Perfunctory Preparation and Performance (October, 2011)

Perfunctory Preparation and Performance
Originally Published in October, 2011. 
Robert Wurtz II


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John 21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.


John 21:16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

John 21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.


This conversation with Peter was, in effect, a restoration. Jesus begins asking, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? This is a gentle rebuke for his having suggested that he loved the Lord more than the rest of the disciples. He then turns and states, in effect, if you really love me like you have said, prove it by feeding my lambs. This is an amazing revelation into the very center of the heart of God. The Lord was giving Peter a charge to keep. It would be the greatest responsibility of all. If he fails here he will prove he did not really love the Lord like he claimed. It will come down primarily to this one thing. Jesus had fed Peter with words that were spirit; now He is leaving this earth, and it’s Peter’s turn to feed His lambs. 



A Parting Charge from Christ


Our passage is frequently expounded to emphasize the use of two Greek words for love (agapao and phileo) as they change in the original text of the conversation. Nevertheless, I wish in this entry to examine a commonly overlooked emphasis on the part of our Lord. You will notice in the KJV that the word ‘feed’ is used three times. In the original Greek we have Βόσκε (bosky, feed) in verse 15 and 17 and Ποίμαινε (poimanate, tend) sandwiched in the middle in verse 16. The KJV obliterates the distinction here. The order is: feed my lambs; tend my sheep; and feed my sheep. But why? Was this just careless speech on the part of our Lord, or was He saying exactly what He meant? We know that there are no insignificant details in the scripture; however, this conversation with its shifting back from “feed” to “tend” to “feed” has puzzled many expositors over the years. We read in Trench: 


In Dean Stanley’s, Sermons and Essays on the Apostolic Age, p. 138, the answer is suggested. The lesson, in fact, which we learn from this is a most important one, and one which the Church, and all that bear rule in the Church, have need diligently to lay to heart; this namely, that whatever else of discipline and rule may be superadded thereto, still, the feeding of the flock, the finding for them of spiritual food, is the first and last; nothing else will supply the room of this, nor may be allowed to put this out of that foremost place which by right it should occupy. How often, in a false ecclesiastical system, the preaching of the Word loses its preeminence; the feeding (βόσκειν) falls into the background, is swallowed up in the “acting as shepherd” (ποιμαίνειν), which presently becomes no true shepherding, because it is not a feeding (βόσκειν) as well; but such a “shepherding” rather as God’s Word by the prophet Ezekiel has denounced (Ezekiel 34:2, 3, 8, 10; cf. Zech. 11:15-17Matt. 23.)” (Richard C. Trench; Synonyms of the New Testament). 




The Priority of Feeding


In Ezekiel 34, God denounced the “shepherds” that refused to care properly for the flock of God. They were self-serving and fleecing the flock. They shirked their responsibilities, and as a result, the people were carried off by the enemy. God came down on them with a severe judgment, and required the flock of God at the shepherds hands. That is to say, He held the shepherds accountable for the loss of sheep. 

Ezekiel 34 ought to sober even the most hardened of preachers and teachers. This abuse of the flock by the shepherds would be embedded in the psyche of all the Jews. It was a common theme that even Jesus would take up. God had given the shepherds clear responsibilities, and they had sorely abused them unto their own destruction. This is a lesson worthy of note and shines forth again in the New Testament: My brethren, be not many  masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (James 3:1) The text is in the imperative, “Do not, so many of you, become teachers because you know we will receive a greater sentence in the judgment. “ How many teachers and preachers take that seriously? If a man will give an account for every idle word they speak on the day of judgment, what do you suppose will be the fate of those who have spoken for God recklessly? 



A Wake Up Call

An elderly minister (age late 70’s early 80’s) came to speak to our local assembly one Tuesday evening, as he had done many times, about his prison ministry. He was an aging giant of a man with a solid head of white. His hearing was almost gone. I cannot recall the text he spoke from — nor the contents of any of his previous messages. However, I shall not soon forget how he told of a dream he recently had. It happens that the Holy Spirit had spoken strongly and certainly to him in the night these words, “I am tired of your perfunctory ways.” The minister stated that he had to go find a dictionary to look that word up, because he did not know the meaning. What did he find? 



Perfunctory |pərˈfəNGk tərē| adjective (of an action or gesture) Carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection: he gave a perfunctory nod. Done merely to discharge a duty; performed mechanically and as a thing done mechanically; done in a careless and superficial manner; characterized by indifference; as, perfunctory admonitions.



Perfunctory Admonitions


The minister had no reason to lie and tell on himself. I doubt a man could make such a thing up. I could tell by the way he told the story that he was dead serious. He was troubled by the dream and wanted to pass on what God had said. Here is a dear man in his late 70’s to early 80’s still being expected of God to shepherd the people in his care with concern and excellence. 

Again James writes, Many teachers become not, my brethren, having known that greater judgment we shall receive. (James 3:1 YLT) God loved this minister enough to bring his actions to his attention so he could change. A minister may be tempted to just “coast along” in his old age as if God don’t mind, or as if God understands that he is tired and worn out from years on the trail. Not so for this minister; he still had plenty of life left in him and was fully able to discharge his duties. Those who teach/preach the word of God are going to be judged with a greater judgment. Again we read in Ezekiel, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? (Ezekiel 34:2)






Feeding Themselves

I have marveled at times as I would reflect on the “Perfunctory Ways” dream as I have come to remember it. I do not say this as a criticism at all, I merely want to demonstrate a point here. The purpose of his coming was to raise funds, and rightly so, for his ongoing ministry. Ministers should live of the Gospel. This is God’s design. Ministers are not to demand their rights to payment; but rather, the churches are to insure that the ministers’ right to support is Biblically upheld to the best of their ability. What did Paul say?

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17 NKJV)


Double honor is generally understood to mean double wages. It is of the Lord that “the Ox who treads out the corn also partake of that corn.” Nevertheless, if a person is going to receive wages, they ought to be upholding their end of the deal — tending and feeding the flock of God. The pattern given to Peter was feed, tend, and feed some more. Surely, God does not long pay for perfunctory feeding. This brother had been warned of God in a dream that God’s estimate of his service in ministry was that it was “perfunctory.” Nevertheless, he still desired wages for his services. Obviously, he did not realize this was happening and God pointed it out. He mended his ways and went back to faithfully discharging his ministry. Nevertheless, what about others? What about men who go on taking a perfunctory course in ministry? 


Dean Stanley (1815-1881), former Dean of Westminster, made some comments along these lines that are worthy of note; “How often, in a worldly ecclesiastical system, does the preaching of the Word lose its preeminence; the βόσκειν (feeding) falls into the background, is swallowed up in the ποιμαίνειν (service), which presently becomes no true ποιμαίνειν (service), because it is not a βόσκειν (feeding). Understand that today the emphasis is often on everything but feeding the flock of God. It is on building programs, administration, singing, etc. The enemy seems to have no small list of chores he can enlist a minister to do in the place of preparation for feeding the sheep. 

Again, neglecting God’s Word is what the prophet Ezekiel denounced (Ezekiel 34:2, 3, 8, 10; cf. Zech. 11:15-17Matt. 23.) Understand that real study is real work. If a man is successful at feeding the sheep, it is because of the great amount of laboring in the word that he is willing to do. A man may perfunctorily preach and teach, and it be little effort, but not if a man obeys God and executes the responsibility biblically. It is a tremendous effort. It is the most important thing — even more important than visiting the sheep. In fact, the same Peter that took the charge to feed the flock of God in John 21:15-17, also said this, It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. (Acts 6:2)  We could fill in the “serve tables” with any other lesser thing ____________. The Devil would do almost anything to marginalize the importance of feeding the flock of God that is among them.


Able and Willing to Teach


The overseer then must be irreproachable, husband of one wife, sober, discreet, decorous, hospitable, able to teach; (1 Timothy 3:2) and again, And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, able to teach, patient (2 Timothy 2:24). Before a man ever takes up the responsibility of elder or minister they ought to observe this one qualification. God is going to hold ministers accountable. He is not looking for administrators, but feeders of His sheep. 

The job of a minister is primarily to feed the flock of God. The job of the sheep is to support the minister. God expects everyone to do their part for the successof His churches. Notice our passage does not say to feed on the flock; that is to say, they are not to be made objects of greed; but rather, we as ministers are ordained to live “of the milk” of the flock (1 Corinthians 9:7). It is a reciprocal relationship. What did Peter go on to say? Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:2,3) Our word for feed here should be translated “tend” the flock of which feeding is the primary part. 



Perfunctory Preparation 


A certain substitute teacher commented to her class that it was easy to sit for 45 minutes in front of the kids, but that her real responsibility was to sit in teachers meetings. The veteran teacher looked on and smiled as if to say, “Madam, you sure have a lot to learn!” In time the substitute would have to backtrack on the comments once she got settled in and realized that teaching full time, five days a week, was not the same as being a substitute that was called in a few times per month. Her distorted view of reality proved she had not rightly considered what she had signed up for. Her words gave her away. 

Jesus once told the disciples, For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? (Luke 14:28) So it is with ministry. Jesus charged Peter primarily with feeding the flock; that is the primary effort employed in the building of a tower (as it were). It is serious business; life and death serious. It takes many hours of preparation to move from the perfunctory to the satisfactory. 



Summary


If you don’t like to study, you definitely have not been called to the ministry. If you think that preaching and teaching can be done with minimal effort, with little reflection, merely to discharge a duty; performed mechanically and unthinkingly; done in a careless and superficial manner, then you are on your way to being a perfunctory preacher and in the end will receive a greater judgment (sentence). God will not have it. 

A child may run the vacuum cleaner over the carpet three or four strokes, roll up the cord, put it back in the closet, and then tell mother he is finished; but that kind of perfunctory work is not fit in the Kingdom of God. Imagine the child boasting to his friends how easy it is to vacuum, while they look on in amazement because they vacuum their parents house rightly. Amazing! 


We don’t preach and teach just to discharge the duty. It is a high calling. It is to be taken as seriously as if you held a loaded gun on the people. God expects his servants to prepare and seek His face. He expects us to rightly divide the word of Truth. This takes time and energy. It takes serious reflection. It takes getting alone for hours at a time to prepare. It takes a close walk with the Lord. This is why God commanded that they that minister and labor in the word are to be supported. 


The old timers used to say that the minister carried a burden for the people. The messages they prepared were often tear-stained as they wrestled with God for a word for the sheep. The reckless shepherd leaves the sheep in weakness and frailty. Like so many of our hymns and choruses — so also the sermons. Prosperity, positive confession, and a host of other foolish doctrines masquerades as preaching today. Is that food worthy of God’s flock? Does it edify the people? God is going to hold the teachers and preachers accountable. For this cause may we that labor in the word; count the cost; and endeavor to move well beyond the perfunctory — until we can preach and hear, “well done thy good and faithful servant.”

The House of Eli (When God Departed)

The House of Eli
When God Departed
Robert Wurtz II

And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies. (1 Samuel 4:3)

Since God began dwelling among men, He has warned His people about dangerous characters who would come along and put His presence at risk. Satan seems to have an endless army of agents at his disposal who infiltrate God’s ”  house ” for the purpose of    running Him off. Satan knows that bad behavior and God do not mix. These phenomena play out countless times in the Old Testament and into the New Covenant. In fact, a cursory read of Revelation chapter 2, and 3 revealed how serious the Lord Jesus is about protecting the churches of God from bad people. These people came in to cause God’s unique presence to cease dwelling among the people; in the language of Revelation, to get their lamp stand removed. 

In Chapter 2 the Lord praises Ephesus for not bearing with those who were evil and for rejecting false apostles as liars. Pergamos tolerated Baalam like people in the church who stumbled the saints with fornication. He warned them sharply to repent. Thyatira allowed a ” Jezebel ” to stumble the people with fornication and idolatry. He gave her a chance to repent, but she did not; tribulation was now at the door for them. These are just some examples of how the enemy is relentless to corrupt the churches so that God’s presence will withdraw from them. 

An Old Testament Lesson

It is hard to read our passage without bringing to mind the complete lack of discernment that Eli showed when Samuel’s mother wept before the Lord. Here was a man ready to accuse a woman for being drunk, while his two sons were living like devils in the ministry. All the while, she wept because she had no son. Now Eli’s sons are about to manifest the full recklessness of their own father’s inaction. In modern times, he would be tried for criminal negligence. In Israel, God will now demonstrate His estimate of bad behavior within the ministry. 


It is folly to pretend to have faculties of discernment when one is devoid of basic common sense. (compare 1 Cor. 11:14a “does not even nature teach you?”) Any person who had even the faintest understanding of the God of the Jews would have known how evil these boys were. If a man fornicates with women of the church, he is capable of anything. Moreover, they would take the largest portions of the offering for themselves causing the offering of the Lord to be despised. A sinner could have been called in to bring correction to such high-handed disregard for the things of God. Why did Eli allow this to happen? God said it was because he honored his sons more than he honored YHWH (God). You see, what was designed to be God’s House, had year-by-year slowly turned into Eli’s house. 


A House For God


Shiloh was the temporary capitol of Israel before the first temple was built in Jerusalem. For over 300 years, this place served as a center of religious worship. In fact, the Wilderness Tabernacle was erected here semi-permanently, with the Ark of the Covenant and the other related furniture. This means that things had gone relatively well for some 260 years. Then came that dreaded 40 year stretch where Eli, the high Priest, judged Israel. There are over 100 references, directly or indirectly to the number 40 in scripture. Typically the number symbolizes testing, trial, or probation. During these last 40 years at Shiloh, the nation was spiraling into a backslidden condition with Eli’s “priestly” son’s Hophni and Phinehas leading the charge. 


Either one or both of the sons of Eli was an accomplished fornicator; and either one or both of the sons was a gluttonous man. Between these two sons sins, and their father’s dereliction, the entire house of Eli was judged forever ending their priestly ministry with Abiathar


Only God understands the secrets of men; so we cannot say with any certainty why Eli honored his sons more than God. Whether he was proud of them or afraid of them, we cannot tell. We only know that he would rather disobey God in the face of certain judgment than deal with them. In fact, so serious was the situation that God raised up the young boy Samuel to replace Eli as the spiritual leader in Israel. In the very spot where God was to be reverenced and obeyed (as He is reverenced and obeyed in Heaven), Eli’s sons were behaving in unconscionable ways. We have this simple description of these men, “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” (1 Samuel 2:12) 


The sons were evil and the father was complacent. Loyalty is when you will stand by a person even when they are in the wrong; faithfulness is when we will stand for truth no matter who it effects. Eli’s loyalty to his sons trumped his faithfulness to God. Absolutely nothing moved Eli to correct His sons. He was receiving undeniable and direct threats from God (not that God makes any idle threat). God spoke to him in the strongest of ways warning him of what would happen if he did not stop them. Nevertheless, he carried on into the 40th year as if God was not talking. 


Sometimes it seems as though God is never going to judge sin. Can you imagine how vexed the Saints were who witnessed these things? Year after year the house of Eli acted out. People probably wondered, ” when is it going to stop? ” they have made a mockery of the ministry. It’s a wonder there was any faith left by the time it was all over. Some would have liked to have done something perhaps, but they could not bring themselves to do it. Indeed, things were completely out-of-hand. Eli didn’t correct them, and neither did anyone else. Somewhere between charm and intimidation, the house of Eli behaved however they wished. God had to do something. 


He describes His plan to Eli saying, “I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever.” (1 Samuel 2:35) God wants leaders that are after His own heart–not their own lusts. This account of the leaders in Israel’s history are recorded for us, the churches of God, as examples of what not to do in the Kingdom of God. 


Moving in a Superstitious Reverence


It came to pass that God spelled out his judgment upon Eli and his house because of the way they had treated Him before the eyes of all of Israel. We have said this before, but the primary role of any leader in the Kingdom of God is to sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people. Leaders must never give the impression that God is like a common man who can be obeyed and disobeyed at will; but they must exalt Him and sanctify Him before the people — through their conduct — in absolute reverence. 


Eli and his sons didn’t live by every word that was proceeding from the mouth of God; in fact, they treated God as one who can be trifled with. Isaiah 66:1-3 tells us what is required for a place of “God’s rest.” They are a broken and contrite heart (humility) and one who trembles at God’s word (obedience). The house of Eli failed on all counts and it would signal the beginning of God’s departure in Israel.




Blasphemed Among the Gentiles


People may have thought YHWH to be a dumb idol of wood or stone based upon how they behaved toward Him. In fact, the sons and elders of the people were so rebellious and misguided, that they viewed the Ark of God, i.e., the Ark of the Covenant- the very throne of His divine presence, as a superstitious relic that could be used almost as an amulet. They didn’t look to God, but to the Ark itself to secure victory in their battle with the Philistines! 



They didn’t obey and regard God, but they tried to go a running into battle with the ‘symbol’ of the authority of God to overthrow the Philistines. There is an important truth here. What sense does it make to try to exercise authority over demons if we are not willing to obey God ourselves? This is a sobering point. Why would men who flagrantly disobeyed the authority of God call upon His authority in their time of need? They wanted saved out of their situation, but had no intention of submitting to God’s authority. Notice they did not call upon Him, but they used the symbol of His authority superstitiously. This is what things came  to. When men seek to utilize the authority of God for their needs, but will not submit to Him in their everyday lives, it is time for serious change. 

The Ark Lost

The power was never in the Ark itself; it was what it represented in the Earth. The only power was in the peoples’ submission to God and their standing under His authority. The Ark had been sanctified to the Lord and was not to be used for man’s whims. It should have been the farthest thing from these elders’ minds. At least Eli had the good sense to tremble for the Ark of God as his sons took it out presumptively into battle. 


When a messenger returned he gave this report, And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken. (1 Samuel 4:17) When Eli heard this he literally fell over dead. 


The story continues,  And his daughter in law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it. And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband. (1 Samuel 4:19-21) The glory departed  from Israel. The saddest thing of all is that God offered many chances for Eli and his sons to repent; they would not. 


A Big Shout


This story would not be complete if we did not go back and make an important point. When the battle began, 4000 of Israel’s men were killed. This is 100 times the number of years Eli ruled (judged) Israel. Upon hearing this news the elders asked, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us today before the Philistines? How could they ask such a question? Was it ignorance? Were they blinded and hardened in sin? The elders should have known better than to suggest something so insane. Clearly neither the sons of Eli nor the elders had any clue about how Israel won the victory in the former days. 


Did they inquire of the Lord for an answer? No. Why? The Word of the Lord was precious in those days and there was no open vision. People apparently were not in the habit of seeking the Lord’s direction. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Rather than waiting on God to see why things had gone so badly, they presumptively rallied around man’s idea. That idea was that the Ark could save them! In other words, the method could save them, or the thing God had done in the past will save them. They were banking on yester-years victories, while living in flagrant rebellion. They refused to understand that when God moved in the days of old, it was because the people had sanctified themselves unto Him. They determined to obey God and His word at any cost, and as a result they saw mighty victories. What about these rebels? Did they think that God was going to be with them as He was in years past simply because they went through the same religious exercise of their forefathers? No way. Rather, God sought to slay the devilish leaders from Eli’s house. 

So the people sent to Shiloh, and they brought from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which sitteth upon the cherubim: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. (1 Samuel 4:4-5)


Notice how the people were excited about what they believed God (the Ark) was going to do. These people shouted so loud that some translations say that the ground shook. Now contrast this with David, who in the decades to follow, when the Ark is finally brought back into the city, danced before the Lord with all of his might. He was overwhelmed with excitement that God was returning to the tabernacle in and rule Israel. Yet, in the years prior the people of Israel made a loud ruckus and wist not that God was actually departing as they shouted! They made a big noise, looked up and God was gone. 

For a brief moment it almost fooled the enemy, but then they strengthened themselves. And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. (1 Samuel 4:7) Even the Philistines believed God was moving, but the people were operating in the emotional excitement of bygone years. Nobody can prevail on the stories of past victories. We have to establish our own testimony of a life of faith. The trouble is that they wanted victory without holiness.  They wanted to fornicate and covet and then go out and do exploits. It can never happen: at least, not by the Holy Spirit of God. 


Israel had not taken the time to sanctify themselves before the Lord as did Joshua and those who took the land. The consequence? What they thought was going to be a great victory ended up being their greatest defeat. Why? Because they mistakenly trusted in the objects and the memories and had not submitted themselves under the authority of God. They wanted the devil to obey God, but they had no intention of setting a course for personal obedience to Him. 


Personal Application


When God stirs men in repentance, He is seeking to turn them back to Himself in personal obedience. God does not want His people living according to the counsel of their own will. He does not want us quenching and grieving the Holy Spirit when He deals with us. Human beings are creatures of habit, and sadly, quenching the Spirit can become almost a habit. This ought not so to be. God wants us in the habit of seeking His counsel and obeying His voice. That is to say, His gentle checks and rebukes along life’s way. Elijah is the example of a man that learned this very thing. Here we read,  


 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19:11-13) 


Sometimes people think God is speaking in ways that rend mountains. They are looking for an earth-shaking fiery ‘Word’, but God moves His people most often with a still small voice. We don’t need God to speak to us in a way that will shake the earth or move a mountain — we only need to give heed to God speaking to us in the subtlety of His dealings. When we spend time in prayer, or in the word of God, He will speak to our hearts in a way we can know His will with certainty. He will nudge us to do well, and we need to be responsive. It is of no consequence to give up a big shout if we refuse to obey the still small voice. This is why so many people never know the voice of God- they simply refuse to respond rightly to Him when they know He is dealing with them. Nevertheless, the house of Eli soon discovered that God will abandon a people who will not obey his will. His house is liable to become our house. 


See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ (Luke 13:35 NKJV)


  
   

  

Valley Ministry

Valley Ministry
Robert Wurtz II

But the land which you cross over to possess [is] a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven. 
(Deuteronomy 11:11 NKJV)


When I think about Israel’s experience coming out of Egypt and into the Promised Land I think also of our Christian lives. The parallels found in the types and shadows are a wonder for any believer to explore. But here we have a passage that seems to get little press these days. But the land which you cross over to possess [is] a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven. Is this God telling us that our life will be filled with ups and downs? I think it is. Jesus said it this way, said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world?” But could it also be God telling us that the end of our lives will likely be the longest and deepest valley of all? I want to examine that question in this latest entry.

Sunset

For nearly 20 years I have been involved in ministry to the elderly. Once a week and as often as twice a week, my wife and I have been involved bringing the Gospel to non-believer, backslider, and faithful Saint in multiple nursing homes in the area. Some of you know me as a Bible Teacher, Preacher, Manager, Moderator, or other things, so this ministry has kind of sat on the fringe. It began in early 1994 as I was invited to assist a team that went to a hospital here in Kansas City. There I met many dear saints of God at the end of their lives. Some lived in bodies that were twisting and breaking down; others were slowly losing their thinking and memory ability. These are Saints like a precious man named Nineveh that was once a Pastor. Though he once preached the Gospel and traveled around, now he was confined to a room in a lonely hallway. He loved to sing all the verses to “O, how I love Jesus!” Then there were Saints that I look at and say as they writer to the Hebrews- people of God to whom the world was not worthy. Women like Juanita and her best friend Doris. Juanita was a quadriplegic induced by years of cerebral palsy. Her friend Doris that was also an elderly person battling cerebral palsy would push Juanita across the hospital, down the elevators, down a long corridor to the meetings. There were many residents to push down and Doris wanted to make sure we got Juanita. She could barely walk herself. She used the wheelchair as a walker of sorts and pushed her there and back when the meeting was over. The time would fail me to tell of all the dear saints that made a tremendous impression on me as a young Christian and continue to make an impression today. 

Going in the rapture

I’m sorry to have to say this but many dear Saints of God that are now in their graves have died believing they would go up in the rapture. That is not a criticism, I am merely articulating the circumstances to give context for this entry. I have heard folk testify that they want to die in their sleep or they want to go up as Enoch that walked with God and was not for God took him. Many never saw the deepest and darkest valley they could have ever imagined would be the last scene on the stage of this earthly life. Some Saints I have known looked forward to retirement only to have their spouse turn ill or pass away before they could enjoy one day of it. Do we believe God when He says, But the land which you cross over to possess [is] a land of hills and valleys? Would it be indiscreet for me to tell you that dear Saints that have been with us helping out in the meetings have passed away almost with the frequency of a college or high school sports team? They get a player for 3-4 years, but we see precious Saints sometimes pass in one year after filling a role. Does that shock you to hear? It is true. What about Christians that are to young for elderly care, but have watched a spouse walk out on them for green pastures after all their kids left home? We can argue about the what’s and wherefore’s, but the truth is it happens and for the victim it is a deep and dark valley. 

Preparation

Solomon tells us clearly about old age in Ecclesiastes 12. It would be wonderful to believe that everyone is going to go up in the rapture, but if the Lord should tarry every one of us will die of the last thing that ailed us. The longer we live the more suffering we will experience. I have known many people that have outlived their spouse and children. Some were widowed, remarried and lost that spouse also. Think of the suffering and pain of heart. As it is said, death is one per person; but we can prepare ourselves now by spending time in the Word of God while we still have good eyesight and hearing. Many dear saints cannot see good enough to read anymore and are dependent on someone else to read to them. Hiding the Word of God in our hearts while young will be invaluable in times of trouble, especially if and when our senses start to fail us. Living in a room all alone is a dreadful experience if you don’t know the Lord. Learning to pray and spend time in fellowship with the Lord is essential to maintaining joy and love and peace in the difficult times. I have found that sometimes all that is left for a Saint is to pray. Selah. 

Valley Ministry

At the New Life Conference 2012 I heard a dear Saint say that as long as we can find someone to love we will always have a reason to live. In some countries the elderly are taken care of by family so nursing homes are small. But if a person lives long enough they will eventually need some level of trained care. This is where Christians can go in a minister to dear saints that are no longer able to express their faith in ways they did when they were young and mobile. I think of the words of the Lord Jesus, I was in prison and you visited Me. Is it enough just to tell folks that Jesus will never leave them nor forsake them? A nursing home is almost like a prison to many because it’s the last place they will ever live. They cannot leave so they live lives that are somewhat like a prisoner. I think Jesus’ words apply here. 

Summary

I once made a long anticipated trip through Monument Valley. It is the backdrop of many Westerns and car adverts. Traveling down the valley headed West is a very sobering experience. It seems as if the scenic view is only a few moments ahead. I can’t imagine walking it. Life is that way. Sometimes the last stretch is the longest and most grueling, but the finish line is just ahead. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a cheering section lined along the highway shouting YOU CAN MAKE IT! You are almost home! The Lord loves you and He has not forgotten about you. Millions of dollars are spent each year on various ministries and missions organizations and rightfully so, but what about that train station down the street or in your town where some dear Saint just boarded the last time on their road to eternity? Probably the greatest mission field on earth is a building full of terminally ill backsliders or dear Saints that wonder if they are forgotten.       

    

A Sign From God

A Sign From God
Robert Wurtz II

“A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.” (Matthew 16:4)



Driving down Highway 291 I was met with this sign,”You asked for a sign from God, this is it.” As I passed on heading home I could not get that thought out of my mind. Could it really be that simple? Someone asks God for a sign and then they happen upon this message board. After given it much thought I suggest that actually it is more simple than that. Jesus said that, a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. Amazingly this statement is not a commendation. Jesus does not praise these men and women for seeking signs from God, He tells them the type of category they fall into (wicked and adulterous). Our Greek word for wicked is poneros and means hurtful. This is a person or a spirit that causes suffering by their actions. They are part of the problem, not the solution. They are laden with destructiveness. Our second word is adulterous and it is the Greek moichalis. This is a covenant breaker. This is a person that when faced with keeping their commitments or pleasing themselves they choose to please themselves. Together these two facts characterize the people that seek a sign. Notice that Jesus had already given many different signs and none of them were good enough. The evil and adulterous pretend that the Lord has not given them a sufficient sign in order that they can continue on living in sin. They are willfully skeptical. 

A greater sign?

As a young Christian I was quite naive. I believed that if God would reveal Himself sufficiently to a person then they would surely believe. In other words, I believed that the reason why most people did not believe is because they never witnessed a miracle or experienced God in some kind of irrefutable way. This belief was dashed to pieces when I saw people healed of things like terminal cancer, they survived deadly accidents, etc., and still they did not turn to God. It was so devastating to me to see this, that I was disillusioned with my own theology. But I learned an important lesson. God deals with people and they know He is dealing with them. But in order to stall, they seek a ‘greater sign’. Many have gone to their graves procrastinating and stalling.  

Resurrection not enough

You will recall how the rich man lifted up his eyes in Hell seeking for water and a warning to be sent to his family. He received neither. But a close look at Abraham’s explanation reveals an essential truth to us. We take up the story, Abraham said unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, No, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (Luke 16:29-31) This seems almost impossible doesn’t it? If someone comes back from the dead they still won’t believe? That’s right. We have an example of this when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We take up that story also, Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. (John 12:9-11) This passage has to rank as one of the most potent revelations of the sick nature of sinful man. Here is a person dead so long that he stank, but was raised from the dead and now these chief priests, that don’t even believe in resurrection, are seeking to put him to death again. Rather than stop their obstinate refusal to believe and obey God, they seek to destroy the evidence. There is no possible way these people did not know God was back of that unprecedented miracle. They have what the book of Hebrews calls, “an evil heart of unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:12)

The danger of denial

About 20 years ago I was visited by an investigator about a certain crime that had been committed. Because I knew the parties involved at an earlier period of my life I was asked to give a deposition. In the course of my association with this case I saw clearly that the handwriting was on the wall. the evidence was almost overwhelming. At one point I asked the investigator why the party did not just confess. I never for got his answer, “Robert, it is an age old problem known as denial.” 

Multitudes are living in denial of God’s dealings with them. But what we must know is that God is not going to frog-march us to an altar of repentance and faith. Denial is a defense mechanism, but when God is the opposing party is it an awfully flimsy one! God knows the hearts of men so there is no sense in pretending we don’t understand or don’t believe. The rich man tried to get more ‘proof’ to his family, but Abraham told him plainly that they had Moses and the prophets and that that was sufficient for repentance and faith. To think that someone will repent if God shows them another ‘sign’ is to fool yourself. Think of all the times in life when you knew God was at work or He moved your heart. What about friends and family? Some of the greatest signs I ever saw from God were trod under foot by the rebellious. We have all the revelation we need right here and right now. As Jesus said it, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.” (Matthew 16:4) God has raised Christ from the dead after 3 days in the heart of the earth. There can be no greater sign given than that. If that sign is not enough, then a message board on Highway 291 reading,”You asked for a sign from God, this is it” is as good as any.      

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