Close Encounters of a God Kind (Road to Revival Pt. 6) @SSPreacherman

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:

  • Separation. We must be separated from the world and worldly things. Now hang on. That doesn’t mean that you have to sell your house and all your possessions and move into a monastery. Look at the story in Exodus 19. Do you notice what God did when He wanted to talk to Moses and the leaders of Israel? He called them away from the rest of the people. And then when He wanted to speak specifically to Moses, He separated him even further from the leaders of Israel. I want you to notice something here. God had spoken to Moses in the camp many times before, but in order for Moses to experience God’s supernatural presence, he had to climb the mountain. If we are going to experience the presence of God in our lives, then we are going to have to be willing to pay the price to spend some time alone with God. What are you willing to give up in order to encounter the supernatural presence of God?
  • Seeking God with our whole heart, with every aspect of our being. That’s what Jeremiah 29:13 is talking about, and that is what is required. Let me ask you a question: have you ever been homesick? I don’t know if there is anything that feels worse than being homesick and not being able to return home. That’s the situation of the people of Israel, in Jeremiah’s day. They were in exile, separated from everything they loved, including, at least in their own minds, their God. So, He says to them, “When you get to the point that you cannot stand it any longer and your heart is consumed with a desire to experience my presence, then you will find me, and I will take you home.” But that is the key. We have to want Him with all of our hearts. Have you gotten to the point that you want to meet with God more than anything else in this life because you know that He holds the solution to all of your problems in the palm of His hands?
  • Submission. Oh, man, is that hard or what? But that’s the requirement. James 4:7, 8 says, “Submit yourselves to God. Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.” James is talking about coming to God in repentance, renouncing all the practices and teachings of our former lives outside of Christ. Surrendering our wills to His will. Simply saying, “Yes, Lord. Whatever you say.” The question is, have you come to the point in your life that you are willing to say to God, “Whatever it takes to come into your presence, Lord, I will 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.

The Road to Revival Pt. 5 @SSPreacherman

Several months ago, we had a city-wide prayer gathering here in Decatur prior to the national elections. Actually, it was one of two city-wide prayer gatherings sponsored by our Morgan Baptist Association. My responsibility was to try to explain why we were gathered together to pray. It was not supposed to be a Baptist thing. Nor was it supposed to be a Republican thing. It was supposed to be a Christian thing. Believers pouring their hearts out to God asking Him to provide direction to our nation – to bring healing to a nation that has suffered for so long under the influence of the demonic that many cannot even tell the difference between right and wrong any longer. The Bible is clear: God pronounces judgment on those who call evil good and good evil. We must find our way back. We must right the ship. We must, once again, discover the moral compass that can only be provided by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will only indwell the children of God. As good Baptists, we believe that we receive the Holy Spirit at salvation, but we also believe that unconfessed sin in our lives quenches the power of the Spirit working through us and it interrupts the flow of our relationship with the Father. That is how we find ourselves in need of finding our way back to the moral compass, and sometimes the problem becomes so bad that we need something even greater. It’s what I spoke of on that morning at our  prayer gathering. This is an enhanced version of my text:

My job this morning is to explain in just a few minutes why we are here. There is no better way to do that than to share God’s Word. We are here today because God has shut up the heavens and there is no rain. God has given the command and locusts are devouring our land. He has spoken and pestilence is raging. While we are experiencing drought in our part of the country, today I am referring to a drought of His Holy Spirit, and the locusts are the demons and dark forces that are stealing His Word from the hearts of even His people so that many have been deceived, and we are suffering from a pestilence of apathy that has turned to animosity towards all that is holy and righteous. And the result in 2016 (and now in 2017) is the same result as it was for Israel in 721 B.C. when Assyria swept in and swept them away into exile. The result is the same as it was for Judah in 587 B.C. when the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem and carried them away and again for Israel in 70 A.D. when the Romans came.

In the United States of America, because the church has turned its back on God, I truly believe that we are facing the hand of God’s judgment, and our only hope is the very prescription that God gave to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14. If my people – not the president or the congress or the Supreme Court, but His people – who are called by His name – those of us called Christians – will humble themselves – not wait for Him to humiliate us through discipline though I believe that is coming but will voluntarily humble ourselves – and pray – that’s what we are here for today, to pray – and seek My face – not the face of a pastor or a politician but the face of Holy God – and turn from our wicked ways – and this is the hard part because it requires that we admit that we are living lives of wickedness, that even those things that we call little sins must be confessed as sin against a holy God, repented of with all of our hearts, and turned from with all of our might and God’s help  because only then, God says – only then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

This, my friends, is what we desperately need. This is what I am praying for in my life. This is what I am praying for in my church. This is what I am praying for in my nation. Would you join me in this prayer? And pray for us at Southside Baptist Church as we journey toward revival May 7-10 with Bro. Ed Lacy, Evangelist and Bro. Tommy Gray, Musician leading us.

The Results of Revival (Pt. 1) @SSPreacherman

Last week, we started on the road to revival. I shared with you four steps on that road that I believe that every Christian must take if they hope to experience the kind of awakening that we need as a church and as a nation. This week, I want to continue along the same path, so to speak, but with a little different emphasis. As we continue to look at the story of King Hezekiah, what do we see as the result of revival and can we glean from this story some of the signs that revival is necessary? But we must understand one very foundational truth. Revival does not come easily. 2 Chronicles 31:21 says that Hezekiah “sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.” Revival is hard work.

In 2 Chronicles 30 we see that as a result of the revival, there was a renewed desire to follow God’s commands. That’s why in verses 1 and 2 Hezekiah decided it was time to renew the Passover Celebration. From their deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites had been commanded to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the first month of their year. For centuries they had done this, but the country had rejected God and His commands so greatly that for years they had not done this. In fact, many had forgotten the requirements for participation. One of the sure‑fire signs that revival is needed is when people start neglecting biblical principles. In a church, the people stop attending Sunday School and Discipleship Training. They stop reading their Bibles. Pretty soon they start missing prayer meeting. Not long after that, attendance on Sunday night is sporadic. Eventually, they begin to miss on Sunday morning until one day they wake up and realize they have fallen away from God.

In a country, people stop caring about their fellow man. They stop thinking about the Bible and its principles. They outlaw its reading in the public schools. Pretty soon they start legalizing the murder of babies. Before you know it, our children begin to be indoctrinated with godless principles, Satanic powers, and the forces of evil through the media and through the schools. Ultimately, without revival, the end is the complete outlawing of the church, of worship, and evangelism. My friend, unless we wake up, our nation will be destroyed for lack of revival. Revival calls us back to obedience of God’s commands. Then it causes us to seek out others and convince them to follow God’s commands. We call this evangelism or perhaps reclaiming our backslidden brothers and sisters in Christ.

Hezekiah was not satisfied with celebrating the feasts of God with only his family or his city. He sent out messengers from Dan to Beersheba, throughout all of Judah and into Israel. He didn’t care that the people of Israel hated the people of Judah. It didn’t matter that they were openly hostile to their Jewish kin and had been ever since the kingdoms had divided after the death of Solomon. He believed God wanted all of His chosen people to experience revival, so he went out to get them. He extended the invitation to everyone regardless of their nationality.

Listen, when revival comes, there is a renewed desire to reach out and bring others in. God’s people who have repented of their sin and recommitted themselves to God’s service, are endowed with a desire for and a power to reach out and bring others into their new life. Really, this is simply a part of following God’s commands. In a church, we are always supposed to be evangelizing, reaching out, ministering. But sometimes we stop. And to stop witnessing is to die. Revival brings renewal and life.

A sure sign that revival is needed is that artificial barriers are erected. For a church and a nation, revival means breaking down those barriers like race and economic status. It means forgetting the hostilities and tensions that keep us from reaching out to people who are not “like” us. It means people can love one another and work together, and when we are willing to do that, we make our church and our country a better place. Historically, revival brings a reduction in crime. It means an abundance of volunteer labor. It means a complete change in our society as education of our children and medical care for the elderly receives proper attention by our legislators because priorities get straightened out.

Don’t misunderstand. Hezekiah did not have a 100% success rate. In fact, only a small remnant from the Northern Kingdom responded positively. The majority laughed at the messengers. They ridiculed the invitation. Some people reject the proposition that serving God can make a difference. They have no hope. The sin in their lives has caused such moral depravity that they wouldn’t want to change things even if they thought it was possible. But when people become so entrenched in sin because of years of sinful activity, they can’t see a need for change. But even a handful of changed people can make a difference. Even a small group of dedicated men and women committed to the cause of Christ could change the direction of a church or a community or even a nation.

The Road to Revival (Pt. 4) @SSPreacherman

In the closing verses of 2 Chronicles 29, we see that renewed commitment to God and a restored connection with God evidences itself in renewed worship. It is the fourth step on the pathway to revival: the Rejoicing of Our Congregation. Look at what happened to God’s people:

  • They came together to worship through public cleansing rituals. They offered sacrifices for their sins. I have always been amazed at the willingness of the Jewish people to publicly confess their sins. That is so foreign to us, but James 5:16 says that we are to confess our sins one to another. I know that this verse speaks to specific circumstances, but I believe that it’s a sign of God’s presence when we have enough confidence to confess our failures to one another. You may wonder why I include this in the rejoicing part of this journey. It is because there is something about this exercise that releases us so that we can celebrate with our brothers and sisters when it is done.
  • Following the cathartic experience that undoubtedly released the power of God’s Spirit into the hearts and lives of His people, they worshiped through music. For hours, the people bowed down before God praising and praying as the music played. When revival comes, celebration is inextinguishable. Listen, I think sometimes we need to get down on our faces before God, laying our entire selves on the altar, at the feet of Jesus to do with as He chooses. To be serious and somber and to allow the Holy Spirit to move in our hearts to cleanse and change us. But once that process is over, then we celebrate.
  • Then the people worshiped through giving. They gave so many offerings that the priests couldn’t handle them all. I don’t know a church who wouldn’t get excited about this part of revival. My friend, when revival takes place, our spirits desire to give everything to God knowing that He will supply all our need.
  • Finally at the close of the service that had lasted for hours, the people rejoiced at what God had done. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. When I was a youth, our church experienced this kind of revival. Hours seem like minutes. No one wants to leave because the presence and the power of God is there. It’s palpable. And no one complains about how long the preacher preaches or how long the invitation goes. It’s amazing.

But we have to understand that revival doesn’t begin in a place. It doesn’t begin with a ritual. It doesn’t begin because we follow a set of directions. It begins in your heart. It begins in your prayer closet all alone, but it culminates in exciting worship together as the community of Christ celebrating the victory that is ours.

Let me close this week’s blog, The Road to Revival, with the lyrics to Kari Jobe’s new song, Let Your Glory Fall. Make it your prayer today. Here is a link to listen to her sing the song:

A longing stirs in my soul
Draws me near
Calls me close
Deeper into this love
That won’t run out
Won’t dry up
Oh, let it rain
Oh, let it rain

Only now will I come
Before your throne, holy one
By your thunderous grace
Spirit flood, come flood this place
Oh, let it rain
Oh, let it rain

Let your glory fall
Overwhelm my soul
Let your presence flood my life, oh lord

Deep is calling to deep
Revivals tide, breaking free
Jesus reign in this place
Thirsty we cry, heaven in vain

Let your glory fall
Overwhelm my soul
Let your presence flood my life, oh Lord

Break upon me now
Let your love crash down
Let your glory fall
Let your glory fall

Oh, let it rain
Oh, let rain
Oh, let it rain
Oh, let it rain
Oh, let…

The Road to Revival (Pt. 3) @SSPreacherman

Our third step on the road to revival is the Restoration of Our Connection with God through a right relationship. Bahkt Singh, an evangelist in India, once told of a man who had come to his room for Bible Study. During the entire time, he sat staring at the electric light bulb that hung from an cord in the ceiling. He had never seen anything like it. After the meeting, the man requested to borrow the bulb. Bahkt Singh granted the request, but days later, the man returned, downcast, because the new bulb was worthless. Bahkt Singh went to investigate why the bulb would not light. The answer was obvious. The innocent man had taken the bulb and tied it with a piece of string to his ceiling. He had no electric power in his house. The bulb had no power supply. My friend, the light bulb for Christians is faith. God is the power supply. The problem is that our connection to the power supply is hindered because of our sin. As Christians, our salvation is secure; however, our fellowship is broken when there is unconfessed sin in our lives. Trying to serve God and do His will when we are living in the flesh is like trying to power a light bulb with a piece of string.

In 2 Chronicles 29:16, the priests went in as Hezekiah had ordered to cleanse the Temple. For 16 days, the Levites carried out the filth, the impurities that had polluted the sacred place. For sixteen days, they worked to cleanse the Temple and make it right before God. He knew that there was no hope to restore the connection with God as long as as the Temple was unused and unusable. If you hope to experience revival in your life, you are going to need to clean out the filth. Get honest with God. Ask Him to reveal to you the unconfessed sin in your life – but be prepared for Him to do what you ask. Then, as the Holy Spirit shows you the sin in your life and all that is opposed to God’s holiness, you must confess and repent each and every sin. Specifically. That means you agree with God that these actions and inactions are sin and must be forsaken. Only then is Cleansing initiated. All that is contrary to Christ, must be gotten rid of — no matter how long it takes. Take out the uncleanness found through self‑examination and prayer. Clean out the accumulation from years of neglect. Confess and renounce your sin. That means that you are making a commitment, with God’s help, never to commit that sin again. What a thrill it must be to the Father to hear His children say that they want to be holy as He is holy.

But beware. Sometimes God requires us to do more than just confess and repent of our sins. Sometimes we must go to those individuals that have been affected by our sins and ask for forgiveness. There may be times that God requires that we make restitution for our sin. Whatever the Holy Spirit asks of us, we must do or we risk quenching the Spirit, and quenching the Spirit will always stop the process of revival in its tracks. We must remember that disobedience always breaks the heart of God.

Sadly, too often Christians try hard to ignore sin in their lives. They hide it, push it down, and try to pretend it isn’t there. But it is. And it festers and boils until it explodes causing harm to them and very often the body of Christ. That is why it is imperative that while we are on this road to revival that we open our lives to God and allow His Holy Spirit to make us clean. Anger, bitterness, hostility, hatred – all of these sinful behaviors must be done away with. Impure thoughts must be confessed and cleansed. Broken relationships must be healed. Old wounds must be forgiven before personal revival can begin. My friend, when we do these things, revival is on the way. Revival for you, for me, for our church, for our world.


The Road to Revival (Pt. 2) @SSPreacherman

The second step on the road to revival is the Renewal of Our Commitment. In 2 Chronicles 29:10, Hezekiah said, “I intend to make a covenant with the Lord.” Understand, making a covenant, or a commitment, is not a bargaining process. Hezekiah wasn’t saying, “now God if you will remove our problems, we will clean up the Temple and start serving you again.” Listen, we cannot expect God to forgive us and deliver us until we learn that our commitment is imperative in this process. We must make a commitment. Hezekiah said, “I will make a covenant with God and then He will turn His wrath from us.” Lest you misunderstand, we don’t make a commitment to God to avoid punishment. Many people think they can walk the aisle and be baptized so they won’t go to hell. My friend, that isn’t commitment. That is wishful thinking. Neither is promising God something in order that He will do something for you. That is trying to strike a bargain. The only commitment that God honors is that which begins with a desire to be rightly related to Him, and to be rightly related to Him means coming on His conditions.

What we desperately need is what the prophet Jeremiah called for in Lamentations 5:21. “Turn us back to you, O Lord, and we will be restored; renew our days as of old.” Jeremiah was talking about personal renewal – turning back to God. That kind of renewal begins with the mind. The apostle Paul said, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal (by the renovation) of your mind” (Romans 12:1, 2). The word “renewal” comes from the root word for “restore.” It speaks of “renovation.” It’s all about tearing out the old and replacing it with the new. The new mind that replaces the old mind is the mind of Christ that takes us from being at total enmity with God – completely separated from Him – to being at total peace with Him. And my friend, you cannot know true peace until you know God’s peace. But that takes a total commitment to be rightly related to Him.

When you pray, what do you pray for? Do you pray as a child before bedtime that God will care for you through the night? What about your waking hours? Do you talk to him about what you have done with the day He has given you? Do you go over your life with Him? Do you let His full light shine over your life, illuminating not only your faithfulness but also your failures? This is where our failure to experience revival begins ‑‑ lack of prayer. Lack of laying out our lives before God, lack of giving praise to God for what He has done, lack of asking guidance in our lives and submission to His will. Without prayer, we cannot experience revival because without prayer, we cannot be rightly related to God.

King David said in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The King James Version says, “renew a right spirit.” That was King David’s desire. He had always been a man after God’s own heart. He wanted to always be faithful to God and to His ways. But one day, as he took a little break from his kingly duties, he saw a beautiful young woman named Bathsheba, and he lusted after her. Not only was lusting after her a major sin, but also, Bathsheba was a married woman. However, that’s no problem when you are the king. At least, that is what David thought. He took her anyway, and soon she became pregnant. You see, the old saying is true. Be sure your sins will find you out. Again, David thought, no problem. He tried to cover his sin with trickery, but it did not work. Then came deception, but it did not work. Finally, he resorted to murder only to find out that God knew what he had done, and nothing else mattered. That’s when the powerful hand of God’s conviction came upon King David, and in repentance he cried out, “Have mercy on me, O God.” You see, as a child of God, you cannot be happy living in sin. He confessed his sin to God. He asked for cleansing, and just as the Bible promises in 1 John 1:8, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

But what we need is a commitment to turn back to God. The problem is that this is something that we cannot do on our own. For King David, it took a confrontation by Nathan the prophet. Even then he had to pray for God to create in him a clean heart and to renew in him a right spirit because there are some things that only God can do. Creating life, both physical and spiritual, fall into that category. Sin has so destroyed us that only God can fix us, and the way that He does that is to create in us a clean heart. So, today would you begin this second step on the road to revival by asking God to create in you a clean heart and to renew within you a right spirit today?

The Road to Revival (Pt. 1) @SSPreacherman

Over the next few weeks, I am going to take a break from what I have been doing with my blog to examine the Scripture in preparation for our revival services at Southside Baptist Church. My hope is that we will have more than just a few services from which we will walk away saying we had revival services. My prayer is that God will do a mighty work in our hearts and lives, but for that to happen, we must prepare ourselves. So, I want to begin by looking at several chapters in the book of 2 Chronicles that deal with one of the greatest national revivals in the history of God’s people. We talk a great deal about wanting revival and about needing revival. But I knew a lady who once said that she feared to pray for a great awakening because in the Bible, national revival seems to be a prelude for coming judgment. There is evidence to support her belief, but isn’t it better to have revival followed by judgment than to have judgment without revival preparation?  That is why we are going to look at what we must do as a church, as individuals, and as a nation to experience revival. I want us to be ready.

People often pray for a willingness to do whatever it takes for revival to begin in themselves. What does that really mean when you pray those words? Are you saying, “Lord, strike me down in some sort of way; Lord, give me a vivid emotional experience so that I may feel wonderfully exalted and worked up; and by this know I am being revived?” If so, what you are praying for is emotionalism, not revival. Listen, if revival is going to begin in me, if it is going to begin in you, it is going to begin with a Recognition of Our Condition. That is the first step on the pathway to revival. (Note that I am making an assumption here. There can be no revival unless you are first of all born again. Unless there has been a true conversion experience at some point in your life, you cannot be revived, so please take care to be sure that you are first saved as you look to recognize your condition.) Recognition requires a self‑examination in the presence of God; only that is going to lead us to look back over our lives, to examine ourselves and honestly answer some questions in the presence of God: “Have I really been living a yielded life? Have I been living so that my life has been a testimony for Christ?” And then, if revival is going to begin, if the Holy Spirit shows you that you are not living as you should, there must be a brokenness, contrition, repentance, and confession. In other words, for revival to begin, we must get down before the Lord to confess our failures and put right things that have been wrong.

These are the lessons we learn from 2 Chronicles 29:1-36. Ahaz, one of the more wicked kings in Judah, had defiled the sacred furnishings and closed the Temple in Jerusalem. The people no longer met for worship. Grass grew up in the courtyard. The Temple literally was falling apart. Listen, my friends, when God’s people stop worshiping properly, they stop praying properly. When people stop praying properly, their hearts and lives become as polluted and defiled as the temple was. Sin takes over when no confession is made. Our relationship with God and with one another is damaged. It doesn’t take long before we revert back to our natural selves: without Christ’s presence, carnal, lonely and miserable. When that happens, the only solution is a re-commitment and renewal of worship. Only then can prayers rise again. Only then can we feel the lines of communication open and experience the presence and power of God in our lives.

Look at what Hezekiah did when he became King. He went to the temple and saw its condition. He saw the disrepair. He saw the filth and the trash that had accumulated over the years. And when He did, he knew how it happened. He looked back over the years and saw what evil his fathers had done. He examined the history and saw that those before him had forsaken God. They had closed the doors and put out the lamps. They stopped bringing their offerings to the altar of sacrifice. And God’s anger had come upon them. Many had faced God’s wrath and been destroyed. Hezekiah realized that the first step in the pathway to revival is recognition of our condition. My friends, in this process,  contemplation is vital. I love the word contemplation. It means “concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion.”

The New Testament says that our body is the Temple of God. We need to do today as Hezekiah did. We need this concentration on spiritual things; we need to examine our Temple, our lives. We need to think back over our actions in the past. Too many Christians have closed the doors of prayer in their hearts. The lamps of testimony are unlit. Our offerings of self‑sacrifice have been neglected. The result is that the temple of our hearts has grown cold and hard. The result is that we have no joy. We cannot sing praise to God. There is no delight in Him or in His service. If that is your situation, then your temple needs renovation. Your heart requires a thorough cleansing. But you will never know this until you examine your life. Contemplation is vital.

Think back over your actions of the past week, the past month, the past year. Imagine that if at any time during this period the Lord Jesus had physically come to you, saw anything that you were doing, would you have been satisfied? The first step in the pathway to personal revival is self‑examination. So, spend some time today examining yourself through the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but we must allow the Holy Spirit to shine the light of conviction into our lives so that we might confess and repent of our sins.

Tell the Story:The Power to Deliver #TraditionallySouthside #TellTheStory

We live in a culture filled with people living in bondage. They are enslaved by their addictions. Enslaved by their fears. Enslaved by depression. Enslaved by their disease. Many are in prisons of their own making. But let me tell you something that is even scarier –  a statistic that is so dramatic that it should take your breath away. According to the most accurate researcher known to man, 100% of humanity is born as a slave to his sin nature that dooms him to an eternity in hell. We are all without hope until we recognize this problem and turn to the only One who can break the chains that bind us. The good news is that He has the power to set us free from all the prisons that we find ourselves in.

There is a story in the Old Testament that illustrates this fact. It is the story of the Exodus found in Exodus 14. God’s people were slaves in Egypt, beaten and humbled into submission. They had cried out to God for deliverance, and God had sent Moses to lead them into the Promised Land. Pharaoh, knowing that his kingdom could not survive without his 2 million slaves and because he was a wicked king, refused to let them go until God had punished the Egyptian people severely. Every firstborn male, human and animal, that was unprotected by the blood of a perfect lamb died at the hand of God as He passed over the land of Egypt. With that judgment, Pharaoh sent God’s people away; and then He changed his mind – again.  But we see in the story that it was all a part of God’s plan to ultimately deliver His people and judge a wicked kingdom.

Pharaoh sent them on their way, and the people gave them gold, silver, jewelry, precious garments, and all sorts of valuables as they were leaving just as God said that they would – sort of like payment for all of the work they had done as slaves for all of those years. But once they had gotten away, Pharaoh came to his senses and realized what he was letting go. Losing 2 million slaves was going to cripple the economy of the nation. They wouldn’t survive. His greed kicked in, and it overrode his grief and his common-sense. So one last time, the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he gathered his chariots and he began to pursue God’s people. And the people were afraid.

We can all understand this, can’t we? These were slaves that had been beaten down for many years. They weren’t military people. They had no weapons, and yet here was the world’s foremost military power coming after them. Sometimes, no matter what you do, no matter what you know, no matter what you have experienced in the past, your circumstances elicit fear. They were afraid. “Moses,” they said. “Weren’t there enough places in Egypt to bury us? Did you have to bring us out here in the wilderness to die?” Yes, just like last week’s story, they were doubting and pouting, but let’s be fair – there aren’t many of us who wouldn’t have been doing the exact same thing. But let me ramp up the pressure just a little bit. When you go back to the beginning of chapter 14, do you know what you find? God put all of this into motion. They could have been home free. They could have escaped another way. God could have delivered them without any problems, but He turned them around and set it all up. Do you know what this means? Sometimes the circumstances that we fear are created by the father.

 We don’t like to think about things like this, but God does it all the time in order to accomplish His purposes. And in this case, He’s accomplishing two things: He is judging the wicked King of Egypt, and He is proving that He is the Sovereign Lord. You see, sometimes the lost world needs to see that God is in control. And sometimes God’s people need to be reminded as well that in the midst of the storm that He is in control.

But here’s the thing. While sometimes God causes these things to happen, and He did in this particular circumstance, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that sometimes the circumstances that elicit fear are caused by our failures. In fact, the majority of the time that we find ourselves in these circumstances, we have to admit that they are of our own making, so let’s be careful not to blame God. We can’t blame God for our addictions. We can’t blame God for our sins. God doesn’t tempt us. So the first thing you must do when you find yourself in a bad situation — when the storms of life are raging and you are scared to death and aren’t sure where to turn – the first thing to do is to find out if it is one of those times or not. Because if it’s your doing, you may need to make some changes in your life. You may need to do some repenting. But either way, your first step is to start praying and let God show you what He wants you to do.

Remember that through all of the circumstances of your life, God has a plan, and that plan, Child of God, is to prosper you and not to harm you. Paul tells us that all things “work together” for our good. John says that “we are more than conquerors.” Think about all of the promises in God’s Word. None of them say that life is going to be easy, but they do promise us that if we BELIEVE, God will break our chains and He will deliver us.

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The Power to Believe #TellThe Story #TraditionallySouthside

Everybody wants proof, don’t they? It’s always been that way. I can almost hear Adam those first days as he was walking in the Garden of Eden with God introducing him to all of the new and exotic fruits. “I’m supposed to eat that? Really? You first.” Human beings are skeptical in nature, and sometimes that keeps us out of trouble. It’s kind of like the woman I heard about one time who said that she believed in absolutely nothing. I mean nothing. She was actually so skeptical about everything that it kept her from becoming an atheist. Or like Ronald Reagan when he said that the most terrifying sentence in the English language is, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Being skeptical can sometimes keep us out of trouble, but there are times when we choose not to believe, when we decide that we need more proof than what we’ve seen, and that gets us into more trouble than we could ever imagine especially when we start demanding that kind of proof from God. But we all do it from time to time. That’s why the story I want to tell today is one of those stories that we need to tell our children and our children’s children just like Asaph recommends in Psalm 78. Do you remember what he says will happen if we do this? If we tell these stories that reveal all of our flaws and our shortcomings and God’s gracious response? He says that they will learn to place their hope in God and follow His commands. They need that especially in our 21st century world of cynical debate about everything under the sun, but we need it as well because too often we find ourselves struggling to live the Christian life because of our skepticism. If only we had the kind of faith that trusts in the power of a Holy God knowing that He has a plan for our lives…. If only we had the kind of faith that trusts in the power of a Holy God knowing that He is able to deliver us from whatever prison that holds us in our bondage…. If we had that kind of faith, we could live in victory and not defeat. And that is the story I want to tell over the next several days.

You find the story in the Book of Exodus between chapters 4 and 12, and if you read those chapters, you will see how God’s Plan Affects His People. God had called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, and Moses was perhaps the biggest skeptic of all, demanding proof and offering excuses. “I can’t talk to Pharaoh,” he said. “How can I convince him? Whom will I tell the people has sent me”? And God very patiently – well somewhat patiently – dealt with Moses’ excuses and provided him with the proof that he needed. But when you get to chapter 5, Moses had his first encounter with Pharaoh and makes that most famous pronouncement, “Let my people go! God wants my people to go into the wilderness to hold a feast. Just a 3 day journey into the desert or God’s gonna kill us.” Now some people say, “How come Moses is lying about this?” And I’m saying, “If God told Moses to say it, it’s not a lie. You know what I’m saying?” But Pharaoh refused to let them go, and instead, he increased their work load. Now, not only do they have to make the same number of bricks as before for all of the building projects, the Hebrew slaves also had to go out and find all of their supplies for themselves. The mud, the straw, everything. And when they couldn’t make their quota, it wasn’t just the slaves that were getting beaten. The Hebrew officers that had been set over the slaves were beaten and harshly treated.

And here is what happens when a skeptical people press for proof that God is able to do what He promises, and it doesn’t happen the way they think it should: The People Pouted. That’s right. These are the same people that were crying out to God for deliverance because their sons were being killed at birth, and their lives had been turned into a living nightmare. But when deliverance didn’t happen immediately, they pouted. They blamed Moses and Aaron. “It’s your fault,” they said. “You’ve made us a stench in the nostrils of the Pharaoh, and you’ve given him a reason to kill us.”

Not that the Pharaoh would kill the people of Israel. They were too valuable to the economy, and that is the root of the issue. Egypt could not survive without the slave labor the Hebrew people were providing. More than anything else, for the Pharaoh, this entire situation was about money, greed, and power.

But when God’s people did not get immediate relief, they pouted, and it wouldn’t be the last time that they did this. In fact, even after Moses led them out of the Promised Land, they brought this whole episode up again. Do you remember the story? When Pharaoh’s army was closing in on them at the Red Sea, once again, they had forgotten God’s promises, and they had forgotten what God was capable of doing and they had started to imagine the worst possible scenario. The Jews were sure that they and their children would die in the wilderness as soon as Pharaoh’s army caught up with them. The frightened people reminded Moses that they had told him to leave them alone, but he had persisted in challenging Pharaoh. Israel was now in a terrible predicament, and to them, Moses was to blame.

Unbelief has a way of doing that to us. It erases from our memories all the demonstrations we’ve ever seen of God’s great power. It removes all the instances we know of God’s faithfulness to His Word. Suddenly even our own culpability as to why we are in the predicament in the first place is gone.  We have no idea why God would allow us to suffer or struggle or be where we are (not that this was the case for the Israelites or even for you). That’s why this story is so important. It reminds us. It stirs our memories. It helps us to recognize that God is always there and He is able. It gives us the power to believe.

You can listen to this message at this link.

God’s Calling #TellTheStory #TraditionallySouthside

Have you ever gotten one of those phone calls that changes everything? Maybe for good? Maybe for bad? It could be about a job that you applied for, and the call comes in and the person on the other end of the line tells you that you’ve been hired. Or maybe it’s your doctor, and they tell you that the test results are very bad and he needs to see you in his office immediately. There are moments in life when a call changes everything: before — life is great; after — everything is…different. It could be better; it could be worse. That is why I am spending so much time re-telling the great stories of the Bible; they teach us the lessons that help us to cope when we find ourselves on the mountaintops of life or when life plunges us into the deepest valleys. Both of these occasions are fraught with peril. When we experience the highs and the lows of life, we find ourselves tempted to turn away from God – and that is when we get into trouble. Asaph reminded us in Psalm 78 that these stories would help us train our children so that they would set their hope in God and keep His commandments so that they could avoid many of the ups and downs that come from a life lived out of fellowship with God.

For Moses, life was full of those roller coaster kinds of moments. After he was pulled out of the basket by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was raised in the lap of luxury. Nursed by his mother and taught who he was as a Hebrew but raised as the grandson of Pharaoh, he experienced the best of both worlds. For forty years, he lived in the palace, but he grew up watching his fellow Israelites struggle to survive. One day he went out to see what was happening in the world of his people, and when he saw one of the Egyptians beating a Hebrew slave, he became so enraged, he killed the Egyptian and tried to hide the body. I wonder what he must have been thinking. Maybe he thought that he was going to be considered a hero among the Hebrews for defending one of their own. Maybe he even thought about becoming their deliverer – dreaming about the possibility of leading his true people to freedom. But the very next day as he went back out to walk among them, he saw two of his own fighting each other, and when he tried to break them up, one of them mocked him, and asked, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”

Do you see it? Up and down. Living in both worlds. Respected by neither because sure enough, Pharaoh found out about his actions, and Moses was forced to run for his life. But let’s remember that one of the most important aspects of these stories is that when we fall down in this life and we find ourselves in the depths of despair, by God’s grace, we can choose to get back up again. Now it took Moses a while – 40 years in fact. He ran far and he ran long. He ran all the way to Midian on the other side of the Sinai Peninsula. He married Zipporah, the daughter of a priest, and became a shepherd. Understand what that meant for Moses. Growing up as the grandson of Pharaoh, he no doubt picked up the hatred of sheep and shepherds that the Egyptians had, so he had fallen to the bottom of the social scale doing for the next 40 years the last thing he ever imagined he would be doing. And that is when the call came that changed Moses’ life forever. It wasn’t a phone call. It wasn’t an e-mail. It wasn’t even a FaceTime call. This was God coming down from heaven for a face-to-face meeting with the man that would deliver His people.

What can we learn from this story? Three things. We learn that when God calls someone, His calling is personal. He Himself makes the invitation. He doesn’t send someone else to do it – He does it Himself. And His calling is specific. One of the things that impresses me about this story is that you don’t see Him calling out, “Hey, buddy. I’m looking for a shepherd. You interested?” He calls Moses by name because He is looking for Moses. Specifically. And He came to where Moses was. But that’s what God does. He comes to where we are and offers us the wonderful privilege of serving Him.

We also learn that God’s Calling is Powerful. You cannot read this story and not see the power-packed elements. I mean, it’s a burning bush that isn’t consumed. You can try to explain it away, but I see a literal miracle here which by the way is how I describe every experience of God calling a human being because it is God calling a human being. And we need because it is the power of the revelation that prepares us for the mission to which He has called us. You see, God’s call is preparation for ministry. Moses didn’t know it at the time, but God had a plan for him just like he has a plan for each of us. It’s sad that many Christians never realize this truth, but God doesn’t call us into this relationship with Himself without a plan for us to get involved in the ministry – our calling, just like Moses’ calling, is part of the preparation process.

That is the third thing we learn. God’s Calling is Purposeful. One thing is for sure, God never does anything accidentally or coincidentally. There is a plan involved. There is a purpose. God had a purpose when He called Moses. That purpose was to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt. He also had a purpose when He saved you. Yes, He saved you from your sin and He saved you to the promise of heaven, but He also saved you to a life of service just like Moses. He called you to be a deliverer to others who are living in bondage to sin. It is up to you to tell them about Jesus. He has called you to serve – to help them get back up when they fall down – by sharing with them His grace. God has a purpose and a plan for your life. It’s why God has called you and made you a part of His church, but you have to discover where you fit in.

To hear the audio sermon upon which this blog is based, click on this link:

Unsung Heroes and Overcoming Evil #TraditionallySouthside

One of my biggest heroes in the world is a midwife in Pensacola, Florida. That’s right – a midwife. Her name is Jenny Allen, and she saved my granddaughter’s life. If it wasn’t for her, our little Lucy would probably be dead right now. God used her in an amazing way to do exactly the right things in exactly the right ways to keep her alive after she was born, and she is like a part of our family and always will be. She delivered Lily, and came to her birthday party yesterday. She is family. And she is one of my heroes.

She is an unsung hero, not unlike two women in the Bible that most people who upon hearing their names would say, “Who are they?” Shiphrah and Puah. You find their story in Exodus 1. When Joseph died and the years went by, a new Pharaoh came into power, and the good things that Joseph had done were forgotten. The truth is that a new dynasty came into being and there was a concerted effort to remove every trace of the history of that time. Documents were destroyed and all of the evidence of that period was removed. That is why it has been so difficult for historians to prove the existence of the Jewish people in Egypt, but it also explains why it was so easy for the animosity to build against the ancestors of Joseph so quickly. The Egyptians became fearful of the great numbers of the Jewish people and made them slaves, but the Jews continued to multiply. So the order was given to the midwives: kill all of the male babies.

For the most part, the stories in this series of messages have focused on men — men who were constantly struggling to be faithful to God. Falling, but by His grace, choosing to get back up again. We need to recognize that this is a mirror of our lives as Christians. An image of what it means to walk the path towards spiritual maturity, struggling to do the right things, knowing that we fall down and get up only to fall down again. But in the story of Shiphrah and Puah, we find a different kind of story – a story that reminds us about the strength God gives to do the right thing when we walk with Him – strength to overcome evil.

Considering what our children are facing today, could there be any better stories for us to tell? I know that there are no better outcomes than for our children and our children’s children to learn: how to overcome the evil that is running rampant in our society. So just how did these wise women of Israel stand strong against the powerful Pharaoh of Egypt and overcome the greatest evil of their day? The Midwives Overcame Evil By Their Fear of God. Look at v. 17. “The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them….” Now let’s be careful here. We tend to automatically translate the word “fear” as “awe” and “reverence,” but we have to be careful that we don’t give a New Testament understanding to this Old Testament passage of Scripture. While it is right that the word means to revere God and to have this holy awe of God, that is not completely true for these women. They did not have the same history that we have. They did not have the same relationship that we have. In other words, these ladies did not know God like we know God. Don’t misunderstand. They were honest and upright, and they were religious but only to a certain extent.

We would do well to understand what they knew about the fear of God because it is still true for us today, too. While they did not have a personal, intimate love relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they understood right from wrong. Just like every human being, God had instilled within them that knowledge, and undoubtedly their parents had taught them the stories of their ancestors. They knew enough about what their people had gone through to know that the consequences of disobeying God were serious. If you want to pull an important principle from this, here it is: it is imperative that we teach our children what the Bible teaches about right and wrong. But more importantly in this story, these women were more afraid of what God would do to them after death than what Pharaoh could do to them in this life.

That matches up with what Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 (NKJV).

 28  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

King Solomon said it, too. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s smart to recognize that the One who holds the ultimate key to our judgment is a holy God, and because Shiphrah and Puah did exactly that, they feared God more than they feared man. That is why they refused to kill the male babies. Listen. We ought to obey God because we love Him. We ought to obey God because we revere Him. But if nothing else works, we ought to obey God because we fear the consequences of our actions. Now I know some of you are sitting out there reading this and saying, “Preacherman, we are under grace. Our sins are covered by the blood.” You are absolutely correct, my friends, but understand my heart. While as a child of God, you aren’t going to go to hell for your sins, the last thing in the world that I want to do is to displease my Heavenly Father. What I live for most in this world is to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.” But God does more than that for these Hebrew women. When you read the rest of the story, you find that out.

Pretty soon, the Pharaoh took notice that there were lots of little Hebrew boy babies around, so he called Shiphrah and Puah in for questioning. Notice their response in v. 19. It wasn’t a lie – it just wasn’t the complete truth. “The Hebrew women are stronger than your Egyptian women. They give birth before we get there.” Now look at v. 21. “And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.” Do you know what that means? God rewarded their fear. You see, most midwives of that day were women who could not have children of their own, so because they feared God and obeyed Him, God blessed these women and gave them their own families. That’s what God does. When we obey Him, His blessings follow. Standing up to evil is always the right thing to do, and God will give you the strength to do it when you fear Him. But here is the good news. He rewards those who stand in the end!

I heard a great song this week that speaks to all who are going through the fires. It’s by Mercy Me and it’s called “Even If.” I’ve included the link for you to listen. It’s worth your time.

Lessons on Leadership Learned From the Bottom of a Well Pt. 2 #TellTheStory #TraditionallySouthside

Understand, Joseph was different. His philosophy of life is given to us in this passage of scripture. It’s possible that at the beginning of all this, Joseph thought about getting even. Who wouldn’t? Thrown into a well? Sold into slavery? Ending up in prison? Perhaps he had harbored some bitterness for a while. Who wouldn’t? But he had learned that there was no reason or place for bitterness because as he says in vs. 20, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”

But Joseph had learned more than that. Joseph had learned that in the midst of suffering and in the midst of adversity, God knows. God knew Joseph. He saw young Joseph in the bottom of that pit. He was with Joseph in Potiphar’s house. God was Joseph’s strength while he sat in that prison. God knew Joseph and exactly what he was experiencing. The truth is, God knows you, too. In fact, He knows more about you and your situation today than you know about yourself. The Bible says that God knows us intimately. Jesus said that God knows us so intimately that the hairs of our head are numbered. Now folks, I’ve got a lot of hair. My kids say it isn’t as much as it used to be, and if you could see my senior pictures from high school you would agree, but it’s still quite a bit. And God knows exactly how many there are.

Some of you might say, “Preacher, that’s silly. God has more important things to do than to count the hairs on my head.” Read this next statement very carefully. Nothing is more important to God than you! He created you. He knows the best there is to know about you, and He knows the worst there is to know about you, and in spite of it all He still loves you.

Do you want to know something that is incredible? God knows about you in times of trouble. In the midst of adversity and suffering — whatever it might be — God knows. Just as God knew every time Joseph was in trouble, the Lord God almighty knows your problems. We need to make sure that every young person hears this just like Asaph tells us in Psalm 78: when you’re out with your friends and they’re trying to talk you into doing something stupid, God is right there with you. He understands peer pressure. He knows temptations. In fact, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus Christ experienced every possible temptation that we would ever face. He knows what it’s like. And by the way, the very human Jesus faced those temptations without sin. And by the way, Senior Adult, when it seems like you’re about to give in and lose everything, God is there with you, too. He knows.

But sometimes it seems that it isn’t enough to know that God knows. There is another truth that Joseph learned in the midst of his suffering. Joseph learned that God cares. Joseph had learned it years earlier in that pit and in that prison. Just three chapters away in the book of Exodus, an entire nation learned that God cares. As the Egyptians forced them to work harder, as the Egyptians put their babies to death, the people of Israel began to cry out to God and there are three Hebrew words that are used to describe God’s response. He gazed intently at their sufferings; He heard their strangled cries of oppression; and He knew intimately their sorrows. You see, God cares.

God cares enough about you to get involved in your pain. He got involved in Joseph’s situation and worked in it for good. His brothers thought they were getting rid of Joseph. They were going to teach that arrogant, insolent teenager a lesson he would never forget. But God used it to get Joseph where He could use him. Potiphar’s wife thought she would teach this proud young man who refused to sleep with her a lesson, but God used it to put Joseph on the fast track to the palace. See, if Joseph had not been sent to prison, he would never have met the Pharaoh’s chief steward who would introduce Joseph to the Pharaoh in God’s timing. Joseph had learned that God cared for His children even in the midst of adversity.

I know that many people have been through things far worse than I have, but when a doctor tells you there is nothing more they can do for your granddaughter, it is easy to question whether God cares or not, but I promise you that He did. God demonstrated that care through His people. It was evident through the people reaching out to minister to our children and to us in that hospital waiting room three years ago. But even better, God demonstrated His care for us 2,000 years ago when  He gave His Son, Jesus, to die on Calvary’s Cross, to pay the price for your sin and for mine so that if we should believe in Him, we can have everlasting life and that is worth more than anything else in this life. That brings me to the third truth Joseph learned in the bottom of the well.

Joseph learned that God delivers. God delivered him from the pit. God delivered him from Potiphar’s wife. God delivered him from prison. And God delivered him to a place of power where he could save his people from starvation. So understand that if God can deliver Joseph from all of that, He can certainly deliver us from the petty little things that bother us. And if He can deliver us from the petty little things that bother us, He can deliver us from the major things that happen to us. And if He can deliver us from the major things that happen to us, I know that He can also deliver us from sin. Listen, we have a sin problem. It is all around us and it is within us, but praise God, He can help us to deal with it by His forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Do you know what it means to confess? It means that we agree with God that we’ve done wrong. It’s not enough to say, “I did it.” We’ve got to say, “I did it, I know it was wrong, and with your help I’ll never do it again.” And He will help. The Bible tells us that God strengthens us and empowers us so that we can live without yielding to the temptations that come against us. “Resist the devil and he will flee.” “Flee youthful lusts.” “Take on the whole armor of God so that you can fight.” God can deliver us from sin.

Not only can God deliver us from sin, but also He can deliver us from suffering. Understand, suffering is an inescapable fact of life. It’s inescapable because we live in a world poisoned by sin. But Jesus experienced suffering. He can identify with our pain – whatever it may be — because He’s been there. The truth is, a lot of people have been there. If I’m sinking in a pit of quicksand I don’t want someone to stand there and say, “I’ve been there, man.” And I don’t want someone to jump in with me and say, “I’m here for you” while he sinks to the bottom with me. I want someone who’s been there and overcome. Jesus Christ is that man. He is the good Shepherd who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. But the truth is He is the one who has conquered death. They nailed Him to Calvary’s tree. He died there, bruised and bloodied for our sins. It was necessary for Him to die, so that on the third day He would rise from the dead taking the sting out of death and the strength out of sin so that you and I could know that God knows, God cares, and God delivers.

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