In a small Texas town by the name of Mt. Vernon, Drummond’s Bar began construction of a new building to increase their business. The local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from opening with petitions and prayers. Their members turned out in droves to drive this “house of sinful indulgence” from their midst through prayer. Work on the bar progressed right up till the week before opening when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.
The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, until the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means. The church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building’s destruction in its reply to the court.
As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork. At the hearing he commented, “I don’t know how I’m going to decide this, but it appears from the paperwork that we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not.”
(As a matter of application here, how many of us truly believe that God can change situations in life when we pray for those changes to take place? If we truly believe that, then we should be seeing all of our members crowding into our church whenever we have prayer gatherings. Perhaps there is more truth than poetry to this story!)
In view of the fact that the University of Alabama just won the NCAA College Football Championship with a second string, mostly untested, quarterback after falling behind 13-0 at halftime, you might enjoy this true story about another quarterback who did the same thing for the Dallas Cowboys.
Motivational speaker Billy Zeoli once spoke of the importance of being ready in life. He defined being ready as “the right person in the right place at the right time with the right thing to do and say, and then doing it and saying it.” He was once on the sidelines with the Dallas Cowboys for a playoff game. The Cowboys were trailing by 15 points going into the last two minutes. Coach Tom Landry turned to a young untested quarterback by the name of Roger Staubach and said, “Roger, go in!” Roger said, ’I’m ready.” And he was. In the next fifty-seven seconds he led Dallas to two touchdowns and a field goal. Dallas won the playoff game because this young man, fresh out of the Navy, was ready.
We often speak of “windows” in life; that is, a short time of opportunity during which a given action will be successful and after which any action is useless. The older I get, the more I see this principle in my relationship with the Lord. Why is it so many people seem to accomplish so much while others do practically nothing in life? I am convinced that God has no favorites. He only uses those who are ready. I am not necessarily talking great world-shaking accomplishments here, but everyday words and acts that influence people.
Most of us are not ready because we are too wrapped up in ourselves to notice the needs of others. God attempts to draw us out of ourselves so that we can prepare for that time when we are called to go to the aid of another. For Christians, the biggest tragedy of life is in having our hands too full of our own concerns so often that the people God sends to us come back without being touched. Ministry is everywhere and its broad boundaries necessitate the involvement of everyone. How sad it is that so few of us are ready when God says, “Roger, go in!” Hope to see you this Sunday as our church family prepares for ministry.
What does the person on the street associate with the word ”evangelist”? “Fanatic,” “pontificating,” and “fascist” were some responses in a survey. George Barna, author and pollster, also found out that “credibility” and “relevance” were two of the top needs of evangelists in North America. We may rightly argue that the average person on the street has no idea what an evangelist does except to preach at people and get himself into moral or financial trouble. But the truth of the matter is that the image of Bible-believing people and churches suffer under such inaccurate stereotyping.
What are we to do? We can’t just gripe and complain that it’s all so unfair. Actually, this kind of thing has been going on for thousands of years. Peter instructed the early Christians to always be prepared to give an answer when asked concerning the hope that they had. That it is not always a sympathetic audience that was asking the questions is clear from his added comments: “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (I Peter 3:16).
I believe it is more important to heed his remarks about how we are to conduct ourselves than it is to identify with the issues our spiritual ancestors had to face. Too many Christians are returning insult with insult and that does nothing but confirm how “mean-spirited” others already think we are. It is time we begin to understand just how different is our call. This is not about fairness and media accuracy. It is about battling Satan on his own turf. The opportunities God give us in all of this are about demonstrating love, kindness and forgiveness. It is about answering suspicion and hate with love. Where we cannot influence people with reason and Scripture we can reach them with attitude and conduct. Our responsibility is to be genuine and sincere believers in everything that happens. God’s responsibility is to take those gentle seeds we sow and penetrate the hardened soil so that they will take root and grow. Let’s pray that the Church—and all elements within it—never stoops to become just another “pressure group.” In every age we have always done our best work when we simply follow the loving attitude of the humble Galilean.
What do we really know about “St. Nicholas”? He was born to wealthy parents in the town of Patara, Turkey about A.D 270. He was still young when his mother and father died and left him a fortune. His humility was immediately evident. As a teen ager he heard about a family destitute and starving. The father had no money for food to feed his three daughters. Under the cover of night Nicholas threw a bag of gold coins through the window of their humble dwelling, saving them from starvation.
Eventually, he became a bishop, and was destined to lead his congregation through the worst tribulation in history. In A.D. 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered a brutal persecution of all Christians. Ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods, Nicholas and thousands of others refused. They were then dragged to prison. Believers were fed to wild animals, forced to fight gladiators for their lives, beaten and set aflame in Roman arenas. Yet the persecution could not stamp out Christianity. Instead, it spread like a wildfire. Third Century leader Tertullian observed, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Finally, after years of imprisonment, Bishop Nicholas walked out, freed by a decree of the new Emperor Constantine. Those who survived Diocletian’s torture chambers were called “saints” or “confessors” by the people. Nicholas was one of these. The bishop was beaten but not broken. He served Christ’s people for another thirty years. Through the prayers of this tried and tested soldier of faith, many found salvation and healing. Nicholas participated in the famous Council of Nicea in A.D. 324. He died on December 6, about A.D. 343, a living legend.
St. Nick of yuletide fame still carries faint reminders of this ancient man of God. The color of his outfit recollects the red of bishops’ robes. “Making a list, checking it twice,” probably recalls the old saint’s lectures to children about good behavior. Gifts secretly brought on Christmas eve bring to mind his humble generosity to the three daughters.
Yet, if he were alive today, this saint would humbly deflect attention from himself. No fur-trimmed hat and coat, no reindeer and sleigh or North Pole workshop. As he did in life centuries ago, Bishop Nicholas would point people to his Master. “I am Nicholas, a sinner,” the old saint would say. “Nicholas, a servant of Jesus Christ
I don’t mean that in a name-dropping way. Oh, I met him once at a private gathering in Phoenix several years ago, but I doubt he would have remembered it. What I mean is that I consider him a dear friend of the Church, a dear friend of the Kingdom of God, and therefore a dear friend of mine. I knew that in many cultural circles to profess friendship with Mr. Falwell would have been the “kiss of death.” That would also have been true in some religious circles. Certainly there were some issues I might have had with him and also some political areas of disagreement. And of course there were several Falwell statements made over the years which made me cringe. But that would have been true of any public figure I knew.
Jerry went to be with the Lord just ten years ago. In my estimation, I believe the Church of Jesus Christ has lost one of its greatest warriors. The one opportunity I had to talk with him I thanked him personally for taking the heat for all of us. He simply smiled and said, “Well, someone has to do that.” He was very anti-abortion. So am I. But he went public with his opposition in places where it cost him. I have never had that experience. Not only was he against abortion, but he organized a network of alternative homes and workers to care for those children whose mothers—and there were many of them—had second thoughts and decided against taking their unborn babies to the death chambers. I never thought of doing something like that.
Even in his death many in the media had a hard time speaking kindly of him or even giving him the benefit of the doubt of having possessed a life well-lived. So polarizing was his influence in this life that many will never give him anything but the hatred they think is due him. But even Jerry Falwelll would laugh and shrug it off while reminding us of one of Jesus’ statements: “Beware when all men speak well of you.”
There is another one of Jesus’ statements I feel should be associated with this bold and courageous Christian warrior. It is from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12). Jerry Falwell is no longer fighting by our side, because he has long since claimed the reward Jesus promised him and all of us who dare to fight the good fight of faith.
Many of us say to ourselves, “Oh, if only I could have walked with the Master 2,000 years ago. If I could have heard Him speak, seen His miracles, been there when he raised the dead, then the life of faith would be so much easier.” You might be surprised. The teachings of Jesus are the most beautiful and important teachings that humanity has ever received. We are still trying to understand the full import of them, but they are not enough. Jesus’ death on the cross of Calvary was a turning point in the relationship between God and man. But even the cross is not enough. Peter was still a reed, not a rock after the crucifixion. Judas had walked with Jesus and witnessed all His miracles, but still he betrayed him. The others fled and deserted Jesus in the face of impending danger. There are those who want to see Jesus only as a great teacher, but it is not enough. Others want us to see how Jesus died on the cross and say that is the kind of courage and sacrificial love we need in the world today. It is, but it is not enough. If the story of Jesus had ended with his life, teachings, miracles and death on the cross, it is clear that His disciples would have gone back to their previous occupations and Jesus would have been forgotten long ago. It was the experience of the risen Christ that transformed that little community of followers into a dynamic force that sought to turn the world upside down. And it was the availability of the risen Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit that sustained that dedicated company through every kind of persecution and peril imaginable.
What we should ask of the church of today is this: Are we an organization or an organism? Are we just a club for nice people, a society to teach helpful traditions and a pressure group to force goodness on a bad world? Or, do we live, move, multiply and exert influence through a force outside of our own? There are so many doubters, nay-sayers and unexpectant people within the church today that one would think that the Lord’s last words on earth were “Do the best you can, fellas!” Instead, his last words were “I am with you always!” There isn’t one obstacle in front of us now, or any that will come up against us in the future, that can stand against the resurrection power God has given His church. The times may be bad and darkness may be increasing around us but what a great backdrop for demonstrating that the Light of the world is still shining brightly within His church.
I used to read the warnings of Jesus with some puzzlement. “Beware of false prophets which come unto you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Mathew 7:15-16). In my more naïve days I often thought, as many others did also, “How could someone pretend to be a sincere religious leader while all the while he is as phony as a three dollar bill?” Or, “Maybe this used to happen in ancient times but certainly it doesn’t happen anymore!” Fortunately, my naivete, on that subject at least, has long since disappeared. The history of every past age and the experiences of the present continue to warrant that caution by Jesus.
Some of you will remember the “Heaven’s Gate” mass suicide of about 20 years ago. Those people seemed so completely convinced of their after-death rendezvous with UFO’s filled with super-humans that they were happy to cast off their “human shells” and even spoke contemptuously of those who didn’t share their hope. How could people be so deluded? I think the answer to that question comes in the final caution of Jesus: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” Actually, all fruit looks equally acceptable if you have nothing to compare it to. Even rotten fruit is not discernible from good fruit unless you have first tasted good fruit. And that, to me, is the whole lesson being taught.
It is important that Christians who claim to believe the Bible be aware of what it actually says. Not only so, but we must continue to put into practice what we know. That is why Jesus, a few verses later in that passage, warns that a house not built upon adequate foundations will fall “with a great crash.” And what is it He says constitutes an adequate foundation? Here it is: “Everyone who hears these sayings of mine and puts them into practice…” (Matthew 7:24). Are you both hearing and practicing? That is a major reason why we exist: to prepare people through Bible teaching and study to become knowledgeable disciples and not just wishful thinkers. A major part of any Christian ministry is to establish an adequate system of discipling and training so that every believer is able to recognize good fruit when he or she sees it. I hope you are anxious to be one of those.
Several years ago there was a famous PEANUTS cartoon in which Schroder, that piano-loving intellectual, was interrupted as he often was by his infatuated admirer, Lucy. Lucy asked him, “Schroeder, do you know what love is?” Schroeder abruptly stopped his playing , stood to his feet and said precisely, “Love: a noun, to be fond of, a strong affection for or an attachment or devotion to a person or persons.” Then he sat back down and resumed playing his piano. Lucy sat there stunned and then murmured sarcastically, “On paper, he’s great!”
I’m afraid that is where many of us specialize in gratitude—on paper. To possess a spirit of gratitude is priceless for it is built upon a giant dose of true humility. To always consider yourself as living on the positive side of life is a wonderful thing. Every good act that people do and every kind word is genuinely appreciated. Every possession you have is looked upon as a gift from God. You know how and why to praise God. The door of heaven is open to you because “God inhabits the praises of His people.” Your spirit is freed from the chains of “want” because you are conscious of what you already have been given and who has given it. The only thing more delightful than witnessing the spirit of gratitude in another person is to experience its presence within yourself. If you possess it, praise God for your blessed condition and do everything you can to enlarge its borders. If you lack it, all is not lost. Develop your awareness of and dependence upon God and it will grow. Just remember the words of David: “The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
During my undergraduate seminary days I had a professor who announced to his class: “Gentlemen, your job is to work yourself out of a job.” I thought at the time that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. I have since come to understand and embrace the principle he was trying to express. That statement is, in effect, a philosophy of ministry. There are those who are career “Ministers” in the sense that they see themselves as lifelong generals placing privates in strategic places to get the job done. My professor would have said that our purpose was to train more generals to work with those privates. This was what Paul was encouraging young Timothy to do as he pastored the large church at Ephesus: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
As one writer put it, “It could be argued that what the church needs is not better pastors, but more theologically sophisticated lay persons.” It was never the case that a pastor could do everything well. Many wonderful preachers, for example, are terrible at administration and others who have never come to grips with ministry to youth. But within each church family are those people with gifts to cover all of the bases. And in this age of specialized ministry in which pastors are increasingly called upon to address such problems as drug addiction, marital strife, homosexuality and the rest, many of the people in the pews possess the aptitude to be far more sensitive to those needs and capable of addressing them than the pastor. All they need is the training to go with it.
What I am trying to say here is that we can no longer look at a church as sheep with one shepherd. All those sheep are potential shepherds. This is what caused the first church to expand so quickly with so much excitement. Each new Christian was taught that he had a stake in this new enterprise, and that ministry was also his responsibility and opportunity. We must return that philosophy to the church. When we do, we will see more Christians capturing the vision, sharing the excitement and building the Kingdom. And when this happens, together we will experience the Lord’s pleasure and at the end of the road hear, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”
There isn’t much that will be memorable about the Diamondbacks’ season this year, since it ended so quickly after a great start. But let me give you something really positive to remember about a baseball player named Tim Burke. Tim was a pitcher for the Montreal Expos and the New York Yankees. With potentially several more good years ahead of him, he retired from baseball at the age of thirty three. Everyone wanted know why a veteran player with a fantastic salary and only a few years left to draw it would throw it away for something else.
Here is that “something else.” Tim and his wife Christine could not have children. Over time they adopted four Korean children, all with special needs. As Tim realized the demands this put on his wife to be “mother, father, doctor, mover, plumber, etc.” he decided he would give up the game he loved in order to be a major league dad and husband. Christine was deeply moved by her husband’s decision for a number of reasons: she knew how much he loved baseball but realized through this decision how much he loved God, her, and their children. She was especially touched by Tim’s dedication to their children because her own father had deserted his family before she was born. She had never known a father’s unconditional love. Her husband’s decision was a clear indication that his family was now his greatest priority in life.
Mr. Burke is a true hero. Any man who chooses to forfeit a very lucrative career so that he can be with his family has earned a place in the spotlight. But I am afraid it will take many more actions like this to awaken the conscience of the American male who, in pursuit of personal pleasure or self-fulfillment, has left his family to shift for themselves. God has given the husband and father a great opportunity to experience the unity of “two becoming one” and then multiplying into a family. No other relationship offers such potential as the community of love we call “the family.” It is the tragedy of today’s husbands and fathers that few of them seem interested in achieving it. Mr. Burke obviously understood what so may of us find out the hard way—that babies grow up quickly and that family unity can easily degenerate into brokenness and fragmentation. And for that process there is no instant replay.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship