The five people you can count on most

If you would take a leadership role in the Kingdom of God, you will be needing fellow workers. You will not be able to do this alone nor will you be asked to do so.

The question will arise as to whom you can trust. You will have to decide the quality of the men and women with whom you are surrounded, particularly in determining your inner circle of leadership and responsibility.

Paul answers this for us by citing the examples of Onesiphorus, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Stephanas, and, if you will, Aquila/Priscilla.  See what he said…

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Those little things you do when you think no one is watching

“God is Watching.”  –sign over the door of Gwen Williams’ home in Picayune, Mississippi.

John Ed Mathiston told his congregation in Montgomery, Alabama a story about kindness.

“Not long ago, a man from the Middle East walked into a new car showroom and asked to speak with a particular salesperson.  The receptionist called for him, the fellow walked to the front, and they greeted each other.

The foreigner said, “I’d like to buy some trucks.”

Some trucks. That caught the sales guy’s attention.

“What did you have in mind, sir?”

“I want to buy 750 heavy duty trucks and 250 pickups.”

The salesman is stunned.  Surely someone is pulling a prank.  This cannot be happening.

The Middle Easterner pulls out a letter of credit with a huge American bank.  It is legitimate. This is the real deal.

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When feelings are in the driver’s seat

“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (I John 3:20-21).

“But I don’t feel forgiven.”

“I don’t feel saved after some of the things I’ve done.”

“I feel so bad. I know God says He has forgiven me, but my heart says otherwise.”

Every pastor gets this. People who have grown up in sound churches and call themselves Bible-believing Christians fall prey to this malady of judging their standing with the Heavenly Father by their feelings.

I suspect we’ve all done it.  I surely have.

As though one’s feelings about anything are accurate, consistent, dependable.

Martin Luther had a word for all who find themselves tangled in the struggle with their feelings:

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Rescuing ourselves from bondage to our emotions

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. ” (Galatians 5:16)

Brothers and sisters. If you would be spiritually mature and successful in the Christian life, you must rescue your spiritual life from bondage to your emotions. –J. Sidlow Baxter, speaking to Mississippi Baptists in the mid-1970s.

The church lady said to me. “If I don’t feel like doing something, my heart would not be in it, and the Lord said we are to serve Him with all our heart. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

I said, “So, if you don’t feel like reading your Bible or going to church or apologizing to a neighbor, you don’t do it. Right?”

She: “Right. It would be hypocritical.”

Me: “Well. May I ask you, do you ever wake up on Monday morning and not feel like going to work? Or, when you were a teen, were there early mornings when you did not feel like getting up and going to school?”

She: “That’s different.”

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How to preach about America in the worst way

Preacher Driftwater told me, “I want to preach about America in the worst way.”

I told him it’s been done.

What he said is not what he meant, of course.

The worst way to preach about America is negatively.

“The world is going to hell.” “America is decaying from within.” “The country is becoming socialist.” “The president is our worst enemy.” “The Supreme Court is ruining America.” “The home is breaking down. Marriage is a thing of the past. You can’t get a good two-dollar steak any more.”

Okay, strike that last one.

The U. S. Supreme Court has issue ruling after ruling that has changed the character of marriage, definition of gender, responsibilities of employers, and a hundred other things.

Conservatives are justifiably concerned. We are stuck with their decisions.

Does this mean the United States is through? Will God write ‘Ichabod’ over what used to be a great country? Should we preachers deliver its eulogy from our pulpits?

Not so fast.

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What if denominations quit numbering and counting?

“Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the Kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21).

Those who believe that every human is indwelt by God–and therefore, everyone is divine–love to quote (misquote) this passage. “The kingdom of God is in you.”

“I have god in me,” they will say, and reference this saying from our Lord.

The clear meaning of this teaching is that rather than God’s kingdom being something earthly, visible, and measurable, it is spiritual and inner, and therefore invisible and immeasurable.

Now, look at the context.

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Two great illustrations from the Amazon

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

One of the most productive things any minister does is spend time with a good friend bouncing ideas and stories off each other.

Their wives might not appreciate what they are accomplishing–it looks a lot like fun and if she is the left-brained pragmatic one in the family, she can cite a list of a hundred things her preacher-husband could be doing. But let the ministers insist. Resist.  Persist.

A pastor friend and I were in my office one morning, bouncing ideas and stories off each other. My favorite thing to do.

Somehow we began discussing the Amazon River. I have no idea how that happened.

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No cowards in Heaven. None.

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Numerous biblical texts stop me in my tracks and leave me gasping for air. None intrigues me more than this one in its announcement that cowards don’t make it to Heaven.

The fearful go to hell.

That clearly takes some explaining.

Some translations say the timid or the fearful.  I suspect someone somewhere reads that and thinks, “Man–they send you to hell for being shy? Who knew?”

It’s been said about those who settled the Old West that everyone was strong. The weak didn’t survive the trip and the cowards never started in the first place.

In the margin of my Bible above Revelation 21:8 is my scribble: Look who is leading this sad parade into hell!

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The leader who has never learned discipline is big trouble

Now, no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  (Hebrews 12:11)

You will know the name Jimmy Doolittle.

He flew bi-planes in World War I for the United States, and then barn-stormed throughout the 1920’s, thrilling auiences by taking risks you would not believe. He led the retaliatory bombing of Tokyo in early 1942, a few months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He played a major role in the Allied victory over the Axis, eventually becoming a General. His autobiography is titled I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.  It’s well worth reading.

Doolittle and his wife Joe (that’s how they spelled her name) had two sons, Jim and John, both of whom served in the Second World War.

The general wrote about the younger son:

John was in his plebe year at West Point and the upperclassmen were harassing him no end…. While the value of demeaning first-year cadets is debatable, I was sure “Peanut” could survive whatever they dreamed up. (p. 284)

Later, General Doolittle analyzes his own strengths and weaknesses and makes a fascinating observation:

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The overwhelming evidence of man’s lostness

One great evidence of the lostness of mankind is that people rarely look up from their daily lives to ask, “Where is all this headed? What is out there? Where are we going?”

I sit on my deck and watch the birds swarm around my feeders.  I keep them stocked and am delighted the birds love what I provide.  But never once has a bird looked up to indicate an appreciation for my efforts.  They are so like people it’s not funny.  We take everything for granted.

In a 1965 sermon, Billy Graham tells of the time when Robert Ingersoll, well-known atheist of the 19th century, was addressing an audience in a small town in New York. The orator forcefully laid out his doubts concerning a future judgement and the reality of hell.

At the conclusion, a drunk stood up in the back of the room, and said through slurred speech, “I sure hope you’re right, Brother Bob. I’m counting on that!”

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