What critical factors are involved in making disciples? How can we impact the lives of the people being drawn into a full relationship with God?
Mr. Carey, the song leader, mentioned to all of you the theme for this year's GCE. You couldn't see it because I don't think he was wearing it, and I'm not wearing it, and I'm too short even if I were wearing it. But all of the elders and wives have a neckband and an identification badge, very nicely bracketed by this year's theme — Making Disciples — a Whole Church Effort.
Consider in that context the last words of Jesus Christ spoken to His disciples in the book of Matthew. The King James and the New King James do us a disservice, really. If you were to go through a series of translations and look at all of the translations and their wordings, you would find that probably more translations contain this more pointed and direct statement than the one that we are used to.
Matthew 28:19 - Many translations and most commentaries in correcting the King James and New King James say the final mandate of Jesus Christ to His disciples was — Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . The command was very straight-forward. Go, make disciples.
It's two thousand years later than the conversation in Matthew, but in spirit, we're still just as willing today to make those disciples as were the disciples who walked with, talked with and were with Jesus Christ.
There are few things that we desire more. There's not a person in the room that I'm standing in right now or those rooms where you see us on screen or hear us on audio where one of the strong desires of all assembled is to see the calling of new people, the making of disciples. Disciples are one of the greatest joys that we as a church experience. We passionately love God's way; we want nothing more than to share it with and to see brothers and sisters who desire to share it with us.
I still remember with great delight a time back in the early eighties at a time when we first of all made visits, and we talked with people two or three or four times to generally get a sense of their foundation, and then we made an invitation to church. And my wife and I knocked on the door of a house; a lady answered; we walked in, almost out of the gate, her question was, "Where's your church?"
And I side-stepped her question and took it a different direction. When we left that visit, her question was, "When can I come to church?"
And I side-stepped that one also and said we would like to see her again. I think it was on the third visit as we were walking up to the door, I was grinning from ear to ear because I was convinced from the previous visits that the lady was ready to come to church. And I desired nothing more than to invite her. We finished that visit; she said, "Can I come to church?"
And I said, "Yes, you can."
And she said, "Well, where is it?"
I said, "Come with me to the kitchen."
And she looked at me like, "What on earth does that have to do with our conversation?"
I said, "Come with me to the kitchen."
So she went along with me, and she and I walked to her kitchen sink, and I pointed out the kitchen window, and I said, "There." And it didn't compute. I said, "There's church."
She lived on the backside of the athletic field of the junior high school we met in, totally oblivious to our existence. I could not wait to walk to her kitchen and simply point to the backside of Medina Junior High School and say, "There."
And she said, "You know, many times I've asked my husband, 'What are those people coming to school for on Saturday?'"
And he said, "Oh, they must be having a parent meeting."
I said, "We have been meeting in your backyard for over a decade." It was an absolute thrill to be able to sit there and set the stage to allow that woman to see how close she had been and yet how far away.
What's involved in making disciples? Every pastor, every elder, every pastor's wife and elder's wife here probably have thought about that more times than any of us can count. I'd like to take a fresh look today in the spirit of the theme of this year's GCE at the subject.
I propose we take a look at seven critical factors that impact discipling. We all have the desire; we all have the wish; we would all like to see new faces, not just the faces, but the hearts that go with those faces, walk in the door. Today I'd like to share with you seven important factors that impact this year's theme and discipling.
Number one, fellow elders and brethren, we don't set the boundaries for discipling. This is nothing new to anyone here, but as I said, this is an opportunity to reflect upon principles that impact discipling.
Our approach to discipling is different from any other body in the Christian world, and it's set by two fundamental beliefs taught by God. All the years that I have been aware of the earlier permutations of the Church of God, the Church of God, Seventh Day, I had never been aware until the last day of Unleavened Bread when Jim Franks was visiting in the area for the last day of Unleavened Bread, and he mentioned differences in belief between us and the Seventh Day Church of God, and he said that one of them was that they did not believe in our belief that this is not the only day of salvation. I even attended as a boy for a short period of time one of the regional headquarters congregations of the Church of God Seventh Day, still was not aware of that fact. We are indeed and unusual body in that we believe fundamentally these two things. To this body I don't even have to turn there. You know it backward and forward.
We look at discipling within the framework of John 6:44 and the simple fact that Jesus Christ said, "No man can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draw him . . ."
It doesn't matter what your passion is; it doesn't matter what your desire is; it doesn't matter who it's focused on. It requires an invitation. We operate within those boundaries. We all know Matthew 13, the first of the parables given by Jesus Christ, the disciples pondering and then asking, "Why are you talking to them in a way they can't understand?" How many years for those of us who have been in the church a lifetime have we heard sermons, radio broadcasts, television programs that have gone back and said, "The whole scenario as it is taught in commentaries and other places, the parables were to illustrate and make clear were all made a lie by Matthew 13 when Jesus Christ said, "I spoke to them in parables so that seeing they couldn't see, and hearing they couldn't hear, and they couldn't understand."
I'm going to be reading all of my scriptures today from the Modern King James Translation, so if it's slightly different from the New King James or Old King James, you'll understand why. But Matthew 13:10, the disciples said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"
Verse 11 - He answered and said to them, "Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them." He went on to reference -
Verse 14, and — ". . .in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which said, "In hearing you shall hear and shall not understand, and in seeing you shall see and not perceive:
Verse 15 — "For this people's heart has become gross and their ears are full or dull, excuse me, of hearing. It closed their eyes least at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts and should be converted, and I should heal them."
We have an antithetical belief. We sit here looking at a world that we say, "An invitation must be extended." We're looking at a world where we say, "It is not within their capacity to hear, to see or to understand without that invitation." We look conversely at a world while Christianity is trying it's best to save souls as a world that for today Jesus Christ said, "I don't intend to convert."
These two fundamental principles affect our discipling practices. We have traditionally in the past, we still at the present, extend an invitation. All of our media is covertly an invitation. At times we offer challenges, and on rare occasions when the opportunity is extended to us by means of interview, we even witness to the truth of this way of life. We desire to see disciples; we have spent even in our short history millions of dollars and countless hours in that pursuit. But we do it at all times with an awareness of boundaries that have been established by God.
Number two — We believe that the environment to which God may bring a disciple is critically important. From the time United began, I can't count the number of conversations among elders asking in essence about the health of the church because it is the nurturing point. We know that God cares phenomenally about the environment to which He calls a babe in Christ.
The admonitions of not offending these little ones, we're in a modern technological age; you don't often see a millstone, but if you go to a historical site, you see a millstone, and you reference back mentally to the place where it says,...it would be better that a millstone were tied around someone's neck and cast into the ocean than to offend one of these little ones, you realize that God has a jealous care for those who are young and new in their calling. As a result, we believe that a spiritually healthy congregation is important to God's choice to call a new convert. We believe that the church, through its members, must model the teachings of the Bible.
I remember years ago in the park down in the arrayal below the Rose Bowl where a group of Imperial School students, younger students, were assembled, and someone saw them who knew what they were associated with, and they made a comment that was oft-quoted afterwards that I've never forgotten. They said, "We deeply appreciate the fruits of what we see, even though we don't believe in the teachings."
Peter made the point that this day is not the only day where discipling has its impact. It references the point that there are some who think it strange that you no longer go the way that you used to, who will one day glorify God for what today is to them something they can't understand, and so we're not in the business of discipling only for the present. At times we have to remind ourself that we are discipling for both the present and the future, and some of those investments are very long-term.
We will see a little later on when I arrive at another point, a repetition of this particular principle, but people have to be able to see in us from the pastors and the elders, to the members, to the teens. to the children in our congregations, they have to see God in the people who purport to represent God.
It's longer than I wish to read, and it's folksy in its content, but I would at least like to read three or four stanzas of a poem that many of you have heard before. It's entitled, "Sermons We See" by Edgar Guest. And, though, as I said, it's longer than I care to read at this time, I'll read enough of it; the point is very well made. His poem reads as follows:
"I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way. The eye is a better pupil and more willing than the ear. Fine counsel is confusing, but example, always clear. And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds, for to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
"I soon can learn to do it, if you'll let me see it done. I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run. And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true, but I'd rather get my lesson by observing what you do."
There are two times as many verses to this poem than I have read to you; it's a very easy download off the internet, if you'd like to read the rest of it. But I think the message is amply clear. We believe that the environment to which God may bring a disciple is critically important, and you and I are that environment. It isn't about the building; it isn't about the structure; it's about the people who are inside of it and what they see in their lives, their deeds, their actions and their spirits.
Number three — Communicating is easier than at any time in history; reaching people is harder than at any time in the last century. One of the complexities that we have wrestled with, both at the counsel level, the home office, the media department, those of you that read and follow and observe and ponder; we're an enigma. We live in a world that is drowning in communications. There's more communication going on than at any time in history, and yet it is more difficult to reach people due to all the competing voices.
As a boy in southern Idaho, my folks had one of the floor model Zenith radios with the cat's eye and the green dialing eye, and at night after all the regular radio stations had been mandated off the air, there were a few times that I sat down with a pencil and paper and I started dialing across the dial watching the cat's eye until it narrowed as narrow as it could, and then listening as closely as I could to see if I could hear the call letters of a station. And for the fun of it, I was seeing how far the reach would go. Iowa, one time; Salt Lake City was easy; Denver was not too bad; San Francisco. One night on a clear night, New Orleans, Louisiana came in.
The strain was always the same though, trying to hear, even dialed as tightly as possible, one clear voice through the static of many voices. Today in communication, it is infinitely worse. Everyone is competing for the eye and the ear. And communications is moving toward the world of menu-driven viewing and listening.
I was laughing with my wife recently when we passed a school bus. I said, "You know school bus-driving has gotten infinitely easier. When I rode a school bus back and forth, the noise and the clatter and the roar was just phenomenal." I said, "Now everybody is zombie-like, ear plugs in each ear, I-pod on their chest; nobody's home. It's like a mortuary."
But they're all able to choose what they want; they're all able to package what they want; they're all able to download what they want, and they're all able to listen to what they want. It is a very selective menu-driven world.
It's interesting that a growing number of those who seek to attend one of our congregations arrive at that place in a menu-driven fashion. Recently, or over the last few months, as I've talked to people who've come to services and introduced themselves, I ask inquisitively, "Where and how did you get here."
And more consistently than at any time I can remember, it is, "I had a concern; I went on the line; I searched for answers to my concern; I found you; I read what I wanted to read until I reached the place that I wanted to know where you were and what you looked like."
I don't know about each of you as individuals, but my life has come to the place where, when it comes to the world of media, I am very selective. My computer is one of my constant companions; what I want to know, I ask. I don't meander; I ask specifically; I go to where I want; I leave. This is a phenomenal world.
I first heard the World Tomorrow radio program on XCLO from Mexico. We had no television at that time; our neighbor did. The neighbor got one channel. Big cities; they got three. Smaller cities like ours, one. Today there are so many TV channels, you need a directory to find the programs. The airwaves are jammed with competing voices. This is the world we live in.
At the last Council of Elders meeting, Mr. Clyde Kilough gave each of the council members the results of one of his own curiosities. And I thought, "How fascinating."
He said, "I was concerned about just finding out how many religious TV shows there were available." And he said, "I went onto the Word Network. And on the Word Network alone, there were a hundred and twelve different ministries. There were sixteen different religious organizations.
He said, "I then went to the Trinity Broadcast Network, and there were fifty-five different radio ministers, twenty-nine religious organizations and programs." He then vacated the networks, and he said, "I went to Sunday, and I looked at Sunday religious broadcasting," and he said, "I left out TBN, TWN, and EWTN, so I left out all of those, and just looked from 6 A.M. on Sunday morning until 7 P.M, or 9 P.M.,"I'm not sure which, I think 7 is about the latest I see here, "Sixty-two different religious programs on Sunday, excluding the big boys, TBN, TWN, EWTN."
We're in a phenomenal world. We're in a world, as I just said to you, communicating is easier than at any time in history. It is phenomenal that we can put everything that represents us on a website, and people can download it from the jungles of the remotest parts of this world in whatever volume they want, and yet the clatter and the noise are unbelievable.
I sat and looked at the list of ministers that Mr. Kilough had written down, and I said," I don't know him; I don't know him; I don't know him; I don't know him." It got to be monotonous. I had to look hard to find names to say, "Oh, well, I know that one." I haven't a clue what they're all preaching, but they're all out there at the same time that we are. It takes me back to the old Zenith radio and all the sounds as I tried to hear one clearly.
You know, I can't but wonder in the spirit of our belief that Satan is the prince of the power of the air, that in his awareness that he can't stop the word of God, as God said the gates of hell will not prevail against My church until I return. He knows he can't stop it until a determined time. And so if I can't stop it, I'll simple bury it in the cacophony of sounds. We can't help but wonder. We face a challenge. I feel deeply for all of our people in media as they wrestle with how do we get our message to where people can see it or hear it?
Number four — Herbert W. Armstrong's legacy is a two-edged sword when it comes to discipling. Now, don't get ahead of me on this one, because I doubt you know where I'm going. But let me say that again, Herbert W. Armstrong's legacy is a two-edged sword when it comes to discipling.
In 1995 a small group of us were invited to the east coast to the headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventist Church to speak with them for a day. We met with their leadership in their boardroom, and among the things that were said that I still remember was a statement from one of their leaders that said, "Herbert W. Armstrong did more to make the Sabbath known in this world in the twentieth century than any other human being." I thought it's interesting. When you're insular; when you're inside an organization, that's your life and that's where you are. You don't think outside, and to hear somebody from outside who is much larger than you are keeping the same day saying, "This man did more than any other person in the world to elevate the awareness of the Sabbath as a Christian observance...;"
You say, "Wow." We were a spiritual island in the early decades of Herbert W. Armstrong's ministry. No one preached end-time prophecy as we did. No one identified Easter and Christmas for what they were. Nobody advocated for honoring the Biblical holy days, unless they were Jewish. No one in the name of religion raised issues such as dietary laws and other issues.
We were an island. Those particular statements you would hear from the World Tomorrow. You'd hear them debunked, or see them debunked in tracts, but you didn't hear them. It's not true today.
One of the sobering lessons that I ponder as a lesson from history — it's always fascinated me in the study of notable inventions, mechanical things, that it isn't always the inventor who is recognized in time. It is the person who knew how to market the invention.
There are many things that you say, "Well so and so invented that."
And if you go to history, history says, "No, he didn't invent it. He succeeded in marketing it, and that's why his name is attached to it, but he wasn't the first."
We're no longer a unique voice on many topics. We still have a unique package, but we are not a unique voice on many topics. Elements of prophecy, holidays, dietary laws, heaven, hell, return of Jesus Christ. There is an open mindedness that has developed in the last, I don't know how long, last couple of decades? An open mindedness that has allowed people to put aside the shackles of traditional denominational teachings, not have to hold onto a line and just say, "Well, let me look at it."
I think the advent of non-aligned community churches has blurred those lines, and as I said, I can't give you an exact length of time that this has been going on. I have photocopied it; I photocopied a copy from the Sunday comic strip from the Seattle Times, taken to the Indianapolis conference. So it tells you that this is at least 1995. Sunday funnies, "Wizard of Id." There's this thing, I don't know what it is, it lives in a washtub in the "Wizard of Id." And the Wizard is there with two test tubes; he's holding them up, and the thing from the tub looks up and says, "What's that?"
Wizard says, "Food coloring. I'm dying an Easter egg."
The thing comes out of the tub and says, "No need for that, I'm wearing my Walt Disney shorts."
The jester comes down and says, "What's that, Wiz?"
And the Wiz has an Easter egg about this big. He says, "It's an Easter egg for the king."
The jester says, "The king is right on my way. Want me to deliver it?"
And the Wiz says, "Sure."
So the jester goes up the stairs carrying this Easter egg that size, and the king who is shorter than the Easter egg, says, "What's that?"
And the jester says, "An Ishtar egg," spelled just the way all of our literature has always spelled the name. The jester says, "It's an Ishtar egg."
And the king says, "What's an Ishtar, Lacky?"
And the lacky goes by says, "It's a pagan goddess of fertility."
And the king says, "What could she possibly have to do with Easter?"
And the lacky says, "A billion bunnies comes to mind." That's the Sunday funnies, syndicated comic strip, fifteen years ago, trampling all over our private territory.
One if the elders, I lose track of time; it gets blurry. One of the elders, it had to be at least a couple of years ago, sent me an email, and he said, "Oh, by the way, had you heard?"
And I said, "No. Can you send me a copy?"
And if I am quoting it correctly, it was a case where he had sent me an instance where Joel Osteen had talked about clean and unclean meats. And you say, "You know, that's a voice that's a whole lot louder than our voice. That's a voice that a whole lot more people stop and listen to, and again, he's walking all over our turf."
This last Sunday, in the Oregonian, on the front page of the Sunday Oregonian, not buried back in the back, not in section C, D, or E, but on the front page, at the bottom of the front page, the article read — heaven, who really knows what's ahead?
On Easter, Christians celebrate their conviction that Jesus was resurrected and is preparing a place for them in heaven, but many are uncertain about the details. A 2005 Newsweek poll found that eighty percent of Americans believe they're headed to heaven, but only half of them think a resurrection or a physical event, one that will include a new body for every believer.
That comes as no surprise to Randy Alcorn, of Gresham, a former pastor and author of more than thirty books that are widely read by evangelical Christians. His 2004 book, Heaven, has sold more than 500,000 copies and inspired a line of study guides and related books. Alcorn is convinced that many Christians don't know or understand what the Bible says about the afterlife.
"A lot of people think heaven is where you go when you die," he says. But Alcorn says, "Christians' final destination is the new earth," which he describes as "...a resurrected life in a resurrected body with a resurrected Christ on a resurrected earth." Alcorn's Heaven, meaning the book, is in its 16th printing and is among several recent books that focus on physical resurrection and afterlife as core teachings of Christianity.
I said to you Herbert W. Armstrong's legacy is a two-edged sword when it comes to discipling. I don't think we really, fully yet grasp the impact of his years of ministry on radio and television in terms of its impact upon all of American Christianity. Bits and pieces, smorgasboard style had been adopted, recognized or simply acknowledged by all sorts of people. I don't know what Randy Alcorn's book costs; most books today, twenty-five, thirty bucks a pop, 500,000 of those; how many of our booklets have gone through 500,000 printings, and he's selling his, and it's saying the same thing at the very primary level — we're not going to heaven.
We have a new body on a new earth with a returned Christ, and this is where we're going to be. It has made our task of discipling all the more challenging. As I said, I don't know anyone that has the package, but it's hard to reach an audience that is only looking for the salads or the desserts, rather than the whole meal.
Point number five — Those forty and below are not necessarily in love with the religion of those forty and over. That puts almost all of us in this room in jeopardy.
Last year following the presidential election, I had the opportunity to be driving in the car when an interview was conducted with the chief lobbyist of the Evangelical Churches of America. So here was that body's chief lobbyist in Washington being interviewed. And what I found fascinating was in the interview, as he described the evangelical world and its millions upon millions of members, and he talked about various segments of the world, I thought to myself, in listening to his description, there are more differences between forty and younger evangelicals with their forty and over fellow evangelicals on some points than there are differences between us and forty and over evangelicals.
I thought how scary. I thought how very, very scary. Younger Americans are increasingly turned off by the religion of their fathers and their grandfathers. We have had seminars here at the GCE about generations; we have discussed that in the context of media; it is always on our mind; it's something we're always looking at, pondering, but when it comes to discipling, it is something that we have to consider very carefully.
In a book entitled, Unchristian published by the Barna Group, reputedly the most focused survey body for the world of religion in America today, the author spends the entire book talking about what a generation really thinks. This is the under forties. The subtitle to the book, Unchristian — What a Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters.
It was interesting to see one among several surveys. These were from thirty year-olds and younger, and it was a description of the unfavorable images that Christianity gives to them. And you know, brethren, when it comes to how we look, the unchurched younger American is not so sophisticated as to distinguish us from all the rest. And so as the survey goes, we probably would not survey radically differently.
Their unfavorable images, as the list goes down, in other words, these are things that we don't like about religion in America. And fundamentally, what they are saying is the religion of those who are our fathers and grandfathers. We don't like that they're anti-homosexual; we don't like that they're judgmental; we don't like that they're hypocritical, saying one thing, doing another. We don't like how involved they are in politics. We don't like that they're out of touch with reality. We don't like that they're old fashioned. We don't like that they're insensitive to others. We don't like that they're boring. We don't like that they're not accepting of other faiths, and we don't like that they're confusing. Those are the things they don't like about us, us simply being a part of a huge pool.
The things they do like, and sometimes the things they don't like and do like — almost the same thing. They like that we teach same basic ideas as other religions. They like that we have good values and principles. They like our friendliness. They like that we have a faith that they can respect. They like it when there is a consistent show of love for other people. They like that offers hope for the future. They like that there are people who are trustworthy. They like when they see people who are genuine and real. They like it when something makes sense. They like it when what you say is relevant to life.
Gives a lot to work with, doesn't it? As you walk that particular tightrope, there are some very inspiring and constructive and can-do things on the one side. As I look through the "like" side, I see several things about us that are genuinely likeable. I see challenges on the "I don't like that" side, as we disciple and as we look at this body of people who are forty and under in this book on Christian, more focused on thirty and under, they provide quite a challenge to us.
Point number six — To make a disciple, we have to be in love with our own message. I go back to the point in time when I was first introduced as a young man to the field ministry, given an assignment and told — Go, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
In the early 1960's, half of the Church of God was comprised of new members. New members were as plentiful as old members. Old members were only three or four years older than new members. And so we had a church that was half brand new and the old ones among them were just not that old.
As I look around the room, I see faces of my contemporaries and my peers and know that every single one of them went out into the field and experienced exactly the same thing. We visited people for an extended period of time before we invited them to church. During that time of personal contact and personal communication, one of the things that probably every single one of us tried to do was to try to help the zealous new disciple develop wisdom. Most of us probably went home and said, "Didn't work." "Didn't do it." "Don't know how it's done."
We even had booklets, we even had articles on "Don't try to convert your relatives." I don't remember whether it was "Plain Truth" or "Good News," but as I go through my literature from that time period, we published an article, "Don't try to convert your relatives." We tell them the pitfalls. We would explain the first point. We'd read John 6:44. We'd read Matthew 13. We'd go home, they'd grab hold of a wife or husband, a brother, a sister, children, grandparents, and dump on them everything they were reading. We'd come back and see this crest-fallen look that "They didn't like what I gave them. They not only didn't like what I gave them, I'm not sure they like me any more."
And we'd go home and say, "Well, you know, I tried my best to head that one off, but it didn't work."
I read the book of Mark before the days of Unleavened Bread. It was a nice refresher on a corollary to all of this. Jesus Christ, how many times — you know, Mark is a gospel that is full of the miraculous. Mark over and again has this account that Jesus Christ has this person who's very ill, heals him of whatever it is, and says, "Now, go and don't tell this to anyone."
They just broke the hundred dash record getting back into town to say, "Hey look at me. I can walk. I'm whole. No leprosy. I can see. I can do this."
Jesus Christ's batting average was absolutely pathetic in convincing these people whom He had just healed not to go back to town and tell everybody what had happened. Made me feel a little better that we hadn't done very well at all in convincing these new people, be calm, enjoy what you're learning, live it, practice it, let the light of it shine, and then have them go out and grab everybody around them and say, "Look what I've got; look what I know; look what you need to know." The point is a simple one, brethren, there is no greater salesman than the person who passionately believes that he's found the greatest thing on the face of the earth.
We are generationally a mature church. I live in one of the most mature areas because of the Church of God's foundation in the Willamette Valley. The members watching in Portland who can say, "Five generations deep." It's also true in other areas. You can go into southern Missouri; you can go into south Texas. At the time that I moved to Pasadena in the late fifties, Springfield had just been established by campaign, San Antonio, Denver, some of those areas, so generationally, the same thing can be done in other parts of the United States.
Those of us who grow up in the church, there is a genuiness and a sincerity that is unquestioned. But you know, when you have twenty years, this is growing up in a church home, twenty years to absorb it and make it your life, and make it your own, and make it the way that you want to go, it just simply does not have the same visual effect that it did for these particular people.
It's not a negative comment. I am a third generational, in one sense of speaking. My father was the first in the church; my grandfather came, and then our family. But when you grow up in it, the conviction is solid; that's why you're here. But when you watch somebody that says, "Hey, I just found the greatest thing on the face of the earth, and I can't sit still, you recognize that they're in a different world.
I don't know if there's any definitive study; we've talked about it on occasion, at the end of all the talk, you really can't come down to a bottom line, but we do know that in the heyday of our growth that our growth was coming from both a phenomenal media effort and also an extraordinary zeal on the part of this tremendous wave of new people that just simply could not contain themselves.
1973, my wife and I flew from Birmingham, Alabama, to Squaw Valley to attend the only Feast of Tabernacles family reunion that our family had ever had. We still have the — the colors are really going haywire on the photo, but I still have the photo of everybody lined up against the wall of the backside of the skating rink arena, and there are thirty or so, everyone from grandparents to babes in arms, and as I look at that group of people standing there, every single solitary one of them standing there is standing there because of the oldest member in that picture, my grandfather.
Every time we went to visit Grandpa, he said, "Raymond, you ought to listen to this man, Armstrong," he says. "He makes sense."
I honestly don't know; I never asked my dad how many times he went to visit Grandpa, and Grandpa said, "You ought to listen to this man, Armstrong, he makes sense, before he actually listened to this man, Armstrong."
My grandfather was a religious hobbyist. Radio went on after he finished milking the cows, and we went through the whole list of the radio preachers. The Radio Bible Class, A.A. Allen, God's man of faith and power, Herbert W. Armstrong, J. Vernon McGee, the whole bunch, but out of all this conglomeration, Grandpa said, "You ought to listen to this man, Armstrong. He makes sense."
Well, Dad listened faster than Grandpa, and he and Mom were baptized, and Grandpa finally said, "Hey, the trolley passed me up," and he and my grandmother were baptized, and then aunts and uncles and cousins and the rest of the family. Unknown to us at the same time, there was another branch of the family in San Fernando Valley attending services in Pasadena, my grandfather's sister, her two sons, and their children, which only made the point to me that the calling of God was very interesting in its facets. There had not been any family comparison. There was a family surprise to find that low and behold there was a group there also doing the same thing that we are. Our history of discipling is one of massive media coverage and passionately motivated followers.
Seventh and last point, brethren, is — The tone of our message must match the tone of God's message. For years as a pastor, I've used H. Norman Wright's workbook entitled, "Before You Say I Do," as a marriage counseling manual. Dr. Wright's specialty is communications, and in his chapter on communications, he writes — I've always wondered where he got his statistical scale, but he writes a statistical scale of the value of various components to communication, words, appearance, tone. Tone far outstripped words in terms of impact.
I've never forgotten that. Of course, I read the manual every so often, so I'm reminded. But it was a reminder of the fact that when you communicate with people, your words make an impact; your tone makes a greater impact.
It's deeply imbedded into the culture of the Church of God that an end time warning has, or will, or has and will be given to this world. Warning messages are not new, biblically speaking. The first warning message was given in the Garden of Eden, wasn't it? Don't touch that tree. All of this is yours. Do whatever you want with all of it; dress it and keep it and enjoy it; don't touch that tree because if you do, you'll die. First warning message. There have been warning messages every since.
But consider the tone. Consider the tone. I think there are things that we know that at times we need to back up and stop and think very deeply even though we know them, and ask ourself how deeply we know them. God loves this world. He loves all of this world. He loves every single solitary unlovable person in this world, and I'm not sure that we always remember that.
The voice that I heard as a boy coming out of the radio said, "Greetings, friends." That's what I heard every single time the program started. As I listened to the voice, and the tone of the voice, the voice was convicted. It was unwavering. At times, it was loud. I never sensed the tone of indifference. I never sensed the tone of contempt. I never sensed the tone of superiority. I never sensed the tone of time-serving. I heard, "Greetings, friend," and there were no tones that fought with that. All of us who have pastored, and if you had the privilege of pastoring in the heyday of growth, the opportunity for seeing this was easier, not exclusive by any means, but easier. How many of us have made new visits in the homes where one person in that home was on fire for this way of life, and one person in that home had utter, complete, unbridled contempt for this way of life and was not afraid to show it? And you went into a home realizing you were invited by one, and the other would just as soon that you found that door very quickly and walk back through it and went home.
One of the greatest teachers in the life of many of us is to find the day and time where that person, the one who found your presence there contemptible, was also called. You met a totally different face. You met a totally different spirit. You met a person who had nothing but contempt for you at one point in time who now considered you a brother and a teacher.
There's a lesson in that for all mankind. It taught me as a young pastor that there's not a human being on the face of this earth who is ultimately my enemy. That ultimately, he's not my enemy. Some of the powerful statements of Paul in Romans, Paul in Romans 11 buttressed the words of Christ in Matthew 13 when he said in Romans 11:7,
Romans 11:7 — He said, "What then?" He said, "Israel has not obtained that which it seeks, but the election obtained it and the rest were hardened." So he made the same point that Christ did. In the next verse, he said,
Verse 8 — "Even as it is written, God gave to them a spirit of slumber, eyes not seeing and ears not hearing until this day." Paul, as he was writing to the Romans in this chapter, was saying, "Hey, wait, this is not the end of the story." And he arrived at Verse 30 through Verse 32, and he said,
Verse 30 — "For as you also then disbelieved God, but now have been shown mercy through their disbelief,
Verse 31 — "even so these also have not believed now, so that through your mercy they may also obtain mercy.
Verse 32 — "For God has shut up all in unbelief that He might show mercy to all." Our great joy is that this game is not over in this life. It doesn't matter how this one ends. There's another one, and that one is very, very different.
The tone of our message, brethren, must, must let people know we know this. That can be tough at times. We have been branded in the earlier years of our existence as sect, as cult, as unchristian, as all sorts of things, and it can make you very defensive. Can't afford to live there.
I'd like in the closing portion of this sermon to walk you through three scriptures that help punctuate three points.They help us remember the point that I just made that there is never an enemy of God and this way of life that cannot one day be a deeply cherished brother, and this is how we ought to address this world.
One of my favorite scriptures; I love it every year at the Feast of Tabernacles; it's a joy and a delight to me; is the scripture, because of all that we know and all that we understand from biblical prophecy about various peoples. This particular section I'm referring to is Isaiah 19:23. If this doesn't break the stereotypical mold; if this doesn't totally smash to smithereens the current world view, I don't know what does. It is that beautiful millennial picture where in Isaiah 19:23 it says,
Isaiah 19:23 — In that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptian shall worship with the Assyrian. Who are they going to worship? The gods of the Egyptians or the god of the Assyrians? Well, the message is both of them are going to vacate their gods and worship God.
Verse 24 — In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria. A blessing in the midst of the land.
Verse 25 — God takes three of His greatest terms of endearment for Israel. You walk through from the time of Israel's establishment and these are Israel's property, and He takes one of them and He gives it to Egypt. And He gives one of them, and He gives it to Assyria. And He gives one of them, and He leaves it with Israel. For that the Lord of Hosts has blessed them saying, "Blessed be Egypt, My people." That's private, private reserve for Israel. But not when the word of God covers the earth as water covers the sea, and people no longer say, "Know the Lord," for everyone shall know the Lord. "And Assyria, the work of My hands. . ." Again, private turf of Israel. ". . .and Israel, Mine inheritance." You know, you can get stuck in an Old Testament mind; you can get stuck even in a book of Revelation futuristic mind, and in doing so, you can forget where God's mind is.
I was talking to somebody not too terribly long ago, and we were having a discussion, and they were making comments, and I was making comments, and I said, "You know, we are reading the same thing, and we are seeing totally different..." I said, "I know we're reading the same thing, but what we're getting off the page is diametrically the opposite."
There are theologians who read the Old Testament and say, "God is an ogre; God is a God of wrath; God breathes fire and brimstone, and God reaps destruction." I read the same Old Testament; I don't see that God.
I'd like to read to you from the Contemporary English Version, the first eight verses of Hosea 11. I may read it slower at some points, because I have a hard time reading this, but it...we were going through the minor prophets in Vancouver, Washington, in Bible study this last year, and as we were going through Hosea, it just hit me between the eyes that this was one of the most beautiful and powerful illustrations of the reality that we have to remember.
Have you ever had a son or a daughter whose conduct grieved you deeply? Did you hate them? Did you treat them with utter contempt? Did you cast them aside? Did you treat them with nothing but loathing and disgust? I'm asking you rhetorically because I don't believe you would. Why would God? Why would God do that with children He has a capacity to love better than you can love the fruit of your own bodies? I read these verses to you because there is all sorts of wrath in Hosea. If you want to read Hosea from the wrath side, there's a lot of wrath.
One time my mother made a comment about one of us boys; she said, "I always love him, but I don't always like him." I've never forgotten that because all of us have children that at times we say, "I love them to the bottom of my heart, but I don't always like them." Can you take God who is bigger than all of us combined, billions of times over and sense His feelings toward a body of people? With all the smoke and the fire and the damnation of the book of Hosea, here is where you capture the real core of God's heart. He says in Hosea 11: 1,
Hosea 11:1 - When Israel was a child I loved him. And I called My son out of Egypt.
Verse 2 — But as the saying goes, and I'm reading this from the Contemporary English Version because it has so much more heart than the King James or the New King James; they're not even on the same wave length. He says, But as the saying goes, the more they were called, the more they rebelled. They never stopped offering incense and sacrifice to the idols of Baal.
Verse 3 — I took Israel by the arm and taught them how to walk, but they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.
Verse 4 — I led them with kindness and with love, not with ropes. I held them close to Me. I bent down to feed them.
Verse 5 — But they trusted Egypt instead of returning to Me. Now Assyria will rule them.
Verse 6 — War will visit their cities, and their plans will fall.
Verse 7 — My people are determined to reject Me for a god they think is stronger, but he can't help.
Verse 8 — Israel, I can't let you go. I can't give you up. How could I possibly destroy you as I did the towns of Admah and Zeboiim? I just can't do it. My feelings for you are much too strong. You can read Isaiah; you can read Jeremiah; you can read Ezekiel; you can read every prophet you want. If you could pick every single place where God pours His heart out for people that He is wrathful with; that is the God that you and I represent. That's His tone. That's the tone of His message.
The last scripture in that group is Ezekiel 9:1-6 that I'm going to read out of the King James Version. And regardless of what commentators and others say, or don't say about this, I have always read these four verses as very personal, as verses that I need to look in the mirror, and I need to look very carefully in the mirror because to me, these verses say I better be on the same page with God.
Ezekiel 9:1 — He cried also in mine ear(s) with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand.
Verse 2 — And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar.
Verse 3 — And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side.
Verse 4 — And the Lord said (un)to him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark (up)on the forehead(s) of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
Verse 5 — And to the others he said in (mine) my hearing, Go (ye) after him through the city, and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:
Verse 6 — Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children and women, but come not near any man upon whom is the mark and begin at My sanctuary. You know, I walk into the New Testament and I see the words that are written about Lot from a New Testament perspective that Lot was vexed; he was deeply, passionately grieved at heart for where he lived. He looked at Sodom; he looked at Gomorrah; he looked at the cities of the vale. It hurt him; it deeply disturbed him. I can understand in a New Testament writer's position looking at Lot and describing Lot in that fashion that Lot is then described as — righteous Lot.
He had a heart; he could look around and see things that were absolutely detestable. I think Lot fit very well those that would have been marked as those who sigh and who cry over the abominations of the land.
Well, brethren, those of you who are on line and listening and watching, and fellow elders and wives as we enter the front end of the GCE with our name tags all saying — making disciples, a whole church effort — when we stand back and take a look at the mandate to go to the world to preach the gospel, that little label that we wear for this week is saying what we really want to see is lives changed and people drawn into a full relationship with God. The seven factors that I've shared with you today impact the ability of the Church of God in its efforts to make disciples for Jesus Christ.