Generational Differences and a Word About Youth

“One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.” – Psalm 145:4

No matter where I go, I continually hear the importance of reaching out and ministering to the younger generation. In a previous day, there was a concerted effort to do so with accounts of many young people coming to Christ by the hordes. There was Youth for Christ with Billy Graham, Torrey Johnson and Robert Cook. There was Percy Crawford’s Youth on the March; Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ, Jack Wyrtzen’s Word of Life camps, Dawson Trotman and the Navigators and Stacy Woods with Inter-Varsity and the Urbana Missions convention. These were major initiatives aimed at youth and were a major influence in American evangelicalism. Thankfully, there are still viable youth ministries taking place for which we praise the Lord.

But how do we reach the youth culture today with the life-changing message of the Cross – a culture on the skids and fixated on the macabre? If we do reach them, how do we effectively engage them and tap into their talents once they become part of a church fellowship? The opinions vary widely and run from pillar to post, ranging from the plausible to the ridiculous. At the center of the discussion is the music issue – traditional hymns versus contemporary music, a controversial topic indeed! There are definitely generational differences on this and other matters of Church practice that need to be talked out.

The Younger Generation

First, let’s look at the young people. They have so much to offer! They possess an abundance of energy, are willing to travel to the uttermost parts of the earth to go on an activity and can change the atmosphere of the meetings simply by being there. For the most part, they are on the cutting edge of technology and provide the technical expertise that can enhance the ministries of any local church. They are also a means for reaching others for Christ. Like Levi who invited his friends to a feast after coming to the Lord (Mark 2), young people are a potential pipeline to others. Young people are definitely a worthwhile ministry focus and a valuable investment that can pay high dividends for any fellowship that makes the effort to reach out and encourage them.

However, this is a hard sell for some. They have a tough time with the youth whose church attendance is inconsistent at best and whose casual dress and giving patterns have something to be desired. Some even feel they exhibit a disrespectful attitude toward the older generation, the result of buying into a secular culture that promulgates a message of “Question Authority”. They often think that the older generation is clueless, especially in the area of technology. That might be the case when working on an IPAD or tablet, or with emails, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. But to be honest, in the school of God the older generation has a lot more wisdom than youth, who should be actively seeking their advice. It is to their detriment if they do not. Look at the young servant of Elisha. Instead of checking with the prophet before preparing a meal, he went out into a field and collected a lapful of poisonous gourds in a time of famine. After putting them into the stew, “death in the pot” ensued, adversely affecting the sons of the prophets, 2 Kings 4:38-41. It is a spiritual reminder that young people need to seek out godly counsel from the older generation to avoid the harmful effects of false teaching. It also should speak to the older generation to offer protective counsel in a time of spiritual famine. A similar warning comes from the life of King Rehoboam who rejected the gracious counsel of the older generation and yielded to the shortsighted perspective of the younger men around him. When he did, civil war broke out, 1 Kings 12:1-15. Young people need to know this! As the verse says, there is a generation that is lifted up and pure in their own eyes. Unfortunately, the culture can adversely affect their perspective, thus the reason to regard the godly advice of the older generation. The gray hair of older people speaks for itself – they must have done something right to get this far in life!

The Older Generation

Now all this is not to say that the older generation is not without their faults. They have some issues as well. True, the “builder generation” have clearly proven their dedication to Christ over the years. They represent the faithful core. They have a commitment to the meetings of the church. They have abundantly given of their time, talents and treasures. What would we do without them! But they also need to realize that the youth today are facing monumental challenges compared to what they went through in their younger days. Youth have to be discipled, nurtured, and trained in the ways of the Lord if a fellowship is to continue to have a vital testimony. It may be difficult for older Christians to let go of ministries they have enjoyed and been doing for years, but it must be done if future generations are to be cared for. They also need to know that in previous centuries some of the movers and shakers were of the younger generation. The life of John Darby and other notables attest to that. Consequently, the older generation has to realize that because something “has always been done this way”, does not mean that adjustments cannot be done to make outreach and ministry more effective, as long as the Word is consulted and not compromised. David learned that lesson quickly when he borrowed the idea of using a Philistine cart to transport the Ark of the Covenant rather than by God’s prescribed way (2 Sam. 6). As he adjusted, obeying the Word, great progress was made, 1 Chron. 15:13-15; 26.

Which brings me to this image. What do you see? Depending on how you look at it, you will either see a very elegant woman or an older, not-so-elegant looking woman (to put it mildly). What is the difference? It simply is a matter of perspective. Similarly, some see what they do as beautiful; others see another side of things – not so beautiful. In Ezra’s day, the young people rejoiced when they saw the temple restored, while the older generation wept because, it paled in comparison to the former temple from their perspective, Ezra 3:12. Another difference between the generations, for sure.

To the youth, Paul writes, “Let no man despise thy youth”. He then elaborates, “be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity”, 1 Tim. 4:12, a challenge for young people to be above reproach. To the older generation, Paul writes “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also”, 2 Tim. 2:2. There is a duty to invest in the next generation and equip them. For the young, be a model Christian and earn the trust of the older generation so they can confidently “pass the baton” to you. For the older, look for opportunities to invest in a young person today.

He Is Able

Don’t Forget, when things are looking tough… “He is Able!”

In the time of Trial, he is able to deliver us

If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17, NKJV)

There is no trial that He cannot bring us through (Isa. 43:1-2). Trials are the way that He can purge sin from our lives, but when they seem too big to handle, He can make a way of escape. (1 Cor 10:12). He says, Is there anything too hard for the Lord? (Gen. 18:14) and no trial is too big, if we call out to Him for help (2 Chron. 20:12). He is able to save to the uttermost (from the worst of situations, Heb. 7:25)

In the time of Temptation, He is able to Help us

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Heb. 2:17–18, NKJV)

His ministry as our Great High Priest, is to help us in our time of need, (Psalm 46:1). Even when we believe not, yet He remains faithful. (2 Tim. 2:13)

In a time of uncertainty in our hearts, He is able to Keep us from falling.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,” (Jude 24, NKJV)

When we need the assurance in our hearts that we will keep true to Him or that our faith will fail, He reminds us through His Spirit that we belong to Him. “I am my Beloved’s and His desire is toward me” (Song of Solomon 7:10). We are preserved in Jesus Christ (Jude 1) and “nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ”, Romans 8:37. He is able to keep us (2 Tim. 1:12) and will not leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5)

In the time of Financial strain, He can provide the means so that we can still give to meet the needs of others

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NKJV)

God can provide for us when we are willing to be channels of blessing. He will provide for our needs so that we can take care of the needs of others. The widow of Zarephath was a prime example, (1 Kings 17:13-14; Matt. 6:33)

In the time of skepticism, when we think that someone will never bow the knee to the Lord is God is Able to Humble

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” (Dan 4:37, NKJV)

King Nebuchadnezzar was a tough person to humble, but God did; Manasseh was a tough king, causing Judah to err and quite possibly the one responsible for Isaiah’s death, but God humbled him (2 Chron. 33). Those who walk in pride, God can bring to their knees, if He chooses to do so.

There are so many things that He is able to do – able to subdue all things to Himself, (Phil. 3:21) able to raise children unto Abraham from stones (Luke 3:8) and to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, (Eph. 3:20). When things get tough, don’t forget…GOD IS ABLE!

When Christians Collide

“Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” – Job 5:7

The familiar time-proven quatrain says it well:
To live above with the saints we love,
Oh that will be glory!
But to live below with the saints we know
…that’s another story!

It is true that when we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! The Day will break, the shadows will flee away and we will be face to face with Christ our Savior. Sin and sorrow shall cease and we will dwell forever in the land of “no more”, where there will no more tears, death, sorrow, crying and pain, Rev. 21.4. We will be reunited with loved ones who have gone before us in the Lord, “the spirits of just men, made perfect”, Heb. 12:23.  As the hymnwriter has said; “What a Day, glorious Day that will be”!  But until that time, a lot of patience is required to “live below with the saints we know”. While we are in this life, we will eventually have to deal with the spirits of just men (and women) who are not so perfect!  Saints come in all “shapes and sizes”- from all walks of life and from various backgrounds with a wide range of knowledge and experience (or lack thereof). Despite the fact that believers share a common salvation, they can also be as different as night and day. They may have different ideas and opinions as to how a certain project or event in the local church should be conducted. They may differ on what is the best approach to reach the unsaved, or the best way to conduct youth ministry or what topics should be emphasized from the platform or even what music style in their opinion is the best. There are as many differences as there are faces in the local church. But when “an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”, then watch out!  Sparks will fly upward – you can count on it!

To help deal with this potentiality, God has included an abundance of “one another” commands in the NT that emphasize tolerance, patience and forbearance among believers. Christians are to accept one another, Rom. 15:7; be at peace with one another, Mark 9:50; bear and forgive one another, Col. 3:13; and be of the same mind toward one another, Rom. 12:16. These are reciprocal commands, meaning that what applies to one applies to the other. In other words, it is a shared responsibility and non-compliance by one does not dissolve the obligation of the other. These commands take into account that there will always be differences among believers, yet a sacred duty in upholding the Word of God, in keeping His commandments and in doing those things that are pleasing in His sight, 1 John 3:22.

Why the Differences?

What are the reasons for differences among believers and are they all that bad? One reason for differences actually comes from the Lord. 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” It is the same Spirit, Lord, and God who sovereignly bestow spiritual gifts, sphere of ministry and level of operation (enablement) among all believers. These differences simply highlight the manifold or multifaceted grace of God, 1 Peter 4:10. In some ways, it is what makes the Christian life so exciting! God calls different people from different walks of life, whose saving grace frames the life of the redeemed as pictured symbolically in Psalm 107. He endows each one with a unique combination of talents and abilities to glorify His Name. We are different and yet one in purpose – to glorify the Lord. It is the reason why Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers “might comprehend with all the saints what is the width, and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ”, Eph. 3:18-19. We need one another to help comprehend the range of God’s amazing grace. Our differences show the wide dimensions of the love of Christ and His power in redeeming us from the hand of the enemy. Thank the Lord for these differences, otherwise we would be all doing the same things, the same way!

But with these differences can come conflict. Some of these differences are due to personality. Some people are more outgoing than others, some are more reserved. One may be bothered when they see a jovial person always smiling; the other can be annoyed by the person who always seems to be down-in-the-mouth and acting as if a cloud perpetually hangs over his head, lacking the joy of the Lord. Despite the fact that there may be legitimate behind-the-scenes reasons for this, nevertheless, these differences can cause issues at times, issues that will eventually need to be resolved with patience and understanding and help from the Lord. 

Another reason for conflict among the saints may result from different levels of spiritual knowledge, understanding and maturity and experience. There may also be educational and social differences and different convictions about certain matters as there was in the Corinthian assembly, 1 Cor. 10-11. There some had opposite views as to days of the week or whether or not believers ought to eat meat that had been offered to idols. Today, the “gray” areas seems to revolve around music styles, whether or not it should be hymns or contemporary music selections. These differences (and many like them) can be very strong and difficult to resolve, causing much conflict in the Church.

Dealing with the Differences

How then are differences to be dealt with? What do you do when the “unstoppable force” and the “immovable object” collide, especially when both claim to know the Lord, and both quote Bible verses to substantiate their claims?  What then? Here is another reason why the Lord has supplied us with the “one another” commands in Scripture. Repeatedly, the NT emphasizes the responsibility that all of us have to work with each other in the common cause of glorifying God in the world, magnifying Christ in our lives and striving together for the faith of the Gospel, Phil. 1:27. We are to demonstrate by our mutual care and concern as members one of another that there be no schism in the body, 1 Cor. 12:25. By this, we are demonstrating in a practical way the fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer in the Upper Room that “we all may be one”, John 17:21. We can have diversity and yet maintain unity. Different, but of the same mind one toward another for the purpose of glorifying Christ, Romans 12:16; 15:5. When there is conflict, we believers are to seek the face of the Lord and the leading of the Spirit and to prayerfully open God’s Word to get light on the subject. Perhaps the problem is not with the other person, maybe it is with you! No one should be beyond the realm of teachability, Phil. 3:15. “Blind spots” are a reality.

Good Christians can and will collide at times. But if they strive to be like Christ in all their ways, seek to be conformed to His image in attitude and action and follow His steps, a lot of unnecessary hurt will be averted.  As we give preference to one another (Romans 12:10) and respond in a spirit of meekness humility, we will demonstrate that it is always good that the heart be established with grace, Heb. 13:9. As we approach our differences in this God-honoring way, we will be dousing the flame that the devil is fuelling to get blood-bought believers warring with one another instead of him.

Refreshment and Revival

“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Prov. 25:25

I will never forget the experience. It was a sizzling hot summer day when a group of men in our fellowship played another team in a softball game. When we started, we were all very energetic and ready to play. But as the game wore on, so did we. Halfway through the arduous event, with our arms and shoulders drooping (and our spirits as well), someone showed up with an ample supply of ice cold water and an array of soft drinks. What a surprise and what a blessing! It did not take long for that source of refreshment to be tapped into and enjoyed. And did we ever appreciate it! The effect it had on me as well as the rest of the team was astounding. There was a new supply of energy and a renewed vigor in my step as I related to one of my teammates at the time. We were all refreshed and revitalized as a team and we were able to complete the task we had set out to do from the very beginning – not just to play the game, but to finish it and win.

In many ways, this seemingly trivial incident in the grand scheme of things is remarkably similar to what can occur in our life with Christ and our service for Him. Periodically, we can succumb to the heat of the day and scorching cares of life. They can wither our resolve, sap our spiritual strength and slacken our pace from pressing on for Christ. Energetic and enthusiastic at first, we are determined to do well and finish strong. But in the battle, we falter under the strain and sag in our spirit. Unfortunately for some, it has been that way far too long. The words of Paul to the Galatians seem very fitting: “You did run well, who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). Resolve can quickly fade like the setting sun (Judges 5:15).

But God in His mercy and grace has a way of helping us out in these situations just at the time we need it most. Like it was on that summer day on the ballfield, “someone” shows up (most certainly under the Lord’s direction) with a refreshing supply of “cold water” for our weary souls. How it encourages our hearts and revives our spirits! It might be a simple verse that speaks to a need at the time or an account of answered prayer that lifts our hearts. Or it may be an outstanding report of God’s power and might at work in a distant land – good news from a far country – that recaptures for us the hope that God’s ways will yet prevail. It has a wonderful way of renewing our spirits and lengthening our spiritual stride and its effect is often immediate and undeniable. Thank God for His “someones” who show up in our lives in our time of need.

From another point of view however, we can also be looking to be that “someone” to others who are within our spiritual reach. Service for Christ and prayer for His servants (both abroad and home) are ways in which we can be a source of blessing and refreshment. The battle can be heated at times and constant targeted prayer is an absolute necessity (Acts 12:5). Just as Joshua prevailed against Amalek only as Moses hands were held up and steady until the going down of the sun, (Ex. 17:12-13); so too the battles of the Lord are fought and won as God’s people are steadfast in prayer (1 Thess. 5:17). We need the help of each other to continue in prayer and those on the front lines desperately need our prayers. They need it and appreciate it! Israel prevailed because Joshua used the sword while Moses prayed. It is a tremendous picture of the means of victory – prayer and the Word of God.

God has His ways of providing help and refreshment when our steps are faltering. Whether we are on the giving end or the receiving end, He is faithful to His people and His Word. He is the source of all blessing and as the psalmist attested, “All my springs are in Thee” (Psalms 87:7). May we learn even more the meaning of these words in our walk with Christ.

“For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” Philemon 7

Moving Beyond Mediocrity

The scene is a far too familiar one: the regularly scheduled elders meeting begins with a brief, but generalized time of prayer. It is then followed by the usual routine of going around the table, each elder being asked what they would like to discuss. What usually follows ranges from the urgent to the trivial – and everything in between. It may be punctuated with a passionate exchange of differing opinions or it may simply proceed in the typical, unexciting “business as usual” format.  A few important items may be discussed at length, but by the end of the meeting, it resembles more of an administrative task force than a spiritual strategic planning and implementation think tank.  Unfortunately, the minutia of assembly life often wins the day – the withering details that cause the heads and hands to droop even lower than when the meeting first began as it comes to a rushed and nebulous conclusion. 

If this has been your experience in the meetings in which you serve as an elder, take heart – you are not alone! Too many elders meetings are characterized by such a routine, a routine that needs to be adjusted, if not radically overhauled if the local church is make a difference in the world. Considering the gravity of the present decline in our culture, it is incumbent upon all elders to maximize their time, sharpen their focus, and identify and address the significant spiritual issues affecting congregational life. True, there will always be minor “housekeeping” details that need to be addressed, but to exclude the more serious issues that require deeper spiritual dredging should never be neglected. They need to be brought up prayerfully examined, discussed and properly dealt with. The vitality and wellbeing of the congregation is at stake, a condition for which the elders will have to one day give an account, Heb. 13:17.  If the elders don’t do the job, who will?

With this in mind, I would like to suggest some helpful reminders to revitalize and improve the elders meetings. Here they are:

Prepare Your Heart

Prior to the elders meeting, each elder should privately commit this meeting to the Lord in prayer. As under shepherds of God’s heritage, prayer for everything affecting the local assembly should be the regular exercise of every elder anyway. Since this position was one that was desired (1 Tim 3:1), there should be a readiness to bathe their responsibility in prayer and an eagerness to do so. Done regularly, this can only help to elevate the tone of the meeting and steer it away from the mundane. In so doing, elders can practically demonstrate what Paul exhorted the Philippians to do, to “approve the things that are excellent”, Phil. 1:10.

Establish An Agenda

Another helpful reminder for effective elders meetings is to be prepared with an agenda ahead of time – not your agenda, but the elders! The temptation can arise to come to this meeting without adequate preparation and simply react to the items that are put on the table. Without planning forethought on each one’s part, effective elders meetings will struggle to stay afloat. To facilitate this, elders in some fellowships arrange in advance to collect agenda items in order to assemble and prioritize a master list. This can be done through emails or by phone by designated elder who collects all agenda items. This will help keep the meeting on track and effectively move it along at an even pace. Each elder should certainly be encouraged to keep an ongoing list between meetings so there is not a frantic last minute attempt to quickly put together such a list.     

Budget Your Time

Another important element of effective elders meetings and a must if they are to be revitalized is to adequately budget the time allotted. The length of elders meetings may vary among local congregations, but one thing is usually the same – items brought up first on the agenda have the luxury of being given a lot more consideration time, while items that come up at the end are time-deprived. This is accentuated when the typical order is routinely followed and the elder who unfortunately is last in line has only minutes to talk about what is on his list. This is why a pre-arranged and prioritized list is so important – it avoids a lop-sided agenda and keeps the discussion balanced.  It is also the reason why the order of discussion should be varied. If this is the format followed, try switching it up and changing the order. In the same vein, try also alternating who leads the discussion each month, quarter or year. It will go a long way in keeping things fresh.     

Keep on Track

Staying on track is also an imperative for effective elders meetings. We have all experienced the curse of getting off course. The question is asked: “How is brother so and so doing after his surgery?” “Well, he’s fine. He is out of rehab but his car is in the shop”.  To which another elder replies: “Maybe we need to arrange rides for him. By the way, have we serviced the church van lately?” Another elder replies, “No, not lately. Who is responsible anyway for servicing the van and why don’t we get a maintenance schedule established? This is a problem and we need to fix it”. And off the discussion goes into orbit, requiring a lasso a mile long to bring it back. A simple question of asking how a person in the assembly is doing ends up going in a completely different direction. And we wonder why we run out of time by the end of the meeting? If we are to get accomplished what really needs to get accomplished, it will require disciplined thinking and planning and bringing the discussion back to center. Not easy to do, but critical!  It is standard operating procedure in the business world, why not do it even better in the house of God, which is the “pillar and ground of truth”, 1 Tim. 3:15?

Keep Good Notes

Finally, there is a need to record items discussed and decisions rendered if we are to have effective elders meetings. We so easily forget and need our memories jogged as to the details surrounding certain decisions, especially in the months afterwards. Notes should be taken, duplicated, and stored for easy retrieval. Copies should be promptly provided to each of the elders. A collective “To Do” list with specifics included and a date in which items on the list should be accomplished should be assembled. Furthermore, efforts should be taken to employ every elder for the tasks at hand. It helps avoid the “armchair elder” syndrome that can characterize many elders’ meetings – a lot of talk, but little or no action. 

Effective elders meetings are definitely needed if we are to make any spiritual headway for Christ. These have been just a few suggestions for elders to help things run more smoothly in a job that receives very little thanks and can be excruciatingly difficult at times. Regardless, it is a position that should emote from every member of the local church an attitude of acknowledgement, submission and loving respect for those who serve the Lord in this way, Heb. 13:7; 17; 24. Anything that can be done to make it more efficient, more effective will help foster admiration and appreciation for the challenging work that they are engaged in. And for those who faithfully serve in this capacity, keep in mind that through the tears and through the years, the Lord holds out a special reward, a crown of glory that will not fade away, 1 Peter 5:4.   

Pressing On

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Phil 3:12

We sing the hymn regularly (or at least we use to in years gone by):  

I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Lord, lift me up and let me stand, By faith, on Heaven’s table land,
A higher plane than I have found; Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

The next stanza really brings it home:

My heart has no desire to stay, Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound, My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

We sing this hymn both as a prayer and an admission that we are not where we should be with the Lord. There is indeed far more ground to be gained in our walk and service for Him. Though we would like to think that we are “gaining new heights every day”, we are more like Joshua who was told by God that despite his advanced years, there was “much more land to be possessed”, Joshua 13:1. It seems to be the same for many of us. Truthfully, for all the personal devotions we have had, the messages listened to and the Bible studies attended, we really should be a lot further along in our lives for Christ than we are.

So why aren’t we gaining new heights every day?  Why are we so vulnerable to the doubts that arise and the fears that dismay?  Admittedly, there are a lot of personal hindrances in the Christian life, but the chief reason may fall squarely on us. It really boils down to a matter of the heart. God says, “My son, give me thine heart”, Prov. 23:26. If our hearts are not fully occupied with Christ, they can become easily occupied with other things.  We can easily be lured off center. At best, we are unprofitable servants and like Paul can attest, “In me, that is in my flesh dwelleth no good thing”, Rom. 7:18. Truth be told, our hearts lean toward Egypt. We glance back there from time to time and then wonder why we are not satisfied with manna from above. Frankly, it shows that we still have an appetite for things that we developed a taste for in our former life, Num. 11:1-6. In the words of another hymn writer, we confess, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”.  It is not that He leaves us – He will never do that (Rom. 8:39; Heb. 13:5) – but we can and do drift from Him. We would like to blame it on everything and everyone else, but when it comes right down to it, we are at fault because we allow the “little foxes” to come in and spoil the vines, Song 2:15. These are just some of the personal hindrances that keep us from gaining higher ground.   

But there are also outward hindrances that keep us from living life on a higher plane. There are a lot of adversaries to the Christian, 1 Cor. 16:9.  We live in a day in which the word of God is being denied, if not attacked. There is a “famine” in the land, Amos 8:12. The room is getting darker as the curtains of this age draw to a close. There is not much to encourage us as we watch the nightly news. Scripture calls this system, “this present evil world”, Gal. 1:4. It is contrary to the things of God and all we stand for. The world hated the Lord when He walked on this earth and it hates Him now when He is faithfully represented by His servants who walk in His steps, Luke 23:35-36; John 15:18, 1 Peter 2:21. Through various means, it enslaves the lost as it promulgates its philosophies and distracts and even derails the saints, causing them to leave to their first love and affection for the Savior, Rev. 2:4.  The glitter and glamour projected by the world and its ways are but a thin veneer that disguises the anti-God values that characterize it. Daniel’s prophecy of successive world empires portrayed it perfectly – valuable in the eyes of man (Dan. 2), but in actuality horrific and beast-like in the eyes of God (Dan. 7).  It is worse than we may even think, yet many of us are taken up with its ways.  We need to turn from it and take our cue from Demas’ defection (2 Tim. 4:10) and also the men in Elisha’s day when they said of Jericho, “the situation of the city is pleasant….but the water is bad and the ground barren”. It is an apt description of this world, 2 Kings 2:19. Like Jericho, the world offers nothing to refresh and satisfy the soul.  

The main reason for all of this opposition that keeps many living on a lower plane is due to the instigation of the avowed enemy of our soul, the devil. He possesses a vast array of weaponry in his arsenal to make the path of the believer as difficult as possible to tread. Through temptation, deceit, imitation, lies, inferences, and a plethora of other snares and devices (2 Cor. 2:11), he is able to dupe those who are rely on instinct rather than seeking the guidance of the Lord. He works tirelessly to keep the unsaved under his sway and to thwart believers from advancing to higher ground.

So, what is our recourse then? How do we gain ground as Paul encouraged the saints at Philippi to do? How are we to “press on” in the midst of so many hindrances and ardent opposition? One way is to stay focused on the bigger picture. Keep your eye on the goal – the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.  One day we will be in heaven and this “light affliction” which lasts but for a moment will yield eternal reward, 2 Cor. 4:17. In the words of another, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus”. As a well-known evangelist once stated: “I have read the last chapter of the Bible and we win!”.         

Another, way to keep pressing on is to stand on the promises of God’s Word. God has given us light for the path and all along this path are the promises of His Word. There are the promises of His presence, of His power, and of His provision. He has told us clearly, that “…He will never leave us nor forsake us so that we may boldly say the Lord is my helper what can man do unto me?, Heb. 13:5-6. Like Jacob, He will be with us and keep us in the way that we go, (Gen. 28:15) and He finish the work that He began in us, Phil. 1:6. This promise of His faithfulness to should motivate us to live even more for Him, that we may do that we may be well-pleasing to Him, 2 Cor. 5:9.       

Yes, there are so many things to discourage us when we look around – defections to the world, disagreements with others, disappointments with ourselves – things that can keep us living on a lower plane. But when we look to the Lord and His Word, there is so much more that will brighten our path as we journey toward our home in Heaven. Press On!

“But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto that perfect day”, Prov. 4:18.


Every true believer has a responsibility to bear fruit for the Lord, a fact supported by the Scriptures, beginning to end. In Ex. 28, Aaron’s priestly robe was to be adorned on the hem with pomegranates and golden bells. The pomegranates speak of the visible aspect of our testimony—fruit-bearing—and the golden bells, the audible aspect in our testimony and service for Him. In Num. 17, Aaron’s rod that budded is a powerful picture of Christ as our Great High Priest in His resurrection ministry. But it is also a compelling example of the responsibility of the believer to walk in newness of life and to also bud and blossom and bear fruit. In the parable of the soils in Matt. 13, the only soil that the Lord spoke well about was the soil which brought forth fruit; some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, some one hundredfold (v. 8). It represents the genuine believer whose fruitful life demonstrates the undeniable proof of properly receiving the Gospel seed. Likewise, in writing to the Colossian believers the apostle Paul commended them for the evidence of their true faith in Christ by the fact that the Gospel brought forth fruit in their lives from the very first day since they knew the grace of God in truth (Col. 1:6). The case is clear: every believer should bear fruit for the Lord.

But not only is there a clear case for bearing fruit, but there is also a clear command for bearing fruit. To those whose lives were impacted through the ministry of John the Baptist, the confirming word to them was: “Bring forth fruits, meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Their repentance would be substantiated by the fruit that would be evident in their lives. Likewise, in Rom. 7:4 the command for fruit-bearing is also clearly stated: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God”. The Lord said to His disciples in John 15:“Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear fruit, so shall ye be my disciples” (v. 8). It was not just a suggestion; it was a mandate from the Lord himself. Later, He stated: “You have not chosen Me but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain…” (John 15:16). He has called us to bring forth fruit and for that fruit to remain. This fruit comes from abiding in Him and results in the Father being glorified. The Lord Himself promised that the Holy Spirit will dwell in us forever (John 14:7, 16, 23), but for the Holy Spirit to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit requires that we are in communion with Him. We abide in Christ as we dwell close to Him. This was the essence of Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians when he wrote: “that Christ might dwell in your hearts by faith” (Eph. 3:17). This should be our prayer as well. But how “close” are we to the Lord and how much fruit is being displayed as a result of being near Him? True, positionally we are very near to God and nearer we cannot be, but practically, perhaps we could be a little bit nearer.

The NT identifies four different categories of fruit-bearing for the Christian. The first relates to the fruit of our character. These are the inward attitudes and qualities that shape our personality and make up our personal, private lives. Often it is easy to identify the more obvious sins of the flesh, both in ourselves and in others. But attitudes are far more difficult to detect and are also displeasing to the Lord, if contrary to the Word of God. Gal. 5:22-23 describes the multifaceted dimension of the fruit of the Spirit and the type of attitudes that God desires for the Christian. This fruit reflects Christ-likeness; something the law could never produce (v. 23). These are the virtues and graces manifested in the life of every born-again believer through the purifying work of the Holy Spirit, which we should be diligent in cultivating (2 Peter 1:3-7). Are we working on these qualities through the help of the Holy Spirit as we pray and read God’s Holy Word? If we are, this fruit will be reflected in our demeanor and then wonderfully displayed through our kind words and deeds in our lives for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.

These kind words and deeds are the actions that represent the second category of fruit-bearing in the NT, our conduct. Paul encouraged the Philippian believers to be sincere and without offense until the Day of Christ, “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). He acknowledged that their public lives and actions evidenced the work of Christ within. One of the ways that this fruit was exhibited in their experience was by the financial gift they sent to him. Paul rejoiced that this sacrificial gift was fruit that abounded to their account (Phil. 4:17). Giving to the work of the Lord is a fine example of fruit-bearing and one in which there could be more displayed! But giving is not all there is in terms of the fruit of conduct. James 3:8 reminds us that the action of peacemaking also qualifies as fruit: “now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace”. There could also be more of this fruit displayed as well! Fruit-bearing is not just a private, attitudinal matter; it is outward and action-oriented.

A third category of fruit-bearing relates to our conversation, namely our worship of the Lord and the frequency by which we render thanks to the Lord. Heb. 13:15 reminds us: “By Him therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually that is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks unto His Name”. We should thank the Lord continually for all He did for us in salvation and all He does for us in His present intercessory ministry on our behalf. The leper that was healed along with nine other lepers demonstrated this fruit when he came back and consciously thanked the Lord, who was surprised that the others did not do the same. We are exhorted in 1 Thess. 5:18: “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God concerning you.” Each one of us ought to continually give thanks to the Lord, no matter what the situation may be. As Psalm 107;2 states: “Let the redeemed of the Lord who He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy”.

The fourth category of fruit-bearing in the NT deals with those we win to the Lord, our converts. In writing to the Romans, Paul expressed his desire to win others for Christ when he said: “that I might have some fruit among you also, as also among the other Gentiles” (Romans 1:13). He also referred to the house of Stephanas as the firstfruits of Achaia. Certainly, this is fruit that will always remain since no true believer will ever perish. What a worthy endeavor! If the great apostle Paul humbly requested prayer to open his mouth and speak boldly for the Lord (Eph. 6:19-20), how much more should we ask for help in speaking for Christ? Certainly, Paul longed for this fruit in his life and we should too.

To have these four aspects of fruit-bearing displayed in our lives is challenging enough—it requires that we honestly and objectively be before the Lord in prayer, and not just give Him lip service, but that we understand our responsibility and act on those duties with His help. But what truly makes the concept of fruit-bearing even more challenging is its progressive aspect alluded to by the Lord in the Upper Room Discourse. In John 15, the Lord explained that our fruit should advance from the level of no fruit, some fruit and more fruit (v. 2), to much fruit (v. 5, 8) and much glory to our Father in Heaven. Through extrapolation, this means that our fruit for God which was non-existent at one time in our lives before Christ, should always be on the increase. In other words, our joy, our patience, our love for others, our actions, our thanksgiving, our worship, those we win for Christ – these aspects of fruit-bearing should always be growing as we journey toward Heaven. But is it? Has our commitment to this fruit remained or has it become stagnant and static? Is it increasing or is it waning? Is it at the level that it once was when our lives were characterized by first love, or has it slipped back through sin or spiritual neglect? These are challenging questions indeed for every child of God who thinks through the issue of bearing fruit for God. Paul stated his desire to the Philippians to upwardly progress in his walk with the Lord when he said: “I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. (Phil. 3:14) May that be our desire also as we think through our responsibility to increase in our responsibility of bearing fruit for God.

Believers Beware!

Dangers in the Day of Famine  – 2 Kings 4.38-41

As the return of the Lord draws closer each day, the need for spiritual discernment among Christians will be of the utmost importance. The devil knows that his time is short and as the last days come to a close, he will pull out every stop and utilize every device in his arsenal to waylay the saints and waltz the unsaved to their destruction. Paul reminded Timothy that in the latter times “some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils…”(1 Timothy 4.1). Peter likewise warned: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you…” (2 Peter 2.1). There have always been false prophets in the world and false teachers in the Church, but toward the end of the last days their presence and power will intensify as Satan drags his own net across the sea of humanity and over a world system in which he has long held sway. Christians are to function as salt and light, but as the world grows increasingly corrupt and plunges more deeply into spiritual darkness, the Church’s testimony and influence in the world will be largely nullified unless spiritual vigilance is maintained. What can happen when believers are not spiritually discerning can be seen from an interesting episode in the ministry of the prophet Elisha.


Elisha lived during one of the darkest times in Israel’s history. His mentor, Elijah had in his day boldly prophesied to King Ahab that it would not rain because of the sin and idolatry that characterized the nation. Knowing the Scriptures as he did provided the man of God with the impetus to make such a powerful statement. Accordingly, a famine swept over the land, paralleling the spiritual famine that prompted it. To counter the effects of this spiritual famine, Elijah established schools for the sons of the prophets at strategic locations across the land. These schools were for the benefit of young men whom he personally discipled, drawn together by a desire for mutual encouragement and edification. Upon Elijah’s translation to heaven (2 Kings 2), this duty was transferred to Elisha his protégé who picked up the mantel and followed in his steps. On this occasion, Elisha requested that his servant put on a great pot following a time of spiritual instruction and boil stew for the sons of the prophets. But without saying a word, this servant apparently acted independently and went out into the field, gathered a lapful of wild gourds, and brought them back to be sliced into a pot of stew. When it was offered to the sons of the prophets, they could not eat it and cried out to Elisha, “There is death in this pot!” With that, Elisha instantly ordered that meal be put into the pot, which miraculously counteracted the effects of the poisonous gourds.


As we put the magnifying glass upon this portion of God’s Word, there are a number of present-day similarities that immediately jump out. First is the similarity between Israel’s condition then and the world’s condition now. Just as there was a spiritual famine in the time of Elisha, so too there is a spiritual famine in our world today. The prophet Amos wrote: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). For Israel, disobedience to the word of God brought about God’s judgment, resulting in a lack of rain causing conditions in which healthy food was scarce and harmful food was in abundance. In our world, the profusion of harmful, poisonous “food” expressed through the arts, literature, philosophy and other forms of media simply substantiates the fact that there is a “famine” in the land – a dearth of the hearing of the words of the Lord, brought on by a widespread repudiation of God’s truth (Romans 1). Consequently, there are spiritual dangers at every turn. Paul wrote Timothy: “Take heed to thyself and to the doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16), emphasizing the need to be watchful in his personal life and the spiritual food that he ate. How much more should the Body of Christ in these perilous times?


Another similarity can be seen in the actions of Elisha’s servant. Like this servant, many well-meaning, but naïve believers can also be guilty of gathering harmful “food”, that is false doctrine and introducing it into the assembly, bringing about much distress among the Lord’s people. The fact that he might have acted independently only highlights the need for personal accountability in the Body and the importance to closely monitor the spiritual actions of the younger generation. Perhaps if he had stated what he was going to do, this disaster would have been averted. Could it be that he thought that a few more items introduced into the stew were necessary to fill up the “great pot” or even to make it more tasteful? If so, it could easily represent the enthusiastic, but erroneous intentions of many novices in the Lord. After all, it was a “great pot” and like the Word of God, it is a sufficient provision for the people of God with no additives needed!


The vine which was the source of the problem is also a key similarity. When the servant left the house, he was venturing outside, a dangerous place in the time of famine. As it was then, so it is now—the world is filled with “wild vines” that look healthy enough and that grow in abundance, but are actually deceitfully poisonous, as seen by the adverse reaction that it had upon the sons of the prophets. The fact that he returned with his lap full in a time of famine was prima facie evidence that something was dreadfully wrong! Vines often lie close to the earth and as such remind us of the origin and the emphasis of all false doctrine and the “dirt” that surrounds it. The apostle Paul voiced this truth when he stated in Colossians 2:8: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ”. Believers need to be on their guard and need to have a Berean spirit to make sure that all spiritual teaching accords with Scripture, lest in the course of time they find out in a hard way, that it is not. Believers beware!


Further, there is also a valuable lesson illustrated in the sons of the prophets. These would-be disciples made the common mistake that many of God’s people make – they ate anything and everything put before them! At the least, they should have inquired as to what was in the stew. Unfortunately, they soon found out! They were not told, neither did they ask. There is one thing however, that they did do correctly – they went to a man of God who was more experienced and wiser than they. They knew something was wrong, but they did not know how to correct it. Note this carefully young people—do not go it alone, take your questions and your quandaries to those who are older and more mature in the faith and undoubtedly they will give you valuable advice that will keep you from harm.


What was the solution to this whole mess? When Elisha’s help was solicited, the solution came by introducing meal into the pot of stew. Meal, especially fine meal speaks of the moral and consistently fine life of Christ (C.P. Lev. 2). The antidote for any false doctrine comes down to a proper understanding and application of the Person and Work of Christ. This is what will undo the adverse effects of false teaching. Note that the servant was not exhorted to throw out the pot or even tip it over, but rather he was given the task of counteracting its contents with that which was nourishing to the sons of the prophets. Nor was the servant ostracized for bringing the poisonous gourds in. As a matter of fact, the servant was the very one who was given the task to purify the stew. What a lesson there! How many believers through the centuries have picked up some poisonous gourd and brought on adverse consequences or even personal suffering, has witnessed the miraculous turnaround that results from feeding on a diet rich on the Person of Christ?


The Apostle Paul commended the Philippian believers for their spiritual discernment when he said: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” (Philippians 1:9). That same spiritual judgment is what believers everywhere (especially elders) need to exercise if they are to avoid the dangers that abound in the day of famine.

Refreshing the Saints

The Bible speaks clearly about the value of refreshing others in the work of the Lord. Whether it is due to a personal difficulty or to a disheartening incident in the work of the Lord, there will always be the need either to refresh others or to be refreshed ourselves in our service for Christ.

There are a lot of reasons why the Lord’s people need encouragement and refreshing. When the disciples were so busy in their work with the Master, he urged them in no uncertain terms: “Come apart into a desert place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31) Because they had been so busy, they “no leisure so much as to eat”. They needed to be refreshed so that they could be revitalized for further ministry – just as the Lord’s people need to do on occasion. When Elijah was struggling with personal issues such as disappointment, unrealized expectations, anger and self-pity, he needed to be refreshed in his spirit. God saw to it that he was refreshed when an angel ministered food and drink to him. It was after this that Elijah had his perspective realigned. (1 Kings 19) He needed to be refreshed in the work even though he had just experienced a great victory at Mount Carmel. He was restored in a dramatic way and his ministry continued on with more manifestations of God’s power. (2 Kings 1) His experience reminds us of the need that many of the Lord’s servants have to be encouraged in the wearying and often unappreciated work they do.

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Our Stewardship in Christ

There are more than a dozen descriptive metaphors for the Christian in the NT. We are referred to as ambassadors, representing the Lord in this distant world and beseeching its inhabitants to be reconciled unto God (2 Cor. 5:20). We are sojourners and pilgrims—strangers in a strange land, passing through a barren wilderness en route to a heavenly destination. (1 Peter 2:11). We are also sons and heirs of God replete with all the privileges and responsibilities that come to those who are born again through faith in Jesus Christ. In addition, we are slaves bound by love to a gracious Master who has set us free; soldiers who must earnestly contend for the faith; farmers and workers, athletes and vessels, and salt and light. We are also branches that are connected to the True Vine that we might bear much fruit and glorify our Father in heaven (John 15:8). These metaphors and more aptly describe not only the position of the NT believer, but also the part that we have in knowing Him and making Him known. Perhaps that aspect—knowing Him and making Him known—is epitomized in yet another NT metaphor for the believer; that of a steward.

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