Saturday, April 25, 2020

Don’t Let a Wishbone Grow Where a Backbone Should Be

Don’t Let a Wishbone Grow Where a Backbone Should Be

     We were at Grandma's apartment.  Our 3 yr old daughter was surveying every nook and cranny.  That's when I saw it.  She had a small metal object that she was trying to stick into an electric outlet.  My yell froze her in her tracks just before she reached the power.  I had saved my daughter but my Mom was furious that I had scared the socks off of my daughter.  She chewed me out royally.

     Though I thought she was going to call the police about her child-abusing son, she didn't.  Eventually our visit turned out OK.  But the contrast between the closeness of danger and the need to warn the one living dangerously was a mini foretaste of my life's future.

     Christianity has unbelievable benefits in this life and indescribable rewards for all eternity.  All of these are furnished by an awesome loving God who made the toughest love choice beyond all imagination:  "Since he did not spare even his own Son for us but gave him up for us all, won’t he also surely give us everything else?"  (Romans 8:32, TLB)  I wouldn't have chosen you over my child.  You wouldn't have chosen anyone over your child, would you?  But God did!

     So take a little time travel with me.  Let's travel back to Jerusalem to the time just after God's Son was horribly crucified.  We arrive 7 weeks later on the day of Pentecost.  Jesus had already risen and rode a cloud to Heaven.  This is the Sunday when God's Holy Spirit filled the apostles ~ empowering them beyond all human capabilities.

     With the in-dwelt Holy Spirit, Peter did what Jesus had told him to do... turn from the wicked denying of Jesus and help strengthen the others.  So Peter did just that and preached the 1st sermon since Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension.  In Acts 2 his sermon is recorded.

     Now, let's glance back to my Mom's apartment, and my warning scream at my daughter's dangerous close call.  Just as I feared her action had to be stopped at all costs, the Holy Spirit inspired Peter that his audience had to change their ways at all cost.

     Anyone who reads Peter's sermon, even if only casually, will note that his message was a "barn-burner."  It was full of facts, evidences and heavy guilt laying.  Even more, it was to a massive crowd of thousands, who as a nation, had caused Jesus' crucifixion.

     How do we know that he screamed a warning?  Here was His final point: "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

     Back to my little girl.  Remember she froze in her tracks and was spared from the close danger?  So ~ here is what Peter's audience said, "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  They were frozen in their tracks.

     Peter's powerfully-delivered sermon now had a Holy Spirit specific invitation:  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:38-39, NASB)

     As Peter looked at the crowd he hammered home their need to be saved:"With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." (Acts 2:40, NASB)

     So, the crowd having heard his message, believed they had crucified God's Son, were touched to the heart, repented and were immersed to have their sins forgiven and to receive the Holy Spirit to live within.  3,000 of them that day.

     Now let's time travel to 2020.  Preachers nearly everywhere, when asked how a person can be saved, say, "Pray this prayer after me."  When the prayer is completed, they'll conclude with, "Now you're a Christian and the Holy Spirit lives within you." 

     Huh?  What the?  Why didn't the preacher use Peter's words?  "Repent and be baptized to have your sins forgiven."  We need to note a subtle, malicious and utterly dangerous, even eternally deadly, twist that has happened in the last 50 years.

     Far too many churches have hired preachers who have short-changed the Gospel.  Audiences are coaxed into coming forward and praying to receive Salvation.

     Excuse me?  Did the person repent?  Nobody knows because they were not instructed to repent.  Why wasn't repentance preached?  Because the preacher would have had to preach against sin first.  But it takes spiritual guts to tell an audience they are sinful.  When Peter had told them how sinful they were then they repented. 

     When I was ordained to preach, three Elders gave me the following charge to which I had to respond, "I will," or "I will not."  "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction."  (2 Timothy 4:1-2, NASB)

     The Apostle Paul had done just that over his entire ministry:  "Wherefore I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God."  (Acts 20:26-27, NASB)

     I vividly recall a sin-infested believer who crunched knees in his balcony pew in his hurry to run to the front and fall on his knees when the invitation was given.  It sent chills dancing up and down my spine. 

     I still can see, on another day, a middle-aged believer who was so convicted by her sinfulness she came up on the stage in the middle of the sermon and begged for forgiveness.

     Are these true stories duplicated today?  Are they?  What's your answer?

     Why do preachers today often say, "And finally" they're close to ending their sermon?  To me it is a lazy habit, kind of like saying, "I know you're tired of listening, so I'm almost done."

     God wants His preachers to not slowly conclude the sermon.  He wants them to build to a crescendo and invite the audience to respond.

     Do you know how the most successful salespeople get the sale?  They build up to a crescendo and ask for the response and then shut up.  Do you know why?  The rule of thumb is.. .at that exact moment... he who speaks first loses. 

     Its the same with preaching.  Ministers need to give a moving invitation with the audience standing, have an invitation song and expect a response.  Too many ministers prefer a softer approach and simply close with prayer.

     How did the most listened to minister in the last 100 years end his sermons?  Billy Graham demanded repentance and closed every sermon with a heart-grabbing song as he bowed his head and prayed for a response.

     Did the Bible preachers close their messages with, "Please bow your heads as we pray...?"  No way! 

     While Paul was imploring Felix to stop sinning and become a Christian ~ Felix became terrified and ordered Paul to quit preaching. 

     "But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”  (Acts 24:25, NASB)

     Paul was in prison and might have been freed had he paid a bribe to King Felix.  Instead Paul preached the 3 concerns of the Holy Spirit with a gigantic but sadly disappointed response.  King Felix was absolutely terrified.  In the Greek this is a pregnant word meaning horribly afraid, fearful. 

     The great men of God in the first part of the 20th Century preached dynamically against sinful life styles and demanded repentance.  They were known as hellfire and brimstone preachers.  Baptistries immersed countless crowds of Jesus' believing, repentant sinners throughout the land.

     But... what has happened in the last 50 years?  Preachers have fallen far short of the Biblical examples.  But why?

     Here's what Paul warned: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3, NASB)

     I wonder how many Preachers today preach the whole counsel of God?  It would seem that they would study what Paul preached to Felix and also Jesus' statement as to what the Holy Spirit wanted preached.

"And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;" (John 16:8, NASB)

     So aren't Holy Spirit-led ministers to preach so as to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment today also?

     There's a joke that depicts some preachers.  A preacher sat in the men's meeting and heard the men wrangling over re-shingling the church roof.  A number of the men wanted green shingles but another big group wanted black.  They couldn't reach a decision so they put it off until the next scheduled meeting.

     Shortly after the minister got home an elder who wanted green shingles dropped by and expounded on all the merits of having green shingles. W hen he was done the minister said, "You're right. You're absolutely right."  Later that day an elder from the black shingle group dropped by and expounded on all the merits of having black shingles.  When he was done the minister said, "You're right.  You're absolutely right."  The man left.

     When they were alone, his wife said, "When the man wanted the green shingles you told him, "You're right.  You're absolutely right."  But then when the man wanted black shingles was here you said, "You're right.  You're absolutely right."

     She continued "I think you're nothing but a compromisor." The preacher replied to her, "You're right.  You're absolutely right."

     Grammarist says to preach without compromising is, " speak the unvarnished truth, to speak plainly and without embellishment and without softening the hard realities of that truth."

Isaiah 5:20 written 600 BC describes the 2020 world:
     "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
       who replace darkness with light and light with darkness,
       who replace bitter with sweet and sweet with bitter."

     The Passion Translation footnote to this passage explains "Their moral code is reversed as sin is accepted as something good.  Not content to abandon what is good, they must label it as evil.  Those who abandon the absolute standards of God’s Word will find a reversal of every true virtue.  Good is mocked and evil is embraced.  Light is ridiculed and darkness is worn like a cloak. The sweetness of God is called bitter; the bitterness of sin is called sweet."

     A while back I received an invite to preach at a church as the minister was scheduled to be out of town and it was unlikely that he'd return in time.  I wasn't familiar with the minister but felt that due to the current state of the world, I'd preach the same subject as the Apostle Paul did to King Felix, viz, Sin, Righteous Living and the Judgment to come.  I called it the "A, B, C's of Sin.

     I pointed out how broad spread lust and immorality are today.  Like pornography, dating sites, and unspeakable acts that would make Sodom and Gomorrah blush.  I used a clip from the Internet that read, "So here are the numbers for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil,... the International Olympic Committee will be distributing 350,000 condoms, 100,000 female condoms, and 175,000 packets of lube to 10,500 athletes who will stay in the Olympic Village for 17-day long Olympic Games, which amounts to an average 2.5 condoms per athlete per day."

     Considering Righteous Living I pointed out that huge crowds of people are living so unrighteously that Sexually Transmitted Infections are explosively prevalent everywhere.

     Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • More than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide.
  • "Each year, there are an estimated 376 million new infections." (Wellness Center)
     Then I shared God's standards as each of us approaches eternity. Heaven or Hell is a choice. 

     Head towards Heavens: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:22-24, NASB)

     Head towards Hell: "It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.  I could go on.  "This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know.  If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom."  (Galatians 5:19-21, MSG)

     After the Invitation I went to the exit door to greet people as they left.  Mark, who had invited me to preach, was the first.  He warmly thanked me and stood near by.  Suddenly a man stormed up and confronted me almost nose to nose.  "How dare you come here and preach like that.  I am furious at you and will warn other churches so they'll never invite you!"  Sternly he thundered down the steps and out into the dark Winter night.

     I glanced at Mark who said, "That's our preacher. He got back early."  Then a few more people came out and were pleasant.  A middle-aged, thin woman came slowly towards me.  Her face was ashen and covered with tears.  Her eyes were red and she paused as she took my hand with both of hers.  Tears still trickling she said, "I thank God for your sermon.  We have needed that for a long, long time."  She gave my hand a strong squeeze and quietly headed down the stairs.

     I asked Mark if he knew who she was. I will never, ever forget his exact response: "She's the preacher's wife." 

The Great Judgment Day
T. Marshall Kelly

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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Faster Than Immediately

Faster Than Immediately

     Let me go back to a time when I was a bit younger. I had resigned my ministry and had experienced some incidents to which I reacted poorly.  I grew discouraged and before long I was staying away from family, friends and missed some church services.  But then a series of events occurred.

     First I received an unexpected phone call.  "Larry, I'd like you to preach this Sunday night as I'm sick."  It was from the senior minister of a large church.  He had been my mentor earlier in life.

     I was speechless.  I didn't feel worthy to preach to others when my head was so messed up.  But he was the one person to whom I could never say No.

     I knew before I'd get up and preach I needed to get my heart in tune with my Lord.  I knelt and prayed confessing to God that I was essentially back-slidden and ashamed of myself.  For most of a day I prayed over and over for a second chance.  I read Scripture. Listened to gospel songs and prayed some more.  Then I fell asleep.

     When I awoke Saturday I felt humbled and unsure of what to preach.  Should I use an old sermon?

     I prayed for guidance.  Then, it was almost like a voice in my soul, Preach on "Does God Give Second Chances."  It was clear the Lord wanted me to give my heart fully back to him and He wanted me to share with the audience that He is all about second chances.  And third.  And fourth.  And ...

     So I began preparing the message.  I was led to a passage in Luke 22:31-32 that became my text.

     “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

     This moved my heart dynamically.  Here Jesus told Peter that he was going to be tossed around by Satan (which he was and denied Jesus three times).  But then I saw the most awesome words from Jesus to Peter:  "And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Hallelujah!  The Master told Peter you're going to get another chance.  Turn back to following me and strengthen others.

     Now I knew the Lord was exhorting me to return in fullness of faith and get busy strengthening others.

     Sunday night when I stood behind the pulpit I felt renewed and uplifted.  As I began I noticed the "sick" senior minister was in the audience.  It was a large audience and they were very receptive.  And the Holy Spirit was moving in a powerful way both in my heart but also in the audience. 

     When the Invitation was given to "return to the Lord if you've drifted away.  He will give you another chance."  26 people responded - which was more than I had ever experienced after any other sermon.

     But now I want to tell you the rest of the story.  When I got home my wife and I prayed that I'd give my life back to full-time ministering for God and never stop.  We hit the sheets late that Sunday night.

     And that's when it happened.  The Holy Spirit orchestrated a simultaneous occurrence.  While we slept a Christian man who lived 475 miles away was dispatched to drive to our home.  He was on a mission with a message.

     Early Monday morning I left to go to work.  It was shortly after that when my wife heard a knock on our door.  At the door stood Brother Bullock, a Christian man whom I had only met once ... years ago.  He had driven all night long to give us an invitation to minister to the church where his daughter attended.

     My wife called me and excitedly shared the news.  I was absolutely convicted and knew, not only was the Lord giving me a second chance, He heard and answered our prayers faster than immediately.

     Two weeks later we accepted the offer and moved to begin our new ministry.

     So, if you feel separated from the Lord, drifting instead of marching and uncertain of your eternal future, please do something right now.  God will give you a second chance and as many more chances as it takes to bring you home.

     Jesus uses a metaphor of an earthly father with a son who strayed, left home and became a full prodigal.  But then He says the son realized his sorry condition and knew he needed to go back home to his Father.  So he began the long trek.  But as he put one sandal in front of the other he was uncertain what was waiting over the next hill.

     Jesus supplies the answer to the prodigal's wondering about how his Dad would greet him.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."   Don't ever doubt that your Heavenly Father isn't anxiously yet patiently waiting with wide open arms to hug you and welcome you home. 

picture of jesus welcoming us into heaven | ... wonderful way to ...

Lord, I Need You
Matt Maher

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Sunday, April 5, 2020

They Wouldn't Let Her Say Goodbye

They Wouldn't Let Her Say Goodbye

     Have you ever been discouraged, depressed, given up hope, felt like walking away, felt suicidal?  Sometimes that happens to school teachers, healthcare people, lawyers, entertainers, ministers, counselors, mothers, fathers, elderly, youth and people in all walks of life.

     Even our pets experience some of these symptoms.  Wild animals also. Zoologists noted that a chimpanzee mother will carry her dead baby chimp for a week or more.  A lioness kept returning to the clearing where she'd been with her mate when a trophy hunter killed him and took him away.  Mother whales grieve over the death of their newborn or companion and their screams are heard miles away deep in the ocean.

     Every year thousands of deer, elk, and other herding animals are shot by hunters.  Do you think these animals are missed by their mates or offspring?  Do you have any idea what year in the last century had the fewest deer killed?  According to varied sources it was 1943.  Why that year?  It was the year following the release of Walt Disney's Bambi movie. Bambi was a most enjoyable animated mule deer who, in his first winter, saw his mother shot and killed by a hunter.  The grieving Bambi so impacted children and even some adults that many hunters chose to not hunt that season.

     How many stories have been written and songs been sung about a family's pet dog who died or who survived its master.  Tears have been shed that time doesn't remove.

     We are now in the midst of a global pandemic that is resulting in the death of large numbers of people.  Many countries have enacted laws requiring its citizens to self-quarantine themselves.  Story after sad story shows seniors in nursing centers having to wave at their children and grandchildren through the windows as family cannot enter the building.  Sorrowfully for some of those seniors it will be their last wave.  It is the same in most all of the hospitals.  It is horribly obvious if your loved one is infected and transported to a hospital to remember two things: You won't be allowed to accompany or visit them, and you might as well say, "I love you and goodbye," as you may never see them again in this life.

     It is so sad that in some places funerals are not even held as the number of corpses pile up and are being mass cremated according to some sources.  Centenarians are saying, "In all of my 100 years I've never seen anything like this and I pray we'll never see it again."

     I think that 4-letter word has gripped the whole world:  FEAR.  When Jesus walked the earth he slept in a boat that carried his disciples into a horrendous storm.  The storm was seismic in effect causing the boat to be bounced around like a fumbled football.  Though some of them were fishermen by trade, fear gripped them all: "The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25, NIV)  

     Jesus dealt with it by asking them why they were fearful and then he ordered the storm to stop.  And it did  The poet wrote: "The disciples were tossed on a cold raging sea.  But Jesus was sleeping so peacefully. They cried master Oh don't you care that we die?  He spoke these soft words peace be still.  It was the storm that had to die."  

     This pandemic has troubled the world to such an extent that fear, hopelessness and unrequited grief are ubiquitous.  "See you later," isn't heard much.  Tomorrow is as uncertain as the promised check in the mail.  Dreariness arises before the sun in many minds.  Hope clashes with dismay.  But...

     Don't give up hope no matter how bad things seem today because "It is the storm that has to die!"

     Here are some song videos that help with desperate moments.  They will encourage you to not be afraid, not give up hope and trust in the Lord.  I've selected song videos with lyrics so you'll have no trouble understanding the words as you watch.

     This song will lessen your fear and strengthen your faith.  Jesus wants you to not give up.  

"The God On The Mountain" 
Sung by Lynda Randall

     Here is a song that reaches those who feel alone, and have considered doing something desperate. Jesus wants to help you today.  

"You Raise Me Up" 
Sung by Selah

     Have you been told you're not going to make it?  Eternity is knocking at your door.  Do you want to tell your loved ones but don't know how.  Is there a final message you want them to hear?   

"When I'm Gone" 
Sung by Joey and Rory ... just before her death

     Have you lost a loved one.  You feel so empty and alone.  Death is so final.  How you wish you could have just a few moments more... just a few.

"To Say Goodbye" 
Sung by Joey and Rory

     Each of these videos are sung by a human being who has flaws and is not perfect.  Each has chosen to trust the Lord Jesus to forgive their sins and help them in their daily walk on this planet and then carry them home to Heaven for all eternity.  Please, in these fearful times, consider yielding to the Lord Jesus Christ.

"He Will Carry You" 
Sung by Scott Wesley Brown

     And for those who still have doubts ...  

"Jesus Saves" 
Sung by Candy Christmas and David Phelps

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It is only $3.99 and makes an ideal heart-touching gift during these troubling times!