Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
Someone once said, “Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far.” Ben Franklin is quoted saying, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
Jeremiah had a complete list of excuses ready when God called on him to be a prophet to the people of Israel. Many times the excuses of Jeremiah become ours when we are called on to proclaim God’s Word to this world. We see that with every excuse Jeremiah made, God gave promises in return.
First, Jeremiah said, “the task ahead is difficult.” Jeremiah 1:5 says, ““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This is God speaking to Jeremiah, and notice what He says, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The task ahead is difficult, so Jeremiah gives off a list of excuses for why he isn’t the one for this job. God gives a promise for Jeremiah’s excuses. He says, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew that Jeremiah was the one for the job, even if Jeremiah didn’t think so.
Second, Jeremiah said, “I don’t have the talent.” Jeremiah 1:6 says, “Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” Many times people blame their cowardice on a lack of talent. They say that it isn’t natural to them, that there are others more suited for the job. But God knows Jeremiah and the great good he can accomplish. In Jeremiah 1:9, God promises that He would put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth.
As Christians today we have these same promises for our worries and excuses. Let’s not blame our cowardice on a lack of talent or the difficulty of the task. That isn’t a good excuse to God. Nothing is. He has promised that He will be with us, and we have HIS Word to teach to others. Let’s trust in that.
Minister to people all week and not just on Sunday.
Yesterday morning, I learned how much of a sense of humor the Lehman Avenue church members have. I prefaced my sermon by sharing a great tip a fellow-preacher passed along to me last week. He told the folks at his new work, “Please introduce yourself by name until I greet you by name when I see you.” So, I decided to give an example, saying, “Every time you introduce yourself, say, ‘Hi, Neal, I’m Roger Johnson (if that is your name)…” Well, that helped me ferret out some of Lehman’s finest comedians. Did you know there are 15 or 20 Roger Johnsons here (except that the guy I thought was Roger introduced himself as “Frank Sinatra” after church). But, everyone was upstaged by young Kamdyn Depp. Kamdyn came up to me right before evening worship, promptly shaking my hand and saying, “Hello, my name is Roger Johnson.” She deadpanned it perfectly, and it took me a while to stop laughing.
Kamdyn may never know how much it meant to me that she did that. First, it meant she was listening to my sermon. Second, as I found out it was her own idea, it meant that I meant enough to her for her to take the time to come tease me (side note: my mom used to tell me that people only tease you if they like you). It told me she was thinking about me. Third, it meant she was willing to engage me. We don’t know each other very well yet (though last night was a great head start), but she took the initiative.
Much talk is made of being a friendly church and how important that is to church growth and evangelism. All of us should take a page from Kamdyn’s playbook. Pay attention to people. Care about them. Don’t be afraid to engage them. You may quickly forget your act, but the recipient won’t! We will have visitors at most of our assemblies. Your taking just a moment of time with someone might be the first seed that germinates in such a way that he or she ultimately is in heaven. It’s that big of a deal! So, go on up to that new person, smile, look them in the eye, and introduce yourself, but it’s probably best if you use your real name. Even if it isn’t Roger Johnson!
In the place of “Wishwewoulda”
Lived a people who surely could ‘a
Reached the lost in their great land
But all the “let’s” got soundly canned!
There in impious “Wishwewoulda”
All those Christians surely should ‘a
They had the money, had the skill
But lacked the love, they lacked the will
Those Christian folk in “Wishwewoulda”
Failed to consider the eternal good ‘a
All those lost folks dyin’ in sin
They expected the outsiders to walk on in
In life, they said not, “Wish We Woulda”
Self was tops in the neighborhood ‘a
All those lost folks; But, then, a fearful thing
Those “do not” Christians each went before the King
He asked them, one by one, “Oh, why?
You let these opportunities just lie!
You get no crown, though you sure could have.”
Say they, “We won not one. We wish we would have.”
(December 15, 1996)
We need to know the Bible, to study and apply,
And teach and share with others, their faith to solidify.
But often, before they’ll listen to a consonant or vowel,
They need to see us on our knees, with our basin and our towel.
For fine speech can lose its luster, and argument its shine
When its power in our own lives, is unseen and unapplied.
“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day,”
Is the common man’s mantra, as he’s searching for the way.
And a teacher whose compassion and listening ear is offered,
Will open up a heart before one single verse is proffered.
For the adage, often spouted, is a proverb we need to share,
People do not care how much you know til they know how much you care
The way to reach an eternal soul involves more than the mind,
And every servant of Jesus knows it takes service pure and kind.
Loving care that costs us in terms of money, effort, and time,
Will soften hearts made hard by worldly greed and grist and grime.
Dear Christian as you pray to God, “Lead me to some soul today,”
Keep your eyes peeled for a struggling, straggling soul astray,
Then be a neighbor, show him mercy, you just might be surprised,
When he listens to the truth of God you have actively exercised.
In World War I, German intelligence was able to steal American plans at will. Tapping enemy lines was extremely easy, especially at night. Faced with such a dilemma, a regiment full of Choctaw Indians thought of a potential solution. The commander inquired into how many Choctaws knew their mother tongue. The men hesitated. The first English word some of them had learned was “soap.” In basic training, they were threatened with having their mouths washed out if caught speaking their native language. Now, their regimental leaders wanted them to speak it. The Choctaws were dispersed among the various divisions and attached to communications. From that point to the end of the war, all important orders were passed along in Choctaw. The Germans were stymied and finally caught off guard by the Americans’ war plans (from PBS’ American Experience: The Great War, Episode 3).
Today, our society does not want to hear us speak the message of Christ. Many find it offensive and restricting. They may even put great pressure on us to keep quiet. But, we cannot. These have been taken captive by the devil to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26). Especially when someone sees the spiritual crisis in his or her life, there will be a desperate desire for an answer. Where will they turn? If they have heard us speak of Christ and His way, they may need us to communicate the most important message ever spoken. Don’t keep quiet about Jesus, especially given the dire danger in this spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-5). God is counting on us to speak for Him, and so is a lost and dying world! Keep sharing Him.
A lonely soul was crying out
For someone to direct
Their mind to know the will of God
But I chose to deflect.
An edgy soul was acting out
Intimidating and coarse
Yet they were searching for the truth
I recoiled with too little remorse.
A hopeful soul was reaching out
And attended our worship service
But I was busy, too much to do
To connect, plus I was nervous.
A hurting soul, in time of loss
Crossed my path today
I felt so bad that he was grieved
But still I hurried on my way.
A lost soul was needing Christ
She is destined for eternity
I was busy, nervous, no zeal for her
Guess I was too caught up in me
The next soul that I come upon
Lord, may I try with zeal
To share your grace and teach your Word
And your matchless love reveal.
There are several sound, simple methods of teaching the gospel to the lost. As the teacher grows in ability to utilize these methods, his results will improve to God’s glory. The teacher also has as his or her textbook one fo the simplest to comprehend, though only the rare and exceptional student will fail to attain unto “the meat” of God’s Word after consistent, in-depth Bible study (Heb. 5:12-14).
The effort put forth by the student to understand may be great for some. The soul-winner must be aware of this and address it accordingly. Observe a few suggestions that might prove helpful.
Making sure the prospective Christian understands and is in the flow of the study couldn’t be more important. Each student has a never dying soul that will be somewhere for eternity. As gently and compassionately as possible (2 Tim. 2:24026), be ready to explain and discuss words or questions from the Bible or study which may be giving them problems. Realize that each person comes from a different background and aptitude, not only religiously but also educationally. No doubt, the hearer has a great responsibility and accountability. Often, Jesus admonished, “Be careful how your hear” or “Be careful that you are not deceived” (Luke 8:18; 21:8; etc.). He was warning them to be keen listeners and discerners of biblical truth. Hearing itself is vital (Rom. 10:17), as without it faith can’t be produced. Yet, let us who would teach the lost work to present the simplicity of God’s saving plan and eliminate as many barriers to understanding as we can.
About nine months ago, a man walked into our building a day after being immersed into Christ. He had been searching diligently for the truth, a man whose hunger for the Bible caused him to study his Bible for hours every day (including on audio at his job as a metal fabricator). He continues those habits today.
A man whose life is as interesting as his name–Roberto Yrey–has been a blessing to us at Bear Valley. One of the reasons I’ve grown to love him so much was on full display last night. Each Wednesday, a different man delivers a 90-second devotional talk. Last night, Roberto spoke. Don’t misunderstand. He writes devotions, short sermons, and articles all the time in order to articulate his understanding of a Bible chapter or topic he has been studying. He changed his mind multiple times before settling on the one he delivered last night. If you were there, you know that Roberto was nervous. He has told several of us how difficult public speaking is for him. His only previous public speaking opportunity was a Scripture reading during a devotional back during the holidays.
What he chose to speak about last night so aptly reveals a mindset that makes him so endearing. His message was that you don’t have to know everything to study with someone. Don’t be afraid to tell someone, “I don’t know.” It’s OK if you don’t know or understand everything. He encouraged us, “Say, I don’t know but let me ask someone who might know. Or let’s fellowship and find the answer.” But his message was to not let the fear of not knowing keep you from talking to someone about the Bible.
I admire the fact that Roberto had the courage, as a babe in Christ, to speak to a room full of people some of whom have been preachers and teachers for decades, teachers in our Bible school for many years, and are mature, seasoned Christians. But I admire him even more for practicing what he was preaching. In our midst last night were two visitors–Estevan (there for the first time) and Sean (who’s become a regular attender with Roberto for several months). He had the courage to invite them. Today, we baptized Sean into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. A young Christian has already brought a friend to Jesus. All it took was the courage to try, to do what anyone can do who is moved by simple, trusting faith to just do what God has told us to do. I don’t know about you, but Roberto’s example helps me have the courage to try harder!