The National Director (not a real fancy title is it?) of our Association of churches delivered a message to the leaders of the Vineyard a few weeks back in St. Louis. Barb and I heard the message again in Sunbury, Ohio at a conference there. As we listened to the message it became obvious this was a very timely, prophetic word to the Church...not just our Vineyard tribe but even the larger Church needs to hear it.
Some background material, Phil Strout, the National guy, told us that the Lord had given him three prayers to pray in his life. The first one he prayed for about eleven years and the next one twenty plus. As He and his wife assumed the national role the Lord woke him up and said he had another prayer for him to pray. The Spirit told him he would need to pray for three things in this next season of life. That sounded fair enough and he asked the Lord what that would be. The Lord said he would need to pray for wisdom, courage and kindness as he moved forward. I know as you first read these words we might say, “Of course we need to pray for that...well the kindness thing seems a little out of place. But wisdom...courage sure.” But that is the beauty and wisdom of the whole message. Wisdom but no courage or even courage but not wisdom really does not make much of an impact...especially for a leader. Then kindness wraps it up in a package that communicates the Lord’s message so well. Who is not tired of angry faces and words depicting who the church is?
Sure, in Phil’s role as a national leader this makes sense but I think it is an important word for any level leader today. We are seeing whole denominations bow to the culture...exchange the truth for a lie. Calling evil good and good evil. Leaders by the hundreds are taking non-biblical stances to appease those around us, as if that would win them over. Wisdom, courage and kindness is exactly what will be needed to journey in and communicate with a culture that is bent on defying God and His way of life. I know of leaders in our own tribe caving to the pressure thinking it is the kind thing to do, to be accepting and affirming. Paul says, “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.” not acceptance.
Phil referenced Joshua 3:1-5 as he talked about all the Lord had showed him. One thing to point out, this was not a light hearted word the Lord delivered to Phil. He laughs some now but as he received it it was heavy word that he did not share with Jan for a few months. Joshua three is when the children of Israel are preparing to enter the promise land and the Lord gives Joshua some directions on how to go. The priests and the Levites would lead carrying the ark of the covenant, which is the Lord’s presence. He told Joshua to stay back a little to keep an eye on the ark to know where to go. Verse 4 says, “Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” The key message...Phil, you have never been this way before. Key message to the Church...Church you have never been this way before. What would we need to go, to lead, in a place we have never been before? Wisdom, courage, and kindness.
In Joshua one the Lord tells Joshua to be strong and courageous, then he amps it up a bit and says to be strong and “very” courageous. That makes you pause a moment doesn’t it? But Joshua also had this promise from the Lord, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.” Josh.1:5 You really have to know the faithfulness of this God we have been called to follow...to be able to lead others in their journey with God. Courage...not heroism or bravery...courage. John Wayne, that great theologian, said, “Courage is being scared to death, but still saddling up.” (OK i am not sure this fits or not but I liked it!) Maybe courage is just knowing Who has your back...or Who is out in front. I suspect as a pastor it is knowing Whose Church it really is. Whose word it really is. Who stands behind it all. This is not a time for the Church to bow to culture like it is cultures lap dog! (Phil said this too...I like it.) I am not advocating picking a fight...I am saying let’s trust Jesus when He said the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church. Let God be true and every man a liar…in Joshua 1 as God is giving Josh instructions His main message was “stay true to the word.” “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night.” Josh.1:8 I am sorry, well not really, but this is what I see so many doing…leaving behind the words of God to make culture happy.
for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Prov.8:11 Wisdom is a precious gift to the church...James says to ask for it...Paul says Jesus has become our wisdom...Proverbs is all over wisdom. I think at times operating with wisdom would mean asking better questions and listening more intently. I find reading the Gospels inspiring when I see the questions Jesus asks at just the right time. Sometimes His questions just quiet all the commotion around Him...shuts down His accusers. Sometimes the questions lead the person to the answer they were searching for and maybe did not even know it. In the garden God calls out to Adam,”Where are you?” It was meant to bring Adam out into the light...then a series of questions happen...to help Adam see what has happened.
Jesus asked brilliant questions...and did give wise answers. In the time and season we live in, to respond, “The Bible says.” brings derisive responses...outside the church...and in. I am not saying we back away from the scripture but we need to lean into it and know it and faithful to it. Jesus lived it from the inside out. Yes He could quote it…but He also lived it. We need to be able to communicate to a people who do not believe in the scriptures the truth of the scriptures. Proverbs 1:20,21 “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateway of the cities she makes her speech.”
Wisdom has a voice...makes some noise...tries to get our attention. Will we listen? We will attempt to hear? In a time when knowledge is glorified wisdom is needed. I have watched attempts by many to use tools of secularism to reach the culture. Business models and such...not all bad...until those practices take precedence over scripture. Then it goes bad. Some of my peers are now taking positions that cannot be supported by scripture...so scripture is explained away. I have to ask...if the church and its‘ leaders don’t place a high value on scripture...who will? Paul said he “became all things to all people.” and I don’t think he meant he discarded scripture to reach everyone...I think he discarded religion.
God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Rom.2:4 Kindness...not to be confused with being nice. I can remember reading a statement from John Wimber and I do not have it exact but in a time when he was getting a lot of criticism he reminded others, “Our brother is never our enemy.” To be heard and to live with wisdom and courage in this season will take the kindness of God in our words and deeds to be heard and seen. In a culture that screams at you how tolerant it is...we know it is not. When debate has been handed over to bullying it will take radical kindness to reach others. We are not conservative talk show hosts whose job is to talk over the other opinion and try to overwhelm them with our volume of words and sound. As Steve Sjogren has said...it will take a Conspiracy of Kindness.
A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. Prov.15:1
Folks...the prayer God gave Phil is not for him alone...it is for all of us. Whatever our role is in the Church...it is going to take wisdom, courage and kindness to be able to point people to Jesus. I cannot remember a message that has so stirred me like this one has...I hope the leaders in our tribe who heard it will pass it on...duplicate it. I know I have only given a small glimpse in...so much more to be said...and heard.
Courage will allow us to stand in the face of a culture demanding we bow to it…wisdom will give us the questions to ask and the answers to give…kindness will allow it to be heard. When you read those verse in Joshua three as Joshua works through the crowd of people he says “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Josh.3:5 Who does not want to see God do amazing things among us? Then let us lead with wisdom, courage and kindness…and see what the Lord will do among us.
If anyone would like to hear the message in its fullness you can go on the Champaign/Urbana Vineyard website click on the tab take the best and go and then click on the one with Phil’s name in it and watch Phil deliver it in January or go on the Sunbury Vineyard website and listen to it.