“If they’re breathing-they need Jesus!”

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Sep 272020

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “If they’re breathing-they need Jesus!”

     One of the most interesting and convicting authors I have ever read is Mark Cahill.  He has only written two books.  One is the book One Heartbeat Away: Your Journey into Eternity.  It is a disturbing account of how we live with death every second of our lives, and must be prepared for eternity.  His follow up book is on witnessing, titled One Thing You Can’t Do In Heaven. In the latter book, in a chapter entitled “If They’re Breathing They Need Jesus!” He tells about a couple witnessing encounters he had with two very famous people.  Mark Cahill went to college and played basketball with Charles Barkley.  He even roomed with Barkley while the team traveled.  They became very good friends, and are still friends today.  On one occasion, after their college days, he was speaking at a Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, where Barkley lives.  Upon arriving in town, he called Charles to see if they could get together, after the conference that night.  Charles said, “absolutely, we’re hanging out tonight at”, (and he mentioned a famous club). Mark asked him who the “we” was.  He said, “Quin Buckner, Alex Rodriguez, and Michael Jordan”.  He of course accepted.  How could he miss an opportunity like that!  When Charles introduced Mark to Jordan, he told him, “Michael this is my good friend from college I was telling you about!” All night they talked about basketball, baseball, golf, and occasionally religion, due to input from Mark.  As they were leaving, they headed out to the limousine that would take they all to their various destinations.  As we walked together toward the car, I said, “Michael, I am speaking in town this week, and I would like to ask you a question”.  Michael said, “Ok, shoot!”  I asked, “Michael, when you die, what do you think is on the other side?  What do you think is out there when we leave here?”  Cahill said that a very serious look came over him, he started nodding his head, and was silent for about ten seconds.  Then he responded, “I think there are those pearly gates, when we die”.  I knew I didn’t have much time; the others were catching up with us.  So, I got right to the point, and asked, “Michael have you ever committed your life to Jesus Christ?”  Quicker than he leaves the floor for one of his famous jump shots, he shot back “yes I have” and quickly asked, “Have to talked to Barkley about this?”  Cahill assured him that he had done that several times.  Michael shook his head as he walked away to the limo.  He later found out that Jordan used to discuss Jesus a lot with Horace Grant when they played together on the Bulls, but after his father was murdered, he just clammed up about his faith, and refused to talk about it any longer!  Even NBA stars need Jesus. 

     On another occasion, Mark was invited to come to Charles mother’s home in Leeds, Alabama for the holidays.  While there he had the opportunity to meet Charles’ family.  He really hit it off with Charles brother Daryl.  Daryl told Mark, “I recently had a heart attack”. He went on to tell Mark that after the heart attack that he had a near death experience.  He said that while in the operating room his spirit rose up out of his body, he saw the doctors and nurses working with his body on the operating table.  He said he went on a journey where he saw burning trees, burning grounds all around the base of the trees, then a lake of fire with people in it screaming for help.  With terror in his eyes he said, “I saw hell!  Then I came back!”  Mark asked, “Daryl, if you would have remained dead where would you have gone?”  Daryl replied, “I would have gone to hell!”  Mark asked, “Do you want to go to hell?”  Immediately he answered, “No, I want to go to heaven!”  “Do you know what you need to do to go to heaven?” Mark asked.  “Yes, committing my heart and life to Jesus Christ”, Daryl affirmed.  “Have you done that now?”, Mark inquired.  “No-I love the things of the world too much to do that right now!”  Mark warned him, that with a bad heart, he was playing Russian Roulette with his soul. Daryl acknowledged the risk he was taking. A few years later, Daryl had another heart attack that took his life.  It was March 20, 2009.  He died young, at the age of 42.  What about his destiny?  If you look up Daryl Shawn Barkley…you see his grave which says, “Deacon Daryl Shawn Barkley”…Did he embrace the faith that his mother taught him, and serve his Lord in his final days?  If so, that near death wake up call changed his eternity.  That is a vision that would be good for all of us to wake up to.  We will never be the same for time and eternity.  What a difference it could make in the lives we touch for Jesus, while there is still time. 

     On a grave in a cemetery near Jackson, California are the following words:

Remember me as you pass by,

As you are now, so once was I

As I am now, you soon will be

Prepare for death, and follow me.

Someone wrote below those words in marker:

To follow you, I am not content

Until I know-which way you went!

Today’s message should encourage us to encourage everyone to know which way you are going while there is still time!

 Posted by at 3:14 pm

“Increasing our devotion as we remember their last full measure of devotion!”

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Sep 202020

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE; “Increasing our devotion as we remember their last full measure of devotion!”

     Most historians agree that the 272 word speech given by President Abraham Lincoln, on November 19, 1863, to dedicate the Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is one of the greatest speeches of all time. Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but they can never forge what they did here.  It is for us to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from  the earth”.  He called the nation never to forget the price that these brave soldiers paid to keep freedom alive.  But that was not the end of the story.  His speech challenged them to increase their devotion to the cause that they gave their last full measure of devotion!  What a worthy challenge.  As we go through the Book of Acts we too will be challenged to never forget the price some early Christians paid to further the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The first martyr was Stephen.  His sacrifice was soon followed by the sacrifice of James, the brother of our Lord.  As the Book of Acts ends we are anticipating the two primary Apostles, Peter and Paul, also “giving their full measure of devotion”.  Both of them do make that sacrifice under the ghastly reign of the maniacal Nero!  Their dedication reminds us of what missionary Jim Eliott said, not long before giving his life in the cause of our dear Lord.  He said, quoting Peter Marshall, “It is not the duration of our life that matters, but the donation!” 

      The giving of the full measure of devotion of Stephen, James, Peter and Paul, encouraged the early Church to follow in their train.  Many were so emboldened that they too would stand for the Lord, come what may, whatever the price, to extend the Gospel of their Blessed Lord.  In the Church of Antioch, where believers where first called Christians, in the year 70 A.D. They had a marvelous pastor by the name of Ignatius,  He was a dynamic, Spirit-filled and godly powerful preacher.  His preaching was turning the entire population of the city to Christ.  So Trajan, the Emperor of Rome, came to visit Antioch to see what was happening there concerning emperor worship-idolatry and heathenism.  He listened to that preacher Ignatius preach.  He saw the throngs turning to the Lord, and forsaking Roman gods and paganism.  He commanded that Ignatius be brought before him.  He sentenced him to be brought to Rome and to be exposed to the wild animals in the Coliseum.  The Coliseum was built about 5 years after the death of the Apostle Paul.  That means it was likely built in 72 A.D. Now the historians tell us that the first Christian to be martyred in the Coliseum was Ignatius, the pastor of the Church of Antioch. In the long journey to Rome he wrote beautiful and inspired letters. They are the treasures of Christendom to this day.  Finally coming to Rome, he was placed , sent out, stood on the sand in the center of that great arena, with tiers with thousands of spectators watching all around.  The cages were opened, and the lions were let loose.  When the leading lion ran omniverously, carnivorously, vicisously, fiercely toward God’s preacher, Ignatius held out his hand, and arm, to the leading lion, and above the crunching sound of bone and tendon, he was heard to declare, “Now I begin to be a Christian!”  That is how we honor those who gave their full measure of devotion.  That is how we increase our devotion.  That is how we honor them, and never forget them!  Willing to join them in bold courage to be faithful unto our Lord at all cost!  Another Christian martyr of the 20th century reminded us that such a commitment is not in vain.  Jim Eliot, who lost his life taking his Lord’s gospel to the Auca Indians of Ecaudor, said, “He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep, (his life), to gain what he cannot lose, (eternal reward)”.  To honor them we must never forget!  In the words of Rudyard Kipling- ” Lord God of Hosts be with us yet-  Lest we forget, Lest we forget!” (The Recessional).

 Posted by at 2:20 pm

“Be Pedestaled in Triumph”-Robert Browning

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Sep 122020

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Be Pedestaled in Triumph”-Robert Browning.

     Paschal, in his masterpiece Penses, tried to explain why the world in his day, like ours, seems lost in their insatiable pursuit of pleasure at any cost.  He said, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness proclaim but that there was once in man true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, thou none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words (can only be filled) by God Himself”.  In other words, Pascal was saying that man, created in the image of God, can only be fulfilled when, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!”.  Part of the wages of sin is to “fall short of the glory of God” but have this insatiable desire to know, love and experience Him.  If we do not come back to Him, and experience Him fully, through the salvation provided in His Son Jesus Christ, we will spend our lives seeking Him in an infinite insatiable experience, only to be left empty, disappointed, disillusioned, frustrated.  Even living lives of reckless abandon to all kinds of so-called pleasures and vices are affirmations that we are hungering for a God we were made to know, love and experience to His satisfying fullness.  That is why Augustine said, “We are restless until we find our rest in you oh God!”.  C.S. Lewis, in his book The Abolition of Man, made this very amazing point when he said, “Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility…but aren’t there bad, unlawful pleasures? (you ask).  Certainly, there are.  But in calling them ‘bad pleasures’ I take it we are using a kind of shorthand.  We mean ‘pleasures snatched by unlawful acts’.  It is the stealing of the apples that is bad, not the sweetness of the apples.  The sweetness is still a beam from glory.”  Lewis was saying enjoying pleasure and ecstasy, even in immoral ways, are in themselves an act of seeking to enjoy and experience God.  We may experience the pleasure through immoral and illicit means, but it is not the sweetness that is bad, but the means.  It still reflects the original desire of God to give us His “every good and perfect gift”.  But the reason we fail to retain the enjoyment of these illicit experiences is because we were never intended to enjoy them outside of Him.  They come, through proper means, from His Hand, with His blessing, and cause us then to react to the pleasure by enjoying Him.  That is what Lewis went on to say-“The sweetness is still a beam from glory…I have tried since …to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration.  I don’t mean simply by giving thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims very properly, ‘How god of God to give me this’.  Adoration says, ‘what must be the quality of that Being (God) whose far-off and momentary blessings to me are like this! One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun…’ “

     Therefore, the only real answer to overcoming addictions and destructive lifestyles is to see them for what they are.  They are insatiable pursuits of trying to enjoy the pleasures God intends for us to find only in Him, and His Son Jesus.  To try to experience those sweet pleasures from His hand, in illicit ways, will eventually prove to be “pleasure in sin for a season”-and lead to unhappiness.  You and I cannot fill the infinite abyss with finite pleasures, even if they come from the hand of God, if they are experienced apart from putting Him first in our lives.  That is why Emerson said, “Most men, (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation!”  So, it is the enemy’s goal to lead us to seek to fulfill our God-given drives and desires independent of God.  That is where most men and women in the world today are living.  We have believed the lie-“you only go around once so you have to grab all the gusto you can”. But when we realize that we can overcome these destructive lifestyles, with the strength of God, we are freed to experience Him, and in doing so can experience pleasures just as sweet, but in a way that is a gift from Him, and is therefore fulfilling and satisfying.  That is why Jesus said, in John 10:10 “I am come that you might have life…and have it more abundantly”.  That is why Augustine said, “God permits temptation to sin, to transform it into greater good.”  C.S. Lewis also hit the nail on the head, when he said, “Bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness.  They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  We never find out the strength of evil impulse until we try to fight it!”  It is a lie of the devil that God says no to us, because He wants to deprive us of pleasure and joy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Truth is pleasure and joy cannot be found, even in God’s gifts if they are sought to be enjoyed apart from Him.  The Gifts are inseparably linked to the Giver!  You can experience them without Him.  He created us for them.  But you can’t enjoy them without Him.  That is the message of the Book of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon tried and did everything.  No limits!  No restraints!  His conclusion?  Live your life for pleasure, apart from putting God first, and you will be “chasing the wind” and concluding “vanity of vanities all is vanity!”. 

   Robert Browning has written a great poem about Temptation- He wrote:

     Why comes temptation, but for man to meet

     And master and make, crouch beneath his feet,

     And so be pedestaled in triumph.

     God wants us to resist the temptation to seek out all the pleasures this world offers if we are not walking intimately with Him.  He wants us to come back to Him.  Embrace Him.  Love Him.  We will find that at His right hand are “pleasures evermore” (Psalm 16:11).  He says, “Take delight in Me and I will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).  That is why the Jesus people, of the seventies, found Jesus even more satisfying than a life of illicit sex and drugs.  He proved to be the one who satisfied most, when all those things, pursued without Jesus, were only destructive dead-end streets!  That why they talked about getting the genuine high with Jesus.  He never lets you down.  A genuine and intimate relationship with God, through salvation in His son Jesus is the only answer to the destructive call and pull of this world.  This is illustrated for us in Homer’s Odyssey.  Odysseus was trying to get home to his family and was having a hard time doing it.  Along the way he encountered the enchanting and dangerous Circe who, it was said, turned men into pigs.  When Odysseus successfully avoided her attractions, she confided in him that a sterner test lay ahead-the Sirenes, lusty, luscious maidens whose island lay along the straits and whose songs lured travelers away from hearth and home.  Circe advised Odysseus to have his men plug their ears with wax, and tie himself to the mast.  Odysseus did have his men do just that!  But he had an additional idea-his friend Orpheus, who was also an accomplished musician, was asked to sit on the deck and make a sweet melody that would turn Odysseus’ ears and heart away from the lure of the Sirens, as they passed by.  In that way he stayed the course and passed the test.  The best way to avoid being disappointed by the lure of the lesser is to fill our hearts with the lure of the greater-God, in His Son Jesus Christ.  He will not only give us the pleasures we sought outside of Him, he will give us greater pleasures, that will satisfy our hearts.  That is why Scripture implores us to “taste and see that the Lord is Good!”  (Ps. 34:8). 

     The Christian band Skillet has a unique way of expressing this truth.  In their song, Better Than Drugs they sing:

     Your love is like wine

      Feel you comin’ on so fast

      Feel you comin’ to get me high

      You’re better than drugs

      Addicted for life

      Feel you when I’m restless

      Feel you when I cannot cope

      You’re my addiction, my prescription, my antidote.

Those might not be our first choice of words for lyrics…but they express a true experience we all need.  Let Jesus be…. our antidote…we definitely need one!  He is the answer!

 Posted by at 2:19 pm

Radical or Ludicrous Twaddle?

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Sep 062020

Pastor’s Perspective: Radical or Ludicrous Twaddle?

     John Henry Jowett said, “ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing!”  That statement may be one of the most pertinent comments on the modern evangelical church today.  We have heard our Lord’s commission.  We have committed ourselves to carrying it out, in obedience to His command.  It seems that all we do accomplishes so little.  Why so little impact?  I was recently introduced to a book that made me very uncomfortable, but I must admit it is a God-intended uncomfortableness!  The book is “Radical” by a Southern Baptist Pastor named David Platt.  David graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  After Katrina, he started a Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  It has grown into a mega-church with over 4,000 attending.  But…it did not do so by being a “user-friendly” Church.  It did not copy what other mega churches were doing as the latest trend.  Actually the focus of their ministry was to accentuate the “radical” nature of Christ’s call to discipleship!  Platt testifies to an experience he had on a mission trip to visit underground Asian Churches.  He said, “They walked or biked for miles, each arriving at a non-descript house, separately, at different times, so as not to draw attention to themselves.  All the blinds on the windows were closed tight.  The room was dimly lit.  Twenty leaders from different churches sat in a circle on the floor with their Bibles open…They had gathered in secret.  News and problems were shared.  One woman church leader told of a confrontation with the government officials who threatened and intimidated her people; another told of a cult kidnapping and torturing of members from his church.  We need to pray.  Immediately they went to their knees, faces on the ground, they began calling out to God.  They praised and thanked God for his love, and prayed for their needs.  They audibly wept before God…when they arose from their prayers to depart, Platt said the only thing remaining, to his astonishment was PUDDLES OF TEARS WHERE THEY HAD PRAYED!”

     Wow!  How convicting is that?  These people live “radical” lives in Asian countries which declare following Jesus to be illegal!  They live with the knowledge that discovery is always a possibility and risk their lives and families for Jesus Christ and their faith.  Their passion is for their faith and love for Jesus Christ, and God.  Platt could not help but contrast what he witnessed on that mission trip with the American Church as we know it.  “We arrive in comfortable vehicles; we gather in air conditioned and heated buildings; we sit on padded or cushioned pews or chairs; we are greeted by choirs and bands; we worship in an orderly pre-planned fashion for ONE hour, and hardly ever stray from our normal routine.  Most church goers never exhibit any passion for being there.  Neither do they open their Bibles or take notes during teaching-sermon; they go home and resume their other lives from Monday through Saturday.  There is no risk, no danger, in attending American Churches-take it or leave it–and many are leaving.  There is nothing RADICAL about American Christianity!”  Platt’s Church tried something different.  He challenged his leaders to have Church services where they “stripped away all the cool, all the cushioned chairs, no power point screens, no decorations, turn off all air conditioning, removing all the comforts”.  They did just that.  They removed all the activities that smacked of entertainment.  They invited people to come and study God’s word for hours!  They kept the seats and the restrooms, but planned to study the Word from 6:00 P.M. to Midnight.  The result?  No one showed?  Actually over 1,000 did the first night!  They now have to take reservations due to “not enough seating capacity!”  I am not suggesting any of this, necessarily!  But he makes a very clear point-we need a wakeup call from our lukewarm American Christianity.  He says, “We have become homogenized and pasteurized, and we have lost the flavor of God, and the FAVOR OF GOD!” 

     The only thing radical about Christianity is the radical change from New Testament times, and I don’t mean radical change for the better!  Soren Kierkegaard, the great Theologian from Denmark, wrote about how weak and enemic Christianity was becoming, even in his day.  He wrote in his book Attack on Christendom,”The most dreadful sort of blasphemy is that of which Christendom is guilty: transforming the God of the Spirit…into lucicrous twaddle”.  He was a Lutheran Pastor writing four centuries after Luther.  Luther nailed 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door protesting the condition of the Church in his day.  Kierkegaard had only a single thesis in protest-He wrote, “Oh Luther, thou hadst 95 theses-terrible!  And yet in a deeper sense, the more theses, the less terrible.  This case if far more terrible: there is only one thesis.  The Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist.  Here there is nothing to reform; what has to be done now is to throw light upon a criminal offense against Christianity, prolonged through the centuries, perpetrated by millions, whereby they have cunningly, under the guise of perfecting Christianity, sought to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making Christianity the exact opposite of what it was in the New Testament.”  In more recent days, another prophetic voice has pointed out our great departure from the true Christianity intended by our Lord when He established His Church.  A. W. Tozer, in his book Of God and Men wrote, “Evangelicalism as we know it today…does produce some real Christians…But the spiritual climate which many modern Christians are born does not make for vigorous spiritual growth.  Indeed, the whole evangelical world is to a large extent unfavorable to healthy Christianity.  And I am not thinking of modernism either.  I mean rather the Bible-believing crowd that bears the name of orthodoxy.  We are making converts to an effete type of Christianity that bears little resemblance to the New Testament.  The average so called Bible Christian in our times is but a wretched parody of true sainthood!”

     One of the great Scottish preachers of yester-year was Thomas Chalmers.  In the early days of his ministry, Thomas Chalmers had entered the ministry as an occupation.  He had not even experienced genuine conversion to Jesus Christ.  He spent only a day or two in ministry preparation, and found himself loving and teaching mathematics during the rest of the week.  He even wrote a pamphlet justifying a life of divided interest and devotion.  But one day he had an encounter with the living Christ.  His whole perspective of Christ, his mission field, and the ministry changed.  He later explained to someone who asked him why he changed by saying, “I love mathematics.  It is all about calculations and numbers.  I still do.  But two calculations changed my life and ministry forever-how short our time is, and how long eternity will be!”  When you and I come to grips with that reality we too will change our perspective of witnessing and ministry. 

     Several years ago one of the wealthiest men in the world was a man named Cecil Rhodes.  He had gone to Africa to develop a cotton business for the British government.  He found that to be a dead end street.  But he did discover the diamond industry, and began to develop the De Beers Mining Company.  In a few years he became the wealthiest man in the world at the time! He is the one who started the Rhodes scholarships at Oxford University in England. He was good friends with William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army in England.  One day they were traveling on a train together. William Booth turned to his friend and said, “Tell me Rhodes, are you a happy man?”  Cecil Rhodes responded to his friend, “Me happy?  No! No!  I am not a happy man!”  Incredible.  As Jesus said, “A man can gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul!”  That is not only a “vanity of vanities” it is a “tragedy of tragedies”.  People all around us are searching for that “eternity” God has placed in their hearts.  God is counting on us to be “Radical” enough; concerned enough; prayed-up enough; endued with his power enough to impact them for Him.  That may never happen until when we get up from our prayer circle we leave behind “puddles of tears!”  Jesus did.  When we share His compassion…we might share in his commission!

 Posted by at 2:18 pm