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May 2016 entries

A Nearly Forgotten Prophetic Word

 

While exercising this morning I was listening to a podcast by a pastor who gives helpful advice to other ministers. He refrained from his usual advisory format and gave the account of his call to the ministry. One portion of his story brought back memories I had not thought of in years. They related to my own call. He spoke of an evening during a prayer service when a visiting evangelists paused in front of him. After a few awkward moments of silence the minister declared to the teenager that he would enter the ministry and speak in front of thousands. The young man had not considered such a career before that moment, but that indeed became his life's pursuit.

This account took me back 40 years ago.  As many of you have heard me testify that I was a part of a youth "witness team" as a teenager. The reason I was associated with the group was because I was dating the leader's daughter. I was as lost as a ball in high weeds. I had grown up in church, but I had never accepted Him as my Savior. I was as far from God as anyone could ever be. Partly due to the influence of the group, and to a great degree as a result of my pastor, I finally became a true believer. I would soon break up with the girl that had been the reason for me being on the witness team to begin with, but not without one significant event that occurred before she and I parted ways.

I had only been saved for a very short time. The team had spoken at a small church during one of their Sunday evening services. The pastor invited the team and our sponsor to have snacks with him and his wife in their home afterward. I don't remember anything about that evening except one thing. The pastor had each of the youth line up at his door as we departed so that he could bless each one individually. I listened as he spoke very kind and affirming words to the each person as they met with him. Soon I was standing before him expecting a similar blessing.

The old pastor looked me in the eye. He did not pause as in the story I related about the podcaster's calling. This man simply said,"Young man, may God make you a great preacher!" I was stunned, but also expected something to follow. It did not. He turned to the guy in line behind me and repeated a similar blessing to one's that had gone before me. I sat in the van on the way home wondering if the words this man spoke were just an attempt to change up his repeated blessing. Or did he really get a word from the Lord that he was instructed to speak over my life.

Years passed and it seemed more and more like the man was just being kind. No such future seemed to be in the cards for me. I graduated college. I got married. I became a retail buyer, a computer programmer and a father, but not a preacher. More years passed and I forgot the words of the old minister altogether. I did not become a pastor for more than 15 years after his prophetic blessing. While listening to the man's story this morning as I worked out, the scene from all those years ago flooded my mind. And then this thought, "All the promises of God are yea and amen." He does not withdraw His gifts. However, their activation in our lives wait until the moment God has planned.

I wonder if David felt the way I did when he was called in to his father's house to stand before the prophet Samuel. He had spoken kindly of all Jesse's sons that went before him, but there were no prophetic utterances. Then Samuel declared that David would become the king and poured oil over his young head. The prophet then departed and Jesse sent his youngest son David out to tend the sheep again. God had chosen him, but the time was not right. His time would come.

Do you ever wonder if God will use you? Is His promise for you so far in your past that you have forgotten that it had ever been given? Don't lose heart. God's timing is perfect.  If you are feeling a little discontent right now, take it as a good thing. Remember, God always rattles your cage before He ever opens the door.    


How Would I Want You to Treat Me?

It's not uncommon to be asked by a layperson or another pastor who is my favorite Christian author or preacher/teacher. As far as an author is concerned, I'm afraid my answer often disappoints. I don't read Christian fiction and I don't read books of sermons. However, I have found books written by Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, filled with testimonies of deliverance to be inspirational.   I don't read devotionals. I know many people do, and I think they're very helpful for a lot of believers. I'm in the process of writing one for adults and the devotion I co-wrote with other Christian leaders for children will be out in October.

No, my favorite reading is in the discipline of apologetics.  I read Ravi Zacharias, John Lennox, and F.F. Bruce. I'm pretty sure not many are going to be as interested in the subject of Christian apologetics as I am, but I may be wrong. If I am, then I can wholeheartedly recommend the writings of these brilliant men to you.

However, when it comes to preachers and teachers I am less likely to give a quick reply. And let me set the record straight before your thoughts begin wandering down this road; I do not think my teaching is  so superior that all others are beneath my appreciation. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am very aware of my limitations. If it were not for the Holy Spirit's last second inspiration many more of my messages would have prompted  resume updates than those that solicited praise from the congregation. No my problem is that I have a very short attention span. As soon as I detect the 3 point, poem and prayer formula in a sermon I have already checked out. I just don't think in lists and formulas. So when I listen to many preachers I just get lost in random thoughts. It's a terrible trait that limits my appreciation to a few creative speakers. Some of these people are also very popular with the business community. It seems Biblical insights are so right-on that they not only work well in the Christian's life but in business as well. Since speaking at leadership conferences pay better than faith gatherings, many of their talks have increasingly less to do with my world. And, unfortunately,  it seems that the same DNA code that makes these guys creative also makes them vulnerable to many temptations.

Just yesterday I had a few free minutes. I thought how long it had been since I had gone online and listened to a message.  I looked for one particular preacher I had always been interested in his out of the box approach to sharing God's Word. So I googled his name. What I received was not a list of current sermons, but what I uncovered was a list of current sins, poor judgments and improprieties. Newscasts, websites and Christian blogs were full of dirt on this guy. I didn't have the stomach to read much of this man's fall from grace. I looked only far enough to learn some of his misguided antics. I will not list them here. It is important for me to say that there were no illegal activities listed. There was no reports of unfaithfulness to his wife. No accusations of abuse. The man simply got off track. Reports said he was still employed by his church, but that attendance had fallen dramatically. How sad. How sad too were the Christian bloggers who were so eager to throw his damaged reputation under an oncoming bus. Just skimming the articles it appeared that their harsh criticism was greater than the secular media that seemed to have a degree of remorse over the man's condition.

So I've been thinking. What is the proper response? One part of my brain says that we who are called to leadership positions in the church are called to a higher degree of accountability. There is no doubt about that. What would Christ do? Would He consider this man, and the many others like him, more like the religious leaders of His day? Would He call him a hypocrite as He did the Pharisees. Would He condemn this man? Or would He treat Him like the sinners who gathered around to hear words of life fill their empty lives? Was this man setting a bad example or teaching bad doctrine. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the two. It is true that our actions speak louder than our words.

While considering out loud what my response should be I am reminded of Christ's words, "Whatever you would have men do to you, do to them..." Matthew 7:12 So here's how I will respond. I would want Christians to pray for me. So I will pray for this man. I would want Spirit filled believers to hold me accountable. I would want a chance to restore my reputation. I would not want to be judged but loved. So these are the things I will do. I would want others to remember how God had used me in the past and pray that He will use me again. So accountability means I will wait to listen to this man preach.  I will look for creativity in others. I will not join those who look to hurt him more than he has already been hurt. I will not judge lest I be judged. And I will pray for the day when my brother has been restored.