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"Jesus was never interested in having fans. When he defines what kind of relationship he wants, "Enthusiastic Admirer" isn’t an option. My concern is that many of our churches in America have gone from being sanctuaries to becoming stadiums. And every week all the fans come to the stadium where they cheer for Jesus but have no interest in truly following him. The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them." Kyle Idleman "Not a Fan" p. 25
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."
John Newton: Infidel Restored
John Newton continued his ministry into his old age, turning a deaf ear to friends who urged him to accept retirement, as by the time he reached 80 he was almost blind and partially deaf. "I cannot stop" he replied. "What! Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?"
But in December 1806, the end was coming. His diary recorded his prayer asking God to help him meet his end with a faithful spirit: "Oh for grace to meet the approach of death with a humble, thankful, resigned spirit becoming my profession. That I may not stain my character by impatience, jealousy or any hateful temper but may be prepared and permitted to depart in peace and hope and be enabled, if I can speak, to bear my testimony to thy faithfulness and goodness with my last breath. Amen." That’s the prayer that I would make my own and perhaps you as well.
Newton’s friend wrote: "I saw Mr Newton near the closing scene. He was hardly able to talk; and all I find I noted down upon my leaving him was thus: ’My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour.’"
Newton would not have been pleased by the eulogistic reference in The Times report of his death to his "unblemished life," for he never forgot that he owed his redemption from a life of sin to a life in Christ entirely to divine mercy. He made this clear in the epitaph he wrote for himself. It was to be the inscription on his tomb at Olney and on a commemorative tablet to him at St. Mary Woolnoth:
"Once an Infidel and Libertine,
A Servant of Slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST,
Preserved, restored and pardoned,
And appointed to preach the faith
He had long laboured to destroy."
One of America’s greatest poets is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The year 1860 found Longfellow happy in his life, enjoying a widening recognition, and elated over the election of Abraham Lincoln which he believed signaled the triumph of freedom and redemption for the nation.
The following year the Civil War began. On July 9, 1861 Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing locks of her daughter’s hair, using hot sealing wax. Suddenly her dress caught fire and engulfed her with flames. Her husband, sleeping in the next room, was awaked by her screams. As he desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife, he was severely burned on his face and hands.
Fanny died the next day. Longfellow’s severe burns would not even allow him to attend Fanny’s funeral. His white beard, which so identified with him, was one of the results of the tragedy – the burn scars on his face made shaving almost impossible. In his diary for Christmas day 1861 he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.”
In 1862 the toll of war dead began to mount and in his diary for that year Longfellow wrote of Christmas, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”
In 1863 his son who had run away to join the Union army was severely wounded and returned home in December. There is no entry in Longfellow’s diary for that Christmas.
But on Christmas Day 1864 – at age 57 – Longfellow sat down to try to capture, if possible, the joy of the season. He began:
I heard the bells on Christmas day.
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
As he came to the third stanza, he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, “How can I write about peace on earth, good will to men in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?” But...
Sermon Central Staff
Although at times it seems as though the church is in ruin and rubble, God sees it as a beautiful building.
Clinker bricks are bricks that did not quite make it. For some reason or another, they come out of the kiln misshapen or deformed. I read about a Presbyterian Church in New York State that was intentionally built of clinker bricks. Apparently, the congregation wanted to send a message, so they build their church of imperfect, rejected bricks. [“Clinker bricks and Ebenezers,” May 2, 1999, Exeter Congregational United Church of Christ Web Site, users.rcn.com.] The message is that we are all clinker bricks, we are sinners, we are imperfect people full of follies and foibles, but through Christ we become living stones in his church.
We do not become living stones because we are so great. It is Christ who is great. We are connected into his church through him.
(From a sermon by Larry Wise, Precious In His Sight, 2/24/2010)
HARDSHIPS FURTHER HIS KINGDOM
Bill Hybels' The Power of a Whisper (p.110-111):
"Don't ever buy into the idea that everything God prompts His followers to do will be uncomplicated or low-cost. Sometimes God asks His children to carry heavy loads, as He did with the apostle Paul. But even--and often especially--under those backbreaking burdens, God's purposes are fulfilled. When our (whispered) task is tough, the reward of knowing we've helped further His Kingdom and bettered our broken world is all the sweeter.
"If you ever find yourself with a difficult assignment, why not try giving God thanks for trusting you with something that needs your particular strength. He assigns tasks to the right person every time. He did it throughout history, and He still does it today. As you walk whatever potholed path He has asked you to walk, never forget the tough journey that Jesus Himself once made. ...Christ was asked to bear the most difficult assignment of all--to lay down His life as a redemptive sacrifice for humankind. He chose to obey. And because of His obedience, you and I enjoy our redemption today."
When my mother used to make jam, I would watch her pour wax over the top of the preserves until it was at the brim of the jar. She would then carefully wipe some wax around the rim itself, and place the rubber lined lid on tight. The wax and the vacuum caused by the cooling preserves would seal that jar so tight that it could have sat on a basement shelf for years, and the jam would have been good when finally opened. Sealed, preserved, protected.
In our house, the dust didn’t have time to gather on those jars; but they could have lasted a long time if necessary.
Paul, under the inspiration of this same Holy Spirit of God, has written to us that after listening to the message of truth, the good news of our salvation - HAVING ALSO BELIEVED, we were sealed in Him (Christ) by the Holy Spirit of promise”.
A seal of God’ ownership was placed over our lives, and unlike Pilate’s seal, no power in Heaven or earth can break that seal...a seal that DOES mean a great deal to God. He shut us up tightly. We are set aside for His use...for His eternal fellowship. Preserved, protected until the day of the redemption of our bodies (or glorification).
When David Brainerd took the message of redemption to the North American Indians from 1743 to his death at age 29 just four years later, a revival broke out that impacted the Native American community. Baugh writes, "The revival had greatest impact when Brainerd emphasized the compassion of the Savior, the provisions of the gospel, and the free offer of divine grace. Idolatry was abandoned, marriages repaired, drunkenness practically disappeared, honesty and repayments of debts prevailed. Money once wasted on excessive drinking was used for family and communal needs. Their communities were filled with love."
In 1857, four young Irishmen began a weekly prayer meeting in a village school. The next year, more prayer meetings started and revival was the common theme of the preachers. The next year, 100,000 people were converted into the churches of Ireland in what is marked as the beginning of the Ulster revival of 1859. By 1860, crime was reduced and the judges had no cases to try. One county in Ireland reported no crime and the no prisoners were held in the jail. It was the greatest thing to hit Ireland since the ministry of Saint Patrick. Services were packed with people, there was an abundance of prayer meetings, family prayers increased, Scripture reading was unmatched, Sunday Schools prospered, people stood firm, giving increased, vice abated, and crime was reduced significantly.
In the Welsh revival that occured around the turn of the 20th century, 100,000 outsiders were added to the churches. Again from Baugh: "Drunkenness was immediately cut in half, and many taverns went bankrupt. Crime was so diminished th...
Blessed Are The Meek
As you study the character traits described in the Beatitudes, you can't help but realize one thing; these qualities are by no means natural to the human spirit. They are very foreign. Poverty of spirit, true mourning over personal sins against God and meekness does not come to us naturally.
The greatest preacher of all time, Jesus Christ, proclaimed "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (Matt. 5:5)
The Greek word for "meek" means to be gentle; to be strong, very strong, yet be humble and tender. It is a man with all the emotions and ability to take and conquer, but he is able control himself in all ways. It is a state of being disciplined -- a man who is disciplined because he is God-controlled.
W. E. Vine writes: "Meekness is an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercise of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good and therefore without disputing and resisting."
True meekness is a submissive and trusting attitude toward God. It is an attitude which considers all things that come your way as being for God's good purpose in your life. Meekness looks beyond circumstances, no matter how upsetting and hurtful, and humbly bows the knee to the Sovereign God.
Jesus is the perfect picture of someone who was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4: 1) and lived a life of true meekness. He had all the power needed to prevent His arrest and crucifixion, yet He surrendered to God's will. (Matthew 26: 53 - 45) He fully understood the sovereignty of God and the results of the free will of man. Jesus said to Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." (John 19: 11) Jesus knew that Judas Iscariot would betray Him. God used it to accomplish His plan of redemption, and yet Judas was and will be fully accountable before God. (Acts 1: 15 -19)
Man has strength to ignore God's will or to take God's gifts, talents, and abilities and use them for self or he may choose to use God's good blessings to glorify the Lord. Without meekness, he will squander what is given to him by God to gain earthly wealth, self-satisfaction and fame (little or great).
The Beatitude of meekness epitomizes the results of kneeling in total submission to God's will. It comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit and from allowing Him to produce Christ-like character in us. Are you craving that submissive spirit of meekness that bows and responds to the mighty sovereignty of God with joyful obedience? Meekness says, "not my will, but Yours be done." (Mathew 26: 39)
The Bible says, "...the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace." (Proverbs 37:11) Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29) The meek will rule and reign with Christ upon this earth someday. (2 Tim. 2:12)
True meekness is not a natural character trait. It can only be obtained by knowing Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. Invite Christ into your life today a discover the joyful surrender of true meekness.
When I went to a Crossways conference the presenter spoke about his tour of the Holy Lands in 1998. The tour gude got on the bus, introduced himself as Amnon. He said that he was named after one of King David’s sons. The presenter said, "You mean the one that assaulted his half-sister Tamar?" It must have been on his "to-do" list to read "How to win friends and influence people." They actually hit it off amazingly. Later, they were talking and the presenter asked Amnon how many Jews went through the Exodus. Amnon said, "We all went through it." That is a collective view of history, a shared history. We, as westerners, don’t think that way. But the history of redemption has become our history, our redemption.