“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.
“Take heed and beware of covetousness. For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses”(Luke 12:15).
“What do you do?” In our society, that’s often the first question people ask. It implies…
–that you do something in the way of a career. Woe to the unemployed and those who call themselves homemakers.
–that you are what you do. That your identity is bound up in what you do to earn an income. Too bad if you lose your job or retire. You become a cipher, at least in the minds of some.
If you don’t have a job, who are you? If, like my wife Bertha, you loved being married to a pastor, when God takes him home and you can no longer fill the role you loved so much–the wife of a pastor–then who are you?
In our world, people’s names were often given in accordance with what they did. They received names like Baker, Cook, Weaver, Smith, Taylor, Hunter, Fisher, Farmer, Shepherd, Miller, Marshall, Ward.
I want to call your attention to a little story found in Luke 12. Then, I’ll be asking you to use your imagination with me…
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord….” (Romans 11:33-34)
I do not understand all the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation.
Nor do you.
Nor is it necessary that we do.
Sorry if you find that offensive, friend. After a half-century of considering these things–what has been written and preached and declared as “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” from pulpits far and wide–I feel confident in saying that so far, no one expositor has gotten it all right.
That’s my opinion. You’re welcome to yours. But we will go on loving each other in Christ.
The list of other things we do not understand (or agree on!) is extensive.
“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.
“…so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Preachers used to say ours was a “cut flower generation.” The bloom was still there, all the blessings of our godly heritage, in the same way the floral arrangement on the dining room table carried the colors and delights of the garden. However, preachers would point out, this generation has cut itself off from the faith of our fathers and while we enjoy the blessings of their faith and their labors, we are doing nothing to keep the faith. The next generation would pay for our failure.
We’re there now.
For most of the decades of my life–I arrived in 1940–Christians were in a majority in this country and it was pretty much agreed that ours was a Christian nation. If anyone countered that, we never heard it.
We sang hymns in school and decorated for Christmas and even dismissed classes so those who wished could attend a local church service or see a religious film. As a young pastor, I was invited to preach Christian messages to student bodies of public high schools. No one mentioned a limitation of any kind.
Those days are over.
The nation has changed.
Blame it on whatever forces you choose–immigration, the influx of other religions, the influence of the devil, the encroachment of the world, sin–it has happened and it is here.
This country is never going to be what it was. It’s never going to be the way it was.
The Lord’s people living in these United States have been handed a choice.
Some years ago, the well-known astronomer Hugh Ross and I were taking part in a radio talk show at Ohio State University. We were discussing some theme related to the origin of the universe when an irate woman called in and began to attack us with a volley of words. Her charge was that our conversation was really nothing more than a smoke screen for reversing Roe versus Wade and taking away a woman’s right to an abortion. Remember, we were talking about the origin of the universe.
Throughout her tirade, she repeatedly insisted, “it’s my moral right to do what I choose to do with my body!” Finally, when she paused for a breath, I said, ‘All right, ma’am, since you brought it up, I’d like to ask you a question. Can you explain something to me? When a plane crashes and some die while others live, a skeptic calls into question God’s moral character, saying that he has chosen some to live and others to die on a whim; yet you say it is your moral right to choose whether the child within you should live or die. Does that not sound odd to you? When God decides who should live or die, he is immoral. When you decide who should live or die, it’s your moral right.
There was a pin-drop silence. (–Ravi Zacharias in The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists)
To me, the amazing thing is that the abortionists will frequently claim to be Christians. In fact, they will claim the exclusive right to the message of Jesus and accuse Bible-believers of usurping His message for their narrow, joy-killing purposes.
When a person sets his mind to deny reality, after that, anything goes. Nothing is a stretch for them thereafter.
“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).
God is under no illusion about us. He knows we are made of humble stuff. He knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us.
Whether we are under false conceptions, i.e., illusions, about God is another question.
One thing is sure. We sure do love our illusions, our pipe dreams, our false ideas and wrong impressions.
“No one should see how sausage or their laws are made,” goes the saying. The internet traces the quote to Otto von Bismarck, German chancellor of the late 1800s, who is supposed to have said it more like “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”
Leave us with our illusions.
“Well, I know there’s a lot of big preachers that know a lot more than I do, but it could be that the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too.” –Tom T. Hall, “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died”
Yogi Berra watched as the batter approached the plate. The Yankee catcher had seen it all, and this guy was like so many: eager to get a hit, but needing all the help he could find. The batter stood at the plate and made the sign of the cross, then pointed toward the skies, both symbols of prayer as he summoned the Almighty to his aid.
“Hey buddy,” said Yogi from behind his mask, “Why don’t we just let the Lord enjoy the game?”
I’m with Yogi.
That begs the question of course. We wonder if the Lord enjoys a baseball game occasionally.
Does God smile at the antics of a small child? Revel at the cuteness of puppies? Does He ever sit back and enjoy the music of an orchestra or choir? Did God like that rainbow I saw yesterday?