Navigating Through the Grey Areas of Life

Speaker:

                              Navigating Through The Gray Areas Of Life

     II Timothy 3:16-17 is as follows.  “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.”  The scriptures speak quite clearly to us in many areas of our lives.  In equipping us for every good work, we are advised to not only avoid known acts of sin but are counseled by the following verse in James 4:17.  “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”  In addition, we are told in Romans 14:23 that “..everything that does not come from faith is sin.”  If I have doubts about whether the Lord would want me to pursue an activity, then I had better avoid it altogether!  

     In pursuing the decisions of life, the Lord has not only given us His written word, but also guides us in several other ways.  One of these is by the peace which He gives us in our heart about decisions we must make.  Colossians 3:15 states, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.”  Another method of instruction is found in Proverbs 15:22.  “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  The Holy Spirit also uses circumstances in our lives to direct our work for hIm.  It was an illness that brought the Apostle Paul to the European continent under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.”  (Galatians 4:13).

     Whenever the word of God, our inner peace, the counsel of others and circumstances line up together we may safely proceed.  If the other three line up and are opposed to the word of God, however, we can rest assured that we are going in the wrong direction, as was the case with Jonah!  In addition to the above, there are three other scriptures which have been found helpful in navigating the gray areas of life.  They are all found in I Corinthians, chapters six, eight, and ten.  

     The first of these is I Corinthians 6:12.  “‘Everything is permissible for me’-but not everything is beneficial.  ‘Everything is permissible for me’-but I will not be mastered by anything.”  Paul first states, and later repeats his statement, that “everything is permissible.”  But Paul recognizes that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  His body is not his own.  He is bought with a price.  Therefore, he must ask the following questions.  Will this activity, food, drink, hobby, relationship, etc, be beneficial to my spirit, my soul and my body?  Will this food, drink, activity, hobby, etc, bring me under its eventual control?  These are his questions and ours as well as we contemplate these areas in our life. 

     The second of these verses is found in I Corinthians 8:13.  “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”  This verse answers the question.  “How will my choice, my freedom to do, to eat, and to drink what I want effect others?  If they see me doing these things which I am free to do, will it weaken their faith?  Will my liberty become a stumbling block to others?  The consideration that is implied in this verse should govern our lives regardless of who we are with or wherever we go.  Our lives are an open book read by all.  By keeping this reminder before us, we are likely to successfully navigate through this gray area. 

     The third verse is I Corinthians 10:31.  “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  To bring Him glory is to give an accurate appraisal of who He is.  It is to reflect His prestige, His honor, His eminence.  Whatever is done should increase His splendor, His magnificence, and His greatness.  It is a tremendous thought that God may even be glorified by such a simple matter as eating and drinking, if done with the intent of glorifying Him.  When Paul makes this comment, he deliberately begins with the very small things, which is where we must begin as well, if we are to do all for the glory of God.  Our lives proceed from the small things.  We cannot glorify Him in our business dealings if we do not glorify Him with all we do in our homes.  We will not be able to glorify Him in public unless we glorify Him in our private lives.  Paul says “do it all for the glory of God.”  In order to do this we must seek His will constantly, and trust Him to live His life through us (Galatians 2:20)

     II Timothy 3:17 assures us that His word is sufficient to thoroughly equip us for every good work.  It is my prayer that these verses in I Corinthians may be used by the Holy Spirit in your lives to the end that your good works will be manifested to Him and to others.            

In Christ,  Richard Spann

Store Up Treasures for Yourselves

Speaker:

                                      Store Up Treasures For Yourselves

     Most of us do not immediately think of our Lord in this respect, but in addition to all else He has done for us, He wants us to give heed to His words as our Investment Counselor.  He relates the following to us in Matthew 6:19-20.  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  Our Lord does not tell us to do this because His church needs the money for His enterprises!  He already owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the wealth in every mine!  He, like any wise parent, wants to train His children.  Early in the lives of our children, we acquaint them with the need for saving resources, and then using them to prepare for their future.  Our Lord wants not only to prepare us for the future, but wants us to join Him in preparing our future with Him.

     Most investment counselors discuss the product they are selling in terms of two factors.  These are risk and reward.  What is the risk of an investment?  Is it secure?  What reward may be expected?  The risk in New Testament times was that of destruction by moth and rust as well as being subject to thievery.  Today the risk in many countries is an economic recession, market collapse, or destabilization of currency.   A great many factors beyond our control determine the degree of risk which may be sizable.  The reward of temporal investments usually provides benefit for its investors, but for only a few years and then is passed on to their heirs.   An investment stored up in heaven, however, has no risk.  Those doing so enjoy a return not just for a few years, but that which stretches into eternity!  This reward will far exceed the original investment!  

     Heaven will be a place of rejoicing!  Those who have stored up treasures in heaven will be permitted to see what the Lord has done through their gifts to Him and to his work.  Many will come from all parts of the earth, different tribes and tongues, those whose lives were ministered to and spared physically due to the provisions given them by means of your gifts to Him.  There will be those whose opportunity to come to know Christ personally and join the company of the redeemed was occasioned by the generosity of your gift for His kingdom work.  Some will declare that the only Bible they received was one given by a Bible society because of your faithful support.  Even the cup of cold water given to those who belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.  If our Lord remembers the cup of water, He will certainly remember and reward you for every penny invested with Him.  The Lord himself tells us the following in Luke 16:9.  “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”   Each of us is given an opportunity to determine the size of our welcoming committee!  

     With the above promises in mind for our investment portfolio, we might ask the questions.  How much should I invest in kingdom work?  How much should I store up for myself?  II Corinthians 9:6-7 answers that question!  “Remember this:  Whosoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  The answer, then, is that you can give as much as you want.  There is no limit!  You are given the choice as to whether you desire to reap sparingly or to reap generously!  

     In addition to rejoicing, there will also be responsibilities given to those faithful in storing up treasures in heaven.  In Matthew 25:21,23 the Lord says the following to His servants.  “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’”  The following is written concerning our Lord in Hebrews 12:2.  “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  His death and resurrection to life destroyed the works of the devil, cancelled our sins and provided pardon, purity and power to those He redeemed.  Their entrance into Heaven as part of His glorified body was the joy set before Him.  Each of us is invited to invest our time, our talents and our treasure to the accomplishment of this, His declared purpose from the foundation of the world.  Is our ability to join Him in His joy enhanced by the realization that we were enabled to use earthly treasure to bring and influence others into His kingdom?  This is the happiness which our master invites us to share with him in Matthew 25:21, 23 when He states “Come and share your master’s happiness!”  Is it possible that our opportunity to share in His happiness is dependent, to some degree, upon the measure to which our treasure has contributed to His happiness?  Is our happiness due in some measure, to our contribution in adding a diadem to His crown as some have suggested?  

     Our Lord loves you with a measure so infinite that it cannot be understood by a finite mind.  This love desires that you be able to share as fully as possible in all His joy and happiness.  To that end, it is His desire that you prepare for this by laying up treasures for yourselves in heaven. 

In Christ,  Richard Spann                

Love the Lord Your God

Speaker:

                       Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all

                       your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.

                                                                                                Mark 12:30

           And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power,

           together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep

           is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that  

           you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 

                                                                                                Ephesians 3:17b-19 

     Our love for the Lord our God is to be expressed by these four means-with our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength.  Have you ever asked yourself “What does it mean to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?”  Some answers to that question may be fairly obvious, while the understanding of others may be a little obscure.  Having been commanded to love the Lord by these means, however, it warrants a prayerful search as to their understanding.  It seems clear that to love Him with all our heart implies obedience.  “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”  (John 14:21a)  How does a person love with their soul?  Perhaps the closest answer from scripture is the thought expressed in Psalm 25:1.  “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.”  We come closest to the thought of loving Him with our soul when we trust Him fully.  And how do we love Him with our mind?  Several scriptures speak of the relationship of our mind to our Lord.  Ephesians 4:23 relates that we are “to be made new in the attitude of your minds.”  Likewise, Romans 12:2 tells us that we are to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Philippians 2:5 states “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”  (KJV)  Is it not, then, in the constant renewing of our minds, appropriating by faith the attitude and thoughts of Christ, that we can love Him with our mind?  And finally, how do we love Him with our strength?  Perhaps Romans 12:1 captures this most clearly.  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.”  If we are to love Him with all our strength then, we need to make our lives available to Him for His use.  

     In addition to speaking to us in regard to our love for Him, our Lord also speaks to us regarding His love for us.  He desires that we grasp the width, the length, the height and the depth of His love for us.  He then states that His love for us will surpass our understanding!  Have you ever taken the opportunity to consider the width of His love?  The Lord has created a universe for us to enjoy and in which to find wonder in all that He is and has done.  As Elizabeth Barrett Browning states in Aurora Leigh.  “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.  But only he who sees takes off his shoes.  The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”  The length of God’s love begins with Him, for He is love, and is expressed in Revelations 13:8.  “The Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”  The length of His love continues into the infinite ages to come, as described in Ephesians 3:21.  “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations. for ever and ever.  There is no beginning and no end to the length of love that God has for us. 

     How can we best describe the height of His love?  Romans 8:16 says that “we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory.”  We are told in II Timothy 2:13 that “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”  Ephesians 2:6-7 states “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness  to us in Christ Jesus.”  The heights, then, is expressed in reigning with Him in His glory, seated with Him, enjoying the incomparable riches of His grace.  The depth of His love for us is surely expressed in His cross, where alone, our Savior bore the penalty for our sin, destroyed the works of the devil and with His resurrection granted us pardon, purity and power to live a new life in dependence upon Him.  This is expressed in Colossians 1:22.  “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”  

     The above passages, Mark 12:30 and Ephesians 3:17-19, are usually studied separately.  Much can be learned, however, from merging the two in our thinking.  If our Lord desires us to know the width, the length, the height and the depth of His love for us, surely He is desirous that we show our love for Him in the width, the length, the height and the depth of our lives as well.  What would it look like, for example, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength in the width of our lives?  Are we obedient in all situations in which we find ourselves?  Does our trust extend to full dependence upon Him to guide us wherever we go, regardless of who we are with and what we are doing?  Is our mind renewed and are His attitudes expressed in dealing with a wide variety of situations?  Are our lives made available to Him for His work in the lives of those we encounter during our travels?  If we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, his love and life will be made visible to those with whom we interact in the width of our lives.

     Consider also what it would mean to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength throughout the length of your life.  There would never be a time when disobedience would be an option.  Change occurs with aging and less areas of our lives are under our own control.  Do we love hIm by trusting Him to see us through these days?  Do we love Him with our minds by appropriating His attitudes in all our changing situations of life?  Do we continue to make our lives available to Him for His work, even in our declining years of health and activity?  It is during these years that we must “pay more careful attention therefore to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”  (Hebrews 2:1)  If we steadfastly continue to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength we can say the following with Paul in II Timothy 4:7.  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 

     How can we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength in the height of our lives?  When everything seems to be going well for us, are we able to remain obedient in all His ways?  Are we still following Him closely, or have our eyes turned to the pleasurable activities of life?   Do we still maintain a trust in Him to guide all of our affairs, or have we subtly transferred our trust to ourselves?  Do we trust His perspective and attitude toward all we have and do, or are we occupied with thoughts and actions which are not derived from Him?  Do we remember to continually make our lives available to Him for His work when we are occupied with successfully achieving our material goals in life?  

     And finally we reach the depth of our lives, where health issues, financial challenges, work problems or relationships have become major problems in our lives.  Are we tempted to cut corners in obedience in some areas of our life?  Are we able to trust Him to see us through the dark days ahead?  Is our hope steadfast in Him?  Do we look to the renewal of our minds that comes from Him at these times?  Are we able to let our lives be used by Christ in these days to those around us?  

     To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is the primary duty of our lives.  It should be manifest in the width, length, height and depth of our lives.  This should be the response in our lives as we consider the width, the length, the height and the depth of His love for us.  It is this desire, and passion to show love for Him at all times, under any conditions, in everyplace we go that will bring Him glory honor and praise.  It is this love for Him that accomplishes His work in us and through us.  It is for this love that God is seeking.  May your hearts be so attuned to His love for you, that the love you have for him may glorify Him in the width, the depth, the height and the depth of your life. 

In Christ, Richard Spann                          

                   

           

Do Not Fret

Speaker:

                       Do Not Fret……….Do Not Fret……….Do Not Fret

                                                                         Psalm 37: 1,7,8.

     These three words occur repeatedly at the beginning of Psalm 37.  What does it mean, first of all, to “fret?”  Secondly, what reasons are given for this emphasis?  And lastly, what directions do these scriptures give to enable us to cease from fretting?  

     To fret is to be constantly or visibly worried or anxious.  Synonyms include to be distressed, to agonize, or to have anguish.  It may present itself as complaining, grumbling, whining, or brooding.  The factors mentioned in Psalm thirty seven that led to fretting then and still lead to fretting today are the presence of evil men (verse one), and their success in carrying out their wicked schemes. (verse seven)  Verse eight tells us that our fretting leads only to evil.  

     It does not take very long in many conversations before one notices fretting on the part of those participating in the discussion.  It is often perceived as one of the synonyms listed above, from grumbling and complaining all the way to anguish.  The concerns are in regard to local, national and international figures in the fields of business, politics, education or sports.  Evil progresses to accomplish its wicked schemes and fretting abounds.  There are many things which we can do, and are, in fact, instructed to do, such as prayer. (I Timothy 2:1-2)  In many countries, there is a right to vote, and to make one’s voice and opinion heard.  The one thing that this Psalm tells us not to do, however, is to fret.  Why?   Because it leads to evil (verse eight), and because evil men will be cut off (verse nine) and will soon wither and die away. (verse two) 

     Numerous areas of scripture use inverted parallelism to convey the central message.  This means that the thought on each end of the passage, (verses one to nine) is the same. (Do not fret)   The central portion of the scripture contains the bottom line or the take home point.  We do not learn to stop fretting by simply stopping to fret.  We are instructed in scripture to replace our thinking or behavior, not simply to stop a thinking pattern or activity.  This Psalm instructs us that fretting is only successfully dealt with when it is replaced by the instructions given in verses three through seven.  How do we succeed in ceasing to fret?  By doing the following four things. 

     -Trust in the LORD and do good. (verse three)

     -Delight yourself in the LORD. (verse four)  

     -Commit your way to the LORD. (verse five)

     -Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him. (verse seven)

     In each of the above, our reference is to the LORD, the Becoming One, the One who will become all that we need.  We are instructed to trust in the LORD and to do good.  Trust is a confidence that will see us through the dark times of abounding evil around us.  It needs nor asks for any verification of God’s sovereignty in dealing with the deterioration in our society that results from the plans of evil men.  It is the trust that we see in Isaiah 50:10.  “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.”  We, in addition to trust, are instructed to do good, as in the words of John Wesley.  “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”  

     Verse four directs us to “delight yourself in the LORD.”  The meaning of delight may be understood more completely by the use of words such as having great pleasure, elation, or enchantment.  Why are we to delight in the LORD?  Because He, and He alone meets all our needs.  He is our comfort, our assurance, our hope in the midst of surrounding evil.  It is only as we take delight in Him that we are released from fretting.  

     In the following verse (verse five) we are told to “Commit your way to the LORD.”  This implies a binding obligation to look to Him for our course of action.  It means entrusting our path to His direction and counsel.  He, as our Sovereign LORD, in the midst of the advance of evil surrounding us, will “make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (verse six)  

     Verse seven says the following.  “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.”  To wait patiently requires an attentive spirit.  We must keep our eyes, our focus, our thoughts on Him.  To be still implies also that we are available and responsive to His revealed will.  Again, our spirit is waiting and at rest before the One who is always all that we need.  Even while waiting, His Spirit assures us that even now, in the midst of the prevailing advancing schemes of evil, He will meet every need. 

     Are you inclined to fret?  Are you distressed and uneasy as you behold and consider the evil schemes of those in the world?  The LORD has given us a remedy for the fretting due to the evil that surrounds us.  It is to trust in the LORD, delight yourself in the LORD, commit your way to the LORD and to be still before the LORD.  He is the becoming One who will moment by moment meet each need of our lives.  He is the LORD of your life and the LORD of all the earth.   There is not a single atom in the universe which is not under His control.  He has not abdicated His throne.  The LORD assures us of the following in the last two verses of Psalm thirty seven.  “The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in times of trouble.  The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.”    

In Christ, Richard Spann    

However, when the Son of Man comes

Speaker:

                                  However, when the Son of Man comes,

                                        will he find faith on the earth?

                                                                             Luke 18:8b

     Our Lord did not intend this to be a rhetorical question!  He is serious in His desire that faith will be manifested when He returns.  It is in our faith that He finds His pleasure.  “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)  Faith is not only the beginning of the Christian life, but it is necessary for each step of our path as we are reminded in Romans 1:17.  “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”  There are many aspects of our lives in which we have opportunities to exercise faith.  For the sake of our current discussion, however, it will be limited in its application to two considerations.  First, our Lord wants us to have faith in what He has done for us, and then, faith in what He desires to do through us. 

     There is no verse which can possibly contain all He has done for us.  II Corinthians 5:21 states some of His accomplishment with these words.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Scriptures elsewhere state that He came to manifest the Father, to destroy the works of the devil, and to prepare us for our eternal home.  I Corinthians 1:30 states that God has made Him unto us as our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  In Him we have pardon, purity and power,  We are born by His Spirit into His life which is communicated to us every second of every day.  We are now members of the race of the last Adam.  We are given “birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you.”  (I Peter 1:4-5)  He governs each day of our lives and prepares us to reign with Him as a part of His glorified body throughout endless ages to come!  The response of faith to the above must surely be that of His disciple Thomas, who declared to Him in John 20:28.  “My Lord and my God!”    

     And what is this faith like?  G. Campbell Morgan has these comments to say about faith.  “Faith is not merely intellectual apprehension and conviction of truth.  Faith is the assent of the will, and the yielding of the life, to the claim of the truth of which the mind is convinced.  Belief in its profoundest sense is not conviction merely but conduct proceeding out of conviction, and harmonizing with the conviction.”  The Westminster Pulpit, Baker Book House, Volume Five, 1954, Page 141.  The conviction of these truths should lead us, by faith, into the conduct described in Luke 9:23.  “Then he said to them all;  ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”  This, then, represents a response of faith to what He has done for us that will bring Him pleasure on His return.   

      A person’s last words to us are important to them and to us.  They are well chosen and summarize what is uppermost in the mind of those who will soon depart.  This was  certainly true in the case of our Lord.  His last words to us characterize His purpose for His people until the day of His return.  Our faith is demonstrated by our response to what He says in Matthew 28:18-20.   “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  As we go about our daily lives, our faith in Him is manifested by developing relationships which will lead to opportunities to look at the scriptures with others.  The power and the presence of our Lord is assured to us as we trust Him to reveal Himself in increasing fullness to those for whom we pray and in whom we invest our lives.  He will lead them from their initial steps as a newborn Christian to an active disciple and follower of Christ and prepare them to invest their lives in others as well.  Whenever we open the scriptures to others, we do so in faith, depending upon His presence and His power to to accomplish His will in their lives. 

     This is the faith for which our Lord is seeking in regard to His purpose for us.  G. Campbell Morgan, again speaking on faith, describes it in this manner.  “What then is this pilgrimage, what is this warfare?  What is the consuming passion of the man of faith?  I answer that inquiry superlatively, that I may state it briefly.  He has gone to prepare a place for us beyond; our business is to prepare this place for Him.  The city which Abraham went to seek was not a city postponed beyond this world; but the city of God established on the earth; the city of God, the symbol of the whole wide world subdued to Kingdom of God.  Toward that the men of faith have ever moved.  Toward that the men of faith are moving still today.  The supreme passion of faith is not the selfish desire to win heaven, but the self-emptying desire and devotion to win the earth for God.”  The Westminster Pulpit, Baker Book House, 1954, Volume Five, pages 143-4.            Does our faith in His purpose reflect the above?  Will He find pleasure in our faith in His purpose when He returns?  

     There are many enemies in our world to the life of faith.  We are told, for example, that “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”  (Mark 4:19)  I Peter 1:6 states that “now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”  The following verse (I Peter 1:7) tells us the reason for these trials.  “These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  Our Lord will rejoice in our faith on His return!  It is my prayer that your faith would grow and increase so that, when you stand before Him, you will receive praise, glory and honor from the hand of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  

In Christ, Richard Spann

If you are suffering without succeeding

Speaker:

If you are suffering without succeeding,
it is that someone else may succeed that follows you.
If you are succeeding without suffering,
it is because someone else has suffered ahead of you.  

                                                          —Lorne Sanny

     Throughout the history of the world, and at present in many cultures and countries, there is suffering of a degree that we have not yet experienced in America.  This includes verbal and physical abuse, loss of property and employment, imprisonment and even death.  The suffering in our country is usually limited to effort expended with no evident result, rejection, or perhaps ostracism.  The suffering to which Lorne refers, in our culture and generation, largely consists of working to advance the Kingdom of God but with little or no visible effect.  Lorne’s words were spoken to encourage those who were involved in a ministry that, seemingly, was unproductive.  His words are also a reminder to those whose ministry the Lord has blessed with success.  They should remember they they are in debt to those who have gone before them in preparation for the results they are now experiencing.  His comments are made necessary by the fact that we live in a success oriented society.  

     Our entire world is impressed by success.  Those who have success in their fields are all honored, whether it be sports, the entertainment industry, developers or inventors.  Many others who have invested years in these same fields are seldom noted and rarely mentioned.  We celebrate and root for winners, not the runner-up.  We carefully and expectantly follow the careers of the successful and cheer them on.  If we do give any thought to those who have more failures than success, it is to wonder what they are doing wrong.  These same thoughts, sadly, are reserved for those who are not successful in the spiritual realm.  We suspect that they may have personal problems, or that their methodology is wrong.  We compare them with others and are more inclined to pray for and provide financial support to those who report successful ministries. We look with approval and perhaps admiration at organizations and churches which seem to flourish in membership and in their ministry endeavors. 

     Our generation is not alone in experiencing varying results.  Jim Petersen points out in his book “Living Proof,” that Peter’s message at Pentecost resulted in 3,000 converts while the Apostle Paul’s message in Athens produced only a “few believers.”  What was the difference?  Was Paul’s message deficient?  Was Peter a better preacher than Paul?  No to both questions.  The difference, pointed out by Jim Petersen, is that Peter was talking to a prepared audience. 

     Jesus, in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, points out that some are called to a prepared audience, while others are called to do the preparation.  He says in John 4:38 “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for.  Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”  According to our Lord, to labor with little visible fruit in preparation for the harvest is harder work than reaping the harvest with its visible demonstration of success.

     For some, the Lord grants times of seeming success without suffering.  I recall hearing about a lady who responded eagerly to the Gospel presentation and trusted Christ after only a brief discussion with the presenter.  A few weeks later I learned from a friend of hers that a small group had been praying for her for years and investing time with her in various activities.  Despite their efforts she had always turned a deaf ear to all that was said.  Her friend related that they were about to give up and had concluded that she had a hard heart and would never come to the Lord.  Their work had been extensive and difficult with no visible response resulting in their discouragement.  The investment of the other person, however, was very limited and successful. 

     I, with others, have had the opposite experience.  Some of us had invested years in a Bible study with a man who showed no interest in trusting Christ.  He continued to come to the study, but showed no response.  He finally left our group after a few years.  I heard some years later that he had eventually been led to the Lord by a different individual and that he was now a follower of Christ.  In this situation, the group of which I was a part had done the hard work.   

     The Apostle Paul describes the varying work to which we are called in I Corinthians 3:5-8.  “What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.”  

     The recognition and thanks that we receive from others for success in ministry endeavors is, at times, a needed source of encouragement that the Lord provides.  There is a danger, however, in looking to that source as an evaluation of our service to the Lord.  We need always to remember that our service is to Him.  Colossians 3:23-24 reminds us that “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”   

     One of the drawbacks of any ministry organization or church is the seeming necessity to provide results of their ministry.  One reason for this, of course, is that some measure of accountability is required.  We would all be safer, in some measure, if we modeled our lives after the Apostles.  It is recorded after the twelve had been sent out in Luke 9:15 that their ministry resulted in the following results.  “So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the Gospel and healing people everywhere.” (Luke 9:6)  There is no doubt that they were excited and delighted with what had been accomplished.  What did they do then?  Luke 9:10 states that “when the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done.”  They reported to Jesus!  Can we learn to report primarily to Jesus rather than to others?  Are we able to bring our suffering without success to Him?  Should we bring our success without suffering to Him?  He is the One who has sent us to minister in both situations and He will reward both!  It is my prayer that, whether in suffering or success, your eyes would remain on Him, knowing that it is the Lord Christ you are serving.  He is the One who will say  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  

In Christ, Richard Spann               

The Test of a Movement

Speaker:

                               The Test of any Movement is its ability to 

                           regenerate and reproduce its own leadership.

                                If you Fail to Reproduce yourself today,

                                     you will fail to exist tomorrow.

                                                                     Howard Hendricks

     These words are relevant to all of us, whether we apply them to our business, our church, our mission organization, or, as in the case of the Israelites, to their nation.  We read the following in Psalm 78:5-7.  “He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.”  Despite these instructions given to Israel, however, we discover their failure in Judges 2:10.  “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”  In one generation all that the Lord had done for His people, from Abraham to Joshua, was forgotten.  The failure to reproduce leadership resulted in the failure of the Ideal, the Nation existing under God for His Glory.  

     Howard Hendricks, in his message on the above topic, lists various comments that are foundational in regenerating and reproducing leadership.  Before considering these, however, we must remember what our Lord did just prior to selecting His own leadership team.  It is chronicled for us in Luke 6:12-13.  “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountain side to pray, and spent the night praying to God.  When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”  If our Lord spent all night praying about His team, how much effort and time will be required to select and prepare our own leadership team?  No effort of our own will succeed.  It is His work through us, in response to our total dependence on Him, expressed in prayer, that God uses to continue and establish the ministries to which we are called.  Unless prayer is the foundation of all we do, then all our efforts will be in vain. 

     Howard’s comments may be broadly considered under three main categories; each representing one of the three means the Lord has given His church for its growth.  These include the word of God, individual personal interaction with others, and the body of Christ, that is, the Church.    

  • We need to do an agonizing reappraisal of our own ministry.  Hardening of the viewpoint is more serious than hardening of the arteries!  Our first job is not to act, it is to evaluate.  Do we have a passion for making disciples?  Have we denied ourselves, taken up our cross and followed Him?  We reproduce in kind.  Others become what we are.  Can we truthfully say with the Apostle Paul “Follow me, as I follow Christ?”
  • We need to establish clear objectives for ourselves and those we are discipling.  The Lord always operated on the principle of priority, not pressure.  If you operate on the basis of pressure, you will always do the urgent, but not the important.  The objective that was chosen for our Kansas Navigator team years ago is as follows.  “To know Christ in my own life in ever increasing depth and to make disciples and develop laborers at all times under any conditions in every place I go.”  Opportunities to serve on various boards and committees with multiple organizations were presented over the years.  I would consider them all with the questions, “Will this help me know Christ better?”, “Will it help make disciples?”  Very often the answer to these questions was No.  This objective helped me respond to the important rather than the urgent. 
  • Develop an incurable confidence in God’s ability to change people.  A person’s confidence in themselves comes before they experience change.  Our Lord’s words to Simon were used to provide hope in what he, by God’s Grace, was to become.  “Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John.  You will be called Cephas.”  John 1:42.  The Lord saw him for what he would become.  We need to do the same with those to whom we relate.   

     The following comments address the second method of God’s work in the lives of people which is individual personal interaction. 

  • Seek to make disciples independent of you and dependent on the Lord.  Do less and delegate more.  People are developed by responsibility.
  • Allow enough developmental rope for disciples to grow.  Don’t thwart individual initiative.  They must have a spirit of freedom.  Do not give too many restrictions. 
  • Intensify interpersonal relationships.  How do we reach a world?  We reach individuals.  Bigness and size leads us to administer, not minister.  

     Several of Howard’s comments refer specifically to the role of the church, that is, the body of Christ in developing leadership.  These are as follows.

  • Recruit individually, but train as a team.  Our Lord’s disciples were recruited as individuals primarily, although John and Andrew came as a twosome.  His training of them was as a team.  I have been a part of a Navigator team for the last forty six years.  In the interaction with others the Lord has sharpened my focus, restored perspective, and provided prayer support and encouragement.  
  • Expose your disciples to a number of Spirit gifted individuals.  No one is God’s gift to every person.  Take others with you to a variety of conferences and seminars where they are able to meet and mingle with others.  Pray for and seek out speakers, as well as written material, DVD’s etc that the Lord will use to speak into their lives.
  • Help them to discover and develop their spiritual gifts.  It is here that the body of Christ is invaluable in providing opportunities to exercise and develop their gift.   Encourage them to serve, or to speak in a variety of settings.   

     The above comments, to which I have provided some expansion, are not exhaustive, but rather illustrative of foundational principles in regenerating leadership.  We are all called to pass on what we know and do to the next generation.  Not only our church or mission organization is in perpetual danger, but Christianity itself is always one generation from extinction.  Do we sense the urgency to equip and train the next generation?  Or are we content to live out our days like Hezekiah, saying “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”  Isaiah 39:8.  It is my prayer that the Lord will fill our hearts with compassion and love for the lost in the generations to come and direct our steps as we produce leadership for the future.  

In Christ,  Richard Spann          

                     

It is More Important to Talk to God about Men

Speaker:

                             It is More Important to Talk to God about Men 

                                     than to talk to Men about God.  

                                                                       Howard  Hendricks

     God has called us to talk to men.  We are to affirm the Gospel with our lives and proclaim the Gospel with our words.  A testimony of our life alone without relating that the source of our life is Christ is a proclamation of self, not Christ.  It is not only important to talk to men about God, it is necessary.  

     What Howard Hendricks is emphasizing with his remark is the comparison of the overall effectiveness of the two forms of communication.  More is accomplished when God works than when man works.  To speak to men about God and not to speak to God about men is to neglect the power that God offers.  We need to rely on His wisdom rather than on just our own.  With the pressure of numerous responsibilities, however, it is not always easy to remember to talk to God consistently about the people with whom we are working.  

     Leroy Eims tells the following story in his book “The Lost Art of Disciple Making,”   Zondervan Publishing House 1978 Pg 69-70.  “J.O. Fraser was a missionary in Southwest China, ministering to tribal people living in that very mountainous region.  After some years, he noticed a strange thing.  The churches which were miles away from the city in which he was living seemed to do better than the church in his own town.  He would visit the distant churches occasionally and discovered that they were healthy, active, dedicated, and growing, much more so than the church in which he ministered regularly.  Why was that so?  Finally the LORD showed him.  He found out that he prayed far more diligently for people who were miles away than for those with whom he fellowshipped regularly.  From this discovery he concluded that there were four basic elements in developing disciples and churches:  prayer, prayer, prayer and the Word of God.”     

     A close friend for many years had steadfastly refused any efforts on my part to share the Gospel.  He would stiffen visibly whenever the subject was introduced.  He moved to another town and I would occasionally call and send some books that I thought might interest him.  All to no avail.  The only recourse was to pray.  Some months after I began to do this he called and said that the Lord had brought some circumstances into his life that were a wake up call to him.  It was entirely God’s work in bringing him to repentance and faith in answer to prayer.  

     At one time, I was meeting with a young man who, although he knew the Lord, was struggling with consistency in his life.  The material which we were reviewing and discussing had not been reviewed by him on multiple occasions.  Out of frustration, I said to the Lord that unless He were to act in this young man’s life all my efforts would be futile.  I persisted in this prayer regularly for him.  The next time we met he had not only done the assignment for the week, but was working ahead in our study.

     Another young man was growing in his faith, studying and memorizing God’s word.  We met regularly and I was pleased with his progress as well as his testimony at work.  He was not attending any church, however, and continued to decline an offer on my part to take him to our church.  I mentioned several other churches in the area as possibilities, but there was no desire on his part.  Finally I remembered the importance of prayer for this issue in his life and began regularly asking the Lord to bring him to a believing congregation of Christ followers.  A few weeks later he said that a fellow worker had started taking him to his church.  This was a God fearing congregation and once again I was reminded of the importance of talking to God about men, not just talking to men about God.      

     Why is it more important to talk to God about men?  My conversation with any person gives a very limited amount of information from only one source.  God has available for His use many individuals, the word of God, the entire body of Christ and circumstances with which to produce change in individuals.  Furthermore the amount of time I am able to spend with others is limited.  God is available for them 24/7.  In addition, my life and words are only able to impact a few.  I am able, however, to pray for many, some of whom I seldom may have an opportunity for a conversation.  

     If the above is true, why then do we not spend more time talking to God about men?  One reason, I think, is that it requires more faith than many things with which we are involved.  When we give financially, a note of appreciation is often sent.  When we teach or instruct publicly, others often relate their thanks to us.  Prayer, however, is often devoid of feedback.  We pray and then we wait.  Sometime the waiting stretches over long periods of time.  

     Another reason is that our enemy realizes the importance of prayer and allows hindrances to enter our lives.  These may consist of valued and worthy endeavors of many kinds, but are all less important than prayer.  We must remember the following verse from Luke 5:16 as it describes the life of our Lord.  “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  We can be certain that His prayer included those with whom He had regular interaction.  

     It is my prayer that the Lord will lead you often to those places where you will talk to God about men and not just talk to men about God.  

In Christ, Richard Spann

And He spake a parable

Speaker:

                                And he spake a parable unto them to this end,

                                that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.

                                                                                          Luke 18:1

     Do you remember situations in your life when you were faint?  Webster’s dictionary describes the word “faint” as implying the following;  lacking strength, weak, languid, to sink into dejection, to lose courage or spirit.  The NIV translates this word as to “give up.”  I suspect that nearly everyone has had at least one if not numerous times in their life when the desire to give up or to become faint has occurred.  The causes may be multiple for such an occurrence.  I recall distinctly a time in my life when I was working three jobs one summer between the second and third years of medical school.  I was in debt. The school would not loan money for the first two years and I was trying to earn enough to start the third year.  I worked in a laboratory at Kansas University Medical School during the day, sold shoes at Burts in downtown Kansas City on Monday evening and Saturdays and drove a taxi cab from nine in the evening until three in the morning every Friday and Saturday night.  I was not only burning the candle at both ends; I was burning it in the middle as well.  About mid July it all came crashing down with a spirit of dejection, fatigue and I wanted to “give up”  And that is what I did.  I called the shoe store and the cab company the next day and quit both jobs.  In this instance, excessive work responsibilities led to my becoming faint.

     Years later I was in a practice of Internal Medicine and Pulmonary disease with additional responsibilities and commitments to individuals in the Navigators organization as well as with World Impact.  Many of these commitments involved some spiritual oversight and the load began to produce a desire to “give up.”  Fortunately, at this time in my life, I had become aware of the Lord’s words in Luke 18:1 and realized that there are only two choices in life.  One is to pray.  The other is to faint or ”give up.”  If I pray, I will not faint.  If I faint, it is because I have not been in prayer. 

     The importance of this was driven home to me recently as I observed the life of a brother in Christ.  He had responsibilities and commitments far greater than most of us and burdens for others which were immense.  These gradually began to wear him down.  As we talked, I became aware of our need to pray together so that neither of us would “faint”or “give up.”  

     God has not designed us to carry all the burdens of others.  We are not equipped to do that.  Their material and spiritual needs are overwhelming.  We see so many with deep needs and we can do so little.  Even the little we can do often is reversed by their decisions or circumstances over which they have no control.  We have a vision and a desire to help them but we do not see progress.  We need to learn to do what we can and then move on.  For a number of years I would have weekends when I would visit and help manage up to seventy patients per day in the hospital in the city where I practiced.  At least half of these were on ventilators in intensive care units.  My only hope of survival and ability to take care of the next patient was to realize as I left each room that I had done what I could.  I would then entrust everything else into the hands of the Lord and move on to the next patient.  The Lord describes something similar to this when he tells us the following in I Peter 5:7.  “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (KJV)   

     What does this process look like?  How do we cast our cares on Him?  Lorne Sanny once remarked that when he came to work in the mornings he would find a stack of problems that were represented by a pile of papers and notes on his desk.  One by one, he would say “Lord, I am convinced that you are able to take care of all these problems by yourself.  I would like to ask you to do that.  Now, if there is anything you want me to do, just prompt me and I will do it.”  This describes a method of casting your care upon Him that I have found helpful over the years.  Our first, and it may be our only, responsibility is to pray.  This prayer includes asking the Lord to provide for others, to accomplish His work in their lives, as well as asking the Lord to show us what He wants us to do.  They are the Lord’s children, not ours.  He is the chief Shepherd.  He is the One who will take care of them.  They are ultimately His burden, not ours.  Lorne once asked a small group, of which I was a part, to write down on a piece of paper every concern, including every person or situation that we carried as a burden on one side of the sheet of paper.  On the other side we were to write down I Peter 5:7.  We would then pray about each item, casting it solely on Him, and moving that care from our shoulder to His.  

     In Luke 18:1, the Lord has described for us two paths, two doors, two choices for our lives each day.  We can either pray, or we can give up.  We can either faint, or we can cast our cares on Him.  It is my prayer that you will choose the path of prayer, the door that leads to his throne where we can cast all our cares on Him.  

In Christ, Richard Spann     

       

           

We are looking to be comfortable

Speaker:

                                      We are looking to be comfortable.

                                   God is looking for us to be conformed.

                                                                         Jerry Bridges

     The world around us is perpetually committed to comfort.  This includes our home, cars, work environment, hobbies, leisure activities and various personal items of use.  All advertisements seem to focus on those products that make our lives easier.  The slang expression “take it easy” characterizes our culture.  We, as followers of Christ, are exposed to this as well.  The world around us is constantly seeking to press us into its mold. (Romans 12:2)  This culture which looks to be comfortable may influence our spiritual life as well.  Do we select churches, speakers and literature largely based on the premise that we will be comforted by what we hear and read?   Are commitments that require effort and discipline largely avoided?  Is comfort preferred over sacrifice?  Do we desire the benefits of discipleship without its cost?  Do we rejoice in His provisions which bring comfort and shirk from the cost which is necessary for us to conform?  Our generation is not alone in seeking to be comfortable rather than to be conformed.  Simon Peter demonstrates this as well when he joyfully exclaims on the mountain “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” (Matthew 17:4)  One week earlier his statement was “Never, Lord!” he said.  “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22)  Glory?  Yes!  The Cross?  No!  Comfort?  Yes!  Conformed?  No!  

     God’s desire that we be conformed is clearly stated in Romans 8:29.  “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  It is also stated a little differently in Ephesians 4:11-13.  “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  Paul describes this as “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)  This conformity of which Paul speaks is dependent upon a  process. 

     Ray Stedman once remarked that to pray in God’s will meant that we were asking for what He wants, dependent upon Him to do what we asked, and dependent upon His process.  He related that this process was often the cross.  We need to be planted with Him in His death before we participate in the likeness of His resurrection. (Romans 6:5)  Denial of self and taking up our cross come before “follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  The Holy Spirit is the One who accomplishes this transformation in our lives.  “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (II Corinthians 3:18) KJV  His tools include the word of God, prayer, individuals, the body of Christ and circumstances in our lives.  Through Him and by Him, we learn to depend increasingly upon the risen Christ as our “righteousness, holiness and redemption.”  (I Corinthians 1:30)  As Paul describes in II Corinthians 10:5, “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  This process, however long and arduous it may seem, is God’s chosen method to accomplish His glorious purpose for our lives. 

     In His Grace, God revealed His purpose before creation.  His plan from all eternity was to bring mankind into a relationship with Him in Christ.  Our rebellion as a race, our hatred of Him when he came could not stop the flow of infinite love extended to us in His Son.  When we nailed Him to the cross, He was still on the throne overwhelming our sin and making it not to be.  His resurrected life is now at our disposal and in Him we become one with God and He becomes one with us.  In His great love, God knows that only one thing will ultimately satisfy the creature He has formed, and that is to have intimate fellowship with God by sharing the likeness of His Son.  The Psalmist states the following in Psalm 17:15.  “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness:  I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” (KJV)  God, in His great Love, is not satisfied until His creature is satisfied.  His Grace, His Holiness, and His Love will not permit Him to fall short of perfecting that which He has created.  Being conformed to Christ is ultimately the work of God, not that of ourselves. It is His process and His purpose.  What, then, is our responsibility?  Someone has defined this as “Our response to His ability.”  What should our response be?  If we desire conformity, if we seek it in our lives, if we pray that His will be accomplished, then we can rest in His ability.  We can rest in His promise given to us in Philippians 1:6.  “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  

     This likeness of His Son, expressed in the body of Christ, that is, the Church, will be to His everlasting Glory!  “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:21) KJV   It is my prayer that conformity to Christ in your life will be to the ever increasing glory of the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  

In Christ, Richard Spann