“ON EAGLES” WINGS MINISTRIES”
“See how I bare you on eagles’ wings and brought you unto myself.” Exodus 19:4
Royce Kennedy ◊ 909 Whistling Duck Drive ◊ Largo, MD 20774
“FOR ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST.” PHILIPPIANS 1:21. NOVEMBER 2011.
In our most recent studies, we examined Paul’s pragmatic views on the issue of glorifying in the cross of Jesus Christ. We noticed that to the apostle, the cross was not simply a relic or religious symbol to be used in times of divine worship or private prayers. To him, it was not an event that enables us to go on a tour of the Holy Land, and visit the traditional site of Calvary, and mentally recreate the crucifixion scene. To Paul, it was not an event that transpired outside of his person, leaving him as a mere spectator. As we saw in our studies, the apostle placed himself on the scene and as an active participant. What happened to Jesus Christ also happened to him; he was there and he died with Christ. The statement that cements the entire episode for me is this: “By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” The deal is signed, sealed, and delivered! What more can we add to this daring testament of a thing that is already done?
It is evident that Paul’s statement in Galatians was not a rare and single event. He did not mention it “in passing” on to more important matters! It was not a mere conviction that stayed alive as long as the mind could retain it, before it vaporized into thin air. As we shall see in this ongoing study, Paul had adopted certain truths unto himself and had made them an integral part of his daily life. It was not like having a special suit or dress that we reserve for that special occasion. For Paul, it was not like changing gears or appearance or temperament to suite present circumstances and obligations.
What the apostle is saying in those few words is enough to fill volumes and close chapters in his relationship with Christ. Seemingly, he is not inclined to offer himself a number of options as related to the value of his life, and the reason to be alive in the first place. Acquiring a good education and become a career’s person were not his goals any longer, because in essence he could say in today’s lingo, “I’ve been there, done that!” Like Martin Luther King, he could seriously and honestly announce, “I have been to the mountain top!”
His climb to the top in Jewish society was such that he excelled far above his equals, being more exceedingly zealous than they. As we indicated in the past, he could have been the next ruler in Israel, so working his way to the top held no grandeur for him. Much to his surprise and we may add, to his credit, all that he achieved as an ardent Jewish scholar and professor, he willingly relinquished, not merely to look religious, and a “do-gooder” but to win Christ.
Alarmingly enough, we don’t hear much about winning Christ these days. Much of the sermons being delivered over the airwaves in today’s religious climate are about personal success. I may have missed it, so I am not about to point fingers! But I have not heard a sermon in a very long time that encourages us to “win Christ” and in so doing we take him home like a prize you win at the carnival or at a theme park. Suffering with him and becoming dead to this world is not an enticing and attractive sermon that will draw crowds to the front pews. I miss the days when saints wept as they sang, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give.”
Seemingly, the ministry has become flashy, fanciful, and full of glitter, and so does church attendance. For the most part, the ministry is now designed to make people happy! Let us help to make the people feel good about themselves; and surely, dying with Christ and being crucified unto the world simply do not fit into this scheme of things. Perhaps I have missed it so again I won’t point fingers; but do you long to hear sermons that cause our eyes to fill with tears; sermons that force us to our knees in new commitments and surrender to Christ? People of old who moved mountains and changed laws, were simple in that they did not count their lives dear unto themselves. They served with simple abandonment to the will of Christ.
We mentioned this in a previous study, but it is worth repeating because of its substance and power. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem with Rome figured into the grand scheme of things, being fully aware of what awaited him there. This passage never fails to grab me and have me sit up and pay attention. It makes me feel as if I am coming to Christ for the very first time!
“And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit (in his own spirit of commitment) unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and affliction abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:22-24.
This is the same man who declared, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” Either way, he has given Christ all that he was, all that he is, and all that he will become. This sort of commitment will never go unrewarded now, or in the future. The sad reality is that multitudes of Christians from time to time read these lessons of faith, endurance and death, but simply pass them on as historical data, and simply polish them at times, like antique jars, vases, and curios we bought when last we were in Rome. Let us delve a little deeper into the nook and cranny of Paul’s case for the ministry that was given to him. He was dedicated to it unto death and that goes a long way beyond the marriage vows that we make from time to time. Seemingly, if Paul served as pastor of a huge congregation at the “Head Quarters Assembly” having to share monthly visits between numbers of churches, he would have some sort of justification in his desire to see this ministry through to the end even if it meant physical death. Before we take a closer look at Paul’s ministry, let us contrast his with the ministries that have great support among us today.
As mentioned in a previous letter, just a mile from my home in Price George’s County, Maryland, a new edifice was erected with a huge membership. A few months ago a well established and well known preacher from Texas came for a series of special meetings. Traffic was snarled with several police officers controlling the flow. I had to find back roads to get to my house. As I understand it, many of these preachers must have their airline tickets sent to them in advance, their hotel rooms must be reserved, and a an offering of a negotiated amount must be agreed upon before the preacher arrives in town. Some years ago as I watched a religious broadcast from South Florida, after the offering was lifted in several baskets, the presiding minister took off his shoes and literally danced in money.
Let us contrast all of this grandeur and opulence, against the ministry that Paul deemed to be so precious and worthy that he wanted to be faithful to it, even to death. Here is his personal account in his own words! “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep: In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” 2nd Corinthians 11:24-27. Rest assured that ministers in those days did not acquire celebrity status and did not live high on the hog. The beginning of this ministry seemed promising as the mouth of certain prophets uttered. Let us join them in church!
“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.” Acts 13:1-4. We could never ask for a more profound and Holy Ghost endorsed entrance into the ministry. God called them; God anointed them; and God sent them on their way with the burning message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After ministering in many cities and towns, the results were mixed and varied. The Gentiles for the most part believed and gladly accepted the gospel’s call, while many factions among the Jews believed not and stirred up trouble that plagued the apostle’s ministry for years.
Paul finally came to this conclusion: “For I think that God hath set us the apostles last (of course the apostles today, many of whom are self-made, assume first place in all church matters) as it were appointed to death (not living the high life) for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye (the Body of Christ) are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; And labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” 1st Corinthians 4: 9-13.
Does this description of the ministry inspire you in so much you are now anxious to offer the rest of your life to this task? Read the outline offered above over again, then look around you on what we are left with today. Paul knew that Jesus said the disciple is not above his lord; if the world hated me, it will hate you also. As gruesome as the ministry was back then, Paul felt honor and mercy that God had called him to serve, and he did so with all that he had and could muster in himself. The explanations that we get from the ministry today is that all of what Paul described points to our spiritual tests and trials, so there is no need for us to undergo what Paul actually went through. Of course when we say “spiritual” we need not produce proof of anything.
What strikes me as beautiful and honorable on the part of Paul, is that he did not count his own life dear unto himself, so that he might finish his course with joy, having fulfilled the ministry that Christ Jesus had entrusted to him. To me, the point is not about what we actually go through. It is what we are willing to endure so as to be faithful to our calling in Christ. What comes to mind can be found in the pages of Church History that tells how the Church grew in power and in number under a series of intense persecutions. However, after Christianity became a State religion under Constantine and the clergy began to be paid, money brought power and power resulted in financial competition, and the power of the Holy Spirit silently slipped out of the building through the back door unknown to a sleeping sluggish church.
It is no wonder that John in the Revelation featured Christ as standing outside the door (of the church) knocking and seeking entry back to where he rightfully belonged, but was dethroned by bishops and members of the church hierarchy, whose ego and selfish ambition ascended the righteous throne of God in the church, thus dismantling the divine order that was established by Christ himself when he ascended on high and gave gifts unto men. As great as this sounds if we treat these truths as mere historical events that occurred thousands of years ago, and are satisfied simply to speak of these long deceased men and women of God, we sell ourselves short. These giants in Christ left examples for us to follow in their footsteps.
Paul was keen in exhorting Timothy this way: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” 2nd Timothy 2: 2. The apostle’s wish was that what he started and labored days and nights to set in place, would continue like on a conveyor belt in constant motion, always turning out merchandise ready for the market. It seems to me that instead of accepting the original teachings of Christ and his apostles, willfully or not, we have embraced a system that is the product of the ancient Roman Church. But here is the clincher! As long as that fake system that comes with a mere “form of godliness” continues to cater to the whim, impulse, and ego of vain men, no changes will be forthcoming except by Divine intervention.
The world can read about Paul and Silas, John, Peter, James and a host of early ministers who knew nothing of a “clergy and a laity.” But the question remains, “Can we find a Paul and a Silas today? Is there a Peter and John today who can say with assurance, “Such as I have, give I unto thee?” Some years ago, a minister’s wife working here in the Federal Government told me of a coworker who was somewhat of a worldly wise fellow. He could argue the scriptures inside out and upside down! One day he approached her desk and boldly ask; “Who shall we talk about today? Shall it be Moses? or Elijah? or Daniel? The lady quickly asked, “Lord, what shall I say to this man? The Lord replied; “Tell him what I have done for you!” Without looking up from her typewriter, she began to give her personal testimony in undue silence. After a while she looked up only to see the gentleman standing there with tears running down his face.
What made the difference in this case? She was not talking about some historical figures that lived thousands of years ago. She brought the conversation right home to where both individuals live. The man could easily identify with that which was current and viable. A wise man once wrote: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Psalm 119: 11. Time and again I have said in my sermons that the word of God will not fully benefit us until we have taken them off the written page and insert them in our innermost being. It is after they have been watered and carefully tendered by the Holy Spirit, that we will share the intended blessings that our Father has destined for us.
Let us refer to what is being touted by radicals, extremists, activists, and politicians in society today. The call is for “Freedom.” There is freedom of choice, freedom of speech, freedom to worship or not to worship, and even freedom to burn the American flag. Let us apply the concept of freedom to spiritual matters! You and I can be a melancholy, mediocre, bench warming, Sunday go-to-meeting Christians as a matter of choice. No one is going to club you over your head, or drag you bound hands and feet to the cross of Christ and have him inspire you and build you up beyond your own desires. Even among vessels of dishonor we are told; “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet (worthy) for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” 2nd Timothy 2: 20,21. There is a little song we used to sing back in my country village in Jamaica that goes like this: “Come tell me what more, what more can Jesus do. He laid the foundation, he opened the door, come tell me what more, what more can Jesus do.” The secular world is jammed packed with under-achievers, and non-achievers for one reason or another that we could debate till the cows come home. Likewise in Christ, there are those who thrive on the glitz, the glitter, the outward drama of “going to church” and being good citizens. They make no waves, and seemingly, encounter no waves in return. That is the comfort zone for multitudes of bible believing Christians.
We tip our hats to them; we love and embrace them, and do not overlook their contribution to the upkeep of the local Assembly. They do not seek to change the world or the local government! In their designated space and function, we have to believe that God has them exactly where he needs them. Chances are, I will never have the opportunity to socialize with, and witness to doctors. But God has Christian doctors who are well capable to fill that need on behalf of the kingdom of God. In the grand scheme of things, it is God, working all things after the counsel of his own will to the praise of his glory. Hallelujah! Suppose you were a king over a thriving kingdom, what would your single desire be? I heard the story of the King of England on a visit to the United States many, many years ago, having dinner with his hosts. An Indian servant waiting on the guests at dinner was asked to render a song. He sang the popular song, “I’d rather have Jesus.” After singing the chorus; “Than to be a king of a vast domain, or be held in sin’s dread sway.” the King replied, “I too would rather have Jesus, than to be a king of a vast domain.” Paul’s desire to live is Christ, but what is the noblest wish and desire that a king can articulate? Here is what a certain king wrote!
“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” Psalm 27: 4. Now, my Friend! Sit up and take notice with me for a moment! Here is a prosperous king ruling over the most powerful kingdom around. David had subdued other nations and brought power and excellence to Israel. His army was among the most elite one can imagine. Many of his men were ambidextrous, meaning they could fight valiantly with both hands. Of all the possibilities and in spite of all that a king could wish for, David revealed the true contents of his heart. Doesn’t this run parallel with the mindset of the apostle Paul? Did these men know something you and I have not yet discovered? In fact, Paul left the past behind and set out on a path that would enable him to lay hold on that grand prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3: 13, 14. Can we find more nuggets of truth from David’s own lips? Listen to King David again! “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went up with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.” Psalm 42: 1-4. Were these the words of a king, or a prophet emerging from the wilderness of Judah?
A hart is a male deer, and to pant is to breathe heavily or to gasp for air. It is said that a hart being chased by hunting dogs comes to the water brook, and with all of his innermost desires would love to stoop and have a drink, but he dare not stop in the chase. David used this metaphor to demonstrate his hunger and thirst for God. This was not a one-time occasion for the king. He said his tears have been his meat day and night, while the gainsayers and unbelievers kept saying, “Where is your God?” David does not refer to his mighty kingdom and his rank both as king and a man of valor in battles.
Once a year around Easter, almost the entire nation is directed to Calvary and the crucifixion. Many television stations air religious movies such as “The Greatest Story Ever Told” or “Jesus of Nazareth.” The next big event to capture our entire culture is Christmas. One local radio station in the Washington DC area, for two or three weeks prior to Christmas Day, plays nothing but Christmas carols. But David did not possess a seasonal desire for God, that changes its structure and purpose depending on what holiday was forth coming.
The same holds true for the apostle Paul. In today’s lingo we would say that for Paul to live, it meant Christ 24/7, 365 days a year. He did not deviate to the right or to the left in his determination and surrender to the life of Christ surging through his being. For me to live is Christ was more than a mantra; it was more than a fad; it was more than a sales pitch, or a saying that would attract more converts to the gospel. Winning souls for Christ was a good and worthy endeavor for which God was pleased. But Paul’s mindset was extended far beyond the secular world or even the cosmos that comprise the world at large.
Everything that comprised Paul’s world was about Christ. He is saying, I have no reason to live outside of Christ; to me, no world exists outside of Christ, and as long as I breathe this breath of life my focus and reason will be Christ and him alone. Paul did not have to wait until Easter to be mindful of Calvary because that event consumed his entire being, ended his natural life and if he is going to live for another moment, it is going to be predicated upon the merits of Christ himself, because outside of him he had no life.
Back in the early 1970s on one occasion I was about to board a bus in Birmingham, Alabama, returning to my home in Norfolk, Virginia. At the station I browsed through the rack holding books and I picked out one entitled, “D. L. Moody, The Valley and the World.” I bought the book because even the picture on the front cover seemed to reflect my own life. As I read the book, tears ran down my face so profusely that I had to say to the soldier sitting beside me, “This book will blow your mind.” D. L. Moody had gone to Bristol, England, to meet with the notable George Mueller, who established and ran an orphanage solely by faith. D. L. Moody spoke of how he managed to raise funds around Chicago, by going from place to place, from business to business soliciting funds. As if without thinking for a moment, he asked Mr. Mueller how he managed to raise funds to build and support the orphanage. The old man continued what he was doing, and without looking up he said, “By Faith!” Moody agreed but interjected the word “but.” Again the old man, still doing what he had been doing, replied, “All by faith!” It is said that there were times at the orphanage when the table would be laid and the children seated themselves, with no food in sight. But it always came by faith!
After taking his leave from Bristol, Moody travelled to London where he met with friends in a “house prayer meeting.” A tall slender man by the name of Henry Varley stood behind the podium and solemnly said, “The world is yet to see what God can do with one man, wholly committed to him.” That statement grabbed me and seemingly dragged me back to Calvary. Think of it! Just one man wholly committed unto God; that can change the world for the better. For the past 10 years until May 14, 2010, I worked 50 hours a week and by the weekend I was washed up and faded out. I felt like a prisoner and a slave to a job. Not being able to voluntarily retire for financial reasons, I walked into my employer’s office on May 17th and was told that the insurance company that underwrites the fleet of buses decided that at 75 years old I could not be covered any longer. I walked away unemployed and have been at home ever since giving myself entirely to writing. Two books have been published and I am working on my third manuscript. Maybe I can be one of those through whom God can change world events by changing one or two lives at a time. But in the meantime I join Paul in assuring you that for me to live is Christ; and although to die is gain, like Paul I have a desire to stay for the benefit of you my beloved partners in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. TO HIM BE THE POWER AND THE GLORY!!
Royce O. Kennedy