think such a list could be compiled and many will buy into it.
I’m by that the way I am the college football rankings. Today, as I was driving back from a ministry assignment, for an hour or more I listed to the Sirius XM station where spots guys discussed last night’s college football rankings. LSU was one, Ohio State two, and so forth. Back and forth they went: Shouldn’t Alabama be lower than 5th? Shouldn’t Baylor be higher than they are? Wisconsin too? People called in and for an hour or more they argued.
For absolutely nothing. Next week there will be a new ranking, based on this weekend’s games, and they’ll start all over again. It’s what these sports-talk guys get paid to do.
But it’s so much foolishness.
Paul was a tent-maker. James and John, Peter and Andrew were all fishermen. Matthew was a tax-collector.
Were they bi-vocational in their service for Christ? Did they support themselves by working for a living while they spread the Word?
More and more, I hear pastors say that bi-vo is the way to go. By supporting themselves they can start a church from scratch without having to solicit funds from supporting congregations until they become self-sustaining. By supporting himself, a pastor cannot be held hostage by a church bully–or a committee of controllers–who insist that he do things their way to keep from losing his job and throwing his family into financial crisis.
What are the skills a bi-vocational pastor would need most? Most, I expect, are the same abilities and strengths he would need in a full-time pastorate. For instance…
I’d like to start a trend. Since October is “Pastor Appreciation” time, let’s make November–the month of thanksgiving–“Church Member Appreciation.”
I’m suggesting–no, I’m urging–every pastor to write a minimum of 25 thank-yous to some church members this month.
I loving receiving thank you-notes. Writing them, however, takes a little more effort. But the benefits are astounding.
Two thank-you notes came in the mail last week.
After I had spent last Sunday evening sketching at her church’s “fall festival,” the preschool children’s director wrote: Thank you so much for drawing at our Fun Fest last Sunday! You blessed and encouraged our families so much! I’m grateful for you, your ministry, and the way the Lord is using you to draw others to Himself. Thank you again!
Four sentences. But it was perfect.
The fact that I have known that young lady, the preschool minister, her whole life and that her parents are my dear friends, did not matter. I love her dearly as she does me. But she still did the niceties and wrote a thank-you.
It’s a classy thing to do.
“But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)
It’s so easy to become a modern Pharisee.
We start out with good intentions, desiring only to encourage people to serve God faithfully. We end up setting in stone our requirements and holding people responsible for disobeying God when they violate them.
That has happened in our denomination. When Southern Baptists decided to update their “creedal statement,” a document we call The Baptist Faith and Message, it was said loud and clear that these were not to be tools by which we were to judge the doctrinal faithfulness of our people. That soon went by the wayside. These days, if professors and pastors do not subscribe to that document, they are not considered for that open position or vacant pulpit.
The sons and daughters of the Pharisees are alive and well and active inside your congregation, too, friend.
“He who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much….” (Luke 16:10)
“Let him deny himself and take up his cross….” (Luke 9:23)
Legalism is a bad term. It implies someone is living by a list of rules even though violating the spirit and intent of those rules.
Years ago, a lady in my church told of a conversation she had with her sister-in-law. They were Baptist (my member) and a Pentecostal of some type (the SIL).
The kids were off to school and they were sharing a morning coffee in one of their homes. The Baptist lit up a cigarette. The Pentecostal said, “Did you know that one cigarette will send your soul to hell?”
The Baptist: “Are you serious?”
The Baptist said to her Pentecostal SIL, “Then explain something to me. How is it you can hate your mother–I’ve heard you say it!–and you’re all right, but smoking one cigarette is going to send me to hell forever?”
She had no answer. (Note: We do not intend to imply all Pentecostals are this way, or that all Baptists approve of cigarettes. We do, however, approve of morning coffee with friends.)
I suppose it’s safe to say we all need some rules. And, the first of those rules should be, “While obeying the rules, don’t forget to love, stay humble, and walk faithfully with your God.”
We have three primary texts (and a dozen secondary ones)–
“Wait on the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait on the Lord.” –Psalm 27:14 This is a command. Waiting on the Lord takes real strength.
“I waited patiently on the Lord and He inclined unto me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and set my feet on a solid rock and established my footsteps. He also put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.” –Psalm 40:1-3 This is a testimony. Waiting on the Lord is the gateway to so many blessings.
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint.” –Isaiah 40;31. This is a promise. Waiting on the Lord–in time–makes us stronger and more confident.
Question: What would it take for you to quit believing in God? What would it take to make you quit going to church, stop reading your Bible, and no longer consider yourself a Christian?
–A fellow left a note on my website saying “I’m no longer going to church or believing in God. The last two pastors I have had were terrible and treated me awful.” I read that and thought, “That’s all it took to knock you out? Just two bad preachers? I can show you twenty-five monsters in the pulpit, and you quit after only two?”