God Never Ceases Being God

Historian Cassius Dio told a story about Hadrian, a Roman Emperor (117-128 AD), and a woman who made a request of him as he passed by her way on a journey. Hadrian curtly replied, “I haven’t time”—to which the petitioner responded, “Then quit being emperor!” Upon hearing that rebuke, the emperor turned and granted the woman a hearing. 

Our God never ceases being alert to the cries of His children who are in intercessory prayer: “There is an eye that never sleeps, beneath the wing of night; there is an ear that never shuts, when sinks the beams of light.” We are thankful, therefore, that today—and every first Thursday of February—a National Prayer Breakfast is held at the United States Capitol. Initiated in 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower was president, this annual event has had as many as 3,500 in attendance. This year, between 200 and 300 were expected due to a major scaling back of invitations.

But we are thankful for any movement of men and women in Congress, along with the members of the Executive Branch, to call upon the Sovereign God of the universe for His grace and guidance. May it not be said of our America that “the Lord saw…and wondered that there was no intercessor.” (Isa.59:16)

Leonard Ravenhill once lamented of the church that there were many organizers, but few agonizers; many who pay, but few who pray; many resters, but few wrestlers; many who were enterprising, but few who were interceding; many who were not praying, but playing.” Paul, the Apostle, wrote to the first century church at Ephesus, “whereof I also…cease not to give thanks for you making mention of you in my prayers.” (Eph.1:16) To the saints at Philippi he wrote: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” (Phil.1:3) And to Timothy, in 2 Tim.1:3, he reminded his young protégé, “without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day.”

I have been humbled on several occasions by some friend, either one who is close by or one who is separated by many miles, that he (or she) prays every day for my wife and myself.  Many shut-in saints have encouraged us with that assurance, but sometimes those words come from a person that we would not have guessed would have been daily interceding before God’s throne of grace and mercy for us.  It is, to be sure, a humbling experience to know that; and it is, without doubt, why we have been able to continue for decades in the spiritual warfare of ministry without having been wiped out by the darts of the Wicked One. 

The early-church leader John Chrysostom is credited with saying: “A monarch vested in gorgeous habiliments is far less illustrious than a kneeling supplicant ennobled and adorned by communion with his God. Consider how august a privilege it is when angels are present, and archangels throng around, where cherubim and seraphim encircle with their blaze, the throne of God, that a mortal may approach with unrestrained confidence and converse with heaven’s dread sovereign. O what honor was ever conferred like that?”

About this privilege of prayer, we must remember to ask, seek, and knock. (Matt.7:7, 8)

We must have a clean heart (Ps. 66:18); we must petition in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-15) and be guided in our asking and seeking by His Word. (John 15:7) It is imperative, too, that we ask according to His will, not ours (I John 5:14); and there must be no unforgiving spirit harbored in our heart. (Mark 11:25, 26) Finally, we must be unselfish (James 4:3) and pray believing. (Mark 9:23, 24; 11:22-24)

History records an incredible prayer meeting that purportedly lasted 100 years, as related by Leonard Ravenhill in his book Revival Praying. He says that Count Zinzendorf, 18th century founder of the Moravian church, and a small group of believers were assembled in intercessory prayer when, “at precisely eleven o’clock in the morning on Wednesday the thirteenth of August, 1727, the Holy Ghost descended.” One bishop wrote of this, “When the Spirit came, was there ever in the whole of church history such an astonishing prayer meeting as which began in 1727? It went on one hundred years and was something absolutely unique! It was known as the ‘Hourly Intercession,’ which meant that by relays brethren and sisters made prayer to God without ceasing for all the work and wants of His church. Out of that small community, more than one hundred missionaries went from them in twenty-five years.”

F.B. Meyer, when once crossing the Atlantic by ship, was asked to address the passengers. At the Captain’s request, the pastor spoke on the subject of prayer. An agnostic who was present at the service was asked what he thought of Dr. Meyer’s sermon, to which he replied: “I didn’t believe a word of it.” That afternoon, on his way to a service, the agnostic passed an elderly woman sitting in a deck chair with both of her hands open and extended while she was apparently sound asleep. The agnostic, having some good-natured fun, pulled two oranges out of his pocket and put one orange into each of the woman’s hands. Later, passing back by where the woman had been sleeping, the agnostic found the woman happily munching on one of the oranges. He said to the woman, “You seem to be enjoying that orange,” to which she replied, “Yes, sir, my Father is very good to me.” “Your father! Surely your father cannot be alive still,” the agnostic replied. “Praise God!” she said, “He is very much alive!” “What do you mean?” queried the agnostic. She went on to explain, “I’ll tell you, sir. I have been seasick for days. I was asking God that He might somehow send me an orange. I suppose I fell asleep while I was praying. When I awoke, I found He had not only sent me an orange, but just like my Father, He sent me two oranges!” The astonished unbeliever came under conviction and was later led to Christ!

Never underestimate the power of prayer, or the possibility of any prayer being answered by our God. He hears your petitions millions of years before you mouth the words, as with Him there is no time but only infinity!

So, we applaud the National Prayer Breakfast today. You may be able to tune in via YouTube, CBN News, or C-Span.

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honestly. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” (I Tim. 2:1-3)

When Life Seems Unbearable

A pastor friend once wrote me: “Spurgeon said, in his lectures to his students, that ‘depression goes with the territory.’ I had just finished a rigorous two-year study leading to my doctorate. The course of study was completed and I was being awarded my hard-earned degree. Both my wife and I were excited as I walked across the platform. As we left to go home, I sensed in my body a letdown that I had never experienced before. Despite achieving at long last what I had worked so hard to get, the exhilaration of victory was no longer there. Instead, a sense of despair had entered in. I had gone from the mountain top to the valley in a matter of hours. I didn’t understand it. Over the next few weeks, that despair deepened and turned to darkness. Unbeknown to me at time, I had entered into a state of depression. Things were going well at the church. My marriage was stable, warm and affectionate. My body was free from disease. At the same time, things were beginning to fall apart inside of me. The process began with sleeplessness; then a dreadful sense of emotional despair entered my soul; then a series of events took place, which included ‘weariness in well doing;’ a dread of Sundays coming; long periods of crying; a loss of appetite, accompanied with a loss of weight; aloofness, along with a touch of paranoia.” (Used by permission)

I am a pastor, not a psychologist, so I approach this subject from that perspective.  I know depression is real; that it can cripple believers; that its causes are sometimes physiological and not necessarily spiritual. I have, through the course of my ministry, counseled godly people who suffered from depression, but my counsel was never given with the intent that the sufferer need never seek the assistance of a professional clinician. I was quick to offer spiritual counsel with biblical support, but I never presumed that all who suffered depression were suffering solely from a spiritual malady. My pastor friend whose testimony I have shared sought and found good medical counsel and, following a month’s rest, returned to resume his successful pastorate of many years. He is still ministering the Word of God more than 30 years later.

Too many times, I have been made aware of the debilitating effects of depression.  A few years ago, I received a lengthy, anonymous email from a lady who was reaching out in desperation for help. A few of her pleas were, “I’m in trouble. I keep thinking about not wanting to live and the thoughts are scaring me. I am a new Christian. I know God lives and I experience His presence daily; People say pray and praise (there are days when it is an effort to even open my eyes). Most days I want to be dead and with God. I dread being alive.  All I have ever been is someone else’s emotional punching bag or dumping ground. People who I never did anything to have hurt me. My parents reminded me I was worthless….”

I have other similar expressions of people who have been rendered emotionally, physically, and spiritually incapacitated by what is commonly called depression.  It is real. It is no respecter of persons. Some people will never be bothered by it, just as some folk never get the flu or a common cold or appendicitis, while others do. But, for those who are attacked by it at some time or other, the common symptoms are not foreign to them:  loss of sleep, appetite, and weight; loss of energy, interest and drive; incoherency; memory loss; excessive anxiety and psychic pain (just as real as physical pain), among others.

A man after God’s own heart knew what it was to suffer depression. David pulls back the curtain and lays bare his own experience in Psalm 77. He recalls a time in his life when he was emotionally, mentally, and spiritually distraught, and “my soul refused to be comforted…my spirit was overwhelmed.” (Ps. 77:2, 3) He felt as though the situation was hopeless, could not sleep or speak, spent a lot of time thinking on the past with thoughts that turned inward, and even questioned God’s mercy and grace (vss. 6-9). For David, his spirit was about as low as it could go.

In arriving at a solution to this insufferable personal dilemma, David declared: “And I said, this is my infirmity.” He put everything into perspective, and in so doing ceased to blame God and others; he affirmed that he would meditate upon the “years of the right hand of the most High; the works of the Lord, the wonders of old and… meditate also of all Thy work, and talk of all Thy doings.” Interestingly, in the first 12 verses of this Psalm, David used the first-person pronoun 25 times, more than two times per verse. But in the last eight verses, he used the third-person pronoun 16 times, twice per verse.  He got his eyes off of himself and onto His Sovereign God, whose way is “in the sanctuary,” and whose arm “redeemed thy people.” (Ps.77:11, 15)

Godly men and women have suffered from depression. Alan Redpath, former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, once sank into the depths of despondency following a near-fatal stroke. He prayed: “O, Lord, take me right home!” At that point, Redpath later testified, it was as if the Lord said: “It is I, your Savior, who brought this experience into your life to show you that this is the kind of person—with all your sinful thoughts and temptations which you thought were things of the past—that you always will be, but for My grace.”

Cathy Rice once wrote of a time when she was home with four lively little children while her evangelist husband was on the road, and all of the children were sick at the same time: “I felt I could take no more and was almost ready to give up!  I was miserable…one day I was desperate and full of tears and began to read my Bible, which opened up to Proverbs 3:5, 6: ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.’ That was just what I needed.”

And that is always, for the believer, the first and best place to go to for help! God’s Word. Sometimes you will and should seek the help of a counsellor; sometimes it might be necessary to access medical or clinical help. But don’t forget what David said when he was so far down, he could only look up: “I remembered God…I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old; I will meditate also of all Thy work, and talk of Thy doings.” (Ps. 77:3, 11, 12)

“Look around and be distressed.  Look inside and be depressed.  Look to Jesus and be at rest.”

Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” (I Peter 5:7)

For Preachers Only

Well, not really for preachers only, but for anyone interested in preaching which, I trust, will include most anyone who subscribes to “You and God.” I have been a lover of preaching ever since I first set foot in a Bible-preaching church at the ripe old age of six. It has been my privilege to have been a preacher starting unofficially when I was about 18 years old.  What I am going to share with you is nothing original with me, but is some of the best advice I have collected through the years directed to preachers who desire to become more effective in preaching. I hope you will be blessed, if not benefited, by this post.

Haddon Robinson, a teacher of homiletics, says there are three kinds of sermons from the perspective of a listener: “Those I can’t listen to, those I can listen to, and those I must listen to. One of the greatest sins of a sermon is for it to be boring. For communication to be effective it must be verbal, vocal and visual. Movement, animation, humor, intensity and good illustrations are all part of a good sermon. To be effective with an audience, a sermon must have first been effective in the preacher’s life. Longfellow once said, ‘A sermon is not a sermon unless I feel my heartbeat.’ This should be true for the listener and the speaker.”

Dr. Bob Kelley was a faithful pastor for 43 years before being called home to heaven in 2006. In 2007, Sword of the Lord printed an article by Dr. Kelley entitled “The Greatest Lessons I have Learned as a Preacher of the Gospel.”  Here are a few of them: (1) Your best sermon is your family; love your wife, and teach your children to stay close; (2) Empty wells produce dead cats and dry leaves—personal devotions are a must to prevent burnout and keep a fresh presence of the Lord; (3) Love people as they are, rough edges and all, and never, ever give up on them. (4) You do not get what you want in life, you get what you are—character matters. (5) Never, ever lose your burden for souls; (6) Guard your tongue; (7) Learn to calculate what is worth making an issue over; learn the difference between convictions and preferences. (I will share more of Dr. Kelley’s life lessons in a future column.)

Dr. Robert McCheyne was a great Scottish pastor. A visitor to Dundee, Scotland, attempted to find someone who could share some memories of the great preacher. He found an old man who had known the pastor and his preaching. “Can you tell me some of the texts of McCheyne’s great sermons?” he asked.” “I don’t remember them,” said the old man, shaking his head. “How about some of his striking sentences he uttered, or some of his best sayings?” “I’ve forgotten them entirely,” was the reply. Greatly disappointed, the visitor in desperation said, “Don’t you remember anything at all about him?” “Ah,” replied the old man, brightening, “that is a different question. One day when I was a laddie playing by the roadside, Robert McCheyne came along and, laying his hand upon my head, said, ‘Jamie, I’ve been to see your sick sister. I’m always glad to see her and help her as I can.’ Then he paused and after looking a bit into my eyes added, ‘And, Jamie, I’m very much concerned about your own soul.’ I’ve forgotten his texts and grand sermons, sir, but I can still feel the tremble of his hand and see the tear in his eye.” It’s obvious, but a lesson we dare not lose:  Preachers must love people, all kinds of people, without qualification, loving them for Christ’s sake even as He loved us and gave Himself for us.

Next, preachers must love to preach! That’s what God has called you to do. It must ever be your primary concern and foremost passion. One man of God put it this way: “I would rather preach than do anything else in the world. I would rather preach than eat my dinner or have a holiday. I would rather pay to preach than be paid not to preach. It has its price in agony, sweat and tears; and no calling has such joys and heartbreaks, but it is a calling an archangel might covet. Is there any joy like that of saving a soul? Any thrill like that of opening blind eyes? Any reward like the love of children to the second and third generation? Any treasure like the grateful love of hearts blessed and comforted?” (Samuel Chadwick)

Rev. George Ridout lamented the weak pulpits of his day: “We are suffering today from a weak pulpit and pointless preaching.  We have clever speakers but few prophets; we have too few fearless speakers for God and truth. We have the best paid and best educated ministry but too much of it is popular, flabby and insipid and stirs neither heaven or hell. We sadly lack men to whom the pulpit is a throne of power; we have too many men flying kites of superficial thinking instead of men whose utterances burn and whose sermons scorch the wicked. We have too many who coddle the saints and fail to collar the sinners. The American pulpit needs a great awakening.” One might guess these were words of a contemporary commentator on the pulpits of America, but George Whitefield Ridout lived in the Toronto area, where he was a lawyer, judge and businessman in the early 1800’s. His concerns for the pulpits of his day are still apropos two hundred years later!

(More on preaching in a forthcoming installment of “You and God.”)

Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim.4:2)

Forgiveness

A Spanish father and son had a falling out, and the son ran away. The father, overcome with remorse about how he had treated his son, and having looked for months for him, in desperation ran this ad in the Madrid newspaper: “Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon on Friday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” That Friday at noon, in front of the newspaper office, 800 Pacos showed up, all of them looking for love and forgiveness from their fathers.

Unforgiveness is a terrible alien for anyone to harbor, especially followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. He concluded His model prayer with the admonition, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6: 14,15)

In his book The Progress of the Jesuits, James Broderick observed that Pope Paul IV “never forgot…incidents, which was one of his fundamental weaknesses. He might bury the hatchet for a time, but he gave the impression of always carefully marking the spot.” (From Haddon Robinson, “How Much Can You Forgive?”)

Believers simply cannot live with a spirit of unforgiveness: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” (Col. 3:13)

Jesus related a kingdom of heaven parable about a man who had been forgiven a staggering debt (10,000 talents). He then found a man who owed him 100 pence but could not pay and, turning a deaf ear to the debtor’s piteous pleas, had him thrown into prison until he could pay all. When the lord who had forgiven the heartless man a huge sum heard of this travesty, he found the wicked servant and “delivered him to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due unto him.” Jesus concluded with this lesson: “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (Matt. 18:23-35)

It is a dreadful plight to be turned over to the tormentors. Maybe the leader of the tormenting pack is bitterness. You go to bed with it, nurse it through the night, and when you are exhausted by the dawn of day, there it is in your day’s first thoughts. But bitterness is not alone in the tormenting troupe: there follows close by anger, resentment, hatred, envy, malice, scorn and, yes, even murder. Oh, did I mention guilt, pride, loneliness, sorrow, and memory as cousin tormenters of bitterness?  It is a plague that only the grace of God, with His unfathomable forgiveness, can cure. The price one pays for allowing these spiritual renegades to take up residence in one’s heart is too horrific to describe!

Struggling with these tormenters?  If so, camp on Eph. 4:31,32: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:  And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Robert Lee, President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, was known as a man who could forgive his enemies, never holding a grudge.  On one occasion, he met a woman who laboriously lamented the fact that during the war, soldiers had scarred a beautiful and treasured tree that had adorned the front yard of her family’s home for decades. When given the opportunity to respond, having listened patiently for quite a while, the general said, “Cut it down, madam, and let it go.”

Forgiveness: it must be a priority.  You will not be forgiven unless you first forgive.

  • The Prerequisites for forgiveness: a desire to please God; a willingness to abandon personal rights; cultivating a love for others as God loves you; and a moment by moment walking in the Spirit.
  • The Principle of forgiveness:  unconditional and unending: 70×7 plus.
  • The Practice of forgiveness: “As God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
  • The Price of forgiveness:  Your pride: confession, humility, repentance.
  • The Pattern: of forgiveness: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave thy gift…go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matt.5:23, 24)
  • The Process of forgiveness:  It begins with the new birth and ends with the new body.
  • The Prize: An assurance of answered prayers; enhanced ability to love, and deliverance from the tormentors. (Mark 11:25, 26; Luke 7:47; Matt. 18:15)

When Leonardo da Vinci was painting his masterpiece, The Last Supper, he became quite angry with a friend, launching into a tirade of hot and bitter words, even threatening the friend with vengeance.  Returning to his canvas, he began to paint the face of Jesus. He found, however, that he was so perturbed that he could not compose himself sufficiently for the delicate work before him. He went out immediately, sought his friend, and humbly asked for forgiveness. Then the artist was able to return to complete the work at hand as he finished painting the face of the Savior. (Copied/Unknown)

Forgiveness is powerful.  Give it a try!

“Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matt.18:21, 22)

That Smacks of Heresy!

To be labeled a heretic is a serious charge that no believer would want to wear. The word means, in its root form, “to take to one’s self.” From that core meaning, heresy became known as a disunion, a schismatic, a choice, a sect. Paul instructs Titus that if there is a heretic in the body, he should be warned once, maybe twice, then rejected if he persists, “knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” (Titus 3:10)

As he writes to the carnal Corinthian believers, establishing proper protocol for the keeping of the Lord’s table, Paul bluntly states that “there must also be heresies among you that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” (I Cor. 11:19) That clarification followed Paul’s acknowledgment that he had heard, and was inclined to believe, that there were divisions amongst the members. Then followed the Apostle’s instructions about how the Lord’s Table should be administered.

Thus, heresies and heretics were at work in the earliest days of the New Testament church, and they have wormed their way through His Body to the present. When Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, he mentions heresies right there in the midst of the worst kinds of transgressions: “…idolatry, witchcraft, hatred…wrath, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.” (Gal.5:22) Peter says in his epistle that false prophets were among the people who “privily shall bring in damnable heresies.” (2 Pet.2:1)

Heresies were present from the beginning, even before the New Testament epistles were written, the most notable being Gnosticism.  That false doctrine propounded that humans are divine souls, trapped in material bodies and created by an imperfect god.  Paul combated this heresy in Galatians and other books. Not long after the Apostles were gone from the scene, Arianism poked up its theologically deformed head—teaching that Jesus, like all human beings, was created by the Father, was not divine, had a beginning like every other being, and that ”Son of God” was a title given to Him out of courtesy.

Many other theological aberrations surfaced through the ages. In time, the Roman Catholic Church considered itself to be the bastion of “orthodoxy,” and from that pinnacle of power it labeled any non-conformist body or movement, many of which were truly New Testament bodies, as heretics. The most egregious of them all, in Roman Catholic thinking, was of course Protestantism and its reformers.

But what about today? Are there schismatics still at work, planting seeds of division in His Body? To be sure, there are. When I was a seminary student nearly 60 years ago, there was a charismatic pastor who mesmerized his followers with his brilliant mind, his apparent command of Biblical languages, and his unique ability to organize and catalogue a system of doctrines using language and terminology peculiar to him. His ministry broadened from the local church he pastored to a nation-wide following of disciples who read his books and listened to his tapes. Many good, Bible-loving people defended his ministry and promoted it. But when it became known that he had purged the word “blood” from all hymnals used in the church he pastored, his heresy was manifested to all, and many of his followers abandoned him. I offer this illustration as just one of many examples in our day of heresies.  Many others could be named: Calvinism (limited atonement), the Modern Tongues Movement, Baptismal Regeneration, Ultra-Dispensationalism, King James Only (some make it a test of fellowship and are mean-spirited, castigating all who disagree with them), and more.

There are some hallmarks of heresies and heretics. They include an “intellectual” approach with an individualistic style, accompanied by an inordinate authoritarianism; a tendency toward some extreme, a man-centered ministry; a rejection of most other ministries, and of the Church at large; an intolerance of anyone who disagrees with them; a doctrinal system built on taking a few verses out of context, and not comparing scripture with scripture; and often a mean-spirited, divisive demeanor that does not smack of Christian charity or a Christ-like attitude.

In this 21st century, it is so easy to tune in to ministries that broadcast to world-wide audiences.  We can and should thank God for the blessing of “attending church” via streaming and media opportunities at our finger-tips. The recent pandemic opened up a whole new world and way of listening to, and broadcasting, the Word of God. But with that, and with the blossoming of new ways of communicating, comes the dangers of deception. If Satan was able to deceive Eve when she had a mind that had not yet been darkened by the fall, he is able with his wiles to deceive the masses yet today. And through heresies he is able to spoil once vibrant lighthouses where local churches beamed the life-saving gospel.

It behooves us, then, to beware.  The churches singled out by Jesus with a special letter addressed to them in the book of Revelation had been, in part at least, infected by doctrinal deviation even before the close of the first century. Satan is a master deceiver and divider.  Be on guard for his damnable heresies, and do not let Paul’s advice to Titus fall on deaf ears today. After one, maybe two, admonitions, reject the heretic for the good—the spiritual survival—of the body.

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God:  because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1)

Psalm of the Senior Saint

When I preached a message from Psalm 71 in 1989, I began, “If time continues, sociologists are saying that the world may be ruled by what they call a ‘gerontocracy.’ By the year 2000, there will be 32-36 million senior citizens in the U.S. (there were 39 million), and twice that by the year 2020.” (There are now 54.1 million citizens of the United States who are 65 years of age or older).

Old age, as we know it now, can be both a blessing and a burden. A noted psychologist said that most men are “old fogies” at 25, suggesting that one’s mental attitude has a lot to do with the matter of age. Jack Benny, who never admitted to being over 39, said age was just mind over matter: if you didn’t mind, it didn’t matter! One senior citizen wrote a poem lamenting some of what those who are growing old must endure:

“Thought I’d let my doctor check me, cause I didn’t feel quite right.  All those aches and pains annoyed me, and I couldn’t sleep at night. He could find no real disorder, but he wouldn’t let it rest; what with Medicare and Blue Cross, it would not hurt to do some tests. To the hospital he did send me, though I didn’t feel that bad; he arranged for them to give me, every test that could be had!  I was fluoroscoped and cystoscoped, my aging frame displayed; stripped upon an ice-cold table, while my gizzards were x-rayed.  I was checked for worms and parasites, for fungus and the crud; while they pierced me with long needles, taking samples of my blood. Doctors came to check me over, probed and pushed and poked around, and to make sure I was living, they wired me for sound. They have finally concluded, (their results have filled a page); what I have will someday kill me, my affliction is OLD AGE!”

Because of the physical-mental-spiritual complexity of human beings, the aging process brings changes that are sometimes not pleasant to deal with. Senility, the loss of control of some bodily functions, Alzheimer’s disease, the passing of many of our dearest friends, arthritis, loss of memory, and a host of other complications work upon the minds of those staring old age in the face. Apart from God’s grace, one can be overwhelmed by it all. Yes, old age can be something to anticipate with great pleasure or face with deep pain. David, the psalmist, knew this, and in the sunset years of his life he wrote a Psalm that any adult would benefit from reading and pondering. It is Psalm 71.

  • David’s Refuge, vss. 1-8: He found that God was his refuge from predicaments, or as he put it, from “confusion.”  He prayed God would deliver him in His righteousness, be his strong habitation to which he could resort, and deliver him out of the hand of the wicked. He affirms that God had been his help from his youth up and had held him from his mother’s womb. People looked at David in wonderment as they saw in him one whose refuge was the living God, so that David exclaimed “Let my mouth be filled with praise and with thy honour all the day.” (v.8)
  • David’s Reservation, vss. 9-11. David was honest in admitting his concern for God’s presence and for His protection as he faced growing old. “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” (v.9) Such fear, probably not uncommon in the minds of our senior citizens, might have been what has given birth to the following “Beatitudes of the Aged:” “Blessed are they who understand my faltering step and palsied hand. Blessed are they who know that my ears today must strain to catch the things they say; Blessed are they that seem to know my eyes are dim and my wits are slow. Blessed are they who looked away when coffee spiled at the table today. Blessed are they with a cheery smile, who stop to chat for a little while. Blessed are they who never say, ‘You’ve told that story twice today.’ Blessed are they who know the way to bring back memories of yesterday. Blessed are they who make it known that I’m loved, respected and not alone. Blessed are they who know I’m at a loss, to find the strength to carry a cross. Blessed are they who ease the days on my journey Home in loving ways.”
  • David’s Resolve, vss. 14-24. David said that he would “hope continually.” (v.14) Not only righteousness, His wondrous works and His power (vss.15-18) would be the subjects of the psalmist’s praise.

Perhaps this would be an appropriate prayer: “Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and someday will be old. Keep me from getting talkative, particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and every occasion.

Release me from the craving to try to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains. Help me to endure them with patience. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains. They are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a super saint—some of them are so hard to live with—but a sour old woman or man is one of the crowning works of the Devil. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it; but Thou, Lord, knowest that I want a few friends at the end. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And give me, Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.” (Author Unknown)

Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not, until I have shewed Thy strength unto this generation, and Thy power to everyone that is to come.” (Ps.71:18)

The Slander of Many

What David said, most of us could affirm: “I have heard the slander of many.” (Ps. 31:13) Slander is surely one of the besetting sins of saints.  The New Testament epistles are replete with references to this sin. Paul said, “Being defamed, we entreat.” (I Cor. 4:13) Synonyms for slander include the word Paul used in the passage just cited, as well as “backbiting,” “evil speaking,”and “blasphemy.” (2 Cor. 12:20, I Pet. 2:1 and 2 Pet. 2:10)

Slander is making a false statement about someone that is damaging to his reputation. Slander is the spoken version of libel, which is putting the false statement into written form. In some instances, it is a crime and can be prosecuted under defamation laws.

Here is an example of how someone can slander another person. The setting is an aisle of a local supermarket, where Oscar Bruhaha meets up with choir member Sister Saint. After they greet one another, Sister Saint says, “Well, how’d you like the new minster?”

Oscar: “Don’t rightly know, jest yet. It bothers me he’s from Missouri though. Ain’t never had a Yankee for a preacher down in these parts.”

Sister: “Yep, me too, but there’s sumpin what bothers me more.”

Oscar: “What be that Sister Saint?”

Sister: “I heared he’s a cravinist!”

Oscar: “What’s that, Sister?”

Sister: “Oh, you know, they bleve God damns sum to Hell and lects sum to heav’n and that’s it!”

Oscar: “Oh, you mean like them Hard Shell Babitists does?”

Sister: “Yep, no choice, no chance: all set up head uv time.”

Oscar: “I declare! Why on earth did our decons ever bring in someone like that?”

Sister: “Dunno, but I know one thing—he won’t last long here. Brudder Rash will have hiz hide!”

Oscar: “Well, did you ever? A cravinist right here in Hope Holler! What’s this world cumin to!”

Ok, if you remember Paul Harvey, here’s the “rest of the story.” The new pastor was a Yankee, from Missouri, a state that never left the Union during the Civil War.  He was not a Calvinist (Cravinist), though someone heard him attempting to expound on I Peter 1:2  (“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father….”) and, taking a couple of his statements out of context, concluded that he believed that some were elected to salvation and others were elected to eternal damnation. The word quickly spread through “Hope Holler” and, as was predicted, Deacon Rash rushed to diffuse the unrest. In less than three months, the new preacher and his little wife were packing their bags.  The culprit: slander.  The young pastor tried earnestly and honestly to assure his congregation that he believed Christ died for every sinner and that “whosoever” would call upon the name of the Lord would be saved. But all to no avail! The misrepresentation of what the pastor had actually taught stuck. And down went another victim to slander.

It is a sin as old as time. The deceiving devil slandered God to Eve when he said that she would not die, but that God was withholding the fruit of that tree from the couple because He knew that in the day that they ate from it their eyes would be opened, “and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” From that beginning in the garden of Eden, slander has been a dark thread woven through the pages of history—causing division, divorce, destruction and death. It is doubtful that any human being, alive or dead, has avoided its clutches. Most everyone has, at some time or other, probably been guilty of perpetrating this evil—and been its victim.

The Devil is the master of it, and those schooled by him have employed slander to bring about the most heinous of crimes. Jesus was crucified because of slander. The Pharisees were constantly accusing Christ of blasphemy, saying that He did what he did by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. The Pharisees did this because they envied Jesus and the following He had of the multitudes, along with the power He demonstrated by healing the sick of all manner of diseases. Pilate, Matthew explains, knew that “for envy they had delivered Him” to be crucified. (Matt. 27:18) Envy led to slander. The scribes and chief priests sought false witnesses against Jesus, though they found none until finally two witnesses came and said that Jesus had claimed He was able to destroy the temple of God. Mark wrote that the chief priests accused Jesus of many things. Luke wrote that the same slanderers said to Pilate, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar.” (Luke 23:2) Hearing lie after lie, Pilate finally released Jesus to be crucified—a victim of unrestrained slander from some of the most renowned religionists in history!

Solomon warned that “he who spreads slander is a fool.” (Provs. 10:18). The 9th commandment reads that one should not bear false witness against his neighbor. (Ex. 20:16) In Leviticus 19:16, God said that “You shall not go about as a slanderer.” And, God warns that the person who “secretly slanders his neighbor him will I destroy.” (Ps. 10:15) Writing to New Testament saints, James says: “Speak not evil one of another, brethren, He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law.” (James 4:11)

Sometimes it can appear as a subtle sin, and it may as such surface as a “prayer request.” In a local church prayer meeting, it may sound like this: “Pray for my sister and her husband: they just bought a new BMW and no one knows where they got the money for such an expensive new car. Just pray for them, that he has not gone back to his old ways.”

In light of how devastating this ubiquitous sin is, ought we not all join David in his prayer: “Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.” (Ps. 120:2)

Yes, from the lying lips and deceitful tongue of others, and from the sin whereby our own lips become lying lips and our own tongue becomes a deceitful tongue!  Deliver my soul, O Lord, indeed!

For I have heard the slander of many…But I trusted in Thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God.” (Ps. 31:13, 14)

On Duty

“Open the gate, my boy,” said the rider who headed the hunting party. “I’m sorry, Sir,” answered the boy, “but my father sent me to say that you must not hunt on his grounds.”

“Do you know who I am?” demanded the man gruffly.

“No, Sir,” answered the boy.

“I am the Duke of Wellington.”

The boy took off his cap to the great man. But he did not open the gate. “The Duke of Wellington will not ask me to disobey my father’s orders,” he said quietly.

Slowly the man took off his hat, and smiled. “I honor the boy who is faithful to his duty,” said the great man, and with that his party rode away. (copied)

Webster defines “duty” thusly: “That which one is bound, by any natural, legal, or moral obligation, to pay, do or perform.”

Many would not like to think that we should render service to Christ as a matter of duty. We would like to feel, rather, that we would render service to our Lord as a matter of love. But duty is the right word. We are called servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ, as were James, Peter, John and Jude. The word “servant” means “bond-slave.” Bond-slaves are duty-bound. They render service out of duty.

Like it or not, as a believer you are duty-bound. Daniel Webster said, “A sense of duty pursues us ever. It is omnipresent, like the Deity.  If we take to ourselves the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, duty performed or violated is still with us—for our happiness or our misery. If we say the darkness shall cover us, in the darkness as in the light our obligations are yet with us.”

So, as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is:

  1.  The Duty of undaunted service to Him and to His Church.  Each believer has received a gift (I Peter 4:10) that equips him or her for service. It may be the gift of teaching, of administration, of serving, of giving, of helps, prophecy, or exhortation (Rom. 12:6-8), but as a member of His Body, the Church, each follower of His has been equipped with a gift to be exercised in the building up of His Body. The exercise of those gifts may be daily, as in Ezra 3:4, where in worship the Israelites “offered daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required.”  Day after day, month after month, it was a repetitious duty. Then, too, it might have gotten to be monotonous—as is much of what we do in life. A laborer stands at a punch-press eight hours a day and may well battle  monotony with the job, but he has a family to support and mouths to feed and his work is his duty, and he does it therefore with thankfulness. Or, it may be an inglorious job to which you are called. Others may be on the front lines, where the action is, while you are just “staying by the stuff.” But when the battle is over and the spoils of victory are divided, the ones who faithfully discharged their duty by staying by the stuff will receive an equal reward with those who fought on the front lines. (I Sam. 30:24)
  • The Duty of undivided submission. The servant does not question the wisdom of the Master. “Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20) “The servant is not greater than his Lord,” (John 13:16) and we are “in His house,” not over it. A great orchestra conductor was once asked what the most difficult position in the orchestra to fill was, to which he replied: “Second fiddle. Everyone wants to play first fiddle.” We are called to execute His commands and to follow His orders. Jesus to His disciples: “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). As a servant, our first duty is to obey His orders. Lord Nelson, the celebrated English naval general, said in his dying words, “I have done my duty.  Praise God for it.” At the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson raised the banner before his men, and the banner simply said, “Not glory, not victory, not honor, not country, but duty.”
  • The Duty of undying support. Our labor is that of supporting our Lord. We support His kingdom work through life, and we support it unto death. “The way of duty is often rugged, but it is always royal. It gives dignity to life from the moment we take our first step.” David said: “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Ps. 84:10) “No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus said. We will give Him our undying loyalty and allegiance until death or we will forfeit the crown which He promised: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)

The early-Church leader Polycarp was given the option of denying his Lord or going to the stake, to which he replied: “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He hath done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?” He was faithful, loyal, dutiful—even unto death.

So, as we face the challenges of another new year, “remember the value of time, the necessity of perseverance, the pleasure of working, the worth of character, the dignity of simplicity, the power of kindness, the wisdom of saving, the virtue of patience, the beauty of cheerfulness, the influence of example, and the obligation of duty.” (copied)

So, likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)

The Call to Preach, Part 2

In the previous installment of “You and God” I discussed, in general, the call to preach. If you are interested in what constitutes a call to “full-time” gospel ministry, specifically to preach or pastor or to be in vocational ministry that involves a teaching/preaching ministry, I encourage you to read that discussion (“You and God,” January 3, 2023). I cited several scriptural references and noted some biblical, early-church precedents. This discussion is organized around four defining elements of the call to preach:  Confirmation, Conviction, Commission, and Commitment.

First, Confirmation.  It’s one thing for a person to have an experience and announce that God has called him to preach.  Well and good and praise the Lord! We would anticipate, therefore, that this person would be, in due season and after a reasonable time to prepare some messages, preaching!  When and if that happens, there should be a confirmation. The Holy Spirit, first of all, should confirm that call in the heart of the preacher, and there ought to be a confirmation from the hearers of the message.  People to whom the preacher ministers will acknowledge that they were blessed, edified, and stirred by the preaching. If a man has the call of God upon him to preach the Word, the people of God will attest to that by their responses. It does not have to be an overwhelming response, but the people of God will let one know that they are blessed by, and convinced of the call of God upon, the man of God.  Often, would-be preachers confuse the “call to preach” with the putting of a man into the pastorate.  If you are called to preach, then preach. You do not have to have a pulpit in a well-furnished auditorium with a friendly audience.  Preach in a rescue mission, a nursing home, a street corner, a prison—or wherever the opportunity presents itself. If God has called you to preach, you will have a divinely-given burden upon you to share, to warn, and to instruct others of God’s Word and His ways.  You will find, or make, opportunities to preach the Word! And, when you do, there will be someone—maybe a few, maybe many—who will affirm to you that God has called you to preach, without a doubt.  There will be a confirmation of others to your call.

Second, Conviction. When a young man feels called to preach and announces it to his pastor; or, when a council of august men at the time of “ordination” hears his testimony and listens to his statement of beliefs based on his understanding of scriptures, often someone will say: “So you feel called to preach, to pastor; my counsel is that if you can be happy doing anything else, it would be wise not to pursue ministry as a vocation.” Usually the man being ordained will, without hesitation, let it be known that he is fully convinced that he could not be happy doing anything else, because he is absolutely convinced and convicted that God has called him to preach. This unshakable conviction is a must for anyone who desires the office of a bishop or a full-time ministry vocation. That is why, when a pulpit committee interviews a “candidate” for a vacant pulpit, the applicant for the office is not concerned about the benefits that may accrue with the position. He is convinced that God has called him to preach and that God will, therefore, take care of his needs. Salary and/or benefits are not the “front burner” issues. The issues are, rather, Does God want me here? What is His will for this church at this time? And, am I a part of His immediate plan for this local church?  A call to preach, to pastor, must be accompanied by an unwavering conviction that God has issued that call and that nothing that man could say or do would change that conviction.

Third, Commission. Every New Testament servant of the Lord Jesus Christ should be identified with a local, New Testament church. It is to the Church that Christ has given gifted servants to “perfect the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12). No minister of the gospel, called of God, is a “lone ranger.” He operates as an integral part of the local church of which he is a member.  Whether he is an evangelist or a missionary; laboring at home or abroad; independently or under the auspices of a mission or ministry board, his or her first accountability is to the local church from which he or she is sent. The local church commissions pastors, teachers, missionaries, and/or evangelists, either formally or informally, to minister either in the local church or as an extension of that local church as a sending church. Any parachurch laborer would be wise to seek the endorsement of his local church and, when feasible, the financial and prayerful support of that assembly of believers.  Christ is the Head of the body, the Church, and most of the instruction and emphasis of the New Testament has to do with the life and labors of local churches.  Churches ultimately, in Christ’s name, should commission laborers to do the work of the ministry, providing for much-needed accountability and equally needed prayer support—as well as financial support, when possible.

Fourth, Commitment. A call from Christ through His Holy Spirit to preach the gospel is not temporary. He issues the call, and He alone revokes it. Of one who is called to preach, someone said he is “an ambassador, not a diplomat; an evangelist, not an entertainer; a deliverer, not a quiverer; his business is to preach revelation, not reformation; resurrection, not resuscitation; Christ, not culture; conversion, not civilization; theocracy, not democracy; salvation through the New Birth; sanctification through the Holy Spirit, not through human merit.” (The Good News) To fulfill this great commission, the preacher must have an uncommon tenacity, an unsinkable spirit, an unhuman love, an incomparable motivation, an unparalleled loyalty, and an undying adherence to His Lord and to His Church that will compel him to be faithful to his call until relieved of his assignment by His Master.

So, have you been called to preach the gospel? If so, then “Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:2)

Nothing will be able to stop you, for with His call has come a confirmation, a holy conviction, a New Testament commission, and a rock-solid commitment. God help you and may He increase your tribe!

For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29)

“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2 Pet.1:10)

God’s Call to Preach

I have known a friend who for many years has been frustrated, even at times angry, with God for not having put him into a pastorate. He feels he missed his calling. At one time, he and his wife served on a mission field, hoping that through that experience God would place them in a local church where he would serve as the pastor.  To this date, it has not happened.

It has caused me to give some serious thought as to what a “call” to ministry—specifically, to the pastorate—consists of. I do believe there is a definite call from God given to His surrendered servants to labor in His vineyard as gifted pastors, elders, or bishops (all words used in the New Testament to refer to the same office that we commonly call “pastor”). Paul said to Timothy that if a man desired to serve in that capacity, he desired a good work. (I Tim. 3:1) In the infancy of the New Testament era, when Saul and Barnabas had been on their first church-planting mission, we read that before returning to report to their sending church in Jerusalem, they first revisited the towns where there had been a group of believers assembled so that they could “ordain them elders in every church.” (Acts 14:23) Interestingly, there was not enough time for these would-be elders to get any specialized training for the task; but of course, it was an extraordinary phase of the inception of the church that Jesus said He would build; and it was an extraordinary Apostle who was doing the appointing of these early elders.  But there was a proper appointing or ordaining, and there were specific qualifications that had to have been evident in all of the appointees to this sacred office. (I Tim. 3:1-7)

How, then, is a man called of God to be a pastor, bishop or elder?  We might broaden the scope of the question to include a missionary, evangelist, or “full-time” servant of Christ.

Paul was “ordained” a preacher, apostle, teacher of the Gentiles. (I Tim.2:7) He said in I Tim. 1:12 that he had been put into the ministry. His desire for his protégé, Timothy, was that he would be a “good minister of Jesus Christ.” (I Tim.4:6) He exhorted Timothy that he should stir up the “gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6) And Paul also exhorted Timothy that he should “neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” (I Tim.4:14)

Of Paul we learn that he, along with Barnabas, had been separated for “the work whereunto I (the Holy Spirit) have called them.” (Acts 13:2) That work was a church-planting, missionary ministry. Paul would later confide that he had been “appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” (2 Tim. 1:11) He would later exhort Timothy to “preach the Word…make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Tim.4:2) This is consistent with what Paul also had declared to Timothy when he said that God had “saved us, and called us with a holy calling.” (2 Tim.1:9)

Thus, it is evident that to be a pastor, a missionary, an evangelist, or in some other capacity of Christian service, it wise to know that you are doing what God has called and equipped you to do. How does it work in real time, one might ask.

Well, every servant of God is an individual and is dealt with by the Head of the Church individually, within the Biblical parameters set forth above.

I would like to interject, at this point, a personal testimony.  I was saved at an early age, grew up in a Christian home, and attended a Bible-preaching church regularly as a child and teenager until I left home for college.  I always loved Bible preaching, had a propensity for leadership, enjoyed our church youth-group meetings, and tried to be a good testimony in school (but I could have been much better!). Upon graduating from high school, I had in mind pursuing a career in law, and I attended a college in Iowa on a scholarship that was by today’s standards pretty meager.  Away from home for the first time, I began to read seriously the book of Isaiah. Coming to those majestic passages in Isaiah 40-66, I fell in spirit before my creator God, so powerful and patient is He, confessing that my world (in 1961) needed preachers to proclaim the message of “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else” (Isa.45:22) as much as Isaiah’s world did.

I did not know what was happening in common parlance, but in those three months in the fall of 1961 I surrendered to preach the Word of God, if that’s what God wanted me to do. At home for Thanksgiving break, I attended my local church, where Pastor Keith Knauss had invited Evangelist Glen Schunk to conduct a revival meeting that week. Hearing his first message, which I cannot remember a word of, I responded to the invitation, going forward to share with Pastor Knauss and Evangelist Schunk that I felt God had called me to preach and I wanted to make it known that I was surrendering to do that. Evangelist Schunk shook my hand and put into it an application to Bob Jones University, saying that if I were going to preach the gospel, I would need to prepare myself—and that this was where I should go to get prepared.  Having no reason to question that advice, I immediately filled out the application, sent it in, was accepted, and found myself in a preacher boys’ class of about 800 men in January of 1962, on the campus of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.

That is how God called this preacher to preach His Word when I was still a teenager. He has called other men in various other ways. But to every man of God called by Him to preach, there is never a doubt that it was God at work, and that the purpose was to ordain whomever He was working on to the gospel ministry. Some have resisted, and they may have even fought His call for some time. But God always wins! I will continue this discussion on the call to preach in an upcoming installment of “You and God.”

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” (I Cor.9:16)