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Ignoring The Call

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"Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them. Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew." (Judges 6:33-40, NIV) [1]

 

We know the meaning of different sounds in our lives don’t we.  No words are necessary.  They punctuate our routines and bring a range of emotions with them.

When I was home on Grand Manan in early September we were privileged to have a foggy evening.  I slept with the windows open and listened to the low grunt of Swallow Tail light.  I remember it as a boy, standing close to the foghorn when it would blast it’s way beyond my sight.  The ground would vibrate beneath me  and I would cup my hands over my ears.  I could feel it – I didn’t have to hear it.  I had a friend, Roxie French who lived on Swallow Tail and would have no idea whether or not it was blasting away at night.  Frightening to think of the things that we fail to hear simply because of familiarity and acclimation.  Anyway, the low guttural groan seems to have been replaced by a high-pitched whistle.  I knew what it was but it’s just not the same.

I know the sound of an ambulance and I pull over.  I know the sound of a police siren and Elaine pulls over.

There have been times in my life when I know that God has been calling and I have not been listening.  I like this little ditty relative to listening.  I picked it up the other day.

His thoughts were slow,

 His words were few,

 And never formed to glisten.

 But he was a joy to all his friends--

 You should have heard him listen.

After Gideon had a clear understanding that it was God who was directing him and after he had passed the test of challenging idolatry in his father’s home, he had the experience of God’s Spirit moving him to the next step of spiritual leadership.

"Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.”

This trumpet provided a priestly call for the people of God to arise.  It was a familiar sound in the history of the Israelite people. Two and a half million people in Moses day were guided by the sound of the trumpet.  Look with me at the book of Numbers, chapter 10.

" The Lord said to Moses: “Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. If only one is sounded, the leaders—the heads of the clans of Israel—are to assemble before you. When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out. The blast will be the signal for setting out. To gather the assembly, blow the trumpets, but not with the same signal. “The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies. Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God.”" (Numbers 10:1-10, NIV)[2]

Look at what the scriptures tell us about this call to the community.

n      Assembly - The trumpet call was to assemble the people at the Tent of Meeting.  Two trumpets blowing different notes provided a call to gather. The heads of the tribes were to gather at the sound of a single trumpet.  The people were to gather before Moses at the place where Moses met with God.  I would say that the purpose of this gathering was to hear what God was saying to His people through Moses.  Moses, as dynamic a leader as he was raised to be, was merely a mouthpiece.  His job was to tell the people what God was telling him.

n      Relocation - The people received their relocation or marching orders at the sound of the trumpets.  Specific trumpet calls signaled tribes sequentially from the east, south, west and north to move.  Perhaps the number of blasts from the trumpets distinguished their calls.

n      The trumpets were to be blown by the priests.

n      Mobilization - The trumpets called or mobilized the people to battle against an enemy in their own land and signified a cry to God to remember His people and to deliver them.

n      Celebration - As a memorial to the people, the trumpets were sounded over the celebration of their various feasts.  It was to remind them in the midst of their celebration that God was their focus.

I would say that there are lessons to be learned from these Old Testament practices and procedures.  They probably have something to say to us as a people of God.  We are not wandering through a geographical desert but we are yet a people of God.  And God still directs His people.  As much as many might like to individualize this concept, God still works through groups of people, imperfect as they may be, in a greater way than He will work through people who try to remove themselves and function independently of the church.

We find the model of the contemporary church in the desert.  A people who are never at home in their surroundings.  I believe that the church is never going to be at home in this world.  We are not meant to be.

God still directs His people through a leader’s personal relationship with God.  Around that leader are other spiritual leaders.  They blew the trumpets to assemble the people and had specific roles to play as priests.  The people were divided into various groups and received direction from their own leaders.

I would say that the well being of the people of God in the wilderness depended on their ability to hear the trumpet call, to distinguish the direction that they were receiving and to act on it.  I believe that today God’s greatest blessing is reserved for the churches whose people are willing to hear the sound of the trumpet, distinguish it’s meaning and respond accordingly.

We can debate the direction and delay the whole process or we can diligently seek to know the signal and to commit ourselves to a more ready state of obedience.  I believe that this is what we must strive for as a people if we truly wish to experience God’s abiding blessing and His miracle working power and presence among us.

I’d like to take just a few minutes in the remainder of our time today to talk about the three most commonly ignored calls in the church today.

1.  The Call to Pray.

I tried for years in my Christian and pastoral life to be a person of prayer.  Like most other vocations, the ministry does not lend itself to prayer.  Everyone wants a spiritual leader behind the pulpit but they also want their leaders to respond immediately to their requests and needs.

One of my greatest desires for our church is that we would become a people of prayer.  I can’t see how it is possible to accomplish what God would have the church to accomplish unless we first learn to pray.  All the talent that we have will not take the place of prayer.  All the creativity that we have will not take the place of prayer.  All the administrative ability that the church may have will not take the place of prayer.  Without prayer a person is unable to feel the pulse of faith and the heartbeat of God.  Without prayer, churches are dry, dull, formal, irrelevant and largely ignored by their communities.

We’ll try a thousand other things to build the church.  We’ll hire pastors, run expensive advertising campaigns, bring in special guests and speakers, remodel, relocate, build million dollar buildings and develop all the organizational structures required to support these Herculean efforts.  The result is slick.  People will leave other less slick churches to come and we call it church growth.  Perhaps but it’s not kingdom growth.  It’s merely a re-shuffling of the saints. 

Perhaps we are using the wrong numbers because numbers do count.  I have had people tell me that they don’t count.  What they mean is that increasing numbers don’t necessarily mean kingdom growth.  But let the numbers go down and the same people all of a sudden believe that numbers are important.  It is necessary for us to remind ourselves though that if increasing numbers don’t necessarily mean that the kingdom is being built then decreasing numbers don’t necessarily mean that the kingdom is diminishing.

I personally believe that there are more significant numbers.  How many people come out to prayer meeting?  How many of the members who said they would tithe are indeed tithing?  How many people are serving in a given church?  How many first time decisions for Christ are produced in a given year through the ministries of the church?  Is a church viable if no one is getting saved?  Is a ministry viable if no one comes to Christ as a result?  These are hard numbers because humanly, we cannot affect these bottom lines as easily.  They represent the supernatural work of the body of Christ.  Supernatural work cannot be accomplished through human means.  It is when the natural church uses supernatural means that the church gets more than a good name in the community.  When churches truly touch heaven then there are community names written down in glory.  Reservations are made in your name when churches embrace prayer as a primary and pivotal work.

To experience God’s full blessing in the ministry of the church, control must be abdicated to God.  This means that we may not always be able to chart our future as we would like.  It means that the church is free to take a different direction if necessary based on the leadership of the HS.  It also means that we must get rid of an adversity to change.  As society changes, God will lead us to new and different approaches.

But largely we, most churches, most people believe that other things are more important.  The kids have music lessons, they have to study – these are normal everyday parts of life.  And Christ as a priority in the life of a Christian is not a compartment but a presence that changes the way that we embrace everything else in life.

2.  The Call to Servanthood

Another commonly ignored call in the church is the call to serve.  To find a ministry or to construct one based on your individual personality, gifts and passion.

Sometimes it is difficult to find your place of ministry.  It’s like the seminarian conducting a survey in a remote Kentucky “holler”.  He wanted to give a $20 dollar bill to the laziest hillbilly that he could find.  Several made half-hearted gestures to declare their contention.  He gave it to the old guy lying flat on his back under the weeping willow, corn pipe protruding from a well-worn creased fedora that was pulled over his eyes.  The only thing that moved was the pipe which jiggled ever so slightly as he said, “Roll me over and put in my back pocket.”

We can’t put your ministry in your back pocket – you have to help us find it.  Tell us what the ideal ministry involvement would look like for you.  Take a spiritual gifts test.  There are numbers of these available online for free.  Tell us a little bit about yourself so that we have a  better understanding of your personality.  What areas of ministry is God laying on your heart?  What needs do you see in our church that you believe you could help us fill?  What ideas for new ministries do you have?

It’s more than that though.  It’s service with the right attitude.  There are people who do what they do begrudgingly and often they are unkind or impatient with others because of this attitude.  If you are serving in a joyless manner it’s like driving your car when the fluid levels are low.  The instrument panel is flashing it’s warning and steam is coming out of the clacking engine.  The car looks fine on the outside but it’s ready to blow.  There is an attitude that goes with serving that is indispensable. 

Jesus came as a servant.  He was the Lord of the universe and he came to serve.  He was misunderstood, cursed and killed and yet he remained true to His mission to the very end.  What an incredible attitude?

In Philippians 2 Paul says:

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:" (Philippians 2:5, NIV) [3]

He took upon himself the very “nature” or “form” of a servant.  That’s amazing to me.  His serving shames us.  Peter couldn’t tolerate the idea that Christ would wash his feet and was warned and chastised by Christ for this attitude.  We can’t conceive how the Creator of the Universe would lower himself so.  I still can’t comprehend it.  Why should He be so interested in me?

It’s not about serving ourselves.  Churches shrivel up and die when they serve themselves alone.  They develop adversarial relationships with their communities.  We fear that our kindness will be misinterpreted and that someone will think that we condone their wickedness if we love too much so we stand back and tell people that they are going to hell if they don’t do something about it.  True enough but they miss the message of the gospel – it’s all about the heart of God that bleeds for the lost – that reaches for them, that suffers long with all of us.  The message of the gospel is “Jesus Saves”

I don’t think that there is any greater posture for the delivery of the gospel than the posture of servanthood.

Some deliberately obligate others by their kindness or thoughtfulness.  They feel that kindness extended deserves kindness returned.  The significance of the gift is then ruined.  It becomes a yoke around a person’s neck because it looks for return.

Unless we can truly walk away from our service or our giving or whatever it is that we say we are doing for God and not look for return then we are merely banking.  We are forming an account to which we expect others to make deposits.

The attitude of the servant comes from the nature of a servant.  A true servant is relatively blind to himself.  A servant refreshes and restores him/herself by a supernatural connection – the water which permanently quenches.  When I find myself disappointed in the reactions of others to me, I am reminded that I have served myself rather than God.

3.  The call to “make disciples”.

If it depended on the pastor alone then the hope would be dismal.  Discipleship is evangelism is discipleship is evangelism.  It is long hard work – a lifetime investment in someone else who is investing in someone else.  We often squirm at the thought that we should all be “called” to evangelism.  If it were just that easy.  We insist that our job is to be disciples as if that precludes winning the lost.  The call is far more extensive than that however.  We are called to make disciples.  That’s is spelled “i-n-v-e-s-t-m-e-n-t.

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”" (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV) [4]

We are not placed on planet earth to be made like those around us we are placed here so that those around us may become more like Christ.  If that is not happening it has to be because people are not seeing Christ.  Crowds followed Him when he walked on this earth.  His life held answers for them that they had never  understood before.

Making disciples is difficult work.  It is a lifetime work.  There is little applause and few accolades for the person who seeks to raise others to raise others.

Ill.

While serving with Operation Mobilization in India in 1967, tuberculosis forced me into a sanitarium for several months. I did not yet speak the language, but I tried to give Christian literature written in their language to the patients, doctors, and nurses. Everyone politely refused. I sensed many weren't happy about a rich American (to them all Americans are rich) being in a free, government-run sanitarium. (They didn't know I was just as broke as they were!)

   The first few nights I woke around 2:00 A.M. coughing. One morning during my coughing spell, I noticed one of the older and sicker patients across the aisle trying to get out of bed. He would sit up on the edge of the bed and try to stand, but in weakness would fall back into bed. I didn't understand what he was trying to do. He finally fell back into bed exhausted. I heard him crying softly.

   The next morning I realized what the man had been trying to do. He had been trying to get up and walk to the bathroom! The stench in our ward was awful.  Other patients yelled insults at the man. Angry nurses moved him roughly from side to side as they cleaned up the mess. One nurse even slapped him. The old man curled into a ball and wept.  The next night I again woke up coughing. I noticed the man across the aisle sit up and again try to stand. Like the night before, he fell back whimpering.

I don't like bad smells, and I didn't want to become involved, but I got out of bed and went over to him. When I touched his shoulder, his eyes opened wide with fear. I smiled, put my arms under him, and picked him up.  He was very light due to old age and advanced TB. I carried him to the washroom, which was just a filthy, small room with a hole in the floor. I stood behind him with my arms under his armpits as he took care of himself. After he finished, I picked him up, and carried him back to his bed. As I laid him down, he kissed me on the cheek, smiled, and said something I couldn't understand.

   The next morning another patient woke me and handed me a steaming cup of tea. He motioned with his hands that he wanted a tract.  As the sun rose, other patients approached and indicated they also wanted the booklets I had tried to distribute before. Throughout the day nurses, interns, and doctors asked for literature.

   Weeks later an evangelist who spoke the language visited me, and as he talked to others he discovered that several had put their trust in Christ as Savior as a result of reading the literature.  What did it take to reach these people with the gospel? It wasn't health, the ability to speak their language, or a persuasive talk. I simply took a trip to the bathroom.

n      Doug Nichols, Bothell, Washington.  Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 2.

Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats provides a convictional challenge relative to the identity of the true disciple.  This is the goal for us – this is the result that we aim for in producing disciples.

When I visit the sick I am reminded that God has blessed me with good health and even when I suffer physically, I am thankful because I see people and hear their stories and realize that so many have it so far worse than I have it.

When I feed people in the name of Christ, I remember that I rarely suffer the pangs of hunger and even when I do it is simply a space between certain meals.

When I visit those in prison I am reminded that the tiny decisions that I make today have a huge impact on my future.  The tiniest wrongdoing can set me on a collision course with disaster.


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[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

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