Feeling like Jeremiah

In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded all believers to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That passage from the gospel of Matthew is a very familiar passage to those of us in the Christian faith, or at least, it should be.

We all know pastors and ministers and fellow believers in the church who have had great success when it comes to making disciples; when it comes to leading people through the prayer to receive Jesus Christ as their savior. They seem to know exactly what to say at just the right moment to convince someone, in the most sincere way possible, of the need to receive Christ as his or her savior. They just have that special gift from God for bringing people into the faith and they almost make it look easy. And then……………………..there are the rest of us.

I have a confession to make. And not only is it a confession, it also provides some insight as to why I chose the user name that I chose for this blog. My confession is this: I have never led someone through the prayer to receive Jesus Christ; not one single person. It’s not from lack of effort. It’s not because I don’t share my faith. I do, and I do it with a passionate love for Christ and a sincere desire to see that person saved. But the answer’s always been “Let me think about it.” – “Not now.” – “Not today.” – “Some other time. Maybe later.” Either they say something along those lines or they just walk away. I have to admit, if there’s one area of my walk with Christ that’s been discouraging, that would be it.  And I know I’m not alone. There are many others like me who share the gospel and talk to people about why faith in Jesus Christ is so crucial. But we just never seem to be able to close the deal. I understand that our responsibility is to share the the gospel and that we’re not responsible for those who choose to reject the message and walk away. I get that. Even so, it’s still frustrating.

However, it’s comforting to know that God understands our frustrations. He understands how we feel when we share our faith, and get no response. God even wrote a book of the Bible about it. The prophet Jeremiah served as a messenger of God for almost 50 years, yet in all that time he did not win a single convert. Of course the message he preached wasn’t very popular. He warned the people of the impending downfall of the southern kingdom of Judah, and that wasn’t exactly what they wanted to hear. His condemnation of idolatry and false prophets didn’t win him any friends, just like telling people that the only way to be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ is not a popular message in our time. But had the people of Judah been listening, they would have also heard Jeremiah preach a message of hope, that there would come a day when Jerusalem and the nation of Israel would be restored. They would have heard Messianic prophecy, had they listened. Overall, Jeremiah never enjoyed any real popularity among the people of his day.  By any human standard, Jeremiah’s ministry would be considered a colossal failure. But Jeremiah was not a failure in the eyes of God.

Like Moses, Jeremiah initially resisted God’s calling, but he went on to become a faithful and obedient servant who went where God sent him and preached the message that God gave him to preach. But God did not promise Jeremiah success, at least not by our standards. In fact, God pretty much guaranteed Jeremiah that his calling would be a difficult one that, in large part, would be met with failure. For his efforts, he was put in stocks, beaten, thrown in a cistern, threatened with death, and eventually carried off to Egypt where it’s presumed he spent the remaining years of his life. There were times when Jeremiah got discouraged, just like we do when we feel like we’ve failed time and time again in our efforts to reach lost people for Christ. But in spite of all the difficulties he endured, in spite of preaching countless messages straight from God that the people routinely ignored, Jeremiah never quit. And that’s why Jeremiah was never a failure in God’s eyes. Jeremiah’s life was a lesson in perseverance.

And as followers of Jesus Christ, Jeremiah’s perseverance is a valuable lesson for us. No matter how people respond when we share the gospel message, we can’t give up. Like Jeremiah, we must persevere and here’s why: Of all the pastors and ministers and fellow Christians who have led others into the faith, how many of them have prayed with an individual to accept Christ AFTER another Christian spent years witnessing to that person? In other words, even though they reap the harvest, someone else probably planted the seed! And what we don’t know, and won’t know until we go to be with the Lord, is how many seeds we’ve planted.

So even though many of us have never personally prayed with someone to receive Jesus, we never give up. We can’t give up. We never stop sharing our faith. We never stop talking about Christ. We might be the one who plants the seed that someone else harvests weeks or months or years later. I said earlier that some pastors and ministers and lay people make it look easy when it comes to winning souls to Jesus Christ. Well maybe that’s because someone else planted the seeds of salvation in that lost person’s heart, seeds that the Holy Spirit was able to use to cause the word of God to grow in the heart and mind of that person.

When we start feeling like Jeremiah, let’s remember that Jeremiah himself was actually not a failure, not at all. It was the people of Judah and Jerusalem who failed. They failed to listen. They failed to heed the warnings. They failed to turn from their sins and turn back to God. In spite of their failure, Jeremiah never stopped preaching the word of God, he never quit, he never gave up. So if you ever feel like Jeremiah, consider this: Maybe feeling like Jeremiah is not so bad after all because nowhere in the Bible does it say that he was a quitter. He was obedient to God to the end, and obedience is what God desires most!

A Moment of Silence

Acts chapter 4

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

“What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

Some things never change. Today, as it was in the first century church, we as Christians still face pressure from non-believers and non-Christian religious groups to keep quiet about our faith in Jesus Christ. At some point, I’d bet nearly all of us have heard, or been told, that we should keep our beliefs to ourselves. Not only does this go directly against the Great Commission, it’s also somewhat hypocritical of our detractors because they certainly don’t keep THEIR beliefs to themselves.

Let’s look at the ongoing debate over over public prayer. Secular groups have argued that allowing prayer at large gatherings such as high school football games or in government buildings is a violation of our constitution’s first amendment provisions regarding separation of church and state. But the first amendment also prohibits the passage of any law that impedes the free exercise of religion, which as far as I’m concerned, should guarantee the right to pray in public places, in government buildings, and at school functions.

This issue has found its way into the courts multiple times and it’s led to somewhat of a compromise aimed at appeasing both Christians and non-believers alike. Instead of prayer, we now observe something called a “moment of silence.” Don’t be fooled. This moment of silence we see being observed at large gatherings is an illusion created to give the appearance that Christian beliefs are being respected. In reality, it is a very deceptive way of silencing Christians.

Think about this. Prayer is how we communicate with God. And yes, you can pray to yourself in your thoughts. We do pray silently at times. And there are times when silence is called for so that the Holy Spirit can do His work in the heart of a believer or in the heart of someone who has just heard the gospel for perhaps the first time in his or her life. But the voices of praying Christians need to be heard. You never know when someone might be standing next to you who needs the assurance of God’s presence. We can do our part to provide that assurance by making our voices heard when we pray to God.

A few years ago, while I was still working at Delta Airlines, we lost two of our mechanics within a very short period of time. One died of cancer, the other in a small plane crash. At the next quarterly meeting, our general manager called for “a moment of silence”. Okay, it was a nice gesture that was intended to honor their memory. But looking back and reflecting on that moment, it seems so empty. In a moment of silence, who are you talking to? The answer is………no one. We’re supposed to honor God above all else, but in a moment of silence, is God really being honored? Is it God honoring to stand for a few moments while saying or thinking about nothing. When that general manager called for a moment of silence, I hope someone, at the very least, offered a silent prayer. I know I didn’t. That was well before I committed my life to Jesus Christ. I just sat there and said nothing and thought nothing for a few moments. In my opinion, the real objective of those who offered up this compromise, this “moment of silence” in lieu of audible prayers, is to silence Christian voices while at the same time directing the minds of the unsaved away from God. While the moment of silence might seem like a nice gesture, it will never be a substitute for the voices of Christians raising their prayers up to God.

In chapter 5 of Acts, Peter responded to the council after he and the other Apostles had been freed from prison by the Angel of The Lord:

“Didn’t we tell you never again to teach in this man’s name?” he demanded. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”

 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Peter and the Apostles refused to be silenced. They continued preaching the gospel and talking openly about Jesus Christ until the day they died. There is a lesson there for all of us.

The Abundance of Grace and Favor

There was a restaurant owner whose business had been tapering off for a few months, so he came up with an idea to bring customers back in the door and it succeeded far beyond his wildest expectations. He had been praying over his business for some time and as any Christian business owner should do, he gave thanks to God for answering his prayers and for blessing his business. And as his business continued to recover and prosper, he made sure to show his appreciation for God’s favor through his offerings on Sunday mornings.

But one evening, as he tallied the day’s receipts, it suddenly occured to him that he had completely forgotten to recognize his employees for their hard work. Since his business had turned around, they had been working hard and putting in long hours, and he realized he had been taking them just a little bit for granted. Of course they all got paychecks and the waiters and waitresses made good tips, but he wanted to do something special for them to show his appreciation. So later that week, he called a staff meeting and asked everyone to come in a couple of hours early before the restaurant opened for business.

On the day of meeting, he handed each of his employees an envelope and when they opened them, inside each one was 10 crisp $100 dollar bills. He gave each of his employees a thousand dollar bonus! While everyone else was smiling and laughing and talking about how they were going to spend their money, there was a young waitress who just sat quietly, not saying a word. It wasn’t long before tears started welling up in her eyes. He assumed she was just a little overcome with emotion, so he went over and talked to her. As she began to open up, he soon realized there was more going on with this young woman.

Like the owner, she was also a believer. She’d been saved at an early age, but there had been some struggles in her life that were testing her faith. She and her husband had been married for a few years. He had lost his job recently and had enrolled in a technical school to better his chances of finding a new job. He worked part time when he could, she said, but her job at the restaurant was their sole means of support for the most part. They were getting by, but just barely.

But at the worst possible time, there was an unexpected emergency and they had an urgent need for money they just didn’t have. And they had no clue where it was going to come from. The young waitress told her boss that she had been praying, but her prayers were general in nature. Almost ashamedly, she said had not prayed and asked God specifically for the money she and her husband needed until the night before the staff meeting. When she opened the envelope, she told her boss it was exactly what they needed. She went on to say that while she was certainly grateful to God for the answered prayer, there was a part of her that felt shame for not trusting God sooner. Her boss assured her that she had truly been blessed, not just with the extra money, but also because God had used the trial in her life to teach her that God is still in control and knows our needs. He reminded her of the passage from the sixth Chapter of Matthew where Jesus taught us that our Father knows what we need before we ask.

Overhearing all of this, one of the other employees said, “Now I know for a fact that not everyone who works here is a Christian. What about them? Are you saying God blessed them too?”

“Yes.” the owner said, “When God blessed this business with success, He not only blessed me, but He also blessed her and all of you too, because the grace of God is so abundant, it covers believers and non-believers alike.”

Now I used this fictitious story to illustrate how the grace of God so often overflows onto non-believers when He chooses to bestow blessings on His children. The story may be fictitious, but things like that do happen every day. When God blesses a Christian, his or her non-believing coworkers, family members, and friends often share in the blessing. I heard a true story recently of a business that was doing quite well until a Christian employee decided to leave and go elsewhere. Now that business is struggling. Coincidence? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. But there is Biblical proof that God’s blessings do sometimes spill over onto non-believers. Let’s start with the book of Genesis.

Jacob’s father-in-law Laban did not want Jacob to return to his homeland. It’s recorded in Genesis chapter 30 that he told Jacob, “I have become wealthy, for the Lord has blessed me because of you.” Even though Jacob was still a work in progress at that time in his life, God chose to bless him anyway and Laban understood that God’s blessings had spilled over onto him. So he didn’t want Jacob to leave……ever!

Then there’s the story of Jacob’s son Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt where he was sold to Potiphar, who was the captain of the guard for Pharaoh. In Genesis chapter 39 we’re told: Potiphar realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. This pleased Potiphar, so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. To Potiphar’s credit, he was smart enough to recognize that God was with Joseph and that was why his household was so blessed.

Does anyone know who Obed-edom the Gittite was? Judging by his name, he was probably a descendant of Jacob’s brother Esau, but we really don’t know a lot about him. We don’t know if he worshiped God or not. But we do know that when David stored the Ark of the Covenant in his home for a while, the Bible says in 1 Chronicles 13 that the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had.

Just so no one misunderstands, this is not an endorsement for the prosperity gospel message that’s preached by the radical fringes of the Charismatic Movement. But why would God bless non-believers along with His people? It’s very simple. It’s because of His love. Romans 5:8 says God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Sinner or saint, God loves us all the same. Jesus made it very clear that God blesses believers and non-believers alike when He said in the Sermon on the Mount that God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. That’s shows the abundance of grace! And it shows us that His love knows no bounds!

You Were Forced to do What?

I was channel surfing late one night after work a few months ago and on one of the channels was an advertisement for a movie that was about to hit the movie theaters at the time. The voice over narrative in the movie trailer went something like this:

“A young man, because of his tragic past, is forced to turn to a life of crime……………….”

Stop right there. Forced to turn to a life of crime? Forced? I didn’t bother watching the rest of the trailer. I changed the channel. I don’t even remember the name of the movie now. It doesn’t matter. I’ve seen movies like that before. Usually, the central character who was “forced to turn to a life of crime” is portrayed as a hero who really is a good person deep down, but simply had no other choice. He had to turn to crime to take back control of his life…or whatever. I realize they’re just movies and Hollywood has no concept of reality, but that does seem to be the message the world tries to convey today; that no one is truly responsible for his or her own actions. We’re all just victims of our past circumstances.

In real life, few people actually turn to a life of crime because something bad happened to them once upon a time in their past the way it’s portrayed in Hollywood. But to be sure, it does happen. People who abuse drugs and alcohol often blame their problems on something that happened long ago in their past. There are plenty of people sitting in prison today who say they’re there because they never got a break in life and they had no choice but to turn to crime. But plenty of other people have endured loss, pain, hardship, and suffering at some time in their past and they all turned out okay.

I’m not saying that it’s not necessary for some people to get help in dealing with something that was particularly traumatizing. Things do happen that leave emotional scars and the pain must be addressed. I get that.  But my point is this: No one is ever forced into a life of crime. And no one is forced against his or her will to sin against God.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10 verse 13:

 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

You will never be tempted beyond what you can stand, and God will always give you a way out. So no one can say that they were forced into a life of crime. They can’t say they were forced to commit sin of any kind. If any of you are old enough to remember the Flip Wilson show back in the 70s, one of Wilson’s characters was that of a woman named Geraldine. Remember the line made famous by Geraldine? “The devil made me do it!”

In reality, we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for the choices we make. The devil can’t make you do a thing. The Bible says we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear. I understand you may have had to endure some extreme difficulties in your lives. You may have suffered abuse as a child. There may have been some hardships in your lives as teens and young adults. There may have been some terrible things that happened to you in your past.

Please do not misunderstand what I’m saying and let me preface what I’m about to say by reminding every one of you that your life matters to God. But no one gets to use the terrible things in their past as an excuse to turn to crime and to commit sin against God. It doesn’t matter what may have happened to you in the past. It doesn’t matter how you were raised. It doesn’t matter how many times life has thrown you a curve. I say it doesn’t matter because no one is forced down the road to sin and destruction, no matter how bad their past was.

That passage from 1 Corinthians is a promise from God, and God is always true to His promises. You have a way out. God has provided it for you through the blood of Jesus Christ. And again, it’s your choice. You can choose to follow Jesus or walk away. But remember, and I cannot emphasize this enough, no one is forced to turn to crime. No one is forced to sin. Those are choices. Make the right choice by choosing to give your life, which includes all the bad things that have happened in your past…..to Jesus.

The Passage of Time

Just before King David died, he summoned his son Solomon, who was to succeed him as king. David told Solomon that there were certain men he would have to deal with after he became king. Solomon was instructed to show kindness to those who had been faithful and loyal to David. But for those who had been disrespectful and disobedient, David instructed Solomon to deal with them as he saw fit.

There was one man in particular named Shimei who had hurled insults and threw rocks at David as he crossed the Jordan River while fleeing from Absalom. But after Absalom’s rebellion was put down and Absalom himself had been killed, Shimei changed his tune. He begged David for mercy as David and his people returned from their brief exile on the other side of the Jordan. David granted him mercy, but deep down inside, I think David believed Shimei’s attitude hadn’t really changed.

After David died, Solomon was anointed as king and one of his first acts as king was to summon Shimei, and the conversation between Solomon and Shimei is recorded in the second chapter of 1 Kings:

Then the king sent for Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and live there, but do not go anywhere else. The day you leave and cross the Kidron Valley, you can be sure you will die; your blood will be on your own head.”

Shimei answered the king, “What you say is good. Your servant will do as my lord the king has said.” And Shimei stayed in Jerusalem for a long time.

But three years after this conversation took place, two of Shimei’s slaves ran away to the city of Gath, which was in Phillistine territory and well beyond the boundary Solomon had set. Shimei went out anyway and retrieved his slaves, but when Solomon found out Shimei had disobeyed his orders, he summoned Shimei once again. And Shimei paid for his disobedience with his life.

Because of the passage of time, Shimei probably figured Solomon had forgotten all about their earlier conversation. He may have felt that the disrespect he showed toward David really wasn’t such a big deal anymore, since so much time had passed. And because it had been so long and because David had since died, maybe Shimei figured no one really cared about what he said and did to David that day. What Shimei failed to understand was, there’s really no escaping the past, no matter how much time has passed.

For the unsaved person, believing all is well just because the passage of time has put distance between past sins and present day circumstances…..is a very deadly trap to fall into. The passage of time doesn’t erase past sins. It doesn’t diminish the seriousness of sin one bit, nor does it decrease the punishment that will eventually be required. Plenty of people did things in their youth that they aren’t proud of, things the Bible clearly calls sin, but because they did those things so long ago, they don’t think it’s a big deal anymore. “Time heals all wounds.” they say.

Well………………it is a big deal because God does not about forget unredeemed sin, no matter how long ago it was. All sin must be atoned for. They might say things like “Yes, I cheated, I stole, I lied, I did terrible things……………but that was in my youth. It was a long time ago, so it doesn’t matter now.” They dismiss their past sins, but they need to hear the truth because in God’s eyes, it does matter. Their sins must be paid for and they will pay with their eternal souls unless they accept the payment that was made on their behalf through the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

There’s another side to this. I’ve talked to people who say that because of things they did long ago, there’s no way they can ask for God’s forgiveness. “It’s been too long. Too many years have gone by. I know I should have reached out to God and accepted Christ back then, but it’s too late now.” Just like the idea that the passage of time somehow diminishes the seriousness of sin, this too is a lie from Satan. The passage of time does not erase past sin, but it does not prevent forgiveness of sin either. No one should be fooled into believing that there’s no need to address past sins because they were committed long ago, nor should anyone be duped into believing that God can’t forgive those sins. God can reach back into the past much further than we can!

I said God does not forget unredeemed sin. For unrepentant sinners, their sins will not be forgotten, but for those who put their trust in Christ, God promises that He will remember their sins no more! So if you’ve never accepted Jesus Christ, do so today. If someone close to you does not know Jesus, reach out to them today. If you’re a Christian living with unconfessed sin, get right with Jesus today. Don’t let the time God has given you slip away!

Struggling to Forgive

There is an old and familiar song we often sing during the invitation time at the end of the worship service called “I Surrender All”. Let’s think about that. Let’s think about what it means to “surrender all” for a moment. Actually, it’s very simple. All……means all. When we surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ, we surrendered everything to Him and as it pertains to the matter of forgiveness, it includes surrendering our desire to get even with those who have hurt us and done us wrong in some way. And more often than not,  it’s a battle!!! If you have ever found it difficult to forgive someone for hurting you or for commiting an unprovoked offense against you, you’re not alone. As guys, forgiveness goes against our nature. Sometimes that fight or flight instinct kicks in and when someone hurts us, we want to hit back. We want to settle the score.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve struggled with this many times and during one particular moment not long ago, I prayed and asked God to help me forgive some individuals who had attacked me personally without any provocation whatsoever. It was a sincere prayer. I genuinely wanted to let go of the urge I felt to get even. You see, that is not something any  Christian should ever want to carry around on his or her shoulders. When we’re unwilling to forgive, bitterness and feelings of resentment and anger will build up on the inside until we reach the point that we are no longer effective at doing the work God has called us to do.  And Satan would like nothing better than for us to be deterred from doing God’s work.

The Apostle Paul wrote in the 5th chapter of Ephesians: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. That was a summation of these words written in the 4th chapter:  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. So we need to make it our desire to imitate Jesus Christ and forgive others as He forgave us. But so often, forgiveness is easier to talk about than it is to put into practice. So I prayed, and sometimes my prayers can be gritty. I said to God, “Lord, it’s so hard to forgive when it feels like you’re being spit on for no reason……..” At that moment, I had to stop and remember who I was talking to.

I was speaking figuratively of course. I had not actually been spat on. But our Lord and Savior knows what that feels like……. in the most literal sense. Matthew’s Gospel describes the treatment Jesus received, first at the hands of the Sanhedrin after His arrest in the garden of Gethsamane, and then at the hands of Roman soldiers. In the accounts in Matthew 26 and 27, the Bible says both groups of men mocked Him and spat on Him and struck Him in the face. And how did Jesus respond?  Luke’s Gospel tells us in the 23rd chapter that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Jesus did not call down fire from Heaven to consume them. He prayed for them.

Being that He’s the Son of God, was it easy for Jesus to forgive after being spit on, mocked, beaten, flogged, prior to the being crucified? It might be tempting for us to think so, but there was nothing about the crucifixion, or anything leading up to it, that was easy as we understand easy. Jesus knows how it feels to be treated unjustly for no reason, to be hated and treated with contempt without provocation.  He knows what it’s like to be spit on. When it happens to us, when we’re hated and treated with contempt for no reason, He knows exactly how it feels. But we also know how He responded. So that’s something to keep in mind next time we find ourselves struggling to forgive.

Things Present, Things to Come

Romans 8
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There was one particular part of that passage that caught my attention – “nor things present nor things to come….”– and it’s the main focus of this message. Very simply stated, Paul was talking about present and future circumstances of life. But what about the past? The past is as much a part of our lives as the present and future. When we think of the very essence of time itself, we think of the past, present, and future. So wouldn’t it seem logical for Paul to have said that neither the PAST, present, or future could ever separate us from the love of God? Yet Paul made no mention of the past, and I believe the reason is very simple: I don’t think Paul was the least bit concerned about the past.

The Bible tells us that when a sinner repents and accepts Christ, God no longer remembers the sins of that person’s past. The author of Hebrews recalled this promise by quoting Jeremiah 31 verse 34, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”. It’s recorded not once, but twice in Hebrews, in chapter 8 and again in chapter 10. Micah 7:19 tells us: You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Now the past isn’t changed. It’s not erased. But there is simply no need to remind ourselves of the sins of our past when God Himself promised not to remind us of those sins! When God casts our sins into the sea, He puts up a ‘no fishing’ sign. We have been set free from the past. That’s why Paul made no mention of the past in that passage from Romans. There was no need to. The past is done.

While we cannot change the past, we do have the freedom and ability to make decisions that can impact our present circumstances AND change the course of our future; things present and things to come. The most important decision we ever made of course, was the decision to follow Christ. At that moment, our future in this world was changed, and our future in Heaven was assured. Jesus said in John chapter 5, Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. No other decision we make today, or any decision we make in the future, will have as great an impact on our lives as the decision we made to ask Jesus to be the Lord of our lives.

Not only did we change our future, but present circumstances became bearable. We’ve all had to endure a season (or seasons) of difficulty and hardship in our lives. Some of you may be going through some sort of hardship at this very moment. But the grace by which we were saved is sufficient to see us through those seasons of difficulty when they come. God reminded Paul of this truth when Paul asked Him to remove the thorn from his flesh. How did God respond? “My grace is sufficient for you.” God has given us His grace in abundance, and it is greater than any difficulty we will ever face, now or in the future. And that explains why Paul said neither things present nor things to come can ever separate us from God’s love.

It Doesn’t Seem Fair….

When I was going through Navy basic training many years ago, there was one particular guy in our company of 70 + recruits who just never got it. Hammond (I can’t remember his first name) was the one who was always talking when we were supposed to be silent. He was always the one who was moving and jumping around in ranks when we were supposed to be standing at attention and completely still. He was the one whose bunk was never made right and whose locker always failed inspection. And because of him, the drill instructors ran the rest of us into the ground. We did extra PT drills until we dropped!

Basically, when Seaman Recruit Hammond messed up, we all got punished. It doesn’t seem fair but that’s the way it is in the military. That’s the way it is in much of life too. But does it seem fair for everyone to suffer because of one person? According to the Bible, that’s exactly what happened when we inherited the guilt of sin.

Romans 5 says:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

We are all guilty because of the sin of one man, Adam. We received the same condemnation. I’ve heard protests and objections raised over this principle, both from non believers and Christians alike. They ask how it is that a just God could declare all of us guilty because of the sin of one man who lived and committed that sin thousands of years ago.  “How is that fair?” they ask. They compare this principle to being arrested, tried, and convicted for robbing a bank when it was actually someone else who committed the crime. The problem with such a comparison is that it does not address the overall corruption of creation itself. The crime of robbing the bank and the injustice of being falsely arrested for that crime are merely the continuing results of the corruption of creation that was brought on by the original sin. The truth is, we’re no different from Adam. We have an inclination to sin just as Adam did. We call it the sin nature. And because we inherited Adam’s inclination to sin, we inherited the same condemnation for sin.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin. No one likes being punished for someone else’s crime.That much is clear. But suppose one of us did commit a crime. Let’s say you or I went out and robbed a bank. And we were caught, convicted, and sentenced. But then someone offered to step in and take the punishment in our place and set us free in the process. We wouldn’t be protesting about the injustice of that, now would we? We wouldn’t be crying about how unfair that was would we?  Of course not! But why not? Is it fair for one person to take someone else’s punishment? Is it fair that one person should take the punishment that we deserve? Now let’s look at that question from a Christian frame of reference. Is it fair for one man to sacrifice himself for people who want nothing to do with him? Jesus Christ did just that. He offered Himself as a substitute even though many have rejected Him and persecuted His followers, and many more will do likewise in the future.  Jesus took the punishment we deserve and by doing so, He set us free.

Paul went on to write in Romans 5

The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Jesus gave His life for all, and nowhere in the Bible does it say that He thought it was unfair to die for someone else’s crimes, or to die for those who would reject His offer of eternal life (Christ died for the ungodly….while we were still sinners…). I don’t think fairness even entered His mind as He died on the cross. In fact, I don’t think He ever once entertained the notion that He was being treated unfairly. His mind was set on doing the will of the Father, whose will it is that not one of  His sheep would be lost.

A time is coming when justice and fairness will reign. Jesus is coming back and when He does, He will restore all things! Until then, we wait, we hope, and we trust!

Originally preached by W.A Criswell on April 1, 1979.

It is no less relevant today in 2015.

And once again welcome, the uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this hour with us over radio and over television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Our Witness to the World. Preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26 and the reading of text is beginning at verse 15-Paul meeting the Lord on the way to Damascus; overwhelmed by the glory of that light, he says,

Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord replied, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.

But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a servant—a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of the things at which I will yet appear unto thee.

Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 

To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power from Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Me.

Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 

But showed first unto them of Damascus, and then at Jerusalem, and then throughout all of the regions of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. 

Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come, 

That Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should be raised from among the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.

[Acts 26:15-23]

Three times in the Book of Acts is the story told of the conversion of the apostle Paul.  And in all three instances, his conversion is accompanied by his call as a witness to the world.  The two go together; our conversion is also our call as a witness to the world.  Acts begins with the meeting of the Lord with His apostles in the great commission in [chapter1]verse 8 , “and ye shall be My witnesses.” To be saved is to be called to be a witness to the grace of our Lord. As I read the text, there are three groups to which the Lord has called the apostle. You have it translated “Gentiles,” which is fine. The word refers to the “nations” of the world. Paul is called—we are called to be witnesses to the nations of the world.  When it says in the text “the people,” he is called to be a witness to the people.  That refers to his nation—his own people.  We are called to be a witness to our nation—our own people—these who speak our language, who live in our land, who breathe our air, who share our destiny.  We are called as witnesses to the nation.  And then third, he was called as a witness to the lost everywhere—Damascus, Jerusalem, the regions of Judea, to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God.  So we are called to be witnesses, to all of the lost everywhere. We shall follow that God-ordained and God-inspired outline for Paul and for us.

We are to be witnesses to the whole world. That was an awesome thing for Paul; it is an awesome thing for us. After all, he is just one man; yet God called him to confront and to face the whole pagan world.  We are one by one, saved and one by one called to witnesses to the whole world.  And it is no less awesome for us, and today, terrifying. There is no part of the whole world that does not daily affect us.  What happens in the remotest corners—across the seas, in the tiniest lands, affect us today; deeply so, increasingly so.

I say the assignment is awesome and frightening.  The awe of catastrophe seems to permeate everything we read; every headline in every newspaper and every article in every magazine.  We live as though we were under a hanging Damocles sword.  We live as though there were a gun loaded, the trigger cocked, pointed at our heads.

These historians who write of our present modern world history will include chapters like this-“The Eclipse of Western Civilization, or “The Post Christian Era.” It is a time of terror and frightening possibilities that daily confront our national and international life. I sometimes think of our modern world in terms of the first three times I visited Germany. The first time was within several months after the conclusion of the World War II, and the vast, illimitable destruction of those cities in Germany was appalling to me.  I would stand, for example, in Hamburg—a city the size of Chicago, and as far as my eye could see, from horizon to horizon, there was nothing but rubble. Not a building standing. And all that had been done at that time was to dig out the roads through the rubble in order that the buses might drive through. That was my first time to visit Germany. The second time, I went to see Orson Welles in a modern version of Faust, and over and over, repeated again and again was a line that went through that dramatic presentation. The line was, “Damnation is contagious.” The third time that I visited Germany I went to see Richard Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung, the third and the last of the famous trilogy. And it ends like this—the chief of the gods, Woden, Woden’s spear is broken; Siegfried is slain; Brunhilde falls upon the funeral pyre—casts herself upon it; and the home of the gods, Valhalla is burning; and the whole heaven and earth are on fire.  That is the way the opera ended.

As I review those first three journeys to Germany, they are a sort of outline of the present world.  And the awesome, frightening, terrible prospects that daily confront us.  We are to be witnesses to that kind of a world; a world that seemingly faces the inevitable judgment of Almighty God. Paul was just one; but he was one. We, each one is just one; but we are one.  And “it is better to light a small candle than to curse the darkness.” As we have opportunity, anywhere in the earth we ought to witness for our Lord; and there should be in our hearts a daily prayer that God will have mercy and pity upon the nations that struggle in this modern earth.  And, as we have opportunity, we ought to share in our world mission enterprise.  When Paul was converted, he was called—one man, against the whole world—“a witness to the Gentiles”—to the nations.

Second, in his conversion he was called as a witness to his own people—to his nation. And we also in our conversion, we also are called to be witnesses to our people, to our country, our nation. America cannot live in drunkenness and debauchery and desecration and disobedience. God has written large on this sacred page: “The wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations that forget God”[Psalm 9:17]. If God does not judge America, He must tear up His Bible. He must renounce the words that He has spoken and He must apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah and Assyria and Babylonia, and the rest of the empires and kingdoms and nations of the world that He has judged and destroyed. 

It is vanity and presumption for us to say to ourselves that God will judge and has judged other nations because of their wickedness and iniquity, but God will not judge us.  That was the thought and the persuasion of Judah in the days of Jeremiah the prophet. The people said to themselves: We are the chosen family of God. The holy temple is located in our beautiful city. And God would not destroy His chosen people. He would not let enemies ravage His holy city, nor would God allow the destruction of His holy temple.  The people said that in the days of Jeremiah.  But they had forsaken God.  And Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried saying, “Repent, repent, get right with God”; and the Chaldeans came in 605 BC, and carried away captive Daniel and other of the seed royal.  Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried again: “Repent, get right with God”; and the Chaldeans came in 598 BC, and carried away Ezekiel and the flower of the priesthood.  Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried saying, “Repent, get right with God.  And the Chaldeans came the third time in 587 BC, and they had no need to return again.  They destroyed the city.  They burned the temple with fire.  And they carried away the nation captive.  And Jeremiah cried, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1].  And in captivity, the Jewish prisoners, slaves, cried,

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we wept when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps on the willow trees in the midst thereof.

For they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.[Psalm 137:1-3]

But how do you sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  In slavery and in captivity?

This is the imponderable judgment that awaits America. God does not countenance iniquity and desecration and disobedience in any people; whether they are in His church, or in His synagogue or in His holy city or in His Solomonic temple, in New York, or Dallas, or Paris, or Peking, or Moscow. There is an inevitable judgment from Almighty God that faces the iniquitous and departing nations of the world.  And to those people, we are sent as witnesses.  We are to lift up our voices in our own nation, among our own people.

There ought to be built here in the city of Dallas, in the downtown heart of this city, a great lighthouse for Christ.  Dallas is becoming increasingly a crossroad center of our America.  The influence of our city is expanding and permeating and if that influence can be Christian; if people thinking of us, think of the Lord; if we can shine for Christ, God will bless us and work with us and give us power and might and glory and presence from above.  In Romans chapter 13, in 1 Timothy, chapter 2, in 1 Peter chapter 2—at great length does the Lord by inspiration write to us saying that we are to be Christian citizens.  We are to pray for the government.  We are take part in the obedient citizenship of the land.  We are to be Christian witnesses to our nation.

The third category that Paul quotes the Lord as saying to whom he is to be a witness.  And as he speaks to King Agrippa II about his obedience to that heavenly mandate; the third category is to the lost everywhere.  We are to be witnesses to the lost everywhere.  The tragedy of human life is apparent everywhere.  Any way you want to say it, choose any category or any nomenclature that you would like to use, whether you say it philosophically or sociologically or psychologically or domestically or martially or whether you say it scientifically or theologically or nationally or personally—any way you wish to say it, the everlasting truth of history is this – that men are lost without God.

In our Christian preaching, men are lost without Christ—Acts 4:12: “for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Men are lost in this life—now. They are lost in death. They lost at the great judgment bar of Almighty God and they are lost in eternity. Men are lost without Christ. What is needed above everything else—what is needed is a compassionate heart to witness to the lost all around us of the hope and the forgiveness and the life and the destiny and the preciousness and the blessing that we have in our dear Lord. The compassionate heart is the first of all of the overtures of God to men and women and families who are lost-a caring, sharing, loving, praying concerned people, witnessing to the lost.

I one time read in a book—there was a character named Marius the Epicurean.  He was a philosopher.  And in this Book written about the first century; written concerning the first century AD. This Marius the Epicurean philosopher is seated high up the Roman coliseum, and he is watching gladiatorial combats in the arena. As you know, the arena of the coliseum was covered with sand so that when the gladiators slew each other and the blood poured out, they could rake away the sand or rake over the sand and bring in fresh sand, and then the bloody combats could continue. As Marius the Epicurean philosopher sits there in the height of the Roman coliseum watching those bloody combats, he turns to his companion and he says, “What is needed is the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such blood-thirsty combat, and the future would belong to the power that could create such a heart.”

Following the course of history, as you so well know, it was the preaching of the gospel that closed for ever that coliseum. It was the preaching of the gospel that forever did away with those bloody gladiatorial confrontations. It was the preaching of the gospel that for ever did away with the execution by crucifixion of a malefactor.  It was the preaching of the gospel that for ever did away with human slavery.  It was the preaching of the gospel that for ever did away with the exposing of children.  It was the preaching of the gospel that elevated and raised womanhood and family life.  It was the preaching of the gospel that brought ministries to the poor, to the suffering.  There was not a hospital in the entire Roman Empire.  There was not an orphan’s home in all of the history of the Greco-Roman people.  It was the compassionate love—it was the caring heart of the Christian witness that elevated the world into another sphere, another life, another devotion. It is that same compassionate concern on the part of God’s people that is so desperately needed today. And our conversion is our call into that compassionate concern.  We are to be witnesses to the lost.

You see, when we work for God, and do God’s work, God prepares for our coming.  The Lord works with us.  We are not alone when we commit ourselves to this tremendous soul-saving commitment.  There is a great Almightiness above us who is watching and who is working with us.  And when God sees us with a compassionate heart, a caring loving spirit.; when God hears us pray and intercede, God does something.  God works.  It is almost a marvelous and miraculous thing how God prepares for our witnessing.  You see, there are providences that we do not know about that work in a man’s life—getting ready for that appeal that we make to his soul.  Things we never guessed for, but God is working.  And He is opening wide the door.  It is the providences of God that plows the fallow ground, readies for the sowing of the seed of the word.  God works with us. You do not know ever the providences that lie back of a man’s life; God plowing up the fallow ground, preparing for the sowing of the seed.

I do not convert anybody.  We do not regenerate any soul.  God does that if I am but a concerned and compassionate and willing and yielded and prayerful witness.  God somehow blesses and sanctifies and uses our efforts to the saving of the lost and to the blessing of the heart and the home.  It is for us to answer our heavenly call.  “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but showed myself first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to all of the people that they should repent and turn and find their hope and life in God” [Acts 26:1920].  That is our commitment and in wisdom and in blessing may the Lord work with us in saving grace.  May our eyes behold it—saving our souls; saving our nation; saving our world.

A Time For Prayer For Our Nation

2 Chronicles 7:14
Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

No doubt, the United States is in serious trouble. As he prophesied to the nation of Judah, Isaiah warned, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” But that’s exactly what’s happening in our country today. These days, those who deliberately choose to live apart from God by indulging in sin and wickedness are all too often commended and congratulated for their wrong choices, while those who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the righteousness of God are ridiculed and portrayed as religious kooks, nut cases, and fanatics. Isaiah’s warnings were preached against Judah. He told them what would happen if they did not heed God’s warnings, but he could have just as well been talking to modern day America. America would do well to heed the warnings that Judah ignored. As far as God is concerned, sin is sin is sin. The recent Supreme Court decision that legalized same sex marriage will likely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back that invites God’s judgment.

Unfortunately, it’s been an ongoing problem for quite some time. Abortion and pornography were given the green light by our nation’s highest court decades ago and we’ve been on a slippery slope ever since. So America’s sin problem extends far beyond the sin of homosexuality and all the headline grabbing issues surrounding it. Sex and sexual situations are so casually portrayed on prime time television that it’s become almost too embarrassing to watch. I take that back. It IS embarrassing. And that’s just network television. As for the cable channels, I won’t even go there. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6: Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Sin is sin but sexual sin is especially displeasing to God. Whether it’s lust, adultery, incest, premarital sex, pedophilia, or homosexuality, it’s all detestable in God’s eyes.

Our casual attitudes toward lewd sexual conduct are not our only problem. Consider this country’s problems with drug and alcohol use. Getting drunk has become our favorite pastime. In spite of increasingly tougher laws, DWI/DUI arrests continue to escalate at an almost alarming rate as more people choose to disregard the law, their safety, and the safety of others. Again, Isaiah warned Judah of the dangers of drinking to excess: What sorrow for those who are heroes at drinking wine and boast about all the alcohol they can hold. (NLT). And again, Isaiah could have easily been talking to America. Some states have legalized marijuana which more often than not leads to harder and stronger drugs. I don’t need some study to tell me that. It’s obvious by the sheer number of ruined lives. And as drug and alcohol addiction rises, there is always a corresponding increase in domestic violence and child abuse cases. God’s word has a lot to say about drunkenness, but Ephesians 5:18 expresses it very simply: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Drunkenness is one of those ‘obvious acts of the flesh’ that Paul spoke of the fifth chapter of Galatians, in which he said anyone who is guilty of such acts will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven.

Thank goodness we don’t practice idolatry anymore. Or do we? Even though you won’t find very many Americans worshipping statues with Old Testament names like Baal and Molech, idol worship is still alive and well. When the topic of idolatry is brought up today, I think of the entertainment industry and professional sports. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with going to the movies (depending on the rating of course), listening to music, or going to a ballgame, we have to take care not elevate professional athletes and entertainers to god-like status. And yes, people do exalt and worship entertainers and ball players. There are other false gods that most people don’t think of as false gods; money, possessions, careers, just to name a few. Anything we value over and above the God of the Bible becomes a false god, whether intentional or unintentional.

There’s also this matter of abortion. 55 million babies murdered since the Roe v Wade decision. Enough said.

And as if this wasn’t serious enough, the various atheist organizations in this country have been on a decades long campaign to remove all mention of God from every aspect of our society. Again, with help from our Supreme Court, they’ve succeeded in removing prayer and God’s name from public places like government buildings, court houses, and our schools. But it doesn’t stop there. They want to ban us from being able to express our faith publicly, period. They want no public display or discussion of religion at all, and they want that to be the law of the land! That means it would be illegal to pray over our meal in a restaurant or to put a cross on our front door. Our worship would be restricted to the confines of the walls of our churches, if they have their way. Even though that has not become law (yet), Christians are already facing other forms of intimidation. Many believers have been threatened with the loss of their jobs and some have been terminated because they refused to be ashamed of their faith in Christ. Others have been denied employment or promotion opportunities because they happened to mention their faith on Facebook. And we don’t even need to discuss what has happened inside the walls of our colleges and universities where Christian students are routinely mocked, attacked, bullied, and tormented by “enlightened” educators and other students.

Like I said at the outset, the United States is in serious trouble. This is a nation that was founded on Christian principles. But this nation is rapidly abandoning those principles, and God is not going to put up with it much longer. I think He’s getting pretty tired of this mess about now.

It sounds I’m painting a bleak picture doesn’t it? But it’s really not as hopeless as it sounds. Remember, we are followers of Jesus Christ. We’ve put our faith and trust in Him, not some political or judicial leader. No president, supreme court justice, or elected official can cure the disease of sin that is infecting our nation. No one political party has the answers. As God told Solomon in that passage in 2 Chronicles, only God has the power to heal a nation. But for that healing to take place, there’s going to have to be a major revival in America.

My pastor recently announced a new prayer initiative for our church. My church will be asking for volunteers to devote themselves to one hour of prayer, at a time of his or her choosing. The eventual goal is for there to be someone praying around the clock – 24/7 – either at the church or at home. I think that prayer time must absolutely include prayers for this nation, along with the prayer needs of the church. With the upcoming presidential election in 2016, we must start praying NOW for the person who will become our next president, even though at this time that person is known only to God. Like I said, no politician or political party can save this nation, but God does use Godly leaders and we must pray that Godly leaders will be elected, leaders with the courage to stand up to the ungodly who are leading this country away from God and ultimately, to God’s wrath and judgement. We must also pray for forgiveness since many of us, myself included, stood by silently and let it happen. We need to pray that there will be conviction, repentance, and revival in this land. We need to pray that this nation will turn back to God.

And we need to share this with other Christians. Many of you know Christians who are members of other churches. Urge them to start praying now. As awesome as it will be when round the clock prayer becomes a reality at my church, I’d like to see that in every church in America. If there’s any hope for a revival or great re-awakening, it must start with prayer.