Tag Archive for: zeal

What do we do when God sends bad weather? When is it permissible to cancel service? Have we become too eager to forsake the meeting of the brethren? Join us as we discuss these questions and more on a special After Dark episode.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 169

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Join us for a comfy roundtable on the Apocrypha, outreach, zeal for the truth, and very small church bodies. This and more from your questions on the latest Conclave.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Regular Guests: Rev. Adam Koontz, Rev. David Appold, and Rev. Aaron Uphoff

Episode: 91

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

St. Paul calls us to imitate him, because spiritual fathers worthy of the name are worthy to be emulated in what they say and do.  Nor is this limited to the apostles, because in every age the Lord richly provides His Church with saints that we should honor and imitate.  Frequently, however, such saints fall into obscurity, blazing as lights within their own generation, but largely forgotten in the next.  Yet the Lord never forgets them, and on the last day their crowns will shine like the sun.

When the days were getting colder in the year 1831, a young man riding on a horse arrived into New Philadelphia, Ohio.  All he carried with him were his meager belongings, a few books, and some letters authorizing him as one sent to labor in Christ’s vineyard.  He had no idea where the Lord would send him, only that he was to travel westward until the Lord called him to stop.  His name was Emanuel Greenwald.

Greenwald had a letter of introduction to a man named Michael Doll who lived in New Philadelphia and was warmly received.  That same evening, at the request of Mr. Doll and the people of New Philadelphia, who had been without a pastor for several years, Greenwald held a service, preaching on John 15:9.  Though he imagined that he would go on further west the following morning, the Lord had other plans for him.  October 27, 1831 thus marked the beginning of a ministry lasting for twenty years.

Being largely alone in that part of the American frontier, Greenwald nonetheless labored mightily.  At one time in the course of that long ministry, he served no less than fourteen preaching stations.  As his biographer Haupt tells us:  “East of New Philadelphia he established a congregation eighteen miles distant; northeast, another at fourteen miles; north, another twelve miles from town; west, twenty-one miles; southwest, twenty-seven miles; south, twenty-three miles; southeast, ten miles, with intermediate places, six, eight, five, seven miles; making, in all, at one time, fourteen preaching places, at which, as often as possible, Sundays and weekdays, in every month in the year, services were held.”  Thus in an area hundreds of square miles in size, riding long on horseback preparing his messages, Greenwald fulfilled his ministry.

Greenwald would go on in the course of his life to serve three other congregations in Columbus, Ohio, Easton, Pennsylvania, and finally in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  He would become a prolific writer, especially devotionally and for children.  He would serve as editor of several periodicals and as president of his synod.  That is beyond the scope of this short article.  Yet one other anecdote told by Gerberding provides a terrific insight into Greenwald’s character:  “Dr. Greenwald once went to synod, and on his arrival was asked to join a pleasure party before synod would open.  He excused himself and said that he must hunt up a servant girl, lately removed from his parish.”

Far more could be said of this remarkable man.  Yet consider the example he provides.  May our zeal match his, especially in a time when travel is far easier and the tools we have make the labor far lighter!  May we be so willing to serve the Lord wherever he places us, and not merely the places where we think we would serve best!  The Lord raised up Emanuel Greenwald to accomplish His purposes.  Let us not forget his labor, even as we give thanks to the Lord from whom all such blessings flow.

Technology is the high god of our age. You know who someone’s god is by what he sacrifices. Money, hours of one’s life, the joy of other human faces and voices are all sacrificed to technology, and the sacrifices we make change us in turn. We become what our phones have made of us: impatient consumers.

Consumption is an attitude we lament in parishioners and potential converts. They demand things from us that we are either unwilling or unable to give them. They come only to take and not to give back. They appear and disappear as the whim suits them, as if the church were a Halloween or Christmas store you stop by once a year for something really specific.

But consumption is our way, too, consuming ways and means to bring in more people to our churches. Maybe that’s why you’re here, as if we were experts on how Christ’s Word can spread best in your part of the vineyard. Consumers are impatient. It is their way. They cannot be otherwise because their lives are defined by their needs, and we as pastors, preachers, evangelists have needs the same as anyone else.

Impatience cannot live next-door to hope. Hope waits, is patient, hope bears the strain and stress of what today has brought because it believes tomorrow can be better. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. (James 5:7). Hope and patience can receive because hope and patience are under no illusion that tomorrow depends on their doing, their needs, their demands, whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow (James 4:14).

Patience is possible because the flourishing of the Gospel and the growth of Christ’s Church are His gift for every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights…of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth (James 1:17, 18). Everything we have, life and life abundantly in Christ, that we believe in him at all, is all his gift. We have nothing we have not received, and our future will be no different than our past. James counsels patience precisely because the future is in Christ’s hands, You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:8). You, who are just getting a church start off the ground, be patient. You, who don’t know how to go about this whole thing, be patient. You, who are struggling to hold a congregation together, be patient.

Put away your phone and whatever you’re reading this on. Put away your habits of instant satisfaction and pressing demands. Put away everything that is impatient and suspicious, cramped and distorted in your soul. Put on patience and hope in Christ, and using the oldest and simplest of tools, the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, now calmly and steadily and joyfully reap the harvest the Lord has prepared!

Our Lord at times desired to have time apart from the demands of His ministry. He was often entirely alone, retiring to mountains where He could not easily be found. Sometimes His attempt at seclusion was frustrated through the demands of others for His presence and attention. Sometimes He called his disciples to come with Him into seclusion.

This is all tremendously needful, refreshing, and helpful. Who does not desire some time apart? Who of us can say that at every waking moment he is entirely ready and willing to carry out the ministry of the gospel? No honest man could answer “Yes.”

But there is a danger in the desire for rest. Rest is not only the resort of the hard-working. Rest is also the refuge of the lazy man who is unprepared for life’s demands. Rest throughout the week, not only on the Sabbath, is what a man does with himself when he is not carrying out his God-given tasks.

How much have we been resting from spreading the gospel? How much preparation time, reflection time, and downtime do we need until we are ready to spread the kingdom of God the Lord? How many books and conferences and modules and workshops on evangelism does one man need? How many years will pass in which we seek conversions only from other forms of Christianity rather than the ever-increasing number of people in our country who have never known Christ in the least? Godly rest and relaxation and meditation and prayer are one thing. Ungodly sluggishness and laziness and most of all apathy are another altogether.

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.
(Prov. 6:9-11)

We are most apt to rest prematurely when the work is hard. Calling up a friend and sharing ecclesiastical gossip is easily accomplished. Firing off a profound theological put-down on social media is easily accomplished. Assembling one’s theological books for an Instagram gem is easily accomplished. We are more apt to put off things like calling on a parishioner who has some beef with us or to do the hard work of engaging and evangelizing a completely new person because those things require hard, uphill, back-breaking, and at times spirit-breaking work.

But the Lord has said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We do not say these things only to condemn. We say this, as our Lord said what He did to his lazy, restful followers in Gethsemane: Would you not watch with Me? If our lazy, apathetic flesh could not remain awake for the betrayal of God’s Son, how likely is it to remain watchful for the hard but much smaller tasks of the ministry, including doing the work of an evangelist?

Honesty about our apathy is honesty about ourselves, about what we are most prone to love (our flesh) and most prone to neglect (our hardest tasks). Honesty about our apathy is like every confession the gate to a new path. We see head-on how ugly and untimely and niggardly our apathy about the gospel and the spread of the gospel is. We see how captivating and world-changing and bounteous is our Lord’s compassion for sinners. Knowing our hearts and knowing His mighty love and purposes, we set our hands to the hard tasks, the things we’d rather stay in bed than get up for, the things that call sinners out of their slumber into the wakefulness of the dawning light of Christ:

Awake, you who sleep,

Arise from the dead,

And Christ will give you light. (Eph. 5:14)

Biblical piety is God centered.

But what does that mean, especially on a practical level? The living God calls us to worship Him in Spirit and truth, but how is that done? Why is piety important? These are the sorts of question that this series hopes to answer.

I want to clarify a couple of things before delving in. Speaking about piety should not be taken as coming from one who is perfect. I speak as a dying man to dying men. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Yet we are not Christians in isolation. The Lord desires that His Church be built up and not torn down, and even a man like Paul is encouraged by the faith of another (Romans 1:11-12). May my words abound to the building up of the Church and the promotion of the glory of God. I must decrease, so that He may increase.

Also, writing seriously about a topic like Biblical piety can be somewhat self-defeating. Most of you, I suspect, are those for whom piety is already a serious topic. An article seeking to improve piety among those who do not care is not likely to accomplish much. Those who need it most are also most likely those who will not read it in the first place. The way out of this impasse is also a Biblical one: to be a living book. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).

Do not be discouraged either by the small number of those who seem to be serious. The Lord is perfectly capable of using whatever He chooses to accomplish His purposes. A small band of conspirators can accomplish so much when set in league against the devil and his kingdom of darkness. Men will leave behind their indifference and flock to the holy banner of Christ when they hear the clear trumpet calling and see the zeal of His mighty saints. Not all are generals in the hosts of the Lord, but even a brother in a foxhole fires us for the fight.

Therefore, this series will discuss Biblical piety with the hope of building up the Church and strengthening the hands of the saints. But before one turns to the practical ends, one must first lay the foundation. If one does not know where he is going, how will he reach his goal? Beginning next week, then, I will begin that work by clarifying the goals and the means.

It was a truth universally acknowledged that a parish pastor in a free church should “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Providentially guided to flourishing in America, the early Missouri Synod was ardent in spreading the gospel and planting new congregations. A synod that began with a dozen congregations and scarcely fewer clergymen reached its fiftieth anniversary with many, many times that number of churches and ministers. Without the in-depth demographic research and financial backing that is our contemporary good fortune, they spread the kingdom of God the Lord widely and deeply. They had been freed from the unbelieving strictures of the state church. They were now free to preach the Word in season and out of season.

We cannot recall their fervency without a mixture of confusion and of shame, confusion due to the sea-change in our common life and shame due to our lukewarm efforts by comparison to our fathers who were threadbare in the things of this life and rich in the things of the life to come. Everywhere we look, congregations are struggling mightily, and pastors are drowned in busyness, when they do have the means to be supported by the church. When they do not, the church’s work suffers so that the minister can put some food on his family’s table. Everywhere we look, we hear that the Faith is receding from our shores and going elsewhere, that the “passing shower of the gospel” has passed us by. What has become of us? Where has all our fathers’ resolve and confidence and joy gone? Yet we cannot recall their fervency only to bemoan our degeneration. The saints are our examples for imitation, not the occasions of our piously mournful recollection. This cloud of witnesses spurs us on to look afresh at how we might yet in our own time fulfill our calling and do the work of an evangelist.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look closely at the evangelistic nature of the office of the ministry as the New Testament teaches it. We’ll do that in the firm conviction that if the Lord has placed us in a difficult field, yet it is here that he has given us the work that is his to bless. We do not find Saint Paul bewailing the difficulty of his task or being at all daunted by the ideological and political forces arrayed against him. In the firm conviction that “now it is the opportune time, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2) for all mankind, we preach in season and out of season the Word of reconciliation also here and now in America, also here and now to the actual neighbor next door.

Here and now God has put our free church, our confessional church, our church of the pure Gospel, to proclaim that Gospel and to fulfill our calling to teach and to baptize all nations, including this one, including the spiritual-but-not-religious, including the less-than-exotic auto mechanics and coal miners and sugar beet farmers. We know that God works by calling something out of nothing and not by the wisdom of the world. We know that Christ died for us while we were yet his enemies and committed to us the Word that in Christ God was reconciling the world, even present-day Americans, to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).

“Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever” (Zechariah 1:5)? Do we hear these words of the prophet Zechariah? While in their context these words are meant to call to mind the need to return to the Lord, they also point to the time which is always flying away. The previous generations once lived and worked and loved just as we do, but now they have gone. Our way is also short, but we are always on the brink of eternity.

But Zechariah’s words are especially important for those the Lord has called to proclaim His Word. It is one thing to call to mind that we are mortal, and that cannot be stressed enough. The men called to serve as the messengers of the living God, however, must remember that the time spent in His service is shorter still.

Pastors are, after all, jars of clay bearing the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:7). They are not from everlasting to everlasting. We have been given a charge and appointed a time to fulfill it. Will this sermon be our last? “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16). The prophets, do they live forever?

These words are meant to remind us that we too will pass away, but they should also spur us to action. It does no good to turn back when handed the plow (Luke 9:62). Our time may indeed be short, but that should remind us of the urgency of our task. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

Even if the field is rocky and the plow is in less than perfect condition, a pastor is sent to do what his Lord would have him do. Would you run away like Jonah, complaining of the Lord’s mercy (Jonah 4)? Would you point out your inadequacy like Jeremiah, being but a youth (Jeremiah 1:6)? Would you demand that the Lord send someone else like Moses, who could not speak well (Exodus 4:10)? The Lord has given you a charge and sent you to carry out His will. It is not yours to hesitate (1 Kings 20:35-36; Jeremiah 48:10). Who indeed is sufficent for these things? In ourselves, we are nothing, but in Christ, we have been set for this great task. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17).

But our fathers and the men who served in the same field as we call to us as well to fulfill the ministry which has been given to us by the mercy of God. They knew hardships and toil, great joys and great sorrows, just as we do. They are the forgotten shepherds of the living God, who eagerly ran the race set before them. They planted churches, serving dozens of congregations and preaching stations, often at the same time. They travelled long miles in the days before roads. They braved bad weather and endangered their health to bring the Word to people far off. They rode on horseback or on the trains or through dirt roads that turned to mud in the rain. Their task was long and hard and is now largely forgotten among men, nameless men who will not grace the pages of history books. But their deeds have not been forgotten by their Lord whom they served, and He will give to them a crown which will never fade.

So take heart, sons of the prophets. Your time is short and your calling is urgent. But the Lord who is faithful has called you, and He will sustain you for the work. “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

“A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God” (Isaiah 10:21).  Though Israel had gone into captivity, the Lord promised that He would bring a remnant back to the land.  Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would be the Lord’s instrument (Isaiah 44:28).  God was indeed faithful, and a remnant of Israel returned, just as He had promised (Ezra 1).  In 538 B.C., the exiles returned to Jerusalem and began the work of rebuilding.  In the second year of their return, they began the great undertaking of rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 3:8-13).  Who could be anything except thankful for what the Lord had done for His people?

But zeal for this work flagged.  What must have been a fire for the Lord had reduced to barely smoldering ashes.  The Samaritans opposed the work after Zerubbabel rejected their offer (Ezra 4:1-5).  Those who returned began to intermarry with the people of the land, Samaritans and others (Ezra 9:1-2).  It seemed like a lot of work that would take a long time to complete.  Perhaps things were better this way.  Perhaps they would get around to finishing what they started, but they needed to settle in first.  Work on the temple ceased for many years.

This was the situation Haggai faced.  “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord” (Haggai 1:2).  They were complacent and more interested in secular affairs.  Business needed to be done.  Families needed to be cared for.  The temple could wait.  But the Lord declared:  “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins” (Haggai 1:4)?  You are concerned for the welfare of your own houses, while the welfare of the house of God goes to ruin.  Good intentions for the temple weren’t enough.

There is an important warning from Haggai for the Church in the present, especially in the United States.  This is an age of materialism, an age which has brought forth a level of prosperity which finds virtually no parallel in history.  The great temptation is to be concerned for the things of this world, for the bread which perishes.  Wealth has a way of drawing attention to itself.

But Haggai’s warning isn’t simply one of where funding needs to be directed.  Money is one consideration, to be sure, but the material welfare of the Temple is not the main point in this passage.  After all, David desired to build the first Temple for the Lord, recognizing a disparity between his cedar house and the tent of the Tabernacle (2 Samuel 7:1-3).  But the Lord did not command him to do it.  “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar’” (2 Samuel 7:7)?

Rather, Haggai speaks against the smoldering zeal of Israel, the mindset which is more interested in the things of the world than in the things of God.  Neglect of God’s house is one way in which this mindset shows itself.  By becoming so focused on worldly things, God is pushed out of the picture.  Woe to those who forget the Lord who gave them houses and cisterns and vineyards (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)!

But neglect is not the only way this mindset appears, as it happened in the days of Haggai.  Christians can also become worldly minded while seeming to serve the Lord.  Do we not observe Your feasts, O Lord, and give what we have to Your sanctuary?  Have we not raised a mighty house to Your name and sing Your praises with a beautiful worship service?  “Did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name” (Matthew 7:22)?

In the same way that Paul speaks about the value of circumcision in Romans 3:1, a beautiful church has much to commend it.  But a beautiful sanctuary can be devoid of the Word.  Elaborate vestments can be distracting.  Some of the most magnificent liturgies in the world proclaim blatant lies.  Nor does a lack of these things mean that our worship is automatically more acceptable to God.  As Amos says, ““I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Rather, the Lord is worshiped in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  Blessed is the one who hears the Word of God and keeps it (Luke 11:28).  As Jesus said to Judas, the son of James, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).  A living faith, given and sustained by the Holy Spirit, makes our sacrifice pleasing in God’s sight (Hebrews 11:4).  Such a faith will not neglect the things of God’s house, nor will it be pleased with merely the externals in themselves.  Certainly, the beauty of the Temple and of our churches is of value in every way.  It is not by nature bad or useless.  But a Christian is one who worships inwardly and not only outwardly.