You’ve heard them, I’m sure. Some well-intentioned but thoughtless man of God stands before a gathering of the Lord’s people and in urging us to evangelize our communities will overstate the case.
“Jesus told us to become fishers of men! He did not tell us to be keepers of the aquarium!”
Invariably, especially if the audience is made up almost exclusively of preachers, the statement will be met with a chorus of ‘amen’s.’
The only problem with that is while it sounds good, it is not so.
Jesus did not send His disciples just to reach lost sheep–He certainly did that–but commanded that we are to “feed my sheep.” In John 20, He gave that command to Simon Peter three times.
In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the pastors of Ephesus that they are to “shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.”
And here’s another one, the one that set me off this morning.
The book focused on the year 1940 and all the war-related events of that brief period: Hitler’s invasion of the Low Countries, Churchill’s coming to power, Dunkirk, the Blitz, FDR’s election to the third term, and the isolationism in the USA.
I emailed the author of my appreciation for the book and added, “That year is also special because I made my appearance on March 28, 1940.”
After thinking about that a moment, I added, “But don’t think me old just because I was born in 1940.”
Later, I wondered why I’d said that, since I do not know the author or expect to meet him. Why was that important to me?
It must be a personal thing.
None of us want to be pigeon-holed because of demographics or statistics, nor for preconceptions or ignorance. Just because you are a Southerner does not make you a redneck. Living in Mississippi does not mean you are barefooted. All Louisianians do not speak Cajun. All Yankees are not rude. All Democrats are not socialists nor all Republicans idiots.
“O Thou who dost hear prayer, to Thee all men come” (Psalm 65:2).
God hears prayers. It’s what He does.
God delights in answering the prayers of His children. Scripture is consistent on this.
The disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘Our Father….’” (Luke 11:1ff).
Slow down. Do not rush through the “Our Father” (what most of us call “The Lord’s Prayer”). Look how it begins.
You are praying to the Father. He is not just yours, of course, but “our” Father. He has quite the large family.
He is the Father. He birthed us. Created us. Redeemed us Knows us.
God is on your side. He is not impartial toward you and definitely not antagonistic. He wants to do well for you, to bless you in every way. Jesus said, “Fear not, little children. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
The concept of God as your Heavenly Father is the personal gift to you and me from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He knew the Father as no one else, and revealed Him to us that way. He frequently spoke of the oneness–the intimate relationship–He had with the Father before time began. (See John 17:5ff.)
A couple of times the Old Testament refers to God as the father of Israel, but nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures does anyone look toward the skies and address God as Father. We learned that from Jesus.
A program on a science channel dealt with “Venus: Earth’s Evil Twin.” The two planets are similar in size, and according to the experts, have the same origin. But Venus is hellish, with acidic atmosphere and temperatures in the monstrous range.
Early in the program, the scientists began telling how Earth’s future is to become as Venus is now. Not next week. But in the distant future.
Now, personally, I have no trouble with anything that occurs on this planet a billion years down the road, which is the time period the experts dealt with. For one thing, I won’t be here, and neither will you. For another, scripture says “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat” (2 Peter 3:12).
Wonder why the scientists feel the need to tell us such?
Watch enough such science shows, and you come away feeling that their purpose was to unnerve the viewer, to frighten the audience with the awful fate awaiting the planet and possibly to eradicate any primitive thoughts of a God who could be expected to rescue us from such a future.
I suspect their ploy works. If one watches enough of this stuff, it would.
But there is one thing–one word actually–which keeps people of faith grounded, one word which is our answer to those who would frighten us about the future of this universe.
“My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).
Bill Glass played a full career with the Cleveland Browns as an All-Pro defensive end before retiring for another career spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In his book Get in the Game, Bill Glass tells of the time his team was battling the St. Louis Cardinals (back when they were still in that city).
That day, Cleveland had St. Louis backed up to their own 5 yard line. Cardinal quarterback Charlie Johnson took the ball and was running around in the end zone looking for someone to throw it to. Meanwhile Bill Glass, right defensive end for Cleveland, was bearing down on him from his blind side, while Paul Wiggin, left end, was barreling toward Johnson from the other side.
It was a defensive end’s dream. They are about to sack the quarterback in his own end zone. This can be a game-changer. Bill could just hear the crowd cheering. This was going to be great.
To my knowledge, there’s nothing quite like Second Peter 1:10-12 anywhere else in the New Testament. From this text, we learn that prophets and angels often did their work without understanding the big picture.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances in which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
One of the bedrock principles of many Bible scholars holds that in order to understand a prophecy, a student should go back and try to learn what the prophet who announced it understood it to mean. What was in the mind of the one speaking?
As though the speaker was the ultimate authority on his prophecy.
This principle–clearly mistaken, according to the Apostle Peter–has led to the undermining of some of the great doctrines of the Christian faith (at least by some; not all, of course).
In fact, the prophets said more than they knew, says the Apostle Peter. They were the instruments of “the Spirit of Christ within them.”
Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church. He’s a media star. He’s pulling people out of the other churches.
Sound familiar? It’s not a new phenomenon.
“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.” (Acts 18:24)
Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul. Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.
What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot. A real hunk. Articulate in the pulpit. Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.
Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist. He made an impact wherever he went.
What’s more, he was good. He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.
Wait upon the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait upon the Lord. –Psalm 27:14
God’s times are not yours. He doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar. His alarm clock is broken. He doesn’t keep regular hours.
Lose the stop watch. Take a hammer to the timer. God is not going to order His actions by your schedule. Forget about showing Him your day-planner. He’s not impressed.
God in Heaven has His own plans, His own schedule, and His own purposes.
“Most great ministries are made in the crock-pot, not the microwave.” –Allan Taylor
“…and make disciples of all the nations….” (Matthew 28:18-20)
From where I sat as pastor, the deacon appeared to be brow-beating people into praying the sinner’s prayer with him, then accompanying him to church the following Sunday to make public this “commitment” and be baptized. The whipped look on their faces told all one would ever need to know.
So, one Sunday I asked his most recent trophy, a sad-looking lady, “Do you really want to do this? You know, you don’t have to be baptized if you don’t want to.” She said quietly that this was her choice. So, we baptized her and never saw her again.
In time, we changed the way we received church members to make certain we were not simply baptizing someone’s converts but were actually making disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus did not send us to make converts or church members. He did not command anyone to make decisions or pray a nice little prayer. He did not commission us to talk people into walking an aisle or undergoing baptism or getting religious.
A friend on the staff of a large church emailed about a family basically living in the ICU ward of a local hospital in our city. Doctors had told the parents nothing more can be done for the daughter. So they were standing by, waiting for God to take her home.
The friend asked if I could visit this family.
An hour later, I was in their hospital room.
The patient lay there heavily sedated, while family members and friends were seated around the room, talking softly. They greeted me warmly, having been informed that I was coming.
Two things about this family I found amazing. They had lived in the intensive care units of their hospital back home and this one in my city for over 40 days. And yet, there was such a steady peace and beautiful joy about them.
The question I face
That brings me to my dilemma, one I have frequently encountered when calling on the families of Godly people going through various kinds of crises: Do I enter into their joy or remain outside?