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Sermon Central Staff
HOW BIG IS YOUR GOD?
Tony Campolo was once confronted by an atheist who was one of his students. The young man told Campolo, "For me to believe in God, I have to have a God that I can understand."
And Campolo replied, "God refuses to be that small!"
(From a sermon by Jeff Strite, Trusting in Ravens, 8/8/2011)
The phone rang.
“It’s Jimmy. I’m really sick. I’ve got a fever. Can you help me?”
Jimmy was one man that the Love In Action ministry helped. He was dying from AIDS.
Jeff was angry. He had already put in sixty hours and didn’t want to hear about Jimmy. However, Jeff promised to go right over complaining to God all the way about the inconvenience.
As the door to the apartment opened, Jeff almost buckled over as he was blasted by the smell of vomit. After forcing his stomach to settle down from an involuntary gag, Jeff went in and found Jimmy shivering on the couch in severe distress. Jeff wiped his sweating forehead, and then got a bucket of soapy water to clean up the mess. Jeff managed a façade of concern even though he was still raging inside.
Jimmy’s friend, Russ, who also had AIDS, came downstairs. The odor made Russ sick as well.
As Jeff cleaned the carpet around Russ’s chair, he was about to explode inside. Then Russ said suddenly, “I get it. I understand.”
“What do you get, Russ?” Jimmy asked weakly.
“I understand who Jesus is,” Russ said through his tears. “He’s just like Jeff.”
Jeff began to weep. That night Russ trusted Christ to be his Savior. God had used Jeff to show God’s love in spite of himself.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-4:18
TONY EVANS ON GETTING UN-STUCK
Tony Evans, a popular black preacher from down in Texas, spoke of being on an elevator in a high-rise building. He said he’d never been particularly comfortable on such elevators. There was something about riding up and down in a little box several hundred feet off the ground that has never sat well with him. He worried that something would go wrong.
One day it did. The car he was riding in got stuck in between floors way up in the higher floors. He noted that some of the people in the car became frantic. They began to beat on the door hoping to get someone’s attention. Others began to yell in the hopes that their voices would get someone on the surrounding floors to come to the aid. But nobody heard their noise or their cries.
Then Evans quietly made his way to the front of the car, opened a little door in the wall and pulled out a telephone. Immediately he was connected with someone on the outside. He didn’t need to beat on the wall to get their attention. He didn’t need to speak loudly in the phone to receive their help. He could have whispered and they would have heard him.
Evans said that - in this world, we’re going to get "stuck" in places we aren’t comfortable with. Some people begin to beat against the walls, others cry out in dismay. But the person who trusts in the power of confident prayer knows there’s someone on the other end who hears their call and comes to their aid.
Hebrews 10:19ff tells us that we now can have "boldness" (KJV) to enter into very presence of God because of the blood of Jesus. We can think this way only because Jesus has opened the way for us to approach God’s throne and earnestly ask whatever we desire according to His Will.
There was a man who got lost in the desert. After wandering around for a long time his throat became very dry, about that time he saw a little shack in the distance.
He made his way over to the shack and found a water pump with a small jug of water and a note.
The note read: "pour all the water into the top of the pump to prime it, if you do this you will get all the water you need". Now the man had a choice to make, if he trusted the note and poured the water in and it worked he would have all the water he needed. If it didn’t work he would still be thirsty and he might die. Or he could choose to drink the water in the jug and get immediate satisfaction, but it might not be enough and he still might die. After thinking about it the man decided to risk it. He poured the entire jug into the pump and began to work the handle, at first nothing happened and he got a little scared but he kept going and water started coming out. So much water came out he drank all he wanted, took a shower, and filled all the containers he could find. Because he was willing to give up momentary satisfaction, he got all the water he needed. Now the note also said: after you have finished, please refill the jug for the next traveller.” The man refilled the jug and added to the note: “ Please prime the pump, believe me it works”!
We have the same choice to make...
Heaven, an Inheritance
Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going... I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:1-4, 6)
The Holy Scriptures teach clearly that heaven is a real place, a permanent place, a personal place and a holy place. It is also an inheritance for those who say "yes" to Jesus Christ.
In his gospel, the beloved John conveys a powerful truth of what one must become in order to inherit eternal salvation. "...I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3) And once more, "...You must be born again." (John 3:7) Twice Jesus tells Nicodemus, already a Pharisee and religious leader, "I tell you the truth..."
The truth for you is that a preacher saying nice things, nor beautiful hymns being sung at your funeral, nor the local paper announcing that you were a member of such and such church, nor even being in church nearly every Sunday will gain you entrance into heaven. Being truly born again is a necessity.
Many Scripture passages tell what God will do for a person who through repentance accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Ezekiel 36: 26, 27 is one of the most clear. It has been used frequently by Dr. Billy Graham to explain what God wants to do in the hearts and lives of those coming forward to receive the forgiveness found only in Christ. The verses say, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep my laws."
A "heart of stone" is inflexible, unyielding and insensitive. It is not apt to receive from or have any devoted affection toward its Creator. A man with a heart of stone has no fellowship with the Lord. He does not do the will of God, thus, he does what seems right in his own eyes which will lead to his own destruction. God alone gives physical life and He alone can give spiritual life in what Jesus says is being "born again."
When God supernaturally gives a repentant person a "heart of flesh" and puts His Spirit in a new believer, that person becomes sensitive and alive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Only then can he determine and do the will of God. This enables him to know the joy that comes from obedience to the Word of God. Once the Holy Spirit of God has entered the heart and life of a repentant person, they are never the same! Guaranteed! The Bible says they are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Jesus made these truths very clear to Nicodemus, and He desires to make them crystal clear to all who will hear even now. In heaven there will be only those who are born again, those who have trusted Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.
The Holy Spirit moved the apostle Paul to write to (and about) authentic Christians, "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." (Romans 8:9)
Will you receive Christ today?
BELIEVING IN ANYTHING
G.K. Chesterton once said, "It is often supposed that when people stop believing in God, they believe in nothing.
Alas, it is worse than that. When they stop believing in God, they believe in anything."
Without God the only standard of TRUST - of right and wrong - is what appeals to you. And that's a shifting standard. It all depends on what I want, what I like, what I accept, what pleases me.
But scripture says: "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" My standards are all warped. My morality is riddled with impurity. And if I base what I TRUST on that warpedness/ impurity, then I'm going to embrace whatever gods allow me to do what I want to do.
It's insanity. When I stop trusting in the God of Scripture... I'll believe in anything, and eventually that will lead me to destruction.
But now, by contrast, if I trust in the God of Scripture I'm no longer led by MY righteousness and holiness. Instead I'm trusting a God who is so holy and so righteous that my tendency will be to build my life around Him (rather than Him around me).
I'll use His standards of right and wrong -- not mine.
I'll build on His morality in my life -- not mine.
I'll build on His expectations for me... not mine.
AND I know if I trust in Him in these matters... I will be blessed.
R. David Reynolds
“Great Is thy Faithfulness” is not the result of some tragic event in Thomas Chisholm’s life but a powerful witness to his daily walk with Jesus as he experienced “morning by morning” new mercies from His Everlasting Father. Pastor Chisholm always trusted his Everlasting Father to take care of Him, sustain him, and provide for his daily needs. Just before his death in 1960 he wrote this power, personal witness:
My income has never been large at any time due to
impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me
on until now. But I must not fail to record here the
unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God and that He
has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care
which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”
[SOURCE: Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366
Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids:
Kregel Publications, 1990), 348.]
THE CHRISTMAS STORM: A Modern Parable by Paul Harvey
"This is about a modern man, one of us, he was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man, generous to his family, upright in his dealings with others. But he did not believe in all that incarnation stuff that the Churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense to him and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just could not swallow the Jesus story about God coming to earth as man. I’m truly sorry to distress you, he told his wife, but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve. He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he would much rather stay home, but that he would wait up for them. He stayed, they went. Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier, then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another and another. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. Well, when he went to the front door, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter they had tried to fly through his large landscape window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze. He remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter -- if he could direct the birds to it. He quickly put on his coat and galoshes, trampled through the deepening snow to the barn, opened the door wide, and turned on a light. But the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in and he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow making a trail to the yellow lighted wide open doorway of the stable, but to his dismay the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them, he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms -- instead they scattered in every direction except into the warm lighted barn. Then he realized they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature, if only I could think of some way to let them know they can trust me. That I’m not trying to hurt them, bu...
Max Lucado (Angels were Silent)
Describes how in a similar way we cry out for something to cut through the clutter of life, turning to faith and religion to give us simplicity, instead finding things just as complicated:
Enter, religion. We Christians have a solution for the confusion don’t we? “Leave the cluttered world of humanity,” we invite, “and enter the sane, safe garden of religion.”
Let’s be honest.
Instead of a “sane, safe garden,” how about a “wild and woolly sideshow”? It shouldn’t be the case, but when you step back and look at how religion must appear to the unreligious, well, the picture of an amusement park comes to mind.
Flashing lights of ceremony and pomp. Roller-coaster thrills of emotion. Loud music. Strange people. Funny clothes.
Like barkers on a midway preachers persuade: “Step right up to the Church of Heavenly Hope of High Angels and Happy Hearts ….”
• “Over here, madam; that church is too tough on folks like you. Try us, we teach salvation by sanctification which leads to purification and stabilization. That is unless you prefer the track of predestination which offers …”
• “Your attention, please sir. Try our premillennial, non-charismatic, Calvinistic Creed service on for size … you won’t be disappointed.”
A safe garden of serenity? No wonder a lady said to me once, “I’d like to try Jesus, if I could just get past the religion.”
He goes on to tell a favorite story of his where this simplicity was found:
Once a bishop who was traveling by ship to visit a church across the ocean. While en route, the ship stopped at an island for a day. He went for a walk on a beach. He came upon three fishermen mending their nets.
Curious about their trade he asked them some questions. Curious about his ecclesiastical robes, they asked him some questions. When they found out he was a Christian leader, they got excited. “We Christians!” they said, proudly pointing to one another.
The bishop was impressed but cautious. Did they know the Lord’s Prayer? They had never heard of it.
“What do you say, then, when you pray?”
“We pray, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.’ ”
The bishop was appalled at the primitive nature of the prayer. “That will not do.” So he spent the day teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. The fishermen were poor but willing learners. And before the bishop sailed away the next day, they could recite the prayer with no mistakes.
The bishop was proud.
On the return trip the bishop’s ship drew near the island again. When the island came into view the bishop came to the deck and recalled with pleasure the men he had taught and resolved to go see them again. As he was thinking a light appeared on the horizon near the island. It seemed to be getting nearer. As the bishop gazed in wonder he realized the three fishermen were walking toward him on the water. Soon all the passengers and crew were on the deck to see the sight.
When they were within speaking distance, the fisherman cried out, “Bishop, we come hurry to meet you.”
“What is it you want?” asked the stunned bishop.
“We are so sorry. We forget lovely prayer. We say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name …’ and then we forget. Please tell us prayer again.”
The bishop was humbled. “Go back to your homes, my friends, and when you pray say, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.’ ”
Those three fisher men had encountered that you don’t have to be too complicated in your faith, you don’t have to get it all right.
Instead, they had hearts that were focused and strengthened by simple trust in God.
The two men in our story in Luke—like so many of us searching for strength and security and sense in a complicated and confounding world—ended up finding their answer in a remarkable man that cut through all of their confusion.
At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there sort of like a president. I recognized his picture when I saw it, but I really didn’t know Him.
But later on, when I met Christ, It seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ was in the back helping me pedal.
I don’t know when it was that he suggested that we change places, but life has not been the same since. When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. . . It was the shortest distance between two points.
But when he took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places at breakneck speeds, It was all I could do to hang on! Even though it looked like madness, He said, "Pedal!"
I worried and was anxious and asked, "Where are you taking me?" He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure. And when I’d say "I’m scared," He’d lean back and touch my hand.
He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me gifts to take on my journey, my Lord’s and mine. And we were off again. He said, "Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight."
So I did, to the people we met, and I found that in giving I received, and still our burden was light. I did not trust Him, at first, In control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it; but he knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, knows how to jump to clear high rocks, knows how to fly to shorten scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion Jesus Christ. And when I’m sure I just can’t do anymore, He just smiles and says . . . "Pedal." - author unknown