Thursday, August 17, 2017

What They Did For Love

By John Stallings



Yesterday I was looking for a good Bible love story. I love a good love story -don't you?

A good love story is hard to find. It’s somewhat like searching through the Bible for an idyllic family. Most all are dysfunctional.

I looked at Abraham & Sarah’s relationship. There was undoubtedly a lot of love there. When Sarah died Abraham sat down on her grave & cried. Have you heard of anything like that lately? Neither have I. But then there is the part of the story where Abraham turned his wife over to another man to save his own hide. Love? Not so much. For a sizzling, romantic love-story, I thought maybe I should go elsewhere.

I considered Rebecca & Isaac, but then she lies to her husband for the sake of her son &, -well, that kind of spoiled it for me.

Then I looked at Jacob. He had lots of loves & wives but……. all are surrounded by lies & deceit.

Then I thought of David & Bathsheba…..Oh well!

Then Hosea & Gomer……well… not so much either.

So I settled on Samson & Delilah. Did I just say Samson & Delilah? Yes I did. This is definitely a great love story, a story with a few twists. Let’s look it over.

Samson’s story is one with great promise. His mother was barren. A divine messenger appeared & announced an impending birth. This birth came with instructions. Both mother & child were to live according to a special discipline as Nazerites. These folk were holy unto God. They weren’t allowed to touch dead bodies, were to avoid strong drink, & never cut their hair.

When he was born his parents named him Samson—or-“Sunny” or “Man of the Sun.” This was meant to foreshadow the influence he’d have on his people. He’d be the Sun that would shine in a dark time. In the book of Judges things weren’t….well….pleasant, & Israel definitely needed a little sunshine.

After Israel settled in the Promised Land they were always fighting. They always had a “flavor-of -the-day” enemy. Deborah fought with the Canaanites, Gideon fought the Midianites & Samson fought the Philistines. It didn’t take him long to pick a fight either. We quickly see what kind of man he was to be- mainly a womanizer.

IF YOU'RE LOOKING AT SAMSON FOR A HERO & ROLE MODEL-LOOK ELSEWHERE.
Other than a fairly auspicious beginning, most of the story of Samson is a big disappointment. Samson leads no Israelite into battle, isn’t much of a judge for his people, marries foreign women, frequents enemy drinking parties, engages in personal vengeance with no thought of serving God or Israel, spends the night with Ho’s & his flesh is so weak that he gives in to Delilah who was begging to know the secret of his strength. Samson finally spills his secret which leads to his capture, imprisonment, torture, blindness & ultimate death.


SAMSON IS A COMBINATION OF RAMBO & HULK HOGAN

He’s impetuous, conceited, arrogant, boorish, a lone ranger, nearly directionless except for his desire to kill his enemies, & only turns to God when he’s in trouble. He’s the embodiment of all that was wrong with the Judges. He encapsulates all their weaknesses, the most glaring of which was to rely on their own strength instead of putting their trust in God.

The stories about Samson get stranger & stranger. He’s a bona-fide terrorist. He attacks a lion with his bare hands & kills it, then later eats honey out of its corpse. He captures 300 foxes & ties their tails together with torches to set fire to the Philistine crops. Then he goes to live in a cave. When the Philistines catch up with him he grabs the jawbone of a donkey skull & kills 1,000 men. The accounts of his life sound like they come from the pages of a novel.

In many ways Samson sounds like a crazy man & his story definitely wouldn’t fit the Hallmark Channel. His story is more; - boy falls in love, girl breaks boy’s heart, & boy goes on murderous rampage.

WHEN SAMSON WAS ABOUT 30, HE BURSTS ON THE SCENE IN ISRAEL.

He led Israel for 20 years; 20 years of prosperity & relative freedom from the Philistines. In all honesty, at twenty Samson was the quintessential “skirt-chaser,” the only man in the Hall of Fame-Hebrews 11, who ever slept with a prostitute.

One time he left Israel, went down across the border into Philistine territory & had a relationship with a woman named Timnah. In order to get him to tell her the secret of a riddle, she told Samson that he didn’t really love her. That turned out to be the truth; Samson didn’t love the woman- he just loved women.

At the age of about 40 Samson begins to approach mid-life & he goes a little “middle aged crazy.” He starts feeling a little “ill at ease.” Judges 16 tells a story of Samson doing what he often did & that was to go down across the Philistine border[he had a weakness for Philistine women] to the little town of Gaza, about 25 miles from where he grew up to visit a prostitute.

When the people of the city found out Samson was in the house they surrounded the house but Samson tricked them by leaving at midnight. As he left he took hold of the doors of the city gate together with the two posts & tore them loose bars & all. He lifted them to his shoulders & carried them to the top of the hill which faces Hebron. [Judges 16:3.] These doors weighed about 700 pounds so to pick them up & move them one foot would take enormous strength. The city gates were a symbol of their security & Samson removed them to humiliate his old enemy the Philistines.

I GUESS HIS MOTTO WAS- "Catch me if you can.” They never could.

As he aged, Samson hadn’t really changed & gotten more mature with the years. He’d just learned to cover his tracks real good. He had never dealt with the sin problems that had plagued him all his life. Now the same problems he refused to deal with are finally going to bring him down. If ever a man had a “woman problem” it was this man called Samson.

I read somewhere a few years back that a psychologist said Samson was probably what we today call a sociopath. He was impulsive, reckless, always getting into fights, setting things on fire, torturing animals, stealing & bullying, all without remorse. If you meet someone like Samson you’d better steer clear of a meaningful relationship because unless God gets involved it ain’t gonna happen-not for long.

BUT LET'S BE HONEST

As we hear Samson described, the reality is that the rage & terror he exhibits probably isn’t that far removed from us. If we look deep enough, we all have a bit of Samson in us. Jealousy, uncontrolled libido, anger, rage, trickery & lying aren’t that foreign to us where our old nature is concerned. Who of us hasn’t had our “Samson side” to stand up & take a bow? Yes, there is a part of Samson most all of us can relate to in some way. If we don’t have a “fit’ of one kind or another once in a while it’s not because we don’t feel like it in our flesh-man.

SAMSON MEETS DELILAH

The story of Samson & Delilah is one that has captivated generations with its intrigue, romance, deception & power struggles. In this story we see a strong man that has met his match. For centuries, poets & painters, musicians & movie-makers have all paid tribute to this love story.

Remember Tom Jones song, My, My, My, Delilah? Cecil B. DeMille even brought the story to the screen. But what was the reality of this relationship? Was theirs a true love story or just a tragic tale of deceit & backstabbing?

We don’t really know much about Delilah. What we do know is that she was in league with the Philistines. They asked her three times to find out the secret of Samson’s great strength & promised her a great reward if she could. So three times she asked—three times Samson lied.

First he told her that if he were tied up with 7 bowstrings, he’d lose his strength. He broke them easily. Then he told her if she tied him with new ropes he would lose his strength. So she tied him with new ropes, the Philistines came in & he snapped them easily.

Then Samson told her that if she wove his hair into a loom & tightened it, he’d lose his strength. That too was tried but it didn’t work because it wasn’t true.

Now at this time in the story you have to start to wonder about Samson. If I’m Samson, I’m either:

A} really a dummy, not to catch on to what is happening.

B} really overcome or blinded by love or lust or something that brings me back time & again to this woman that clearly doesn’t have my best interests in mind.

Or C} really ignorant -or really arrogant. Does he think she’s really “into him?”

We never find out because the fourth time Samson finally tells Delilah the truth -that if his hair is cut from his head, he will lose his strength. He finally betrays his sign of the Nazirite vow, his conviction to follow God. And to no ones surprise, Delilah cuts his hair. When the enemy comes in this time Samson has no supernatural strength. Samson is led away to prison while Delilah receives her payoff.

We are left to wonder about Delilah:


Was she an unwilling pawn forced by an oppressive regime to hand over the man she loved? In John Milton’s dramatic poem he depicts Delilah in almost a positive light presenting her as a wife at the mercy of the Philistines & their pressure on her to betray the man she loves.

Was she a wily temptress knowing full well the effect that she had on this poor sap Samson & seducing him to make a fortune?

Or was it somewhere in the middle…maybe she was tortured by her sympathy for Samson & at the same time enjoying the fact that she had the power over him to make him dance like a puppet on her string of seduction?

Maybe, -just maybe she was just a woman looking for love. Maybe she was just looking for someone to spend some time with her & who better than handsome, powerful, famous Samson? She was ready, Samson was willing & obviously they were both able.

One thing is sure for men, unless we watch carefully in the sexual area of our lives, we risk falling prey to the Delilah’s of this world. It can happen to you, it can happen to me.

In the end we’re not sure of Delilah’s motive but we do know her method. Trickery & manipulation are themes that repeat themselves again & again in Samson’s story. He tries to trick his in-laws with a riddle. Timnah tricks him into telling his secret. Delilah tricks him into revealing his strength & losing his strength.
Sin begets sin.

Can we honestly say that we can’t relate to Delilah even in the smallest way? Have we ever used our power to see someone grimace & twist because we “stuck it to them?” We know how maniacally funny it can be to watch someone finally “get what’s coming to them.”

THE REAL LOVE STORY

The third party in this sad story is often overlooked. We know so well the strength of Samson & the cunning of Delilah…..What is really at the heart of the story is the faithfulness of God!

Woven into the fabric of this story of reckless power & cunning trickery is the love of God who never stops caring for His people. When Samson is used of God to deliver God’s people we’re told,

- The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Samson.

The Spirit of God is an active participant in the life of Samson. Like Samson we sometimes go wrong in thinking that God’s power is at our disposal like a painter who decides which colors to use. But the truth is, we don’t use God, God uses us to accomplish His purposes. Let’s make sure we’ve got it right; God is the painter, we’re only the paint.

Samson’s greatest mistake was forgetting whose power it was that defeated the Philistines. God was using him, he wasn’t using God. Samson was arrogant but God was faithful.

The ancient Greeks were good with words. They felt there was a void in their ability to describe someone who was arrogant & full of reckless, destructive pride. They felt a stronger word was needed. Pride & arrogance didn’t quite do it for the Greeks when an individual became so drunk with power that not only did they knock their adversary down & kill him, they went into a crazy & bazaar ritualistic “victory dance” or celebration that almost suggested insanity. What was the word they came up with? Hubris. -- “Overbearing pride & arrogance.”

You might remember that many Greek plays [I’m taking the word of experts about Greek plays] had a story line about a hero with an “Achilles heel” who wasn’t satisfied with success but would cross the line into self-destructive narcissistic hubris. If ever a man fit that description it was Samson.

But Samson finally gets it all figured out..... at the end of his life. After years of rage, trickery & arrogance & hubris Samson has finally been brought low. God will never “let us down” but He’ll surely “bring us down.”

In the final chapter of his life we find Samson weakened & blinded, but his hair is starting to grow back after being shaved. The Philistines are parading him around in the temple before their god. Maybe Delilah is in the crowd, maybe she’s long gone.

Samson has enough strength for one more bit of deceit but this time it’s out of humility & trust in God. He cries out to God to give him strength for one more action of deliverance. Samson now realizes that he can’t do it on his own, so he calls on God. His great prayer in Judges 16:28 never fails to move me.

Samson tells his tormentors that he’s too weak to stand on his own…that he must lean on the main pillars in the middle of the temple. It’s hard to believe that the Philistines could have been so stupid as to let him do this. But they did.

Archaeologists have excavated a Philistine temple that shows it was a long room with two wooden pillars set on stone bases that act as the center support for the temple. It was these pillars that Samson asks to rest against.

In Samson’s final act of deliverance of God’s people as his strength returns, he pushes the columns down, bringing the whole temple with them. Though Samson died in this carnage of cascading rock & rubble, thousands of those inside were also killed. Indeed the leadership of the Philistines was wiped out. This deadly action meant peace for the people of God.

I HAVE MANY MIXED EMOTIONS ABOUT SAMSON

Being human it’s easy to speculate about what Samson could have been if he’d been wholly yielded to God. One thing is certain; he was wildly successful as a warrior. It’s also certain that as a leader he was a flop & most of his problems sprang from hubris.

I rejoice in the fact that in his death God gave Samson one last chance to defeat an oppressive regime, but, in our day we’ve seen too much of one man killing himself & taking thousands with him. Though I hate to say it we’ll probably see many more examples of this type of mass destruction initiated by unstable individuals.

In the final analysis we have to look beyond the weakness of a man & a woman & focus on our ever-faithful God in the midst of it all.

Yes, maybe this is a story of two people madly in love in a day of tumult & trouble. But one thing is certain; God will get His work on this earth done even when the best He can muster is imperfect people like the ones in this story. God has always provided deliverance for His people even when they were rejecting Him again & again.

It’s this love story I celebrate; the love of a God that will not let us go!


Blessings,


John

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Incomparable Christ

By John Stallings


FOR IN HIM DWELLS ALL THE FULLNESS OF THE GODHEAD BODILY.-COLOSSIANS 2:9

If you saw the movie It’s a wonderful life, you will remember that the plot was about allowing one man to see what a hole would have been left in the world had he not been born. 

This of course would be true of all of us, for just by being here we have changed the world in some way.

BUT-Nobody has changed the world like Jesus, nobody!!

He even split time into two parts; AD and BC. Think what a gaping void would have been left in this world had Jesus never been born.

· He has over a billion followers worldwide.

· His life-story is a best-seller every year.

· He is respected by almost all religions, not just Christianity.

· His birthday is celebrated worldwide each year.

· Without money & arms He conquered more millions than all great leaders combined.

· Without Science He shed more light on all things than all the philosophers combined.

· Without formal training He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since & produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orators or poets.

· Without writing a single line He set more pens in motion, furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, and learned volumes, works of art & songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient & modern times.

 His words about non-violence inspired Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. & Desmond Tutu. His words of concern for the poor inspire the Salvation Army, World Vision, ADRA & others.

· His words have caused mini-revolutions in every generation by changing people’s lives, inspiring love & generosity & high ideals & bringing out the best & highest in human life.

· Think about it; Jesus said, “My words will never pass away.” And His words have been passed into more languages, more books, talks & songs than anyone else’s-they’ve just never passed away.

· Let’s look at his life, who He was and why He came. Most people will accept He was a great teacher but Jesus said-and He said it often- that He was God! If that’s false then Jesus was either a mad man or a liar.

 Was Jesus mad?

Do you see signs of madness in Him? How much ego is there in someone who called Himself the servant of the people? He said He didn’t come to be served but to serve. He made friends with powerless people-lepers-prostitutes, outcasts, as well as rich, religious & powerful people. He took time to care for children & women in a culture where they were nobodies.

 If you read His life story in the Bible you see an incredible personality & can understand how He has inspired people to be like Him. You’ll notice that He was even-tempered whether the crowd was cheering for Him or picking up stones to kill Him. He can tolerate personal hateful attacks & answer rough questions & even predict His own death with incredible emotional balance.

 Plus, how could a madman be a teacher?

Who do you think I am?”

With that brief question Jesus Christ confronted His followers with the most important issue they would ever face. They had spent much time with Him and He’d made some bold claims about His identity. Now the time had come for them to either believe or deny His teachings and His personage.

Who do YOU say Jesus is? Your answer to that question will determine your lifestyle, values, and eternal destiny as well. While He lived there was much confusion about who He was. That hasn’t changed. Later we’ll examine his claims.

First let’s look at what other great men have said about Him.

** “I am an Historian, not a believer. I must confess as a Historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”H.G Wells—British Author

** “The name of Jesus isn’t so much written as it ploughed into the history of the world.”
Emerson
—Philosopher

** In his famous book Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis makes this statement, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on the level with a man who says he’s a poached egg- or would be the devil of hell. Either this was who he was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up as fool or fall at his feet and worship him but there’s no patronizing nonsense about calling him a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

** Napoleon said,

“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius”? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His Empire upon love: and at this hour millions of people would die for Him. Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me and His will confounds me…I search in vain to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything that can approach the gospel. All other empires fall. The Church remains.”

**Lew Wallace, famous general, literary genius and avowed atheist was going to write a book to embarrass Christians and show the world Jesus Christ was a hoax. Within two years of research about the life of Christ, he suddenly found himself on his knees crying out to Jesus saying, My Lord and my God.” He then proceeded to write Ben Hur, one of the greatest books ever written concerning the life and times of Christ.

**The late Mother Theresa poured her life into helping the poor and downtrodden and always told people, “My work is only the expression of my love for Jesus Christ.” Thousands of others like her upon meeting Jesus, from that day on disregarded their own needs so that they could consecrate their lives on helping others. Their outlook on life was altered forever.

** Saul of Tarsus was the chief persecutor of early Christians. He dragged people to prison when they didn’t recant their faith. But when he had a dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on his way to Damascus, he was transformed from Saul the enemy of Christianity, to Paul the main propagator of its message. He promptly left his position of prestige in the Jewish society to become a traveling missionary and experienced incredible suffering in order to share the love of Christ throughout the Roman Empire. About the sacrifices he endured he said,

I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. Philippians 3:8.

JESUS WAS ONE OF FOUR THINGS;

· A LEGEND,
· A LUNITIC,
· A LIAR,OR
· LORD AND GOD

* If He were a liar, would He have died for His claims when He could easily avoid it?

* If He were a lunatic, how did He engage in intelligent debates with His opponents (at twelve years old) or handle the stress of His betrayal and crucifixion, all the while showing deep love for those killing him? Does this sound like a mental case?

* He said He was Lord God and the evidence supports him.

Here are some of the claims of Christ.

1. HE CLAIMED TO BE SINLESS.

John 8:28-29, So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know who I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me, he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.
John 8:46-47, Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.

2. HE CLAIMED TO BE THE ONLY WAY TO GOD.
Not one of several ways, but the one and only way. Not to teach the way, but to be the way to God. Nobody has ever made claims like that before and backed them up, but Jesus did through his love, Holy life and miracles.

John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but by me.
Matthew 11:27, All things have been committed to me by my father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

3. HE CLAIMED TO SHARE THE GLORY OF GOD IN HEAVEN.

Jesus claimed to have pre-existed the people He spoke with theapostle John, who shared bread with Jesus wrote that Jesus was with God in the very beginning, and all things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1-5)

In John 17:5 Jesus said, Father glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
In John 10:30 Jesus said, I and the Father are one.

4. HE CLAIMED TO BE ABLE TO FORGIVE SINS.

One of the reasons the Jewish leaders were so angry with Jesus was His continual practice of forgiving sins. The religious leaders understood clearly that since sins were a rebellion against God Himself, only God could forgive sins.

Luke 5:20-21 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend your sins are forgiven.’ The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?

Luke 7:48-49. Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’

5. HE CLAIMED TO BE A HEAVENLY KING.

Luke 22:69, But from now on the Son of man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.

Luke 23:1-3, Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ a King. ‘So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the King of the Jews? ‘Yes, it is as you say’ Jesus replied.
John 18:36-37 Jesus said, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ ‘You are a king then, said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘you are right in saying I’m a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this came I into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

6. HE CLAIMED TO BE ABLE TO GIVE EVERLASTING LIFE.

He didn’t just tell people how they could find everlasting life, or deepen their own life experience. He actually claimed to give life Himself.

John 6:40, For my Fathers will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:47, I tell you the truth, he who believes, has everlasting life.
John 19:28-30 I give [my followers] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my hand. I and the Father are one.
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

7. HE CLAIMED HE WOULD DIE AND COME BACK TO LIFE.

John 12:32-33. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.John 16:16, In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.
Luke 18:31-33, Jesus took the twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock, insult him, spit on him. On the third day he will rise again. 

8. HE CLAIMED HE WOULD RETURN AGAIN TO JUDGE THE WORLD.

Matthew 24:27-30, So as the lightening comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. At that time the sign will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.Matt.25:31-32, When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people one from another as a Shepard separates the sheep and the goats.
Mark 14:61-62, And the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? I am, said Jesus, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.
So again, we are faced with two choices; either we believe Jesus is who He said He was or we don’t. Some people think there are many paths to God, but remember what Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.

*CONCLUSION--JESUS IS THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE OBJECT OF SAVING FAITH.

The Bible says Jesus is God, the Holy One, the Savior, the only valid object of saving faith, the Sovereign Lord and the Righteous Judge. He is the theme of every book in the Bible. In the Word of God He’s,

· Promised in Genesis,
· Revealed in the law
· Prefigured in History
· Praised in it’s Poetry
· Proclaimed in its Prophecy
· Provided in the Gospels
· Proved in the Acts
· Preeminent in the Epistles and
· Prevailing in Revelation

Who do you say He is? That’s the inescapable question.

 If He was a fake His first problem would be to be born in the right year, the right town & tribe, but let’s say He fluked that. Somehow He could fake the prediction of the type of work He would do & the year He would start His ministry. For the sake of argument He could tell His friends to betray Him-although it would be hard to know he’d get exactly 30 pieces of silver.

But what about the prediction of the exact date He would die? Maybe He could just misbehave & get the Romans to kill Him but could He have said, “Can you make that Friday?” Right! And would they let you chose crucifixion instead of a death by sword?

The thought of faking it is too hard. What would you gain? Could He have just gotten lucky? One mathematician said the chance of Jesus fulfilling only eight of the prophecies about Him would be one in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

 For 48 prophecies it be would one in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
. Some scholars cite 332 prophecies but I don’t have the energy to type all those zeros.

Look at a few predictions about Jesus,

1.He’d arrive before the last of the Jewish Kings lost power. Gen.49:10-Written 1,500 BC. Roman power finally took over in AD70.

2.He’d start His work 483 years after Jerusalem started being rebuilt-Written by Daniel—(9:35)-600 years earlier. Rebuilding started in 475 BC.

3.He’d be killed by piercing his hands & feet, wrote David in c. 100BC even though crucifixion wasn’t know in Israel until 165BC. Psalm 22:16

4 He’d be born in Bethlehem & belong to the tribe of Judah.-Micah 5:2.Gen.49:10

5. Too much else to write—see “Evidence that demands a verdict”-- by Josh McDowell-Thomas Nelson 1979.

· Bottom line: can you see why a billion people believe He’s God?

Was Jesus a con? Why might He do a con job?

FOR MONEY? - When we read His life we see He lived very simply.

FOR POWER? -No, He didn’t let the people make Him King when they wanted to. He chose to die rather than start a war of revolution.

POPULARITY? No, Jesus’ enemies out-numbered His friends because He told the truth when He knew it would bring his death.

GOD WHAT A MAN!--MAN WHAT A GOD!-- WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH HIM??

ONE SOLITARY LIFE

He was born in an obscure village
The son of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village,
Where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never went to college.
He never visited a big city.
He never traveled more than two hundred miles
From the place where He was born.
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty three when
His friends ran away.
One of them denied Him.
He was turned over to his enemies,
And went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While dying, His executioners gambled for his clothing,
The only property He had on earth.

When He was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress.
All the armies that have ever marched,
and all the navies that have ever sailed,
All the parliaments that have ever sat,
All the kings that ever reigned put together,
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
as powerfully as,
THIS ONE SOLITARY LIFE.

WHEREFORE GOD HATH HIGHLY EXALTED HIM AND GIVEN HIM A NAME WHICH IS ABOVE EVERY NAME;THAT AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, OF THINGS IN HEAVEN,AND THINGS IN EARTH, AND THINGS UNDER THE EARTH;AND THAT EVERY TONGUE SHOULD CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER. Philippians 2:9-11


Blessings,


John



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Is Anyone Born Gay?

By John Stallings


Is there a “Gay Gene?”

I read an article recently about Pastor Jim Swilly, the pastor of a Georgia “mega church” announcing that he is gay.

Pastor Swilley stated, “I know a lot of straight people think it is a choice. It is not.” He went on to say that he has known of his homosexuality since he was a boy.

Is it true that homosexuals have no choice in the matter? Are people born gay? More importantly, is this really the question we should be asking? We’ll get back to that.

I’m not an expert on gender issues and sexual identity. I don’t pretend to be. So, I’m not going to be giving my expert opinions about those things, because I don’t have any. I am simply going to attempt to stick with what the Bible clearly teaches.

The 'born gay' argument for homosexuality states that same sex attraction is natural to some individuals in that it is genetically determined, not freely chosen.

It would stand to reason that if homosexuality is genetically determined, it cannot be resisted or changed and, therefore, must be morally permissible. How could it be otherwise? To condemn it would be condemning someone for something that was out of their control.

Most gay people say that they’ve been attracted to the same sex for as long as they can remember, just as heterosexuals would say about their sexual preference. So it’s natural to them.

There are two ways that the argument for homosexuality is promoted:
first, by pointing to genetic studies related to same-sex attraction;
and second, by an appeal to personal experience.

The field of genetics has not discovered a gay gene. Many scientists think homosexuality is caused by a complex combination of genes, brain chemistry and psychosocial factors. Consider the following excerpt from the American Psychological Association’s publication:

“Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality:”

"There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation.

Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.”
In other words, there is no “gay gene.”

If science were to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that homosexuality isn’t genetically determined, [they already have,] gay people would not feel any less convinced that they were born gay. In other words, gay people wouldn’t automatically walk away from their lifestyle on the basis of what a scientists found in a laboratory.

However, if science someday proved that murderers are born murderers in the same way that many gay people believe they are born gay, it would be safe to say that gay people wouldn’t conclude that murder is morally permissible for those who are “born that way.”

What the argument seems to boil down to then, is that some gay people believe they were born gay because they are naturally attracted to their sex. The desire wasn't coerced, or forced, or acquired after years of trying, it just sort of developed as naturally as the ability to walk and talk.

"Natural" is difficult to define in relation to sexual orientation, but in this case it seems to mean something like "a development according to natural processes." How we discover whether something is natural to us is another matter, of course. I think it’s safe to say that the way most gay people would describe same-sex attraction as natural to them is the same way most heterosexuals would describe it: a deeply felt desire.

If this is true, then the 'born gay' argument seems to be saying this: homosexuality is morally permissible because same-sex attraction is natural.

But the question of nature versus nurture is a moot point.

The Bible is clear that we were all born slaves to what is known as a SIN NATURE. It is natural for people to sin. [ See Genesis 3 and Romans 5 to learn how we inherited this sin nature.]

The “born gay” argument says that if something is natural, that is, a deeply felt desire or attraction, then it is morally acceptable. However, this argument could be used to show that any desire that feels natural to someone is morally permissible. On these grounds, traits such as selfishness, violence, gluttony, laziness, or even homophobia could be justified as natural.

This is obviously a silly argument. All of us have natural desires --even deeply felt ones--that should be resisted or even eliminated because they are unhealthy, harmful, or wicked. The fact that it's a natural desire isn’t a sufficient factor in evaluating the morality of same-sex attraction.
I would argue that this calls for an authority beyond us to help us understand which desires are good and which are bad. Like say, -the Bible.

There are only two ways to get around the biblical teaching against homosexual behavior: by gross misinterpretation or by moving away from a high view of the Bible.

The Bible endorses heterosexuality and discourages homosexuality in two ways:

1. The model of the male/female marriage relationship as outlined in the creation account (Genesis 1-3) and supported throughout the Bible; and

2. By specifically forbidding perversions of this model, including adultery, polygamy, incest, lust, homosexuality, etc. [ Leviticus 18; Romans 1]

God loves gay people. Since we all know God loves all people, I don’t think it really necessary to list here a bunch of Bible verses about God’s love for humanity.

God doesn’t love labels. He loves people. Whether people are gay or straight, Asian or European, black, white, Hispanic, male or female—He loves people, as they are. One thing that unites us all is that God loves us with a crazy, unconditional love. If God loves that way, then godly people do too.

However God designed sex to be expressed between a man and a woman in the context of marriage. Any other sexual expression is therefore, outside of God’s design.

To understand God’s design for human sexuality, let’s go all the way back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, 2:18-25. The Lord God said,

“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. The Lord God made a woman, brought her to the man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

We learn a lot about God’s design right in these few verses.

1. First, God created sex, and therefore sex is a good thing.

2. Second, He created humans with gender, male and female, and the suitable complement for Adam was a woman.

3. Third, sex was designed for man and woman in a committed relationship called marriage.
Any sexual expression outside of that design is sinful and ultimately destructive.

At the risk of beating a dead cliche’, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Freddy.”

Homosexuality is a departure from that design, because God did not create sex or marriage to be a same sex relationship. Since homosexuality violates God’s blueprint for sexuality, it shouldn’t be too surprising that when the Bible speaks about homosexuality it describes it as a sinful departure from God’s will for us.

Leviticus 20:13 says: ‘”If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable...Romans 1:18 and 26-27 says:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
There is not one example where homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible where it is condoned. Because it is outside of God’s design, it is always described as sin.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind. 1 Corinthians 6:9

Those who practice the homosexual lifestyle learn sooner or later that it’s anything but gay. The truth is that the median age of death for the homosexual male is 38 and for lesbians it is 45. This shorter life span is no doubt due to the following risks associated with homosexual behavior:
They are more likely to face chronic, potentially fatal liver disease (infective hepatitis) which increases the risk of liver cancer. They put themselves at risk of contracting AIDS, which, in spite of medical breakthroughs still eventually kills everyone infected.

Those who practice homosexuality have a high frequency of fatal rectal cancer. They have a much higher than average incidence of suicide-six times as high as that of heterosexual men. Between 25 and 33 percent of homosexual men are alcoholics while the national average is less than 7 percent.

Does this sound like a comfortable, healthy, desirable lifestyle? I don't think so. In fact, as I look at these statistics I remember the warning of Proverbs:

There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death. –Proverbs 14:12.

When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, many of our natural drives turned selfish, wicked,
harmful, unhealthy, etc. Further, the fall of man into sin wreaked havoc on the natural order, resulting in birth defects, deformities, diseases, etc. So now people are born with serious maladies, deformities, handicaps; some children contract terminal illnesses and die untimely deaths. Others experience a lifetime of suffering. Some are mentally handicapped or mentally ill.

We come into this world imperfect physically and morally/spiritually. It could be argued that it is not fair that these people suffered such ravages of the natural order. It is not a child's fault that he/she is born deaf or blind. But it is a fact that, marred as our world now is through sin, some are born with greater challenges, more miserable maladies, more intense moral challenges than others.

It’s possible then, just possible that the same distorted natural order that produces people who experience chronic pain, or depression, or deformities, or die untimely deaths, or suffer from sexual addiction could produce others with sexual tendencies counter to God's ideal. Everyone who wants to follow Jesus will have to, by his grace, resist temptation and radically alter certain tendencies. No doubt some are saddled with greater challenges than others to overcome.
Some gay people dedicate their lives to Christ and become straight, with varying degrees of difficulty in making the change. I don’t doubt or underestimate the massive life-restructuring that is necessary for some to become straight.

But at the same time I will not deny the power of God to change lives.

Sexual temptation is perhaps the hardest to fight, but God’s promise is real. He will strengthen
us so that we can win over any temptation, and always provide a way of escape. We all struggle with weaknesses, this is true for everyone who wants to follow Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul says,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

When it comes to same-sex desires, this does seem to be a very powerful tendency. Can God transform that? Sure He can. There are stories of that happening, as people pursue God and Christian counseling, that God actually changes whole tendencies and preferences.

My own experience with sinful tendencies is that He has not taken all my fleshly proclivities away. What He has done is given me strength to face them, as I am honest with God, honest with other supportive friends, as I flee tempting situations, and then trust God to be faithful. It’s actually in that weakness that spiritual growth happens, as we learn what it means to rely on God, as we learn what it means for him to be our strength.

There is no “ flip of the switch” to change any of these temptations or weaknesses. If there was, we would all flip the switch. With people who feel an attraction to their own sex, they must do the same as the person who fights heterosexual temptation, a hot temper, urges to steal, kill, cheat and lie. This must be confessed to God as we walk daily before Him, leaning on His Holy Spirit to help us live overcoming lives.

It appears that our society has come to a point where if one holds that homosexuality is immoral or if one does not support gay marriage… he is often considered ignorant, mean, or "homophobic." There is a social tyranny to this issue that is extremely troubling.

If we were talking about harming others for their sexual preferences, that would be one thing, but to disagree philosophically and Biblically and be put down for it is quite another.

Getting back to Pastor Swilley, I don’t doubt that he has felt a natural inclination to sin in this way. I personally have had a natural inclination towards heterosexual immorality, gluttony, and pride, to name a few. These are all lifestyle sins and God considers my sin the same as Mr. Swilleys.

Frankly I don’t know enough about Swilley to comment much more except to say, if he has admitted to being tempted in this way that’s one thing. If he’s advocating or pursuing the homosexual lifestyle, that’s entirely another thing. God has also called Mr. Swilley, myself , and every one of us to forsake what is natural to fallen people.

Outside of Christ we’re all sinful, and that means we all have a strong pull toward things outside of God’s will for us, whether it’s a hot temper, jealousy, slander, gossip, materialism, pornography, drunkenness, spiritual pride or a gambling addiction. Every one of us has life struggles with sin, strong magnetic pulls away from God and toward sin. Having an orientation toward something doesn’t make it legitimate.

THE REAL QUESTION WE SHOULD BE ASKING
The question isn’t really- is a person born gay? The way they were born really has nothing to do with anything because our choices, not our temptations define us. We’ve already established that some were born with hot tempers or with a greater sex drive than others. Who hasn’t had a child to lie to them and manipulate them? All of us are born needing a new nature and we receive it by yielding ourselves to God and His gracious provision through Jesus Christ His Son.

Listen again to Paul;

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.-
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul describes both outer struggles, persecution and the like, and this inner struggle he had which he describes as a thorn in the flesh, something that Satan used to torment him. We don’t know if it was a sin struggle, an emotional struggle, or a physical struggle, because he doesn’t tell us. It could have been any of these. Three times he prays fervently for God to take it away, and each time God said no, and then a final word:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

This is a very profound reality for anyone who wants more than anything else to be godly. Some of our struggles that we want so badly for God to remove, that we see as enemies to our life, may be the very things God will use to give us real life, real godliness, and depth of maturity.
In Paul’s case, when he prayed for God to change him, to remove the struggle, God didn’t do that. And what Paul came to learn is that the struggle itself was the very thing God used to give him what he wanted most—authentic godliness.

Struggles are not enjoyable, but the deeper the struggle the greater the opportunity for God to be strong in our weakness. When God allows a thorn in the flesh, when God allows a struggle, even as we pray for him to remove it, maybe the most gracious thing He can do is to not remove it, so that this profound growth can happen.

WE NEED TO LOOK CLOSELY AT OUR OWN LIVES
Many folk seem to believe the Bible classifies sin and that the sin of homosexuality is listed as being worse than other sins that we ourselves commit. But this is really a misinterpretation of scripture.

If there were a list of sins from worst to best-then at the top of the list would be pride or arrogance...the belief that my sin doesn't move me as far from God's holiness as your sin does.
The Bible clearly teaches that all of us have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. It states that this world is in its current depraved state because each of us have given in to sinful desires and are therefore totally dependent on the grace of God.

In I Corinthians 6 Paul says,

-Don't fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who were idol worshipers, adulterers, or homosexuals, will have not share in his kingdom.... And then it says, .

..THERE WAS A TIME WHEN SOME OF YOU WERE JUST LIKE THAT....but now your sins are washed away...You're set apart for God, and He's accepted you because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God have done for you.Paul acknowledges here that practicing homosexuals in the church were able to find freedom from the practice and that Christ gave them a fresh start. So, healing/change is possible.

As with any addiction, sexual or otherwise, homosexuality will not just go away because the homosexual wants it to disappear. It requires confession, repentance, healing, and accountability. The way out is not easy. If it were, more would have chosen it. But it is possible

Years ago an article was written in the TIMES OF LONDON entitled, What's Wrong With the World? The author of the article was grappling with some of the things that make the world a bad place.

British author and Christian spokesman G. K. Chesterton wrote a letter to the editor following that piece and said,

“I noted with interest the article that you published yesterday entitled, 'What's wrong with the world?' I felt compelled to write and tell you:

I AM.”

Sincerely,

G. K. Chesterton.

Chesterton was right!

We -- you and I -- not just homosexuals -- are what’s wrong with the world. All of our lives are affected by sin...and all of us are equally in need of God's redemption. The ground is level at the cross. We are no better than any other sinners and we have to be humble enough to realize this if we are to act compassionately toward homosexuals in the world who like us desperately need to experience the Love of God.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. -Romans 12:1-2


Blessings,


John

Monday, July 17, 2017

Live Like You Were Dying

By John Stallings


For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time & then vanisheth away. James 4:14

I like a good country love song now & again. A while back Tim McGraw had a hit with a song called “Live like you were dying.” The words are;

In my early forties, with a lot of life before me A moment came that stopped me on a dime.

I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-raysTalking about the options taking my sweet time.

I asked him when it sank in, if this might be the real end, How’s it hit-ya to get that kind of news,

Man what’d you do -he said,

I went sky diving, I went mountain climbing, I went two-point seven seconds on a bull named FuManChu,

And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying,

Someday I hope you get the chance, To live like you were dying.

He said I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t,I became a friend- a friend would like to have,

And all a sudden going fishing wasn’t such an imposition, And I went three times the year I lost my dad. I finally read the good book, & I took a long hard look. At what I’d do if I could do it all again.

To me this is a sermon-in-song because knowingly or unknowingly the writer is expressing the Biblical principle that James writes about in James 4:13-17.

He tells us that our lives are but a vapor & that our time on earth is very short.David also told us we should number our days (Psalm 90:10, 12.) The song makes the statement, “Some day I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.”

How would our lives be different if we lived with a sense of our own mortality? Let’s look at the song & consider a few of its valuable insights;

LOVE DEEPER & SPEAK SWEETER.

Sometimes words can be so cruel that they can put someone in the “Spiritual burn unit.” O the hurt that can come from an unbridled tongue.

Some time back Juda & I had dinner in the home of my eldest daughter whose husband was blinded several years ago in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Everyone was contributing to the fat-chewing & as the evening was winding down, & faithful to my raconteur reputation, I told a “funny” story about a blind man & his dog. Everyone laughed & seemed to like the story. Knowing this young man from his published writings as well as spending time with him, I knew he’d be O.K with the story. On the way home I got to thinking about the story I told & started feeling bad about it.

I didn’t rest very well that night & the first thing the next morning I sent my daughter an email apologizing for the story. My daughter assured me her husband wasn’t sensitive about things like that & of course I felt better, but still I wasn’t off the hook in my spirit.No person, no matter how understanding they are, wants to hear jokes about their disability & no person with any sensitivity should tell a story no matter how funny it might “seem to be” if it makes another person the butt of the joke. I usually have a very good filter in front of my brain that stops me from saying things that aren’t wise but I just happened to override it & told the story anyway.

Though everything’s cool with my new son-in-law, & I’ve forgiven myself, I will still feel bad about the incident until it fades a little more & I think that’s as it should be. Even at my age (I prefer not to say especially at my age) we keep learning to “check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.”

The mind works like a computer & stores things according to subjects. That’s why when dog stories are being told, your mind will race up & down it’s files & ransack them until something you’ve got stored about dogs pops up. That’s why so many dog stories get told at one get-together. The same is true about subjects like cancer, heart attacks, arthritis, diabetes, overweight people etc. If you go to visit someone in the hospital who has cancer you need to be on guard because if you’ve ever known someone who died of cancer that stories coming out unless you’re very careful. If you let it out you’ll kick yourself indefinitely.

In Romans 12:8 the Bible speaks of “mercy with cheerfulness.” When we seek to show mercy we must be certain it’s tempered with cheerfulness.Tim’s song also says;

I'D GIVE FORGIVENESS I'D BEEN DENYING.

I wonder how our lives would change if we really knew how little time we have? Could we hold a grudge against someone if we knew we had only a few weeks to live? Then Tim’s song talks about being the kind of friend a friend would want.

It takes a lot of maintenance to have a friend. That’s why most of us will only have a handful of true friends in this life; friendship just takes so much time & effort. It also takes willingness to forgive & overlook people’s faults. Some people will tell you up-front they don’t have friends they have acquaintances because friends take too much time & trouble. This attitude is the essence of narcissism, the chief spiritual sickness of our times. It’s “me-ism.” This kind of self-worship looks in the mirror & sings “How great I am.” Solomon tells us it’s an awful thing for an individual to be alone in this world.

Also the song speaks of finally reading the “good book.” That would be a good thing for a dying person to do. However it would be a pity to only read the Bible at the end of our lives when it contains so much wisdom for daily living. One thing I strongly believe is, “if we live with a closed Bible, we’ll live with a closed heaven.”One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 23:29

—Is not my word like as a fire? Saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.

Tim’s song adds, -- “I’d take a good long look at what I’d do if I could do it all again.”

As pastor James says, life is brief. Its here one day & gone the next & sometimes it ends unexpectedly. We live & die & are soon forgotten. Someone will make a fuss over us for a short time & then our existence on this planet is forgotten. After a short time no one will stay up night after night & grieve our passing. At most our life will be but a fleeting thought.Does this sound negative to you? It shouldn’t. If we properly comprehend the brevity of life as James teaches us, it has a positive impact on us.

We will live each day as if it were our last. And we’ll confront forgiveness issues & say the things we should say to the people in our lives.Do you comprehend the brevity of life? We should all live as though we’re dying because we are.

If we had that perspective, think of how our lives would be drastically changed for the better.


Blessings,


John

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Five Things Winners Never Say

By John Stallings



It’s not a huge revelation to most of us that words are powerful things. Jesus had much to say about words; especially His own.

Luke 4:32 says,-His words were with power.
He said His words were,-spirit & life in John 6:63 &

In Matthew 24:35 He also said,-His words would never pass away. He was right wasn’t He?

Peter said in John 6:68….thou hast the words of eternal life.

Jesus said in John 12:48…the word that I have spoken the same shall judge him in the last day.

In John 14:26 Jesus said… the Holy Spirit would bring to remembrance the words I have spoken to you.
Colossians 4:6 says-, Let your speech be always with grace & seasoned with salt that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man,
Most of us would be helped enormously by streamlining our vocabulary, putting some good things in & taking out some words & expressions that are limiting our effectiveness.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:37…let your communications be yea, yea & nay, nay for anything whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

In Matthew 12:34 He said,-.out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.We generally think of a "mouth/brain connection. Here Jesus reminds us it's a mouth/heart connection.

Here are five things winners never say:

1. I CAN’T
There would be limited use of this expression in our vocabulary if we were saying things like, “I can’t do that, it’s against my convictions,” or “I can’t go to the mall & spend a lot of money, I’ve already spent too much.”

But other than a few statements like that, winners never say “I can’t.” I can say two things for sure; God will on occasion stretch us to cause us to grow in our capacity, & if He stretches us, that means He knows we can handle the new capacity.

Philippians 4:13 Paul says….I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

The boxer Mohammad Ali hired a man named Bodini Brown to do nothing but follow him around & tell him he was the greatest & that there was nothing he couldn’t do. A Christian doesn’t have to go to all that trouble because we already have the indwelling Holy Spirit to do that 24/7-365. The Holy Spirit builds us up in our faith & is constantly taking the things of God & revealing them to us. He gives us power to do what we couldn’t do on our own.

We also get encouragement from each other which is the main reason we are admonished not to forsake meeting together so that we can encourage each other. Hebrews 10:25.

Nowadays, we could all legitimately stay home & let our preacher preach to us via streaming video on the internet, or listen to tapes & watch videos, but God has asked us to meet together because He knows how important it is to interact with those of like precious faith.

To put it succinctly, the only time a Christian should use the words “I can’t, is when they are followed closely with the words—“but He can, & I’m with Him.” Another thing winners won’t say is;

2. I’ll TRY

Before we take on an assignment we could very well say “Let me pray about it.” We might say “I need to think about it some more.” If it’s something someone wants us to do we are obligated to say those things because obviously we can’t do everything we are asked to do. If you ask me to do something, I have to ask when you want it done & then I can tell you if I can do it. I may be committed elsewhere. BUT, if we’ve committed ourselves to do something, we shouldn’t go into it with an “I’ll try” attitude.

It’s not a --YES---I’ll TRY---NO option. It’s either yes---or---no---or- I’ll do it.

If we’re always saying “I’ll try,” then trying becomes the new standard of success for us. I can tell you right now that’s beneath your dignity as a child of the High God of heaven in whose image you are made.

We can’t marshall up some skill we don’t have by trying harder. We can either do something or we can’t, if we can’t we should never say “I’ll try.” I wouldn’t go out to the golf course & play Tiger Woods & say, “Well I’m not very good but I’ll try.” My answer to that invitation would be, “I’m not interested in doing that because getting out there & trying real hard isn’t going to hack it.” Then I can bring my Yea-Nay option into play.

If I were invited to go out to the airport & fly a wide-bodied Jet with 300 people on board to Paris, I would decline---nay--- because I know if I sit down at the controls & try hard to fly the plane, that won’t help a bit. That’s one flight that will end in tragedy. The skill of flying a huge jet across the Atlantic can’t be pulled out of me no matter how hard I try. I must first be trained to fly. No one wants to hear a professional pilot say, “I’ll try to stay awake & fly this thing.”

If I say to the people I preach to, “I’ll try to make it Sunday morning,” they may as well go ahead & get someone else to preach because “I’ll try” is very scary. The last words they would want to hear are “I’ll try.” It’s either, Yea, Nay or-- I’ll do it. When I say “I’ll do it, -- that means if I’m alive & not in the hospital, I’ll be there, period. If my car breaks down on the way, I’ll call you to come get me but when I’ve given my word, I’ll be there. I had the option of saying nay, but I gave up that option so now I’m duty bound to be there. A winner will never say;

3. I’ll DO IT LATER.
Now we’re looking at the giant of procrastination. If it’s worth doing its worth doing now, today. Every time I read the story in Exodus 8 about Moses, Pharaoh & the plague of frogs, I’m amazed. Pharaoh asked Moses to remove the frogs from the land & then Moses asks him when. Pharaoh thought a moment & answered, tomorrow. The man had frogs almost coming out his ears & they could be gone immediately but Pharaoh says, take them away tomorrow. The answer should have been NOW! I guess Pharaoh wanted one more night with the frogs.

Many people won’t do things now because they’re afraid of failure. Many people seem to want to stay in college forever because they’re always changing their major. It’s as if they want to hang onto college life forever & never taste life in the real world. They don’t want to do anything now, but later. Another reason people procrastinate is because they see a big job & it scares them so they never get around to tackling it. I’ve learned a way to help with that & it’s what I call the Salami technique. If you look at a big Salami roll it looks foreboding. Who would want to try to chow down on that? What you do is get a knife & slice it up, that way you can eat it. I say you, because I can’t stand Salami. Large jobs can be challenging so instead of procrastinating, cut the job up into manageable pieces & get on with it.

If there’s a phone call I dread to make, I start by getting the phone number & putting it where I can see it. I’ll be sure & make that call if I can’t say, “well I don’t even have the number handy.” Any preacher knows that if he waits until Saturday to get his Sunday sermons, it’s just too stressful. The way we have to do it is start early in the week & by Saturday; most of the work is done. Now the preacher can be relaxed because all he has to do is preach his message. Winners never say:

4. I HAVE A PROBLEM.

NO! You don’t have a problem you have an opportunity. Problems do exist but we shouldn’t see them as problems, we should see them as possibilities. I don’t like problems. They’re too hard to solve. That’s one reason I got away from math as soon as I could because they were always talking about “math problems.” Can you imagine living life in a profession where you were always faced with problems? It makes my blood run cold. And it’s so unnecessary. The problem with a problem is that it puts things on the negative side of the ledger. When you call it an opportunity, now you’ve got a chance to dream, plan & think outside the box.

When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, he didn’t see it as a problem; he saw it as an opportunity. In Genesis 50:20 he told his brothers that what they saw as something destructive to him, God saw it & helped him to also see it as an opportunity to save the world from starvation. We should never solve problems but rather set goals. Now that’s easy.

Let’s look at DIETS; the old “problem” of losing weight. I can tell you without equivocation that it’s impossible to lose weight & keep it off by dieting. I’ve tried it & it doesn’t work. You put it all back on & the body then punishes you by adding a few more pounds for making it suffer.

Not only that; when you say “I’m losing weight” you’re using the word lose. Nobody likes to lose. It sounds too much like “loser.” Who wants to be a loser?

Let’s look at it another way. Obesity is the world’s biggest health problem. You don’t want to die, right? Do you want to feel good? Do you want to look good? Do you want to be able to walk without looking like you’re trying out some funny new dance? Do you want your blood sugar to normalize? Do you want your blood pressure to be in the normal safe range? Do you want your heart to work less & do you want to live longer? Now you’re talking. Make a plan, find out what foods will let you do all those things & write them down & carry the list with you. This list is going to give you all the above things. You’re not on a diet for heavens sake; you’ve got a new goal that’s going to turn your life around. Believe me this isn’t a problem.

When you go into a restaurant, what’s on the Menu isn’t important. What’s on your food list is the only thing that’s important to you. You aren’t dieting, you’re pursuing your goal of a total makeover & it’s not going to be expensive. You’re gonna look & feel good baby!

Let’s look at DEBT! There are places that will charge you thousands of dollars to get you out of debt, maybe even in your lifetime. But you aren’t aiming at being debt free; you’re aiming at having a life that’s stress free. When the phone rings you are tired of disguising your voice to sound like a Chinese person. “ He no here! He no live here now. He gone!”

Are you tired of living like that? Well you have to sell yourself on a stress free way of life where you can walk with your head up & aren’t afraid to go to the mailbox. When that goal gets firmly established, you can trust yourself to go to the Mall & it won’t be long until you’ll be out of debt. Let me say a few words about goals.

a. Make your goals specific.
b. Make your goals realistic.-You’re not going to lose 60 pounds in one month.
c. Have long-term & short-term aspects to your goals.
D. Be flexible. You may want to add or subtract things as you go.
e. Make your goals measurable. If it’s getting weight off, nail your fat-boy britches on the wall (in the basement.) One lady put a picture of a beautiful shapely girl on her refrigerator so that when she raided it at midnight she’d see what she wanted to look like. It worked like a charm & she lost 10 pounds in a month. Her husband however gained 20 pounds.

5. IT"S NOT MY FAULT.
That’s a victim mentality & God doesn’t want us to walk as victims but victors in life. Start taking more & more responsibility for what happens in your life. You may not have caused your employee to make a mess of your business but you hired the employee. You may feel your spouse is your problem but you married them. Start saying things like, “I own this.” “No more excuses.” These are empowering words. There’s’ one thing great about it, if my brain got us into this, my brain can get us out of it.

Here are a few signs that a person has slipped into victim thinking.

They are focused on the past.
They worry about how things should be.
They blame others for their problems.
They feel they have no control over anything.
They often say “If only” & “what if.”
They feel they’re being picked on.
They feel they’re pawns in life’s game.

I think one of the finest examples of a person who refused to become a victim is The Prodigal son in Luke 15:17-18. Listen to his words & notice he didn’t say, “Oh, if only the famine hadn’t come.” He said; …..How many hired servants of my father have bread enough & to spare & I perish with hunger. I will arise & go to my father & say unto him, Father I have sinned against heaven & before thee.

This young mans willingness to take the blame for what he’d done & ask forgiveness made him a winner. We live in a world that wants & needs to make victims out of people but God has something far better for us & that is life as a winner.


Christ bought that victory for us at Calvary.


Blessings,


John

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Fundamental Things Apply

By John Stallings


You knew him.

If you've been a church-attendee for very long this man is no stranger to you.

The man usually wore dark clothing & donned the pulpit every Sunday, opened the Bible & preached. The thing you most remember is how dull & listless the sermons were. You tried to blame it on the dull lighting, the rock hard pews & the drab surroundings but alas, what it was- was boring preaching, coming from a man who'd quit studying years ago & was simply reciting his old manuscripts. Though at the time, you may not have had enough experience to call it what it was, something in you knew he'd lost the joy, the enthusiasm of imparting God's Word to the people.

Nothing new. Nothing fresh fell from the lips of this man. It was in his voice & written all over his countenance. But he had one special magic that couldn't be denied & no one could take it away from him; He could make twenty minutes seem like two weeks.

Be honest; you've known this man haven't you? He'd basically shut down. He'd lost the wonder. He was only in his early forties but he constantly used the word "old."

But having spent so many years in the ministry myself, it would be dishonest of me not to admit there have been times in my own life, thankfully short-lived, when I endured spiritual dryness & faced head-on my powerlessness to do anything about it. I have looked into the abyss of spiritual burn-out & oblivion & wanted desperately to run & hide from the agony of it all. Not that I was or ever will be a Mother Teresa, but I can understand her "dark night of the soul," holding on by the fingertips & longing so very desperately for God. Standing before the people more than once a week as a spokesman for heaven feeling deep within myself that I wasn't worthy. But also knowing unequivocally that God had called me to speak for Him & even, God forbid, if I went to hell I’d take that call with me.

I have known Mondays when I was so emotionally exhausted & adrenaline depleted it was hard for me to talk. Mondays are days when I am most vulnerable to discouragement & despair after wringing myself dry emotional & spiritually on Sunday.

There was a time when pastors always took Monday's off but that changed some years ago. Many ministers felt they'd be more productive to get into their offices on Monday & use the time to get organize for next Sunday since they couldn't relax anyway. As you know, preachers are only human. Their only hope of "staying alive" & viable is to study & pray & once again be engaged by the presence of the living Christ as He speaks into their hearts & the Scripture is illuminated by His Spirit.

Here's a simple illustration. I have an electric razor with a rechargeable battery as I suspect many men do. I can unplug it & walk all over the house shaving which I often do. But when the battery starts to run low, I can feel it & then I hear it as it slowly loses power & cutting ability. At that point I know I'd better get it back to the electrical socket in the wall & recharge the battery.

At least for me, this is a metaphor of life. We can all run for a short time without being plugged in, but sooner or later it catches up with us & we must get back to the source of power. The ministers I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many who have been & can still be some of God's most gifted men, just need to get back to the source of power that opens the mind, thrills the heart & causes us again to know the presence of the Living Lord.

In Luke 24, two disciples returned to Emmaus filled with despair with all that had happened in Jerusalem on the previous days. They were drained & burned out. However a "stranger" joined them along the way & listened to their lament. Then as they walked He began to interpret the Word of God to them; the law, the prophets & the Psalms. He helped them to understand the necessity of the crucifixion they'd witnessed. As they walked, their hearts were burning.

Then later they broke bread together & then they recognized the "stranger" as the resurrected Lord Jesus. Then He was gone, but they knew He was alive. He'd been with them & promised to come again to dwell with them through the power of His indwelling Spirit. In a manner of speaking this visit from the living Christ helped those thoroughly dejected men to "stay alive," at least on the spiritual level.

Jesus showed up. Only in the presence of Jesus can we stay alive. What always saves the discouraged preacher or the downhearted Christian is when Jesus shows up & in his own wonderful way again stirs our spirit, & opens our eyes so that we again are aware of His presence at work -guiding, blessing, forgiving, & restoring hope. It's then that we see He is at work all around us in the lives of all whom we know & love. It's then & only then that the scales fall off our eyes & we're given glimpses of His divine grace at work everywhere. And to make it even more glorious, we see that even our perceived botching of the things we were trying to do for Him can so graciously & perfectly fit into the divine mosaic which is our lives.

God never meant for anyone to be this way. He created us with a sense of wonder -with the capacity for passion, yet too many of us, like the preacher, shut down way too early.

Are you living every day filled with hope & expectancy? Are you living life to its fullest?

So many people once were excited about the future but somewhere along the way life has knocked all that out of them & their appetite & "lust for life" has been lost. They used to pursue their dreams but then they hit some roadblocks, things didn't work out the way they had hoped they would & now they're just going through the motions. They've quit dreaming. They've quit pursuing their goals & tragically they've lost their purpose.

It happens far too often. People have a great salvation experience. They become excited, devoted & committed. Every time the church doors open they're there. They can't wait to get there. The whole new world of faith has opened for them & it's all too wonderful for words. For months, sometimes years all goes well. They have no problems with their faith. But suddenly they began to have difficulties. They begin to drop out. The luster wears off; the excitement wears down & their devotional commitments shrink. Soon they disappear & become names on a dusty church role somewhere. No one sees them. No one knows them anymore.

In our youth, we were filled with joy & energy but now many of us have to work on stimulating them both. Why does this happen & how can we prevent it? How can we keep our spiritual experience vibrant & zestful? How can we spiritually "stay alive?" The answer isn’t deep or difficult to grasp.

THE FUNDAMENTAL THINGS APPLY WHEN YOUR FAITH IS ON THE CRITICAL LIST.

1. Pray

We find some fascinating & helpful clues in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is facing death yet there are instructional keys to staying alive.

We know the disciples saw Jesus do many great miracles. Yet we don't read that they ever asked, "Lord, teach us to do miracles." We know the disciples saw Him use His intellect to silence the sharpest legal minds, but we never hear them ask, "Lord, teach us your mental acumen." We know the disciples observed their Master’s awesome command of the Old Testament manuscripts, yet we never hear them ask, "Lord, teach us what you know about the law." We know He was a master of crowd control & fully understood what it took to keep the masses of human bodies under control, yet the disciples never asked Him to tell them how to handle the throngs of people who pressed in to hear Him.

But the twelve had watched Jesus closely. They'd seen Him rise without disturbing a single soul to steal away & commune with His Father. Behind all of His skills they suspected something else was at work. They knew His secret; His awesome power was embedded in His prayer life. So they asked, "Lord, teach us to pray."

Gethsemane was a tough & terrible moment. The cross loomed before Jesus. He didn't want to go to the cross. He prayed about it. Father, take this cup from me. It was an earnest prayer. He sweated drops of blood. This is serious business here! It was agony to pray, but pray He did. Yet He found strength to pray, - Not my will but thine be done.

Do you see it? Prayer was Christ's way of keeping His faith alive. Friend we all need prayer. Prayer is conversation with God. Prayer is friendship with God. Prayer is the way we keep the lines of communication open with God. The truth is, if we fail to pray our relationship with God grows dimmer & dimmer. We don't need a sanctimonious tone to talk with God. All we need is a willingness to communicate with Him & to be in His presence.

In these days of perplexity on all fronts, do you want to stay alive? Pleas read on.



2 CONTINUE TO GROW & LEARN

You & I must continue to study & think. In the Garden Jesus didn't exhibit close-mindedness. He didn't say, "Now see here God, we never did it this way before." No!! Our Lord was open to God's truth. He was open to God's will; He was open to God's direction.

One night a little boy fell out of bed. When his mother asked him his problem he said, "I think I fell asleep too close to where I first got in." The tragedy is that as soon as we stop growing & learning, at that moment our faith begins to shrivel, shrink & die. We are like plants in that we need light to grow. To keep our faith alive we must continue to pray, grow, study, think & learn.

In the aftermath of some of the airline tragedies in this country, the sad reality has been revealed that the pilots & co-pilots were not really up to date on some of the latest facts about the machinery they were using. It has yet to be decided where to place the blame but the tragedy still remains that many hundreds of innocents souls who wanted above all else to stay alive, were lost, perhaps due to nothing more than the crew simply not having a small piece of information.

3. DO SOMETHING- BETTER YET, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT!


I have a book in my library that I read years ago called, "Do one thing different." I won’t try to recall much of it now but the gist of it is- if you want to affect change in your life, do just one thing different every day. Read a different newspaper. Surf TV channels & you’ll surprised at the good stuff that’s available. You'd be surprised what would happen if you simply changed from fried chicken to oven- broiled or baked chicken for one year. Or [And I've tried this one & it works [eat opened faced sandwiches for a few months.]

One of the fastest ways to run out of steam is to operate as a lone wolf. We must love our enemies but we're under no mandate to work with them, if we're constantly having "dustups." Work & fellowship with people who don’t have agendas & you can work in peace.

It’s been my experience that the fastest way to break through the wall of helplessness & hopelessness is to act. Do something. Don't just be a hearer of the Word, be a doer. It will keep you alive spiritually & even physically.

4. RETAIN YOUR CHILDLIKE SENSE OF WONDER

What do you think is the most important spiritual grace? If you say love, you'd certainly be on the right track, & you'd have the apostle Paul, the greatest Christian who ever lived- in agreement with you. But if you asked Jesus that question--what's the greatest spiritual quality we could possess, you'd get another answer. Can you guess what that answer would be? Wait for it.........it's the Child-likeness of "A little child."

Did you notice the answer wasn't--child-likess? It was the -child-likeness of a "little child." What's the difference in a child & a little child? If you've raised children you know very well that there's a great difference in a child at about four or five, than a child at about five or six.

What's the difference? Among other things, it’s a sense of trust. One of the biggest differences is-a little child is unimpressed with anyone's station in life. They will play with other children of any color, race or creed & pay no attention to pedigree or who the other kids are.

But twelve or eighteen months later you have a different “kettle of fish." Now you'll hear things like, "My daddy is the president of a bank," or, "My daddy has more money than your daddy." You'll probably hear them talking about their new item of clothing & what the brand name is. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus called a child to him one day & said--Unless you become as a "little child" you can't enter the kingdom of God?

5. DON'T QUIT-NO MATTER WHAT!

Let me ask you a very important question; did the Wright brothers quit? No! Did Charles Lindbergh ever quit? No! Did Joan of Arc ever quit? No! Did Jesus, or Paul, or James or Daniel or Elijah ever completely quit? Of course they didn't quit. Did Thorndyke Mckeester ever quit? The reader may ask, "Who on earth is Thorndyke Mckeester? I never heard of him!!” Of course you never heard of him. He quit!

In the early church, there was a leader who was close to the Apostle Paul. He was talented, bright, capable & full of potential. But we hear few sermons about him because he quit. His name was Demas. Some of the saddest words in the New Testament are found in 2 Timothy 4:10—Demas ……has deserted me…. Friend, we have to make up our minds to stay with it. Demas was destined for greatness but he got lost in the shuffle & quit. Don’t quit on life. Don’t quit on the church. Make up your mind to stay with this faith pilgrimage whatever the cost. It takes a lot of prayer, a lot of obedience, a lot of determination & a lot of grit & grace to stay alive.


6.CELEBRATE SMALL VICTORIES

Your arthritis may not be totally healed but is it better? Then praise God for it. If you have fewer migraines than you once had, praise God for it. It may sound insignificant but still it’s important that you do it. Celebrating incremental victories is important in all of life. If you’ve only lost an inch in your waist-line, celebrate it & believe God that soon you’ll be able to look at that side view of yourself in the mirror without being depressed.

Elijah saw a cloud so small it could be compared to a man’s hand but he respected it & kept praying until it turned into a deluge of rain.

David encouraged himself with the fact that he had killed a Bear & a Lion & it gave him the faith to kill a ten foot giant with a rock.



7. ENJOY LIFE


George H.W Bush may not go down in history as a great president but every time he jumps out of a perfectly good airplane to parachute- I cheer him on from the safety of my couch. What a guy. The man is eighty-five years old. While he’s jumping I’ll be fishing.


Each morning when we rise we’re faced with the decision to either save the world or savor the world. It really makes it hard to plan the day. My suggestion is, -do both. First pray & ask God for directions, then smell the roses. The Bible tells us…. God has given us all things to enjoy. I’ve said it before but I truly believe I’ve had more impact on the lives of people by being jovial & of good cheer than with a lot of sermons I’ve preached. The sermons are not only important they are imperative but it’s also important that we spread good cheer whatever the endeavor we’re engaged in.

I know things don’t look good right now folks but Messiahs coming & He’s coming soon. Soon & very soon the right foot is going to step into the stirrup & the King of Kings will swing into the saddle. Things will be set right & …he shall reign forever & ever. Praise His Name!!

8. DEVELOP NEW INTERESTS

I never touched a computer until I was sixty & you’d be surprised how much I’ve learned. Three years ago if you’d have told me I’d be writing a blog I would have thought you “off the rails.” I want to say fully alive, don’t you?



9. STAY IN THE WORD


If you expect to be able to withstand the shaking that’s coming you will have to be anchored in the Word of God. We will have to study the Word & build a dynamic relationship with God.

Some simply won’t stay alive when hell begins its all out vile assault against the faith. Some will leave because someone said something to hurt their feelings. They have spiritual myopia & can’t see further than their neighbors faults.

Some won’t stay alive to Christ because of what the church treasurer, a deacon, the choir leader or the pastor did. It really doesn’t matter why they leave; it just means they weren’t rooted enough in the Word to survive the shaking.

Some will leave the faith because of what an unscrupulous TV evangelist did or said. But mainly people will lose heart because they don’t read the Word of God & read it every day. It’s God’s Word that will fortify the heart & mind against error.

I don’t have to tell you there are going to be dark days ahead. Back during World War 2, Ruth K. Jones was reading 2 Timothy 3:1—This know that in the last days perilous times will come…. Moved by the Holy Spirit, she picked up her pen & wrote;

In times like these, we need a Savior. In times like these we need an Anchor. Be very sure, be very sure, your Anchor holds & grips the solid rock.

Where is your anchor today? Is it upon the solid rock? We’ll not only stay alive but thrive in the worst of times if we’re anchored upon the Word of God, & Christ Jesus, the only solid rock.

Blessings,

John

Monday, July 3, 2017

"Diggin Up Bones"

By John Stallings

Many times I’ve seen dead animals in the road and unfortunately have hit some of them myself when driving.

It’s not a pleasant experience to see the carcasses of those unfortunate creatures that have fallen prey to the dangers of modern life. If you do much hi-way driving you’ll see this “road kill” in every state in the country.

The valley of dry bones in Ezekiel chapter 37 was perhaps Ezekiel’s most famous vision. To say he "saw dead carcasses" was an understatement. What he saw in this dismal valley of dry bones was, to say the least, a gruesome vision that shook him to his core; a scary sight of utter annihilation and holocaust.

Ezekiel was one of the most visionary prophets, subject to long trances where he was uncommunicative, after which he’d describe amazing images. He was a street preacher who delivered basically a “turn or burn” message. If you heeded his message, you could learn, turn and be saved. If you didn’t heed, you’d burn. He was the son of a Zadokite priest.

Ezekiel went into captivity at the age of eight & was called by God to be a prophet at age thirty. To say that Ezekiel was a little weird is like saying the ocean is a little wet. When God called the prophet Amos to preach he just said “Yes.” It took Ezekiel over three chapters to tell about his calling. It’s as if the whole universe had to get involved. Did he ever have a flair for the dramatic? The vision he had of the valley full of dry bones is one of the most dramatic ever penned. In his vision this strange preacher goes to a grave-yard to preach a sermon.

All of the prophets did odd things but Ezekiel takes the cake. He was known to lie on his side for 390 days at the time eating nothing but one, 8 ounce meal a day that was cooked over manure. He shaved his head as well as his beard. You might call Ezekiel eccentric, for when his wife died an untimely death he was strangely catatonic, almost mute & showed no sorrow. He was a young contemporary of Jeremiah, but while Jeremiah was preaching in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was preaching in Babylon. Ezekiel uses incredible detail in his writing & his message was that God wasn’t through judging Israel. He uses the phrase “Know that I am God” sixty-five times in the book.

LETS BACK UP A BIT

What made this dry bones vision important was that Israel had been attacked, defeated and devastated. The War Wagons of their enemy had pretty much plowed their nation under, and most of its population had been marched off like common criminals to a strange land. What was worse and made the defeat so complete was the loss of the temple, the official dwelling place of God and symbol of National identity. The temple’s precious metals had been looted and razed like a shack, and it became a heap of ruins. It was a fate worse than death and for all practical purposes, a viable Israel was now extinct.

VALLEY OF DEATH

The gutsy young Ezekiel preached in the streets for 22 years, calling the people of Israel from judgment to repentance. In Ezekiel 37, God puts his hand on Ezekiel and leads him down into the middle of this valley of bleached dry bones. For God to whisk men away like this isn’t all that unusual, for in Acts 8:39 --the spirit of the Lord caught Phillip away and he was found later at Azotus preaching.

But what did this valley full of dead bones mean? Why was God showing Ezekiel this scene of mass carnage & catastrophe; what was the point of it? Common sense told him the bones were proof that life once existed; that these bones were once living organisms filled with the life of God. The mystifying thing was that all there is to see are bones that have been dead so long they’re bleached white, lying all over this large valley, dislocated and disjointed. The buzzards had done their work well.

Many questions flood our minds here. Did this valley have a name? How long had the bones been there? Why had their families not given them a decent burial? Who had these people been and what lesson did they have to teach? These & a few more questions probably came to Ezekiel’s mind as he walked around the valley. Also, being human, another thing crossed his mind; this thing looks hopeless.

Here is a valley full of the bones of some past large army that were obviously badly defeated in battle. What was God going to show his man here? One of the symbolic lessons of the bones had to be the potential and possibility that had been squandered.

YOU’VE VISITED THIS VALLEY

We’ve all been to this valley where you walk knee-deep in the brokenness of the world.

Cancer struck close by in our lives and all at once we saw dry bones.

Our project fell apart and all at once we saw dry bones.

Our dreams were destroyed and there, facing us were dry bones.

A career is ended and we see dry bones.

The family breadwinner is laid off and there are dry bones.

Relationships are lost and we see dry bones.

A son or daughter is killed in war and suddenly you see dry bones.

All at once the devil takes the word  "hopeless "- and tacks it above everything in our lives. We don’t know the reason; all we know is that we’re walking down the valley of dry bones. The most casual glimpse of our world today, especially if you see it through the prism of television news reveals dry bones. Perhaps you hadn’t thought about it but as you read this, maybe you’re in some kind of dry bones situation.

THIS VALLEY REPRESENTS VERY BIG AND VERY COMPLICATED PROBLEMS.

Ezekiel says, “and behold they were very many and they were very dry.”

That lets us know we’re not dealing with some small thing here; it had been a gigantic army in bygone days and obviously had been terribly defeated and decimated.

Maybe the dry bones in your life aren’t a small thing either, but rather a very big problem that’s going to need a very big intervention from God. Perhaps some awful thing has made inroads into your family and Satan tells you it’s hopeless.

THIS SITUATION SEEMED CRAZY

Not only were the problems very bad, Ezekiel says the bones were scattered. They weren’t skeletons intact; the picture is of bones that were in a configuration which hardly made sense. Have you ever felt that not only was your situation dead and very dry, it was so multi-leveled and complicated that you were almost embarrassed how warped, dysfunctional and unexplainable it was? It’s like a plate of spaghetti, lying there all tangled up on the plate, and you feel almost embarrassed because things have gotten so crazy. Have you ever felt that your circumstances were even too much for God? They never are, and that’s also one of things this story teaches us.

WHY DID EZEKIEL HAVE TO GO OUT INTO THE MIDDLE OF THIS VALLEY?

Why couldn’t God have passed him over it, given him a bird’s- eye view and whisked him away? Why did he sit him down in the midst of this horrific place? God operates on the principle that some problems can’t be dealt with from a distance. None of us relish going among the dead. We’d prefer to be with the living, at least among people that have a little life in them, but often God puts us right there so we can see how really messed-up things are. God never intended for His church to be a cloistered group of over-pious people separated from the suffering of this world.

It’s easier to send provisions to foreign countries than it is to send our sons and daughters. Many people have no problem writing a large check for missions but they resent scooting down the pew in church to let the downtrodden and needy sit next to them.

THE BIG QUESTION….

After Ezekiel gets into this valley & has a good look around & gets a close- up of all this carnage, God pops a question to him;

can these bones live?

But this question isn’t asked to get information. As so often when God asks a question, he’s after something deeper. In the Garden of Eden God asked Adam and Eve “Where are you.”? Remember the question God directed toward Cain after he killed Abel; “What have you done with your brother?” It’s like the question Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” This is the kind of rhetorical question we’re dealing with.

As we read this story, we find that we’re being asked a question too.

* Can these bones live?


* Is there any reason for hope here?


* Can anything good come from something this terrible ?


Sometimes we lie awake at night and ask ourselves questions about things in our lives, and the lives of our friends and maybe even the world. “Is there any reason for hope, honest to goodness hope, that isn’t rooted in shallow sentimental optimism or total denial? Can these bones live? It’s a big question, and of course Ezekiel is baffled, and answers in a way that puts the problem back in God’s lap. Only God knows the answer so Ezekiel answers, O Lord God, thou knowest.

GOD’S REMEDY; EZEKIEL, --PROPHESY TO THESE BONES.

God tells Ezekiel to start prophesying and preaching to these dead dry bones. To the natural mind, this was very foolish; to walk among these long dead, chalky white bones, talking, encouraging, coaching and cajoling them to rise up and live. The only thing powerful enough to bring this army back to life was the Word of the Lord.

FOR EZEKIEL IT WAS NOW REALITY TIME.

He must speak to dead people. It wasn’t time for manipulation. A big resume’ couldn’t put flesh back on these bones. No artificial flesh or prayer clothes laid over these bones was going to work. No magic or incantations would work either. These weren’t sick people they were stone cold dead; not people, but chalky bones. No slick solutions were going to do one wit of good in this valley, only words of prophecy accompanied by the mighty power of God.

I heard about a man who went day after day to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Some tourist’s had been observing him until one day one of them asked the old man how long he’d been coming to the wall to pray. He answered that he’d been coming there for 60 years. Then they asked him if he felt he’d ever gotten a prayer answered and the old man thought a moment and replied, “not that I can recall.” One of the tourists asked him how he felt about that & the old man retorted, “Well. It’s like talking to a brick wall.” The old gentleman then just shook his head and sadly walked away.

It is obvious that if Ezekiel is going to pray over these dry bones in his own strength he’s going to be talking to a wall. But Ezekiel began to prophesy and say exactly what God had instructed; “O ye dry bones hear the word of the Lord.” The driest bones are those who haven’t heard the Word of God. Ezekiel said these same words twice, and then he heard a noise, and a shaking and a movement began, and the bones started to come together. The word of God had again proven its creative power, just as it had on creation day when God said, “Let there be light.”

Now look what Ezekiel had. God had put flesh and sinew on the skeletons and wrapped skin around them but now he had a great big crowd of dead people lying deathly still. There was absolutely no life in them. There was a form, but no force. What Ezekiel now had on his hands was a perfect picture of what Paul told Timothy end-time religion would look like. He said it would….

 “Have a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away.” 2 Tim. 3:5.

 In other words, they would have the form but no force.

So we must speak to the dry bones of our lives and Prophesy to them but we can’t do it in our strength or in our name, for there is no power without God’s power.

Then another part of this story unfolds. God told Ezekiel to prophecy to the wind. God tells Ezekiel in verse 9, “Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” The bodies, even though they are now covered with flesh, are only cadavers and it will take the wind to breathe life into them.

IN SCRIPTURE, THE WIND IS A TYPE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD.


The Hebrew word RUACH is used for breath, wind and spirit. When the wind came into that dry dead valley, the Holy Spirit came, as on the day of Pentecost, when one of the evidences that the Holy Spirit had arrived was the sound of a rushing mighty wind. It was the breath of God that was required to bring life, just as in John 20:22 when Jesus breathed on His disciples and they received the Holy Ghost.

After the Holy Ghost was poured out on the day of Pentecost, the disciples who had been cowering with fear were filled with power from on high to be witnesses for Christ, and to be willing to ultimately give their lives for Him.

Preachers can’t change hearts and lives. The powerful wind of the Holy Spirit must come and complete the job. Without the anointing of the spirit, sermons are dry and lifeless. All preaching is dependent upon God’s Holy Spirit to speak to the hearts of individuals and prepare them to except Christ as Savior.

Ephesians 2:1-4 depicts lost, sinful man as exactly like the dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. We were …. Dead in trespasses and sins, but God has quickened us (or breathed life into us) together with Christ.


AN EXCEEDING GREAT ARMY ROSE UP-- NOT A MOB.

Ezekiel practiced simple obedience and prophesied and when he did, God raised up these dead bones to become an exceeding great army. God’s power transcends the power of death and the grave. They didn’t manifest as an unruly mob but as an organized, disciplined army, ready to march to battle. An army carries the thought of obedience under a General. Then God told Ezekiel what all of this represented. He told him in the eleventh verse…Son of man these bones are the whole house of Israel.

This had all been an allegory depicting how Israel who was in captivity was going to be brought back and reborn. In verse 14 God tells Ezekiel about Israel,

And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.”

Remember, this is God dealing with a nation. He deals with nations and He deals with individuals.

THERE IS HOPE IN EVERY SITUATION

Ezekiel couldn’t see the wind but he began to see the dance of trees and grass and fields of wildflowers as they responded to the caressing winds. Then he witnessed the army as it began to spring to life also.

What is God saying to you through this story? For one thing he wants us to see things from another perspective. They look hopeless to us but not to him. What would be a crushing debt to me would be pocket change to Bill Gates.

Have you given up hope? Do you think the best years of your life are behind you? Do you feel that God has forgotten you? Get up from your heap of discarded dreams. Let the Holy Spirit breathe new life into your soul and you will see God’s spirit move into your valley of dry bones and show-out in ways you would have never believed. You’ll find yourself dancing once again, responding to the breeze of God’s Holy Grace. God specializes in dry bones, lifeless souls, impossible situations, dead ends and dashed hopes.

MULTITUDES ARE LANGUISHING; WAITING FOR YOU & ME TO START BELIEVING THAT GOD CAN REVIVE US, & THAT DRY, DEAD BONES CAN LIVE AGAIN.


Blessings,


John