I was reminded by Facebook this morning that it was seven years ago today that I preached my father’s funeral. As you may imagine, this has me in an introspective mood today. In my reflection here are a few things I learned from my father’s funeral: Read More
If you read any of Paul’s epistles it’s easy to see that he had a one-track mind after he met Jesus Christ. What an encounter he had! You can read about his encounter with Jesus in Acts chapter 9. It wasn’t that Paul was blinded that made the most impact on him, though it certainly got his attention. Paul, after his encounter with Jesus was overwhelmed; not by the situation, not by the circumstance but by Jesus Himself!
Paul initially did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but when he met Jesus, that all changed. When Paul met Jesus he had to deal with him the same way everyone does as described by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. This paragraph in Lewis’ magnum opus has been distilled down by many as “liar, lunatic or Lord.” This is how C.S. Lewis describes how people must, or must not, view Jesus:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” This is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising [sic] nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
 C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. p. 52
 (Ephesians 6:18–20, ESV)
I’m preparing for my upcoming missions trip to Jamaica. I’ve been invited by my friend, and missionary, Cletus Titus to take a trip there and guest lecture in the Bible college which is something I’m very much looking forward to doing. Of course, I’m working on my lecture notes as I’ve been given the assigment of several topics within the realm of pastoral theology.
One of my assigments is the pastor in regard to government, politics and moral issues. The textbook covers the usual suspects in regard to morality: elections, politics, abortion, prayer in shcools and the public display of the Ten Commandments.
As an introduction to my lecture I wrote this statment:
The moral problems that we see in our country and culture are not stemming from a moral problem. The problem is spiritual. The problem with mankind is always, at its root, a spirtual problem. That being said, we will never fix the moral problems by addressing the moral problems but only by addressing the spiritual.
American Christianity has often failed at this. So many statements which are made reflect the fact that we still don’t get the above truth. So often, we hear statements repeated just because they sound good. (I’m not saying that I’m not guilty of this myself.)
One such statement that ran it’s course on the social media lately was that the tragedy that happened in the elementary school in Newtown Connecticut happened because prayer was taken out of the schools. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much a ridiculous statement. The sad part was that I saw a video clip of a professing atheist who actually got it right.
Actually, the atheist said something that makes a lot more since than what a lot of Christians have been saying. He said that what Christians were saying about the killings of the elementary kids in Newtown Connecticut had nothing to do with prayer not being in schools. This guy doesn’t believe in God but said something about Him that was absolutely true. I won’t get the quote exactly correct but is was basically that God could not be constrained by the lack of prayer in a school. He was right.
The atheist presumed that this meant God doesn’t exist. His assumption is, of course, incorrect but his statement is absolutely true. God is not bound by the lack of men’s prayer. It’s important that we not forget that. This truth doesn’t make me not want to pray, it makes me want to pray all the more. Why? because God, who is, tells me that I can pray; he tells me that I should pray!
Why did those children perish on that dreadful day? Because there’s evil in the world; that’s an undeniable spiritual problem. Why did God allow this to happen? Or, maybe a better question is why does God allow this evil to continue? Well, that’s not so easy to answer is it? Maybe it’s so others, hopefully many others will have the opportunity to be born into a right relationship with Him before He calls a halt to evil with supreme finality.
I believe God is, and I believe He knows what He’s doing. I also believe that all the moral problems that we see in our world are nothing more than a symptom. Our problem is spiritual and it will take a Spiritual solution to fix it.
Difficulty in ministry and even difficulty in declaring the Gospel does not indicate what God is doing with your labor or with His Gospel.
When Paul goes to Thessalonica (Acts 17), initially, both Jews and Gentiles respond favorably to the Gospel. Paul reasons in the synagogue and proves that the Messiah must have suffered and died, a concept lost to the Jewish people in their religion. Many people, Luke records, come to the faith in Jesus.
But, like usual for Paul and those who labored with him, jealousy with the religious group who worried that they would lose their power and influence began. Paul will be swiftly run out of town and left to wonder if the Thessalonican people will continue in the Gospel and whether the church will grow. Paul does not get to return to find out. These folks are so vicious they even follow Paul to Berea and try to disrupt the delivery of the Gospel there. Unable to go to Thessalonica himself, Paul sends Timothy to see what has become of the Christians and the church there.
This is where we get to see the incredible power of the Gospel of Christ. Against all odds, not only does the Gospel continue in the hearts and lives of those who heard and responded to it, but the church in Thessalonica becomes arguably the greatest church founded by Paul. As Paul writes to the church he tells them, even a little bit to his surprise, what he’s heard about them:
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-9)
Wow! Can you imagine being Paul and hearing Timothy’s account of what he found when he went to visit the Thessalonian church?!
This leads me to two conclusions:
First, the Gospel is not limited, in any way, by external circumstances. The Gospel is that powerful!
Secondly, whether you’re in vocational ministry or a volunteer, if you find yourself leading and ministering in times and places of difficulty, remember this: your labor for the Gospel is producing more than you would ever dream. Sometimes you don’t get to see it but the Gospel is still producing. It’s that powerful!
God’s at work, always at work, even when you can’t see it. Whether your a leader or volunteer in your church remember this, God’s ability is wrapped up in His Gospel not in our ability. Just declare and live the Gospel, give your life away and watch God do things that will glorify Him that will surpass anything you ever dreamed!
I’ve been invited to go to Jamaica next February and guest lecture at a Bible College. The subject; pastoral theology. As I sat across the lunch table from my friend and missionary and we discussed the class, he told me to plan to spend a session discussing things that came up, or that I learned as a pastor, that were never taught in college.
Man, do I ever have some stories….
But, it immediately brought to mind a passage of Scripture that I spend a lot of time returning to. It’s like a security blanket for me as a pastor, though it’s not really an overly happy text. It’s Paul writing to his protégée Timothy. The epistle is 2nd Timothy.
The tone of the letter is not necessarily happy but it is solid, you might even say foundational.
Paul is warning Timothy of the day we’re living in. As a matter of fact, it’s the day everyone one of us who give our lives for the Gospel live in. Every one of us since the beginning of the church. Paul tells Timothy that people won’t listen to sound doctrine and that people will seek teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. He also states that people will be lovers of self, self involved, unkind….all kinds of things. You can read the list yourself.
If you do what I do, then you know how difficult it can be at times. Even exasperating.
This is why I find such comfort in Paul’s “as for you” statements.
Here’s what he says to Timothy:
Paul tells Timothy that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” That doesn’t sound like good news. All of us who have given our lives to serve others “in Christ” find that. The difficulty is when you find out who it is that’s actually doing the persecuting. (That’s the biggest surprise of ministry in my estimation.)
It seems to be intimated by Paul that this persecution will cause some to quit. I guess all of us can have that come to mind from time to time. But, here’s where Paul’s first statement reminds of our uncrackable foundation. Paul tells Timothy to continue in what he has learned and believed. (2 Tim. 3:14) That is, that God has spoken and His Word, our Scriptures, are secure and profitable.
Paul warns Timothy of those who will not want to listen to “sound teaching” but Timothy is to “preach the Word.” I have resolved that my preaching and teaching ministry will be just this. Just preach the Bible. It’s all that we all need.
The second “but as for you” is one that I have underlined and highlighted in my Bible. This is the don’t quit encouragement to Timothy.
“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill you ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)
This should be the anthem of Gospel ministry! There’s no quit in this.
I look forward to teaching pastoral theology this winter in Jamaica. Maybe because it’s giving me a reason to remember exactly why it is that I do what I do. In the end, it’s because of Jesus. The ministry is something that causes us to reach people but it’s because of Jesus. He, the living Word, is our foundation. When we remember that, then whatever difficulties come, and many will come, our uncrackable, unbreakable, unshakable foundation will always be secure.
But as for you….