SHEPHERDING IN A HARD PLACE

Boise National Forest

Rattlesnake Pass Trail, Boise National Forest

I have always thought myself as a meadow shepherd or a beside the still waters kind of a guy. Those are the familiar images of shepherding that I always envisioned. I have always assumed that is the goal in shepherding God’s flock as a pastor. I have always assumed that my expectation should be to lead a church into a place of nourishment and calm. I have believed that my job has been to lead the flock into places where they could be sustained and away from trouble, “beside still waters.”

Also, I have had a secret thought that has been in the back of my mind: Lord, please spare me the hard lessons in life as much is possible. To the best of my ability, I have avoided trouble.

In spite of my preferences, a few years ago, my life became rather tumultuous. I experienced several setbacks in my ministry at that time. Frankly, it caused me to question whether God had called me to be a pastor in the first place. Although I have met with some measure of success in ministry, nevertheless, the set backs and trials were seemingly unbearable and might point to a different conclusion rather than service in a pastoral ministry.

At that time, God chose to teach me a lesson about pastoring. He did it through an object lesson that to this day causes me to marvel at the Great Shepherd. I want you to journey back a few years and follow me up into some rugged mountains on a journey to learn about shepherding. It all began as I was on a trip with my wife Debra to visit with her family in Idaho. When I go to Idaho, I have a secret place up in the mountains that the locals know about. It’s a swimming hole that is located on an old Indian ceremonial site high up in the Boise National forest two hours north of Boise.

It was early summer and I was making my annual pilgrimage to the hot spring that I love to visit. Let me describe the trip: You drive north of Boise up into the mountains on a paved highway for a little over forty miles. You wind your way through a heavily forested valley another twenty miles on a narrow and roughly paved road. The paved roadway then turns into a gravel road. You travel six miles on gravel and turn onto a winding and twisting dirt road for another nine miles. You finally arrive at your destination high up in the Boise National Forest—one of the finest hot spring swimming holes you’ve ever seen.

On the way up the dirt road, I noticed a small herd of horses and mules sheltered along the road in a ravine and in amongst the trees, seemingly unattended. I thought it was interesting to see this herd abandoned up in the forest. Later, I would learn that they were not abandoned and were to be a part of the object lesson that the Lord would use.

On that day, my wife and I stayed at the hot spring and swam for a few hours and then started back down the mountain side. We had come to a crossroad in our life’s work and had prayed the night before regarding our ministry. The evening before, we entered a prayer chapel on the campus of a Christian college in my wife’s home town. We agonized in prayer asking the Lord to show us His desire for our ministry and the fledgling congregation that we were now leading.

As we were coming back down the mountainside, I had my wife read from the apostle Paul’s words from 2 Timothy 4. Specifically I had her read Paul’s words, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge” (2 Timothy 4:16). She read the chapter as we bounced down the dirt road and then closed her eyes to rest (the chapter was a valuable reminder of the hardships experienced in ministry but reading was unsettling to the stomach).

As we rounded a bend in the road, we saw sheep covering the roadway ahead. They were pouring out of a crevasse from the left side and crossing the road in front of us. Before we knew what was happening the road in this densely wooded stretch of road was filled with sheep. Mind you, we were traveling on a dirt road at almost a mile high in the Boise National Forest. The incline was so steep that any man would find it difficult to traverse. In the midst of huge boulders and pine trees, sheep seemed to be erupting out from the ravine as if from nowhere. I stopped the van and got out and found myself surrounded with sheep but there was no sign of a shepherd. All I heard was the bleating of sheep and the occasional clanging of bells that were hung around the necks of some of the sheep. At times a sheep would pause and look at me and then skitter on over to the right side of the road ascending up the hill.

I have traveled this road many times over the years, and I wondered as I saw the sheep ascending toward a ridge some 100 yards away, “Where in the world are the sheep going?” Many times I have looked over the side of the road and down the steep mountainside and worried about driving off the road. I have often wondered what it would be like to plummet down the thousands of feet to the treacherous valley below. Now I thought, “Here are all these sheep coming from nowhere journeying to a mountain ridge above that must lead to oblivion.”

For about fifteen minutes all I heard were bells clanging, bleating, the sheep chomping on vegetation, and yet the sheep kept coming. I wondered, what kind of shepherd would herd his sheep into such a rugged and wild place. Suddenly, I saw a huge white grungy looking dog come up out of the ravine [later I learned it was an ancient breed of dog called a Great Pyrenees]. I was not familiar with the breed, but he paused and looked at me as I looked at him. At first, I wondered, “Will he growl, bark or possibly lunge toward me?” He only paused, looked at me, surmised that I was no threat and then went on above into the tree canopied meadow moving among the sheep.

A moment later I could hear the shepherd’s voice down in the ravine calling out. Several minutes passed before I could see him climbing out of the ravine to a promontory by the roadside up and behind me. He watched over the balance of his flock that was still ascending the hillside.

Since my grandfather had been a shepherd as a boy in Romania I felt a kinship with this shepherd. I wanted to ask him some questions about his flock that came from nowhere and was headed to nowhere. He watched me as I made my way up the road. He stood above on a small cliff all dressed in Carhart pants and jacket, a leather hat, checkered shirt and a red bandana. He looked as if he had been for stroll in a park. His shepherd’s staff was a tree limb that reached from the ground to the height of his chin. His tall slender appearance was quite striking on that bright and sunny afternoon. His bearded face was tanned from exposure to the elements, and he didn’t seem winded from his climb up through the ravine. At his feet lay four border collie pups. As I approached him, a couple of the pups jumped to their feet and began to bark, but he spoke a word and the pups dropped down to lay down in silence.

When I finally stood before him I tried to strike up a conversation. I told him that my grandfather had been a shepherd when he was a boy. I asked if he were Basque, but he shook his head. I then asked where he was from and he strained in search of his words and stumbled to say, “Mex. . .” And I finished, “You’re from Mexico?” He nodded his head. I asked him, “How many sheep are you driving up the mountainside.” He hesitatingly said, “A thousand.” [I have learned since that a thousand sheep is a band and anything less is a flock.] I could tell we were going to have a language problem beyond my few questions so I cut our conversation short. I smiled, thanked him, and walked back toward our van. I was thinking to myself how much control one man exercised over so many animals. With a few dogs trained by this shepherd, absolute control was maintained over this huge assembly in the forest.

Before I could reach my car door, a mule came charging up the road at first by himself. He thundered past me and stood before the shepherd and began to bay. Before I could grasp what I was watching a horse came galloping up the road, stopped at a hundred yards down the road, and whinnied as if to shout at the mule and say, “get back here, you stupid mule.” The horse seemed to be the mule’s immediate superior and commander. Without a verbal command from the shepherd, the mule turned and galloped behind the horse down the road. As I opened the van door I found my wife, Deb, tearfully in awe of this shepherding feat. At that moment we didn’t exactly understand all that we had seen, but we recognized that there were spiritual lessons to be learned from this experience.

I quickly started the van and told her, “I want to follow the horse and mule to see where they go.” It was a guess on my part, but the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that the shepherd had trained the horse to keep the mule in line. I followed them as they trotted down the dirt road for a mile and half and realized that I had seen them earlier hidden and unattended in the ravine. They joined the other horses and mules to forage in the midst of the rocks and trees in their forest shelter.

SOMETIMES YOU SHEPHERD IN A HARD PLACE.

In the days that followed, I decided to take another look at shepherding in the Bible. As I studied the Scriptures, I learned a couple of lessons about shepherding and ministry. What I learned from the Bible was dramatized by the event in the woods. After all, the Lord had taken Jeremiah down to the potter’s house to teach Jeremiah a few things. In Jeremiah 18:2 God said, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.” Debi and I knew that the Lord had answered our prayer, and we knew we had to turn to the Scriptures in order to understand.

The first lesson I learned was that: at times a shepherd will lead his flock in a hard place. Shepherds don’t lead their flocks beside still waters and green pastures all the time. The next year a forest ranger told me that shepherds were contracted to bring their flocks into these inaccessible places. The purpose is to have the sheep feed on the under growth in these rugged areas in order to reduce the risk of fire spreading in the forest. Shepherding sheep in a woods is an ancient practice. Micah 7:14 pictures the shepherd tending to his flock in the woods, “Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel: let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.” Anyone familiar with the holy land is aware that Mount Carmel would be a treacherous place to herd sheep. Bashan and Gilead are also wooded areas and yet it was understood that God’s flock would rest in such places and find nourishment there. In contrast, we have come to expect that if we are doing our job correctly, our surroundings will always be pleasant and consistent with our understanding of success. Like a shepherd, at times a pastor will shepherd his flock in a hard place.

In the age of comparisons with the Mega-church and when success is measured in nickels and noses, another idea must be remembered by the under-shepherds and flock: At times sheep and shepherds alike pass through hard places and difficult times and yet God has not forsaken them. Consider the apostle Paul’s experience in Rome, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me . . . .” (2 Timothy 4:16). Should we conclude from Paul’s words that Paul had failed or that God had abandon him? No, of course not.

THE SHEPHERD IS IN CONTROL OF VARIOUS ELEMENTS

I fear we live in a time in America where patience is in short supply. Since a worldly value system at times reigns in the hearts and lives of churchmen, it is assumed that hard times demonstrate that God has abandoned His people and servants. While my experience in the forest seemed to point to a situation that was out of control, nothing could have been further from the truth.

The second lesson I learned was: being in a hard place didn’t prove that the shepherd had lost control. He drove sheep, commanded dogs, worked through trained horses and even mules—he was in absolute control. This place is near a trail marker which reads, “Rattlesnake Trail, Elevation 5120 ft.” There was a mule on the ridge grazing among the sheep trained to protect the flock from rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, when we go through hard times, we conclude that the Lord, the Great Shepherd, has lost His touch but nothing could be further from the truth. Isaiah 49 speaks of how the people of God and shepherds can feel abandoned by God. In Isaiah 49:14 the Lord comforts His people when Isaiah wrote: “But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me,’ And my Lord has forgotten me.'” In verse 15 we read the Lord’s response to such foolish talk: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” The Lord works through men, and angels, and uses adversity to mold and shape our lives and ministry. He is in absolute control for His grand purpose.

A SKILLED SHEPHERD CAN LEAD HIS FLOCK IN RUGGED TERRAIN

The third lesson I learned was: a skilled shepherd can lead a flock anywhere and whenever. This skilled shepherd delivered his flock on a mountain side in a place men would not expect. A year later I learned that there was nothing beyond the ridge line. It does drop almost straight down a couple of thousand feet. I know men prefer to begin congregations in the place where community growth patterns are most favorable to planting a church, but God can place a congregation in a hard place. You may not be a pastor but you are going through a hard time. Recognize that the Lord, the Great Shepherd, can lead you through a hard place if you’ll let Him. The clear mark of something that God does is that it defies conventional wisdom and it can be unorthodox running counter to the accepted way of looking at things.

FAITH PREPARES FOR RADICAL CHANGE

The sheep came pouring out of the ravine as if they were erupting out of the ground itself. There is a fourth lesson and that is we need to be ready for sudden change. Micah 2:12 provides another glimpse of God’s promise to His flock Israel, “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, Like a flock in the midst of their pasture; They shall make a loud noise because of so many people.” Years later I still marvel at the shepherding feat that we had witnessed. A thousand sheep in a rugged and desolate place. The Lord spoke to Israel through Isaiah and made a similar promise, “For your waste and desolate places, And the land of your destruction, Will even now be too small for the inhabitants; And those who swallowed you up will be far away. The children you will have, After you have lost the others, Will say again in your ears, ‘The place is too small for me; Give me a place where I may dwell.” (Isaiah 49:19-20.) I’m not suggesting these promises were made to us. These are promises to Israel. But we do serve the same God and there is a pattern here. He takes things away from His people and in time restores our blessing. We must learn to bide our time in faith and confidence.

This event marked a radical change in my ministry. I have learned that the Lord takes things a way from us to give us something different. He will not always give us more, but it will always be better. We must learn to trust the Lord even in these hard times. Others may have forsaken us but the Lord cannot. If we are to inherit abundance we must learn to trust the Lord in times of lack and distress. The times of lack are times when we must prepare in faith for what God intends to do. These hard times must be times of anticipation of God’s great reward. When hard times come we dare not think my time must have past, we ought to say: I better be getting ready. Like Sarah unbelief laughs at God’s promise (Genesis 18:12). Faith gets the nursery ready.

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Title :: SHEPHERDING IN A HARD PLACE
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HOW TO KEEP FROM BEING FOOLISH

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No One wants to Really Look Foolish

Are you struggling with a bad habit? If you are, you need wisdom. You need a clear and unobstructed view of the road ahead. Wisdom is the ability to anticipate the results of one’s decisions, and the predisposition to choose the best course of action which is the way of righteousness. In other words, wisdom demands that we always do the right thing and doing the right thing is always the best choice. Wisdom results in doing what is right in contrast with doing what is evil. Wisdom is the skill and insight to anticipate what could happen and then chart out a course of action that is free from unnecessary pitfalls.

I am not too sure how I came across this definition of wisdom, but I think the idea crystalized in my thinking when I was studying the book of Proverbs many years ago. You might ask, what is the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and information and the ability to understand how the facts interrelate. On the one hand, a person can be smart or very intelligent, but lack wisdom. On the other hand, a person may not understand the intricacies of academia and modern technology but be wise. Wisdom is the skill of using the available information to make good and well thought out decisions.

Unfortunately, in our American culture we live in a time when men worship knowledge and the accumulation of facts and wisdom is an afterthought. It is as the Scripture warns us about the end time: “…many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (NKJV — Daniel 12:4.) Do you see the picture? Many in spite of all of their knowledge, run senselessly in one direction and then in another direction. Haven’t you heard: “we live in the information age.” The world is flooded with information but who knows what to do with it? That is where the wise man or woman comes in.

Acquiring wisdom is an indispensable step in mastering bad habits and overcoming addictions. Becoming wise and acquiring the skills that are granted through wisdom is essential. Failure to anticipate the results of foolish and reckless behavior can be a major factor in perpetuating the cycle of sin and spiritual bondage. Wisdom can be acquired and the skills that accompany it can be mastered. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes speaks of acquiring wisdom when he wrote, “I applied my heart to know, To search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things, To know the wickedness of folly, Even of foolishness and madness.” (NKJV — Ecclesiastes 7:25.)

We acquire wisdom basically one of two ways: from our mistakes and experiences or by the advice and counsel of other people and sources. We cause ourselves injury by the consequences and sometimes punishments that are the result of our bad choices. Hopefully, we learn from the bruises and wounds that are many times self-inflicted. We learn from the bruises we sustain as is suggested by Proverbs 20:30 (NKJV), “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, As do stripes the inner depths of the heart.” The point of this proverb is that the bruises we suffer as the result of our choices make us less inclined to choose evil. I say “inclined” because I know how things really are. For example, I know a fifteen year old pregnant girl and amphetamine drug user that has said, “When I get this baby out of me I’m going back to doing the things that I was doing before.” Whether we cause our own wounds or whether we are punished by the law, these experiences can give us wisdom—they help us anticipate what will happen if we make the wrong choice.

We don’t have to learn the hard way. We can learn wisdom from a book like the Bible or we can gain wisdom from the counsel of others. This is the point of Proverbs 1:2-4, “To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity; To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion, A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” (NASB) Receiving good sound advice helps us gain wisdom and is a skill that can be learned.

Until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the wisest man in the Bible was Solomon. Down through the centuries multitudes have been moved by Solomon’s prayer to God for wisdom. When invited to ask anything of the Lord, Solomon asked God for wisdom as he embarked upon his career as Israel’s king. He prayed, “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (NKJV — 1 Kings 3:9.) In the next verse it states, “The speech pleased the LORD, that Solomon had asked this thing.” (NKJV — 1 Kings 3:10.) No doubt many who have heard the story and have read these words have been encouraged to pray this same prayer. Solomon’s prayer was sincere and selfless without ulterior motives and this is how this request must be made—sincerely and free of selfish motives. But, this is only part of the story.

There is a less familiar part of the story of Solomon’s life—for a wise man, his life didn’t end so well. Centuries before Solomon became king, God had given this warning concerning Israel’s leaders, “When you come to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me…. Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away….” (NASB — Deuteronomy 17:17.) It is well known that in spite of this command, Solomon acquired many wives. 1 Kings 11:3 states, “And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.” How could a wise man totally disregard the command that God had stated hundreds of years before? He had to choose. Unfortunately, Solomon chose to do what he knew was wrong. Similarly, we have to make choices. In our lives we have to make a choice to do the wise thing—the right thing. True wisdom isn’t just the skill to anticipate what could happen, it is making the choice to do what is right.

Solomon chose to ignore God’s command and chose to do evil. He possessed wisdom, but he chose to be a fool. In the next verse, verse 4, it states, “For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.” It was Solomon’s acquisitiveness—his desire to have more than a person has a right or need to have—that made him an idolater. He became an idolater when he started stockpiling wives and concubines (compare Colossians 3:5). It should be obvious that Solomon had a sexual addiction. His veneration and worship of foreign gods was a logical step in his downward spiral. Perhaps he turned to idolatry with its pornographic elements and sexual aspects to give himself over fully into his sexual bondage.

How does a person acquire wisdom? First, pray for it. James 1:5 is one prayer that God is always going to answer: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5.) Second, the Bible is the source of true wisdom. Begin studying the wisdom literature of the Bible: Proverbs, the Psalms, Eccelesiates (read the last chapter first over and over), the Song of Solomon, and the Epistle of James. Third, listen to the Spirit’s voice. Remember that we are promised that He will teach us all things. 1 John 2:27 states: “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you.” (NKJV.) Although this verse is commonly used to prove that the Spirit will teach us about doctrinal issues, it is obvious He is able to teach us about the day to day things. He is able to teach us how to make wise choices. Finally, surround yourself with mature Christians that can help you sort things out when the Bible hasn’t given a clear or direct answer to your questions.

One final observation. Oftentimes you don’t need to have all of the facts before you can make the best decision. If you know what is moral, the ethical and righteous thing to do, that is the best choice. The randomness of life, with all of its unforseen catastrophes, will provide enough dangers and threats to life and limb. It is both foolish and unnecessary to make choices that open the way for even more catastrophes and chaos in our lives. The foolish man thumbs his nose at dangerous risks. The wise man recognizes the pit falls and avoids danger.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe. (NKJV — Proverbs 18:10)

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Title :: HOW TO KEEP FROM BEING FOOLISH
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THE TRUTH CAN SET YOU FREE WHILE LIES DESTROY YOU

I told the men that I was with not to look up. I was fairly confident that a drug deal was about to go down, and I know it isn’t polite to stare at drug dealers when they’re selling their wares. We had just come from the apartment when two men pulled up in a car, and then went into the same address. Although we had randomly come to that residence that morning, I had learned a few things from the husband and wife that lived there. I knew the household had medical marijuana prescribed for the woman’s use, but it is apparent that many who have the prescription grow it and sell the surplus for extra cash. People who knew the couple report that they did sell marijuana to others. I have been grieved over the situation that many find themselves in – their poverty and access to “legal marijuana” has become a snare. A part of the game and deception is that they believe they can sell a little on the side, it won’t hurt anyone, and it will make them a little cash. The truth is they put themselves in a position of spiritual bondage. In order to keep this kind of behavior from being exposed many lies have to be told both to oneself and to others.

The truth can be liberating or it can be crushing and painful, stripping us of any self-deception that we use to mask our secrets. While we say we want the truth, the words of a motion picture character present the dilemma we often face, and we fear that we “…can’t handle the truth!” I am convinced that the truth—the first piece of the armor of God—is the key piece of armor. It is intentionally placed at the beginning of the listed pieces of armor since the truth is where our battles with the enemy begin. The Holy Spirit moved the Apostle Paul to select the words that accurately communicated His message, but in addition, the Spirit even guided in the sequence and order of the themes that were introduced. If you are ever to overcome an addiction or gain mastery over any sinful habit, here is where you must begin. You start with the truth, and it becomes the hub and centerpiece for everything else.

The word is introduced as a theme in Ephesians 1:13, and it is the first mention of “truth” in the book. There it states, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation . . . .” The truth of the gospel is in view, and it is the truth of the gospel that protects us. When Paul spoke about “having girded your waist with truth” in Ephesians 6:14, in part he was alluding to “the truth of the gospel.” In order to resist the enemy’s attacks, we must grasp and understand the implications of Christ’s death. We must be girded with the precious teaching of salvation through Christ. In Ephesians 1:13 the gospel is portrayed as the basis of our destiny and hope for the future, but it is our lens for keeping the present in perspective with eternity in view.

When we focus only on the here and now we play right into the enemy’s hands. Ecclesiastes 8:15 describes the kind of thinking that leaves God out of the picture. Many have used this kind of thinking to rationalize their sin. It states “. . . a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry.” Without the gospel, a person is prone to be pessimistic and despondent about life, and his frustration will become a foothold for the enemy. A person in this state will drown his sorrows in booze, drugs, illicit sexual activity, gluttonous behavior, etc.

A second way that truth is used in Ephesians is presented in Ephesians 4:15 “. . . speaking the truth in love . . . .” Living the truth of the gospel undergirds us to proclaim the gospel. And the gospel message is unleashed when the life of the witness matches the truth of the message. In 2 Corinthians 4:2 we read, “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” It was the manifestation of the truth—”walking the talk”—that became the basis of appealing to the lost. Notice it wasn’t an appeal directed at the intellect alone, but it was an appeal to men’s consciences. I have found men may challenge words, but they hold their silence when they come face to face with a life that imitates Christ.

The third time truth is mentioned in Ephesians is found in Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.” When he can, our enemy uses deception to bluff the followers of Christ. While deception is the enemy’s tool, as God’s servants, deception is not a part of our arsenal. Proverbs 13:5 sets forth what is to be the believer’s proper mindset toward sin: “A righteous man hates lying….” Since it is out of character for the believer, the believer must turn away from lying and be grieved any time he stumbles in this area. A person must forsake the deception that goes with a lifestyle that is addicted to booze, drug use, illicit sexual behavior, and even gluttony.

By quoting a prophet in Titus 1:12 the Apostle Paul impugned the people living in Crete in his day when he wrote: “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” In the next verse (verse 13) he reaffirms his statement: “This testimony is true.” In our time it could be claimed that Americans are liars—modern day Cretans. This is our national vice. Researchers have discovered that lying is an epidemic in America. In Christianity Today Magazine Charles Coulson reported:

“In recent years, politicians and pundits, professors and even Pulitzer Prize–winners have been caught dealing in deceit. One of the nation’s most respected historians, Stephen Ambrose, plagiarized portions of other historians’ works and—notwithstanding his public apology—seemed hardly disturbed by the resulting controversy.” (Charles Coulson, “Post-Truth Society: The Recent Trend of Lying is No Accident.” Christianity Today Magazine, March 11, 2002, Vol. 46, No. 3, Page 112.)

Coulson continued: “Historian Joseph Ellis, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Founding Brothers, was caught inventing a Vietnam War record for himself. So was Tim Johnson, manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Ex-conservative writer David Brock admitted he’d made up sordid details about Anita Hill. Gloria Steinem’s claim about the number of women who die of eating disorders—supposedly 150,000 a year—turned out to be a huge feminist hoax.”(Charles Coulson, “Post-Truth Society.”)

Authors of the book The Day America Told the Truth estimated that 91 percent of the American people lie on a regular basis. Patterson and Kim wrote: “We lie and don’t even think about it.” If this assessment is accurate that means many Americans are caught in the practice of lying. If indeed 38 percent of the American population is born again as George Gallop claims it follows that a significant number of born again Christians lie on a regular basis. In 1997 Professor and researcher Bella DePaul had 147 people keep a diary of all the falsehoods that they told over a period of a week. Participants ranged in ages from 18 to 71 years of age. She found that her participants lied “. . . once or twice a day–almost as often as they snack from the refrigerator or brush their teeth. Both men and women lie in approximately a fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes; over the course of a week they deceive about 30 percent of those with whom they interact one-on-one.” (Allison Kornet, “The truth about lying” Psychology Today , May/Jun 97.) But, this isn’t just a sinful behavior committed by Americans. It is obvious that lying is a universal problem, a part of the human condition, and corrupting influence in every culture.

Consider the damage we do to others, and the stress that we suffer when we lie. Even a skilled liar has to remember what he told and to whom. We don’t want someone to know about our drunkenness so we mask it with false explanations. I know of a young man who died recently because of his alcohol use. His drink of choice? Mouthwash. What lies did he tell himself and others? We may not be guilty of telling a bald faced lie each time, but we can leave false impressions. You may not know this, but, withholding information in a court of law is considered to be a form of lying. The adulterer has to tell lies to coworkers, friends and family. It goes on and on. A person who makes money under the table at work, lies on his taxes will ultimately short change himself. If he loses his job, his lying will keep him from receiving any unemployment benefits. These situations involve lying and result in all kinds of pressure and stress. If you are to gain victory over your addiction or sinful habit, it begins with resolving to tell the truth. You can soften the truth and tell only what needs to be known, but you must resolve to make it a point to tell the truth.

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Title :: THE TRUTH CAN SET YOU FREE WHILE LIES DESTROY YOU
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(Permission is granted to use the material as long as the URL and source information are given. Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2010.)

IS THE CHURCH IN THE ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS?

The American statesman Benjamin Franklin corresponded with the evangelist George Whitefield about Christianity. In spite of Whitefield’s efforts, Franklin never turned to Christ. On one occasion Franklin wrote a criticism of the Christian faith as was practiced in America, “The faith you mention has certainly its use in the world. I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I endeavor to lessen it in any man. But I wish it were more productive of good works, than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works; works of kindness, charity, mercy, and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing; performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments, despised even by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity. The worship of God is a duty; the hearing and reading of sermons may be useful; but if men rest in hearing and praying, as too many do, it is as if a tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth leaves, though it never produced any fruit.” (Personal correspondence from Benjamin Franklin to George Whitefield.) Unfortunately at times Church ministry in America can be more about entertainment than it can be about addressing real needs with real help.

The Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:15 speak of love in action. In its context this verse points to the fact that speaking the truth in love is a part of the process of maturing spiritually. Ephesians 4:14 speaks of achieving a level of spiritual maturity that comes as a result of speaking the truth in this way. According to this verse speaking the truth in love works to safe guard the believer and prevents him from being bantered about by false teaching. It states: “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting . . . .”

We must admit that sometimes actions are more effective in conveying our feelings and ideas than our words. The old axiom: “Actions speak louder than words” is true. We must keep this idea in mind when we read Ephesians 4:15, “. . . speaking the truth in love . . . .” Paul’s point can be glossed over and misunderstood. We assume if we have knowledge of Bible doctrine it will keep us from straying, but in its context Paul is suggesting a slightly different point. His point is that if we learn to live our faith, it keeps us from straying. Paul is talking about integration of the truth rather than a useless knowledge of the truth. Take a closer look at Ephesians 4:15. Notice it doesn’t just say “speak the truth,” and it doesn’t only refer to knowing the truth. It says, “. . . speaking the truth in love . . . .” There is more here than the idea of hollow obedience in communicating Biblical truth. This command involves the idea of integrating the truth in how we think and live. We are to allow the Word to touch every facet of our lives.

The church aspires to be purpose driven, but based upon the results, we are forced to ask, “What purpose really drives the American church?” A business approach to Christianity and a message of self-aggrandizement drives much of what is taking place in American church culture. The church falls into a pattern of entertaining people rather than helping them. In this environment, the church’s practical priorities are more about the lady’s tea, men’s softball, the Christmas bazaar, get rich schemes, etc. Preaching and worship are designed to attract, humor, and entertain new parishioners. James Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, wrote “As a preacher myself, let me be blunt here. Preaching itself can easily become just a subtle form of entertainment. When I stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, he is not going to ask me if I was a clever orator. He is not going to ask me how many books I wrote.” (James Cymbala, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire, p. 59.) Cymbala later again wrote about how preaching should stir people to action and prayer: “God will someday ask, ‘Did you bring people to where the action could be found … at the throne of grace?’ If you just entertained them, if you just tickled their ears and gave them a warm, fuzzy moment, woe unto you. At the throne of grace, I could have changed their lives” (James Cymbala, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire, p. 84.) The kind of preaching that fails to lead listeners to respond with action is entertainment. Ironically, too many Christians have a theology that speaks of the value of prayer but rarely pray. Similarly, worship that fails to energize us to greater service is also little more than self amusement. (The underlying meaning of the word “amuse” means to divert someone’s attention from serious thought.) Isn’t this the kind of behavior that James warned against, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” (James 1:23-24.)

The fact that our actions are to be in harmony with our word is emphasized many times in Scripture. Even in Psalm 51:6 we learn that God isn’t just looking for outward obedience but inward conformity as well. “Behold,You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” We must recognize that our life must be in agreement with our words. Ours is a message of love and our actions must convey the same spirit from the core of our being.

Remember what Colossians 3:16 instructs us to do. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . .” It is in this vein that 2 Corinthians 3:3 speaks of Christians being “living epistles.” When our knowledge of the truth is integrated into our lives it helps keep us from being drawn into error in our behavior and our thinking. We must guard against just collecting novel and interesting Bible facts. It is possible to become only a storage compartment for offbeat theological truths while just taking up space waiting for Christ’s return. When our knowledge of the truth is only at a mechanical, technical level we are still vulnerable to spiritual attack. Could it be that so many fine Bible teachers and pastors in America have fallen into sin because they failed to go beyond a superficial understanding of the Bible?

There is a danger in knowing Biblical truth while failing to live Biblical truth. It can make you believe you are something that you are not. It can make you think you are strong and invincible when you are really vulnerable and weak.

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Registered :: Thu Jul 01 07:19:20 UTC 2010
Title :: IS THE CHURCH IN THE ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS?
Category :: Blog
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(Permission is granted to use the material as long as the URL and source information are given. Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2010.)