What to Say After 40 Years


When I started thinking seriously about 2013, and our June Bible Conference, it was impossible to ignore the fact that this was going to be our 40-year anniversary!  Forty years of ministry, 40 years of evangelism and discipleship, 40 years of preaching and teaching, 40 years of church planting both in Tucson and around the world.  I could see that this would “flavor” much of this year, and rightly so.  First, for God’s glory.  (Ps.105:5) “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.”  When I look at all that God has done, it makes me want to shout His praise and glory, “Look what the Lord has done!” The second thing that makes this entirely fitting is to acknowledge the faithful saints who have made this possible.  Those who have “partnered in the faith of the Gospel!” Those steadfast saints who have “owned” the Lord’s vision.  They have embraced, identified with, invested in, and served the “purpose of God in their generation.”  I’m sure there are those numerologists who could explain the significance of 40 from the Bible, but it would be getting side-tracked.

Out of all this, grew the Conference theme and focus, “STILL AT IT!” This is not promoting an attitude that is resistant to change but, hopefully, the idea of unwavering faithfulness to the will of God.   Some of you may recognize that this comes from a motto that John Wesley employed, “AT IT - ALL AT IT- ALWAYS AT IT.”

This is definitely not a mindset that you can manufacture artificially. It has to be God-birthed and God-breathed! This parallels a fantastic statement about God in the Book of Zephaniah. He put things, “Yet God remains righteous in her midst...He stays at it, day after day...at evening He’s still at it, strong as ever...” (Zeph.3:1-5)

In the minds of so many people, isn’t this their concern or main question? It might be someone you’ve witnessed to in the past, or someone you‘ve been reunited with after many years. One of the first questions they ask is, “Are you still into that Jesus thing? Are you still religious and/or going to that church? What they’re asking in one way or another is, ARE YOU STILL AT IT?! What thrills me about all this is we’re talking about a worthy endeavor: the building of Jesus’s church and the advancement of the kingdom of God. I say this with the conviction that the church is the hope of the world, and why Jesus made it completely clear, ‘On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” James Emery White wrote, “As a result, the church is the most dynamic, active, vibrant, forceful project on the planet. It is the one thing we will give our lives to that will live on long after we are gone—and not just for a generation or two, but for all of eternity.”

So, this brings me to a juncture, or a crossroads of how do I continue? How do you tell the story of forty years in a reasonable length of time? In telling our story, one option open to us follows the line of, “What have you done?” There is, however, another perspective, that has a profound effect on how we view 40 years. It asks, “Who are you?” or “What have you become?” We sort of expect the first question when we meet someone; at some point they will ask, “So, tell me, what do you do?” There is validity to this, but it is also a relatively “safe” question. Far less common, because it starts to probe the real you, is someone who asks, “So, tell me, who are you?” As I reflect on forty years of ministry, I could fill up a lot of space with what we’ve done. Don’t get me wrong; these would be important and valuable contributions, because we try not to traffic with the trivial. But, I could also go deeper and ask during these forty years what have you become...who are we?

Have I become a more fully devoted Jesus follower...more of Him, and less of me?

Do I love people more? Do I carry a willingness to “spend and be spent for the sake of your souls”?

Am I a better husband and loving my wife with the love Jesus has for the church?

Am I an obedient and cheerful giver? Is that grace operating in my life to be blessed and be a blessing?

Am I becoming more and more of a servant in the exercise and discharge of ministry tasks?

Am I becoming large-hearted or magnanimous in my dealings with others, when that option is present?

Do I try to bring a spirit of excellence to everything; reflecting an attitude that says God deserves my best?

Am I content with the status quo or am I compelled to seek first the kingdom of God?

How aware am I, and of what value do I place on “the least of these my brethren?”

Do I value the “spirit of holiness” so that it is a “heart pursuit” or has compromise made me casual?

Do I have a heart of forgiveness in light of God’s incredible forgiveness of me and my sins?

Am I practicing a life overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving and freely express it?

Am I less impressed with or in need of recognition, but simply glad when the Gospel is advanced?

Jesus dropped a bit of a bombshell when he said (Matt.7:21) "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” I must confess, this verse has always troubled me, since it obviously says that none of can be half-hearted or presumptuous when it comes to our place in the kingdom. Entry into the kingdom of heaven requires a divine symmetry, “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” I cannot be committed to my will at all costs, and be fervent about the Father’s will at the same time. It was the response of the people that is quite intriguing. Their response focused on all the things they had done, “On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Jesus made it clear that the kingdom is about relationship; it is about the Father’s will becoming paramount. In the case of these folk, lawlessness remained in control thus, “I never knew you.” In the Lord’s mind, what was critical was “who are you?” and “what are you becoming?”

Can you see how there are two important but different story lines here? I have a lot more to say, but, please, could you excuse me...I feel that I need to go to the altar, first, and do some repenting! Hey, but isn’t that what Conference is for anyway?! Thank you, Jesus!