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I want to read to you the opening story from David Platt's book "The Radical Question" (Multnomah Press).
Imagine a scene that took place in Asia not so long ago:
A room in an ordinary house, dimly lit, all the blinds on the windows closed. Twenty leaders from churches in the region sit quietly in a circle on the floor, their Bibles open. They speak in hushed tones or not at all. Some still glisten with sweat; others' clothes and shoes are noticeably dusty. They have been walking or riding bicycles since early morning when they left distant villages to get here.
Whenever a knock is heard or a suspicious sound drifts in, everyone freezes while a burly tough-looking man gets up to check things out.
These men and woman have gathered in secret, arriving intentionally at different times throughout the day so as not to draw attention. In this country it is illegal for Christians to come together like this. If caught, the people here could lose their land, their jobs, their families, even their lives.
I was in that dimly light room that day, a visitor from America. I huddled next to an interpreter, who helped me understand their stories as they began to share.
The tough-looking man--our "head of security"--was first to speak up. But as he spoke, his intimidating appearance quickly gave way to reveal a tender heart.
"Some of the people in my church have been pulled away by a cult," he said. Tears welled up in his eyes. "We are hurting. I need God's grace to lead my church through these attacks."
The cult that had been preying on his church is known for kidnapping Christians, taking them to isolated locations, and torturing them, my interpreter explained. Many brothers and sisters in the area would never tell the good news again. At least not with words. Their tongues had been cut out.
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AN OLD FEUD AND A NEW BRIDGE
There were two old geezers living in the backwoods of the Ozarks: Rufus and Clarence. They lived on opposite sides of the river and they hated each other. Every morning, just after sunup, Rufus and Clarence would go down to their respective sides of the river and yell at each other.
"Rufus!" Clarence would shout, "You better thank your lucky stars that I canít swim, er Iíd swim this river and whup you!"
"Clarence!" Rufus would holler back, "You better thank YOUR lucky stars that I canít swim, er Iíd swim this river and whup YOU!"
Every morning. Every day. For 20 years.
One day the Army Corps of Engineers came along and built a bridge. But the insults went on every morning. Every day. Another five years.
Finally, Mr. Rufusí wife had had enough. "Rufus!" she squallered one day, "I canít take no more! Every day for 25 years youíve been threateniní to whup Clarence. Well, tharís the bridge! Have at it!"
Rufus thought for a moment. Chewed his bottom lip for another moment. "Woman!" he declared, snapping his suspenders into place. "Iím gonna whup Clarence!"
He walked out the door, down to the river, along the river bank, came to the bridge, stepped up onto the bridge, walked about halfway over the bridge, then turned tail and ran screaming back to the house, slammed the door, bolted the windows, grabbed the shotgun and dove under the bed.
"Rufus!" cried the missus. "I thought you was gonna whup Clarence!"
"I was, woman, I was!" he whispered.
"What in tarnation is the matter?"
"Well," whispered the terror-stricken Rufus, "I walked halfway over the bridge and saw a sign that said, 'Clearance, 13 feet, 6 inches.' He ain't never looked that big from the other side of the river!"
Thatís what happens sometimes to the people of God. We look at things from a distance and make plans but when we get closer to doing what God wants us to do we think that the task is too monumental and we resort back to the safety of what we have always done. We circle the wagons and stand our ground. We stay right in our comfort zone.
(From a sermon by Horace Wimpey, Christian Attributes of Action, 8/15/2012)
Redemption and Restoration in Real Life
I conclude this morning with a story about what happened since a tragic event that took place 9 months ago around Christmas time at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. I share it because I think it makes a point about moving beyond the 'Who, Them?' To THEM!
The event was the shooting of several people in the church parking lot and building that left three dead and three wounded. The young man, who had done the shooting, killed himself after being shot by a security guard. Earlier that day, he had entered Youth with A Mission Headquarters in suburban Denver, shooting four and killing two. His name was Matthew Murray, and he had been raised in a Christian home.
The tragedy shook the church that had just started to come out of the painful and very public story about their former pastor's, Ted Haggard, sexual sin. Now they were faced with this terrible tragedy.
In a recent Christianity Today article, it was told that after granting the interview to talk about that day and its after effects, it was revealed that Brady Boyd, the current Senior Minister, called Murray's parents and asked if they would like to come to New Life and see where 'their son had passed away.' They said they had wanted to, but had refrained from do so because of their concerns for the church. They were also asked if they would be willing to meet with members of the family who had lost two teenage daughters that morning. They said yes. The same invitation was extended to the victim's family, the Work's. They said yes.
After showing the Murrays around the church where the tragic events took place, they met with the Work's in Boyd's office. "What happened there in the two hours in my office ... was the most significant ministry moment I've experienced, maybe in all of my life," Boyd said. When they first entered the office, the two families embraced. They sat, wept, and cried together, Boyd said, for "I don't know how long." Then they prayed together.
Later Jeanne Assam [the security guard who shot Murray] was invited to join them. When Jeanne, who had undoubtedly saved many lives but had been forced to shoot the Murray's son, walked into the room, "the Murrays embraced her and hugged her and released her from any guilt and remorse. The dad looked at Jeanne and said, "Please know we're so sorry that you had to do what you did. We're so sorry."
The article concludes with these words from Boyd, "We can talk philosophically about repentance and redemption and going forward with God," Boyd said, "but what I saw in that room in my office was the greatest testimony of forgiveness and redemption that I have ever seen. It was a testimony that God really can restore and redeem."
AN EASTER PARABLE: EDITH EASTER
Edith Burns was a wonderful Christian who lived in San Antonio, Texas. She was the patient of a doctor by the name of Will Phillips. Dr. Phillips was a gentle doctor who saw patients as people. His favorite patient was Edith Burns. One morning he went to his office with a heavy heart and it was because of Edith Burns.
When he walked into that waiting room, there sat Edith with her big black Bible in her lap earnestly talking to a young mother sitting beside her.
Edith Burns had a habit of introducing herself in this way: "Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would be saved. Dr. Phillips walked into that office and there he saw the head nurse, Beverly. Beverly had first met Edith when she was taking her blood pressure. Edith began by saying, "My name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" Beverly said, "Why yes I do." Edith said, "Well, what do you believe about Easter?" Beverly said, "Well, it's all about egg hunts, going to church, and dressing up." Edith kept pressing her about the real meaning of Easter, and finally led her to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Phillips said, "Beverly, don't call Edith into the office quite yet. I believe there is another delivery taking place in the waiting room."
After being called back in the doctor's office, Edith sat down and when she took a look at the doctor she said, "Dr. Will, why are you so sad? Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?" Dr. Phillips said gently, "Edith, I'm the doctor and you're the patient." With a heavy heart he said, "Your lab report came back and it says you have cancer, and Edith, you're not going to live very long." Edith said, "Why Will Phillips, shame on you. Why are you so sad? Do you think God makes mistakes? You have just told me I'm going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and my friends. You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!" Dr. Phillips thought to himself, "What a magnificent woman this Edith Burns is!"
Edith continued coming to Dr. Phillips. Christmas came and the office was closed through January 3rd. On the day the office opened, Edith did not show up. Later that afternoon, Edith called Dr. Phillips and said she would have to be moving her story to the hospital and said, "Will, I'm very near home, so would you make sure that they put women in here next to me in my room who need to know about Easter."
Well, they did just that and women began to come in and share that room with Edith. Many women were saved. Everybody on that floor from staff to patients were so excited about Edith, that they started calling her Edith Easter; that is everyone except Phyllis Cross, the head nurse. Phyllis made it plain that she wanted nothing to do with Edith because she was a "religious nut". She had been a nurse in an army hospital. She had seen it all and heard it all. She was the original G.I. Jane. She had been married three times, she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.
One morning the two nurses who were to attend to Edith were sick. Edith had the flu and Phyllis Cross had to go in and give her a shot. When she walked in, Edith had a big smile on her face and said, "Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I have been praying for you." Phyllis Cross said, "Well, you can quit praying for me, it won't work. I'm not interested." Edith said, "Well, I will pray and I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family." Phyllis Cross said, "Then you will never die because that will never happen," and curtly walked out of the room.
Every day Phyllis Cross would walk into the room and Edith would say, "God loves you Phyllis and I love you, and I'm praying for you." One day Phyllis Cross said she was literally drawn to Edith's room like a magnet would draw iron. She sat down on the bed and Edith said, "I'm so glad you have come, because God told me that today is your special day." Phyllis Cross said, "Edith, you have asked everybody here the question, 'Do you believe in Easter?' but you have never asked me." Edith said, "Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked..."
Edith Burns took her Bible and shared with Phyllis Cross the Easter Story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Edith said, "Phyllis, do you believe in Easter? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is alive and that He wants to live in your heart?" Phyllis Cross said, "Oh I want to believe that with all of my heart, and I do want Jesus in my life." Right there, Phyllis Cross prayed and invited Jesus Christ into her heart. For the first time Phyllis Cross did not walk out of a hospital room, s...
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A PEACEMAKING CHURCH
I can tell this story because one neighbor has died and the other neighbor no longer lives across the street from our church. Our neighbors endured the disruption of their lives as we built on to our church. I'm sure that contributed to their lack of patience with us. We put our dumpster next to the parsonage. We didn't want it on Rock Creek. It was believed that it would attract others continually filling it up, and it was not the first thing that we wanted people to see when they look at our church. One neighbor had a different point of view. He didn't like coming out of his front door and looking across the street at a dumpster. He wanted to know what we were going to do.
All the neighbors and some men from our church and myself met at the dumpster. This man was angry. After he'd let off some steam I asked where he recommended we put the dumpster. You know that was a dangerous question. What he wanted was to put it out front on the corner of our property. I said to the group let's go look at what he's talking about. I did not want to do this.
I walked with the neighbors and listened to their complaints. When we got out front the man began explaining why it was a good spot. I was thinking of why it was not a good spot. But Music Minister Jim Garling, who'd followed behind and heard the man complain from one end of the property to the other, looked at me and said, "Ed, this will be OK. We can make it work." As you can see to this day, that's exactly what we did.
There are shields inside the covers of the outside lights on the west side because the woman who lived across the street at that time complained that the lights were so bright that it lit up her living room and kitchen. We didn't have to do any of that. But we're Christians. We are people of peace. Those were minor actions to do good for our neighbors in order to live at peace with them.
Peacemakers release tension; they don't intensify it. Peacemakers seek solutions and find no delight in arguments. Peacemakers calm the waters; they don't trouble them. Peacemakers work hard to keep an offense from occurring. And if it has occurred, they strive for resolution. Peacemakers lower their voice rather than raise their voice. Peacemakers generate light not heat.
(From a sermon by Ed Sasnett, Like a Good Neighbor, 7/29/2011)
Late one summer evening in Broken Bow, Nebraska, a weary truck driver pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop. The waitress had just served him when three tough looking, leather jacketed motorcyclists - of the Hell’s Angels type - decided to give him a hard time. Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his french fries, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it. How would you respond? Well, this trucker did not respond as one might expect. Instead, he calmly rose, picked up his check, walked to the front of the room, put the check and his money on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night.
When she returned, one of the bikers said to her, "Well, he’s not much of a man, is he?" She replied, "I don’t know about that, but he sure ain’t much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot."
In an earlier century, there lay a large boulder in the middle of the roadway. Traveler after traveler walked past the boulder, veering off the side of the road to get around it. All the while, they were shaking their head and muttering, "Can you believe that? Someone should get that big thing out of the way. What an inconvenience!"
Finally, a man came along and, seeing the boulder, took a branch from a tree and pried the boulder enough to get it rolling and rolled it off to the side of the road. Lying underneath the rock, he found a small bag with a note. The man picked up the note and read it. It read as follows:
"Thank you for being a true servant of the kingdom. Many have passed this way and complained because of the state of the problem and spoken of what ought to be done. But you have taken the responsibility upon yourself to serve the kingdom instead. You are the type of citizen we need more of in this kingdom. Please accept this bag of gold that traveler after traveler have walked by simply because they didn’t care enough about the kingdom to serve."
I wonder what "bags of gold" we’re missing each day, simply because we don’t bother to get involved in serving our heavenly kingdom. Are we the type of heavenly citizens our Father needs more of?
A NATIONAL PRAYER OF REPENTANCE
Joe Wright is the pastor of Central Christian Church in Wichita, KS. On January 23, 1996, He was asked to be the guest chaplain for the Kansas State House in Topeka. He prayed a prayer of repentance that was written by Bob Russell, pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. According to an article in the Kansas City Star from January 24, 1996, his prayer stirred controversy, and one member of the legislative body walked out. Others criticized the prayer.
The controversy didnít end there. Later that year in the Colorado House, Republican representative Mark Paschall angered lawmakers by using Joe Wrightís prayer as the invocation. Some members there also walked out in protest.
Paul Harvey got a hold of the prayer and read it on his program. He got more requests for copies of it than any other thing he had ever done. Hereís what he prayed:
"Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but thatís exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that:
We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it a choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it political savvy.
We have coveted our neighborís possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air...
The story is told of a wonderful, elderly, christian lady. She had very little money and lived in a rundown house, but she was always praising the Lord. Her only problem was with the old man who lived next door. He was always trying to prove to her that there was no God. One day, as the old man was walking by her house, he noticed the woman through an open window. She was kneeling down in prayer, so he crept over to the window to see if he could hear. She was praying, " Lord, you’ve always given me what I’ve needed." She prayed. "And now you know that I don’t have any money, and I’m completely out of groceries, and I won’t get another check for a week." She continued, "somehow, Lord, can you get me some groceries." The man had heard all he needed. He crept away from the window and ran down to the grocery store. He bought milk, bread, and lunchmeat. He ran back to the woman’s house carrying the groceries. He set the bag down on by her door, rang the doorbell, and hid beside of the house. You can
imagine how the woman reacted to seeing the bag of groceries. She threw her hands over head and began praising the Lord. "Thank you Jesus," she shouted. "I was without food and you provided the groceries." About that time the old man jumped out and said, "I’ve got you now." She was too busy shouting thank yous to Jesus to pay any attention. "I told you there was no God," the old man said, " it wasn’t Jesus who gave you those groceries it was me." "Oh no," the woman said. "Jesus got me these goroceries and made the devil pay for them." She had the right attitude for God.
ILL: This is an alleged New Year’s letter written from a church member to the pastor.
You often stress attendance at worship as being very important for a Christian, but I think a person has a right to miss now and then. I think every person ought to be excused for the following reasons and the number of times indicated.
Christmas Holidays (the Sunday before & after) 2
New Years (the party lasted too long) 1
Easter (get away for the holidays) 2
July 4th (national holidays) 1
Labor Day (need to get away) 2
Memorial Day (visit hometown folk) 1
School closing (kids need a break) 1
School reopens (one last fling) 1
Family reunions (mine & wife’s) 3
Sleep late (stayed up too long Saturday night) 9
Deaths in family 2
Anniversary (second honeymoon) 1
Sickness (one per family member) 5
Business trip (a must) 1
Vacation (three to four weeks) 6
Bad weather (ice, snow, rain, clouds) 2
Ball games 2
Unexpected company (can’t walk out) 2
Time changes (spring & fall) 2
Special on TV (superbowl, etc) 3
Pastor, that leaves two Sundays per year. So, you can count on us to be in church on the 4th Sunday in February and the 3rd Sunday in August unless we are providentially hindered.
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