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One of the earliest and the most outstanding intellectuals, leaders and defenders of the Christian faith was Augustine, the fourth century writer of the “Confessions of Saint Augustine,” one of the most famous tell-all autobiographies written. Young Augustine was a hedonist, a philosopher, an agnostic, and a rebel, but his mother Monica was a godly, persistent, and resourceful woman. Augustine often laughed at her mother’s pious ways, mocked her faith, and deliberately defied her continual pleading for him to repent of his pagan lifestyle, to convert to Christ, and to live an exemplary life. When Augustine wanted to leave the shores of Carthage, North Africa, for the bright lights of Rome, his mother feared the worst for her son, dreaded the outcome of his leaving, and often fled to the church for solace, prayer, and advice. In her despair, she would often weep uncontrollably for her son. One day a minister noticed her painful cries, and asked her why she was so bitter. She told him of his wayward son, but the bishop assured her with these words: “Go in peace; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” Augustine avoided his mother as much as possible and ignored her warnings time and again, but he could not escape her continuous prayers. Monica painstakingly prayed, wept, and looked for her son for 30 years until Augustine surrendered his life to Christ. Life has its heartaches, and none is as heartbreaking as a rare, a stubborn, or an unspeakable illness that is dreaded for its physical onslaught, financial cost, and mental, emotional and physical toil. The Chinese saying, “Long-sick folks have no filial or obedient child by their bed.”
GRANT AND CUSTER
There is a story of two Civil War Generals: George A. Custer and Ulysses S. Grant. Both graduated from West Point -- Gen. Grant, being the oldest, graduated in the 1840's and Gen. Custer in 1861. Grant fought in several wars and was a field General in every sense of the word. In 1865, he was the one who forced Robert E. Lee to surrender to the north.
At the surrendering ceremony, Grant wore a mud-splattered uniform of a private, with general shoulder pads sewed on. He was the picture of a man who was a worker and had just finished a job. He said he took no glory in the surrender of a fellow general. Gen. Grant was a humble man and an excellent leader.
When Gen. Custer graduated West Point, he went from 2nd Lieutenant to Brigadier General in less than two years. When he assumed command of his brigade in 1863, he wore a black velveteen uniform with gold braid from the elbows to the cuffs of his sleeves, and a golden feather in the hatband of his dress hat. He was known to have the brashest of attitudes and a personality that one newspaper columnist of the time described as "the personality of a childish upstart."
Gen. Grant listened to his advisors and led his troops into victory, winning nearly every battle he fought. Gen. Custer led his troops into a deathly defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He had been given advice to detour and go to another front, but the general "knew best" and rejected the advice of his second in command. He ordered a full attack. The only living survivor of that brigade was one horse.
Custer dressed to impress, Grant dressed for work. Custer wanted to be noticed. Grant wanted to win. I wonder, if they had both been sitting at the dinner in the days of Jesus parable, which one would have quickly taken the seat of high honor and which one would have gladly taken the seat of less honor? Like my father said to me, "A great man is always willing to live in the shadows of his success." And of course, which general had the greatest success in what he did?
We certainly make many choices in our daily lives, and it is in these choices that we can learn how to apply the lessons we have learned about humility. Custer made a choice to ignore his adviser, because he thought he alone knew best. His ended up riding his pride into the grave because he was not humble enough to accept another point of view.
Sermon Central Staff
1 Peter 1:3-1:10
1 John 2:3-2:9
2 Thessalonians 2:13-2:17
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)
THE CONCEPT OF GRACE
There is a great article that illustrates the concept of grace written by Charles Stanley.
“One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace. At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough.
The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard through out the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, "You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment."
Wow? We sat there stunned. "Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?" Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room.
When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page.
Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally.
One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A.
This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Some people look at God’s standard--moral and et...
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.
More than anyone else Christian parents can have the most influence on their children, because when Christ died upon the Cross the veil was ripped open so they could enter into the presence of God who sits on the Throne of Grace. The call to pray is from God’s Word and we are given a sure promise, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16b) One mother who knew this truth was Monica Augustine, the mother of St. Augustine who after a long struggle was converted to Christianity. St. Augustine was born in North Africa (Tagaste, Numidia) to a Christian mother and his father was a pagan until very late in life. Augustine’s childhood was marred by stealing pears and his ability to learn led him to one humanistic philosophy after another. He even had an obsession with the occult for a season in his life. During his period of exploration he lived a life of excessive fleshly desires causing him to become the father of a child by a mistress. After his conversion to Christ Augustine became the author of many great works writing about the “…City of God,” “On the Trinity,” “On Faith,” “Hope,” “Love” and “Christian Doctrine.” Augustine’s most widely read book is “The Confessions” which are several books that record how he felt about the Lord and his prayers to God. Studying Augustine’s life during that period of living in selfish sin shows that the Christian living he saw in his mother and the Christian teaching he received was not a waste of time. Thirteen years before his conversion he was moved in his prayers to return to God (Confessions #3:4) but he could not make himself do so. One year before his conversion Augustine was influenced by a man (Ambrose) who he knew was presenting “healthy teaching on salvation,” yet he could not return to the teaching and lifestyle he saw in his mother because of self-living. Listen to these confessions of Augustine while he struggled with sin and surrendering to Christ. “I was storm tossed and you [God] held the tiller.” “I was swept away by your beauty [Lord] and then I was torn away from you by my own weight [of sin] and fell back groaning toward these [lesser] thing [in life].” While being exposed for nearly a year to “healthy teachings of salvation” he wrote, “But salvation is far from sinners of the kind that I was then.” When Augustine was being moved to prayer to return to God he writes, “[I was] on fire to leave earthly things behind and fly back” [to God]. But there was an obstacle that kept Augustine from reaching God, he writes, “The Name of Christ was not there…” Augustine writes about how the Name of Jesus Christ was his mother’s milk and His Name touched his heart tenderly, but the fruit of his life was surrendered to self-will and not God’s will. Finally in early August 386 Augustine abandoned his teaching career and his proposed marriage and went off with some friends to live a life of contemplation. One day he heard how some men had moved to give their whole heart and life to serve the Lord. Augustine was suddenly confronted with his sin of self-living. He rushed out into the garden and flung himself under the fig tree and wept bitterly, crying out to God, “How long, how long, why should not this hour be an end to my baseness?” From a neighboring yard he heard the voice of a child say, “Take and read” Augustine went over to a bench where laid a copy of the Apostle Paul’s Epistle and he read Romans 13:13-14, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, 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.” (Romans 13:13-14) At that moment Augustine put on Christ, took on the Name that was missing, the only key person missing in his life that would enable him to live for God. Long before we even came into this world the grace of God confronted Augustine as dramatically as God’s grace did the Apostle Paul. At age 31 Augustine’s struggle came to an end and through him came teachings and service that laid the foundation of Western theology. Augustine has often been call “Bishop of Hippo” and “Doctor of the Church.” The opening prayer of Augustine’s “Confessions” sums up his whole experience in life. He writes, “Our hearts are restless until they can find peace with you [Lord Jesus].” Augustine and one of his friends put on Christ and they went and told Monica his mother. Fredrick S. Leahy wrote about this time in Christian history, “Over the years she had prayed for her wayward son with tears. Now her prayers were answered yes to and her heart’s wishes granted.”
Brian La Croix
We all know what sins are, but let me focus for a moment on those hindrances.
Hindrances are those things that may not be sins, but still keep you from living a life totally surrendered to God.
Imagine you are at a track meet, and they’re lining up for the 100 meter dash. Everything’s fine except for one contestant. Instead of the regular shorts and track shoes, he’s wearing a snowmobile suit and galoshes.
Now that’s probably not against the rules, but he’s not going to win, if he even survives the race.
The clothes are a hindrance to his success.
Take an inventory of your life to see if there are any hindrances to your walk with God.
THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE
A man was walking through an art gallery when he came upon a picture of the Lord Jesus dying upon the cross. He stopped and looked at the beautiful portrait of Calvary's love. As he stared into the face of Christ, so full of agony the gallery guard tapped him on the shoulder. "Lower," the guard said. "The artist painted this picture to be appreciated from a lower position."
So the man bent down. And from this lower position he observed new beauties in the picture not previously shown. "Lower," said the guard. "Lower still." The man knelt down on one knee and looked up into the face of Christ. The new vantage point yielded new beauties to behold and appreciate.
But motioning with his torch toward the ground, the guard said, "Lower. You've got to go lower." The man now dropped down to two knees and looked up. Only then as he looked up at the painting from such a low posture could he realize ...
I read a recent magazine article about a pastor and his encounter with some unbelievers while having breakfast. Here is how he tells the story: “My wife and I were vacationing in Estes Park, Colorado, and had breakfast in a coffee shop. It was empty except for four men at another table. One was mocking Christianity; in particular, the resurrection of Christ. He went on and on about what a stupid teaching that was. I could feel the Lord asking me: ‘Are you going to let this go unchallenged?’ However I was thinking, But I don’t even know these guys. He’s bigger than me. He’s got cowboy boots on and looks tough. I was agitated and frightened about doing anything. But I knew I had to stand for Jesus. Finally, I told Susan to pray. I took my last drink of water and went over and challenged him. With probably a squeaky voice, I said, ‘I’ve been listening to you, and you don’t know what you’re talking about ’ I did my best to give him a flying rundown of the proofs for the resurrection. He was speechless, and I was half dead. I must have shaken for an hour after that. But I had to take a stand. We cannot remain anonymous in our faith forever. God has a way of flushing us out of our quiet little places, and when he does we must be ready to speak for him.”
Now I admire this pastor’s courage and his determination to be a witness, regardless of how difficult it was. A lot of Christians would have just sat there in fear or fumed, thinking about how terrible the things were that these men were saying. I realize that I have the opportunity of looking back with hindsight on the situation, but I wonder if there wasn’t another possible approach that may have been more positive, and perhaps had more impact, than rattling off a list of rational arguments for the resurrection. It seems to me that he missed the most important and impressive proof of the resurrection — his own life. I wonder if it would not have been more effective to walk over to the men at the table and say something like this: “You know, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation, and found it very interesting. If you don’t mind, I would like to pay for all of your breakfasts. The reason I want to do this is that, because of the resurrection, Jesus Christ has changed my life and lives in me, and wants to communicate his tremendous love for you.”
Rational arguments do not change people, changed lives do. Changed lives change the lives of others, and thereby change the world. It is how we challenge the unbelief of a skeptical world. But not only would it possibly have been a stronger witness, it would have been an excellent use of money to buy their breakfasts. I think the point in what Jesus was saying in our Scripture reading this morning was that people are always the priority. Helping people, whether physically or spiritually, is to be given priority over serving ourselves — especially when it comes to money. But money is usually our last holdout in our walk with God. It is what we surrender last. As you grow in the Christian life you realize that it is not your money anyway. Everything you own already belongs to God. It is a gift, a loan from him.
SOWING THE SEED: A COMPARISON
In the 13th Century, Nicolo Polo (father of Marco Polo) was visiting the court of the grandson of Ghengis Khan - Kublai Khan.
Kublai Khan was the Emperor of China and he had never met Europeans before. He was delighted to meet this visitor from Venice AND he was strongly impressed by the religious faith of this man; therefore, he sent a letter back to Europe urging that some educated men be dispatched to instruct his people in the teachings of Christianity.
But, because of political upheaval and infighting that was taking place in Europe, there was a long delay in anybody coming. In the end, only 2 representatives of Christianity were sent and even they lost heart soon and turned back.
Because of the failure of the church of that day, Kublai Khan turned instead to Buddhism and that has been the predominant religion in the area from that day to this.
By contrast, just last Sunday, we baptized a father and son into Christ – Bill & Isaac. Bill was not the most promising of candidates for salvation. Most people pictured him more as the stony or weedy soil. He’s lived a hard life and had held God at bay for a number of years. His wife had faithfully planted seeds in his life, as have others in this congregation. But until last Sunday it seemed fruitless. But now he’s surrendered to Christ, and tonight he’s bearing fruit.
In Bill’s neighborhood, there have been a number of boys that Bill had created a “paintball” club for. But once Bill gave himself to Christ, he wanted to give Christ to these young boys he’d been working with. Three of them are being baptized tonight, and more may be turning to Christ in the near future.
SOURCE: Jeff Strite in "You Can’t Reap them All" on www.sermoncentral.com