This Thanksgiving – Focus on the Good

I recently held a revival meeting in Binghamton, New York, with a wonderful congregation, who is privileged to be shepherded by a fine man of God and his wife. God gave a gracious moving of His spirit, as well as a wonderful time of fellowship with the parsonage family. The pastor, Rev. Rowan Fay, is such a delightful man, full of optimism and cheer. In our conversations together, he was ever sharing something good about the people in the church or community or about someone both of us knew. It seemed that he spoke of every person in such delightful, positive terms. I became so intrigued by his genuinely positive evaluation of people that I asked him the “secret” to seeing the good in all men. He told me that his father, Rev. O.L. Fay, had instilled in him as a young man this philosophy. He would say, “Son, look for all the good in all the men which you can; and when you have found it, dwell on it until you know men for the good that is in them.” This little nugget of pure gold struck a responsive chord in my own heart. What a refreshing view of life!

The unfortunate truth is that far too many Christians have developed a view of life that has them focused on the bad. They are always looking suspiciously for the flaws, weaknesses and failures of others. If any good is seen or ever mentioned, it is only by accident and not by design. There are even those who almost feel that it is their Christian duty to speak of everything and everyone in somber, negative tones. What an awful view of life!

Christians who live out this simple philosophy of Brother Fay are just naïve people who are blind to all the warts and failures of others who are around them. Rather, they are those who have chosen to catch and possess the spirit of perfect love that is found in the New Testament. Jesus looked upon a renegade tax collector and saw a man—filled with potential. Jesus looked upon the emotionally volatile Peter and saw a “rock” of a man that would lead His church. The New Testament teaches us that perfect love enables us to “suffer long,” and “speak kindly” to and of our brothers. On the other hand, it is the writing of the book of Proverbs who tells us “the ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife and a whisperer separates the best of friends.”

I know that a Dale Carnegie course or a Zig Ziglar seminar can teach a man how to have public optimism for the good of his business. However, I am convinced that it is only the work of God in the soul that can enable us to see the redeemable good in others, to dwell on that good, and to speak of others in kind and positive ways.

As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, let me challenge you to look for all the good in all the men that you can; and when you have found it, dwell on it until you will know men for the good that is in them, so that on this Thanksgiving Day, you can thank God for good men.

Preaching is Indispensable to Christianity

Preaching is indispensable to Christianity. To set aside preaching would be to close the mouth and sever the legs of the Christian religion. Preaching has been central to the ministry of the Church historically, and especially so to those in the holiness tradition. The holiness movement has produced and profited from some of the greatest expositors and pulpiteers of this century. So why has the standard of preaching in the contemporary holiness church become so deplorable? Why are our finest preacher boys finding their heroes among popular Calvinistic communicators? Why are our parishioners turning to self-help counselors and psychologists rather than to faithful men of God for answers to life’s perplexing problems?

Much of the current uncertainty about preaching is due to a generation of preachers who have lost confidence in the Word of God. Too often the contemporary preacher uses the Bible as a curiosity shop. He peruses through it until some palatable proof text emerges as a snappy sound bite on which to tack his latest self-help lecture. These pulpit vagabonds fail to see that Scripture is the omnipotence of God unleashed through the spoken word, and that it holds the answers to life’s most desperate needs. When preached and responded to, it will radically change lives.

The art of preaching is further brought into scorn by preachers who have caved in to today’s culture. Ours is a culture that demeans the personal disciplines necessary to become an effective preacher. The ability to build bridges from the Word of God to contemporary life takes an unbelievable amount of hard work and study. A man who snubs through study will be doomed to mediocrity and ambiguity. Too many holiness pulpits lack a clear, definite, certain sound that is forged only on the anvil of study. So many church-goers are like the small girl wearied by empty utterances. She appealed, “Mother, pay the man, and let us go home.”

However, study alone isn’t the answer. Scholarship that isn’t steeped in prayer will yield barrenness. The preacher who allows day after day of prayerlessness to prevail in his heart need expect no grapes of Eschol to hang over the wall of his preaching on Sunday morning.

I have a major concern that today’s holiness pulpit suffers from a “lack of history.” Eugene Sterner, in his book Vital Christianity, wisely comments, “Clocks are corrected by astronomy. What good is a clock if it is not set by the stars? Without a sense of eternity [and history] you don’t even know what time it is.” The preacher who fails to understand his roots and properly appreciate his heritage is usually condemned to repeat its mistakes. Some view their heritage as a bothersome bundle of historical baggage burdening them down. They exaggerate the mistakes and eccentricities of yesterday’s pulpiteers in order to nullify the claims of their legacy, much like the adolescent craving freedom from restraint seeks to repudiate his father.

The effective preacher, without making the past a hitching post, does own his heritage, embraces it with gratitude, incorporates it into his identity, and utilizes it to the fullest in communicating eternal truth that rings with clarity.

Preaching is here to stay! Men who join hands with God and preach with certainty will find that through their labors God will advance His kingdom.

The Resurrection

William Sangster, the venerable British preacher of yesteryear, was stricken late in life by incurable muscular atrophy. As the merciless disease advanced, rendering his muscles useless and robbing him of his voice, Sangster was eventually forced to surrender his pulpit and retire his anointed pen. However, he did manage to find the strength one Easter Sunday to feebly scrawl these words in a letter to his daughter, “It is terrible,” he wrote, “to wake up on Easter Sunday and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’”

With these words Sangster underscored the dynamic of the Christian message, the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is the fulcrum upon which turns every other Christian doctrine. Without resurrection, the divinity of Jesus is in jeopardy. Without divinity, Christ sinlessness is debatable. If He is sinful, Calvary loses its atoning merit. Robbed of its atoning merit, the cross—indeed the entire gospel story—is a sham. Or, as Paul expressed it centuries ago, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17).

In his book, Reality of the Resurrection, Merrill Tyney notes that many aspects of the Christian faith are echoed (if only vaguely) in non-Christian religions. For instance, some religions claim, as does Christianity, to have divinely inspired writings. Muslims boast of the Koran; the Mormons of their “Golden Tablets.” Similarly, many pagan religions offer their followers the promise of life after death. Like Christianity, philosophers and religionists of all eras have proposed various systems of ethics for the governing of the human race. However, Tyney rightly declares that the distinctive attribute of the Christian faith is its belief that “the supernatural power of the living God was manifested historically by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.”

The resurrection marks Christianity off from all other religions, past, present and future. No other faith underpins its belief system with the doctrine of a risen Saviour. It is the cardinal doctrine among cardinal doctrines. It was central to the preaching of the early church. It sustained the hopes of first-century martyrs, and it is a message that has been faithfully transmitted across the centuries and entrusted to those of us who number ourselves among the followers of Jesus today. The resurrection message is non-negotiable. It must never be surrendered or compromised.

However, the greatest danger in the Christian community may not be the temptation to erase the doctrine of the resurrection from the time-honored creeds of Christendom. In fact, any suggestion to alter this tenet would immediately be voted down in most of our conference meetings or our academic forums. Rather, the greatest danger in our circles is that of relegating this basic doctrine to the dusty archives of church history. Having been hammered out on the anvil of controversy by our forefathers, the resurrection story tends to become so commonplace that it is by sheer neglect demoted to second place in our thinking. The resurrection and its manifold implications have become supplemental themes that we take off the shelf once a year. Sadly, they seldom maintain a central place in the perennial preaching and teaching of the Church.

Sangster lamented to his daughter that he had no voice with which to shout the resurrection message. But he then added these searching words, “It would be more terrible still,” he concluded, “to have a voice and not want to shout.” Reader, have you a voice? Use it to proclaim anew the blessed anthem, “He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!”

What Religion Do You Preach?

In his booklet An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion, John Wesley tells of a man he once met who had fallen into deep despair and unbelief. Out of the bitterness of his soul, the man said to Wesley, “All is dark; my thought is lost. But I hear you preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them? Whither would you lead them? What religion do you preach? What is it good for?” Wesley’s answer was remarkable:

“You ask what I would do with them: I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves and useful to others. Whither would I lead them? To heaven; to God the Judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love; the law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves: To make them like God; lovers of all; contented in their lives; and crying out at their death in calm assurance, ‘O grave, where is thy victory! Thanks be unto God, who giveth me the victory through my Lord Jesus Christ.’”

Religion in its purest form is a fundamental set of beliefs, practices, and traditions through which the Christian faith is promoted and by which it is protected. But far too often, religion has offered a form empty of content and a ritual void of presence. It has, in too many cases, become a cold, sterile, unattractive practice that obscures the beauty of the gospel. Wesley’s answer offers a rare glimpse into a religion that is solidly scriptural, as well as winsome and beautiful. He saw the religion that he preached as one that offered the following:

  1. Happiness and peace as the fruit of transformed character.

I have never met a person who didn’t want to be happy, just as I have never heard of a religion that didn’t offer some means to happiness. But rarely do either talk about virtuous living as a key component to real happiness and peace. No one can find happiness and peace through his own efforts. Neither happiness nor peace are self-originating, but are the fruits of a redeemed and holy life.

Wesley offered a gospel that so transformed the life and so renewed the mind that the end result was a happy, contented, and useful life! “Oh the bliss of the pure in heart…” (Matt. 5:8).

  1. Heaven now and heaven to come.

Wesley wanted to get men to heaven, but he also wanted to get heaven into men here and now! Notice his words, “To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves: To make them like God; lovers of all; contented in their lives….” Wesley understood that those who find great joy in God also find great delight in others and great strength in themselves—a recipe that allows one to accomplish more in one lifetime than would otherwise be possible. John Piper is right when he says that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh.8:10).

  1. To know the one true God through Jesus Christ His Son.

Every human heart has within it the hunger to know and be known by God. Sadly many religions can’t seem to find the right balance. They create a God who is angry and distant or one that is tolerant and casual—neither of which are an adequate understanding of who God really is. Wesley’s view is both balanced and beautiful. He speaks of a “Holy God” that is the “Lover of all!” This is a God who is against sin—a Judge who condemns the transgressor but who also sends His own Son to die for that transgressor and be the mediator of a new covenant that will bring reconciliation and forgiveness to the condemned.

  1. Love enthroned.

Wesley says he preaches the “religion of love—the law of kindness.” To Wesley true religion was to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”

This is religion controlled not by the letter of the law but by love—a love that is pure, patient, and kind. It is not a love controlled by passion but by pathos—not of emotion but disposition. There is no greater need in our world than a religion of holy love that flows outward in “kindness to all.”

5. Assurance.

Most of the religions in the world do not believe that one can be sure of personal salvation. Wesley, however, preached a religion that offered every man the “calm assurance” of eternal life. Wesley’s father, an Anglican priest, left these dying words: “The witness, son, the witness; that is the proof of Christianity.” In his sermon “The Witness of the Spirit,” Wesley defines the testimony of the Spirit as “an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God, that Jesus Christ hath loved me and given himself for me, and that all my sins are blotted out and I, even I, am reconciled to God.” Religion is not often spoken of as something that is beautiful, but the religion that Wesley offered to the poor man drowning in despair is something that I find absolutely winsome. May the religion I preach be so!

Why GBS?

Nothing excites me more than having the opportunity to answer the question that heads this article. Having graduated from the college and having served as president since 1995, I have a unique vantage point to answer that question. I feel so good about recommending GBS because:

  1. Track Record. For over 100 years, GBS has sent out a steady stream of deeply committed and highly effective Christian workers into every area of God’s kingdom into every area of the world. A high percentage of this number has become leaders in their field of service and has made an unusually significant impact on the kingdom.
  1. An institutional culture that is servant oriented and ministry minded. From Oswald Chambers in 1909, to our most recent camp evangelist, the comments are consistently the same. “The students here have a warm, friendly, servant spirit.” An emphasis on servant hood is a part of the GBS culture. The same can be said for ministry. I recently heard a disgruntled student remark, “All the kids here have their minds on ministry.” What a glorious criticism!

3. Whether it is in the cleanliness of our campus, the carefulness of our person, or    commitment to studies, GBS has a strong commitment to excellence in all that we do. God asks for our best, deserves our best, and here at GBS we train our students to give Him just that – their very best.

  1. Spiritual Depth. At the very core of the institution, there has been and remains both a call and a commitment to devout holy living. It is a balanced emphasis that stresses private devotion, careful living, lively corporate worship, and a public sharing of one’s faith.

God’s Bible School and College has made a significant difference in thousands of lives of young men and young women. I know that it did for me. I am also confident that it can do that for you.

Leadership

The rise and fall of societies and institutions has depended almost exclusively upon the quality of their leadership. George Barna, who has spent years researching the church in America, claims that the most serious weakness he has found within the church in the last fifteen years is the lack of leadership. Few would disagree that strong, bold, innovative, and godly leadership is in short supply.

During the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee said, “I believe our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. These men will go anywhere and do anything if properly led. There is the difficulty of proper commanders.” Lee knew that ultimate victory rested on the quality of leaders who led the troops. He wanted men with administrative skills, diligence, imagination, initiative, resourcefulness, and the ability to elicit the best in other men. Like Lee, people everywhere are looking for leaders. So, what does one look for in a leader?

Don’t put too much stock in outward appearance. Externally leaders often appear very different. Hitler, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and General George Patton would all be excellent subjects for a study in contrasts, except for the one thing they had in common—they were all leaders. God has used uncultured farmers, crude fishermen, and simple shepherds, as well as gifted scholars, astute politicians, and military tacticians to lead His causes. While most of us look at the outward appearance, God looks at the core of the person’s character. He looks for certain inner traits that will turn a lad into a leader. As a matter of fact, research shows that internally leaders have certain characteristics in common. Let me list them for you:

Leaders have clear-cut objectives. Leaders know what they want to achieve, why they want to achieve it, and how they are going to achieve it. They know that you will only achieve what you aim for, and so they keep focused on their goals and objectives.

  1. Leaders know themselves. Leaders know their strengths and weaknesses. They lead from their strengths and bring the right people around them to help where they know they have weaknesses.
  2. Leaders are persistent. They have staying power. They will sometimes give a lifetime of dedicated service just to see their objectives fulfilled.
  3. Leaders are learners. They never stop learning and growing. They have an insatiable appetite to expand their knowledge and learn how to lead more effectively.
  4. Leaders have the ability to attract and energize people. Leadership is influence. Leaders have the ability to influence others to accomplish a common goal.
  5. Leaders are risk takers. They don’t fear failure. They are willing to fail if they can learn something from it. They aren’t afraid to take risks with resources, ideas, and change if they believe good can come from it.
  6. Leaders are followers. No true Christian leader is a law unto himself. He asks others to follow him only as he follows Christ. He lives in obedience to the Word and those to whom he is accountable.

Some who are reading this right now are looking for a leader for your church or organization. Look for these core traits. Don’t be too caught up in outward appearance, or you may miss a David, Israel’s greatest king. Don’t be deceived by a hesitant speaker, or you may miss a Moses, Israel’s greatest leader. Don’t be turned off by a “thorn in the flesh,” or you may miss a Paul, the church’s greatest missionary. But look inside. Look for the right kind of heart. That’s where you will find a true leader.

Parents, Listen Up!!

According to a major consulting firm, there are approximately 370,000 Christian high school seniors in America; but only 16 percent (60,000) of them will attend a Christian/Bible college this fall! Of those who do attend, however, 98 percent will maintain their faith and stay in church. The remaining 84 percent will attend a secular university or junior college near home. It is tragic that 52 percent of these will lose their faith and drop out of church. In light of these facts, why wouldn’t Christian high school seniors—supported firmly by their parents—overwhelmingly want to attend a Christian college?

Another recent study shows that there are approximately 3000 churches that identify with the conservative values of a college like GBS or its peer colleges and institutes. (Remember, too, that there are still others who would not fully identify with GBS but who would still want the values-based education which it offers.) An observation was made in this study that denominations tend to send at least one student for every two churches to its denominational college.

There is some parallel also between church groups and the colleges they identify with. This means that there is a potential student pool for GBS and its peer colleges of approximately 1800 students. Yet enrollment records show that less than 50% of that number actually attends. Why is this true?

Our own survey shows that the key influence in students coming to GBS is their parents, as indeed it should be. However, our recruitment feedback also shows that the one reason college-bound seniors go to secular schools is also because of parents. What are the reasons parents give for this?

The most consistent reason is money. Community colleges are close to home and cheap. Secular universities are also close and reasonably priced for in state students who live at home. Scholarships abound in these state-funded schools for students who are high academic achievers. Moreover, the money which their children will earn after college graduation is also a major factor to parents. “I want my kids to have it better than I did,” they reason, “and, frankly, ministry doesn’t pay enough!” A parent pushing their kids for upward mobility is the number-one reason why Christian young people pursue secular training and jobs.

On the other hand, many parents send their sons and daughters hundreds of miles away from home to our campus because their core values place “learning how to live a life” much higher up the list of priorities than “how to make a living.” They want their children established spiritually and grounded Biblically. They know that this can happen here without sacrificing academic excellence or missing out on a solid classical education. They also know that the ministry opportunities that their children experience here impact them for life. They see the value of student residence life, discipleship groups and mentoring moments in the maturing process. They understand how important it is to have their sons and daughters around other kids who share their values and faith so that they will have appropriate choices for a life partner. GBS also provides a forum for these students to hear the most challenging preachers and missionaries from all around the world in an atmosphere where they can make themselves available for full-time Christian ministry and respond to whatever God’s will is for their life.

All this is true even for many parents who know that their children will only be here for a couple of years and then move on to a college that offers training for a career field we do not and could not offer. Such parents do not see coming to GBS as wasted time. Rather they see it as one of the best investments they can make in the future of their children.

Nothing is more important to parents than their children. Nothing is more important to Christian parents than the spiritual welfare of their children. All of us here at GBS understand that and work incredibly hard to respond to that sacred trust with the highest standards of spiritual and academic excellence. God has honored that hard work and placed our graduates in positions of ministry, influence and responsibility all over the world.

It is natural for every parent to want their children to succeed. But for them to succeed without being in the center of God’s will – will be the most miserable failure of all!