Daily Encouragement Net
“Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).
In the mid-nineties I served for two years in an overseer type position when I pastored in New England and write a monthly article for a newsletter to encourage ministers. This is a long file with varied topics. I plan to eventually break them out and arrange by topic.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
In one of the Peanuts cartoons, Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels and then threatens him with her fist if he doesn't. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus. "These five fingers," says Lucy. “Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “Which channel do you want?" asks Linus.
Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"
My but does keeping unity require effort! Paul is of course writing here to the church at Ephesus and really to every church. The phrase “make every effort” translates the Greek spoudazo (note the title of our newsletter). The KJV states “endeavoring” and the NASV “being diligent”. Kittel notes that “Christians must exert themselves to maintain the unity Christ has achieved for them”. How true!
The slightest burr in the saddle can become an irritant that will divide a church. It takes great effort and constant vigilance to maintain unity within the local body of believers. This is also true in our section! I hope our relationships as fellow pastors deepen in the coming months. Yet Satan will use every tool at his disposal to divide us. I believe there are several keys to maintaining our unity and I specifically speak here to my fellow pastors.
We keep unity by praying together. It’s amazing the unifying dimension of prayer. As we together express our mutual dependency upon God we realize how much we really do need each other. Each fellowship meeting will be marked by a time of prayer. This will at times be somewhat formal but I also hope to see one brother praying with another or in small circles before or after the meetings. I also encourage you to remember each other along with our churches and ministries in prayer throughout the month. One of the strongest forms of encouragement I receive is when somebody stops by or calls me and says, “How can I pray for you?”
We keep unity by talking to one another. Let’s get to know one another. I’m convinced that every believer I providentially encounter has something to offer me. We come from a variety of backgrounds (ethnically and religiously). One of the reasons I believe in regular monthly fellowship meetings is that it gives us the opportunity to get to know one another. I ask each host church to be open ½ hour before the meeting and I’m asking the pastors to have some coffee ready. I also don’t feel anybody is going to run us out if we stay around and talk after the formal meeting time is over. When possible consider carpooling with a neighboring pastor to the meeting if for no other reason the ability to have fellowship and get to know one another better. I also encourage you men that are involved to especially reach out to a fellow pastor that may not be and invite him.
We keep unity by “bearing with one another.” This must be mentioned. It’s one of the most important elements in maintaining unity. As we talk and get to know one another we are going to find we don’t see eye to eye on every matter. At any given time there are certain teachings that have the capability to divide. Amazingly they are usually just temporary. I find as we stay focused on Christ, the Bible and our many points of agreement we can overcome Satan’s attempts to divide us. The Puritan Richard Baxter stated “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”
I write this article from the perspective of one whose church has been going through several months of disunity. In fact as of this writing we are not through it, so I ask for your prayers! During times like these the preciousness of unity is especially acute. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
In the coming months I hope we can pull together as ministers in the Southeast Massachusetts Section. Let’s make every effort to develop and maintain unity among ourselves!
In diligent service,
Stephen C. Weber
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
What a commission for the man of God! The KJV, which many of us are familiar with, uses “study” in this verse for the phrase “do your best”. Apparently the translators are using the context to assist in the meaning of the word and certainly it includes study. However, we again have here the Greek word spoudazo, which has the sense of being diligent. Are you diligent in your work for Christ and His Kingdom? Are you doing your very best for God?
Oswald Chambers observed “If God is diligent, surely we ought to be diligent in doing our duty to him. Think how patient and how diligent God has been with us!” The great men who have distinguished themselves in the Bible and through the ages of the church have lives characterized by diligence. Effective ministry for Christ in our day requires no less. I’m now reading the autobiography of Billy Graham. Among other things one sees from a very early age a commitment to diligence.
Our goal is to present ourselves before God for His approval. That’s what matters and that’s all that really matters. Many of the criteria for success in man’s view will come woefully short before God. Those that were seen as so successful in the eyes of man may very well be a failure before God and those that man may see as “losers” may very possibly have the approval of God. The Greek word for approval implies “putting to the test with a view to approving the genuine” (Richards). It has the sense to be tested by trial.
Paul enjoins Timothy (and us) to be “a workman who does not need to be ashamed”. Interesting the use of the word “workman”. Earlier in the chapter Paul uses three illustrations to demonstrate the need for commitment; the soldier, the athlete and the farmer. We as ministers of the Gospel are called to work for God and to demonstrate this call with the utmost in commitment. We will be able to stand before our God without shame. John wrote “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).
We need to heed carefully the last phrase in the text. The Amplified Bible rather cumbersomely states “correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth”. Fellow preacher, our people need the Word! Preach good solid Bible messages. Examine your preaching. Paul was able to say to the Ephesian elders “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27).
Last month my family and I visited a granite quarry in Vermont. We were told that they feel they have another 10,000 years of granite to mine out at the current pace. I guess that’s job security! We also have an inexhaustible wealth in God’s Word. Keep studying preacher. Sir Walter Scott observed, “The most learned, acute, and diligent student cannot, in the longest life, obtain an entire knowledge of the Bible. The more deeply he works the mine, the richer and more abundant he finds the ore; new light continually beams from this source of heavenly knowledge, to direct the conduct, and illustrate the work of God and the ways of men; and he will at last leave the world confessing, that the more he studied the Scriptures, the fuller conviction he had of his own ignorance, and of their inestimable value.”
Let me give you an idea to consider that I have used for many years. Each week I take a brief summary of each message I have preached the previous week and place them in a portion of the bulletin. This is intended to benefit the people as they have opportunity to review the message. It also benefits me as I’m forced after the sermon to concisely account the basic truths I was seeking to convey in a paragraph or two. I use my sermon notes but attempt to put my message into a very readable format, a mere crystallization of the message. My secretary adds these each week to a single file and I can thus access a summary of every message I’ve preached (or taught) by topic, date, or main Scripture reference. As you can imagine this is a pretty big file!
11/97 A good minister
“If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed” (1 Timothy 4:6).
Several years ago I had a man in my last church that had acquired a card indicating he was a minister. I asked him how he had gotten the card and he showed me some information about an organization in California. Well, I mailed off for some information myself and I decided I would have my dog, Enoch, ordained. After all, he had been a well-behaved dog with a good name, and he did like to serve. I filled out the application indicating his name was Enoch Weber, that he was a 49-year-old male (7X7), and gave him some pretty good references, which I could do with conviction. There was no charge. Several weeks later I received a beautiful certificate (which was far more distinguished looking than my Assembly of God ordination certificate). Over the next several months Rev. Enoch Weber received more mail. Some of the mail encouraged Enoch to support an orphanage in Mexico but he didn't feel "led". He was offered a doctorate for $25.00, but I declined for him since the thought of him having more schooling than I might cause problems in our home. He is now deceased and if there is a doggy heaven I'm sure he's there.
The above story is absolutely true and I still have the certificate to prove it. Was Enoch a legitimate minister? If I would have paid the $25.00 for the doctorate would this have been legitimate? Why or why not?
Richard Lafferty read this story and made the following interesting theological observation, “If Rev. Enoch was Pentecostal then I am sure he put his paw on your shoulder or head every time you said ‘heal!’”. Well I must say that the certificate really didn’t make much difference to Enoch’s ministry. (He had the gift of hospitality, very friendly to guests, but frankly he really never was much of a preacher).
Let’s examine the phrase in our text “you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus”. What is a “good minister”? Is it based on the size of the church, the size of the paycheck, how many speaking opportunities one gets, etc.? In the passage quoted above there is a single criterion for this “good minister”. “If you point these things out to the brothers”. The KJV translates “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things”. The Greek word here is “hupotithemi” which is used only one other time in the entire NT (in Romans 16:4). It means, “to place underneath”. I like the way the Amplified Bible states it: “If you lay all these instructions before the brethren”.
Brothers, we have a most important assignment here. Seminars and conferences abound and I’ve seen hundreds of places to get more “education”. (See me for the address of Enoch’s credentialing body if you would like your very own doctorate.) But the Bible says “if you point these things out”… Stay in the Word, give your people a steady diet of the sound, immutable truths of Scripture. Now that’s a good minister.
12/97 Christmas article
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10).
As we are all getting ready for the special Christmas season and opportunities to share the gospel with our communities, may God open hearts throughout Southeast Massachusetts! May people get beyond the mere gushy, gushy, sentiments of the season and truly see that this was and is no ordinary Child!
The events that the above portion of Scripture record, contrary to traditional assumptions, took place some time after the birth of Jesus. The wise men had first seen the star while in the east and had traveled to Jerusalem to inquire regarding the exact place of Christ’s birth. After receiving the information that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem they went there to worship Him. For some reason, after initially seeing the star while in the east, it was no longer seen for a period (compare 2:2 and 2:9,10) until after they had been to Jerusalem and were on their way to Bethlehem.
These men were earnest seekers. The journey from the east to Jerusalem was likely long and hard. But they were persistent. It was the appearance of the star on the way to Bethlehem that prompted the response described in the KJV “rejoiced with exceeding great joy”. The apparent redundancy in the English is an attempt to convey the richness of emotion that Matthew uses four Greek words to express. The Amplified says, “thrilled with ecstatic joy”. Why were they filled with such a great joy? After all, at this point they had not yet seen Jesus (read the text carefully). It clearly was the appearance of the star that prompted the joy. But why? I believe we have here an example of how God reveals Himself to the earnest seeker. They had seen the star and then went to Jerusalem by faith. The reappearance of the star on their way to Bethlehem gave them an assurance that their seeking was not in vain.
At times the light of God’s guidance is remarkably clear like the star seen by the wise men while in the east. At other times God’s leading is less clear. But we walk by faith and obedience to God’s Word. Then we see the clear, unmistakable light of God’s guidance again, as the wise men did when they saw the star a second time. Truly this is a time of great rejoicing. Where are you at today in your walk of faith? For some the answer will surely be “I haven’t seen the ‘star’ in a long time”. Keep seeking, believing, and following my friend. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12).
I hope you men have a great Christmas Day and New Year. By the time you read this you will likely be through with all the special services, except perhaps your Christmas Eve service. My family and I will be travelling out to the Midwest Christmas Day for a time with our families. We plan to return on New Year’s Day. We are looking forward to another year of service for our Master and His Church. I’m also looking forward to my first full year as your Presbyter and the fellowship growing in our section. I plan to visit each of you in your own churches and enjoy a time of fellowship and prayer together. Last week (Dec. 15-19) I was able to visit with five of you! I really look forward to getting to know all of you better and having fellowship with you.
I’ve often been appreciative of the lesser-known characters in the Bible. I reckon that if the Bible were written today most of us at best would merit a mention as one of these characters. More likely we would be among the many during the Bible times that lived out their lives faithfully for Christ without ever being mentioned by name. Yet each one of them had a part in the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.
Epaphras is mentioned just three times (twice here in Colossians and once in Philemon). It appears that he initially took the message of Christ to Colosse (1:7), which is located in the southwest corner of modern day Turkey, and planted the church there. The missionary journeys of Acts do not mention Paul ever visiting Colosse.
I believe one of the “resolutions” many of us will make as we begin the New Year is in regard to our prayer lives. I want to note two aspects of Epaphras’ prayer life here; it’s intensity and content. Paul says “he is always wrestling in prayer for you”. What a powerful description of intercessory prayer! What an example to us regarding the burden a pastor carried for his flock. The word the NIV translates wrestling is “agonizomai” from which we get our English “agonize”. The original literally conveys “to struggle, to compete for a prize”, and figuratively “to contend with an adversary”. In using this word Paul is telling the Colossians how earnestly Epaphras is holding them up in prayer. What an example for us as we pray for those we minister to.
The content of his prayer is so unlike the typical “bless ‘em Lord” prayers we often say for one another. Note the rich spiritual interest that he expressed in the phrase “that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured”. This is my prayer for each of you today and for this new year of service for our Lord! Will you also pray for me and each of your fellow ministers?
Paul ends his remarks about Epaphras with this statement of commendation “I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis” (Colossians 4:13). Of course the highest level of approbation is that of our Lord. We all hope to one day hear “Well done…”. But to have the great apostle Paul vouch for us (“bear him record” in the KJV) would likely be the next best thing. As we serve our Lord in this coming year let’s remember these words. Let’s work hard for our Lord with great zeal.
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Consider with me the last phrase in this verse. On the surface it seems to contradict other Pauline teaching regarding salvation. We don’t save ourselves. That’s fundamental theology. We know we’re saved by God’s grace. But (regardless of standard version) that’s not what Paul seems to be saying here in our daily verse. So what does he mean? Let’s take his words seriously even though they may make us think a bit.
A standard safety announcement on commercial flights has to do with the oxygen masks. The flight attendant explains to place the mask on yourself first, then any children that are with you. Initially this seems to be contrary to the “others first” ethic. However, it’s altogether proper. By assuring that you stay conscience you’re able to help those around you who may be unable to place the masks on by themselves. I believe that’s the focus of this verse spiritually. We must stay spiritual fit to faithfully influence for Christ and eternity. We’ve all seen examples of those that don’t and it’s effect not only on them but also on those around them. When a minister fails regardless of denomination we all suffer. The world really makes little distinction between A/G, Four Square or even Catholic for that matter.
Staying spiritually fit is a daily endeavor. A rich experience at a Promisekeepers rally, Minister Institute, Congress or other special function may very well be a part of our spiritual mosaic, but real fitness is a result of our day by day walk with Christ. Are you staying fit?
Let’s thus watch our life and doctrine closely. Consider that within our section there are several thousand people watching us, both within our churches and in our communities. (Actually that’s probably an understatement!) What a scandal when a minister fails to keep the faith and charge given to him at his ordination. “God, help us to persevere today!”
3/98 Being Known
“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.” (2 Timothy 3:10,11)
One of the greatest distinctions we have in our special call of pastoral work is our knowability. I am thankful for the contributions that many have made in my life and through the years I have received spiritual input from a variety of sources. Our church people also have the potential and opportunity of receiving many forms of input as well. Consider the typical Christian throughout most of the church’s history. For the first 1500 years he didn’t own a Bible so he was totally dependent on a “cleric” for his understanding of spiritual things. Sadly, many times this cleric himself was deceived and also led his people in deception. With the printing press came the publication and availability of the Bible and other Christian literature. Until the early years of this century these were the sole source of input for most, apart from the ministry of the local pastor.
Then came the radio, TV, audiocassette and the videocassette, conferences and special meetings. (I’m aware that with considerable effort some of our forefathers attended campmeetings and the like, which I suppose was an early form of conference ministry.) Our people now can hit the Net and get spiritual food (and deceptions as well). Many of these additional sources have been good for the church and, overall, our people can be stronger in their faith as a result. (Amazingly however, I suspect that most Christians are weaker in their faith in our day than those of yesteryear!)
But we must remember the very distinct gift a pastor (shepherd) has to offer to a local congregation. We know our people, and they can know us! I can pick up little Seth on Sunday morning following the service and ask his Grandma how his asthma has been. You see, I’ve prayed for little Seth and I visited him in the hospital when he had a serious flare-up. I saw the burden this was to his Grandma and have called her several times inquiring about his condition. This is a unique role of the pastor and no other “religious professional” will ever fill this position.
We need to remember, brothers, our ability to know and to be known by our people. I’m not speaking of the cheap trivialization of this word so common today. I once had an ardent follower of Oral Roberts (in PA) who had received some letters when the “personalization” feature of word processors first came out. His name was sprinkled throughout the letter so he was convinced that Oral Roberts had personally written to him!
In our text, Paul is writing what most consider his final letter. The recipient is his trusted long-time associate Timothy. He writes “But thou hast fully known” (the NIV says “You, however, know all about”). The underlying Greek word here is most interesting. Paul does not use the typical word for “know” which is “gnosis” but a relatively rare one, “parakoloutheo”. This word is used only four times in the entire New Testament. Luke uses it in the introduction to his gospel where he is asserting the very careful research that went into his study and writing. He writes “I myself have carefully investigated everything” (1:3). The word for “investigated” is “parakoloutheo”. For many years Timothy had the opportunity to carefully observe and investigate Paul’s life. Our people are also investigating our lives as well. What do they see?
The first recorded meeting between Paul and Timothy is in Acts 16:1 during Paul’s second missionary journey. The young disciple joined Paul and Silas on this journey and we find him referenced abundantly throughout the remainder of Paul’s life. Apart from the two letters written to him we find four other occasions in Acts where his name is specifically mentioned and he is referenced in eight of the Pauline epistles. (He’s also mentioned in the Book of Hebrews which some consider to have been written by Paul). Paul knew Timothy, and Timothy knew Paul.
Now Paul is passing the torch and he calls to Timothy’s remembrance this long personal association with the words “but thou hast fully known…” The conjunction “but” places this verse in opposition to the false teachers and teaching referenced in the preceding verses. The emphatic “thou” targets the charge right to Timothy. Paul goes on to list nine characteristics of which Timothy had observed in his life. Men, I want to examine briefly each of these characteristics and challenge you as to consider what your people are observing in your life.
My doctrine – It’s interesting that Paul begins with this. Paul teaches Timothy doctrine not only in the two epistles that he directed to him but surely all along their long journey together. Pastors, are you teaching your people sound doctrine? Do they know what you believe? Do you have a plan to help you determine that you are presenting to them the whole counsel of God in His word? Can you say to your people “You know my doctrine”?
My manner of life – This comes from time spent being together. Some time ago I was speaking to a brother that related how he had sat across from a very well known Christian celebrity at a function. He made the observation that he was an altogether different person up close than he had presented himself publicly. Timothy knew Paul up close and personally. Men, do your people see your manner of life? Have they seen you with your “sleeves rolled up”? Have you been able to be transparent and bear your heart with them? (Oh yes, I know some people want a mere caricature of a minister that is altogether ‘spiritual’ that they really don’t know. And some ministers groom this image). I’m touched by how real Paul is when he writes to Timothy. Read these epistles with a filter on, looking for this realness in such phrases as; “do your best to come to me quickly”, “only Luke is with me”, and “do your best to get here before winter”. Let God’s people into your life and see the overcoming, transforming power of Christ at work!
My purpose – Paul had adequately conveyed what drove him. His purpose was clear. The Greek word here literally means “a setting forth”. Paul’s was not an aimless life, but one in which a sound determination had been made to fulfill God’s will. Do your people know your purpose? Do they know what matters to you? Do they witness your passion for the work of God?
My faith – On the surface this may seem so fundamental that we may wonder why Paul felt a need to call it to Timothy’s attention. Of course Paul had faith and was a man of faith. Ah, the richness of the Greek word “pistis”, so diminished in our day. The word means “a persuasion; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation; and constancy in such profession. Men, do your people see your faith in this light? Do they understand the deep conviction you have in the Christian way? Interestingly this word can also be translated “faithfulness” and surely Timothy had seen Paul’s faithfulness. Do your people see yours?
My longsuffering – This is translated “patience” in the NIV and is another rich word comprised of two words, which indeed means to “suffer long”. Wow, is this ever needed in pastoral work! Do your people see your patience, men? Do you demonstrate it to them personally and do they witness it in your life? In our church we have a young lady (actually she’s in her late 40’s) who’s mentally retarded. She can be a bit of a pest at times but is deeply loved by our church and has an earnest love for God. At times her prayers have an unreal clarity that indicates she really does get it! I realize the way I treat Sandy is being observed by our church and is a test of my character.
My charity – This is the old KJV word for love, which of course has morphed much since 1611. The NIV translates it “love” and of course it’s the wonderful Greek word “agape”. Do your people know that you love them? Do they see your love for others, including the “hard to love”? I once heard “Haven of Rest” speaker, Ray Ortlund, encourage pastors to periodically lean over the pulpit, make eye contact, and warmly tell the people that you love them. It’s amazing the warmth that can come over the place when I’ve done this! Many people are starving for real “agape” love from a pastor that cares. Let’s give it to them.
My patience (“endurance” NIV)– Here’s another example of word confusion, likely due to the way language changes (sorry if we have any “KJV only” adherents out there!) The Greek word used here is “hupomone” and conveys endurance, steadfastness or perseverance. Paul was able to express his steadfastness in the next chapter when he wrote “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). I increasingly appreciate ministers and ministries that endure. In my 20 + years of ministry I’ve seen plenty of flashes in the pan, lot’s of glitz, and numerous fads (the fads that “You just gotta see”). I could mention some of them here and bring a smile to some faces but also might be misunderstood by others. Men, do your people see your endurance? You may not be able raise the crowd the way that flashy southern preacher does, but do you demonstrate the spirit of a plodder? Oswald Chambers has noted, “It is a great thing to see physical pluck, and greater still to see moral pluck, but the greatest to see of all is spiritual pluck, to see a man who will stand true to the integrity of Jesus Christ no matter what he is going through.”
My persecutions and afflictions – I’ll combine these two. Paul calls to Timothy’s remembrance three specific times of persecution, perhaps typical of the many others he endured. These specific persecutions took place on Paul’s first missionary journey before he met Timothy. Timothy had likely heard these stories over and over, but there’s another reasonable conjecture here that I find interesting. Paul’s first recorded meeting with Timothy is in Lystra, as recorded in Acts 16, and the record indicates that Timothy was already a disciple at this time. Going back to Acts 14 we have the chronicle of that first journey and the persecution that Paul and Barnabas endured in Lystra. Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city assumed dead (14:19). We also have a record of a small band of believers that Paul left, and on the return trip he strengthened in their faith (14:21-23). Might Timothy have been among these believers? I also find it interesting that Paul does not refer here to persecutions of which Timothy would have been a part, like in Philippi.
Men, how are you enduring persecution and affliction? I doubt if any of us have the stories that Paul has but we all probably have some church stories to tell and may certainly disagree with the old phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones bur words can never hurt me”. I know that words have hurt me! Last year I went through the most painful period in my entire ministry and yes what people say about you does hurt. But I wonder what others saw in me as I truly “endured” these afflictions. Did they see the character of Christ being formed in me? What about you? How do you hold up under trial?
Finally, men, let us realize the powerful impact we can have on God’s people as we are known by them in our special, unique position as pastor. Let us hear this final charge from Paul to Timothy in this Pastoral epistle and let God’s people know us! Let us, like Paul, demonstrate the character of Christ.
June 1998 Spiritual Awakening Part 1
"All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel" (Nehemiah 8:1).
Most of you are aware that there was some discussion in our recent Council about the current move of God and interest in revival. I understand those of us on the Presbytery will be discussing this matter further and this should be interesting. I believe this issue has the capability of causing division among us. Indeed it already has in some places. In this article I want to examine an instance in Bible history where there was a great spiritual awakening among the people of God. Surely the characteristics of this awakening will provide sound precedent for any awakening during any time period among God's people. This is not to say that it characterizes all that is normal or even acceptable in an awakening. However it is my conviction that the characteristics found here provide a solid pattern for what we might expect from the immutable God and His ever sin struggling people. As Pentecostals we are familiar with the hermeneutic of pattern. Our distinctive doctrinal position regarding the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and specifically tongues as initial evidence is derived not from a clear didactic portion of Scripture, but rather from what we believe to be the normative pattern found in the historical record (Acts). This is consistent with our fundamental point that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
This "revival" is recorded in the book of Nehemiah and took place about 440 BC about 100 years following the return of the first exiles from Persia. (I'm aware that the word "revival" does not occur in the standard translations but assert that this portion describes what we call revival today. It certainly describes the "awakening" I am praying for in my life and church!)
Let's note several characteristics of this wonderful time in God's history that can be gleaned from Nehemiah 8:
This "awakening" was characterized by unity. "All the people assembled as one man" (8:1a). It doesn't appear to be a leadership initiated unity but rather a deep sense of need from the people. Now God had indeed earlier placed on the heart of Nehemiah to assemble the people (7:5) and the people were perhaps gathered at his appeal. What a powerful evidence of God's work when the people of God desire to come together! Isn't the phrase "as one man" a tremendous expression of unity?
This "awakening" was characterized by the reading of God's Word. "They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses" (8:1b). The NASV poses this as a petition "they asked Ezra the scribe…". This indicates a hunger on the part of the people for the Word of God. How I rejoice in those times in my life and those that I minister to for a genuine hunger for God's Word. This was not a "text as pretext followed by miscellaneous pious ramblings" approach, but rather a reading of God's Word from morning to midday as the people stood to receive it (8:1-5). The content? The "Law of Moses", surely not one of the favorite portions of the contemporary church! Pastors, do you read the Word aloud with your congregation regularly? I deeply regret that in some circles of Pentecost this is not seen as "spiritual". After all we may feel that it's the mainline types and Catholics that have a reading of the Bible in church. We "preach" the Word in ours. And after all our people read the Bible at home. Do they? Paul enjoined Timothy "until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13). Oh for a people that have a deep love for the Word of God in both private and public reading!
This "awakening" was characterized by attention to God's Word. "All the people were attentive to the book of the law" (8:3b). Notice carefully the word "attentive". Doesn't that describe the receptiveness we want to see toward God's Word? When Jesus taught we read that "all the people were very attentive to hear him" (Luke 19:48b). I've seen it both ways and a clear mark of God's work in lives is attentiveness to His Word.
This "awakening" was characterized by worship. "Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, 'Amen! Amen!' Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground" (8:6). There's a lot of teaching here. The leader praised God and set an example for the people. The people earnestly responded with humble worship. May it be so in our churches! Do you set an example in praise?
"awakening" was characterized by expository preaching. "The Levites--Jeshua, Bani, … -- instructed the
people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book
of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people
could understand what was being read" (8:7,8). We admittedly have an issue
of interpretation here. The NASV implies they translated the text, likely from
Hebrew to Aramaic, so the people could understand. The KJV and NIV seem to
indicate more a matter of exposition. Either way, let me make a strong, strong
appeal for sound, well developed expository preaching. When we preach do we
merely use a text as a springboard to Pentecostal clichés, phrases, stories
that some will call "anointed" due to our delivery? Paul said
"Preach the Word". See that your preaching contains sound, careful
exposition. While not necessarily devaluing form and style, let's make sure we
have substance and content as well! A suggestion: We have the most important
work in the world. Far more important than any politician, lawyer or doctor. We
are in the business of preparing priceless souls for eternity! You may very
well file your sermon notes or keep them on a disk (backup regularly, I lost a
batch recently that wasn't backed up). I also write a brief summary to my
message and place it in the weekly bulletin. This keeps me accountable and also
serves as a reminder and reinforcement.
"awakening" was characterized by brokenness. "Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and
scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, 'This
day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.' For all the people
had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law" (8:9). What a
powerful response to God's Word. Attentiveness on the part of the people and
sound exposition on the part of the preacher lead to a serious response.
This "awakening" was characterized by great joy. "This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength" (8:10) "And their joy was very great." (8:17). People are longing for this great joy. Some are running here and there seeking it. Some will travel for thousands of miles looking for a religious "high". May we and our people find great joy in the reality of our God and His Word!
There's more, but I'm out of room and you probably wouldn't read much more anyway, so I'll continue next month. Let's continue to seek for the revival God has for us!
July 1998 Spiritual Awakenings Part 2
“And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:6)
Last month I began an article dealing with the great spiritual awakening that took place recorded in Nehemiah 8 and the following chapters. This month I want to note seven additional characteristics of that awakening and we will examine the final seven in the August newsletter. My basic premise has been that many of the same characteristics that mark a biblical awakening or revival should be seen today in any authentic awakening or revival. Summarizing last months seven observations:
This "awakening" was characterized by unity (8:1a).
This "awakening" was characterized by the reading of God's Word (8:1b).
This "awakening" was characterized by attention to God's Word (8:3b).
This "awakening" was characterized by worship (8:6).
This "awakening" was characterized by expository preaching (8:7,8).
This "awakening" was characterized by brokenness (8:9).
This "awakening" was characterized by great joy (8:10,17).
Now let’s continue with this revival and note the next seven observable marks which characterized it:
This “awakening” was characterized by obedience to God’s Word. “They found written in the Law…” (8:14-17). After hearing and giving attention to God’s Word they were convicted of a long neglected specific infraction and took obedient action to correct it. True revival should be accompanied by scrupulous obedience to God and His Word. Notice the change even extended to a desire to obey in a rather unusual way (building booths). I would think an application for believers and churches that experience an awakening today would be an intense desire to live in obedience to God’s Word, being careful in our heart to obey in every way. The serious call to obedience reflected in Charles Sheldon’s classic “In His Steps” comes to mind. In all due respects to the marketing fad around the WWJD theme I frankly don’t see among most the intense accompanying desire to obey. True revival will result in obedience.
This “awakening” was characterized by fasting and other outward signs of a contrite heart. “The Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads” (9:1). I’m not sure exactly what modern day application we can make of this, although I certainly believe fasting should be a part of the normal Christian life. The people expressed their humility not only inwardly but outwardly as well. The forms the outward signs may take in our age will perhaps vary but they surely demonstrated the seriousness under which the people were convicted of their sin. True revival will reflect outwardly the contrite heart within.
This “awakening” was characterized by confession of sin. “(The Israelites) stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers” (9:2b). This appears to be a public confession of sin. Whether it was done in such a manner that one confessed aloud to God while others listened, or rather all confessed at once cannot be definitely determined from the text, although I lean to the confessing all at once. New Testament revelation has clearly revealed the marvelous access we have to God and we are clearly called to confess our sins (1 John 1:9). May it be an earnest part of our public worship service as well. True revival will include confession of sin.
This “awakening” was characterized by separation. “Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners” (9:2) “When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent." (13:3). The text tells us that they “separated themselves from all foreigners”. I certainly do not know all the ways we may see this applied today but a I suspect a strong desire to separate from that which is evil and be consecrated to God will accompany any genuine move of our holy God. I recall a testimony of the past which stated to the affect “Jim just doesn’t go to the same places anymore. He used to spend his time down at the local bar but now he’s with his family and in church. He used to read the porno magazines, now he reads the Bible.” God’s call to be a holy people has never been lifted. True revival will result in a desire to separate and live a holy life.
This “awakening” was characterized by a profession of God as sovereign Lord and Creator. “You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you” (9:6). In our humanistic age we need to shout mightily that God is the Lord and Creator of all things. Our children and young people are inundated with the lie of Satan concerning our origins. If every sermon and lesson in church was on God’s work in creation it would hardly counteract the constant lies they are exposed to. True revival will call attention to the great God and Creator to whom we are accountable.
This “awakening” was characterized by a declaration of their spiritual heritage. “You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham… (9:7ff). Nearly 1,500 years of history is summed up in the next several verses. An awareness of history is vital. The Jewish people have always been a people deeply cognizant of their history. Today we should know and we must teach our people God’s work in history. One of the great lies of modernism has been historical revisionism, which removes an objective basis for history and replaces it with a “whatever fits” view. This poison has afflicted the church as well and I fear even the evangelical church. True revival will be grounded in the history of God’s ancient dealings with His people.
This “awakening” was characterized by “great distress” as the people contemplated how seriously they had violated God’s commandments. “We are in great distress” (Nehemiah 9:37b). We are summing up the events of a period of time here and thus this is not inconsistent with the point regarding “great joy” mentioned earlier. However the people had identified a specific causal relationship in their distress. “Because of our sins…” (9:37a). They did not seek to minimize or excuse their sin or their great plight. I feel as we look at the pathetic state of God’s church in our day and it’s failures to keep God’s commands and the rampant slide to decadence we too should experience great distress. True revival will reflect a distress on the part of God’s people as they become aware of our desperate situation.
Well, I sure don’t like to end a sermon or writing this way but that’s all the room I have for part two! Next month we will note seven more Scriptural marks of revival from Nehemiah and sum up the message with application during the September and October newsletters. Anyone want to discuss these matters? Give me a call or e-mail!
August 1998 Spiritual Awakenings (part 3)
“We will not neglect the house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:39b).
In June and July I have been writing a series dealing with the great spiritual awakening that took place recorded in Nehemiah 8 and the following chapters. This month I want to note seven additional characteristics of that awakening. My basic premise has been that many of the same characteristics that mark a biblical awakening or revival should be seen today in any authentic awakening or revival. Summarizing the previous fourteen observations:
This "awakening" was characterized by unity (8:1a).
This "awakening" was characterized by the reading of God's Word (8:1b).
This "awakening" was characterized by attention to God's Word (8:3b).
This "awakening" was characterized by worship (8:6).
This "awakening" was characterized by expository preaching (8:7,8).
This "awakening" was characterized by brokenness (8:9).
This "awakening" was characterized by great joy (8:10,17).
This “awakening” was characterized by obedience to God’s Word (8:14-17).
This “awakening” was characterized by fasting and other outward signs of a contrite heart (9:1).
This “awakening” was characterized by confession of sin (9:2b).
This “awakening” was characterized by separation (9:2a).
This “awakening” was characterized by a profession of God as sovereign Lord and Creator (9:6).
This “awakening” was characterized by a declaration of their spiritual heritage (9:7ff).
This “awakening” was characterized by “great distress” as the people contemplated how seriously they had violated God’s commandments (9:37b).
Now let’s continue our study on this revival and note the next seven observable marks which characterized it:
This “awakening” was characterized by a binding, written agreement to obey the Law of God. “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it” (9:38). God has been dealing with me regarding written agreements. This year at the Congress conference in Boston (sponsored by “Vision New England”) I went to an excellent seminar that dealt with covenants and the value of placing them in writing. Of course for the last several years mission and vision statements have been popular in both the church and corporate world. Our church has also developed a church covenant. I have encouraged my people to write a written tribute to their parents. I’m so glad I did and was able to read the one I wrote to my Dad, who died earlier this month, during his Memorial Service. Here in Nehemiah we have a solemn occasion with the signing of a written, binding agreement. The KJV calls it a “sure covenant”. The essence of this agreement was to “to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord” (10:29b). The people’s renewed resolve to live in obedience to God, which for them, like us, was such an ongoing struggle, is expressed in a written covenant or agreement. The Bible records the names of the officials that signed or “sealed” it, and these otherwise unknown names take up much of chapter 10. One application I sense from this action is the need for steadfastness in the life of the Christian and the value of a written resolve with others.
This “awakening” was characterized by a commitment to stewardship. "We assume the responsibility…” (10:32-39). Do you like to preach on tithing? I guess I often feel it’s trying to get those reluctant givers to open up and am aware of the charge “the church is always after money”. As the people of God heard the whole reading and exposition of the Law they made a decision. I really like the wording in the text “we assume the responsibility”. The KJV translates this phrase “to charge ourselves”. A revived people will understand responsibility! I see such progression as I study and ponder these marks of revival. They were convicted in regard to their stewardship and acted upon that conviction with responsible action. Oh how I pray to God for steadfast, responsible people. The section close with a response we would all like to hear, not only in regard to stewardship but also attendance and service. “We will not neglect the house of our God” (10:39b).
What about you, fellow minister? Are you faithful to the local church you are a part of? Are you faithfully paying your tithes? Are you using your God-given talents in some form of service? Do you speak well of your church and people? Do you pray for your church?
I feel one of the great characteristics of revival is a renewed commitment to the “house of our God”. I pray that earnest Christians around the world will take up the call and join the people of Nehemiah’s day in proclaiming “we will not neglect the house of our God”.
This “awakening” was characterized by a spirit of volunteerism. "The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem” (11:2). A tenth of the people moved into Jerusalem with the leaders to inhabit the city. This tenth was determined by lots, but all the men were commended for their willingness to serve. Those that fulfilled their place in God’s service by living in the towns and those chosen to live in Jerusalem are all commended. The body of Christ is the greatest volunteer organization on the earth and what a sign of health when we hear the phrase “what can I do Pastor?” I believe a revived church will experience this.
This “awakening” was characterized by a real focus on music. Those that love a lot of music in the church will be glad to see this and those that could do without it (or at least very much of it) would probably prefer not to see this emphasis. (I have both types in my church). It’s here though. In fact 12:24-47 is largely a detailed description of the role that music had in this awakening. Now since the recipients of this letter are Pentecostal ministers, and we like our music, I won’t need to belabor this point!
This “awakening” was characterized by holy anger at sin. “I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah's household goods out of the room” (13:8). This verse does probably not make the list of any “frequently memorized verses” let alone 13:25 which states that “I (Nehemiah) rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair”. Yet it’s in the Bible and I conclude that this anger on the part of God’s man is appropriate (just be careful in using it as model text when dealing with difficult people in your church!). Jesus demonstrated righteous anger when He cleansed the temple. We need to have righteous anger today when we see the ways of our God maligned.
This “awakening” was characterized by a burden to properly support those that work for the Lord. “I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them… (13:10). I included this one to make an even 21 points for the whole series! But check it out fellow pastor. It’s there! A revived church will see that its minister is properly provided for.
This “awakening” was characterized by a consecration of the Sabbath. “I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, "What is this wicked thing you are doing--desecrating the Sabbath day” (13:17)? OK, time to perhaps step on the toes of a popular trend in the church world today. A number of churches are going to alternative services such as a Friday or Saturday night. These services might have an evangelistic focus and are directed to a segment of the unchurched that may not be likely to come on a Sunday. Praise God! I see nothing wrong with this and many of us have used such methods to impact our community such as the Saturday evening “Coffee House” ministry we had in my last church. The problem I have and I believe it merits consideration is do these services replace the worship of God by His people on the Lord’s Day? Is the Lord’s Day a special day or are all days equal? I clearly believe that there is something very special and unique about the Lord’s Day and that the de-emphasis of it is a great sin of our culture and the church. I recall the heroic stand taken by Eric Liddle in refusing to run on the Lord’s Day, a position not uncommon by devout Christians of his day. Early in my ministry I recall the influence of a godly older Presbyterian minister (certainly no legalist), who had convictions regarding travel and dining out on the Lord’s Day. Today many in the church, and I surely am affected, have become so accustomed to the desecration of the Lord’s Day that we are hardly phased. I believe genuine revival will call us back to a recognition of the sacredness of the Lord’s Day.
I am praying and seeking for revival in my life and church and I am praying for revival that is characterized by the above characteristics found in Nehemiah’s day. I yearn for a growing, vibrant, witnessing congregation who have a serious call to faithfully and responsibly serve God in these dark times. Men and women like Daniel, who even the secular King observed, “served God continually” (Daniel 6:20).
To love the Lord our God, is the heartbeat of our mission,
The spring from which our service overflows.
Across the street or around the world,
The mission's still the same,
Proclaim and live the truth in Jesus' name. *
“The Mission” Mohr, Jon / Dennis, Randall © 1989 Molto Bravo! Music (ASCAP) (Admin. by Sony Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 691016
"Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?" (Psalms 85:6)
These last three months I have been writing a series dealing with the great spiritual awakening recorded in Nehemiah. I have noted 21 different characteristics of this revival and contend that they form a solid basis for what we may expect to see in a genuine revival in our generation. I want to conclude this part of the series with some practical thoughts and a prayer I have prayed for my own life and church and that I have also prayed for each minister and church in the Southeastern Massachusetts Section.
What practical characteristics would I desire to see in a “revived” individual?
Lord, send a revival that will be characterized by:
Converted believers who follow the Lord’s command and example in water baptism and seek and experience the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, just like in the book of Acts.
Disciples, faithful in their personal disciplines of prayer and Bible study, who desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Believers who are faithful in their attendance at each service in their local church. A remarkable observation using current A/G statistics is the comparison of reported conversions and attendance at the Sunday AM service. In 1987 241,029 conversions were reported jumping to 508,296 in 1996 and an astounding 559,501 in 1997. Indeed we rejoice for every soul saved and doubtlessly there have been many authentic conversions during this period. Presumably many were also converted in the years from 1988 through 1995 as well! Yet Sunday AM attendance was reported to have increased by only 123,801 from 1987 to 1997 or 8.4% and in 1997 attendance increased by only 23,849 from 1996. In other words although 559,501 were claimed as converted, our Sunday AM attendance fellowship-wide grew by only 23,849. With 11,920 churches that’s about 2 per church! That means that only 4.3% of the reported conversions during the year apparently managed to become a part of even the main service of the week in one of our churches.
Serious disciples who faithfully pay their tithes and who make and keep a generous faith promise to missions according to their ability.
Believers who serve faithfully where needed with a true burden for souls and discipling believers.
Believers who faithfully witness in obedience to Christ’s great commission. By word and lifestyle sharing in their marketplace and taking the gospel to “all the world”.
Men that lovingly lead their families.
Women who graciously submit to their husbands. *2
Children who obey their parents.
Lives of responsibility and integrity.
What practical long-term characteristics do I pray to see in a “revived” church?
Membership made up of individuals with the above personal characteristics.
Growing from the lost in the community and immediate area.
Retaining our young people who build homes according to the Biblical pattern.
What I would expect to see and earnestly welcome, but really see as secondary.
Exuberant worship expression. Please don’t misunderstand me (although some undoubtedly will). I sense among some that this is a fundamental criterion for defining “revival”. I see it as desirable and indeed expect it, yet not as fundamental. Even among Assemblies of God churches and ministers we will differ regarding what we view as acceptable and desirable in “exuberant” worship. Note that the emphasis is on the adjective “exuberant”. Of course I see worship itself as fundamental.
During a season we may see a desire to meet frequently for “revival” services. God’s people desire to be together and worship God and hear from His Word. These services would probably be characterized by the exuberant worship mentioned above! We are told concerning the early church “every day they continued to meet together” (Acts 2:46). However as we look through the remainder of the new Testament we will search in vain for a specific church schedule, although we clearly see a pattern that they met the first day of the week.
It may be that for a season we would have hungry, seeking believers from the larger area and from other churches coming to our church during these special meetings. However for long term change in our church and the overall good of the Kingdom I would hope these folks would stay active in their own churches.
We would likely have some longer services. People will have a greater hunger for the Word and more lingering at the altar. That’s great. Paul had a long service in Troas and we are told he preached on and on (Acts 20). I just kind of react to the notion that a long service is necessarily desirable or a sign of spirituality. Furthermore, what’s long? Paul preached all night till daybreak!
I wonder how many would stand in line today for a sermon this long?
What I really don’t care to see!
Shallow, emotion laden teachings. My spiritual palate longs for well-developed expositional sermons and teachings. If during the awakening in Nehemiah’s day the people could stand from early morning to mid-day to hear the reading and exposition of the Law of Moses, how much more should God’s people today have a hunger for and give attention to the full revelation and counsel of God expressed in the Bible! The kind we heard last Minister’s Institute from George Wood and the kind I expect we will hear this October from James Bridges. I’ve heard plenty of the text as a mere pretext for assorted ramblings, stories, “stir ‘em up” type messages. I’ve also been in meetings where the Bible is scarcely opened or even referred. You may be surprised and even label me as “non-spiritual” for some of the present day preachers I find myself benefiting from the most. They may not necessarily be a “who’s who” among Pentecostals (and some aren’t even Pentecostal) but they have enriched my life with sound Biblical messages that have fed the soul and mind.
“Spiritual” talk w/o a consistent, steadfast spiritual walk. I remember some of the “super spiritual” students from Bible College. Perhaps you do as well. Have you kept track of them? In my case many of them did not stay on course.
Emphasis on extra-biblical manifestations – Much of the current “revival” emphasis and indeed divisiveness has been on this subject so I will develop my thoughts on this in a separate article and share the perspective I have on it.
What practical long-term characteristics would I expect to see in a “revived” denomination and the church at large”?
Young people called to sacrificial service.
Many church plants and dedicated pioneer service (A rather disturbing statistic is the paltry increase in churches during the “Decade of Harvest” and concerted denominational efforts to plant new churches. We have only 8.3% more churches since 1987 and that figure grew by only .3% in from 1996 to 1997 *1).
Dramatic impact on culture and a return to moral values. Men of godly Christian values entering into public office. What about John Ashcroft for president!
Older, traditional churches like mine coming alive!
*1 ACMR statistics from the Summer 1998 Minister’s Letter from the A/G Headquarters.
*2 Yes, that’s from the statement drafted by the Southern Baptist Commission that received so much flack from the post-Christian media. I would like to see the A/G make a similar statement in the 1999 General Council.
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalms 85:6)
These last four months I have been writing a series dealing with the great spiritual awakening that is recorded in Nehemiah. In the June through August newsletter I noted 21 different characteristics of this revival and contend that they form a solid basis for what we may expect to see in a genuine revival in any generation. Last month I listed some practical thoughts and a prayer I have prayed for my own life and church and also for each minister and church in the Southeastern Massachusetts Section.
This month I want to deal with what is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the current revival movement, the emphasis on manifestations. It seems to me that much of the divisiveness has been on this subject so I will share the perspective I have on it. This article will doubtlessly annoy some and I am aware that all my peers in ministry won’t agree with me. Some of these thoughts go against the grain of what is presently popular and accepted. I just ask you to set it in the context of what I have written these last four months and I’ll feel I’ve done some good if I cause some thinking and discussion! Please clearly understand that I’m addressing certain aspects of the current movement. Undoubtedly many have been positively impacted, truly converted and otherwise renewed in this day.
First of all I want to carefully define terms and distinguish between Biblical, unbiblical and extra-Biblical as I am using them in this article.
Biblical - By this I mean a teaching or practice that is specifically addressed in Scripture in a positive or enjoined manner. This may be by:
By direct command such as “Thou shalt...”
By a positive example such as when Jesus blessed the children.
By a neutral expression or practice found in Scripture that is neither necessarily affirmed nor prohibited. I would believe that God would speak to us if it were unapproved.
Unbiblical - By this I mean a teaching or practice which is specifically addressed in Scripture in a negative or forbidden manner. This may be by:
A direct command such as “Thou shalt not...”
A negative example.
Extra-biblical - By this I mean a teaching or practice which is not specifically addressed in Scripture. Extra-biblical is not necessarily wrong. We need to ask if an extra-biblical teaching or practice contradicts in any way a Biblical teaching or practice. We all have practices that are extra-Biblical using this definition. Do you pass offering plates? That’s not in the Bible! Do you use a saxophone in church (or piano or organ for that matter)? That’s not in the Bible either. Yet these practices do not contradict any teaching of the Bible and we accept them.
“Manifestations” - OK, let me admit, I’ve never been to the popular destination points in this current revival (which for some will disqualify me from even addressing these issues). However throughout my Christian life I have witnessed and been exposed to many of the manifestations which I understand are prominent in the current revival. I’ve seen people “slain in the Spirit” and shaking or dancing (not the choreographed kind) as the Spirit moved them. I even recall other “temporary” experiences that thus far are not characterized in this current move, such as the lengthening of legs and vomiting evil spirits into paper bags. Anybody else remember these practices from the seventies?
In regard to reports of bizarre phenomena, I realize this is a matter of perspective. Earnest folks in Tennessee handle snakes as part of their worship experience and earnestly see it as obedience to the Bible, yet I consider this practice bizarre and not an acceptable form of worship (more than likely you do also). (Incidentally, I would assert that they have a greater Biblical basis for this practice than some of the practices and experiences being promoted today!) A fundamental Baptist may walk into my church, hear the vocal praise and see the uplifted hands and consider that unusual or perhaps even bizarre. The point is this: the tie that historically binds us together doctrinally and in our worship practice is only going to stretch so far. One may consider a doctrine Biblical and a practice in order, but others by conviction simply cannot support it.
What do we really want and why do we want it? God has blessed us abundantly and has promised to continue to do so. May God help us to understand this! And may we daily thank God and count His blessings. When we gather let us praise the Lord because He calls us to do so. Let us avoid basing a service’s value on the emotional response, while being very grateful for those times of special closeness. However, we are Scriptural when we pray “revive us, O Lord!” Surely, I desire a true revival (what God-loving person doesn’t?), but there’s something happening in this current revival movement of which I am seeking discernment, but it seems to me it borders on herd mentality. This statement will surely irritate some but I find myself cautious and deliberate when I hear someone say “you just got to go here or hear this or view this videotape”.
Consider the titillation factor or “the law of diminishing returns”. If one bases revival on emotional response, dynamic happenings, or unusual phenomenon it seems that a newer or deeper level of blessing is always needed to sustain. I first learned this concept in high school from Josh McDowell in regard to sexual temptation. Essentially what satisfies today will in time increasingly be insufficient to satisfy. The application to church and revival is that once emotional intensity is seen as a criterion for success or of God’s move, deeper levels of intensity will be needed to maintain the “spirit of revival”. I understand the “laugh revival” has moved to animal noises in some circles! What’s next? People that judge revivals by emotional response will need more and more to keep them satisfied. Where do we go from here? Will people conditioned to “revival” type experiences be able to handle the discipline of a day by day walk with Christ or will they need more and more experiences to stay “pumped up” in their faith.
I believe there are ramifications on fellowship with other ministers and among churches. Some will perceive me as unspiritual or lacking vision for even expressing these views. I’m just not “with it”. My relationship with some of you may be strained just because I’m not going along with the flow. I believe increasingly there will be division as to whether one is “pro-river” or not (a term I use for the current revival movement, for surely we’re all for revival). This is somewhat inevitable, but I believe the strong promotion from some denominational officials is unnecessary and has contributed to this. This movement has attracted an almost groupie type following. (I understand you can buy t-shirts which state “Been there, done that, followed by the church name” most certainly a strong witness for Christ! I don’t know whether these and other items are sold with leadership’s knowledge or even permission or if the proceeds benefit the church. I make the point to illustrate the groupie type mentality prevalent.)
As I relate to other churches and attend denominational events with my people I may have a struggle, as they are exposed to doctrines and practices of which I have deep and principled reservations. An example is a district conference a couple of years ago with a pastor from Texas and the very heavy emphasis upon “being slain in the Spirit.” Sadly, his emphasis on “being slain” was much greater than his regard for the Scripture, for he never even opened his Bible. The folks from our church came away very disappointed as they had uncommitted spouses attending that service. Even though I know this phenomenon is not new and does have its earnest proponents, I am simply unconvinced based on the Biblical data (particularly lining people up with prepared catchers and coverers and coaching them as to how they will fall!)
Should we move into more and more bizarre areas will I be able in good conscience to encourage my people to attend? Don’t I have a responsibility to protect the flock? It is indeed ironic that some of these “new” teachings and practices come from or at least are endorsed by denominational officials, rather than just the tent or tele-evangelist revivalist. Yet am I to abandon what I’ve been taught and have come to believe? Am I to forsake the solid Bible training I received at Central Bible College?
PS: That’s all on the subject of the current revival movement from my perspective. Next month I want to write an article of encouragement on the subject “Your labor is not in vain”.
“For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain” (1 Thessalonians 2:1).
Paul wrote these words to the Thessalonian believers several months after his rather short ministry there. We are told that “some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4). We have no specific idea of how many were converted (the number is not recorded) and no record of a church building being constructed. Paul and his ministry associates were run out of town shortly after he began to see these fruits. What chance would the fledgling group have to sustain? Yet Paul was confident in God and was assured that his ministry to the Thessalonians had not been in vain. The NIV translates: “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure” (1 Thessalonians 2:1).
I want to speak to you about one of the greatest hindrances to peace in the ministry in this article. We have all faced discouragement and in part this is due to the apparent lack of “success” based upon comparisons with others and our own expectations. I have found that the potential for discouragement does not lessen with age (I recently passed the 16,071 day mark). I have learned (or really am learning) the following principles in overcoming the discouragement that comes with ministry.
By remembering the power of God’s Word. When Paul had established the church in Thessalonica he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 172b). That’s the foundation of effective ministry. We all know the familiar promise that God’s Word does not return void. As we are faithful in proclaiming His Word we are assured that He is faithful to see that it will have an impact. Be on guard against the myth of “I’ll be OK (or feel successful) once I reach the next plateau”. Our sense of worth, esteem and fulfillment in ministry must be anchored in God’s character and Word or else we will be on a spiritual rollercoaster. Keep preaching the Word brothers!
By remembering that we simply do not see the results of our entire ministry. Paul sits down to write a letter to a group of young believers in Thessalonica. In his wildest imagination would he have seen a man 2,000 years later writing an article based on this letter? You really only see the tip of the iceberg of your impact for Christ. Several weeks ago we had a Sunday night visitor in our church who looked vaguely familiar. He testified that he was now a Christian and recalls my witness to him while working on the roof of the parsonage (he called it the rectory) several years ago. That very same week a man stopped by who reminded me that I took him to Teen Challenge several years ago. He didn’t stay in the program but he said “thank you for helping me get my life back together and off drugs and alcohol”. I hope you’ve all had this happen, but I wonder how many times we just don’t get the report on this side. We are called to faithfully sow the seed. I love the line in Ray Boltz’ classic “Thank You” which states:
“and one by one they came, far as the eye could see,
each life somehow touched by your generosity.
Little things that you had done, sacrifices made,
unnoticed on the earth, in heaven now proclaimed.”
By remembering God’s call to obedience. Paul wrote to the Ephesian elders “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). I love this moving passage and Paul’s earnest conveyance of truth. Your preaching may not always be popular or even appreciated by the faithful. Keep preaching it all brother. A discouraged pastor once dreamed that he was standing on the top of a great granite rock, trying to break it with a pickax. Hour after hour he worked on with no result. At last he said; “It is useless; I will stop.” Suddenly a man stood by him and asked, “Were you not allotted this task? and if so, why are you going to abandon it?” “My work is in vain; I can make no impression on the granite,” was the minister’s reply. Then the stranger solemnly replied, “That is nothing to you; your duty is to pick, whether the rock yields or no. The work is yours, the results are in other hands; work on.” In his dream the pastor saw himself setting out anew his labor, and at his first blow the rock flew into hundreds of pieces. Men, remember that God supremely calls us to faithful obedience.
By seeking to maintain lifetime contacts with those we minister to. Paul wrote: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:19,20). It was the dear people that mattered. Ministry is serving God and His people. I find it astounding how many people in how many places Paul knew. I have counted 115 different names associated with Paul, not to mention groups of people such as the Ephesian elders. Much of what on the short-term is described as “successful” ministry is comprised of numbers. It’s interesting to me that a specific count of conversions or church size is never found after the first several chapters of Acts. John writes “I have no greater joy then to hear my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). What a joy to hear from someone I ministered to over 20 years ago and hear that they’re still holding on for God! Stay in touch with those to whom you have ministered. You may no longer their present pastor but what a joy to see they are staying faithful.
By remembering that some plant and some water. For many years missionaries labored in Latin America with little visible success. Surely they faced great discouragement at the harsh living conditions and sparse response to their ministry. But as you know in the last 25 years we have seen remarkable revival in Biblical Christianity in this part of the world. Are our present missionaries more devoted to God? Do they pray more? I hardly think so! The faithful work of those that went before sowed the seed for the present harvest. Some countries and regions that have had missionary activity for many years remain very resistant to the Gospel. I just had Mike Chase, a missionary to Taiwan, who reported of the lack of receptiveness in that country. I believe there’s a parallel in Pastoral work as well. You may be in a sowing place or you may be in a reaping place. Remember the cooperative harvest. One plants, another harvests. We are indebted to many who serve in the great Gospel enterprise with us. We are likely planting and harvesting at the same time, although at times the planting is more prominent, at other times the harvesting is. But the harvesting is seen as more successful! Stay faithful!
By remembering that we are not alone. A.W. Tozer, who knew God so intimately, had days when he was so discouraged he felt he could not continue as a minister. This man who instructed thousands in the deep things of God often felt he was a miserable failure. Charles Spurgeon looked back upon dark hours in his own life and said: “I bear willing witness that I owe more to the fire, and the hammer, and the file, than to anything else in my Lord's workshop. I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod. When my schoolroom is darkened, I see most”.
By seeking to find creative ways of ministry that fit the unique gifts God has given us. You see, I’ve come to realize there are things I just don’t do well. Perhaps God wants me to develop these gifts but in many other cases they’re just not there. Stuart Briscoe notes that “discouragement comes when you try to start with what you wish you had but don't have. And it intensifies when you insist on trying to be in a position you are not in and probably never will be in.”
Man, would I like to sing like Steve Green. But at 44 it really just doesn’t look too hopeful. They won’t even let me sing in the choir and my wife’s the director.
I wish I could write and tell stories like Max Lucado. I really enjoy his conversational writing style.
I wish I could motivate people and pull off really big events like Tommy Barnett.
Now there are several areas in which I feel I am gifted and so are you. You need to find those special gifts that God has given you and gratefully use them.
By remembering just how puny we really all are in view of God’s greatness! Swallow in God’s greatness. I’m studying Isaiah 40 now and am enthralled with God’s almightiness. You see, what really matters is not what I may think about you or what you may think about me but the greatness of our God and our faithfulness to Him.
I’ll end with my life verse. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17)
People have had many different experiences regarding their “call” to ministry. Paul would have had one great story to tell! And I’ve heard a few today that are pretty remarkable. However most of us would probably describe it as a leading of the Lord and it wouldn’t necessarily be that extraordinary. I was saved while in high school and in my case I recall that attending Bible College following high school just seemed like the right thing to do. I had also considered being a veterinarian! I really do not feel I had a “call” at that time but God was surely leading me. Through the years of Bible College God’s call became progressively clearer in my life. I had developed an interest in church planting and I believe knew I would be involved in a pioneering effort.
The closest I can come to a remarkable experience in this regard is still very vivid in my memory. I was on I-44 returning to Springfield from Tulsa, OK where I had been with Brooksyne, who at that time was my fiancée. I was listening to an AM country-western station (not exactly conducive to a spiritual experience) when in a very distinct way the Lord spoke to me. That night the call was sealed in a very powerful way. For some reason as I thoughtlessly listened to that county-western station and tried to stay awake I began to ponder what spiritual ministry for Christ was all about. It seems the Lord was speaking to me of other ways in which people are helped; the physician with a physical problem, the lawyer with a legal, etc. I considered what my place would be as a future pastor and tears came down my face as I considered that my place would be dealing with the one part of man that lives on. The best work of the finest doctor is only temporary, but pastoral work is devoted to the eternal destiny of the soul.
There are two phrases in our text I want to examine in. Both should be vitally important in our ministries. Both describe the very heart of pastoral work.
“For they watch for your souls”. The underlying Greek word for “watch” is “agrupneo”, which literally means to be sleepless, i.e. “stay awake”. Surely such a word describes the seriousness which we should take our work, and who among us has not had sleepless nights as we are burdened for the souls in our care. Paul gives us a glimpse of this when he is listing his many afflictions as a minister of the Gospel. He tells of all his trials that surely made for some great missionary stories. But he concludes with these cogent words: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). He put this daily pressure of concern in the same category as shipwrecks, stonings and beatings.
We heed carefully the words of our Lord who said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36,37) Men, what an awesome responsibility we have! The results of our work will last through eternity. We deal with that which matters most and ultimately with that which alone matters. No wonder the writer of Hebrews goes on to say:
“As they that must give account”. One day we will join all believers at the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10). However it seems to me that we as pastors will also give an additional accounting for our care of God’s sheep. I believe we will stand before the Chief Shepherd for this accounting, which is not optional. Peter exhorted the elders: “Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4). Most of you are aware that the word shepherd and pastor are the same.
One of the things that I have found most frustrating in pastoral ministry is the lack of seriousness in which so many people take this aspect of our work. If after I explain what I mean and this is not your observation I would like to hear from you! I experienced this during my ministry in Pennsylvania but much more so here in Massachusetts. This is likely partly due to the region as well as the times. We are dealing with a lot of roaming sheep. They will come through for several months or in some cases years. We seek to get them involved in the church and some do so. However many stay on the fringes of the church life, content to fill a pew on Sunday morning. They’ll move on after a time and you hear they are now attending another church down the road or perhaps no longer attending any church. Often this seems to be a pattern in their life.
However I believe we as pastors can also contribute to this problem. We can treat people as mere numbers in our program. Often it seems our standing among our peers can be based more on the numbers we report then the actual care of sheep. It takes time to seriously keep an accounting and in doing so we subject ourselves to criticism. Warren Wiersbe observes “Quite frankly, it is much easier to ‘win souls’ than it is to ‘watch for souls’ (see Ezekiel 3:16-21).” Indeed we can easily move from being a “watcher of souls” to mere hirelings. I believe to “watch over” includes a conscientious accounting of the souls that are “entrusted” to our care and this includes the individual sheep as well as the flock. Next month I want to talk about some practical methods in accounting for sheep.
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17)
Yes that’s the same verse we examined last month and we’ll be looking at it for the next several as well! I want to consider the phrase “as they that must give an account”. What does this mean? Well, I just got my annual ACMR form and have returned my annual credential renewal form. Is this what the writer of Hebrews was talking about? I don’t think so. (I did return the renewal form and plan to do so with the ACMR). Frankly I’m not sure what giving an account in this regard means, although it underscores the serious manner in which we are to watch over souls.
In the next three months I want to examine three areas of accountability that I believe are very important for effective ministry. These areas are: Ministry Accountability, Sheep Accountability & Business Accountability.
Let’s stay faithful brothers,
Stephen C. Weber
PS: Attached to this is a file of a teaching that I recently gave at our church. My desire is to see people strong, stable, and steadfast in the Lord’s work. Isn’t that yours? Use it if you would like. If you’re unable to open the file let me know and I’ll mail you a copy.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
Recently our community was outraged at the beating of a little seven-month old girl, allegedly at the hands of her own parents. Her injuries were severe enough to require admission to Boston Children’s Hospital and made front-page headlines in our local paper for several days. Seven months earlier that baby could have been beaten and killed in a procedure known as the “partial birth abortion” in which the doctor delivers the baby feet first until the head is almost through the birth canal. At this point a needle is inserted in the skull to suction the brain out, killing the baby and the baby is fully delivered.
This procedure is legal in spite of massive efforts to ban it. Both the House and Senate passed a bill to do so in true bipartinsanship. However our President, who in his State of the Union address, gloated on “how much we’ve done for our children” vetoed the bill. The Senate was just one vote short of the two-thirds needed to over-ride his veto.
Isaiah’s “woe” is timeless. (“Woe” is a literal transliteration of the Hebrew. In other words, it’s an expression that sounds the same in Hebrew, Greek and English. It’s an exclamation of pain and grief.) As a country we drift farther and farther from our Biblical moorings and we see the truth of Isaiah’s proclamation. Do we also feel his exclamation? May God have mercy on our land!
Next week I will be going to the Vision New England “Congress” in Boston and I hope to see several of you there. I have enjoyed going to “Congress” each year since I’ve moved to New England. I’m especially looking forward to hearing Howard Hendricks.
However this year I was troubled in my spirit and considered not attending the event due to a sense that the evangelical expression of the Christian faith is moving toward and accommodating liberalism. Frankly this was specifically prompted by the invitation of Tony Campolo, whom I personally feel has moved far to the left. (I recall serving on the Youth Committee in the early eighties in the Penn-Del District and considering him for being the main speaker at our convention!) As you know he, along with Gordon Macdonald, is one of the President’s “spiritual advisors”. (They join the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, who is the President’s own pastor at the apostate Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC.) I know I’m just a small-time pastor and I shouldn’t question, but don’t you wonder just what they advise him?
I feel there are two elements that contribute to the anemic condition of the church in the latter half of the twentieth century. I also feel both are demonstrated in the “Christian faith” expressed by our president. The current mess in Washington is a good illustration.
1) The failure to insist that a Biblical worldview accompany a profession of Christianity. The Biblical worldview fundamentally asserts that: 1. The Almighty God is the Creator, Ruler, Redeemer and Judge. 2. He has revealed His will for man through His Word. 3. He has established non-arbitrary laws governing the conduct of His creation. I feel many today will give lip service to a few of the buzz words of Christianity such as “accepting Christ”, “being saved”, etc. without an attempt to follow Christ and His Word. A true Biblical worldview will be expressed in every area of our lives. Can one really be a Christian while supporting what the Bible calls an abomination (homosexuality) and the murder of millions of babies (abortion)?
2) The emphasis on a distorted view of “once saved, always saved”. I believe many Americans, particularly in the South, have made a profession of faith in Christ at some time in their lives. I believe our president (Bill Clinton at the time I wrote this) is a poster boy for this distorted view of what real faith is. I really don’t doubt that at some point as a child or teenager that he “gave his heart to Jesus” at the teaching of a godly Baptist pastor or Sunday School teacher. But is being a Christian merely being able to point back to some religious experience in our lives? I think not! The Lord so clearly said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Is Larry Flint a Christian? Ridiculous one might say. But in the late seventies/early eighties some of us “old-timers” may recall that the conversion of Larry Flint to the faith was being promoted as one of the great modern conversions (by none other than the Rev. Jerry Falwell as I recall). My recollection is that he held on to this profession of faith for a mere year or two.
Both of these distortions of biblical Christianity have infiltrated the church. Our people are exposed to popular evangelical preachers like Tony Campolo, who have compromised the Bible on a number of vital issues. If you’ve heard “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming” you know he can preach and this is the danger. In itself this is a great evangelistic message of hope. But how many know some of the other positions held by Tony Campolo? Many nationally famous radio preachers and authors also espouse the “once saved, always saved” position and many of our people are exposed to their ministries.
Hold on to truth today, Pastor friend. Stay close to Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. And faithfully preach the whole counsel of His Word.
Let’s stay faithful brothers,
Stephen C. Weber
“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:20, 27).
Several months ago I shared an article based on Hebrews 13:17 which has the following description about the work of a minister, I believe particularly a pastor. “For they watch for your souls, as they that must give account”. I ended the article by considering in what sense we will give an account. Essentially I believe there will be a special accounting for ministers, apart from the “judgment seat of Christ” described in 2 Corinthians 5:10, which will be for all believers. This is perhaps also reflected in James 3:1 which states, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”. In what ways will we be accountable?
Surely we will be accountable for how we handled the Word. As I study the Scriptures I believe that one of the most important elements in our care of the sheep is feeding them. The Lord speaks through Hosea “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6a). In our day we see such a tremendous lack of spiritual and Scriptural knowledge. “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them” (Ezekiel 34:10). Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep” and later aged Peter told the church elders to “feed the flock of God which is among you” (1 Peter 5:2).
Pastor what kind of personal responsibility do you take in feeding the sheep in your care? What kind of accountability do you have in providing the sheep in your care a well-balanced, wholesome, spiritual diet. You may say, “I don’t have time to worry about records like that”. I believe that among the top responsibilities that we have as pastors is the feeding of the sheep. It’s more important then the work of a surgeon who will make careful notes of a surgical procedure, or the careful records kept by an attorney.
Paul could say to the Ephesian elders “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God”. Good feeding of the flock under our care involves a course of careful exposition of major Bible doctrines and texts. Just as good diet consists of a variety of foods from the various food groups so a good spiritual diet contains the “whole counsel of God”. I’ve heard it said that in good preaching we are to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Paul said “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).
A practical suggestion – Keep a careful record of your sermon and teaching notes. You may very well file them in an orderly manner but consider the following. Summarize each sermon in several paragraphs and place in the bulletin as a review. This discipline will:
1) Force you to crystallize a message that perhaps took you 45 minutes to preach into a succinct statement. Perhaps you’ve heard of the slogan some preacher placed on his pulpit that asks the question “What are you doing to these people?” (By the way, I collect pulpit slogans so if you have one let me know!)
2) Some of your people will read these and it will further reinforce the message. Furthermore we send a bulletin each Monday morning to each absentee. (Of course some don’t read the bulletin and others don’t listen to you anyway).
3) With search capabilities this will give you an outstanding overview of what your preaching. I have a single file of every message summarized in this way since I’ve been to Taunton (I did it for the last 6 or 7 years in my church in St. Marys, PA as well, although I don’t have these on a single computer file). By opening this file I can see when I last preached on a subject (based on a key word or text), how often I have and how I’ve treated it in the past
4) Frankly this will give you a powerful defense against that inevitable whiner that declares “I’m just not being fed”, or “he preaches the same thing all the time”, etc. However it will not determine whether you’re anointed or not!
5) Most importantly you have a record
I will include several summaries in this article to give you an idea of what I’m speaking of. How long does it take? This is a discipline you will have to develop. I actually find it personally rewarding to do this whether it has any other benefit or not!
Last Sunday morning Pastor Weber preached from Daniel 5. Belshazzar was the final king of the Babylonian Empire. His reign ended with a bang you might say. The chapter begins with a drunken party where the king desecrating the holy things of God by bringing out the articles taken from the temple in Jerusalem to drink from. There comes a time when it seems God says, “enough is enough”, and God sent a message to Belshazzar through a human hand writing a short phrase on the wall. He couldn’t interpret this phrase nor could his own “wise men”. But old, faithful Daniel was still around. He was called in and said he would explain the meaning but he had a message for Belshazzar first. And what a message it is for decadent leadership of all ages!
“But you did not honor the God who holds in His hand your life and all your ways” (Daniel 5:23b). Belshazzar had not honored God and the interpretation of the writing indicated that his time was up. That very night he was slain.
Let’s rephrase the statement to Belshazzar into a personal question for all of us to consider. “Have I honored the God who holds in His hand my life and all my ways?” Now that’s a powerful question. Will you thoughtfully do so today? It’s critical.
Sunday evening Pastor preached from Psalm 68 focussing on the text “God sets the lonely in families” (68:6a). Praise God for the family! God said, “it’s not good for the man to be alone”. The earliest human institution is the family, God’s idea. Our greatest source of human joy should come from the family. As Brooksyne and I kneel with Ester to end the day with prayer we worship God for His blessings on our little family. The peace of the Lord enters our hearts as we proclaimed “my Lord, you’ve been so good to us!”
I’m aware that some in our church have not experienced a peaceful family. Some are single, others divorced, and some homes are characterized by chronic strife. God’s Word speaks of another family that we are all welcomed to be a part of. Paul calls it “the family of believers” (Ephesians 6:10b). This “family” is expressed in the local church where believers gather together to worship the Father. I’m glad I have two loving families and I hope you do as well!
Let’s stay faithful brothers,
Stephen C. Weber
PS: In the next two months I want to examine two other areas of accountability that I believe are very important for effective ministry, which are sheep accountability & business accountability.
“For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21).
For the last several months I have been writing about our accountability before God as ministers of the Gospel. This has been based on the required accounting expressed in Hebrews 13:17 which states of the minister “for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account”. Last month I considered one area that I feel certain we will give an account and that is our handling of the Word.
A second area of accountability that I would like to discuss is business and financial accountability. This may not seem very spiritual. In fact some pastors seem to eschew this area and act as if it’s beneath them even to show any interest. They may shrug it off with a comment like “Oh, I don’t pay any attention to that stuff”. However we don’t have to look far to see the results of business and financial mismanagement on the part of pastors. I recall several years ago when the “business model” of the local church was in vogue that some pastors were touting themselves as the CEO” (I guess that sounds more prestigious than pastor). Well I’m quite content with the Biblical moniker myself but indeed realize there is a sense that the church is a business and we have responsibility to see that things are run in a decent and orderly manner.
· Pastor Jones never had much interest in the finances of the church. He was a deeply spiritual man and felt he couldn’t be bothered by such cares. He allowed lax controls. Several thousand dollars were stolen from the church and bills were not paid. The reputation of both his church and personal ministry were adversely affected for many years.
· Pastor Smith had a big vision. He was admired by many of his fellow pastors and in the denomination for his accomplishments, particularly the new worship center constructed during his tenure. However when he left it was discovered his church was in serious debt and pity the pastor that had many years of financial cleanup to restore the church’s integrity! What’s more the congregation was not nearly the size as had been represented by Pastor Smith. Oh well, it doesn’t matter, he took a big church in another part of the country. He shows fellow pastors pictures of the worship center that “he built”. They’re very impressed.
· Pastor Blue had personal financial problems. He had discovered several creative ways to “dip into the kiddy”. Poor internal controls prevented detection. He justified it due to his reckoning that he was underpaid. He also had several side business dealings and was involving some in the congregation, letting them in on the deal. These turned sour, his dipping was discovered and he left the ministry in shame. People in the church are having a hard time trusting the new pastor.
Consider the text that I have placed at the top of this article. Look at the context and determine Paul’s intent. This is surely business related. “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21). “What is right” in this verse had to do with finances, specifically the distribution of an offering collected from the Macedonian churches. Paul said in the previous verse “we want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift”. “The eyes of men” are those that would observe the way the funds were handled. It wasn’t enough for Paul to merely do what is right in the eyes of the Lord (although practically speaking if we really take care of that the other will take care of itself). He wanted to make sure he did things right in the sight of men.
The final qualification that Paul lists for overseer (which most of us in the A/G identify as a minister) in I Timothy 3 is “he must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap” (1 Timothy 3:7). Surely this “good reputation with outsiders” fundamentally includes both our personal and church leadership business practices. Paul urged the Roman believers to “be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (Romans 12:17).
I will list several areas of business and financial procedures.
· Develop a written financial policy – I would be happy to send you a copy of ours. It’s only one page and states our overarching financial policy. Frankly it’s modeled after one I used in my previous church that was adapted from the one used by Focus on the Family.
· Maintain careful internal controls – Particularly from the received offering to deposit in the bank.
· See that all bills are promptly paid – Periodically look through the accounts payable file (we call it payment vouchers) and examine the statement to your various vendors.
· Insist that the bank statement is reconciled each month promptly. Periodically examine this statement.
· Post your financial report – If you can’t explain your church’s use of funds, perhaps you’re doing something wrong. In fact our financial policy states that “All financial records are open for observation (the only exception being individual contribution records)”.
· Keep orderly records – We use the Parson’s program “Money Counts/Membership Plus” and find it works fine. Run it right and it will keep the records for you and generate more reports than you will know what to do with.
· Careful use of credit – Keep a careful record of any mortgages and notes and report to your entire congregation in the annual report. What a shame to hear of churches that don’t even know what they owe.
· Have an annual audit – The district has an excellent form for this purpose. For the last several years I have had a sectional officer audit our books (Dick Bell and Paul Taylor). I would be happy to audit any sectional church. By the way, I’m tough!
· Avoid any commingling of funds – All offerings should be promptly deposited. I advise against petty cash. With a personal ATM card and perhaps a credit card I don’t understand why you would need to carry money around for the church and thus have any access to it. Develop a reimbursement system that requires receipts and adequate documentation of any reimbursement request.
· Avoid business entanglements – If you must work bi-vocationally keep these affairs completely separate from your ministry, particularly to those in your church. Have you ever met a pastor into Amway or a similar program? What about offering an “investment opportunities”? Several years ago I met a sectional pastor (no longer with us) touting prepaid phone cards. Pastor, keep the call of God foremost and stay out of this stuff.
· Develop an annual property inspection and inventory. Revise annually.
Let’s stay faithful brothers,
Stephen C. Weber
"Living today anchored in God’s solid foundation"