Archives for January 2005

Remembering A Wrong

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24, ESV)

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At the very beginning of my Christian experience, God sent a fellow sailor into my life to show me an awful wrong in my past. It is difficult to describe the transition from my lost condition as a young religious individual to that of a Christian believer. In fact, I know, of course, that “transition” is hardly the word. It is actually a passing “from death to life” (John 5:24). It is a new birth, a new creation, a new ownership. And there were wrongs in my life that very much needed to be righted.

The sailor I refer to was a young petty officer, several grades in rank above me in the Navy. One day I came into the barracks and glanced at his “rack” (bed) and saw a Bible lying there. My instant thought was, “Why would anyone bring a holy book into a godless place like this?” Within a few days I had met the young man and owner of the Bible. He was Ed Moore from Alabama and he was just finishing a four-year tour of duty in the Navy. I was just beginning my two-year tour.

Without actually confronting me with my need of Christ, Ed simply lived the Christian life before me, referring often to his Bible and questioning me about my background. I do not know, exactly, when I was saved but I am inclined to think that it was right about this time. As I learned the truth I believed it, hence, I am not sure at precisely what moment God saved me. In large part he was responsible for setting me on the path that won me to the Lord.

Before long our conversations turned to girls and some of our dating relationships. He fondly told me of a young Japanese girl he had met while overseas with whom he had fallen in love. After an extended period of dating Ed described as a wonderful relationship he had had with this young lady, they had agreed to bring this relationship to an end, mostly I think because of their racial differences. Ed was clearly moved to tell me about it though the events he described were a couple of years old.

One afternoon as we were standing around talking, just the two of us, I found myself volunteering information I had never told anyone. Probably as a response to Ed’s disclosure that he had had a serious dating relationship, I confessed that day that so had I. In fact, I went on to tell him, I was actually engaged to marry a young woman with whom I had gone to high school. Her name was “Sally.” As nearly as I can remember, the following was my confession; a confession I made to my friend more than fifty years ago.
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What If 2005 Is My Last Year Here?

James 4:13-17; 5:19-20

Introduction

I have a very painful lesson in my past that comes to my mind from time to time. When we boys, my brother and I, were young, my dad would take us fishing. We didn’t have much of this world’s goods so the best we could do to get a boat for our fishing trips was to rent one from “Cranberry Landing.” These were big old, leaky, flat-bottomed things that were hard to row but they were stable for young boys’ safety and, best of all, the rent was only fifty cents a day. Through those young years of mine, we were often out on Buckeye Lake (Ohio) with my dad, having fun fishing.

Back in the late seventies, after my dad retired, he was able to buy a small fishing boat of his own along with a trailer. He loved the boat and proudly showed it to us the first time we came to his house from where I taught and pastored, about three hours away. I knew he was thinking of all those times we had used someone else’s old worn out fishing boat when we were kids. Now he had a nice shiny aluminum boat with nice seats in it and a good trailer for spotting it up anyplace we wanted to put it into the water.

Summer came the first year my dad had the boat and he invited me and the boys to come over to Buckeye Lake to go fishing with him. I didn’t get around to making a date to go and the summer passed. The next summer, he invited us again a number of times. I made excuses. The truth is I didn’t want to admit to Dad that I didn’t have money for my fishing license. That summer, too, passed.

The next year my dad fell into poor health. Just before Thanksgiving time, God took him home. We never did get to go fishing in Dad’s nice little boat. I had intended to but the time got away and so did our opportunities. I took some comfort in knowing that my brother and our son-in-law got to go with Dad several times, but I never did. Lost opportunities!

Recently I read an article by a missionary. In it he asked, “Would it make any difference if you knew 2005 was going to be chiseled on your tombstone?” That thought is the seed bed of this message.

I. OPPORTUNITIES ARE FLEETING THINGS

One passage in the New Testament has presumption written all over it:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. (James 4:13-14a, NIV)

I suppose we’ve all heard the little quip: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Unfortunately, so is the road to Heaven. I always intended to get up to my dad’s home and go fishing with him, at least one last time. But I never did. Opportunities are fleeting things.

The Bible writer James, here in chapter 4 says: Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” v 13 NRSV. Nothing should interfere with our plans. We presume there is always time to get around to doing the things we have postponed. Not so. We are here only a little time, then life “vanishes away.” (v 14) Opportunities are fleeting things — there may not be a tomorrow.

II. LET’S DO IT RIGHT

One translation of v 17 in our text says: “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (RSV) There is any number of things we as Bible believers know we ought to do before God takes us home or before He comes for us. Would we want to know we had done our best to accomplish them if 2005 were to show up on our tombstone? Let’s think for a few minutes about doing it right. Doing as a Christian, promptly, what God would have me do.

Note in our text that not doing right is sin for whoever knows what is right to do (v 17a). The same thing when omitted by someone else might not be the least bit blameworthy. Why? Because that person might not know it is something right to do. A lost person has no desire to witness of Christ. And he has no obligation. The Bible says: “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy” (Psalm 107:2). Along the same line, it is important to remember that only the believer is commanded to come to church (Hebrews 10:25), not the unbeliever. He has no command to come in to us, but we have a command to go out to him (“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” Matthew 28:18).

Let’s do it right, this business of sharing our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone you know is waiting for your witness to the truth. Someone you are around needs to know whose team you are on. That person needs to know that you care that he or she goes to Heaven and not Hell. You are the only Jesus some people may ever see. Put it down. A person will not come to Jesus stumbling over my bad example — or yours!

A young teenage girl went off to Christian camp for a week. Excited to live for the Lord, she came home and sought to witness to her loved ones. After some days, she slipped in her Christian example. An ignorant loved one saw the example and said, “And she has been to Christian camp too! You say how unfair. You are right. But as someone has said, God never calls His children to a fair fight. The odds will always be stacked against us. That’s so we are reminded to depend entirely on the Lord and not ourselves. The Psalmist reminds us: “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” (Psalm 118:6)

Here was a young teen who went home and tried to live up to all the light she had. She was not entirely successful. A lesser person, an adult besides, accused her of not being a very good Christian. Perhaps she was not. But, at least that adult knew which side she was on. Do the people around you in everyday life know whose side you are on? I hope they do. It matters that we get it right. God does not necessarily hold us responsible to succeed. He does, however, hold us responsible to be faithful. “In stewards, servants, it
is required that a man be found faithful.” (I Corinthians 4:2)

III. THE ULTIMATE NEED OF EVERYONE

All of us would agree, would we not, that Christians desire to meet men’s needs. I well remember, that more than forty years ago I presented a message to my church which took up this concept. “Christians desire to meet men’s needs,” I stated. Then I stated: “The greatest need of every human being is Jesus Christ. Therefore,” I said, “our greatest mission is presenting Christ to others.” I still believe that is true.

Verse 20, of chapter five of James states: “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Often our prayer meetings boil down to being merely requests for sick folk and challenges to missionaries. We would do well to pause and ask ourselves if praying for a sick person’s soul is not infinitely more important than praying for his or her physical healing, important though that is?

Getting our prayers answered is a matter of asking aright (James 4:3). All through the fifth chapter of James runs the theme of need: Are you suffering? Are you sick? Are you unsaved? Great need. Great need which only God can alleviate. So often we feel we have been at our best when praying for needs but if we are praying for needs that are among the least folk need at the time, we are not asking aright.

The ultimate need of everyone is the Lord Jesus Christ. Are we doing all we can to see that our loved one’s greatest need is met, our work companion, our son, our daughter, our mother, our father?

Conclusion

If we knew, somehow, if we were just soon to find out, 2005 will be my last opportunity to see my precious friend, relative, loved one saved, what would we do? Until that need is met, we have a right, yea a duty to pray that God will help us meet that need. If it is right to pray about, it is right to keep on praying about.

Robert Morgan in his Stories Illustrations and Quotes cites the example of the great Methodist preacher, John Wesley: “John Wesley averaged three sermons a day for fifty-four years. In his work of evangelism he traveled by horseback or by carriage more than 200,000 miles. His published works include a four-volume commentary on the whole Bible, a four-volume work on church history, six books on church music, and seven volumes of sermons. He also edited a set of fifty books known as The Christian Library. He was greatly devoted to pastoral work, taking on himself the care of all the Methodist churches, never rising later than 4 A.M. and seldom concluding his labors before 10 P.M”
[S-104, 514]

Oh how we need Wesley’s example in these challenging days to live out our lives as though this year were our last year. Amen.