“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift that is in you….” (II Timothy 1:6) “Of these things put them in remembrance….” (II Timothy 2:14).
Today, I spent the morning hours in a school in North Carolina giving my little presentation we call “Lessons in self-esteem from drawing 100,000 people.” I sketch a lot of students, then segue into the talk which, among other things, urges the kids to stop comparing themselves with others, accept themselves as the persons God made them to be, and to smile. Then it happened again.
Only five minutes after the talk, we invited the students to crowd around and I would sketch as many as possible in the remaining time. “Look at me and smile,” I said to the first teenager. “I don’t smile,” he said. I stopped, looked at him sternly and said, “You didn’t hear a thing I said, did you?”
In truth, he had heard, but the lesson had not penetrated.
I said to the young teacher, “My telling the students these things once is not enough for them to get through. The only way to change their behavior is for you to say it over and over again. Eventually the lesson will ‘take’ with some of them.”
Some lessons have to be repeated ad infinitum.
“Let me remind you….” is a phrase that shows up a lot in the epistles of the Apostle Paul.
The most important spiritual truths need to be emphasized again and again if the hearers are to truly learn them and benefit from them.
Here are seven biblical truths we pastors need to keep telling our people in the hope that eventually most will “get it.” (The list is not meant to be exhaustive. You’ll think of other essential truths that need hammering home again and again.)
1) Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the only Savior.
That is the theme of so much Scripture anyway, isn’t it? How could we not keep the focus on the Lord Jesus–His identity, His life and ministry, His teachings, His headship over the church, and His place in our lives–if we are being true to the Word?
Pastor, keep telling them–over and over again; the theme never wears out–”Why we make so much of Jesus.” Just last evening, a man here in North Carolina (where I’m in revival) told of the state legislature voting to make a certain Baptist preacher their chaplain, then firing him when he refused to take “In Jesus’ name” out of his prayers. And they call this perversion “inclusiveness.” Go figure. (Note: Many a New Testament prayer did not use the actual words “in Jesus’ name” and we should not feel ours must always, either. However, tell me that I must leave Jesus out of the prayer and I’m gone.)
Jesus Christ is Lord, for now and for eternity, and no one else is.
Always stay focused on the Lord Jesus with your people.
2) The Church is an essential part of the Lord’s plan, for now and forever.
And we are most definitely not referring just to your local congregation. As important as that is–this will come as a surprise to a lot of lonely myopic pastors–the Kingdom of God is more than your church.
When Jesus saved you, He knew something you were about to find out: “You cannot live this new life in isolation. You need the family of God.” They hold onto you, you hold onto them. They instruct and nurture you; you turn around and do the same. This symbiosis has been God’s plan from early on.
“I will build my church,” the Lord said in Matthew 16:18. It’s His and He builds it. The Christ-follower who claims to be able to live for Christ better without the church is insulting His Lord. The church-leader who would run the Lord’s church “for Him” is asking for big trouble fast.
3) Salvation is all about the cross.
Salvation is not by works of righteousness but humility, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on Calvary.
The threat to turn salvation into a matter of works will never go away. It’s grounded in man’s way of thinking, his human (and thus self-centered) reasoning. To my knowledge, most of the religions of the world teach variations of “do this and you’re saved” or “do not do this and you are saved.” Only one to my knowledge proclaims that everything necessary has already been done and our task is to repent and receive it (“Him”).
When people tell me they believe their good works will get them to Heaven, I ask, “Then, what was the point of the cross? If all God had to do was tell us ‘Y’all be good now, hear?’ then He sure went to a lot of trouble for nothing by sending Jesus into this world to die on a cross for our sins.” (They have no answer since they have never given these things the first thought. If you need further evidence of man’s sinful heart, there it is.)
Celebrate the grace of God, preacher, with your people. Keep them at the cross.
4) We are not saved by good works, but saved “unto” God works. (Ephesians 2:10)
Good works have a definite place in the plan of God for His people. But they are the results–the fruits, the evidence–of our salvation, not the means. One wishing to become a member of the military does not do so by wearing a uniform and saluting officers. But once he is officially inducted, he wears the uniform, obeys commands, and salutes officers.
What good works does the Lord want to see in our lives? Scripture answers that again and again in places like Micah 6:8 Jeremiah 22:16 and of course, Matthew 25:35-36 I enjoy telling Harold Bales’ story of the time his church in uptown Charlotte NC was bringing in the homeless from the park across the street and feeding them breakfast before the morning worship service. A woman who had belonged to that church for generations and resented the presence of the unwashed in their services, approached Pastor Harold one Sunday and said, “Pastor, why do we have to have those people in our church?” He said, “Because I don’t want to see anyone go to hell.” She said, “Well, I don’t want them to go to hell either.” He said, “I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about you.”
5) If you have faith, you will pray.
In fact, nothing tells the story about your faith like your prayer life. Nothing.
Consider that you are praying to a Lord you have never seen and cannot prove. You say things to Him you would say to no one else and believe that He hears. Furthermore–and this is the clincher–90 percent of the requests you make, you’ll never know whether He answered them or not since He may choose to do so in subtle ways or another time. But there you go, praying to Him day after day, as though He were occupying the chair next to you and everything you do today is dependent on His presence and guidance.
Pastors keep prayer before their people by encouraging them to pray at the altar during the services, and by having a prayer room at the church, and by encouraging prayer for specific people, needs, events, and concerns.
6) A church exists by evangelism and missions as a fire exists by burning.
Sharing our faith is not an option, not for the gifted only (although admittedly some are more fluent and effective than others in this), and not to be done sporadically. “As you go, make disciples” was the command of our Lord in Matthew 28:18ff.
I stood in the foyer of a church of another denomination one day, reading their poster on evangelism. (You do not need my help in identifying the denomination by what follows.) The poster said something like, “Spread the word. Tell people about John Wesley.” I thought, “Wesley? Tell them about Wesley? That’s not evangelism! That’s the sort of in-house instruction one might wish to do with those who have been converted to United Methodism. But it’s no way to reach the unchurch, uncommitted, or uninterested.
Churches must be creative in finding ways to mobilize their members in spreading the faith, must be aggressive in supporting those who are getting it right and doing it well, and must be alert to the distractions which would push evangelism down the list of priorities in the church’s ministries.
7) The Bible is the inspired word of God and the spiritual nutrition of believers.
If you thought other church programs would crowd evangelism off the agenda, know that life has a way of pushing God’s Word out of the mind of believers. The process seems to be the same for everyone, and works like this….
You go a few days without reading your Bible and soon, you find yourself resisting the inner urge to get back to it. The more you cave in to that laziness that resents picking up the Word and opening it, the more you will find yourself saying (or thinking, or both): “I’ve read the Bible. I know it already. There’s nothing new there. It’s boring.”
Those are all lies out of hell. You do not know the Bible. You have not read it. (You may have read “at” it, but there is a world of content there which you have not yet mined.) It is not boring. You are boring, not the Word.
Job said, “I have esteemed the words of thy mouth more than my necessary food.” Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” David said the godly man’s “delight is in the Word of God and in that Word (law) doth he meditate day and night.”
Keep telling them, pastor. Keep preaching its insights and delighting in its treasures, and eventually they will get it.
Repetition is a great teacher. In fact, it may be the best teacher on the planet.
“In the beginning, God….” (Genesis 1:1)
Nowhere does the Bible try to prove the existence of God. He is. Period.
Deal with it, earthlings.
Humanistic evangelists and atheistic peddlers are sure that we mindless theists have never considered the superior evidence for the positions they hold. Surely, if we did, they think, we would renounce the church and join them.
Once again, believers are lumped together by those who “just don’t get it” as the terminally naive, the hopelessly hopeful, the unthinking uneducated and the irrationally illiterate.
Most of the solid believers I know have considered atheism at one time or other. I did, while in college. This is not to say I joined the humanist society of Birmingham or majored in skepticism at Birmingham-Southern. But I read some of the stuff, talked to a few of the people, thought about the ramifications of it all, and made my choice to take my stand with believers.
I’ve never regretted it.
1) As a rule, atheists tend to be a pretty miserable lot, while the best Christians I know are also the most put-together, positive, and effective people in the room.
I heard someone say once, “The devil has no godly old people.” Indeed. We could add that the Lord also seems to have all the best-mannered, generous-hearted, goal-oriented achievers. If you look at the product of atheism and Christianity, there is no contest.
2) Since faith is required for either position, choosing to believe this amazing universe came together by chance and will go out the same way requires far more faith than this Alabama farm boy can muster. As has been said in the book by this title, “I don’t have faith enough to be an atheist.”
3) While it’s true a large portion of Christians have probably not investigated various apologetic aspects–evidence for the resurrection, the historicity of Jesus, the integrity of Scriptures– a great many have. I sat in the room with Dr. Carl F. H. Henry in the summer of 1978 as he said to some of us, “Christianity is the only world religion that has come through the scientific revolution and emerged intact.” Some of the others are fighting tooth and claw to keep modern technology from taking a look at their authoritative writings.
4) I do like the old line of reasoning that goes: “If the atheist is true and after death, we all disappear into nothingness, then as a Christian I have lost nothing. But if Jesus Christ is true and after death life just begins to get interesting, then the atheist is in a lot of trouble.” What about that can they not see?
5) If we know people by their fruits, then philosophies should identify themselves the same way. So, does anyone know any charitable ministry ever started by the atheists? Show me one and I can show you a hundred hospitals and colleges, children’s homes and crisis centers begun by Christ-followers.
6) There are the miracles, such as the existence of Holy Scriptures (the uniformity of them, the prophecies, the clarity, and a thousand other aspects), the existence of the Man of Galilee (His birth, life, death, and resurrection; His teachings and promises, etc), the existence of the Church (so flawed, without its divine nature, surely it would have vanished long ago), and the existence of honest inquiry among believers (a sure sign, if you ask me, that God’s people are into Truth and nothing else).
7) My testimony–and yours–on the power of Jesus Christ who changed our lives. And, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, if a skeptic scoffs that my life is so far inferior to what a true Christian should look like, I do not argue with that, but reply that my life is still so far beyond what it would have been without Christ.
The fact is we need God.
We need Him for the simple reason that, as the prophet said, “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”
I need God to make me more than I would ever be otherwise. I need growth.
I need God to save me from my natural self-centeredness. I need love..
I need God to take care of friends and loved ones with real needs who are outside my ability to help. I need prayer.
I need God to guide me in decisions since I do not know what tomorrow holds and thus what to do with today’s opportunities. I need wisdom.
All by myself, I make a pretty small (and miserable) package.
Thank God, I am not alone here on this small planet. The living God has singled this one out and has dwelled among us and made it possible for us to live on a higher plane here and with Him in Heaven forever.
I need God to get me to Heaven.
And because I need God, He sent Jesus.
I could not be an atheist on my worst day. God has done far too much for me to be so ungrateful.
“I will sing a new song to Thee, O God….” (Psalm 144:9)
“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure…. I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning….. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God. Then I perceived their end…. God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73)
About Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website -- joemckeever.com -- and which are reprinted by online publications everywhere. His articles appear in a number of textbooks and other collections. Retired from "official" ministry since the summer of 2009, Joe stays busy drawing a daily cartoon for Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net), as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, writing for Baptist MenOnline for the North American Mission Board, and preaching/drawing/etc for conventions and churches across America. Over a 42 year period, McKeever pastored 6 churches (the last three were the First Baptist Churches of Columbus, MS; Charlotte, NC; and Kenner, LA). Followed by 5 years as Director of Missions for the 135 SBC churches of metro New Orleans, during which hurricane katrina devastated the city and destroyed many churches. Joe is married to Margaret, the father of three adults, and the proud grandfather of eight terrific young people. He holds degrees from Birmingham-Southern College (History, 1962), and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Masters in Church History, 1967, and Doctorate of Ministry in Evangelism, 1973). Joe's father was a coal miner who married a farmer's daughter. Carl and Lois McKeever, both of whom lived past 95 years of age, produced 6 children, with Joe and Ronnie being ministers. Joe grew up near Nauvoo, Alabama, and attended high school at Double Springs. Joe's life verse is Job 4:4, "Your words have stood men on their feet."
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