Favorite Scripture

by Tom Ellsworth 

Have you ever been asked, “What’s your favorite Scripture passage?”  As a preacher, I don’t enjoy being asked that question.  I hem and haw for just the right answer.  I begin the self-debate the very moment the question strikes my auditory nerve. 
 
John 3:16?  No, be original. 
 
Philippians 4:13?  Overused. 
 
Old Testament – Psalm 23?  That’s a funeral text. 
 
Revelation 3:20?  Am I sure a prophecy is my favorite?
 
The inner debate rages while I try appearing thoughtful outside.  How does one choose a favorite passage?  That’s like asking which of my grandmother’s pies was best; it was the one I was eating!  Similarly, my favorite passage is typically one I’m “chewing on” at the moment. 

I marvel at the impact of God’s Word on our lives at every sector.  Old passages take on new meaning at various times.  A passage I’ve read dozens of times can jump right off the page as if for the first time.  I’m always surprised by such freshness, but I shouldn’t be. 
 
Jeremiah wrote:  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  (Lam. 3:21-22)
 
If His compassion is new every morning, I can expect His Word to me to be new also.
 
Elders often face tough situations; ministry throws us curve balls.  A young wife with a new baby mourns the loss of her husband on the battlefield, a father of four unexpectedly loses his job, a child dies of an inoperable brain tumor…  Families turn to us expecting an answer as to why God seemed absent at the moment they needed Him most.  My empty words bring no solace, but God’s Word is a fountain of hope.  It can touch our hearts as nothing else can. 
 
When we need solace, Isaiah 40 is brimming with it:  Comfort, comfort for my people, says your God… He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak (verses 1, 28, 29).
  
When I find myself at wits-end, Job reminds me that God doesn’t owe me answers.  I step into Job’s sandals and listen as God thunders.  For four whole chapters (38 through 41), the Divine Prosecutor puts a trembling Job – and me – on the witness stand while exhibiting Creation.  I shudder – and slip away quietly – sufficiently reminded that God is in control; I’m not.  Once again, I’m content to let Him run the universe without my “help.” 
 
Last winter, one particularly clear night was breathtaking.  As the celestial lights twinkled above me, Psalm 147:4 raced into my mind:  He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. 
 
Ever since taking entomology in 4-H, I’m fascinated by butterflies.  But I believe God created the life cycle of butterflies to illustrate something much greater.  At the right moment the eating-machine caterpillar attaches to a tiny branch, entombing itself in the chrysalis.  But what emerges is far more glorious than what went in.  From the stillness of “death” comes an explosion of life.  The caterpillar’s transformation echoes “cocooning” in a tomb. 
 
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…”  (John 11:21-26)
 
Moments later, out of the stillness of actual death came an explosion of life. 
 
I can’t imagine facing the future without the assurance that Jesus has the monopoly on resurrection.  If He can raise the dead, He can handle any crisis that stumbles across my path.  Who knows what tomorrow may bring or what Scripture we will need to get us through another moment?  Take heart, elders; God always has the right word for us to share.  And undoubtedly, that one will become my new favorite Scripture. 

One-Accord

by Lynn Laughlin

My father, Ernest Laughlin, was the minister of the West Side Christian Church in Springfield, IL.  At the time, 1950-60’s, the attendance was about 1,000.  My father worked hard at developing a strong eldership through what we now call mentoring.  He was convinced that for any church to be effective, the eldership had to be faithful and healthy.  Through the years at West Side, he was supported and blessed by a committed group of elders. They backed him when he suggested that new congregations needed to be established in Springfield.  They encouraged him when he promoted the idea of a three-story Christian educational wing, which became the home for the Christian Day School K – 8, and is now called Springfield Christian School.
 
As my father provided the vision for such endeavors, these men, with one accord, saw the value not only for West Side, but for the community.  They responded faithfully and spiritually to bring about constant growth for the Lord’s Kingdom.  They demonstrated the character of Christ over and over.  When my father developed Parkinson’s disease, they gathered around to help in any way they could. 
 
My dad went on a Holy Land trip which was scheduled to go through several countries before arriving in Israel.  Unfortunately, he suffered a nervous breakdown in Italy and was unable to continue on the trip.  God provided.  A young lady, whom my father encouraged to go to Bible college, had chosen to become a missionary to Italy and had been in Bari, Italy for 10 years.  She was able to go to Rome, pick up my father and take him to Bari.  When the elders became aware of this, they immediately talked with my mother.  They planned and paid for my mother and younger brother to fly to Bari so they could spend the summer there to help my father recuperate, which he did.
 
Words are inadequate to express my gratitude for these elders as they were a constant blessing to our family.  The reason that I am writing this is to provide an example of what a group of dedicated Christian men can do for the sake of the Kingdom when they stand together in one accord.  Not only was this camaraderie godly and Christian in itself, but it allowed a congregation to see men place a high value on integrity and faithfulness in action as they responded to the needs of the staff of the church. 
 
May we all, as leaders, work diligently to uphold the concept of eldership as portrayed in God’s holy Word. 
 
Titus 3:8. 

Influence

by Dick Wamsley 

During my senior year in Bible college, a professor took me aside after an Abnormal Psychology class one day and told me I had good insights into human behavior in class discussions.  He encouraged me to pursue studies in the field of psychology and pastoral counseling.  That informal encounter planted seeds of influence that led me to complete two masters degrees, one in pastoral counseling and one in student personnel work in higher education.  That same professor became a lifelong friend and confidant, who continued to influence me to pursue ministries I might not have considered otherwise.

Every Christian leader is a steward of influence.  If your life in any way connects with other people, you have a storehouse of influence to manage.  Jesus reminded his disciples that they were stewards of influence in his Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. … In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” (Matthew 5:14, 16). 

In his book, Stewardship of Life, author Kirk Nowery writes, “In essence, the stewardship of influence is the stewardship of relationships.  Your life may have an impact in some field of endeavor; but ultimately and most significantly, your influence affects other people.  And this is as it should be because it is what truly matters.  As a friend once told me with great intensity, ‘Kirk, only two things last forever – the Word of God, and the souls of human beings,’” (Nowery, Stewardship of Life, p. 36).

One way you can be a good steward of your influence is to live a life of godly character.  Everyone has character.  A leader with godly character will lead others to live godly lives.  J. Oswarld Sanders wrote “If those who hold influence over others fail to lead toward the spiritual uplands, then surely the path to the lowlands will be well worn,” (Sanders, Spiritual Leadership,  p. 19).

All around you are people who look to you as a role model.  They are watching what you do, listening to what you say, and following where you walk.  Every word you speak and every action you take has an impact on them.  Whether you realize it or not, you steward your influence by the way you live. 

You also steward your influence by the way you serve.  Dr. Dan Gerdes once told Pat Williams, the long-time Orlando Magic basketball team executive, that if you seek to influence the next generation use your influence “… to instill in young people the image of leading as a form of serving,” (Williams, The Difference You Make, pp. 57-58).  If you want to influence others, your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.  So take up the towel and become a servant.  

How are we stewarding our storehouses of influence?

The All-In Elder

by Ken Idleman 

God has used elders to lead, guard and bless His people throughout history.  Examples abound in both the Old and New Testaments of those who exercised wisdom and discipline to equip God’s people to reflect His character and build His Kingdom.  While Jesus is the Head of The Church, elders oversee the health and growth of the church.  The qualifications for elder service are detailed in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.  These passages paint a word picture of spiritual maturity in Christ to which all believers are called as they mutually encourage one another and are mutually accountable to one another. 
 
I Peter 5:1-4 is our charge: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder… Be shepherds of the flock of God that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be… not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” 
 
So, Jesus is the Great Shepherd and we elders are His under-shepherds involved in teaching God’s Word, exhorting believers to live godly lives, praying for the sick, disciplining those who are unrepentant, protecting the church from false doctrine and distributing its resources for God’s purpose.
 
One of my favorite “all-in” elders is Caleb, whom we read about in Joshua 14:10-11:  “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years…while Israel moved about in the wilderness.  So here I am today, eighty-five years old!  I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out: I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.”
 
I have to admit, I really like this.  I’ve always liked how Ashley Montegue said it: “I want to die young at a ripe old age!”  Caleb is a young man in an 85-year-old body, but what makes this profoundly amazing is the connective preposition here; the word ‘as’ meansidentical in the Hebrew language.  Translation: He could bench press as much at 85 as he could at 40.  He was as strong at 85 as he was at 40.  Awesome!  This is an 85-year-old man you don’t want to mess with!  Just try to imagine the conviction in his voice when he said this.  I wish we had the audiotape so we could do it justice.  This is a Braveheart moment!  This is a Gladiator moment!
 
“Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day.”  Doesn’t that send a chill down your spine?  Caleb was all in.  He wasn’t looking to retire at 65, settle down at 70, or take up shuffleboard at 75.  If he had the opportunities available to him that we have today, my guess is that he would be skydiving at 80, climbing Everest at 81, hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim at 82, running the Ironman Triathlon at 83, taking up cage fighting at 84, and at 85 he’s saying, “Let’s go after that hill country!  Let’s pick a fight with God’s enemies!” 
 
I love the spirit of Caleb.  The simple reason that he was as vigorous at 85 as he was at 40 is because his faith never diminished.  In fact, his faith grew stronger over time and it was his faith that animated him and energized him in a way that I pray we all experience.  I pray that God would give us as elders and our wives the same spirit of Caleb.
 
I have met a few “Calebs” in my life – and I want to be like Caleb when I grow up!