OK, as I start to write this I've officially got less than 12 hours to go...to be exact, 11 hours and 15 minutes until the big 6-0, my 60th birthday. Also, I'm at my mom's house and watching the Boston Bruins hockey game. That's important and significant because that's what she was doing at this time almost 60 years ago: at Boston's North Station watching a Bruins hockey game. When they drove home that night she ended up going into labor, going to the hospital and voila, I was born on November 28, 1949. Usually for me, birthdays are just another day, but when I told my younger sister, Julie, about number 60 (the first in the family to reach that milestone), she being the consummate party-planner, it became a family reunion. That's nice!
A few years ago I received a letter from a guy in prison who wrote me about the testimony of what God had done in his life, how he had re-dedicated his life to Christ and was serving God in prison. The grieving thing in that letter was he asked me about a certain couple in our church who had been instrumental in winning him to Christ. He wanted me to convey his testimony and his appreciation to them. The problem was that couple was no longer coming to church. They had made decisions that removed them from the will of God, wreaking havoc in their lives as they spun out of control and were no longer serving God. Why is that important to me as I reach my 60th birthday? Well, because for the last 36 years I have tried to stay on track with what God had called me to do, and to help others do the same. This is not a job but it is the passionate desire of my heart. In politics, in advertising, and in judicial settings one of the things they stress is to STAY ON MESSAGE, to stay on point they call it. I am far from perfect and I know that I have a long way to go, but I am grateful to God that after all these years, I AM STILL ON MESSAGE. I have not lost the plot!
This was the golden testimony and authenticating dimension we find in Paul's life in (Acts 26:10-23) "Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision: but showed first to those of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works fitting for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and tried to kill me. Having therefore obtained help from God, I continue to this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses said should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first to rise from the dead, and show light to the people, and to the Gentiles." Paul is not glorying in his 15 minutes of fame, but he's saying that after all these years I'm still at it. I call this a "golden" testimony because so much of American culture, and sadly even the church, are influenced by fads: the latest trends, what's hot and what's not. Nothing can take the place of endurance and perseverance in our walk with God, in effective ministry, and in quality relationships. Chrysostom called it "the queen of virtues...the root of all the goods." Jesus made this one of the hinge pins of discipleship, "If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31,32) This is what people want and deserve to see! I remember in 2005, when Wesley Pinnick was serving in Iraq. He had gotten saved, and had been home on leave, and now returning back to his post in a war zone. The very first question guys asked him was not how his leave went, how his family were, but, "are you still doing that Jesus/God thing?" They wanted to know if he was still on message!
John Wesley once described the secret of revival as, "AT IT, ALWAYS AT IT, ALL THE PEOPLE ALWAYS AT IT." Yes! Still witnessing and evangelizing, still praising and worshiping God whole-heartedly, still giving sacrificially, still fired up, still standing for righteousness. I can't think of anything more horrible than a time when people would say, "Oh, yeah...I remember that church, The Door wasn't it? Didn't they used to preach everywhere? Didn't we used to see them on the streets all the time? Weren't they the ones that used to disciple me and plant churches?"
This reminds me of an earlier posting and the question that was presented to me by a sister in the church, "What makes The Door different?" I know that's a bit of a loaded question and can be a pitfall into pride, but I think that this text helps address that question a bit.
- A compelling & unifying vision, vs.19, "So then King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." I like The Message translation, "what could I do, King Agrippa, I couldn't just walk away from a vision like that!" To quote Pastor Fred Rubi, "Ironically, the mega-church vision is to unify large crowds of people under the banner of finding your gift and doing your thing. Our vision for discipleship and church planting is exactly the opposite. Although a church our size values lots of different kinds of ministry, we maintain a picture bigger than just individual expression. Conferences, summer outreaches, major dramas and the like are a call to 'all hands on deck.' Our unified vision gives God's people a basic context in which to serve."
- Confrontational preaching, vs.20, "Declared that they should repent and turn to God." We're not talking about lacking tact or running roughshod over people, but truth still carries an "in your face" quality to it.
- Simple discipleship, vs.20 "Performing deeds in keeping with their repentance." Jesus said to make disciples of all nations. Discipleship is defined as a life of obedience, "teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you." (Mt.28:20) People find themselves at different levels in their walk with God, but let's not be satisfied with anything less than fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ!
- The final distinctive is staying on message, vs.22,23, "So I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and the Gentiles." We are not free to make up our own message, but we're called to preach the "whole counsel of God" - the core values, beliefs, focus, and world view that the Gospel brings. "What I say is the very same thing which the prophets and Moses said was going to happen." Can you see his commitment and passion to stay on message?!
I've come to realize that these things can't be taken for granted. We can lose the plot, and there are plenty of temptations to knock us off message. The natural pull of life is not outward, towards vision, but we all tend to be drawn inward to a self-centered focus and lifestyle. When you factor in other things like the battles we have of becoming offended (lots of opportunities here) and the simple fact that we are prone to grow weary...you see how "staying on message" is no small feat. This is why (1Cor.10:12) TM warns us, "We are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else."
Well, how is it going to be possible and how can we stay on message? We've all seen too much quitting, falling and failing to take it for granted. That's why I hold on to vs.22, "therefore, having obtained help from God". That's our testimony! We've gotten a lot of help from God, and definitely need it! We need divine help because human will alone is not sufficient. It will fail us in time of crisis. I think of the hymn by Robert Robinson,
"O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O, take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above."
There's a whole lot of candor and truth in that song. He's asking for divine influence to move and capture our hearts because without this, it's hard for us to stay on message. The Psalmist prayed, "incline my heart to your testimonies" (Ps.119:36) What "sparked" this message whole idea was sitting on the platform the Sunday before Conference in June 2009. Lots of people had already arrived early for Conference and it is traditionally a great service. As I was watching and worshiping God, suddenly the "plot" of who we are and what God is doing became so wonderfully real once again. That's the help from God that we all need from time to time.
You and I must be "planted in the house of God for this to happen." (Ps.92:14) "Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish...they shall still bear fruit in old age." Rick Warren once wrote to the 100 biggest churches in the U.S. wanting to know the secret of their growth and impact. After culling through all the various responses, the one that stood out was “stay put". This means we need to stay on message!
OK, so you want one of my rich and famous stories. Last month I was flying to Namibia by way of South Africa. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones just happened to be sitting in the row in front of me. Before we landed I was able to briefly speak to him. I told him, "Mr. Jagger, you know you've always been a reference point to me (!?). I always wondered when we reached 60, who of us is going to look the best, you or me?!" He laughed and was very good natured about it. He's got a few years on me, but I'm feeling pretty good about that challenge! Right now I'd say we're both still on message. The question is WHO HAS THE BETTER MESSAGE?!
- Tucson, AZ, United States
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