What do the following three statements have in common?
Yep! If you live anywhere around the Tennessee Valley, you know that all of these statements came from the news media concerning the total eclipse we will be experiencing today. Now, I have always considered myself to be a huge geek when it comes to anything astronomical. I can remember the excitement I felt as a young person when we were privileged to view partial solar eclipses and total lunar eclipses. I always felt a little let down afterwards because it didn’t really live up to my expectations. And with all the hype and craziness going on around this eclipse, I expect much of the same. But today, my city is in the 96% Zone of Totality. What does that mean? It’s going to get dark around 1:30 this afternoon.
But I think that people have gone absolutely insane over this. Some have paid $15,000 to view the eclipse from an air-conditioned room at a football stadium. I hope that includes refreshments and a pair of gold-plated viewing glasses. Some have spent $1,500 for glamping in the “zone of totality.” I can only assume that means camping with some type of extra benefit. But what is almost as bad is to hear of people waiting for hours to spend $10 on a pair of paper glasses. I can ALMOST understand some friends of mine waiting 4 hours to purchase the totally chocolate-glazed eclipse donuts at Krispy Kreme. Almost. As much as I love their chocolate-covered donuts, I’m not waiting 4 hours for any kind of donut. Again, I think that people have gone absolutely crazy over this.
The Bible says that God has given us the sun, moon, and stars for “signs.” Some believe that eclipses are signs warning of coming judgment. That could possibly be the case for the United States because we are long overdue. Others have talked about the possibility of earthquakes caused by the eclipse, but as far as I know, there are no scientific bases for that at all.
Sonya and I have talked about all the possibilities we have heard surrounding the eclipse. That is why she said what she did this morning before we left for work. We kissed goodbye, spoke of our love for each other, wished each other a good day, and then she said it: “If I don’t see you again down here, I’ll see you in the air with Jesus.” Man! All I could think of was, “Wouldn’t that be great?” You see, with the timing of this total eclipse and the next one – 7 years from now – there are those who have mentioned this would be a great time for the Rapture of the church followed by the Great Tribulation and Jesus’ glorious Second Coming. After all, if the sun was created for the purpose of giving us signs, wouldn’t that be just like the Father to have it all planned out like this? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the Rapture is going to happen today or tomorrow – but it could! And I thought about all those posts I have seen on Facebook. If Christians had spent as much time preparing for the Lord’s return as we have spent preparing for this eclipse, what a difference we could have made in the lives of the people around us.
Here is the truth! We don’t know when the Rapture will occur. We don’t even know when someone we love will breathe their last breath. That’s why the Bible so urgently instructs us to do the work God has commanded us to do – to make disciples – while we can. We need to work for the night is coming, and just like the eclipse today, it may come sooner than you think. Are you ready? Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
Every once in a while, my wonderful wife will send me something that is so inspiring or instructive that I must share it as a guest blog. This is one of those times, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Letting go is tough. Whether it’s a plan, a dream, a way of doing, self-interest, or just about anything else that means something to us – letting it go is tough. In 1 Kings 17: 8-16, Elijah tells a poor widow to let go of her last bit of oil and flour in order to see what God will do. The woman’s future — her security — was made visible to her by her commitment to let go of all that she had at her disposal. It did not make sense; it was not logical or reasonable. She had already devised a plan for that last bit of oil and flour. She was going to make her last meal and then die. She had planned the next step which would also be her last step. This hopeless and seemingly helpless woman knew that her actions would deplete her food supply, but it was her plan. But by letting go — by releasing what the Lord asked of her — she was able to experience a miracle of multiplication. She learned a lesson that we all must come to learn in order to experience God’s power. We must learn not to be satisfied with what will soon run out and instead walk in a faith that reveals God’s provision.
David was asked to let go of his pride and confess the sin of adultery, murder, and lying. In return, he found forgiveness and restoration. However, he also learned that letting go does not change the consequence of our sin. The child that was the product of adultery and murder still died, but by letting go of his pride and humbling himself before God, King David found that his relationship with the Father could be restored. The same is true for us as we deal with our sins whatever they may be. Letting go allows our relationships to be restored whether those relationships are between God and us or between other human beings and ourselves.
God called Abraham to let go of his promised son, Isaac, the child of his old age – the one through whom all the promises of God were to be fulfilled. God did not just tell Abraham to send Isaac away as he did Ishmael. Instead, he was to let go in a final, goodbye kind of way. It was in his obedience that Abraham found the promises of God are always true and that God will always provide. It was also a time during which he learned that letting go allowed him to move forward towards the promises of God. The children of Israel struggled with letting go of their past even when it was a past filled with despair. They were tired and hungry. They were angry over their circumstances and afraid of what they perceived as their future. In their minds, the past was grander than it truly was. The good old days. They remembered gardens overflowing and a life of ease even when that was not the case. They were unwilling to press forward; they wanted to hold on to the past. The problem was that by not letting go of the past they were prohibiting themselves from moving to a grander and more blessed future. Again, the same is true for us. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14. “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It is by letting go of our past, our possessions, or even our posterity that we find that we can move forward to the future God has planned for us. We need to take seriously the directive God gave through His prophet, Isaiah. “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19). This is a promise you can take to the bank: God will make a way.
But there is one more thing that we need to release into the promises of God, and it may well be the greatest need of our lives. We must let go of the things in our past that hold on to us. These are the things that weigh us down as we struggle to run this race called life. These are the things that pull us away from the Lord and His perfect plan for us. Once again, the Apostle Paul spells it out for us in Ephesians 4:31-32. Things like bitterness, wrath, and anger must be relinquished into the Hand of God. We must reject the temptation to constantly complain and speak evil of others. It has been said that we cannot reach forward to receive the blessings of our future as long as we cling tightly to our past sins, past hurts, and past plans. Only when we open our hands to God by offering kindness, compassion, and forgiveness of our brothers and sisters in Christ will we truly discover what Paul meant when he told us to “press on.” We cannot move forward into our promised future as long as we continue to tie ourselves down to the anchors of our past. So let it go, and take hold of the blessings God is holding onto for you.
Last week, I shared the first part of this blog with you taken from a message that I preached several weeks ago. It is part of a series related to the judgments of God on all of mankind, but in order to understand the full scope of these judgments, we must know that God loves every man, woman, boy, and girl. He has done everything possible to draw all of us to Himself and to show us the way to spend eternity with Him. Here is part two of “Seven Stop Signs that Will Change Your Life.”
The third stop sign God has placed in your path is the stop sign of individual Christians. Many of you grew up in godly Christian homes with parents who taught you what the love of God is all about. You heard it in the stories they told. You saw it in the lives that they lived. But even if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, by your presence here today, it is obvious that God has placed Christian men and women in your path to show you that there is a better way, the narrow way, that leads to heaven. That’s why Jesus called Christians the “light of the world.” It is our responsibility to illuminate that sin-darkened broad path so that the lost men and women who are traveling down that road that leads to destruction will be able to see where they are heading before it’s too late. And Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:16 that true believers are “the aroma of death leading to death….” Have you ever smelled death – the aroma of decaying flesh? It is sickening, and it causes most people to stop in their tracks and go the other direction. When we live the Christian life before a lost world, not only do they see the light of God’s love shining through us, but also they sense in the depths of their hearts that they are headed in the wrong direction. That’s why most lost people don’t want to hang around true believers. We are God’s stop sign on the path to hell.
The fourth stop sign which God has placed in the path of the lost on their way to hell is the Church. While technically the church is made up of the Christians I just spoke of, I am now talking about the institutional church, the body of Christ called together under Jesus’ Lordship for the purpose of showing a lost world the way to Christ. According to Jesus in Matthew 16:18, the church is the only institution that has the power to overcome the very gates of hell itself. That one verse tells me that our Savior intended for His church to stand in the way of lost people headed to hell. How do we do it? By fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The Great Commission says we are to go into all the world, starting at home, to make disciples out of lost people. And the Great Commandment says we are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus defined the word neighbor for us in the parable of the Good Samaritan as anyone who has a need, and there is no greater need in the lives of men and women than to come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Church must stand unwavering for the Truth of God’s Word especially now when the culture is rapidly rejecting that Truth. Too often, the church and its institutions give in to the rising tide of culturalism and choose to honor the world over the Word. We can see it in the recent actions of different denominations accepting gay marriage. We can see it in the recent actions of our beloved Samford University choosing to give credence to a student group that promotes homosexuality even when it means losing $3 million from our state convention. The Church can only be the stop sign on the path to hell when we proudly and boldly stand on the BIBLE and stand against a culture headed for an eternity in hell.
But know this. It is not the church that saves the lost. It is not Christians that save the lost. It is not creation or conscience that saves the lost. It is not even messages like this on hell that save the lost. The Bible says in Romans 1:16 that the gospel “…is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” So understand this morning that the Gospel is our fifth stop sign on the road to hell. What is the gospel? It is the good news that God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to die for us. It is the good news that He did this while we were still in our sins. It is the good news that God is not slack concerning His promises, but He is longsuffering/patient because He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. The good news is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” This is the only thing that has the power to deliver any man or woman from the path of destruction to the path of life. But the gospel will never be heard unless we share it, and it will never be believed until we live our lives in such ways that prove it is true, and we will only live that way if we truly believe this Book from cover to cover.
There is another stop sign on this path to hell, and that stop sign is God. Jesus made it clear that no man can come to the Jesus unless the Father draws Him (John 6:44). “Salvation is never achieved apart from the drawing power of God, and it is never consummated apart from the willingness of humans to hear and learn from God.” (New American Commentary – New American Commentary – Volume 25a: John 1-11.) If you read that passage in John, you hear Jesus saying that God draws us by teaching us. That happens as we read Scripture, hear the gospel presented by Christians, or see His power in nature, and suddenly the Holy Spirit, our Guide, whispers into our hearts, “This is truth. Listen to it.” You’ve heard the stories of people flipping through the channels on the television or scanning the radio stations, and for some reason they stopped on one where God spoke to their hearts through the message or song. That isn’t coincidence. That is God drawing us. No doubt your story is different, but if you look back at it, you will see the hand of God drawing you. And I believe that He draws everyone at some point in their lives as He seeks to stop them on the path to damnation.
There is one final stop sign on the path to hell, and it is Grace. The New Testament definition of grace is God’s love in action, so grace is more than a concept; Grace is a Man, and His name is Jesus Christ because He is God’s love in action. He loves you so much that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself placed His own body as the last stop sign on the road to hell. Listen to me. If you go to hell, you will have to walk across the bruised and bleeding body of Jesus because He has placed Himself there to try and stop you.
So dear friend, what will you do today as you travel down the broad path that leads to destruction? Will you totally ignore these seven stop signs along the way? Will you simply step over the body that was bruised for your sin – that was bloodied in your place?
You can listen to the audio sermon from which this was taken by clicking on this link. If you have questions, or if you would like to know how to change your life, send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Have you ever run a stop sign or a red light? Whoo. I’m glad I’m not the only one. There are times when I am distracted or talking or just plain let my mind wander, and the next thing you know, Sonya is yelling at me to stop. Sometimes I do stop; other times, it’s just too late, but by the grace of God, every time that has happened, there have been no other cars coming my way. But sooner or later, I know that the likelihood is that I’m not going to be that blessed and bad things could happen. Did you realize that God gives us warnings when we are traveling down the wrong road?
In Matthew 7:13, 14, Jesus tells us that in this life, there are two roads that we can travel. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Right now, you and I are either on the road to Heaven, or we are on the road to Hell. There is no middle ground because Jesus said in Matthew 12:30 (NKJV), “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.”
If you are traveling the broad way, the road that leads to Hell, there are several things that you need to be aware of. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus tells us that Hell is a place of everlasting fire. Do you realize what that means? It means that the fire never dies out. This is no ordinary fire because even though the fire burns forever, Hell is a place of total darkness (Matthew 8:12). Then in Mark 9:44, Jesus said that hell is a place where “their worm never dies.” The word worm was used in the OT and in Jesus’ day to refer to apostates – those who had turned their backs on God, so that means while the fire never dies, it also never consumes so that the torment is unending for those who go there. And those who are traveling the broad way will go there unless they turn to Jesus in repentance and belief. There is something else you need to be aware of. In Luke 16, Jesus tells us that Hell is a place from which there is no escape. You remember, in my previous blog, I mentioned this passage about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue and for someone to go warn his brothers. But Father Abraham reminded him in Luke 16:26 (NKJV), “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”
Do you know what that means? After death, there are no second chances, there is no purgatory, and there is no probation. Hell is a place of never-ending torment from which there is no escape.
Many people will say that if God were truly loving, He would never send a single person to suffer that kind of torment. And they would be right. God doesn’t send a single person to hell. In fact, the Bible says that hell was prepared for Satan and his demonic hordes. And Jesus reminds us that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him (the Son) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:17-18). So every human being that winds up in hell does so of their own choosing, but know this: God loves you so much that He has put down stop signs all along the way to keep you from winding up in that horrible place. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Any person who goes to Hell, goes there against God’s will. He has done everything possible, everything that He can do to stop you, and the only way you can wind up there is to ignore the stop signs along the way. But what are those stop signs?
First, God has placed in every human being the stop sign which we call Conscience. In John 8, we read about the Jewish religious leaders who brought the woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus. They walked away because they were “convicted in their conscience” that what they were doing was wrong. Paul speaks about the Gentiles in Romans 2:15 (NKJV), “…who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Even the Gentiles, those who did not receive the Law and the Prophets from God have no excuse because their conscience bears witness to the truth. Even Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden knew immediately when they had sinned because God had instilled within them this conscience which tells us what is right and what is wrong. Sadly, though, Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 4:2 that our consciences can become hardened when we repeatedly ignore it, so while the conscience serves to stop us from continuing down the path to hell, it is not enough to put us on the path to heaven.
Second, God has placed before every human being the stop sign of His Creation. Back to Romans for just a second. Romans 1:18-20 (NKJV), “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,”
Do you see it? Everyone is without excuse because the things that are made – His creation – provide evidence of God’s existence and His nature and His power. But I want you to see something. This isn’t some haphazard presentation where God puts His creation out there and everyone has to go looking for the meaning. Paul says that God has shown all these things to every person so that they will know His power, His personality, and His purpose to bring all men into a right relationship with Himself. How could anyone look at the beauty of the universe and not see God? How could anyone hold a newborn baby and not know that there is a Creator?
Again, sadly, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden demonstrates that even the perfection of creation is not enough to keep men from sinning, but it is enough to stop our descent on the path to hell.
On which road do you find yourself? While I will share the remainder of these stop signs later this week, let me give you a shortcut – a detour, if you will – to avoid a final destination you do NOT want to experience. Surrender your life to God. Trust in the saving grace provided by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Know that He did this for you, and if you believe it and receive His forgiveness, you will find yourself on the road to life.
You can listen to the audio sermon from which this was taken by clicking on this link.
Isn’t it interesting that Hebrews 9:27 mentions one very specifically in reference to death, but not to judgment? That’s because every man, woman, and child will face two judgments. Let me explain. Whether we die before or not, Jesus Christ is going to return. 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us that the Eastern sky is going to break open, the trumpet of God is going to sound. All those who have died as Christians are going to be reunited with their resurrection bodies, and those Christians who are alive are going to be called up to meet him in the air. The fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation tell us what’s going to happen next. Jesus is going to take his future bride home to glory. We are going to gather around the throne of God and receive our judgment. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body (be recompensed for his deeds in the body), according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Some say that our reward is simply going to heaven and hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Honestly, that would be enough for me, but some say that they are going to be in the shape of crowns. As I read my Bible, I find mention of five types of crowns: the incorruptible crown for those who have lived a disciplined Christian life; the crown of rejoicing for those who are soul winners; the crown of righteousness for those who look forward to Christ’s return; the crown of life for those who have given their lives for the sake of the Kingdom; and the crown of glory for those called of God to shepherd His sheep.
The Lord Jesus Christ is going to judge His people. Imagine standing before our Savior with all the other saints while all their deeds are read and their crowns are given. What a joyous time that will be! For some. How are you going to feel as all of your deeds are broadcast to all of these saints? All of them tested as if by fire to see if they were truly done to bring glory and honor to the Father. How many will be burned away as nothing but selfish ambition, self-glorification, and just plain self working in order to look like you are serving the Lord? That will be an eye-opening experience for some, but what a blessing to be able to take those crowns we receive and place them at Jesus’ feet in worship — acknowledging once and for all that He alone is worthy of praise.
There is another judgment, however, that is going to be far worse for those who have never trusted in Jesus Christ. That is the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20. After Satan has been bound and cast into the hell that was prepared for him, God is going to judge mankind. Notice John writes, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God….” The dead are the lost of all ages. Christians won’t face this judgment because they are already alive, resurrected with Jesus. Everyone who has gone to his grave without professing Jesus as Lord of his life will be there. It doesn’t matter how good they were. It doesn’t matter how rich they were. Nothing matters other than their relationship with Jesus Christ, because the dead, small and great are going to stand before Him in judgment. When the apostle Paul said that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that is the day it will happen. The hard-hearted as well as the hard-headed will know then that the Lamb of Calvary is the Master of the Universe, but then will be too late.
Look at what John says next. “And the books were opened….” One of these books holds the deeds of men’s lives. There has been a lot of speculation as to how God is going to do this. Some say he is going to flash all of those deeds across a giant movie screen and everything that you thought was hidden and secret will be known. Every sin that you have committed will come flooding back into your mind. Every opportunity you had to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be there haunting you and you will say to all, “Why didn’t I listen then when I had the chance?” It will be there.
But the verse says that “the books were opened.” The other book is the Lamb’s book of Life. In that book is the name of every child of God written in the blood of Jesus Christ. But let me tell you a little secret. Every human being that ever lived had his name in that book before they died. But once their lives were over, if they had not received the gift of eternal life by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection and if they never confessed with their mouths in this lifetime that Jesus Christ is Lord, their names are blotted out of that precious book. Moses knew that in Exodus 32. The Psalmist wrote about it in Psalm 69:28. But because He is a God of grace and mercy, because He is a God of justice and holiness, He is going to check that book again looking for the name of that lost person, but it isn’t going to be there. There is only one way to keep your name in the book of life. Jesus said, “I am the Way.” Paul said in Romans 10:9, 13 (NKJV) “…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The time to call upon him is now. Today is the day of Salvation. Now is the accepted time. Tomorrow may be too late to be sure that your name remains written in that Book of Life.
Judgment is going to come. When God searches the Book for your name and it isn’t there, judgment will come. Verse 15 says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Judgment is complete. Judgment is final. There is no appeals court. There is no purgatory. There is no way out.
But that isn’t quite the end of the story. Look over at chapter 21 verse 4. “God shall wipe the tears from their eyes.” Brother, God isn’t going to wipe the tears from the eyes of the lost. He is going to be wiping the tears from the eyes of the saints in heaven. There is going to be sorrow on that day because husbands and wives are going to be separated for all eternity. Parents and children, brothers and sisters will never be together again. Friends will no longer be seen. There are going to be tears of sorrow on that day as Christians wonder what more they could have done to win that loved one to faith in Jesus Christ. But then it will be too late. Now is the time for tears. Today is the day to witness. Tomorrow may be too late to share Jesus Christ with that lost person.
Maybe you’ve been praying for years that someone you love would come to know the Lord. When was the last time you shared the gospel with them? I’m not talking about inviting them to church; I’m talking about showing them from God’s Word how much He loves them and how they can enter that relationship with Jesus if they only believe.
Lost Friend, what are you going to do with Jesus? If you are lost, if you have never asked Jesus Christ to come into your life and save you, you are destined for hell. If you were to die right now, you would go to hell. But you don’t have to. You can change your destiny with a simple prayer. Just pray to God, “Father I am a sinner. Forgive me of the sins I have committed. Jesus, I know that you died on the cross for my sins, and on the third day, you rose again. I confess that you are Lord of the universe, and now I want you to be Lord of my life.” And then thank him. The Bible says that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, so if you do this, welcome to the family of God. Find you a pastor that you can talk to about this decision, and let him guide you through your next steps. But let me know that you’ve made this decision so that I can pray for and rejoice with you.
To listen to the audio of this sermon, click on this link.
For the last several weeks, I have been preaching on the future of every human being that has ever existed. Below, you will find the first of several installments taken from these messages. To listen to the audio of this sermon, click here.
Philosophers, scientists, and poets all say that the future is not written in stone and that you can make it what you want it to be. They say that your destiny is in your own hands and to a point, that may be true. There are decisions that you can make that will shape your future: education, career, marriage, children, etc. Those are but some of the decisions we can make that will determine what life is like for us in the future – but that’s only part of the future.
I am going to tell you right now that there are some aspects of the future that are written in stone. It is the future of all mankind, and you can find it in the Bible. You know, the sad thing is that it seems these days that everyone wants to know what the future holds for them, but they keep looking in the wrong places. People read their horoscopes every morning. They pay to have biorhythm charts made up to see what kind of day they will have. They go to these palm readers, all because they want to know what their future is. Well, I’m going to tell your future for you today as the Bible teaches it. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.”
Try to understand this. Your life is going to end one of two ways. One, just as every human being that has ever lived except for Enoch and Elijah has died, you will die. Or two, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you will be raptured – taken from the Earth much like Enoch and Elijah were taken, but this time, it will happen when the trumpet of the Lord sounds and Jesus comes to claim His bride – and only those of us who have held to His teachings, who are truly His disciples, will be taken.
But just as your life is going to end one of two ways, your life will also continue one of two ways. You will either go to heaven, or you will go to hell. Heaven is a place of eternal peace and joy in the presence of God. There is no more pain, no more sorrow, and no more suffering. But Hell is a different story. Hell is a place of eternal torment where the flames burn hot but never consume and where the conscience constantly torments but the soul never dies. Jesus taught us in Luke 16 that at the moment of death, the soul of man went to a place that the Greeks called Hades. This was the resting place of the dead. On one side of Hades was Abraham’s bosom where the righteous dead, those who believed in God, were sent. The other side was the hell that we know of as the place of eternal damnation, the lake that burns with never ending fire, where the pain never ceases. Fixed between the two was a great span that could not be crossed. When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, I believe that he went to Hades. 1 Peter 3:19 tells us that Jesus descended into Hell itself where for three days He presented Himself as the Messiah, the Savior of the world to the unbelievers and evil-doers of Noah’s day to show them that not only had Noah been victorious but also that the complete victory over sin had been won. Then He also preached to the Old Testament saints so that all of the righteous people who died before would have the opportunity to believe on the name of Jesus because, my friends, salvation is found only in the name and person of Jesus Christ. And the good news is that Paul says in Ep. 4:8 that when he ascended he led the captives free, the righteous in Abraham’s bosom, to their new home in glory.
It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment. I tell you today that unless Jesus returns before that day comes, all of us will experience death. We are going to die, and at the moment of death we will face our judgment. At the moment you die, your destiny is sealed. If during your lifetime you have confessed your sin before our Holy God, trusted in the fact that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, but rose again three days later, and professed with your mouth that He is Lord of your life, then your destiny is heaven. Your judgment is for eternity in glory. If you have never confessed your sin to God and made Jesus the Lord and Savior of your life, your destiny is Hell. It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.
More next week.
Serendipity! I think that is the word that I am thinking of: a blessed and unexpected moment that God gave me this morning. As I was leaving the house, I was adjusting my Bluetooth headset around my neck and “accidentally” hit the button that started the music on my iPhone. What a thrill touched my heart as I heard the voice of Wes Hampton along with the rest of the Gaither Vocal Band singing “I’ll Pray for You” (https://youtu.be/UhrxwsA9gQM). If you have never heard that song, you need to find it immediately and listen. Better yet, find the lyrics, too, and read them as you listen. Immediately following this song came Laura Story’s “Blessings” ( https://youtu.be/XQan9L3yXjc). You need to listen to this one as well.
These are two powerful songs about the power of God’s presence through the trials of this life. Just to whet your appetite, Wes Hampton sings, “… heart so broken, God is so far… sleep won’t come, tears won’t quit… can you remember, I won’t forget… when you can’t think, you can’t even pray….” Have you ever been there? I have. I am. We are. Then all of a sudden, Wes sings, “…please hold on to one thing that’s true, all this time He’s holding you.” And I can tell you from one fellow pilgrim to another in this life’s spiritual journey, he is exactly right. During these last 7 months, on more occasions than I can count, I have heard God’s voice and felt His tender embrace. During this very difficult time, I have been asked over and over how I have been able to keep going. This is why. God’s presence was more than adequate to carry me through the most difficult of the days.
Then as I listened to Laura Story, God spoke to my heart. “What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? And what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near? And what if the trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?” Wow! As I looked back over these last 7 months, I realized that there had been many sleepless nights and unending tears as I cried out to God. In that moment, God showed me that He has been using these trials to strengthen and heal me. I have learned lessons about myself that I had refused to hear. I have seen changes in the way I think about things. And He has shown me what true forgiveness is all about as He has forgiven me for my sin and as He has empowered me to forgive those who I felt had wronged me. Pay attention to what I am about to say: nothing is more freeing – nothing is more healing – than to forgive and release those people who have hurt you without the expectation of an apology or a confession. Truly, the trials of this life have been His mercies in disguise.
So, my friends, as you read this, if you are going through the fires of this life or the flood of problems seems like it is about to overwhelm you, remember the words of Isaiah 43: 1-3.
1 But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
3 For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
And think about this: as a child of God, He didn’t give Egypt, Ethiopia or Seba as your ransom. He gave His only begotten Son. That should be enough to get you through the darkest valleys of this life. I know it has been for me.
It has been a very busy couple of weeks, and that is why I haven’t posted since May 1. From preparations for revival to the week of revival capped off with our Mother’s Day celebration – pastors will understand what that is like. The physical, emotional, and spiritual exertion can leave you drained, but the powerful services we have experienced since last Sunday have been amazing. Bro. Ed Lacy, our evangelist, and Bro. Tommy Gray, our music leader, did a fantastic job, but it was the Holy Spirit that moved in our midst that took us to the mountaintop. While we had no professions of faith, I know that some of us truly had an encounter with God that has renewed our strength and our hope that He is about to do something amazing at Southside.
But have you ever noticed in the Scripture – or maybe you have seen it with your own eyes – how our tendency is to come crashing back down into the valley. It happened with Elijah after Mt. Carmel. It happened with the disciples after the Mount of Transfiguration. It happened to Ananias and Sapphira after Pentecost. And it happened to Israel at Mt. Sinai. After having heard the audible voice of God and seeing the display of His glory as He came down on the mountain, they rebelled against Him and broke the first two commandments by worshiping the golden calf. In forty days, they went from the mountaintop to the depths of depravity that is hard to even imagine. How? Why? And can we learn anything from their experience?
In my message yesterday (May 14, 2017), I shared what I see to be four fatal flaws that caused Aaron and the people of God to turn away from God. I will briefly share them with you and then encourage you to listen to the sermon for which I will leave a link below.
Turning from God results from a:
And we all know the outcome. The people found themselves living in perversion – the phrase in v. 7 that says they corrupted themselves literally means that they were running to destruction. And Aaron did nothing to restrain them. As a result, they lost their position as God’s people. Look at chapter 32. All of a sudden, God stopped calling them “My people.” Now they were Moses’ people. But God did what He always does – He provided for them a second chance. You can’t tell me that the God of the Old Testament isn’t a God of grace. He most certainly is. The good news is that His grace is still poured out on all those who choose to repent and come to Him. And it doesn’t matter what your sin is. As long as you come to God on His terms, He will forgive and welcome every prodigal back. But we must make the choice.
If you would like to listen to the audio of this message, go to http://media.drbenhayes.net/?name=2017-05-15_051417am.mp3.
This week, as you can imagine, my mind has been focused on the subject of revival. For some reason, all of a sudden I began thinking about the number of people that I had seen revived physically. I have watched as CPR has been performed – some survived and some didn’t. I have seen people put on ventilators with heroic measures taken to revive them – some survived and some didn’t. I’ve heard countless stories of people who have been brought back to life after they have died. They were revived. And I began to think, what exactly happened to them? Most of them probably had a greater appreciation for life after such a dramatic episode, but their lives, most likely, kept right on with the same routine as before. And my thought was, “I don’t want that kind of revival.” Then it hit me: spiritual revival – at least the kind found in the Bible — isn’t about restoring life back to the old routines; it’s about bringing new life where there is no life. It’s about God breathing His breath into our spiritual lungs so that we can be the church He created us to be. We look at revival as something scary – or at least so supernatural that we cannot begin to comprehend it – when its purpose is to simply restore us back to normal. But let me make one thing perfectly clear: it is God’s normal and not ours.
So, what exactly should we expect if God chooses, in His Divine Sovereignty, to grant to us the desires of our hearts and send revival? Yes, hearts will be changed, families will be healed, and relationships will be restored, but what does that equate to in the church? What is the “new/old normal” that we will experience? As I compare what took place with the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai when God came down to meet with them and what will take place should God come down to meet with us, I came away with two conclusions: He will reveal the truth to our hearts, and He will transform our character to accomplish His purpose.
From the time that the Jewish people left Egypt up to this point in their history, they perceived God to be some kind of divine vending machine. They were hungry and cried out to God, so He sent them manna. They were thirsty and cried out again, and He gave them water from a rock. They were bored with what God had provided and cried out again, so He gave them quail. Have a need? Pull the lever and God took care of it. Sadly, I fear that the modern-day church has done the same. Commit a sin and need forgiveness? Go to God and ask (which is the right thing to do) but then go back to life as “normal” and do the same thing over again and ask for forgiveness again (which is the wrong thing to do). Have a need regardless of your relationship with Him? Ask Him to take care of it. Pull the lever and watch God provide. No true gratitude. No change of heart. Just keep pulling the lever.
But when God came down to Mt. Sinai, He revealed to the people the truth of Who He is, and He is much more than a divine vending machine. Add to that the fact that when He came down, in spite of their preparations, they realized who they were, and they were terrified to be in His presence. In fact, they told Moses that they wanted to go back to the “old normal” and let Him do all the talking with God. “Just report back to us what He says,” they demanded. Why? Because it’s too hard for many to allow God to change their hearts and lives in the midst of the encounter. Many Christians and other church-going people feel the same way. “Pastor, you meet with God and tell us what He says.” The only problem is that encounters with the pastor are not enough to change our lives – only a face to face meeting with Holy God can accomplish His purposes for us.
And just what is that purpose? Exactly what He told the children of Israel in Exodus 19:5, 6. He wants us to be transformed in such a way that we understand what it means to be His prized possession, a priestly presence, and a purified people. He wants us to understand that in this encounter, He will change our hearts and our lives in such a way that we will truly demonstrate to the world how much God loves us, and we will serve to bring men to God and God to men. Isn’t that what the church needs today?
For a more detailed presentation of this truth, listen to the message from which this blog was taken. You can find it at http://media.drbenhayes.net/?name=2017-05-01_043017am.mp3.
As I was preparing my message for this past Sunday, staying on track with our them of “Telling the Story” as well as preparing for our revival services, I realized something. As I was studying the passage in Exodus 19 where God is telling the people to prepare themselves for their encounter with Him, I thought to myself: “These people have been encountering God all along their journey through the wilderness. He had been leading them with the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. He had been giving them miracle after miracle to meet their needs and speaking to them through Moses. What is so different about this encounter?” That’s when it hit me. God wanted to meet with His people and speak to them like He met with Moses. Doesn’t it make sense? God has always wanted a close, intimate, personal relationship with His people. Think about the Garden of Eden and how God came down to walk with Adam and Eve. Think about his relationship with Noah and Abraham and now Moses. This is what I believe: God longs to meet with all of His people face-to-face on a regular basis, but very seldom are we prepared spiritually to do that. The people of Israel weren’t, so He gave them instructions on how to prepare themselves.
When you read the story, the instructions almost seem like God just plucked a few things out of the air to force them to jump through hoops to get ready. Wash your clothes. Put up a boundary. Abstain from sexual relationships. I mean, come on. “Can you get any more random than this,” some might say. But think about it. This is a big deal. Coming into the physical presence of a Holy God for the first time. Hearing His voice for themselves and not through a mediator. If nothing else, the threat of death for touching the mountain should have told them something. But here is what is going on. God wants the people to go through these outward actions as a symbol of their inward motivations – to understand that it is the heart that must be right as we come into the presence of God. How do we know our hearts are right with God? Absolute obedience to His commands. Anything less reveals that we have a heart issue.
So how do we prepare for an encounter with God in the 21st century? I believe using the principles that I see in the practices God gave to His people. The three actions lend themselves in some way to all three of these principles, so I will not try to delineate which goes with each one, but this is what we need to do:
Only when we are willing to come to God on His terms can we ever expect to experience His presence and His power – and we definitely need both in this 21st Century world. To listen to the message that this blog post comes from, click on this link.