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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."
One of the most powerful prayers in the midst of suffering I have read was uncovered from the horrors of Ravensbruck concentration camp. Ravensbruck was a concentration camp built in 1939 for women. Over 90,000 women and children perished in Ravensbruck, murdered by the Nazis. Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote The Hiding Place, was imprisoned there too. The prayer, found in the clothing of a dead child, says:
O Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.
Criticism is always difficult to accept, but if we receive it with humility and a desire to improve our character it can be very helpful. Only a fool does not profit when he is rebuked for his mistakes.
Several years ago I read a helpful article on this subject. It stated that when we are criticized we ought to ask ourselves whether the criticism contains any truth. If it does, we should learn form it, even when it is not given with the right motivation and in the right spirit. The article then offered these four suggestions: (1) Commit the matter instantly to God, asking Him to remove all resentment or countercriticism on your part and teach you the needed lessons. (2) Remember that we are all great sinners and that the one who has criticized us does not begin to know the worst about us. (3) If you have made a mistake or committed a sin, humbly and frankly confess it to God and to anyone you may have injured. (4) Be willing to learn afresh that you are not infallible and that you need God’s grace and wisdom every moment of the day to keep on the straight path.
When we are criticized, let’s accept what is true and act upon it, thereby becoming a stronger person. He who profits from rebuke is wise. H.G.B.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13:8
CYMBALA'S EASTER STORY
Jim Cymbala preaches at a church in the slums of New York. He tells the following story: It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people.
As I was sitting there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, “Could I talk to you?”
We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it, “What a way to end a Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine.”
He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I’d never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I’d talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn’t inhale facing him. I asked him, “What’s your name?”
“How long have you been on the street?”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-two.” He looked fifty--hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed.
“Where did you sleep last night, David?”
I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking; I’ll give him some money. I won’t even get a volunteer. They are all busy talking with others. Usually we don’t give money to people. We take them to get something to eat.
I took the money out. David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”
I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels.
But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening. I pleaded with God, “God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. I’m so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!”
Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of His person became a beautiful aroma. Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I...
SO MANY VALUABLE POSSESSIONS
Waylon Prendergast, 37, of Tampa, Florida, committed a spur-of-the-moment robbery while on his way home from a late-night drinking session. A very inebriated Mr. Prendergast forced his way into the house through an open upstairs window, filling a suitcase with cash and valuables before setting the living room on fire to cover his tracks. He then escaped through the back door and made his way home, chuckling all the way. Only as he turned the corner into his own street, however, and discovered three fire engines outside his house, did he realize that in his drunkenness he had, in fact, burgled and ignited his own property. His comment: "I had no idea I had so many valuable possessions."
While we may not do anything quite that stupid (at least nothing that makes the national newspapers), there are times when Christians need to stop and reflect, coming to same conclusion Mr. Prendergast did: "I had no idea I had so many valuable possessions."
From family and friends to material comforts (like electricity and running water), from our basic needs (like food) to luxuries other generations never dreamed of (like the computer you're sitting at right now), from the freedoms we enjoy to the jobs we hold, there is much that we have been blessed with that we take for granted.
Even beyond the physical blessings, there is so much that God has given us through Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote,
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ."
Truly, I had no idea I had so many valuable possessions. "God, forgive me for taking so much of it for granted."
The crowds cheered and waved their hands. Many stood upon their tip-toes hoping to catch a glimpse of their deliverer as he processed by. "He's the one! echoed throughout the streets. Many praised his name with hands and fists held high. Was it true? Had "the one" finally come some as some truly dreamed? Many hoped; and many believed. Many perceived he was a new kind of leader who was sent to set the captives free.
Still, others scoffed and snarled; they simply refused to believe. "Look how the whole world has fallen for him!" they clamored like gongs ringing loudly in the ears. Still, what could they do, but shout even louder against "the one." They stridently decried, "He's nothing but a heretic. He is not 'the one' who will bring the light and deliver us from our prolonged fright."
Okay, let me ask you. Who's "this one" of whom I speak? Many of you might answer, "Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ the King." And while your answer most certainly could be right; "the one" I spoke of was not Jesus, God's only begotten Son. Instead, the one in this story was elected two years ago, millions of whom thought would lead this nation into the dawn's morning light.
I recently went to an art exhibit in Winston-Salem, NC featuring the work of the artist Grandma Moses. Her art work is best described as American Folk Art with primitive and colorful paintings of rural scenes. When I look at her work it brings me a warm and content feeling, despite its simplicity. Maybe that’s because I have a simple mind.
Grandma Moses was born in 1860 in upstate New York and as some of you may know she lived on a farm here in the Shenandoah Valley in Verona for several years. She lived during the time of the Civil War and 2 World Wars. You’re probably wondering how she did that! She lived to the age of 101. She probably saw one of the first automobiles as well as the first airplanes since they were invented during her lifetime.
You can tell by her paintings that she loved the countryside and did a lot of needlework. Many of the brushstrokes in her artworks resemble stitches that someone sewing would make. She did paintings with the titles of fairy tales like "Mary and Little Lamb" and "Little Boy Blue." She also did paintings that included a favorite seasonal theme like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Her landscapes probably show us much of what she saw from her farms in rural upstate New York and the Valley here. Through her paintings you can almost see the story she would tell you if she were still here.
One time, Grandma Moses was away from home when an art collector came to her home wanting to see her paintings. Remember she was already a Grandma and not famous yet. A female relative told Grandma that she told the gentleman that he could come back the next day and see Grandma’s paintings! She also told him that Grandma had 10 paintings he could look at. Well, not wanting the man to think he had been lied to, that night Grandma cut one of her paintings in half and framed both halves. This gave her the 10 paintings that he had been told she had rather than the 9 she actually had! After he saw Grandma’s paintings she then went on to become the famous painter that we know today.
Grandma did not start painting until she was 67 years old. She did not have her first exhibition in a drugstore until 1938 at the age 78.A small graphic of a piece of her art work is on the top of the page of the sermon outline.
She went on to produce more than 1,000 nostalgic, naively executed scenes of turn-of-the-century rural life. By 1939 her pictures were being exhibited internationally, and from 1946 they were regularly reproduced on holiday greeting cards. Self-taught, a widow and mother of ten (only five of whom survived infancy), Grandma Moses became an American celebrity who was known for her prolific output and kindly, country persona.
Despite her celebrity status, foremost she saw herself as a mother and grandmother. As well she is a great example of a determined person who discovered her God given talent in her senior years. She had that can-do attitude. She began to produce embroidery pictures after her husband died in 1927. When arthritis impaired her embroidering in her senior years, that’s when she turned to painting. She was quoted as saying, “Life is what you make it; always has been; always will be.” What a spirit—no wonder she lived to be 101.
THROUGH THE VALLEY OF DEATH
Philip Crosby, in his book "March Till They Die," gives an account of a forced march that American and European soldiers who had been captured had to endure in Korea.
It was November of 1950, and the North Koreans were being pushed north. As they went, they forced the American and European prisoners to go with them. It was a terrible march. They were driven as far as twenty miles a day at times, though it was cold and they were emaciated, hungry, suffering.
When prisoners who couldn’t keep up would fall back, shots would ring out. They were executed on the spot. Crosby and several other Christians would pass close to the GI’s who were having a hard time keeping up. They would say slowly in a whisper, so as not to be heard, “God is near us in this dark hour. His love is real. His mercy is real. His forgiveness is real. His reward is waiting for us....
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THE FINAL PLAY OF THE GAME
It's never too late to trust Jesus. Oops, I need to qualify that. There IS a time when it's too late to trust Jesus. If you die without putting your faith in Jesus, then it's too late. Someone observed about the thief on the cross that there is one deathbed conversion in the Bible so nobody should despair, but there is only one, so nobody should presume.
Jeff Stratton is a pastor in Evansville, Indiana. A few years ago he was called to visit a 93 year-old man who had terminal cancer. His name was Adolph Allen and he had been a hard-living, hard-drinking, union ironworker for most of his life. Two minutes into their first conversation, Adolph looked at Jeff and asked, "Is it fair for someone to live their whole life one way and then at the end of their life to ask God to take them to heaven?"
After thinking for a minute, Jeff said, "No, Adolph it's not fair. But luckily for you and me, God is not fair."
Jeff shared the plan of salvation with him and this 93-year-old man bowed his head and asked Jesus to come into his heart.
Four weeks later Jeff preached Adolph's funeral and he talked about how some football games come down to a final play. The team that's behind might have been outplayed the whole game, but on this last play the quarterback fades back and heaves a Hail-Mary pass into the end zone as time expires. The ball might be batted around but if an offensive receiver catches it, the game is over, and they win. Jeff said, "That's what happened with Adolph. The devil was in the lead for most of his life, but the final score was Jesus 1 and the devil 0!"
(From a sermon by David Dykes, That's not FAIR! No, that's GRACE! 8/19/2012)
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he o worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned, “If Christians have caste differences also, “ he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.