Always Be READY

I had the privilege to preach at the ordination service of a good friend and fellow servant of Christ.  While it was a great honor, it was also a very difficult task for me as the location chosen was one in which I had endured years of hardship before being rescued by God’s mighty hand.  As I sat there waiting for my time to speak, my heart was racing within my chest.  The pounding of my pulse was visible and I feared the sound of it would be picked up by the mic I was wearing, in a somewhat “Tell-Tale Heart” effect.  My breathing was becoming difficult and it was only the power of God’s Holy Spirit that lives within me that was able to keep the room from spinning as I rested in His grace.  This seemed to be a true test of the words I was about to speak — I could preach about always being ready, but could I live it?

The main text that God had placed in my mind for the evening was a common ordination service text.  Not only common, but quite fitting as God had developed a similar Paul and Timothy relationship between Taylor and I.  In the text, Paul writes to Timothy with these words:

“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings — what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.   In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  2 Timothy 3:10 – 4:4 (NIV)

As you read the text, it is important to point out that the idea of being set apart for full-time Christian ministry is not just for a select few who take on vocational roles of ministry.  Each Christian is ordained by God into full-time Christian ministry at the moment of their baptism into Christ for the remission of their sin and God puts within them His Holy Spirit!  The blood of Jesus which covers our sin is the ordaining element that sets each of us apart for God’s exclusive use.  With that said, the Bible also teaches that God gifts some individuals to be involved in the equipping of His people for works of service.  To me, that is what an ordination service is about — setting apart those who have the responsibility to equip, train, and encourage others in the full-time service they do for God wherever He has them from day-to-day.  As you go about living the Christ-like life God has called you to, Paul makes it clear that you will encounter difficulties — “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.  Yet in the midst of the hardship and persecution, we are told to be ready to preach the word “in season and out of season”.  So to you, as well as to Taylor, I say, “Be READY!”

  • Be Real:  The first part of being ready, is to be real!  If you are to represent Christ well, there must be a consistency of character and conduct that the people around you recognize as genuine.  When Paul writes about Timothy to the Philippians, he says that there is no one like him who has a genuine concern — not for his own interests, but for theirs.  We live in a society where the right image has become so much more important than being real.  The harder we try to put on a front, the further we fall from being ready when people realize we are not real.  To be ready to represent Jesus, we must live, act, and speak the same throughout the entire week as we do when we are surrounded by Christian friends during a Sunday worship gathering.  People need to see that you believe enough in what you are saying that you are actually living it!  They also need to see that you, as did Jesus, can understand and identify with their weaknesses.  
  • Be an Example:  The second part of being ready, is to be an example!  Many people like to pull out Paul’s instruction to Timothy to let no one look down on him because of his youthfulness.  Unfortunately, many fail to finish the verse to know how to actually do that!  In First Timothy, Paul writes and tells Timothy that he must set an example in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity so that no one has a reason, or an excuse, to look down on him.  What we do, how we live, the example we set, can all make or break the message we tell about God’s great love for mankind.  A big part of the importance of being real is so that Jesus is not just heard about, He is visibly seen in the way that you and I live!  I believe that one of the reasons that the church seems to be making little positive difference in the American culture is because the Christians who make up the church have often failed to be an example.  Statistically, there is very little difference in the speech, life, love, faith, and purity of Christians compared to non-Christians!  Instead of being an example, our life often seems to shout out that there really is no difference.  When you wear the name Christian, how you treat others says more to them about Christ than what we tend to act like it does.
  • Be Available:  The third part of being ready, is to be available!  When you take life as a  Christian seriously, your primary business becomes people — regardless of what you do as an occupation.  While that sounds good and noble, it is not quite right!  It is that statement that gets many who enter vocational ministry in trouble.  As a Christian, your primary business is not people, it is your relationship with God!  When we get that mixed up, then it is not long before people are setting our schedule, agenda, and life goals.  We become exhausted trying to keep up with all the demands and needs of the people around us as we strive to be available to everyone.  While we need to make the most of every opportunity in our availability to people, we must make our availability to God the number one priority in our life!  When Paul writes to the Corinthians about the matter of some giving that they had purposed to do, he points out the attitude of the Macedonians who had first given themselves to God so that He enabled them to give beyond their means.  If you are going to be ready for what God has for you to do, you must live a life that is fully available to God for His exclusive use!  Doing this can change your entire attitude about service to people.  When the things that you do are based out of your availability to God, then you are truly able to work at it with all your might as one serving the Lord.
  • Be Decisive:  The fourth part of being ready, is to be decisive!  Throughout scripture, God calls people to make up their mind.  We live in a time when it seems like nearly everything is decided by public opinion.  Even within church and Christian ministry settings, it seems like we are often on that ship of doubt that James talks about — constantly being tossed from wave of survey results to wave of public opinion polls.  Yes, there is value in knowing what, and how, people are thinking, but that should never replace the authority of God and His Word in making decisions.  It is only when decisions are based out of time in prayer and careful examination of God’s Word that we are truly prepared to let our “yes be yes and our no be no”!  It is a sad commentary on the followers of God that the statements of Joshua and Elijah, calling the people to make a choice about who they will serve, are seen as such bold statements!  The church today needs courageous people who will stand up and boldly ask, “How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if (Baal) is God, follow him.”  (1 Kings 18:21)  You can fill in the parentheses as to what goes there instead of Baal in your life and in the lives of people today.  To always be ready, means that you hold fast to your decision that the Lord truly is God and His ways are the only ways to live.
  • Be Yielded:  The final part of being ready, is to be yielded!  Hopefully you have seen this element throughout the other parts that I have already mentioned.  When you live a life that is fully yielded to God, you give Him all the room necessary to work and receive the glory that is due Him.  When Peter writes about always being ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you, he begins by instructing us to “set apart Christ as Lord”.  When Christ is Lord, He is in charge and every detail of our life is done His way.  Being yielded to God in everything means that He decides what being real looks like.  He is the example that I not only follow, but also the example that I become.  He has my full attention so that I am available for whatever tasks that He calls me to do.  His decisions are supreme, so my task of deciding is easy — I simply say, “Yes, Lord.”  Being yielded is what ties the entire idea of being ready, but it is often the most difficult part of it.  It is where the concept of complete submission to God becomes reality.  It is doing the parts of life that you enjoy and the parts of life that you don’t enjoy — simply because God sets them both before you as the work He created in advance for you to do.  It is daily praying the prayer of Jesus from the garden, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”  It is going when God says go and staying when God says stay.  It is why Paul can both give instruction to endure hardship and also praise God for rescuing him from those very hardships.  A life that is fully yielded to God is ready to preach the word both in season and out of season — and even ready to use words if necessary. 

I pray that if you are in Christ as one of His children that you will Always Be READY!  You have been set apart for God’s exclusive use so as you go about life today, live like it!

Honesty

There’s something I’ve noticed
     that really seems strange.
When it comes to truth,
     we think there’s a range.
There are bold lies and white lies,
     and “honest to God”.
And all kinds of gray space
     that really seems odd.
Whatever happened
     to yes and to no?
And keeping our word
     wherever we go?

To keep to my word,
     and make sure it’s true.
Should be how I live,
     when I talk with you.
I must be careful
     to weigh every word.
So only the truth,
     is that which is heard.
To make up a story,
     so I don’t look bad.
Will only bring problems,
     the worst that I’ve had.

Image is everything,
     at least we’ve been told.
So we make up a story
     and hope that it’s sold.
Our yes isn’t yes,
     and our no isn’t no.
We consider our image
     and we answer so-so.
We hide the true facts,
     that we don’t want seen.
And tell a new version,
     where the truth is quite lean.

This doesn’t mean
     you should tell all you know.
Some things are private,
     from your mouth should not go.
But that is a story
     for another day.
About speaking the truth,
     this poem will stay.
When we cover up
     the truth with a lie.
Our reputation
     has begun to die.

We must be careful
     that we don’t deceive.
By the impression
     that we try to leave.
We should not have to
     swear this is true.
Our word should be good
     when given to you.
The things that we value
     will carry more weight.
When we are honest
     in all that we state.

So when you are thinking
    that truth can’t be found.
Open the Bible,
     take a good look around.
The truth that is Jesus,
     does show us the way.
And calls us to choose;
     in our speech, there’s no gray.
To be fully honest,
     in word and in deed.
Is a teaching of Jesus
     that we ought to heed.
©

It seems like we live in a time where so many people have lost sight of the value that God places on honesty. In the past I’ve had ministry leaders tell me I’m too honest; that I needed to be more creative with the facts to give people an impression that was different from what was true. It also appears common to play loose with Bible texts to try to prove what we want. As I watched some of that unfold on social media, I spent time with God listening to His voice and He gave me this poem. I pray that it is an encouragement to each of us to live an honest life in our pursuit of God.

In prayer,
Tom

The End

I took time today
      to visit a friend.
He has been told
      his life will soon end.
The thing that I thought
      as we took time to chat.
We don’t like to think,
     “Am I ready for that?”
We’d much rather keep
      pretending each day.
That nothing could happen
      to take life away.

When we stop to think
      that this day could be it.
Does it change what we do
      with the times we just sit?
To reflect on our life
      that God Himself gave,
We should recognize
      that we need Him to save.
There’s only two choices
      at the end of this life.
Forever with Jesus,
      or eternal strife.

Do I live each day
      like it could be my last?
Long for the future
      with a forgiven past.
Will people surround me
      with stories of good?
Will they say I loved Jesus,
      like I said that I would?
And if I do wonder,
      just what they might say.
A pretty good answer,
      is what’s said today.

So how will I live,
      this day to the full?
Will I draw near to Jesus
      as my heart he does pull?
Will I think more clearly
      than ever before?
And realize without Him,
      I’m way beyond poor.
He’s the great treasure
      that I have received.
His Spirit has filled me
      because I believed.

Because of His presence,
      it’s really okay.
If quite unexpected,
      this is my last day.
But if He should give me
      a little more time.
I pray that He’s seen,
      in my life and my rhyme.
I want to be faithful
      in all I do spend.
So He says, “Welcome home,
      it’s not really the end.”
©

I spent some time yesterday with a friend who has outlived some of his doctor’s expectations and knows he is nearing the end of his life on this earth.  He is ready for those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”,  because they fit him.  As I’ve been praying for him and his wife, God put this poem in my mind.  I pray that it helps each of us to spend time with God considering if we are ready for this journey on earth to end.

In prayer,
Tom

Follow Me Heart and Soul

I am not a good follower.

That is a hard thing to admit, but it is true.  I have too many questions.  I’ve been described as “needing to have all my ducks in a row” before I act.  I want to calculate all possibilities and be prepared for anything.  I want no surprises that had not been anticipated and thought through.

That is why it is so easy for me to follow God!  Yes, there are times that I have my doubts and can’t see clearly, but I know that nothing catches God by surprise.  I have confidence and faith in His ability to see yesterday, today, and tomorrow with the same degree of clarity.  I have complete trust that if I listen to and obey Him completely, that He has my best interest in mind and each circumstance that I face while in obedience to Him is designed to “prosper not harm” me — even when I don’t see how at the moment.

As I think about this week’s study topic, “God Says I Am An Example”, I have to wonder how I’m doing at instilling that same faith and confidence in others as they watch meDo people see me following God so closely that they wouldn’t hesitate to follow me?  Does my leading show the same love, care, and concern for the welfare of others that God’s leading of me shows?

Monday’s text was taken from 1 Samuel 14 where we find the nation of Israel in dire straights.  Israel’s army consisted of 600 men with two swords between them facing the Philistine army who had been oppressing the Israelites for quite some time.  It is at this time that Jonathan, who has one of the two swords, decides something needs to be done.  The cat and mouse game of being teased and destroyed needed to end.

So, Jonathan makes a decision to go over to the enemy outpost and asks his armor-bearer to go with him — an armor-bearer without a sword!  Jonathan’s reasoning is quite simple and full of faith.  “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf.  Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”  This is where it gets hard for me.  It’s one thing for Jonathon to trust God and follow His leading.  It is another thing entirely for the armor-bearer to trust Jonathon and follow his leading.  I would be thinking, “Did you say ‘Perhaps!’?”  But that is just what he does.  I think his response says a lot more than first meets the eye.  He says, “Do all that you have in mind.  I am with you heart and soul.”  The outcome is incredible.  The two of them kill twenty of the enemy and it begins a panic that overcomes the entire Philistine army — “a panic sent by God”.  Victory is won because Jonathon follows God and says to his armor-bearer, “Follow me”.

“I am with you heart and soul” speaks deeply into how Jonathon could say, “Follow me,” and get a positive response from his armor-bearer.  The armor-bearer knew that Jonathon’s heart and soul was pursuing God.  God says that you and I are an example to others.  Our life calls out to people, “follow me”.  What kind of response we get often depends on what kind of life we are living.  I must constantly examine myself and see if I am living a life that “heart and soul” belongs to God.  If I am following Him “heart and soul”, then logic would say that someone following me “heart and soul” would actually be following God “heart and soul” because that is what they are seeing in me.

I am an example!  Am I a good example or bad?  That depends on what I am pursuing with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.  If that sounds familiar, it should.  God says all of that — all of me — belongs to Him. 

I pray that as you and I live life, our example is pure because it flows from our heart and soul belonging completely to God.

I Have An Example!

I’ve been writing this week about things that I have because I am a child of God.  Our study text today reminds me that as God’s child, I have an example! 

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  Ephesians 5:1-2

Whenever I am in an unfamiliar setting, I love to be with someone who is accustomed to the situation.  Someone who knows what to do and say and what not to do and say.  When I visit a new church to preach or share in some way, I pay attention to the people of that church and how they do things.  I watch them.  I study them.  I learn from them so that I can reduce my uncomfortableness and limit my embarrassment.  They become my example.  I follow their steps, their gestures, their words, their responses.  I become what I need to be because someone models it for me.

The Christian life should be like that.  Paul writes in his letters that people should imitate him as he imitates Christ.  That whatever people hear from him, whatever they observe or learn or receive from him, they should put into practice.  Paul understood the value of an example in living the Christian life.  In the verses above, he commands us as children of God to imitate our Father.  We have a perfect example of love that is seen in our Father, therefore we need to walk in the way of love.  This example of God, seen through Jesus, is one of giving and sacrificing our self for the benefit of someone else.

As God’s child, I have an example to follow.  The more closely I follow it, the more I look like I belong to my father.  I have a number of tendencies that people from my hometown recognize and immediately say, “You’re a child of your father.”  They know where I belong — what family I fit into because in many areas I follow the example of my father.    The bigger question when people observe me is, “Do they recognize I belong to the family of God?”  Am I walking in the way of love in a manner that resembles the example of my Father? 

As a child of God, you have an example.  Are you following it?  Can people see the family resemblance when they watch you?  I pray that you and I will “walk in the way of  love” as we faithfully follow the example of our Father.