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Sermon Central Staff
VACANT HOMES, VACANT LIVES
TIFTON, GA — The most interesting thing about Tifton is an abandoned Victorian house filled with thousands of bats. Tift County declared the once-elegant house in the town’s historic district off limits after a bat specialist said that maybe 20,000 bats had moved in, apparently for good.
Now, teenagers call it the bat house. People talk about the smell, which is an unholy mix of animal urine and decaying wood. "In the summer, ooh, does that place reek," said Linda Turner, 69, a retired nurse and neighbor. "You ain’t smelled nothing until you come back here on a hot day."
Brothers and Sisters, I’m not going to visit that bat house. WHAT A SIGHT AND WHAT A STINK IT MUST BE! Vacant houses get infiltrated with all kinds of creatures and probably not just bats. And many of these creatures make a mess, create a big stink, and eventually ruin that dwelling.
But it doesn’t just happen with vacant houses, it also happens with vacant lives! If a person doesn’t fill their life with good stuff, the bad stuff and sometimes, the evil stuff will move in and take over.
What’s going on in your house? That is, the house you live in, the fleshly body you live in? Who has moved in? Who has taken over your residence and controlling your life? God wants us to stay clean in this world and that will only happen when we let Him move in, that is, when we fill our lives with worship, prayer and service.
Thy word have I hide in my heart that I might not sin against thee! Ps. 119:11. The Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible!
(From a sermon by Steve Shepherd, Our Walk in This World, 4/4/2011)
Sermon Central Staff
AND IT CAME TO PASS...
"The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me." -- Martin Luther
During a Sunday class the question was asked, "In your time of discouragement, what is your favourite Scripture?"
A young man said, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" Psalm 23:1. A middle age woman said, "God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" Psalm 46:1. Another woman said, "In this world you shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome this world" John 16:33-35.
Then old Mr. John who was 80 years old, with head of white hair and dark black skin, stood up and said with as much strength as he could muster, "It says, 'And it came to pass...' 85 times in the Bible." The class started to laugh a little, thinking that old Mr. John's lack of memory was getting the best of him.
When the snickering stopped, he said, "At 30, I lost my job with six hungry mouths and a wife to feed. I didn't know how I would make it. At 40, my eldest son was killed overseas in the war. It knocked me down. At 50, my house burned to the ground. Nothing was saved out of the house. At 60, my wife of 40 years got cancer. It slowly ate away at her. We cried together many a night on our knees in prayer. At 65, she died. I still miss her today.
"The agony I went through in each of these situations was unbelievable. I wondered where was God. But each time I looked in the bible I saw one of those 85 verses that said, 'And it came to pass' I felt that God was telling me, my pain and my circumstances were also going to pass and that God would get me through it."
(From a sermon by Stephen Sheane, The Table of Shewbread, 5/25/2011)
AUGUSTINE AND THE BIBLE
For 2,000 years the Bible, often unaided by any human intervention, has transformed the lives of those who read it, many times dramatically so. St. Augustine is a good example. For most of his life he was a famed academic in the Roman Empire. He was very successful in rhetoric, a noble profession. But he lived a thoroughly dissolute, self-indulgent, immoral life. The time came when he began to consider the claims of Christianity.
He was alone in a garden one day when he heard a child singing out a line from a game: "Pick it up and read, pick it up and read." He turned to his copy of the Scriptures, which was opened to Roman. 13. His eyes were drawn to the following words: "Not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Rom. 13:13-14)
Deeply convicted, he surrendered to Christ, and the Roman rhetorician went on to become the Christian bishop of Hippo, the greatest theologian after Paul, and one of the most formidable intellects of Western civilization.
Ravi Zacharias tells the amazing story of a young Christian in Vietnam. He writes, “I was ministering in Vietnam in 1971, and one of my interpreters was Hien Pham, an energetic young Christian. He had worked as a translator with the American forces, and was of immense help both to them and to missionaries such as myself. Hien and I traveled the length of the country and became very close friends before I returned home. We did not know if our paths would ever cross again. Seventeen years later, I received a telephone call. ‘Brother Ravi?’ the man asked. Immediately I recognized Hien’s voice, and he soon told me his story. Shortly after Vietnam fell, Hien was imprisoned on accusations of helping the Americans. His jailers tried to indoctrinate him against democratic ideals and the Christian faith. He was restricted to communist propaganda in French or Vietnamese, and the daily deluge of Marx and Engels began to take its toll. ‘Maybe,’ he thought, ‘I have been lied to. Maybe God does not exist. Maybe the West has deceived me.’ So Hien determined that when he awakened the next day, he would not pray anymore or think of his faith.
The next morning, he was assigned the dreaded chore of cleaning the prison latrines. As he cleaned out a tin can overflowing with toilet paper, his eye caught what seemed to be English printed on one piece of paper. He hurriedly grabbed it, washed it, and after his roommates had retired that night, he retrieved the paper and read the words, ‘Romans, Chapter 8.’ Trembling, he began to read, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. . . for I am convinced that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Hien wept. He knew His Bible, and knew that there was not a more relevant passage for one on the verge of surrender. He cried out to God, asking forgiveness, for this was to have been th...
On Trial for Sharing the Gospel
17 and 18 years old, Pakistan, 1997
Anila met Perveen at school. As their friendship grew, Anila gave Perveen a Bible and taught her Christian songs. Perveen quickly learned Christian songs and began to teach them to her younger sister when her parents wern’t home. Perveen’s parents soon learned of the songs. Being strict Muslims, they were not happy about them. But rather than confronting Perveen right away, they had her younger sister try to find out where she was getting this Christian influence.
Anila eventually invited Perveen to a Good Friday service. When the young Muslim herd the Gospel presentation, she immediately accepted Jesus. Perveen became very excited about her relationship with Jesus and saw great changes take place in her life. She read her Bible and praised God boldly. Anila knew that, before long, her friend would encounter opposition from her family.
Perveen’s parents were furious when they learned of her conversion. They had previously arranged for her to marry a Muslim man. When Perveen again refused, she ran away.
When Perveen’s parents could not find her, they accused Anila and her pastor of kidnapping her. They had Anila arrested. Anila was slapped and beaten in front of her parents for over nine hours. Finally she was taken to prison.
Anila’s pastor and his family were taken to prison on the following day. Anila and her pastor experienced horrible tortures in jail. She was whipped sixteen times (five times would make a normal man pass out). When they were released, Anila could not sit for two months, and her pastor could barely walk from the bruises on his hips and thighs.
Perveen was later found by her family. In Muslim nations, children are often severely beaten for converting to Christianity. Others are killed by their own parents or siblings for apostasy, converting to another faith.
To restore the honor of his family, Perveen’s brother stabbed her to death. He then turned himself in to the local authorities. As is not uncommon in such situations, he was eventually released without incident.
Anila was then arrested on charges of kidnapping.
She was imprisoned, then released on bail a little more than a month later. She and her family went into hiding, as their lives were threatened by radical Muslims.
Jesus Freaks, dc Talk & The Voice of the Martyrs
Albury Publishing, Tulsa Oklahoma, ©1999
BIBLE READERS CHANGE THE WORLD
If you’ve read anything by Charles Dickens, you know how terrible conditions were in 18th century England. There were no child labor laws, so children as young as age four were put to work up to 12 hours a day in dangerous factories and sent into the corners of coal mines that were too narrow for adults to reach. If you’ve seen the musical "Oliver," you know that hunger was rampant. Tuberculosis, diphtheria and cholera outbreaks were common. School was only available for the children of the rich.
In 1738, Jonathan Wesley starting forming little Bible studies around the country. He was so keen on using methods to teach the Bible that people called his followers "Method-ists." By 1798, there were 100,000 Methodist Bible studies in England.
One of those Bible reading Methodists was Samuel Plimsoll. Plimsoll thought it was wrong that the merchants overloaded their ships and then shrugged it off and collected large insurance claims when their ships sank and the crews drowned. Plimsoll invented a symbol that marked a line on the ship to indicate its safe loading level. This line has saved thousands of lives and is still called "the Plimsoll mark" to this day.
Another Bible reader was Robert Raikes. Raikes saw that poor children couldn’t attend school because they worked six days a week. So he invited "Sunday school" to teach kids to read by reading the Bible.
Other people from this Bible reading movement formed orphanages, mental asylums, hospitals and prisons.
Florence Nightingale developed the nursing profession.
William Wilberforce brought an end to the English Slave Trade.
Bible readers fought and won women the right to vote.
William and Catherine Booth formed the Salvation Army.
Wesley’s 18th century Bible-reading revolution changed people’s character. It lifted so many English people’s work ethic, care ethic, and sense of personal trustworthiness that, by the 19th century, England had become the most powerful and prosperous nation on earth.
The same thing happened in America. The religious low point of our history was the 1850’s. Then revival began happening all around our country in 1857. People began reading the Bible. This was before gas or electricity. So after dark, families would gather around a few candles at the kitchen table. While mom and grandma sewed and repaired clothes, the father of the family would read the Bible, by candlelight, for an hour or more every evening.
And like in England, work-ethics rose, along with integrity and initiative and care for the poor. The Civil War broke out, in part, because Bible-readers determined that slavery was a sin. America’s 19th century Bible-reading made us the most prosperous and successful nation of the 20th century.
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 preacher stood on the street corner preaching to anyone who would listen. A man approached him who looked like he had lived on the street forever. "Can I help you" asked the preacher. "I think you can" said the bum. "Would you like me to tell you about Jesus?" "No." "Would you like me to pray for you?" "No." "If you don’t want me to tell you about Jesus, and you don’t want me to pray with you, how can I help you?" "You can give me your Bible." "Why would you want my Bible if you have no interest in knowing more about Jesus?" "I noticed that the pages of your Bible are very thin; I can use the pages to wrap a cigarette (or a joint)." Wisdom came suddenly to the preacher, who said, "I’ll give you the Bible, if you will agree to read a page (of the Bible) before you smoke it." The bum agreed, took his new Bible, and left. The preacher thought he had seen the last of the bum, but he could get another Bible. Several months passed, and the preacher was on the street corner once again. A man came up to him dressed in a three piece suit....
ANGELS OF RECONCILIATION
With his life in disarray, Steven Lavaggi sat on his bedroom’s wooden floor, and began searching his Bible for answers. His wife had just left him to marry a writer for The Rolling Stone Magazine. Ten days later, Steven discovered his son was stricken with Juvenile Diabetes. Then he lost his graphic art business. Unemployed, abandoned, and worrying about his son, Lavaggi turned to God’s Word.
As Steven read, he skipped over the black letters, only wanting to read the words of Jesus. The Risen Christ emerged from the pages. Lavaggi gave his life to Jesus. As a new Christian, he clung to Psalm 91:11: "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."
Out of his brokenness, came a passion to create a message of hope. He discovered his passion was to minister through fine art. He moved to California, to influence the people who influence the world--Hollywood. He is doing just that.
The response to his work is overwhelming. Inspired by the Psalmist’s words he painted an angel. When a friend encouraged him to make the image three dimensional, he collaborated with a sculptor, and together they cast the angel.
While speaking to a crowd of 3500 natives in Soweto, South Africa, Lavaggi held a 20" sculpture of a black angel above his head. When he did, the crowd erupted with enthusiasm. A man on the stage told him that just a few days before, a preacher had declared that God would soon send an international artist who would express the love of God to their culture by doing something like "painting Angels in black!" When Lavaggi heard this, he grabbed a 20" white angel, held it above his head and said, "these angels were created to be like brothers and sisters, even as we are supposed to be." Those sculptures became known as, "The Angels of Reconciliation."
Today, he is known as the artist of Hope. It propelled him into creating an incredible series of spirit-inspired paintings, sculptures, figurines, and prints. Steven’s message would not exist without his passion! Through his passion, today he is touching and changing the world fopr Jesus Christ.
When their son left for his freshman year at Duke University, his parents gave him a Bible, assuring him it would be a great help. Later, as he began sending them letters asking for money, they would write back telling him to read his Bible, citing chapter and verse. He would reply that he was reading the Bible—but he still needed money. When he came home for a semester break, his parents told him they knew he had not been reading his Bible. How? They had tucked $10 and $20 bills by the verses they had cited in their letters.
John T. Spach, in Reader’s Digest