Have you ever known anyone who gave every appearance that they could make it on their own, without any need to obey an authority or set of regulations? Sometimes it is the least likely, who obey. When God called Jonah, there were a series of disobediences. Jonah went to Joppa rather then to Nineveh. He went down into a small ship, rather than going up to a great city. He went with sailors to Tarshish rather than going in the presence of the Lord. So where does one find obedience in this story – in the least likely place. “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah” (Jonah 1:17), then “commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” (Jonah 2:10). Twice, the fish obeyed the Lord. I know. You might be thinking, “this is a fishy story,” but sometimes, the ones who appear to be the most self-assured, self-appointed, self-confident, will disobey, while the least likely will obey. Do you find yourself somewhere in this story?
I do not have an accurate count, but after twenty-two years on the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Seminary and an additional four years as a retired, adjunct professor, I had approximately 5000 students. Recently I have been receiving invitations from some of them to preach in their churches. When there, I am frequently asked about my memory of the pastor and especially what grade they made in my class. My response is, “With 5000 former students I only remember the really good ones and the really bad ones, but I do remember your pastor.” After their reaction, I add, “The really bad ones don’t invite me to preach in their churches.” The truth is most of my former students were in the “really good ones” category. A few of them even write books and ask me to add an endorsement. The Bible often refers to “young lions” (Job 38:39, Psalm 34:10, Isaiah 5:29, Jeremiah 2:15, Nahum 2:11). I loved my years with these Seminarian “young lions,” and I am honored when, after many years, they remember this aging, but still active, lion.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month. As I pray for my Pastor this month, I am led to Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica, where he prays that “God will consider you worthy of His calling” (2 Thessalonians 1:11, HCSB). This “calling” began at conversion (according to 1 Thessalonians 4:7) and continued through a life of service. The “calling” was the first link in a chain that terminated in glory, thus it is used to denote the whole Christian life. Within this “calling,” some are called to full-time, vocational ministry. Herein, I find my Pastor in this passage. In “The Pursuit of God” A.W. Tozer writes, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything.” That which motivates pastors to do what they do, is the special call of God on their life. To accomplish this special calling, a pastor must, while still being human, live above the rest, a person beyond reproach. In so doing, a pastor lives “worthy of” God’s calling. So, this month, I will pray that my pastor lives and serves “worthy of His calling.” What will you pray for your pastor this month?
I just spent a great two-days at my college Homecoming. Most conversations began with “Do you remember . . .” One fascinating discussion centered around the great discoveries made during our freshman year. It set me to reflecting on many great discoveries of my freshman year. The first great discovery and perhaps my greatest, happened about one week after my arrival. I opened the drawer in my dorm room only to discover no clean underwear. That had never happened to me before. Later that day, I had to walk approximately one mile to the nearest washateria carrying my load of dirty clothes. The discovery had to do with personal responsibility. American author and motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer said, “Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It’s not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument, or your age that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and choice you make. Period.” While there are always things others will do for you (in this case my mother always providing me with clean underwear), there are those things for which you, yourself must be responsible. The Apostle Paul said as much when he wrote, “Each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5).
The Chinese Fortune Cookie said, “A part of us remains wherever we have been.” My first thought was no wonder I’m so tired. I’m spread over all fifty states, every Canadian province and fifty-nine countries. However, a lot of travelers have been to these places and not left any of themselves behind, so the proverb is not always true. In fact, some have been on what is labeled “mission trips” but found themselves participating in nothing more than what my late friend, Calvin Miller called, “spiritual tourism.” Why then, do I think I have left remains where I have been, while others have been to the same places and left nothing behind? It is because I am chosen, called out, and commissioned. When the apostle John wrote his second letter, he addressed it to “the chosen lady” (2 John 1). It is not that she, nor I, nor anyone else fitting our description, is more special than those who are not called, but rather that we were simply chosen. One more point – you don’t have to be special to be chosen. You just have to be available, willing, and responsive. So, don’t just go somewhere and leave. Go somewhere and leave something behind.
I have heard several athletes use an interesting phrase lately – “Pressure is a privilege.” The phrase may have originated from a book title by Tennis great, Billie Jean King. Perhaps the idea was birthed from James 1:12 – “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial.” We are indeed “blessed” and “privileged” when we endure the various “pressures” of life. In fact, there is no way to live in the midst of real life without being exposed to various pressures. President Teddy Roosevelt said, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” It all depends on how you look at circumstances. Dr. Adam Greenway, President of Southwestern Baptist Seminary (and one of my former students) described his situation as, “An institution filled with opportunities cleverly disguised as problems.” Under the pressure of problems today? Consider it a privilege. Seize the opportunity.
I have heard several athletes use an interesting phrase lately – “Pressure is a privilege.” The phrase may have originated from a book title by Tennis great, Billie Jean King. Perhaps the idea was birthed from James 1:12 – “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial.” We are indeed “blessed” and “privileged” when we endure the various “pressures” of life. In fact, there is no way to live in the midst of real life without being exposed to various pressures. President Teddy Roosevelt said, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” It all depends on how you look at circumstances. Dr. Adam Greenway, President of Southwestern Baptist Seminary (and one of my former students) described his situation as, “An institution filled with opportunities cleverly disguised as problems.” Under the pressure of problems today? Consider it a privilege. Cease the opportunity.
According to Wikipedia, a benediction “is a short invocation for divine help, blessing, and guidance.” From the earliest, Christians adopted benedictions into their worship, particularly at the end of a service. Such benedictions have been regularly practiced ever since. Perhaps the best known biblical benediction is the one at the end of the tiny book of Jude, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25). Only three times in the New Testament is praise offered to God “who is able” – Romans 16:25, Ephesians 3:20, and here, where Jude offers praise to God who is able to “keep you from stumbling.” Further, Jude offers praise to God who can “present you faultless” before Him and finally, Jude gives praise to God who can present us “with exceeding joy.” Jude’s benediction offers divine help, blessing and guidance. Ernest Shurtleff was a student at Andover Seminary near Boston. He wrote a prayer to be sung at the conclusion of commencement, as fellow students promoted, moved on, commenced. The third verse seems especially appropriate for today – for divine help, blessing and guidance:
“Lead on, O King Eternal, we follow, not with fears;
For gladness breaks like morning where’er thy face appears;
Thy cross is lifted o’er us; we journey in its light:
The crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might.”
As he admitted to a wrongdoing, the young man said, “I just couldn’t control myself.” Self-control is a difficult thing. It has to do with discipline, and discipline is hard. We live in an out-of-control society and If you don’t discipline yourself, someone else will control you. Thus the importance of self-control. It is similar to a muscle in that the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The idea of self-control gains in importance when you realize that if a person can’t control themselves, it is highly debatable if they can control others, thus they disqualify themselves for effective leadership. The Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend, Titus and told him to, “Encourage the young men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6, NIV). So, what is there in your life that you need to bring under self-control? It is after all, a God-given ability.
It is finally healing – the scar left following my ninth skin cancer surgery, and it’s not my mother’s fault. I remember my mother often telling me that if I was going to play outside, I needed to wear a hat. No way! Sissies wore hats. Many decades later, I am paying for my disobedience, as I endure one skin cancer surgery after another. I asked my Surgeon why I had so many skin cancers. His answer was, “You have fair skin, and you grew up in Texas.” Obadiah didn’t grow up in Texas, but he may have had a better answer, even though his comment is probably taken out of context – “As you have done, it shall be done to you” (Obadiah 15). I played in the sun, without protection, and now the sun is paying me back. There really is a larger lesson here. When you disregard the laws – whether it be the laws of God or the laws of nature that God created – you can expect to have the results “done to you.” Artists, to playwrights, to philosophers, to musicians all have referred to life as “a day in the sun.” Well, I had my day in the sun and now the sun is having its day in me.