The Best Compliment

Visitors generally like our church. We have inspirational music and singing led by sensitive worship leaders. Sermons are usually practical and helpful. (I’m no Charles Spurgeon, nor even a Joel Osteen, but I do preach the word of God from my heart.) We have a food table filled with goodies, not just the usual coffee and donuts. We have cheese, grapes, bananas and sometimes other fruits like strawberries. It’s yummy stuff like yogurt, bread, butter and jam. There’s something for every taste.

Best of all, the people of the Church of the Living Water tend to be very welcoming. One of our mottos is “No one sits alone.” Most members are good to talk with visitors both before and after meetings.

Guests are often impressed with a happy welcome and comment favorably. We hear, “I really liked the music!” or “This is wonderful church.”(Oh, yes, we get other comments too, mostly from ultra-conservatives who think God is angry with His children.)

Last Sunday I received the finest compliment ever from a first-time visitor. Here’s the background. In adult Bible Class which the visitor attended, we studied the Bereans of Acts 17:10. The Bible class leader encouraged us to be like the noble Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so,” rather than simply take whatever Paul dished out as divine truth.

It was a good study, but at the end I felt something was missing. Why do some Christians have so much correct doctrine, yet are so far off that many people don’t want to be around them? Why did the Pharisees of Jesus’ day get so far off that Jesus had to oppose them more than any other group? After all, they were the conservatives, the most dedicated “Bible-believers” of their time. The Pharisees knew the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem, yet they missed the Messiah!

Something more than Bible truth is needed. Something more than accurate information is required.

I mentioned that we need humility. My comments went along this line, “None of us are perfect. I as a pastor could be wrong, and may well be wrong in some areas. No church or denomination has it all. We all need to learn and grow. We need to have confidence in what we believe, yet allow others to see some things differently. Grace and humility win the day. When we get to heaven, God will straighten us all out.”

After the Bible class, the visitor remarked, “Because of my husband’s job we have moved a lot. We have visited many churches in many cities. You are the first pastor I’ve ever heard who admitted he could be wrong!”

I took it as the best compliment I’ve ever heard from a first-time visitor.

The Real Secret to Praying for Unsaved People

The Real Secret to Praying for Unsaved People.

Whatcha Gonna Be Doin’ on Judgment Day? (Part 2)

I just came across another Scripture that shows God-fearing people will be judging wicked people on judgment day.  It’s graphic and would be rated R for violence.  You can read the whole thing for yourself in the last book of the Old Testament.  It’s Malachi 4:1-3.

Verse 3 goes like this: “And you (the ones who fear God) will tread down the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts.

On about January 1, 2011 the Lord impressed me to “Prepare the people for judgment.”  I never thought I’d be doing this on Facebook!  And I admit I had a different concept of judgment at that time.  I thought of judgment exclusively as something we would get, not give.

I don’t want to minimize the fact that God as a loving Father will discipline, reprove, correct, and “spank” us, if I can use that term.  Judgment is part of His nature and something we all need in order to grow and mature.  But there’s more to the story. . .

After we’ve been “shaped up” through God’s discipline (judgment), we are chosen to join with Him in judging the world.  Read Part One of this series and decide on which side of the great bar of justice you’re gonna be at the great judgment day.

What are you gonna be doin’ on Judgment Day?

Your thoughts?

Whatcha Gonna Be Doin’ on Judgment Day?

The Great White Throne Judgment  –What Will You Do There?

My friend Brian posed a thought-provoking question a few days ago: “Why do you think there are only unbelievers and no Christians on trial at the Great White Throne Judgment?  I’ve always heard everybody had to face judgment on the Last Day.”

Good question, I felt.  After all, Brian pointed out, the verses there in Revelation 20 don’t explicitly say there are no Christians at this judgment.  In response, I’ve investigated and dug a little deeper.  I could be wrong, but for several  reasons I believe that no Christians, only unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment.

In John 3:18 Jesus declares, “He who believes in Him (the Son of God) is not judged.“  In John 5:24 Jesus reiterates, ”Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  True believers don’t even come into a final “life verses death” judgment.  That decision has already been made. If Jesus is not referring to the Great White Throne Judgment, what judgment could he be referring to? (Now we do know that all believers will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:10.  This is not a judgment about heaven or hell, but a decision about eternal rewards and place in heaven.)

In Revelation 20:10-15, the single Scripture that specifically names the Great White Throne Judgment, the only outcome is the lake of fire, the second death.  If true Christ-followers were present, the outcome would, of course, be eternal life with Christ in heaven.

The Bible speaks of two resurrections, a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the wicked.  At the first resurrection, the righteous will come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)  This is called the resurrection of life in John 5:29 and the resurrection of the righteous in Luke 14:14.  “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6)  In contrast, Revelation 20:5 states, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.”  And so we see there are 1000 years between the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the unbelievers.

Several Scriptures indicate believers will give judgment, not get judgment at that great Day of the Lord.  St. Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit teaches, “The saints will judge the world.” (I Corinthians 6:2)  This is the same concept we discover in Revelation 20:4 and 5 where the saints are described as reigning with Christ.  Further, The Queen of the South shall rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them.” (Luke 11:31) “And the men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they (the Ninevites) repented.” (Luke 11:32)

It’s not good to be overly dogmatic about things of the end times.  As my friend Brian later laughed and pointed out, our opinion doesn’t really matter.  What we know for sure is believers go to heaven and Christ rejecters don’t.

Today I Experienced Life’s Greatest Privilege

Today I led a woman to faith in Christ.  It made me so happy!  Here’s the story.

My wife and I finally decided to take the plunge and purchase cell phones.   We made an appointment to choose the plans and pick out the phones.  The saleslady and I chatted while waiting for my wife to arrive for the appointment.   We talked about her job, how long she had been working, and so on.

After a few minutes I asked her one of my favorite questions.  “Have you given your life to Jesus Christ?”  “No,” came her simple and sincere answer.  She continued with a flurry of good reasons why she could not attend church–family, work on Sunday morning, two jobs, etc.  I listened, and then launched into my own story of how I gave my life commitment to Christ.

“During college years I came to a pivotal crisis in faith.  I had to go one way or the other. If Jesus Christ really rose from the dead I would give my life to him.  On the other hand, if He did not rise from the dead, I would give up this whole faith thing.  Since I was studying history, I knew the canons of historiography (how to evaluate the veracity of historical claims).  For example, 1) how long after a purported event was the incident recorded?  2) Did eyewitnesses write the reports or were the accounts second or third hand? 3) How many witnesses were there?

“As I began my quest for truth I was soon surprised at both the amount and strength of the evidence.  In fact, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was overwhelming.    For example, Peter knew Jesus well, was an eyewitness of Christ after the resurrection, and was even crucified for the sake of Jesus.  Men don’t willingly die for a cause they know is false.  John claimed to see Him with his own eyes, hear Him talk, and touch Him with His own hands.  Then he documented his experiences with Jesus so many people could know the facts.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the best attested fact of all ancient history.  The evidence would stand up in any court of law today.  The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is incontrovertible from a purely historical point of view! “

The saleslady listened with careful attention.  “Does all this make sense to you?” I asked.  Her response was a clear “Yes.”  “I have good news for you,” I continued.  “Jesus Christ died for your sins . . .of which we all have plenty, especially me.   (She smiled at this.)  Jesus Christ rose again from the dead.  We can receive forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life by simple trusting in Him.  He is our substitute.  He died for us.  He paid the price for our sins.”

I asked again, “Do you understand all this?”  Again, “Yes.”  So I asked, “Is there any reason why you would not want to receive Jesus Christ into your life right now?”  “No,” she replied softly.  So I instructed that she could pray right there and that she didn’t even need to close her eyes.  We were in a public place and no one would know what she was doing.  I only asked her to let me know when she was done praying.  While I ate my lunch, she said, “I’ve done it!”

We talked a little more about salvation through trusting Jesus Christ.  She was happy to tell about another new birth—she and her husband were going to have a baby!  In a short time, my wife arrived.  We shared the good news, enjoyed the moment and then focused on something less important—cell phones!

It’s fun to lead someone to salvation through Jesus Christ.  This is how I do it.  How do you do it?

A Happy Experience During the Oil Change

This morning I had a happy experience of an unusual sort.  I went to Meineckes for an oil change and met the new manager.  While waiting for the oil change, Kurt and I chatted.

We talked about jobs, how long we had each lived in Muscatine, and about family.  I found out Ethan had already met him and given him an invite card to church!  To have a mutual friend is a great connection and generally releases trust.  That was the case with Kurt and me. After a minute or so of conversation, I asked,” Have you received Jesus Christ into your life?”  His immediate answer was an emphatic,” Yes, I have!”   Kurt went on to explain his background and a particularly meaningful experience he’d had in church.

I gave him another invitation card and invited him to visit church.  Thanks, Ethan, for preparing the way.

I’ve found over and over again that people want to talk about their faith and experiences with God.   Have you found the same?

Ben and the Potting Soil

“Please pick up some potting soil on your way home,” requested my wife.  I stopped by the garden center, located the type of potting soil Kari requested, and completed the purchase.  A young man came out to the car to help load.  While walking together I introduced myself and discovered his name was Ben.

Ben was a laconic fellow in his early twenties who surprised me with his initiative.  Instead of loading one sack at a time, he grabbed two forty pound sacks together and easily set them down in the trunk of the car.  “You’re strong, Ben!” I remarked.  We made some small talk before I asked, “Have you received Jesus Christ into your life?”  “No, I don’t care about that stuff!” was his answer.  He replied with a sense of finality, and I rose to the occasion.

“But God cares about you, Ben!  He proved it by dying on a cross for you and your sins.  You’ve heard about that, haven’t you?”  Ben remained silent and hung his head.  I continued with some good news.  “Jesus Christ not only died for our sins, but he rose out of death to live in us so we could do what’s right.  All we need to do is receive Him and His free gift of salvation.  With Christ inside our body, life becomes a huge adventure.”

Ben stood there, hanging his head and listening.  “You want to go to heaven when you die, don’t you?”  Ben immediately lifted his head and looked me in the eyes.  I had his attention.  “Jesus cares about you personally, Ben.  All you need to do is trust Him and accept Him as a free gift into your life.  It’s not about a lot of does and don’ts.  Think about it.  The choice is yours.”

I got in the car and drove home.  But the story doesn’t end yet.  That same evening Kari and I returned and bought some fruit trees on end-of-the-summer sale.  Ben again helped us load.  “Have you thought any more about what we were talking about?” I asked.  “No,” he admitted, “I’ve been working the whole time.”  With that we loaded the trees together and parted.

But the story does not end yet. . . .  Some researchers report, on average, a person needs to hear the gospel seven times before he responds.  If that’s the case with Ben, he may need only one or two. .  . or six more witnesses to stop by and plead the case for Jesus.  Perhaps God will let you be the reaper.  Don’t let Jesus die in vain.

How many more times will Ben need to hear the gospel before he responds?  What do you think?

The Man Who Wore His Pants So Low

The crowd of ticketed passengers was waiting at the gate for our flight from Portland to Salt Lake City.  As is typical, we were avoiding eye-contact, yet all the while profiling our fellow passengers.  There was the severely overweight man; I hoped not to have to squeeze into a seat by him.  There were the ladies with necklines so low I would be embarrassed to have to sit next to them.  There was a foreign-looking guy with scraggly hair and pants so low his belt was actually below his buttocks.  I’ve never seen a man who wore his pants so low.  Fortunately, he wore such a long-tailed shirt that that he was not exposed.  I mused, “I think I could handle sitting next to him.”

I boarded the plane and found my assigned aisle seat, 27C.  A lady came and took seat 27A by the window.  Finally, just before closing the doors, the man with the low pants came and sat down beside me in 27B.  He immediately fiddled with his cell phone so as to avoid any contact.  After awhile I interrupted him by introducing myself.  “My name is Ze,” he returned.  I found out to spell his name and that he was a Pilipino from Manila.  I told him my trip with my wife to Mindanao and our wonderful experiences in the Philippines.

After the plane took off I asked, “Have you received Jesus Christ into your life?”  He replied affirmatively, yet so vaguely that it left me wondering.  As we conversed I discovered that he was born a Roman Catholic, that he had received Christ as a child, (“a long time ago”), and that he had been divorced four years ago.

As the flight continued, I shared parts of my life and my story with Ze.  He began asking questions about my life.  He was very interested in our farm and what else I did.  I told him I was a marriage counselor and we talked about the many benefits of marriage.  He began to open up about how his marriage had fallen apart and how he had tried, without success, to keep it together.  Ze knew I was interested, so he shared his life.  He has a Bible (“I have many Bibles”), he reads almost daily, doesn’t go to church, and has no current job.

Near the end of the flight I asked if I could pray for him.  “Sure,” came his welcome response.  We had talked almost non-stop for the duration of the trip.  Surprisingly, Ze was more interested in me and my life than perhaps any stranger I have ever met.

Want to make a friend?  Take courage and simply ask, “Have you received Jesus Christ into your life?”  I find this works for me.  If you’re leading people to Christ regularly, I’d like to know how you do it.

Witnessing at Wendy’s

The Wendy’s Restaurant at the Detroit Airport was not only crowded, it was chaotic.  People were literally shouting to be heard.  This was not your ordinary suburban Wendy’s.  The tables were close; the aisles narrow and loaded with standing travelers trying to down a burger.  I spotted a couple stools against a far wall but with a Frosty in one hand, a burger plus baked potato in the other and luggage over my shoulder, I felt hopeless to reach the far side of the restaurant.  With relief I noticed one empty seat right at my feet.

“May I take this seat?”  I asked the lady sitting at the table.

“Yes,” came the reply.

I ate silently and quickly.  Clearing my garbage, I thanked the lady for the seat.  She smiled, “You’re welcome!”

We engaged in brief chit-chat and shared our travel destinations.  I asked her, “Have you given your life to Jesus Christ?”

“Yes, we have,” she replied, apparently including her family.  “And we all go to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Omaha”.

Since I had once lived in a black neighborhood in Omaha I related a significant event I had experienced there.  We got acquainted in the next minutes as her family joined in the conversation.  With smiles we blessed each other as I left for my departure gate.  Strangers across race and distance had become bonded in Christ, pleasantly satisfied by our brief encounter in a crowded restaurant.  It was all possible because of the question, “Have you received Jesus Christ into your Life?”

How to Make a Friend: Howard and the Butcher Plant

I raise grassfed Lamb.  My work takes me to a butcher plant in a neighboring town.  An employee named Howard and I have talked briefly several times over a period of years. You could say we have “chewed the fat” about weather, lambs, his work and so on.  I knew his name, but I don’t know if he knew mine.  We were acquaintances, nothing more.

One day I dropped off some young lambs at the locker.  Howard and some other workers were arriving.   We greeted each other with a “Hello” and “Good morning”. Then I took courage—it’s often breathtaking—and asked Howard in front of another worker, “Have you received Jesus Christ into your life?”  He looked at his co-worker, who turned away, busy with his preparation for the day.  Howard turned to me and began to pour out personal stuff from his heart.  Stuff most men don’t often open up about.  “Well, I think so, but I’m not sure.”  He went on telling some of his struggles and admitting his faults.  I could tell he really wasn’t sure. Nonetheless, as he kept talking, he was making a public confession of his faith in Jesus Christ, perhaps for the first time in a public way.

I was not able to go farther with Howard that day.  Yet something had changed in our relationship. . . .

The next time I saw Howard was several weeks later.  He was standing in a group of workers and customers at the locker.  He immediately turned his attention to me and introduced me to another worker.  His introduction was kind, gracious and full of wit, claiming that I was “a wise man and filled with wisdom”.  He made jokes about how he and I each had the same occupation.  Always pleasant in the past, this time he was overtly friendly.  You see, we had both taken a risk and shared something in common—faith in Christ.  We were brothers.  We had come to the same table and eaten together.  And he wasn’t afraid to show it in front of a group of co-workers.

I experience this “brother factor” phenomenon repeatedly and with few exceptions.  Men (and women) want authenticity.  People want to talk about their faith and their struggles with God.  All of us are looking for real people with whom we can open up.  Sometimes it’s easiest with a stranger.  Would you give someone the opportunity?