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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.
A number of years ago, Dr. Waltke, a seminary professor, & three pastors, one of which was Charles Swindol toured the mother church of the First Church of Christ Scientist in downtown Boston. The four were unknown to the elderly lady who was going to give them a tour. They didn’t tell her who they were, at least not at first. She showed them several interesting things on the main floor. When they got to the pipe organ she began to talk about their doctrine & especially their belief about no judgment in the life beyond. Dr. Waltke waited for just the right moment & then very casually asked: "But, Ma’am, doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible, ’It is appointed unto man once to die & after that, the judgment?" The scholar could have quoted Hebrews 9:27 in the Greek, but he was so gracious & tactful. Swindol confessed he was thinking, "Go for it Bruce. Now we’ve got her where we want her!" Without a pause, the lady simply ask, "Would you like to see the second floor?" Dr. Waltke said, "We surely would, thank you." She smiled, somewhat relieved, & started to lead the men up a flight of stairs. Swindol recalled he couldn’t believe it. He was thinking, "No, don’t let her get away. Make her answer your question!" He pulled on the scholar’s arm & said in a low voice, "Hey, why didn’t you nail the lady? Why didn’t you press the point & not let her get away until she answered?" Swindol said he replied, "But, Chuck, that wouldn’t have been fair. That wouldn’t have been very loving, either- now would it?" Swindol said, "Wham, the quiet rebuke left me reeling. I shall never forget that moment. And to complete the story, you’ll be interested to know that in less than 20 minutes he was sitting with the woman alone, gently speaking to her about the Lord Jesus Christ. She sat in rapt attention. He, the gracious servant, had won a hearing by being kind.
A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.
As I grew up, I never questioned his place in our family. Mom taught me to love the Word of God. Dad taught me to obey it. But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spellbound for hours each evening.
He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies, and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn’t seem to mind but sometimes Mom would quietly get up—while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places—and go to her room and read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave. My Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them.
Profanity was not allowed in our house—not from us, our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four-letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge, the stranger was never confronted. Dad didn’t permit alcohol in his home. But the stranger enlightened us to other ways of life. He often offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages. He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished.
He talked freely about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that my early concepts of the man/woman relationship were influenced by the stranger.
I believe it was only by the grace of God the stranger did not influence us even more. Time after time he opposed my parents’ values. Yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave. More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive.
But if I were to walk into my parents’ home today, I would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures. His name? We always called him TV.
THE REFINER'S FIRE
The story is told of a group of women that met for Bible study. While studying in the book of Malachi, chapter three, they came across verse three which says: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled the women and they wondered how this statement applied to the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out more about the process of refining silver, and to get back to the group at their next Bible study.
The following week, the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him while at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest, beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.
As she watched the silversmith work, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were the hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot, then she thought again about the verse, that "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the entire time the silver was being refined. The man answered yes...
Justice Scalia, in a Supreme Court decision involving the so-called “separation of church and state” wrote: “Church and state would not be such a difficult subject if religion were, as the Court apparently thinks it to be, some purely personal avocation that can be indulged entirely in secret, like pornography, in the privacy of one’s room.
For most believers it is not that, and has never been. Religious men and women of almost all denominations have felt it necessary to acknowledge and beseech the blessing of God as a people, and not just as individuals, because they believe in the "protection of divine Providence," as the Declaration of Independence put it, not just for individuals but for societies.”
"Cheer Him, Boys!"
There was a fire in the big city, and the firemen flung their ladders together, and went up in their brave fashion to the very topmost story to rescue the people that were trapped. One after another was rescued by the brave firemen.
All had been rescued, it seemed, No! As the firemen looked up they saw a white face at the most upper window. They wrapped something about one of their firemen, and, breasting the fierce flames, he went again to that window, and put a robe around the little woman and started down.
Then they saw him tremble as the fire raged around him, and it seemed that he would fall with his precious burden, but the fire chief cried to his men: “Cheer him, boys! Cheer him, boys!”
And they cheered him with words of encouragement as he came down with the precious life saved.
--George W. Truett
Sermon Central Staff
1 John 5:14-5:15
1 Peter 1:3-1:10
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Ruby Hamilton, a businesswoman in her fifties, was stunned at the loss of her husband of 32 years in a car accident. Her anger and disappointment went deeper than a more typical expression of grief though. She had become a follower of Christ in her late twenties, but her husband didn't share her newfound interest in spiritual things. Nonetheless, she had set about praying for him feverishly and unceasingly that he would come to know the Lord. And one day when she was praying, she felt a wave of peace wash over her, and that still small voice assuring her that her husband would be okay. She eagerly awaited the day when her husband surrender his life to Jesus. And now this.
What do you do when faith doesn't make sense? When God doesn't seem to be answering or opening doors or being found? Ruby Hamilton stopped living for God.
Roger Simmons was hitchhiking his way home. He would never forget the date - May 7th. His heavy suitcase was making him tired and he was anxious to take off that army uniform once and for all. Flashing the thumb to the oncoming car, he lost hope when he saw it was a black, sleek new Cadillac. To his surprise the car stopped.
The passenger door swung open. He ran toward the car, tossed his suitcase in the back and thanked the handsome, well-dressed man as he slid into the front seat. "Going home for keeps?"
"Well, you're in luck if you're going to Chicago."
"Not quite that far - do you live in Chicago?"
"I have a business there, the driver said. My name is Hamilton."
They chatted for a while, and then Roger, a Christian, felt a compulsion to share his faith with this fiftyish, apparently successful business man. But he kept putting it off, till he realized that he was now just 30 minutes from his home. It was now or never.
"Mr. Hamilton, I would like to talk to you about something very important." Then he simply told Mr. Hamilton about the plan of salvation and ultimately asked him if he would like to receive Jesus as his savior and Lord.
The Cadillac pulled over to the side of the road. Roger expected that he was about to get thrown out of the car. Instead, the businessman bowed his head and received Christ, then thanked Roger "This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me."
Five years went by. Roger married, had a couple of kids and a business of his own. Packing his suitcase for a trip to Chicago he found a small white business card that had been given to him by Hamilton five years previous. In Chicago, he looked up Hamilton enterprises. The receptionist told him that it was impossible to see Mr. Hamilton, but he could see Mrs. Hamilton. A little confused, he was ushered into a beautiful office where he found himself facing a keen-eyed woman in her fifties.
She extended her hand "You knew my husband?"
Roger told her about how Hamilton had picked him up while he was hitchhiking home after the war. "Can you tell me what day that was?"
"Sure it was May 7th, five years ago, the day I was discharged from the army."
"Anything special about that day," she asked.
He hesitated, not knowing if he should mention how he shared the message of Jesus with her husband. "Mrs. Hamilton, I explained the gospel to your husband that day. He pulled over to the side of the road and wept against the steering wheel. He gave his life to Christ that day."
Explosive sobs shook her body. Finally getting a grip on herself, she sobbed, "I had prayed for my husband's salvation for years. I believed God would save him."
"Where is your husband, Ruby?"
"He's dead. He was in a car crash after he let you out of the car. He never got home. You see, I thought God had not kept his promise. I stopped living for God five years ago because I thought God had not kept his word!"
(Considerable influence for this message came from John Piper's "The Spring of Persistent Public Love", DesiringGod.org. From a sermon by Bret Toman, Power to Live the Golden Rule, 1/3/2011)
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 didn’t end there. Later that year in the Colorado House, Republican representative Mark Paschall angered lawmakers by using Joe Wright’s 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. Here’s 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 that’s 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 neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air...
JEALOUS IN A RESTAURANT
There is an old story about an older couple having dinner in a restaurant. The wife sees another couple about their age sitting in a booth nearby. She sees the husband sitting close to his wife, with his arm around her. He is whispering things in her ear, and she is smiling and blushing. He’s gently rubbing her shoulder and touching her hair.
The woman turns to her husband and says, "Look at the couple over there. Look how close that man is to his wife, how he’s talking to her. Look at how sweet he is. Why don’t you ever do that?"
Her husband looks up from his Caesar salad and glances over at the next booth. Then he turns to his wife and says, "Honey, I don’t even know that woman."
Eggerichs, E. (2010). Love & respect. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Christ's Personal Touch
Christ was there in creation to be close to us. We can see in vs. 7: "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." This was a close, personal touch. We are formed clay. The word picture in the original language is a potter at his wheel forming a vessel. I never paid much attention to it before, but Roger Lee brought this to my attention a couple of years ago. We were walking across the parking lot, and out of the blue Roger said, "I've been thinking about something, and you know what? Man is the only part of God's creation that He touched to create."
Everything else came into being solely through the spoken word of God. But God came close in a special way to create mankind. God got His Hands dirty, so to speak.
We see this again in vs. 21-22, when God created Eve:
21. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.
22. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
I like that personal touch of God bringing her to the man. That was the Lord. It was the pre-incarnate Christ. And He didn't have to do any of that. I am sure that He could have spoken man into existence just like He did the rest of His universe. But the Lord wanted that close, personal touch. Christ was there to be close to us.