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Requirements for Apostolic Teams
In our previous session we were speaking about apostolic teams and presbyteries, and I tried to give you an overall picture of the nature of each: the specific functions of each, how they are designed to inter-relate and give you some examples of how they operate.
In this present talk I want to deal with requirements for apostolic teams. I want to say right at the beginning I don’t believe what I have listed is exhausted. It’s as much as I’ve come to see at this present time. I am a learner in this field, not a professor, but I’ll share with you gladly the things I believe I have learned and let’s trust the Lord to lead us all further.
The first requirement I’ve stated there is VISION, and I think it’s first in importance. Proverbs 29:18 says,
Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint;
But happy is he who keeps the law.
The Old King James said, Where there is no vision, the people perish.This translation I’ve read is probably more accurate. I think it’s important to see that vision produces discipline. It isn’t making rules that produces disciplined Christians. In fact, in the end it always produces rebels. What produces discipline is giving people a vision. This is true in the field of athletics. A successful athlete is someone whose got a vision of what he believes he can achieve. And he disciplines himself, his diet, his body, his exercise, the way he uses his time. Everything is directed toward achieving and fulfilling his vision. How many of you would agree—and you don’t need to put your hand up—that the same is true about dieting. I don’t want anybody to respond, but there are many of you here who’ve tried to diet. And some of you have not succeeded. I want to suggest to you the real problem is you lack vision. Only vision will give you the grace to discipline yourself. You have to see what you intend to become. You have to see yourself as that slim, trim, athletic person or whatever your vision is. And I’m not say that’s the ideal vision. But this is true in every area of life. The real source of discipline is vision.
Now I’m not talking about some foolish, ridiculous kooky thing, because the rest of the verse says, but he who keeps the law is happy or blessed. So this is a vision we’re talking about, that’s in line with the Law of God and the word of God and with principles of God. So that’s a kind of guardrail to keep us from foolish, fanatical, unreal visions, or plain wishful thinking.
Now I want to share with you in the following Scriptures my personal vision. This is the vision that motivates me today, that motivates Ruth and me. This is the vision that directs and empowers our total ministry and all its phases. Our whole ministry is directed toward the achieving of the vision that I’m going to state for you. First of all, 2Peter chapter 3 verses 11 and 12. This is one of the last writings of Peter, and one of the latter writings of the New Testament, and it’s got a lot to do with the coming of the Lord. The vision of the Lord’s coming did not grow dimmer as time went on in the Church. It grew brighter. And so Peter says here, 2Peter 3:11,
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved,
These things are earth and heaven. That’s a lot of things, but they’re all going to pass away. They are impermanent. If you fix your vision on simply material physical things, you’re fixing your vision on something that going to pass away.
Since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be…
In the light of the fact that everything material and physical is ultimately, what kind of persons ought we to be? What kind of lives ought we to lead? And he answers the questions in the same verse,
in holy conduct and godliness,
In the New Testament I believe you’ll find the strongest and most consistent motivation for holy living is the anticipation of the Lord’s return. And I want to suggest to you where people are not anticipating the Lord’s return, the level of holiness will be below that of the New Testament. And then it says in the next verse, still speaking about the kind of people we ought to be,
looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
Now if you have the Old King James it says hasting towards, but nearly all the modern versions have modified that, which I believe is correct, it’s not hasting towards, although that could be true, but it’s hastening. And that has become so real to me that we have a responsibility to speed up the coming of the day of God.We can either make it come sooner or we can delay it’s coming by whether we obey God or whether we disobey God. And I believe the vital area of obedience is the fulfillment of the great commission to bring the gospel to all people, all nations in all the world. Because as I understand Scripture, it’s very clear that Jesus will not return until we have done that. The longer we fail to do it, the more we become responsible for delaying the Lord’s return. And in consequence of that we’re responsible for the measureless misery of humanity which will continue until Jesus sets up His kingdom. That’s a terrible responsibility to rest on us. And then in Matthew 24:14, this is the Scripture I go to bed with and wake up with, and it’s never out of my mind. Matthew 24:14, I don’t need to look to it.
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
When will the end come? When the gospel of the kingdom has been preached in all the world as a witness to all nations. Notice it’s this gospel of the kingdom. It’s not this gospel.I do not want to get diverted into this, but the New Testament message is not the gospel, it’s the gospel of the kingdom. It’s not the good news that you can get saved and go to heaven. It’s the good news that God’s going to establish His kingdom on earth. That’s a totally different kind of message. The critics of the early preachers in one city complained, these men that have turned the world upside down have come hither also unto us.Would they complain that about you and me? I think in most cases we don’t make much impact on the world. And then they said, these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar because they’re saying there is another King, Jesus.
I ask myself if we went and preached the gospel as the Church has been preaching it for centuries, would people sum up our message by saying they’re saying there’s another king? We don’t mention a king. All we talk about is individual lives—you can be saved, you can be healed, you can go to heaven when you die. That’s not the gospel. The gospel is not getting us to heaven. The gospel is getting heaven to earth. That’s a much bigger task.
So when will the kingdom come? When will the end come? When the Church has done its job. You see, originally the offer of the kingdom was only made to one nation, which was? Israel, that’s right. But Israel rejected the King and therefore forfeited the kingdom. And after His resurrection the King said, “Now I want you to go to all nations and offer the kingdom to all nations.” And because Jesus gave that order and also because He’s fair, He’s not going to close the age until every nation has had the invitation to the kingdom. Then when He comes back in Matthew 25, it says He will sit on the throne of His glory. All nations will be gathered before them, He will judge them and the determination will be, “Will they come into the kingdom, or will they be banishes from the kingdom.” But you see Jesus is fair. He’s not going to judge people on the basis that they’ve never had any information. So it’s our responsibility to inform the nations that Jesus is going to set up His kingdom and that they can qualify for it by accepting the King. One of the vital truths of the Bible is, you cannot reject the King and have the kingdom. And that’s the great danger of the contemporary Christian Church, that we want the kingdom but we’re not really willing to serve the King. It doesn’t work.
Revelation 5:9 and 10. This is the elders and the angels and the heavenly creatures singing a song. And I’m going to read it in the more widely accepted modern translation which is based on a slightly different text, without going into all the questions as to which is the most reliable text.
And they sang a new song saying [and they’re saying it to the Lord]
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open the seals;
For you were slain,
And have redeemed men to God by Your blood
Our of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And made them kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”
Notice the emphasis is on the kingdom, reigning as King on the earth. But notice that the redeemed must come from every tribe, tongue [that’s language], people and nation. So the age cannot close until at lease one representative from every language group, every tribe, every nation is included amongst the redeemed. And I believe, myself, the reason is to honor the Lord Jesus that it will be demonstrated that He did not die in vain for any group on the world. At least one member of every group somewhere has benefited from His sacrifice.
And in Revelation 7: 9 and 10 you get the same thought again which is so beautiful I want to read it.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.
And crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Again notice the redeemed come from every nation, tribe, tongue and racial group of every kind. The Church has got to be complete. Jesus is not coming back for a bride who’s missing even a little toe. She has to be a complete bride.
And then Romans 11:25 and 26, which is the other verse I go to bed with and wake up with, Romans 11:25-26 shows the place of Israel in this. Bear in mind God’s purposes for the nations can never be consummated until His purposes for Israel are consummated. So Romans 11:25 and 26 says,
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery,
I observe that almost every time Paul says he doesn’t want people to be ignorant, most people are ignorant. And I would say the greater part of the Church today is ignorant of this.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion,
Bear in mind this is written to Gentile Christians, and He’s warning Gentile Christians, “Don’t you ever get insolent, or uppish or arrogant in your attitude toward the Jewish people. Furthermore we need to bear in mind that the Church at Rome, to which this was addressed, became the Church of Rome. And, alas, the Church of Rome ignored this warning and went totally contrary to it.
Lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that [hardening or] blindness in part has happened to Israel [what’s the next word? until and it always is, whenever it speaks about the rejection of Israel—the next work is an “until” word.] until [what?] the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
You see again, it’s got to be full. Now when the full number of the Gentiles has come in God’s going to bring Israel back to Himself. I wouldn’t have planned things that way myself if I were God, but He didn’t consult me. To me extraordinary. But the ultimate salvation of Israel depends on the completion of the full number of the Gentiles.
I was talking to a Jewish lady sometime back, very intelligent, married to a born again Christian, and she’s not a believer herself, and she was asking me about these verses. And I was saying, “Well first of all the full number of the Gentiles has to come in, then Israel will come back to God.” “Well,” she said to me being Jewish, “I guess we’re at the end of the line.” Then she said, “I wish you’d hurry up with the job.” That was a real challenge from a non-believing Jewish person. I do believe we need to hurry up with the job.
All right the next great need, I believe, is intercession, that is effective, directed, and in many cases corporate prayer. We’ll not look at all the Scriptures but I’ll quote them. Ephesians 6:12 says,
Our wrestling match is not against persons with bodies, but against a highly organized kingdom of darkness in the heavenly realm.
The real opposition to the gospel is not on the earthly level. It’s on the level of the kingdom above this earth, below the heaven of God, but above the level of earth. And it’s a kingdom of rulerships, this is the Prince version and it’s not in print. Don’t come up and ask me for it. It’s a kingdom of rulerships with various areas and descending orders or authority. It consists of the world dominators of this present darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies. There’s a kind of theory that’s circulated for many centuries that the devil is in hell. It would be nice if it were true, but it isn’t. He’s very active, he’s very much at large, and he still has a kingdom in the heavenlies. And his ultimate aim is to hold onto his kingdom. That’s his number one priority. He’ll let anything else go before he’ll give up his kingdom.
But then Second Corinthians chapter 10 verses 3 through 5 tells us that we have the weapons that can defeat him.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.
We’re living in physical bodies but our warfare is not in the physical realm.
For the weapons or our warfare are not carnal…
If they’re not carnal what are they? Spiritual.
But mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds,
Whose strongholds? Satan’s. And the next verse tells us the area of the strongholds. It’s in the minds of humanity that Satan has built strongholds which keep them from resisting the truth of the gospel. And wherever you go in the world today, the first thing you have to do is deal with the strongholds that Satan has built in that particular group that you want to reach with the gospel.
I’ll tell you, for instance, a major stronghold in the mind of the Jewish people which is, that if you believe in Jesus you’re no longer Jewish. I believe that’s the greatest, single hindrance that keeps them from seeing their Messiah, apart from the spiritual reality of God’s judgment of spiritual blindness. You go to—Lord help me to be careful—you go to what they call “Old Line Denominations” and talk to them about being born again and they tell you, “Well I was baptized and confirmed and I belong to the church. What more is there?” Whether they’re Lutherans or Anglicans or Catholics. That’s a stronghold. And in many countries it’s extremely powerful. We have to learn how to break down these strongholds.
You got to a Moslem nation—they absolutely refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s their stronghold. They’ll be very gracious and friendly until you raise that issue. You need to know the stronghold in the mind of the people you’re going to be dealing with. Now what do we do? Intercession, we pray. God guides us. He empowers us by His Spirit. We break through in the heavenlies. The example I’ve given here is that when in modern warfare where infantry are to attack, they don’t go in first. First of all the Air Force go over, sweep the skies clean, the artillery pounds the enemy defenses. And when the enemies defenses have been softened, then the infantry go in. And so it is with sending in apostolic team. Before the team goes in, the air force, and the artillery need to do their work. That’s intercession. It’s absolutely vital to the success of the ministry.
The next thing that is important is the direction of the Holy Spirit. I’d like to turn to Romans 8:14 which is a tremendously important verse.
For as many as are [regularly] led by the Spirit of God [it’s a continuing present tense] as many as are regularly led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
There are two great operations of the Holy Spirit in relationship to our place in the family of God. First of all we have to be born of the Spirit to become children of God, little babies. But in order to become mature sons of God, which is the word used in Romans 8:14, we have to be regularly led by the Holy Spirit. Multitudes of Christians who have been born again never know what it is to be led by the Spirit. They remain immature with retarded development. I’ve preached in many, many congregations about being led by the Holy Spirit and I’ve asked people, “How many of you have ever heard a sermon on how to be led by the Holy Spirit?” And usually the response is not more than twenty percent. “How many of you have heard a sermon on how to be born again?” It’s a hundred percent. There’s this tremendous gap between the new birth and spiritual maturity, spiritual sonship, and it’s because we are not trained to be led by the Holy Spirit. We have let all sorts of other things come in between us: rules, and regulations, and labels, and organization. I’ve said sometimes the great sin of the Church over the past centuries is snubbing the Holy Spirit. We’ve acted as if we could get along perfectly well without Him. We can’t.
To be successful in the Christian life you have to be regularly led by the Holy Spirit. When I say regularly, I mean every day, every hour. It should become habitual with us. Whenever we make a decision or encounter a situation, not to respond out of our own understanding or ability, but always to let the Holy Spirit give us the appropriate response.
The other Scripture there is one we’ve already looked at in the previous session. We need probably to look at it again. Acts. 13, this is particularly in connection with apostolic teams.
As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”
I think it’s extremely significant that the first recorded apostolic team was initiated by the Holy Spirit direct. I think that indicates that He has a unique place in the operation of apostolic teams for which there is no substitute. And then it says in verse 4,
…and they being sent out by the Holy Spirit…
And the word used there for being sent outmeans also they were accompanied by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit didn’t just push them out and say, “Go on.” He said, “Come on, let’s go.” He went with them, and you’ll find that as you study apostolic teams that they were consistently being led by the Holy Spirit. Turn to Act 16: 6 and 10, which is the second apostolic team, or the second one recorded in Acts, which is Paul, Silas and Timothy, and remember Luke was a member of that team. They took at doctor along with them. And this is one of the passages in Acts which is written in the first person plural weindicating that Luke was present in the events described. And it says,
Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.
That’s not Asia as we know it. That’s the province of Asia on the west side of what we call Asia Minor. Now isn’t that remarkable because Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. And here they wanted to go to Asia and the Holy Spirit said no. How many of us would accept the no in those circumstances. And the interesting thing is that later Paul went to Asia, of which the man city was Ephesus, and had perhaps the greatest results of his whole ministry. You see the question? Timing. The situation wasn’t right. All right. So they said “All right. We can’t go west, we’ll go north and east.”
After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. [Isn’t that amazing?]
So passing by Mysia, they came to down to Troas.
They were going basically northwards. They tried to go west, the Holy Spirit said no. They tired to go northeast the Holy Spirit said no. They were left with no options but to go that way. And so they came down to Troas. Where are we? Verse 8.
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
How many missionary committees would accept that kind of guidance? They would probably send you to a psychiatrist. I want you to notice the words now because we coming to this.
Now after hehad seen the vision, immediately wesought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called usto preach the gospel to them.
That’s very significant. Paul was the leader. He got the vision, but the team made the decision. That’s really a remarkable example of what I would call corporeity. Paul had the vision but we concluded that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. That leads us on to the next requirement which is leadership that set an example and elicits corporate decisions. Let’s look at that first because we are at the text. See another then I put there don’t say “advance”, say “follow me.” They say about tank commanders in the Israeli army, they don’t say advance, they say follow me. And probably the highest ratio of casualties in the Israeli army is tank commander. But the success of the army is due to the leadership. It doesn’t say, “You guys go ahead.” It says, “You guys follow me.” That’s apostolic leadership.
Let’s see what Paul says about the personal example that he set to Timothy, in Second Timothy 3. How many of you could believe that there are going to be casualties in apostolic teams? And I’m not talking about just people falling out. I’m talking about people dying. I think it’s inevitable. I think it’s remarkable in a way that there have been so few up till now. All right. Second Timothy 3 verses 10 and 11.
But you have carefully followed [who went ahead—Paul, who followed—Timothy.] But you have carefully followed my doctrine [or my teaching], my manner of life, my purpose, my faith, my longsuffering [or my patience], my love, my perseverance.
I think all of us that are called to leadership, myself first and foremost, should sit down and ponder that list. My doctrine, am I teaching the truth, am I sticking to Scripture, or am I becoming too intellectual, too complicated, tickling people’s ears? My manner of life, am I leading a life that attests the truth of the gospel? My purpose, where am I headed? If people follow me will they end up in the right destination? My faith, am I setting an example of faith or unbelief? Longsuffering or patience, I tell you that’s a hard one for me. I’ve worked on it but there’s more to be done. Love, perseverance—I think I’m better at perseverance than I am at patience. And then we come to the next verse.
persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured.
God is going to let you be put in very difficult situations so that those who follow you can see how to react to difficult situations. Understand? Even if it isn’t good for you, it’s good for them.
All right let’s go on—harmony and continuing prayer. Harmony is essential to the success of a team. I think this is true even in the world of sport. I think a good trainer—is that the word that’s used in American football, I’m not very familiar with it? Coach. Thank you. I though I was getting out of my depth at that point. I never had understood American football. Give me soccer and I can tell you all about it from A to Z. But anyhow, I think the essence of a good coach is create a group of men who operate together, not a group of brilliant individuals. Isn’t that right? They don’t win matches. It’s teamwork that counts. And that really, in sport language, is harmony.
Now I have been involved recently in the last two years in maybe one, three, four or five apostolic team ventures with up to seven people on a team, which is not large. And as I look back I marvel at one thing. I don’t think there’s ever been one moment of disharmony in any of those teams. And I have to say that is solely the grace of God because we had very different people with different convictions and different backgrounds and different races. But I’m sure disharmony would have completely frustrated our purpose.
And out of harmony I believe we need continuing prayer. I believe a team needs to be a group of people that pray together naturally and regularly. And I’d like to emphasize the word naturally. I don’t think prayer should be a religious effort. You don’t have to change your voice when you talk to God. You don’t have to get in some particular awkward attitude, although it’s very Scriptural to kneel. But I think there needs to be a sense of family. We are God’s children talking to our Father and our Elder Brother, and seeking their guidance and their direction. Let’s look in Matthew 18 for a moment. I could quote these Scriptures by memory by I’ll read them. Verses 18, 19 and 20.
Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
That’s one of our main spiritual weapons, binding and loosing. But it’s conditional. What’s the condition?
“Again I say to you that if two of you agree [but the Greek word is harmonize. The Greek from which we get the English word symphony] …if two of you symphonize on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”
Some years back I was in the city of Nairobi in Kenya with a well-known American Evangelist and I was working under him as a teacher for a series of conferences he was holding, and we ended up with an open-air meeting in the city of Nairobi. And at that time there was a good deal of tension, black against white. The authorities warned us that if we had an open-air meeting there could be violence. So we gathered in prayer before the meeting and I listened to this brother as he prayed and it was like he was reaching up into the heavenlies in his prayer and he got hold of the prince over Nairobi, and he bound him. It was a very real experience. I don’t know that everybody present could identify with it, but I did. There was no disturbance, many people came forward, everything went smoothly because the opposition had been paralyzed. Later I said to that brother, “God sent you to Nairobi for that ministry at that time, and therefore God gave you authority.” Because God never gives us a task without giving us authority. So if you know your task, you know you have the authority. “But” I said to this brother, “Your authority over Nairobi was purely temporary. You can’t keep that prince bound permanently. That’s the task of the local elders in the city of Nairobi.” If they don’t do their job that force will reassert itself. It’s so important to know the area of your responsibility, because where you have responsibility you always have authority.
People often question why Jesus said to Peter, “I give the keys. Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.” I’ll tell you why Jesus did it, shall I? Would you like to know? Why did Jesus give Peter that authority? Because he was going to need it. That’s the answer. And that’s a good answer, because it means when we have a job to do He’ll give us the authority to do it. But if you’re doing a job that He didn’t call you to do, you don’t have the authority. You have to be doing the thing that God has assigned to you to do.
Let’s look also at a pattern prayer of the early church. In Acts chapter 4 verse 24. Now notice at this point the apostles had been told by the authorities of Jerusalem, the chief priest, and the elders, and the other authorities of the nation, they were not to preach anymore in the name of Jesus. Now that completely stripped the gospel of its power, because all the power of the gospel is in the name of Jesus. If you can’t use the name of Jesus the gospel has no power. What did they do? They resorted to spiritual weapons. They didn’t fight the battle in the courts, they fought it on the spiritual plain. So it says, verse 24.
And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.
It’s important that we should be able to go to our own companions, isn’t it. Woe to us if we don’t have any companions to go to. But they knew they had brothers and sisters that would stand with them in harmony and in agreement. And now they came to their prayer, and this is one of my favorite prayers, and I think the Church needs to pray this prayer a whole lot more than it does. First of all it was given by the Holy Spirit, second it’s recorded in Scripture, and third it produced a dramatic response from God. So if ever there’s a pattern prayer in the Bible, this is it. Now it says, verse 29,
“Now, Lord, look on their threats, [How do we respond to a situation when we’re threatened?] and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, [What will give us boldness?]
by stretching out your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
The early church was so practical. They knew the answer was the demonstration of the supernatural, because when the supernatural is demonstrated the initiative is with the Church, not with the opposition. Isn’t this a good prayer? How about praying it together now? Could you believe for it? Amen. You’re committing yourself to something if you pray this. You’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need it. All right. I’ll say the words. You say them after me.
“Now, Lord, grant unto your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,
by stretching forth Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done in the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” Amen
Can you believe that God will answer that prayer? Can you believe that many of you will be in changed situations and circumstances because you’ve prayed that prayer? You’d better believe. You’re going to need it.
All right. The next requirement, and I’m getting near the end, I’ve headed flexibility. Thank you. Now there are some things that Paul says that I have to ask myself can I honestly say them. And the Scripture we’ve given here is one of those. I think I have learned in a certain measure to be flexible. I don’t believe I would have survived and be in the ministry today, especially at my age, if I hadn’t learned to be flexible. Believe me, I’ve had to change a lot of times.
Those of you that haven’t any real historical knowledge of the Pentecostal movement, I came into it in 1941 which is, as you know, a long while ago. And I will tell you they were wonderful dedicated people, but the level of ignorance was terrible. And I look back on that journey that I’ve taken and I’m continually amazed I ever made it from one situation to the next. I’ve lived in four different continents, at least, been exposed to various different totally different cultures, different climates. Today when Ruth and I travel, we wake up in the morning and ask ourselves, Which continent are we in? We get different diet, different beds, different climate, different cultural responses. Believe me, you have to be flexible to survive. I just give God the praise that I’ve survived up to this moment. I have seen lots, I don’t say this in any condescending way, I’ve of brothers who haven’t survived, in the sense that they haven’t stayed in the stream of God’s purposes. I don’t mean they don’t go to heaven, but they’ve missed out what God is doing. That’s the last I want to do because I think God is doing like they did at the marriage feast at Cana. He’s keeping the best wine until last. I’ve drunk some of the poor wine. And some of it was pretty poor, I’ll tell you that. I don’t want to miss the good wine. I believe the best is yet to be. I don’t believe God is the God of the anti-climax. He’s the God of 11:59 as Bob Mumford says, but He’s always there.
So let’s look at flexibility and I don’t mean just physical flexibility. I mean mental flexibility, because God is continually introducing new truth to the Church. I look back on my own mistakes, which are numerous, and I say to myself this when I look back on situations in which I was incorrect. It wasn’t so much that I was wrong as that I was incomplete. And that didn’t matter so much, being incomplete, but what was really dangerous was when I was incomplete and thought I was complete. That’s the dangerous point you see. And there are so many Christian ministers, frankly they think there’s nothing more.
I’ll tell you something that happened to me. It’s not to my credit but I’ll tell you the truth. I got save in 1941, worked in Israel, then pastored in London, England, and then spent five years in Kenya in East Africa as principal of a teacher training college for African teachers. Then with my first wife and our little adopted African daughter, Jesika, we went on quote “furlough,” and we were to go to Canada because the base of our mission or the mission was Canada. But on the way we stopped off in my wife’s native land which was Denmark. And we spent Christmas up in what they call Norjulen, which is the north of Denmark on the west coast, on what the Danes call the West Sea and the British call the North Sea. It’s funny but it’s the same sea. There’s one thing about the Danes. They don’t celebrate Christmas on a small scale. Food wise they served the best. You Norwegians and Swedes, you just have to acknowledge the Danes do better. Somebody’s shaking her head, but I tell you I’ve been in all three. Okay. Now let’s not get diverted to that.
Well, we were staying with my wife’s sister who had what you’d call a hotel on the coast and I would go out to pray on the cliffs. And it was pretty windy and blustery and wild and there were very few people around so I would walk up and down in the cliffs praying out loud, shouting, disturbing nobody but sea gulls. And the Lord suddenly spoke to me. Again, it was inaudible, but very clear and He said, “Now, you’ve done this and you’ve done that. You’ve been a pastor, you’ve been a principal, you’re a member of a denomination, you have a pension scheme.” He said, “Are you satisfied or do you want to go further?”
Well that shocked me because I didn’t think there was any further to go. I just blush when I think that. You know I knew about the baptism, I knew about speaking in tongues, I knew about spiritual gifts, I knew how to get people saved. What more could you know? But when the Lord said, “Are you satisfied or do you want to go further?” I knew there must be something further. So I learned by experience not to give God a quick answer. So I said, “Lord, give me time to think this over and I’ll give my answer.” So about three days later I was back on the same cliff top, got in touch with the Lord and said, “I’m ready with my answer.” This is what I said, “Lord, I’m not satisfied.” And when I said that something turned loose inside of me and I realized for the first time how dissatisfied I really was. You see multitudes of ministers are dissatisfied but they keep persuading themselves there isn’t anything more, there’s no other way to do it, this is the way we’ve always done it. We’ve just got to stick it out. It turned something loose in me just to admit I was not satisfied.
Then I said and this is where I blush, but this is what I said, “If there is anything further I want to go further.” And the Lord gave me an immediate practical answer. He said, “If you want to go further there are two conditions. First of all, all progress in the Christian life is by faith. If you’re not willing to go forward in faith, you cannot go forward.” I tell you that is totally true. Then He said, and remember this is 1962, the beginning or 1962 or the end of 1961, He said, “If you are to fulfill the ministry that I had for you, you will need a strong healthy body, and you’re putting on too much weight. You’d better see to that.”
And when I look now at the ministry that Ruth and I are in. I mean our healing meetings last six and seven and eight hours. How grateful I am to God that He gave me that warning then. And incidentally I need to lose weight right now. That’s just by-the-way, but God is really dealing with me. I need to lose about nine pounds. God gave me a certain weight and said, “Stick with it.” How practical God is.
Well, when I made that commitment to God it changed my whole destiny. I didn’t realize it, but I was due to go to Canada, spend a year there, and return to the mission field in Kenya. It changed totally. I ended up in the United States and God plunged me into guess what? Casting demons out of people. I never even knew there were demons to cast out of people. God gave me a totally new view of what the Church is, partly through Watchman Nee’s book, The Normal Christian Church Life. Not only through that. My whole theology exploded and expanded. God wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t made that commitment. Do you understand what I’m saying? I had to let Him change me, and believe me, brothers and sisters, He hasn’t finished changing me yet. There’s a whole lot more ahead. But I’m ready, praise the Lord. It’s been good up till now. I trust Him. He’s totally faithful, He’s never failed me, He’s never misled me, He’s anticipated my needs and my problems and made provision for them. I want to tell you God is faithful! Let me leave that with you if nothing else.
All right. Let’s look at the Scripture here. Philippine 4:11 and 12.
Now that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
Now that’s what I am not sure I can totally say, but I’m working on it. How many of you can say that. I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.People ignore me, they don’t bother about me, nobody seems to see how important I am. I get passed by all the time, but I’m totally content. Can you say that? That’s between you and God, not me.
I know how to be abased…
Do you know how to be abased? If you don’t God will teach you. He’ll use some dear brother or sister, some pastor, or somebody like that, and give you a less on in abasement. I know how to be abate and I know how to abound.That’s important. Don’t stick with just being abased.
Everywhere and in all things I have learned…
[but the King James says I am instructed. That’s one of my ________________. Everywhere and in all things I am instructed. Every situation is a learning situation. I look back over the last ten or fifteen years. I have made some serious mistakes, but you know what? I’m determined not to make the same mistakes again. It’s legitimate to make mistakes once. It’s stupid to make them twice.
God spoke to me the other day incidentally, because I was worrying about some members of my family, and worrying is not permitted. Remember that. And He said, “Everybody has to be allowed to make their own mistakes.” What a relief. I know I’ve made mine, but I was trying to prevent everybody else from making mistakes. It doesn’t work that way. All right.
…I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
That’s flexibility. And I’m not talking merely in terms of material provision, because often the flexibility is in a different area. It’s in a cultural area. You’re put together with people that you just don’t have much in common with. But they’re believers. You’ve got to learn to live with them. You’re going to live with them forever. You’d better start now.
The final requirement is commitment, and God really never does anything significant for uncommitted people except get them committed. Let’s look in Matthew 24:8 through 14. You remember Matthew 24:14? The verse we’ve already looked at. What I want you to see is the verses that go before it. Verse 14 says this,
This gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in all the world…
Wonderful. Let’s go. But wait a minute. Read the verses that proceed. Verse 8,
“All these are the beginning of sorrows [or birth pangs],
Then they will deliver you to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My names sake. [This is leading up to verse 14]
And then many will be offended, and will betray one another, and will hate one another.
And many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
And because lawlessness [how many of you will agree that lawlessness abounds to a degree we’ve never known it before in history?] because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. [The real translation is the love of the majority will grow cold.]
But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
And this gospel…
You see the backdrop? It’s not a time of peace and tranquility. It’s a time of ever increasing turmoil, opposition, persecution. And then He says, this gospel of the kingdom…What kind of people are going to do that? Committed people. Let me give you that Scripture of Revelation 12:11. This is a good example of commitment. Speaks about the people who overcame Satan. Many of us know the first part of the verse. Sometime some of us omit the latter part.
And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, [it doesn’t end there] and they loved not their lives to the death.
Those are the people that overcome Satan. Not the uncommitted, but the people who say it’s more important to do the will of God than stay alive. That’s what it is not to love your life to death. I have no doubt in my mind that God is going to demand tremendous personal sacrifices from the people who’ll get the job done.
Let me—I don’t usually end by quoting Lenin, but Lenin said once, Communists are dead men on furlough. I think we ought to say that about Christians. Christians are dead men on furlough. What does that mean? When you become a Communist that’s you’re death warrant. You’re going to die somewhere—in a jail, in a jungle, on a street barricade, before a firing squad. You’re going to die, and until you die you’re on furlough. Well that should be true of Christians. We died already. Our life is hid with Christ in God. We live now like dead men. They can’t do anything more to us because we’re dead already. See what I’m saying? That’s commitment.
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