“For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
“I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
I’ve been looking back over twenty years of articles, notes, and journals where I recorded happenings in the churches I pastored. Some of those events left scars, memories, and lessons enough for a lifetime. Some people in those stories are forever unforgettable, either for their amazing examples of Christlikeness or for lesser reasons.
Recently on this website, I chronicled the doings of a few people who were angry over nothing, raging all the time, finding fault where none existed, then pinning blame when confronted. I suggested the reason for this behavior: They are lost. Unsaved. “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” says I Corinthians 2:14, “for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he understand them for they are spiritually discerned.”
That says it as well as anything.
Today–a week after posting that piece–I was reflecting on some of those people, a few in particular. And, realizing that most are now passed to their heavenly reward (or lack thereof; not for me to say), I prayed the Lord would be merciful to them. And at that point, the Lord explained something to me.
“A certain man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, where he squandered his estate with loose living….” (Luke 15:11ff.)
The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is iconic. That means it is typical, well-known, an accurate depiction of a thousand things about this life. Understand that story and you know a great deal about how life works and what God does.
If you knew nothing more about God than how He is depicted in this parable, you would love him with all your heart.
You and I are represented by the foolish, younger son.
That son, the subject of a few million sermons and the inspiration of almost as many conversions, received a lot of surprises in this story…
One. He was surprised that the father granted his selfish request. Some lessons we just have to learn for ourselves, and the Father was a good teacher.
“Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:6).
Was it worth it?
You do not know which will succeed. If both will. Or neither.
Disciples of Jesus Christ must never try to calculate the cost/benefit of some act of ministry.
Our assignment is to obey. To be faithful.
We have no idea how God will use something we do, whether He will, or to what extent He will. We do the act and leave the matter with Him as we move on to our next assignment.
Every pastor will identify with the following scenario….
You know some things about Jesus and you find yourself drawn to Him.
You wonder what to do now, where to start.
Here are some suggestions…
One. Go to the primary source, not a secondary one. A primary source is one that is close to the subject, that is the basis for what we know and believe. A secondary source is one written about the primary source.
Two. In other words, read the Bible and not just books about the Bible.Start by reading the Four Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the opening “books” of the New Testament, and give us all we know about His earthly life and ministry. I’d suggest you read them again and again. — You will find a lot of similarities. It’s pretty well agreed that Mark’s was first, and was written, according to some of the earliest believers, at the dictation of the Apostle Peter. But each gospel is different in interesting ways. Read them several times.
“…they received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
When I asked where he went to church, the man working on my house said, “I used to go to church across the river. But the preacher said something I disagreed with.”
It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.
But he was serious.
After giving him a moment to elaborate, which he did not do, I said, “Man, I would hope so.”
He seemed interested.
I said, “Wouldn’t it be terrible to have a preacher who said only the things that I know and taught only what I believe? What would be the point of going to hear him if I already knew what he was going to say? There’s so much more to God than what little I already know!”
Lord, make us teachable.
“Over ____% of churches in America have plateau’ed.” (The percentage depends on who’s talking.)
Let the pastor dedicate himself to growing the church as much as possible.
Let growing the church be important to the shepherd.
But let the growth be the real thing, not something hyped up. Solid growth, not inflated numbers.
A generation or two ago, pastors in our denomination took it for granted that if they wanted to (ahem) move up to a larger church, they needed to show numerical growth where they were presently serving.
Before long, some less trustworthy preachers decided to play that game to the hilt and ruined it for everyone. They grew creative in their counting, they schemed and plotted and even lied about numbers, and doctored the records to make it appear they were experiencing greater growth than they were.
“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.
Someone told a friend of mine, “You Baptists are so narrow. You think only Baptists are going to heaven.” He replied, “I’m narrower than that. I don’t even think some of them are going!”
In truth, I know of no one who believes only their denomination is going to heaven. (We may be narrow, but we’re not ridiculous.)
How narrow are we? Narrow enough to quote the following Scriptures and then to announce that we believe them and are ordering our lives by them….
“Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is only one name of salvation. Only one: Jesus.
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved: (John 10:9). There is only one door to salvation. Only one: Jesus.
This morning as I was getting ready to face the day, I noticed something on the television. An ad for “hair club for women” was running. Photos flew by of before and after shots of women. Most had been afflicted with bare spots or thinning mane and the “after” photos showed them with gloriously full tresses.
Then I saw it. Down in the corner the small print said, “Results may vary.”
Ahh. Yes, indeed. Results may vary. The old “caveat emptor.”
The ad might as well say “these are not typical,” as advertisers are forced to do by truth-in-advertising laws.
Sadly, in our culture we’re used to such come-ons and slick sales spiels. No one expects the used car salesman to tell you why we should be cautious in buying this particular car. We’ve learned to turn a suspicious eye toward the seller of the house who cannot quit raving about all its fine points. What, we wonder, is he not saying?
Which brings up another point…
Fewer churches are having revivals these days, and the loss is considerable.
At the age of 11 I was saved in a revival in a Free Will Baptist Church. A full decade later I was called to preach in a revival in a Southern Baptist Church.
I believe in revivals.
In my retirement ministry–for lack of a better term–I do a half dozen revivals a year, in most cases beginning on Sunday morning and going through Wednesday night. Often, we’ll start with a churchwide dinner on Saturday night to kick it off.
More and more these days, I suggest to host pastors a couple of things to make the meeting more meaningful and last longer. See what you think.