What Contemporary Christians Seem to Undervalue and Underestimate the Most

The revival preacher and teacher Roy Hession once told the story about a gold mine in South Africa that sank shaft after shaft in a quest to find new gold. Finally, they came to the conclusion that all the new shafts that they were sinking were finding nothing, and they faced the fact that they were being misled and disappointed in trying to find gold in these new shafts. They finally went back and started to dig deeper in the first shaft of the mine, and there they found all the gold that they needed and wanted.

Hession then drew a very apt comparison of that South African gold mine to many modern believers. They are trying to find more ‘inspiration’ in many sources, such as new books, conferences and speakers, the most popular musician of the present and the latest spiritual fad. But they constantly find that they are being misled and disappointed. Rather, they need to go back and fix their attention on the one true source of life and love, that which they received through the relationship with the living Lord Jesus himself. If one has truly been saved by Christ and born again of his Spirit, there will always be an inner hunger there that only Christ will satisfy.

Do you ever get the feeling at the beginning of a contemporary church service that so many are trying to dig themselves out of a spiritual pit and recapture a feeling which they’ve sinned away by what they were doing on Friday and Saturday nights? Does it seem like they come in empty and under heavy conviction of the Holy Spirit because they’ve been whooping it up and engaging in immorality like the world without Christ, so they make a frantic effort to deal with their sin and hypocrisy? Does it seem like they’re trying and begging to get back a feeling of closeness with God that they once had, without dealing scripturally with the sin, instability and hypocrisy of their own lives?

So there needs to be a renewed emphasis on remaining in this relationship with Christ, since so often it seems like so many in our churches seem simply to be coming back Sunday after Sunday to try to stumble back into a stability which they never should have either neglected nor wandered from. And even more, when we talk about revival in the scriptural sense, it simply is the return and restoration to  then in this relationship, the way of scriptural revival and restoration a return to this relationship with Christ that means spiritual stability and spiritual reality. This relationship with the living Lord Jesus is the only source, basis and foundation of  of true spiritual stability in this life. And I would submit to you that this is what too many contemporary Christians woefully undervalue and underestimate.

This is the same kind of problem that the apostle Paul was addressing in the letter to the believers in Christ at Colossae. The latest fad teachings were leading the Colossian believers astray from their relationship with Christ. These fad teachings of the spiritual hipsters were not based in scriptural truth, but rather a strange mixture of pagan philosophy, mysticism and Jewish legalism added on to some ideas borrowed from apostolic teaching. These ‘add-on’s to scriptural teaching, to what the apostles had been passing on, which went back to what Jesus had taught and what he had done for them in his death and resurrection, were in fact a wholesale subversion of their walk with Christ that began at their conversion. They were in fact iron pyrite – fool’s gold – which sparkles like gold but is of little real value in comparison to the real thing.

So the intention of this whole letter to the Colossians was Paul’s attempt to persuade them to come back to and stay in, without any wavering or distractions,  in the saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And the center of this letter is a sentence which remains significant for every believer today since we also life in the middle of many, many  the distractions and falsehoods that attempt to entice us away from the one fundamental and precious reality, that is the saving fellowship with the Savior, Jesus Christ. And here is what the apostle had to write to them, and the sentence through which God speaks to us today:

“So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, conduct your life in him, as you are rooted and built up in him and are made stable in the faith just as you were taught and as you overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).

The whole point of genuine saving faith is continuing on in the daily relationship with Christ.  A genuine reception of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has as its logical outcome this daily relationship with Christ. The initial reception of salvation from Christ by repentance and faith should then mean continued trust in him and obedience to him, and this will then mean that the believer in Christ will remain in that wonderful saving relationship with him.

Genuine saving faith in Christ is the beginning of the relationship with Christ. We need to keep emphasizing that the reception of salvation, when a person comes to that point of receiving him by faith as Lord and Savior, is only the beginning point the time of that saving relationship that is intended to continue through this earthly life and through to eternity. It is true that for many, many years many believers and churches have held fast to the gospel of salvation, the foundational truth of salvation by grace through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone, so that the Biblical truth about how to receive salvation through Christ is familiar to many in our churches. Unfortunately though, the basis of living in that saving relationship afterwards is not very well explained often enough, so that many who make professions of faith in Christ often only stumble toward spiritual stability in Christ while they desperately try to find some way out of the sins from their past and the foolish notions of the surrounding culture that continue to try to ensnare them again.  But even more, I would submit before the North American churches and their pastors and leaders that they have fallen into a trap of underestimating and even disdaining the value of a consistent and stable lifelong walk of faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord. Too many see that as not enough – or that horrible distractions, spiritual infatuations and backslidings are no big thing and do not extract a horrible spiritual cost from the life of the believer and the lives of those around the spiritually unstable, distracted and infatuated.

This, then, is right where Paul finds and addresses the Christians in the ancient city of Colossae. This is why the apostle Paul starts out with this phrase: “So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord.” This was Paul’s way of describing how the Colossian believers had received salvation by faith in Christ. The words are almost exactly like what Paul had also written in Romans 10:9-10, about “ . . . the word of faith which we proclaim, that if you confess with your mouth that,”Jesus is Lord,” and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, because it is with your mouth that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”. Paul was giving them his reminder to them of how they had responded to the gospel, which they had heard from his associate Ephaphras and had received eternal life some months or years beforehand. Note also that he gave an emphasis that salvation had to do with acknowledging Jesus as Lord, and for someone in the first century in this situation that word ‘Lord’ was not a merely honorific title but the acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and Master of one’s life.

In some years past it was fairly common among many believers in our culture to talk about Jesus as either ‘the Master’ or ‘my Master’, but that rarely seems to be heard anymore. The Colossian believers would have instantly understood that, and they would have come to remember and understand that the reception of salvation was for them not only the reception of a gift by faith but also the commitment to a new Master of one’s life. While there was a brief controversy a few years ago about the matter of ‘Lordship salvation’, it is indisputable that the apostles were not afraid at all to talk about and to expect a change of loyalties, to where Christ would be the new Lord and Master of one’s life, as being the expected and reasonable outcome when someone passed from death to life through by salvation through faith in Christ alone. Everyone knew in those days that repentance and faith was the entrance to a new life of transformation with Christ as Lord, Savior and Master.

In modern times there may be a number of paths where believers hear the gospel come to faith in Christ, and it’s possible to describe the circumstances of their conversion experience. Some believers may have had what could be called the “sawdust trail” experience, where they went forward in a church service or evangelistic meeting in response to an appeal to come forward and receive Christ. Others may have come to Christ in an experience of corporate worship, the in the emotional atmosphere which could be described as the “raised hands together” experience. Still others may have come to hear the gospel in a small group Bible study, perhaps even in their college years, and we could call this the “parachurch” experience. Still others may have received Christ as very young children, perhaps under the influence of their parents or a Sunday school class, and we could call this the “mother’s knee” experience. What does not matter so much is the experience but that in the midst of a pagan world, where “  . . . even if there are so-called ‘gods,’ whether in heaven or upon earth, just as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’, but for us there is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist and we ourselves are through him” (I Corinthians 8:5-6, Dale’s sight translation). And what matters is not the particular sins which dominated and tyrannized our lives, but that “  . . . such some of you used to be, but you have been washed, but you have been made holy, but you have been declared righteous and innocent in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:10-11, Dale’s sight translation). And this is the salvation to which Christ has brought us through faith in him, and the starting place to the life of spiritual stability in Christ, from where we first ceased to trust in anything else for our eternal salvation, even ourselves, and put our trust entirely in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, as our Lord.

So then, the first thing that we need to address with any professed believer who is distracted to being infatuated with unBiblical forms of spirituality and ideologies and stumbling into pride, defiance, hardheartedness and other more visible sins, is to bring that person back to remember where he or she first received salvation through Christ as Lord. When we would ask them when and how they might have received salvation through Christ, we’re not looking to try to lead anyone who can give a scripturally sound account of having placed his or her faith in Christ to repeat a prayer so that we can crow about it afterwards, or to try to steal them away from another church. Rather, it is reasonable to ask to remind them of where and when they might have entered the relationship of salvation so that they can move forward in that saving relationship with Christ.

So often the beginning of revival is when professed believers in Christ remember the beginnings of their faith in Christ. They may then come to another realization, the realization that things were different then than with the way that their spiritual life has become right now. And furthermore, the realization that things have changed in some way may bring the further realization that somehow by little compromises and distractions added gradually, one upon another, they have moved from Christ as Lord of all their lives. Sometimes this did come from a fall into a heartbreaking sin of which they have become heartily ashamed, but sometimes this has come in a life where all the formulas are followed and the meetings are services are attended, but the heart has simply become cold, chilly and distant toward the Lord Jesus. And this is how Vance Havner described revival: “We hear much about revival these days, but the heart of revival is the Lordship of Christ. A mere emotional upheaval, a spurt of religious excitement, is not revival. When Christians become convicted of rebellion against the rule of Christ in their lives, confess their sins, renounce self, take the cross and let Jesus have the first and last word in everything, that is revival by whatever name you call it.”

And then, having started right, having a saving relationship with Christ, then calls for the believer to live daily in harmony with Christ. This daily relationship means fellowship with him, trust in him, and submission to his will. But this relationship is not simply a minor optional add on to a life which is still primarily caught up in oneself and doing everything that for self satisfaction and personal enjoyment and entertainment. Rather, this means one’s attention, loyalty and obedience must be to Christ alone even amongst the other seductions, distractions and enticements around us.

In the second half of verse 6, Paul continues with a phrase which I have translated, “ . . . conduct your life in him.” The New International Version translates this “ . . . continue to live in him . . . “ The King James Version translates the phrase literally: “. . . walk in him . . .” Paul often described the Christian life described as a continued walk with Christ, and this meant following him and trusting him. It could be described as a long and continued faith in and obedience to Christ. The word ‘walk’ would come naturally to Paul because of his background as the rabbi Saul, where conducting oneself as a loyal and faithful Jew in following the Law of God was also described as a ‘walk’ (halakhah). So, what Paul was calling for was the true Halakhah in Christ from the Colossians. The Colossians may have rubbed shoulders closely enough to their Jewish neighbors in Colossae to have some understanding of the term, and the false teachers of their time may have actually used a similar term to describe the life that they were calling for in the strange mix of pagan mysticism and Jewish legalism which seems to have been the distraction in Colossae.

As Paul continued in chapter 2 of Colossians, it becomes clear that he was calling them back to the reality from which the false teaching was trying to lead them, away from Christ. There was someone, perhaps more than one who was making false claims of spiritual experiences and seeking to entice them to false acts which looked pious and worshipful – fool’s gold — but were not a part of the gospel that they had received. Paul was pointing out that the spiritually misled among them were seeking and claiming relationship with the wrong spiritual beings – angels and not Christ. Even more, Paul was pointing out that the false notions they were receiving and the false experiences someone was claiming were missing the whole point of the saving relationship with Christ and the daily fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ, the Christ  in whom “. . . are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Even more, this is the supreme Christ whom Paul has already described in chapter one as “ . . . the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of all creation, because in him all things in the heavens and on earth have been created, both seen and unseen, whether thrones or lordships or authorities. All things are through in and all things were created for him, and he is before all things and all things maintain their existence in him. . .” (Colossians 1:15-17). So Paul emphasized not that angels and other spiritual powers do not exist, but that Christ, as the eternal Son of God, supreme Lord of all creation and eternal Savior, is so far superior to any that do exist that any attempt to live in fellowship with them and follow them is a sadly mistaken quest and settling in what is by far second best.

So, even though there is that call to spiritual reality in the call for the believer in Christ to walk daily with Christ, sadly, experiences with other believers with false ideas, false professions of spiritual experience, and unnecessary and unscriptural actions can distract and even discourage some away from Christ. But despite what others may say and do, nothing will ever be deeper than the saving relationship with Christ, nor the truth of the Word of God. The faith in and obedience to the Lord Jesus has always and will always be the true foundation and expression of the Christian life. The way of entrance into the saving relationship is also the way of continuing onward in the saving relationship. And so, therefore,  backsliding is not inevitable for anyone. Nor is even any period of prolonged spiritual dryness or prolonged spiritual darkness.  Rather those are strong warning signs of the critical need to return to that relationship with Christ wholeheartedly in faith and obedience, and to let that be the central reality of one’s life.

Make no mistake about how spiritually dangerous the descent into alternative spirituality can be for the believer in Jesus Christ who descends through feeling and enticement but without spiritual discernment. Make no mistake about how damaging this can be. For instance, I once heard Chuck Colson tell about two young women who had been drawn into Wicca through the influence of other women. Eventually they came back to Christ, but they then had to deal with the deep spiritual and psychological damage which came from a first hand, face to face encounter with the demonic. They came to know that the occult, despite an initial appeal of power and knowledge, leads to the encounter with utter evil. 

So then, this also means following Christ through faith and obedience without a stringent structure or secondhand script of rules, regulations and adherence to human authorities claiming heady, authoritative, but unscriptural spiritual experiences and position. Too many believers are enticed here by the externally self confident, glib and superficial person into situations where eventually they realize that they’ve been had. So much in the current evangelical religious complex comes down to unscriptural, unreasonable, delusional, magical thinking and fantasies. Too many get caught up in following trends of the hipsters with itching ears, when the real need was to remain centered in faith and obedience to Christ with a dispassionate discernment of the truth. Beyond the exaggerated, distorted, one sided, hyped, sentimental ideas and enticements is the person who is most valuable and precious – the Lord Jesus Christ himself. When we’ve viewed eternal realities with passivity, inattention, laziness and sloppiness, though, he is still there, the most precious and valuable far above the idiocies that have distracted us.

Certainly, then, this need to follow Christ in faith and obedience after the reception of salvation also addresses the problem, throughout our churches, not only of the spiritually and ideologically compromised but also of the secularized saint. This is the person who had not wandered into the counterfeit ideologies and spirituality of this world but who has built a wall of separation between a past experience of salvation and a nominal church life and his or her life otherwise lived just like anyone else in the culture. Most of this person’s life is dedicated rather to the idols of personal peace, affluence, entertainment, prosperity and personal autonomy.  And strangely enough, in this pack we will also find the disappointed and embittered religious narcissists who are starting to come to the end of themselves, as God in his providence is crushing their exaggerated self esteem, hubris and personal Messiah complexes. This call to follow Christ comes to them as his call to take up the cross, glorify God rather than yourselves and then to follow Jesus as Lord.

So what this will mean will be new life for the religious zombies among us. They may lifelessly lurch along jerkily, deathly and mechanically in a life of religious legalism and in pet formulas when what they’re missing and what they’re in critical need of is the lifegiving fellowship of walking with the Savior and Lord in faith and obedience. And make no mistake about how hard it can be to deal with an obsessed, legalistic or formula driven Christian with the Word of God. The growing hardness of heart means that they often react to the plain teaching of the Word of God with complete, lifeless indifference. And trying to stop them from unscriptural behavior is often like trying to take out a zombie with a Winchester rifle. They momentarily recoil but keep on going in their lifeless, mechanical and deathly lurching!

When we find Christ, we find the one in whom are all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, as the apostle states in Colossians, and the life of highest wisdom and knowledge is that of continuing to live in him, as the apostle states. Fundamentally, though, continuing in the life with Christ therefore is the simply the honest and ethical fulfillment of the commitment made to him to receive salvation. And the person who pursues this daily fellowship with Christ will then find the kind of results for which he or she and so many other distracted and compromised believers were looking in the first place.

Genuine spiritual stability results from the daily relationship with Christ. This is the true path to security in salvation and growth in Christ. This cannot be reduced to any kind of pat formulas, but rather comes from the living relationship with the Savior and Lord of the universe. And through this relationship his people find everything that they may have thought that they could have found in the counterfeits, in the fool’s gold, and more.

Deepening the relationship with Christ over the course of days, months and years is what produces real spiritual stability. This is the path to  the firm, unshakable conviction of a maturing faith in Christ. This is the path to the faith in and walk with Christ of a mature and continually maturing adult in Christ. This is the way to become the spiritually stable believer in Christ who is sure of what he believes and certain of the direction of his commitment. And this is the adult faith and walk with Christ that so many who have grown up in the church have failed to find because they’ve never been challenged to seek it, find it, and never to leave it for any reason or for any one else – they went for the fool’s gold because they never realized the value of the real gold that was within their reach and within their grasp.

The apostle went on to describe spiritual stability in the first part of verse 7: “ . . . rooted and built up in him . . . “ Make no mistake, closeness to the Savior is the real source of spiritual stability. The word rooted means stability and, built up (being built up) means growth. For the person who has these qualities, it would mean that all the false experiences and teachings in this world, all that there were in the ancient world, would be useless to entice them from Christ. They would be, through their relationship with Christ, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, month by month and year by year, would produce the kind of stability and growth. They would be  unshakable, not because of any of their own strength or power, but because they are firmly rooted and grounded in and walking with the Lord who is unshakeable and secure.

Isn’t this something that should be extraordinarily appealing to anyone who has lived in a life of spiritual, moral and emotional turmoil, chaos, confusion and insanity. And, again, this stability and growth through walking in Christ is absolutely necessary for modern believers with the challenges to faith and obedience to Christ that they meet in the modern, or postmodern, or contemporary world.  What is more necessary for believers than to be utterly assured in their faith in Christ, immovable in their devotion and articulate in the expression of their faith? What is more necessary than to have an adult faith in and walk with Christ, which has learned to see and live beyond the trite and often childish formulas from our evangelical religious complex, that will not only withstand the challenges to faith, but also provide the most persuasive witness necessary to this world?

This being rooted and grounded in Christ, being built up and growing in him, is  the most necessary thing for the wandering spiritual adultescent. We do not need to revamp our worship services for that person nor wail and cry for that prodigal, but rather to point them to what they needed in the first place. We need to recognize that the wandering adultescent is the kind of person that A. W. Tozer called the  spiritual tramp. These are the spiritual street people whose spiritual lives consists of no lasting commitment and stability. They rather wander picking up the scraps and handouts of the religious places and people they visit, the latest song which tickles their emotions or the book which contains the formulas seem to promise peace and prosperity now. But rather, what they needed from the beginning was a regular and consistent walk with Christ which would produce the spiritual stability, growth and resilience which is the basis of what they were really seeking and which they would find by walking closely with the eternal Prince of Peace.

But, as the infomercial announcer promises, there’s even more: depth in the relationship with the Savior will then mean growing strength and resilience in saving truth. It will mean strength in the foundational truths of faith in Christ, in the truth which makes all the difference between life and death for all eternity. Here’s how the apostle describes it: “ . . . strengthened in the faith as you were taught . . .” This is a strong reminder that the foundational truth necessary to receive salvation is the basis of growth in Christ afterward and the nourishment for spiritual muscle. The Colossians had already been taught and believed saving truth, but they still needed, through that walk with Christ, to keep on growing in it and to become strong in it. Though they were aware of the basic truths, spiritual stability and its consequence, spiritual strength in Christ, would come from a deeper experience of them and persuasion of them through the life with the Lord of all truth.

Certainly the realization that the foundational truths of saving faith are also the foundational truths of spiritual growth must make believers more receptive to learning to understand the Word of God. The certainty of the truths of salvation not a matter of knowledge only but of keeping the truths fresh in practice and experience. And this means the realization that the daily relationship with Christ not a matter of personal experience – of some kind of emotional high or uplift –but in reality a personal experience with the Lord based upon eternal, unshakeable truth. And certainly for us today, this means learning the Word of God in fellowship with Christ and in fellowship with other believers through the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Certainly there will be new insights and applications that one will find as one walks with Christ daily but, no matter what saving truth itself will remain the same.

But despite the idea that stability and growth in Christ may lack the excitement and drama that the other enticements and fool’s gold of this world promises – rather it results in a deep spiritual and emotional stability in a life of thankfulness. This is not a mere respectful gratitude but an overflowing gratitude to God through Christ. It’s not an emotional high that anyone has to strive after or beg God to restore as part of trying to dig oneself out of a spiritual hole. Rather, the apostle describes it as: “ . . . and overflowing with thankfulness.” So then, Paul’s conclusion to his directions to them then is the declaration that the daily relationship with Christ would be the kind of life that they were already looking for.  A believer overflowing with thankfulness, after all, is someone who knows in his or her deepest thoughts and emotions that he or she has been wonderfully and eternally blessed by God and that he or she has already found full satisfaction in Christ. Worship then naturally flows from this stable, daily relationship with Christ.

So what has been missed in the past thirty years in so many churches is that it is not the other way around: that worship does not lead to a stable and satisfying relationship with Christ but it is the other way around. Continuing in the relationship with God through Jesus Christ means a continual exposure to, awareness of the greatness of God. The realization of his holiness, wisdom, might and justice and the realization of the greatness of his love to such sinners as we are isn’t something that someone can work up within himself or herself. Rather the continuous walk with Jesus in spiritual stability and eternal truth will mean a continuing awareness of his greatness and will build up a wonder and joy that must express itself in gratitude and worship. So let no one think that a stable walk with Jesus is boring!

So then, the question comes to each one of us today, to each one of us who has trusted in Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation: have we been living as if the most valuable and precious thing in the world is our relationship with Jesus Christ? Do we live as if the most valuable and precious thing for ourselves, our family members, our friends and everyone of us who has also trusted in Jesus Christ is a stable, growing and overflowing relationship with Christ? And if so, how fresh and growing is your Christian life? This question addresses not where you may have been at some time in the past, but where you are now, at this present moment, with the Lord. Though there will be other struggles and temptations, the reality of eternal life with Christ calls us not to lose that which is most important among other things, namely, our daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

 Are you now abiding in Christ? Can you say that at this time that you are living at a place of greater spiritual maturity and stability and of closer fellowship with him than at any other time that you can remember? If you are, continue to live in him, as the apostle directs. This means trusting him at all times; in all the circumstances of your life. This means taking him as being more than Savior from eternal death, as being Teacher, Savior from sins in this life as well. This means following him at all cost, and this means taking him as the Lord in the circumstances of your life. And this means loving him with all your heart as the best, closest Friend to return of your love to him for his eternal love for you.

Has your heart become cooler toward the Lord Jesus? The way back is through repentance for whatever has come between you and the Lord Jesus. This the route to the personal revival and restoration.

What has deceived you and drawn you away from Christ? Could it be:

  • Pride and self righteousness – the idolatry of self
  • Hypocritical and rigid in unBiblical standards and legalism – the idolatry of self effort
  • Irrational stubbornness in the ways of error and sin – the idolatry of my own way
  • Disdain for others who are not like them, like the praying Pharisee in the parable, who do not measure up to their own self righteousness
  • Outward show of religiosity rather than following Christ from the heart

Make a definite confession before God of where you have failed. The first step is honesty before God on the matter of sin and compromise. Then receive his forgiveness and seek the fullness of his Spirit to have his overcoming power for the challenges before you and, to remove the causes for your backsliding – for that is what that coolness is. There is no way to dig yourself out of that spiritual hole you’re in except through confession of your sin, backsliding and compromise and turning away from that which drew you away from Christ.

Then, once you have set your heart right with God and made the confession of whatever has been your sin and compromise, resume whatever obedience you have neglected. Take that hard look back where the failure has been, where you have fallen and then come back to full obedience to Christ.

Finally,  do you have the assurance of eternal life in Christ now? This security of daily fellowship with Christ is for those who have received eternal life by trust in him in the first place. If you have not, enter into it back at the very beginning, with repentance for your sins and putting your faith in Jesus Christ as your eternal Savior and Lord.

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What Day Was YESTERDAY?

I’m writing this on the morning of Memorial Day, May 28, 2012. It struck me that yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, and I didn’t hear a word about it in church. There was the usual and rightful recognition and honor of those who had served in the military. Sometimes we honor college and high school graduates about this same time also in our churches, and may even have a sermon directed toward them in some way. But I cannot remember any Sunday ever in the years that I’ve attended a church – whether the mainline church before I came to faith in Christ or the evangelical churches since – that Pentecost Sunday was ever even mentioned. And when I served as a pastor, the thought never struck me to give any kind of recognition to Pentecost Sunday. And the same goes for Ascension Sunday. This is traditionally the Sunday before Pentecost Sunday, and it commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven after his resurrection. But I cannot think of any time that I can remember it ever being mentioned in any of the evangelical churches that I’ve attended.

Here’s the significance of these observations. In our churches we often have special services, preaching and celebrations, and quite rightly, of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter, as we remember and celebrate the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In addition, there may also be special services and sermons during the cultural holidays of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and sometimes even Valentine’s Day. But these two Sundays, which commemorate the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God, and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, are very significant both Biblically and theologically, and were considered practically equal to Christmas in the early church. Somehow these two celebrations became overlooked, and our cultural celebrations intruded. And in our churches we’ve carried on, because often enough in our evangelical churches our routines become our liturgy and the way we did things last year become our tradition.

So here’s my suggestion. Let’s not use these days as a chance to put together another set of traditions. Rather, let’s give our preaching and teaching to such subjects as the Lordship of Christ, the ascension and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on the church for the beginning of its worldwide mission from Ephesians 1:21-23 and the end of the gospel of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts. (To be honest, I can’t remember ever hearing a sermon on the day of Pentecost in an evangelical church.) Let’s bring back some of the great hymns and music of the church which celebrate these events and their continuing significance. Next year, 2013, in the western church, these days are May 12 and May 19. Ascension Sunday and Mothers Day are on the same Sunday, so my suggestion would be to recognize Mothers Day but center the Sunday on the ascension and exaltation of Jesus Christ in both the music, praying and preaching. I think that would put things into proper perspective.

As far as preaching and teaching on these subjects, a theology of the New Testament and a systematic theology should give a wealth of material, as well as simply looking, studying, and meditating on the Biblical passages. In addition, there is an excellent little book on the ascension (The Ascended Christ) by Henry Barclay Swete which is a free Google eBook.

Expediency or Obedience?

There’s a remarkable passage in Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God which speaks to a lot that is expressed in our preaching and teaching today:

“If it be agreeable to God’s will and convenient for some design of our own, and we do anything only with a respect to that design, we make not God’s holiness discovered in the law our rule, but our own conveniency: it is not a conformity to God, but a conformity of our actions to self. As in abstinence from intemperate courses, not because the holiness of God in his law prescribed it, but because the health of our bodies, or some noble contentments of life, require it; then it is not God’s holiness that is our rule, but our own security, conveniency or something else which we make a God to ourselves.”

It troubles me that in so much preaching and teaching that something may be declared as the command of God from his Word, and cited chapter and verse, but it seems that so many are unmoved until the preacher or teacher brings out some quote from some other supposed authority such as a medical doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, and cites some statistics that people who live contrary to the declared will of God end up unhealthy or unhappy in their marriages or jobs or friendships or even unpopular. Just note when the heads turn and people pay attention: is it when the Word of God is cited or the advice and statistics of the physician or psychologist? (And how much displeasure, bitterness and resentment with others happens in marriages, families, friendships and church fellowships not because someone is disobedient to the clear teaching of the Word of God, but not living up to some expectations fostered by some outside authority upon grounds which come down to the personal expediency of the aggrieved party?)

For the person who has come to faith in Jesus Christ, who is the authority, the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God, or the medical doctor or psychologist? And what is the goal, our own being happy and well adjusted in this world, or to be reflections of the holiness of God by the power of the Holy Spirit?

“As obedient children, do not conform yourselves to the desires that you had previously in your ignorance, but as the One who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your behavior, just as it is written, ‘Holy you are to be, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15-16).

The Vampire’s Interview with Dale

First, let me start out by declaring that I’m not a fan of the current vampire craze in novels, movies and television. I read through Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula when I was in ninth grade, and I believe that I’ve seen several more or less impressive renditions of that in movies over the past thirty years (Love at First Bite was actually my favorite). But I’m not a fan of the genre at all, and there have been some Christian authors lately addressing the trend with grace and discernment.

Second, let me say that I’m also not someone who sets a lot of store by what happens in dreams. I believe that God’s will is for the believer normally to be guided by his Word (II Timothy 3:16-17), and not by dreams. And I recognize that it’s easy for the undiscerning to be drawn into New Agey ideas and come into contact with counterfeits of the divine and thus will end up being guided by  demonic counterfeits rather than God (II Corinthians 11:3-4, Galatians 1:6-9). And though I will give account of two dreams that I’ve had, I don’t ascribe to them any value other than as interesting dramas served up in my unconscious that illustrate how scripture might have influenced my reaction if I were to encounter a vampire or other conflict with spiritual evil. And since I’ve been reading and studying the Bible for more than 37 years, it would be more of a wonder if scripture did not influence the content of my dreams than otherwise.

The first dream featured a vampire by the name of Milosevic, strangely named after the dead Communist dictator of Yugoslavia. In the dream I believed, with a wholly understandable naturalistic bias, that the US State Department was trying to deport him as an undesirable criminal illegal alien. The vampire Milosevic, though, had some designs upon my own life, and it is safe to say that he was out for blood.

So this is what I said in the dream to the vampire: “I understand that you vampires are vulnerable to two things, and one of them is the cross, correct?”

The vampire nodded his head, so I continued.

“So I want you to know that I have been crucified with Christ, and yet I live, but not I, but Christ lives in me. So for you I am the cross.” (See Galatians 2:20).

“Even more, you have no power and authority over me, and even if you should somehow manage to kill me, I would not become like you or under your power, but I would go to be with Christ, and my body would await being raised with him when he returns. And, though I will not test or assert it now, I believe that I have authority over you, in the name of Jesus.” (See Luke 10:19 – this applies to demons, but in literature, vampires would seem to be a kind of demonic inhabitation of a dead body, somewhat like the UnMan in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra. I wonder if the UnMan was a more scriptural view of what a zombie or vampire would really be like – a demonically animated corpse.)

“I don’t know why God would allow a wicked monstrosity like you to walk the earth, but I take comfort in the fact that one day you, whatever you truly are, will face him one day in judgment for all the evil things that you have done.” (See Philippians 2:9-11, Revelation 20:11-15.)

It’s easy for someone to get caught up in this kind of literature and develop a kind of fearful fascination and dread of the supernatural. I believe that there may be a definite Satanic influence to try to get an undue glory to and fear of the power of spiritual and supernatural evil, with the presentation of these kinds of spooky and repulsive creatures – which would include vampires, zombies and ghosts — from the human imagination. Yet in the Word of God there is definite conflict with evil (Ephesians 6:10-20), but ultimate and real victory over evil through the power and authority of Jesus Christ. And this is part of the security that comes from being grounded in the Word of God – that a believer can rest assured in victory in Christ where there is real conflict with the powers of evil.

The second dream that I had happened shortly after the release of the last Harry Potter movie. In the dream I was standing beside Harry Potter, who was trying to fight against evil powers with his wand, and wasn’t having much success with it. I started to use the name of Jesus against the evil powers, and  that was successful. This is a reminder that the believer has already been given weapons for the war against evil in scripture, and that they are more powerful than anything that the human imagination or human ingenuity can dream up. “For although we walk in the flesh we do not make war after the flesh – for the weapons of our war are not fleshly but rather powerful to bring about the pulling down of strongholds – as we pull down reasoned arguments and every high and proud thing that raises itself up against the knowledge of God, and as we take into custody every thought into obedience to Christ . . .” (II Corinthians 10:3-5).

“And the seventy returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us by your name.” And [Jesus] said to them, ‘I was seeing Satan fallen from heaven like lightning. See, I have given you authority to step on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and noting will ever cause any harm to you. Except do not rejoice in this, that the demons are subject to you, but rather rejoice that your names have been written down in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17-20).

Soldiers of Christ Arise (Charles Wesley)

Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armor on,
Strong in the strength which God supplies through His eternal Son
Strong in the Lord of hosts, and in His mighty power,
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more than conqueror.

Stand then in His great might, with all His strength endued,
But take, to arm you for the fight, the panoply of God;
That, having all things done, and all your conflicts passed,
Ye may o’ercome through Christ alone and stand entire at last.

Stand then against your foes, in close and firm array;
Legions of wily fiends oppose throughout the evil day;
But meet the sons of night, and mock their vain design,
Armed in the arms of heavenly light, of righteousness divine.

Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole;
Indissolubly joined, to battle all proceed;
But arm yourselves with all the mind that was in Christ, your Head.

 

But, above all, lay hold on faith’s victorious shield;
Armed with that adamant and gold, be sure to win the field:
If faith surround your heart, Satan shall be subdued,
Repelled his every fiery dart, and quenched with Jesu’s blood.

Jesus hath died for you! What can His love withstand?
Believe, hold fast your shield, and who shall pluck you from His hand?
Believe that Jesus reigns; all power to Him is giv’n:
Believe, till freed from sin’s remains; believe yourselves to Heav’n.

 

To keep your armor bright, attend with constant care,
Still walking in your Captain’s sight, and watching unto prayer.
Ready for all alarms, steadfastly set your face,
And always exercise your arms, and use your every grace.

Pray without ceasing, pray, your Captain gives the word;
His summons cheerfully obey and call upon the Lord;
To God your every want in instant prayer display,
Pray always; pray and never faint; pray, without ceasing, pray!

 

In fellowship alone, to God with faith draw near;
Approach His courts, besiege His throne with all the powers of prayer:
Go to His temple, go, nor from His altar move;
Let every house His worship know, and every heart His love.

To God your spirits dart, your souls in words declare,
Or groan, to Him Who reads the heart, the unutterable prayer:
His mercy now implore, and now show forth His praise,
In shouts, or silent awe, adore His miracles of grace.

 

Pour out your souls to God, and bow them with your knees,
And spread your hearts and hands abroad, and pray for Zion’s peace;
Your guides and brethren bear for ever on your mind;
Extend the arms of mighty prayer, in grasping all mankind.

From strength to strength go on, wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down and win the well fought day.
Still let the Spirit cry in all His soldiers, ‘Come!’
‘Til Christ the Lord descends from high and takes the conquerors home!

Seeing the World Through the Eyes of Jesus

Updated!

The Chinese pastor and evangelist John Sung had a fiery and productive ministry in the area of Indonesia throughout the 1920s and 1930s. One thing that he regularly told people still resonates today: “Do not think that following Jesus is only a matter of being uplifted inside. There are millions who do not know the Lord Jesus. Go out and take the gospel to them.”

The vision of the many who are without a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus should bring into us a desire to do something about it. It will bring a desire first to pray and then to go out with the gospel of eternal life. It will forge in us a realization that it is utter selfishness to be continuously seeking a personal blessing without any concern for the millions in our world and to have no concern for the reachable here and far away. This vision and burden will come from a sympathy with the Lord Jesus that comes from fellowship with him in prayer and in his Word. It will mean a desire to reach others with the gospel of his salvation.

The plan of the Lord Jesus has always been to use his people to reach other people with the gospel. Before he even gave the Great Commission, though, he called his disciples to pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest. He, as the Lord of the harvest, would be himself responsible for the calling, equipping and sending; but the need for his people to pray for the workers to be sent into the harvest comes from seeing the world through his eyes.

In his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus passed on to the church through his apostles the necessity to reach the world with his gospel. It was a constant concern of his, and one which anyone who claims to know him and believe his Word needs also to take to heart. The believer, then, who sees the world through his eyes will have a renewal in thinking, an enflaming of passion and a guide to action beyond just maintaining the religious status quo. Even more, the perspective and power of his Word in our lives will mean that his vision of the world of needy and reachable people will become ours also, and it will drive us further into his Word and prayer to find his direction and power to reach the harvest of people ripe to respond.

Here is how Jesus demonstrated and communicated his view of the the world, in Matthew 9:35-38:

“And Jesus went around to all the cities and villages, and he taught in their synagogues, proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom and healed every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds he was filled with compassion for them because they were harassed and beaten down like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest.’”

If we see people as Jesus sees them, we will be filled with his compassion. Truly loving Jesus and living in fellowship with him means that we will share his perspective on the world, and seeing people from his perspective will mean that we also will be filled with his compassion.

Ministry to others comes from and deepens the compassion that comes from Jesus. The first step to having the compassion of Jesus for others comes from taking the steps of obedience into ministry. For Jesus, it didn’t come from his perfect knowledge, nor from his being filled with the Spirit at his baptism, nor from his nights in prayer. Rather, it came from his actual experience of ministry, and we need to understand his compassion in this passage as a compassion filling his perfect human nature as he engaged in ministry to the crowds, as a part of his perfect human emotional reaction to the needs of other people that he saw.

Jesus first experienced his growing and overflowing compassion which  when he engaged in his actual ministry to the crowds as the fulfillment of his earthly mission. This perspective did not come from any kind of academic background or theological training, but from actual compassionate contact, as  in verse 35, “And Jesus went around to all the cities and villages, and he taught in their synagogues, proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom and healed every disease and every infirmity.” His ministry was not demonstrated by holding back, giving advice, or looking out at people from a safe vantage, but from actually spending time in the ministry to people from his Messianic mission. Even more, it was not merely a ministry to physical needs for healing, but it began with and continued with his proclamation of the good news of the arrival of the Messianic kingdom in himself, King Messiah. His healing was out of compassion and care, but it was rooted in his own person as the Son of God, who had authority to proclaim the message of God and over the realm of physical disease and infirmity. And this ministry tour filled him with a deep compassion in his human nature as he came into contact with human need through his human nature. (Originally when I preached this message, I started after this verse, but now that I reconsider the passage, I consider verse 35 to be an essential beginning to what follows.)

It is one of the realities of actual ministry to others that the more a person ministers in serving Christ, the more a person sees the need of the world for the gospel of Christ and his healing sovereignty. Certainly times of prayer ministry are necessary, and there is much too little said in the modern church about the basic equipment for ministry being the Word of God, being filled with the Spirit and being a person of prayer. It is then the actual getting down close to others, making the journeys of ministry and encountering the need first hand that the awareness of the need deepens and fills believers with compassion for others. As with Jesus, taking the first step to share the gospel and minister to human needs will make us people filled with the compassion of Jesus not as a theory but as a living reality which demonstrates itself in our lives. Too often it seems like people are waiting for the right feelings first. They want to feel the need and the compassion before they will do anything, but like Jesus they rather need to get in contact with the real human need in on the path of obedience in ministry to experience the full compassion that comes from being close to Jesus and filled with his Spirit.

Thus, if we find many people who attend evangelical churches and whose stated beliefs are in line with sound evangelical doctrine, but lack the compassion of Christ, it may well be from too great an emphasis on Christians gathering and celebrating in worship rather than being equipped and sent forth in ministry. Look at how many songs seem to express that all God wants from us is praise and that we’re all right if we have the proper emotional state in a worship service. And it seems that there has been a benign neglect among many pastors, elders and church leaders, in the name of seeker friendly churches,  of their mission to equip the church for works of ministry, as stated in Ephesians 4:11-14: “And it was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints unto the work of ministry, unto the building up of the body of Christ, until we all arrive at the oneness of faith and the full knowledge of the Son of God, unto a mature man, unto the full measure of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be childish as we are blown and carried around by every whiff of teaching by the trickiness of men in their sneakiness toward the scheme of error . . .” (Dale’s sight translation; unfortunately, there’s no modern English word or paraphrase that I can think of that can convey the emphasis of the preposition translated, “unto” in this passage as well). And it will be then that we come to know an emotional state that is more Christlike than being caught up in a thrill or warm afterglow of worship. It will be, as David Wilkerson once described the effect of any true baptism of the Holy Spirit, looking out and loving a lost world with the love of Jesus.

When we come into contact with others in the course of ministry, then, we will see other people with the compassion of Christ, as he did. And when this happens, we will see them in their true state, in the immensity of their need. So, as we come close to Christ, his compassion will come from knowing their state as he did. The Bible says then that, “When he saw the crowds he was filled with compassion for them because they were harassed and beaten down, like sheep without a shepherd.”  The description is not merely of their physical needs for healing, which he took care of generously when he was with them. Rather, the phrase recalls what Isaiah had written: “All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way . . .” (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus knew that the real problem wasn’t the political domination of the masses by Rome or the economic exploitation of the masses by the rich nor their religious exploitation by their religious leaders. Rather, the true need was what he would provide in his death on the cross for them: “ . . . and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Because of sin, every human being apart from Christ is broken, harassed and helpless. Whatever the outward appearance of comfort or discomfort, satisfaction or dissatisfaction, the human brokenness that marks us all comes from the sin that separates us from Go. Thus we’re all left without his direction, protection, provision and life, and we ourselves are as helpless and harassed as sheep without a shepherd.  And this realization needs to infiltrate our perceptions of other people; it will enable us to see beyond our prejudices and the false fronts of others to the needs deep within their hearts and lives. It will mean seeing people according to the Word of God, from the perspective of a mind that has been renewed by the Spirit of God through fellowship with Jesus. This will draw us aware from the self centered defensive and passive life, and into a life of trusting God to meeting the need from the knowledge of the Savior and his power to save. 

Rees Howells once told of how this realization came to him, as a part of his own experience, and how it became the burden which led him to be a missionary and to found a college to train missionaries. He said, “I had heard many people speaking on the need of the mission field, but I never ‘saw’ the heathen in their need until that afternoon; the Lord gave me a vision of them, and they stood before me as sheep without a shepherd.”

But the realization of this need would be utterly crushing if we do not ourselves know the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For all the compassion of Jesus there needs to be a faith in the truth and power of the gospel that can and will come to the heart that will receive him by faith. Most certainly there needs to be a personal reception of salvation by faith in Christ, not necessarily as a dramatic experience, but certainly as a real understanding of having passed from death to life, from condemnation to pardon, from separation from God to acceptance by God through faith in Jesus Christ. This means, then, continuing in living in fellowship with Jesus and listening to his Word, and being filled oneself with the power of his Spirit for witness. This then will give us the belief in the power of the gospel that will be the foundation for a confidence to pray and to witness with the realization that the Savior can and will come to bring his salvation to those who are living like sheep without a shepherd.

Arthur Blessitt found that this was necessary when he began a continuing witness in 1967 on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, California. He found that the Christians who were witnessing with him really didn’t believe that the Lord was able to save the druggies, the freaks and the winos, as he described them. Rather, he found that he was only able to have an effective witness there as he worked with simple believers, without church connections or lots of theological knowledge, but whose lives had been changed by the gospel, by the power of God.

So then, the compassion of Jesus will deepen within us as we minister for the glory of Jesus, with his gospel, love and power in this world. It will lead to a continuing perception of other people as Jesus sees them, and we will never be able to see them as we have seen them before. It will mean a transformation of our thoughts and feelings about others, as our own experience of the transforming power of the gospel fills us with the compassion and hope of Christ. We will then realize that he can and will do the same for others as he has done for us, and the confidence to reach out to others with the gospel of eternal life.

Even more, then, the compassion of Jesus will lead us to seek from him the reinforcements we need to reach the world with the gospel. We will realize that his plan of reaching people calls for workers in his harvest, and this will call us to seek from him the workers to complete the work. Reaching the harvest field of the world, as represented in each community, each human being, calls for God to prepare, empower and send out the workers into the harvest field.

Jesus held out before his disciples the tremendous potential harvest, but noted that more would be needed to fill the harvest. This is how he described both the potential and the need: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few . . .”  He didn’t give them any false impressions of their ability and numbers as being sufficient to meet the challenge of reaching the world with the gospel. He didn’t slap them on the back and say anything like “I have confidence in you; go to it.”  Rather, he commanded them to pray: “ . . . therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest.” He gave them a specific request, and it’s one that he definitely intended to fulfill, to pray for workers to be sent into the harvest field of the world of mankind apart from Christ.

Evangelism and missions, reaching people in this world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, comes from the initiative of the Lord of the harvest, Jesus himself, to send the workers into the harvest. His responsibility is to send – which implies his calling, preparation, empowering and sending his workers into the harvest field of the world. Even more, it then becomes the responsibility of the workers to work – which implies the work of witness and disciplemaking. But Jesus Christ, the Lord of the harvest, commanded his disciples to pray for this to happen, in light of the magnitude of the harvest and the need for so many more to accomplish the mission.

Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, came to the conclusion that this was the starting point when he was looking for 24 others to join him in the China Inland Mission. He wrote, “In the study of that divine Word, I learned that to obtain successful workers, not elaborate appeals for help, but first earnest prayer to God to thrust forth laborers, and second the deepening of the spiritual life of the church, so that men would be unable to stay at home, were what was needed.”

So often we look for people, but we want them to be of our own choosing, or to be someone like we’d be comfortable with, but Jesus’s command to pray first means that our wants and choices for our leaders, pastors and missionaries must recede into the background. So often, when we ourselves look for workers, we might be like the people of Israel, who want a king like the other nations, like the tall, good looking Saul, but we in fact need to wait for the Spirit filled tow headed kid David, who turned out to be the man after God’s own heart. 

That Jesus calls for prayer means that this is something that we are not equipped or capable of doing on our own, but something for which we need the wisdom, power and guidance of God. So often people within the church seem to operate on the assumption that they can look at others, decide what their gifts and talents are, push and prod them to go where they think that they ought to go, and boast and crow about their accomplishment in getting that person to do what they assume God wanted that person to do. Certainly the Lord of the harvest is more than able to call, equip and empower his workers for his harvest, but this does not mean that anyone within the church has the wisdom to tell from someone’s supposed natural talents or spiritual gifts precisely where the Lord of the harvest wants that person. Otherwise the command would have been something like, “Figure it out and make them go there.” Rather, the Lord of the harvest tells his church precisely to ask him to send out his workers where he wants them – into the harvest where they are needed.

The call to prayer means acknowledging Jesus as Lord of the harvest and it means that we seek the people that he wants for his workers in the places the that he wants them. It means that we must acknowledge and  follow his sovereignty in the calling, preparation and sending of his workers into his harvest, and being placed in the seas of human need where he would want them. This is what each one in denominational leadership and serving with mission boards needs to remember, that they are ever and always to be subject to the Lord of the harvest as he seeks to fulfill the prayers of his people for workers to come into his harvest.

But praying this prayer is not enough; praying this way also entails being ready to become such a worker oneself. Jesus gave this call for workers to those who had already been enlisted as worker and who would eventually be sent out as workers. Jesus gave this command twice: in this passage, to the twelve, and in Luke 10:2, when he sent out the seventy.  It seems that his issuing of this command was with the understanding that the needs that they would uncover on  their mission would move them to a sense of need and compassion for the people they would encounter, and that this would brand upon their souls the need for prayer for workers to continue the work of the harvest around the world.

The underlying principle, then, is that Jesus is not commanding them to pray for something for someone else that they would be unwilling to do for themselves. The disciple that prays that prayer needs to be someone who will be willing and ready to be sent out to fulfill that same prayer. To pray this without hypocrisy means that commitment to be a worker, wherever one is. It is understanding that having received the salvation of Jesus means being willing to be used to take the message of that salvation to others. It means the understanding that we ourselves are called to be missionaries ourselves, not necessarily in the sense of being in cross cultural or vocational ministry, but in the sense of being workers and witnesses for Jesus Christ wherever we are.

Wilfred Grenfell, the medical missionary to Labrador in Canada, was once a guest at a socially exclusive dinner in London, England. There was a lady who was seated next to him at the meal who asked him, “Is it true, Dr. Grenfell, that you are a missionary?”

He replied, “Is it true, madam, that you are not?”

So then, the vision of the harvest which comes from Jesus mean a calm trust in God to follow his instructions and methods for reaching the harvest. His plan always has been to use his people to reach other people, and the people he uses are those who have been sent into the harvest as his faithful workers. God does not give us a quick, easy, short cut way to become a worker, but commands us to start with prayer. So this means that we need first of all to address the Lord of the harvest with the need of the world, and request from him the people that we need to reach the world. His call is to bring before him the need for workers and laborers here and throughout our nation and our world. Even more, let us add on the request that the Lord will revive us with his Holy Spirit, and make us all witnesses to him in the power of Christ. The qualifications which we can see from scripture are not that someone is universally liked or socialized effectively to a lost and dying world, but rather, someone who is divinely dissatisfied with the world as it is, who sees those around him as sheep without a shepherd, and who is a believer in Jesus Christ, who lives in fellowship with Jesus Christ in faith and obedience, and who will witness to Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s plan to reach the harvest calls for his people to reach other people.  If the Great Shepherd has found us, he calls us to reach those who are now like sheep without a shepherd. His plan includes the call and command to his people to pray for workers to accomplish his work of bringing in his harvest. The harvest today is as great today as it ever was, but the greatness of God is more than adequate to meet the need. His invitation to pray for workers to come into his harvest is also his promise to fulfill the prayer. Therefore pray this way with the confidence that God will answer the prayer, and let the love and compassion of Jesus move you to keep on praying for his laborers for the harvest.

The need for laborers then entails a willingness to  become a worker oneself. Make it a part of your praying for laborers the act of volunteering to be a part of meeting the needs  where you are. Look at the opportunities before you, and asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit, with holy and loving confidence and boldness, to be an effective witness for Christ. And include in this a willingness to be sent wherever he leads into harvest, as you recognized that the Lord of the harvest has the right to send you where he wants.

Even more, this is a request that needs to be much, much more a request that is an integral part of our prayer meetings when we gather together to pray. Too often church members have been notorious for bringing up physical needs and perhaps financial needs, and neglect to keep the prayer for workers to be sent into the harvest as a consistent part of their prayer requests. The needs for workers for the needs of the local church could certainly be brought under this explicit command and implied promise. Certainly a church which is between pastors can pray with this command and promise for a pastor – but they should then look for the one that they eventually call as God’s answer to this prayer, and the worker he has sent to their place in the harvest.

If the church which makes this request is seeking to be a part of reaching the world for Christ, this would then also entail being willing to live with what happens when the Lord of the harvest puts his nail pierced hand on the shoulder of someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister or friend or neighbor within the congregation, and points that person to a place in the harvest where he wants that person. Praying this prayer then means being willing to live with the consequences of God fulfilling this prayer as it touches the lives of those we know and love. It may mean sacrificing one’s own ambitions for that son or daughter and allowing the Lord of the harvest to put that person into a place of little recognition or even physical danger. It may mean letting go of someone who we may think needs to continue to be a part of our church fellowship for a long time more. But this really comes down living with the Lordship of Jesus Christ over that someone else’s life and not opposing it if I have other ideas or plans.

But there is still one more thing from these verses that needs to be emphasized: in the work of reaching the world with the gospel, the leaders and people within the church need to keep it in mind that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church for everything in every way (Ephesians 1:21-23), is the Lord of the harvest. And this is where the wickedness of much of what happens among elders, pastors, church leaders and denominational officials that some call, ‘church politics,’ is highlighted, where it means behavior which is contrary to the explicit Word of God – rivalry, cutthroat competition, slander and backbiting as evil as anything which takes place in a secular corporation – and behavior which stands in any way in the way of the Lord of the harvest from sending his workers where he chooses. One of the consequences of someone seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus is often that others will seek to hijack, sidetrack, sabotage or stonewall that person as he or she seeks to follow the Lord of the harvest into his harvest field where he leads. Certainly that person is still responsible to obey God rather than man, as far as the leading is scriptural, but I personally find the, “That’s tough, just put up with it,” attitude toward church politics to be an unscriptural response. Rather, the situation calls for a healthy and holy respect for the Lord and Master of the harvest, the realization that his decisions are final, and the final acquiescence in the direction pointed by the finger of the right hand pierced by the nail of Golgotha.

******

As far as some current trends in training people in pastoral ministry, vocational missionary work and denominational leadership, the following articles piqued my interest:

The Seminary Bubble 

Bursting the Seminary Bubble

What the author writes about ministry as apprenticeship is very apt. Though I value my friendships with my friends from my seminary years, I’ve felt his model of apprenticeship might have been a more effective preparation, and others such as John Wesley and Charles Finney felt the same way. I don’t think that a ‘ministry internship’ as part of a seminary education is the answer here.

Here is a further article on what another author sees as a coming bubble in higher education – and one which I would say had already arrived and is simply waiting to burst:

The Higher Education Bubble

Here are some thoughts which come to mind on these matters:

  • It’s becoming plainer than ever that a number of people have been educated beyond what they need to make a living.
  • It should also be said that many are being put into the higher education system who have no business being there in terms of their goals and personal capabilities.
  • Higher education often leaves a person overqualified for the work that they know how to find, and this often leads to a cycle of chronic underemployment.
  • Christian institutions of higher education do not do their students, graduates, alumni, staff and faculty and denominational sponsors good when they follow uncritically the same lines of thought and action as the secular institutions.
  • Much of seminary education is really not a preparation for pastoral ministry and missionary work but rather for continued higher education. In this I wholeheartedly agree with Jerry Bowyer. For instance, I personally found it extraordinarily difficult to draw a line between much of what was taught in New Testament exegesis and the actual understanding and application of the Word of God necessary for an effective preaching ministry. I found that the German theories on redaction criticism, form criticism and source criticism, for instance, had more to do with unsubstantiated, highly subjective theories on how some professors thought the text came to being than in actual interpretation and exposition of the text itself. And my background in classical studies, where much of the methodology of the German higher critics had already long since been repudiated, made knowing those theories more of an exercise in the history of Biblical interpretation than something that I could actually use in the pastorate. For myself, I found that ditching those theories in favor of more traditional paths of interpretation resulted in my being able to explain and apply the scriptures much more effectively in my preaching ministry.
  • It seems like there’s actually a pattern of overqualification and underemployment that dogs some people who come through Christian colleges and seminaries. I’ve read what others have written on this, but bore could be said on this, and I intend to write more on this.
  • I consider what I wrote above about the need of the world and the Lord of the harvest, and the number of brothers and sisters that I’ve known who have come through Bible colleges and seminaries who are no longer in vocational ministry. I don’t think that they can be dismissed simply with a cruel judgment that they never were really called to pastoral ministry or missionary service. There are a number of reasons why they may not have continued in vocational ministry. I myself wonder, with the need of the world and the call of the Lord of the harvest for workers, whether the need might be met more not just by continuing to send more and more through seminary and Bible college but by seeking to listen to, pray for and love those who may no longer be in vocational ministry, and understand that the Lord of the harvest may still have substantial work left for them to do.

What Do We Mean By ‘Surrender’?

Updated!

There’s a word which keeps on cropping up in our worship songs now, and it’s that word, “surrender.” Unfortunately, though, it’s too often not explained, embellished or elaborated upon in those songs, so I fear that it becomes a ‘fill in the blank’ for many. Many of these songs seem to be taking it from the hymn, “I Surrender All,” where it is definitely embellished, verse by verse, as a summation of an act of personal consecration and devotion to Christ. Frankly, the Biblical term which translates most closely to ‘surrender’  (Greek paradidomi) is more often translated as ‘betray’ and it’s most often used of the betrayal of Jesus. So, if this word is to have any legitimacy at all in our worship  there needs to be a connection of the word ‘surrender’ to Biblical teaching and experience. Here is how I would make that connection in a worship service if I were serving as a worship leader or as a pastor.

The first thing that I would make clear is that ‘surrender’, when it could be used to describe the consecration experience of a Biblical figure or to summarize a Biblical command, is never passive. It’s a “Here I am” like the ‘Hineni’ of Isaiah 6:6 that is a personal commitment to follow the will and the mission of God, and in that case, it had nothing to do with a corporate worship experience and being caught up in the music and the emotions, but with a personal revelation of God that was deeply convicting and transforming and led to a life of ministry and perhaps even martyrdom, if Isaiah was indeed martyred during the reign of Manasseh, as some traditions indicate. It had nothing to do with a description of an momentary emotional state that we achieve in a worship service and much more to do with a life sold out to God that was lived in faith and obedience outside the temple praise and worship experience.

Furthermore, I would bring these scriptures into play to describe what we mean by ‘surrender’ if we mean for it to have any meaning at all which is rooted in Biblical truth:

It means first of all, that I have come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. There is no ‘surrender’ that has any meaning as long as I am living without Christ and without hope in this world, trusting in the delusion of any of my good deeds to recommend me to God and get me into heaven. Now is the time to do this; there is no waiting to clean myself up or for some experience to come down upon me like some lightning bolt from heaven.

Romans 10:9-10: “ . . . if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus[that Jesus is Lord], and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”

Mark 1: 15: “ . . . the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

II Corinthians 6:2: “  . . . behold, now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.”

It means personal consecration to God, to the Lordship of Christ, as someone who has died to sin and who is raised with Christ. It means the recognition and acceptance of the legitimate authority of the risen Lord as Lord, Master and Savior over my life, as the outcome of my faith in him for my eternal salvation.

Romans 6:11-13: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto God.”

Romans 6:19: “  . . .  for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity: even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”

It means consecration of my entire life to God through Jesus Christ as the ultimate act of worship, a refusal to be squeezed into the mold of the fallen world, and surrender to be transformed by the renewing of one’s mind by the Word through the Spirit of God.

Romans 12:1-2: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

It means commitment of all my own plans and desires to be accomplished according to the will and through the provision of God. It means, namely, a refusal of any kind of independence from God in my own plans for my life and what I want in my life, but to recognize his sovereignty, guidance and provision as supreme.

Proverbs 16:3: “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”

It means casting my cares and concerns on God in prayer, since he is the one who really is in control and able to do all things well.

I Peter 5:7: “ . . . Casting all your care upon him: for he careth for you.”

It means a refusal to attempt to control my life and the life of any other person, but to recognize and allow for the Lordship of Christ and sovereignty of God in the lives of others. My surrender of my life to God means also that must recognize his Lordship over others, particularly where they are following the Word of God as they see it, their conscience and the leading of God as they see it. It means that I claim to be and try to be lord and master of no one, based on my self conceit or pride of position.

Romans 14:9-10: “. . . Christ both died and rose and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and the living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”

Its outcome means that my plans and my pursuits are no longer to be as they were before, but that my life is to be a reflection of Jesus Christ in every way. It means that I make no plans and take no courses of action that may end up in transgressions of the will of God.

Romans 13: “And that, knowing the time, that now is high time to wake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

It means turning to a new life in Christ walking in the light as Jesus is in the light, owning up to my sins in confession before God, and seeking to be walk in the Spirit and be filled with the Spirit.

I John 1:5-10: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.”

Galatians 5:26: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

Ephesians 5:17: “And be not drunk, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit . . .”

In honor of the 40oth anniversary of the King James Version, all quotations are from that version.