If you have never fallen and believe you never will fall (some teens believe they are “bulletproof”) then feel free to stop reading this article right now.
Good choice! Did you know that suicide is the third leading cause of death among children after accidents and homicides? Did you know that three out of four young people leave their religion by the age of 23? So many children today believe their parents have forsaken them, their friends have forsaken them and their church has forsaken them. They often see no purpose in life and turn to drugs, sexual immorality, evil companions and even death in search of meaning in their lives. Teen years can be the most turbulent time in a person’s life. Physical, mental, emotional and hormonal changes occur at blinding speed. Children are searching for that “Port in a Storm” where they can find peace, comfort and purpose in their lives. They are looking for an anchor that will keep them from drifting into oblivion.
Satan is well aware of the vulnerability of young people. He has been watching every one of them since birth (1 Pet 5:8). God has good reason to compare Satan to a lion. Lions, in spite of their sometimes cuddly portrayal in books and movies, are cold-blooded killers who stalk the young and weak. Have you noticed on the animal TV channels that most of the new born beasts in the wild are able to stand immediately after birth and run within minutes? This ability provides them a decent chance of surviving their first day on earth. Without it predators such as the lions would kill and eat them soon after birth. Satan stalks us all, but concentrates on those most at risk, the young and weak in their faith. It is imperative that new Christians continue to grow after being baptized into Christ (Gal 3:27). Peter writes in I Pet 2:1,2, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby.” Christ commanded His apostles in Matt 28:19,20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you,; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Often we fail to give proper emphasis to verse 20 and continue teaching after baptism. We drop new Christians at the front door of the church building and rush out to convert another lost soul without thought of the weak and vulnerable state of these newborns. Have no doubt that Satan is watching. He is well aware of their weak condition.
He will place temptations, troubles, and evil companions in front of young Christians in an effort to cause them to fall back into the world. Anyone who believes they can prevent this on their own is a fool. Paul confirms this in 1 Cor. 3:18-20 “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
Make no mistake, we will fall. Paul writes in Rom 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and without Christ that fall will lead to spiritual death, which is separation from God (Rom 6:23). Thankfully God has not left us to our own feeble devises. We read in Heb. 6:19, “This hope (Christ) we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the presence behind the veil.” This anchor will give us confidence that we have the ability to overcome all trials we face. We must understand that life is not an “I” thing, but a “We” thing (Phil 4:13). God promises to be there for us all the time. The Hebrew writer confirms this in Heb. 13:5,6, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
The book of Hebrews is addressed to new Jewish Christians who were wavering in their faith due to persecution and contemplating a return to the Jewish religion. The Hebrew writer explains the superiority of Christ and His supreme sacrifice for all people. In the remainder of this article we will make application of these teachings and others in the Bible to the statement mentioned above that God will never leave us nor forsake us.
Missouri is the “Show me” state. If you are going to tell a Missourian something, be ready to back it up with evidence. We will search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) to prove that God is true to His promise to always be there for us. Keep in mind that the Bible provides us a very small glimpse into the mind of God and fortunately for us it is all we will ever need to live a life pleasing to Him (2 Pet 1:3).
There are countless examples throughout the Old Testament of God standing by those of His children who have disappointed Him. God allowed the men of Ai to defeat Joshua’s army because Achan disobeyed God’s command not to take the accursed things after their defeat of Jericho (Josh 6,7), but continued to bless the Israelites after they dealt with Achan and his family. Throughout the period of the Judges, Israel continually disobeyed God and received punishment, but God blessed them when they repented and returned to Him. King David paid a terrible price in the death of his son for his sinful relationship with Bathsheba, but God still knew David was a man after His own heart and continued to bless him after that incident (2 Sam 11,12). Peter, after his bold words and action prior to Christ’s capture, publically denied his Savior three times and suffered shame and agony for it. God stood by Peter and later used him to open the door of salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 10).
Jesus used parables to teach His disciples heavenly truths. In Matt 18:10-14 Jesus addresses the degree of love God has for any lost (fallen) child of His. Although one sheep out of a herd of one hundred represents only one percent of the material value of that possession, the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to find the one that was lost and rejoices when he is found. From a material standpoint the one sheep does not seem worth the effort, but we must realize the boundless love God has for the fallen. Jesus taught the same lesson in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). Even though the son had distained his father’s way of life and squandered his inheritance on worldly pleasures, his father ran to him with open arms when he realized the error of his ways and humbled himself in returning to his family.
A secular parable contains the same message. A man and wife were riding in their old car (bench seats in the front) when she turned to him and asked, “Why don’t we sit next to each other anymore”? He thought for a minute are responded, “I have not moved.” This is not to say husbands are perfect, but the point is made that if we are no longer close to God, He is not the one who has moved.
Paul explains why it is possible for us to overcome our fallen state in Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This victory is attainable for several reasons.
First, Christ understands our problems. In Heb. 2:18 we read, “For in that He suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Heb. 12:3 adds, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” We can never say to God, “you don’t understand my situation.” He has been there and done that. He can empathize with any circumstances in which you may find yourself. Still not convinced? Read on in Heb. 4:14-16, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in ALL POINTS tempted AS WE ARE, yet without sin. Let us therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Second, Christ has overcome all enemies, Heb. 10:12-14, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Christ has attained victory and we who are in the church are in Christ’s body (Eph. 1:22,23) therefore, we participate in that victory over sin. That kingdom (the church) of which we are members is steadfast and immoveable, Heb. 12:28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
Third, Christ’s blood offered once, has the power to continually cleanse His people from all sin for all time, Heb. 9:13,14, “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Even through His blood was shed once, it continually cleanses us as we attempt to live a life pleasing to God. John writes in 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses from all sin.”
Fourth, Christ has the ability to forgive and forget. Peter ask Christ in Matt. 18:21,22, “Then Peter came to Him and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Heb. 12:8, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Often when a sinner repents and returns to the church there are some members who just can’t forgive or forget his or her sins. Fortunately for all of us that is not the case with Christ. Because His blood continually cleanses us from our sins He sees us robed in white as we stumble along life’s journey.
Teens are often impatient. That character trait is enhanced by the world around them that preaches the doctrine of immediate gratification. We must remember that God’s plans and His timetable for implementing those plans often do not coincide with our desires. People will often disappoint us, Christ will not.
We must understand that Satan is cunning and manipulative. He rarely hits a Christian in the face with sin. He is much like the camel who slowly works his nose into his master’s tent on a cold desert night and before the master realizes it the camel is sleeping next to him. As was mentioned earlier we are all going to sin. God understands this and will not forsake us as we struggle to live the Christian life. What He will not tolerate is our practicing sin. As the old saying goes, “you cannot stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop him from building a nest there.” God will always be there to help us with sin in our lives as long as we are doing our part.
We must anticipate the fight of our lives, Eph. 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The genuineness of our faith will be tested, 1 Pet 1:6,7, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
In order to prepare ourselves for this fight God expects us to leave the milk of the Word as we strive for spiritual maturity; Heb. 6:1, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection (maturity) not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” He chastens those Jewish Christians in Heb. 5:12-14 for not maturing in the faith, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age that is those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” God will discipline those who fall short as we discussed earlier, but as your parents so often told you, “it is for your own good”. Heb. 12:11, “Now no chastening (discipline) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
It was mentioned earlier that life often moves at blinding speed for teens, but in order to succeed we must understand that we are in a marathon not a sprint. A runner can fall more than once in a marathon, get up and still compete successfully, a sprinter does not have that luxury. A boxer in a 15 round fight can be knocked down several times and still be declared the winner at the end. Heb. 12:1,2, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of God.” Paul summarized his life in Christ in 2 Tim. 4:6-8, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved His appearing.”
Our life in Christ is a victory march. If we stumble He will always be there to help us get up and march on to the finish. 1 John 5:4, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”
If we are going to be pleasing to God, then we must understand the master/servant relationship that exists between us which includes not only doing His will (Jas 1:25), but doing it with the proper attitude (2 Cor 9:7). These requirements don’t just apply to our monetary giving, but are applicable to every activity in our spiritual lives, including our worship (Psa 118:24; 122:1). Why, in a typical congregation, does the attendance drop roughly thirty percent from Sunday morning to Sunday night and Wednesday night? Why is it often difficult to motivate members to support a gospel meeting, work day, door knocking campaign, teach or serve as deacons or elders? Although there are exceptions, it is apparent that, in many cases, they just enjoy doing other activities more than serving or worshipping God. While many are not willing to admit this is the reason they don’t participate in certain functions, it is the unfortunate truth. There have been many seminars and workshops conducted over the years in largely futile attempts to ferret out the root cause of this problem and discover a solution. In spite of these valiant efforts the old “80/20 rule” still applies at most congregations. For those who may not be familiar with this axiom, it states “80% of the work of a congregation is usually done by 20% of the members of that congregation”.
For some time now the supposed key to church growth has been to cater to prospective members’ “felt needs” by offering programs and services that satisfy the desires of today’s prospects. Is this approach to church growth in accordance with Bible teaching on the purpose of the Lord’s church? There is no question that Jesus taught us to be benevolent toward those less fortunate, but often the work of providing basic necessities of life somehow transforms into an attempt to fulfill everyone’s wants instead of needs. If members of the Lord’s church were asked if they desire to spend eternity in heaven the nearly unanimous answer would undoubtedly be a resounding YES! If they were asked what heaven will be like surely words such as peace, love, rest and joy would be mentioned. What will heaven really be like? Will members who do not find joy and fulfillment in serving and worshipping God on earth find joy and fulfillment in heaven? As with all spiritual questions, the solution lies in the Holy Spirit-inspired Word of God.
A search of the NKJ Bible reveals the words “servant, serve and serving” are found 1,005 in the Old Testament and 299 times in the New Testament. Granted, not all these verses refer to serving God, but many of them do apply to our responsibilities as children of God. A similar search for the word “worship” find its use 127 times in the Old Testament and 70 times in the New Testament. A study of applicable verses provides us insight into the relation of our efforts and attitudes on earth and our eternity in heaven. We know from Matt 6:19-21 that Christians are to lay up spiritual treasures in heaven by living a life pleasing to God. This would obviously include prioritizing our time and efforts in serving and worshipping Him with a joyful attitude. John continues this theme in Rev 14:13 by recalling a voice from heaven telling him those that die in the Lord will have their works follow them. Rev 4:10-11 captures John’s vision when he sees “the four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne and worship Him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created”. If the twenty-four elders will be forever worshipping God, will not the remaining saved be doing this also? John continues his vision of heaven in Rev 7:14-17: “And I said unto Him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: And He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
These passages confirm that those who remain faithful until death will be blessed to serve and worship God day and night forever and ever. If our number one priority here on earth is not to serve and worship God with a joyful attitude is it not time for an honest self-examination (2 Cor 13:5)? Eternity is a long time.
A survey of congregations throughout the Unites States revealed that 50% do not have elders and 54% of those that do have elders have only two. That means that three quarters of our congregations either have no elders or are a heartbeat away from having no elders. I wonder how many of those congregations are actively preparing men to serve in leadership roles. How many, although they may not admit it, have become comfortable with the “Men’s Business Meeting” style of congregational leadership? As with many activities in life, the longer we do them the harder it becomes to change those habits. The harder it becomes for two or more men to separate themselves from the crowd and take personal responsibility for shepherding their flock. The harder it becomes for the congregation, especially the men, to accept and trust their leadership. Shortly after Paul established congregations on the island of Crete, he directed Titus to set in order the things that were lacking by appointing elders in every city (Titus 1:5). Who is fulfilling the role of being an example to the flock (1 Pet 5:3) if there are no elders? If a congregation is not organized as God intended or actively pursuing that organizational structure, can they avail themselves of the full spiritual blessings in Christ?
These are perilous times for the world at large and certainly for the Lord’s church. Both are experiencing a crisis in leadership. Personal attacks from those in opposition to current and potential political leaders who exhibit integrity and virtue discourage these qualified men from serving in secular leadership positions. Unfortunately, many qualified men in the church refrain from serving because of the perceived hardships associated with the work of an elder. Shortly after I was appointed an elder, news of the appointment was announced at a board meeting of an organization associated with the church. The general reaction from these mature Christians both surprised and disappointed me. Statements such as “buy yourself a flak jacket, the arrows are coming; say good-by to your wife and family, you won’t be seeing much of them from now on; and there go all your social friends in the congregation,” were heard from around the conference table. Contrary to those comments my eight years as an elder were, although not without challenges, the most rewarding of my Christian life. Our congregation may be the exception, but I pray it is not. God is searching (Jer 5:1) for qualified men who will stand in the gap (Ezk 22:29-31) and lead His church.
Roman Centurions, mentioned numerous times throughout the New Testament, are excellent examples of sound leadership. They spent years in preparation for this position learning at the side of a Centurion. They led in battle from the front, wearing brightly colored plumbs on their helmets in order to inspire loyalty and ownership of the cause in those soldiers under their command. Unlike Jacob, who out of fear, allowed his wife and children to lead him toward perceived enemies, shepherds must be in the forefront of every battle, protecting and feeding their flocks. Although preachers, who are not elders, are not to fulfill that role, in many congregations they perform as defacto “pastor” because of a void in leadership. This situation is not pleasing to God and those involved will one day answer for their actions or inactions.
A twenty year old single man who has completed high school and a two-year program at one of our preaching schools may be qualified for an entry level minister’s position. If that same young man desires to be a shepherd one day he will require many years of spiritual growth, service, experience that brings wisdom and the challenge of marriage and family (1 Tim 3:1-7). We must create an environment within our congregations that encourages younger men to prepare themselves for the work of a shepherd. As in all aspects of life, we accomplish what we plan to accomplish and that planning and the execution of that plan must originate with the elders or male leadership, including the preacher, of each congregation.
As with our secular lives, balance is a key ingredient to success. Congregations that rush to appoint elders simply to have elders without adequate preparation will often create more problems than they solve. It is much better to be scripturally unorganized than to appoint unqualified men to watch over the flock. A balanced approach to leadership includes preparing men to serve. Start by identifying men with the potential to become elders or deacons. Place them in categories based on the estimated time it will take to prepare them for each position (1-3 years, 3-5 years, 5-10 years). Assign an elder or spiritually mature male leader to mentor them in the development process. Then assess each man’s development needs and create a plan to fulfill those needs. Sit down with each man and his wife, and encourage them to continue to grow spiritually and strive to reach the goal of one day becoming a deacon or elder. Meet annually to access the progress of each man and revise his development plan if necessary. The plans will be unique to each man, but can include daily Bible reading and related books concerning the church, elders, deacons and various ministries, as well as attendance at sound lectureships. A workshop was held in Atlanta in the past by two men with a wealth of knowledge and experience but was attended by just five of the area’s fifty plus congregations. This apathy does not bode well for the church’s current and future leadership. Developmental assignments within the congregation such as teaching, benevolence, local and foreign evangelism will prepare men for congregational leadership positions. Accompanying the elders and preacher on visits to visitors, shut-ins, those in hospitals and spiritually weak members will help prepare them for the vital role of personally shepherding their flock. Teach them the importance of gaining the trust and respect of the congregation by accepting responsibility for their commitments and holding them accountable for their assignments.
Shepherds have an awesome responsibility in protecting and feeding their flocks as well as spreading the gospel. Their goal is to reach heaven and bring along as many souls as possible. Joshua 3:17 tells of the priests standing firm in the midst of the Jordan River allowing all of Israel to cross over on dry ground to the promised land of Canaan. Elders have that spiritual responsibility today. They are the bulwark against Satan. If faithful men will step up and stand firm, they will help their flocks to reach the promised land of heaven.
Future leaders must be challenged to take personal responsibility for their preparation to lead and they must understand the conditions for receiving God’s blessings (Jas 1:22-25). They should not underestimate what they can accomplish (Phil 4:13) when they honestly examine themselves (2 Cor 13:5).
Current leaders must be challenged to raise up men whose hearts are aflame with love, whose souls are full of faith and vision, whose spirits are burning with zeal, whose lives are humble and selfless, who know the Book, who are afraid of being ashamed and ashamed of being afraid, who are set for the defense of the gospel, who will declare the whole council of God and who will count the cost and be willing to pay the price. Our talents are a gift FROM God, what we do with those talents is our gift TO God.
A quote from Matthew Henry’s commentary on First Timothy is a fitting way to end this discussion:
“There ought to be an earnest desire of the office in those who would be put into it; if a man desire, he should earnestly desire it for the prospect he has of bringing greater glory to God and of doing the greatest good to the souls of men by this means.”