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A Morning Encounter at the Hampton Inn

“I’m born again!”

It was 9:15 a.m. this past Friday morning, and I was comfortably ensconced in an easy chair in the lobby of the Branson, Missouri, Hampton Inn. I was minding my own business…reading my Bible. The man speaking towered over me announcing his spiritual state.

“I’m born again too,” I answered, looking up.

Diane, Annie and I had come to Branson for a 10 a.m. tour of the College of the Ozarks. Annie, our youngest as a high school junior, didn’t seem so young anymore. Anyway, I had finished first in the room and scooted out to give the ladies some space and get some time for myself.

“Praise God!” he responded, then pressed on: “Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way…and few are those who find it!” Emphasis on few.

“Amen,” I agreed. Then I asked, “What brings you here?” I was looking to dial the conversation down a notch. Was he here for a show in Branson? (like surely so many others in the busy hotel that morning)

“I go where the Lord tells me. I wake up in the morning and follow his lead…The Muslims are taking over Europe.”

So much for dialing down. “Yes…the secular Europeans have stopped having babies. The Muslims haven’t. But the Spirit of God is moving in Islam all over the world.” I was trying to be hopeful here.

He agreed. “And do you know where they’re going next?”

I was glad to find out.

“Here.” He pointed at the ground. “Dearborn, Michigan…” and he named a few other places with large Muslim populations in the U.S.

“I walked into a Jehovah’s Witness church,” he continued (changing the subject?). “They were smiling at me. So friendly. Then I told them, ‘Did you know that Jehovah has come in the flesh?’ And they had daggers in their eyes…” That last line…came out slowly, melodramatically. You get the idea.

He proceeded to tell me about the rapture and being ready for the return of Christ. “They’re gonna be surprised. The trumpet is about to sound.” At one point he related a conversation with some “Mexicans” in a McDonald’s, and what did he say to them? “I’m sorry,” apparently apologizing, he explained…for Donald Trump! It was one of the strangest, weirdest, most interesting conversations I had ever had.

“I’m Roger,” I offered my hand, finally. “I’m Brother Michael,” He returned.

And then, shortly thereafter, apparently it was time for him to leave. “Stay on fire,” he told me. “Keep going deeper!” – his last words to me. But I heard him around the corner preaching to other guests in the hallway: “The trumpet is about to sound!”

Aftermath

10 minutes or so after the encounter I saw the hotel staff gathered for a debrief on this mysterious preacher who appeared and disappeared so quickly on their Friday morning. I got up from my chair and walked over to the three employees who included the hotel chief engineer (he had a badge), the front desk man, and the breakfast lady.

“Are you wondering about that man who showed up?” I asked them. Yes, they were – they needed a plan in the off chance he would come back. They were clearly a bit shell-shocked.

I told them what he had relayed to me: “Whenever people ask me to leave, I always do so immediately, and this always surprises them.” I thought he was sincere in this, and I imagined that if he did come back…and they asked him to leave…that is exactly what he would do.

Our meeting of four broke up, with the chief engineer getting the last word: “Nothing wrong with Jesus…but let’s not interrupt people’s coffee time shall we?”

But…I think I’ll beg to differ with the chief engineer. In fact, I would say that if some morning you are sipping coffee and eating waffles at a Hampton Inn, and a wild-eyed preacher comes up to you announcing his spiritual state…it’s probably worth interrupting your breakfast to hear what Brother Michael has to say.

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:52 (ESV)

 

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2018 in Preaching, The Return of Christ

 

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Do You Have a Fire in Your Bones?

There are moments during worship at Edgewood when I just can’t wait to get up behind the pulpit and start preaching. It often happens when we’re all singing (and the worship through song is great at our church), and true confessions, I just can’t wait for it to be over because I’ve got something that I need to get up and say. At the impetuous risk of mentioning myself in the same breath with Jeremiah, it seems similar to what he describes…

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9 (ESV)

I’m guessing that this is something that God does with His spokesmen and women: He gives them something to say and then they feel like they will die if they don’t get it out. I vaguely remember hearing the story of a pastor who fell ill and was unable to preach anymore, eventually dying. To his great lamentation, he had prepared a sermon that he was, of course, unable to preach. Talk about a bad way to go – he had a fire in his bones, and he couldn’t put it out.

So I think I know what’s happening to John when he says this…

And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 1 John 1:4 (ESV)

He’s writing to a congregation of his spiritual children, and some from their midst have left the faith (2:19). Surely that was enough to make those remaining discouraged, so John has a message of truth and encouragement to pass on to them and make them spiritually strong. He’s got a message he needs to get out, and he’s bound and determined to do so.

Apparently, his joy is on the line.

All true believers have probably experienced this phenomenon at some time or another. When you understand that eternity is on the line for someone you love deeply, you get blood earnest to pass on the message. I often run into parents whose children are straying, and who are anxious to correct them with the truth. Oftentimes they aren’t quite sure how to get the truth to them, but they are raring and ready to do it one way or another. Overall, I think this is healthy, though of course there is a way to pass on truth without overwhelming someone, and we need to be careful to heed the Spirit in our communication. Jesus didn’t unload everything all at once on His disciples (John 16:12).

How about you? Do you have a passion to communicate truth to those you love? You’ll know you’re on the right track when you find you can’t be happy until the ones you love know and believe the truth of the gospel.

 

For Monday, November 23rd: 1 John 2

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Best Way To Love Christ

When Jesus died, so did Peter’s dreams of ever making it right with his Lord. Can you imagine – letting someone down you loved so much and never wanted to disappoint? And so, with the cross came Peter’s final opportunity to have that last conversation, to tell Jesus how very sorry he was for denying him.

And then…the resurrection…a second chance.

So this was the mindset of Simon Peter when Jesus showed up on the shore one day, His third appearance after the resurrection. We don’t know all the details of those previous appearances, but from John 21, it doesn’t seem that Peter has had a chance to talk it all through. And he had likely replayed the denials over and over again in his mind – could’ve…should’ve…would’ve: his constant mantra, again and again. Now, finally, he would have a chance to stop, look Jesus in the eyes and say how sorry he was.

And what did he really want to tell Jesus – he really wanted to affirm his love for his Lord. “I know how this looks,” he would say, “but I really do love You. I really feel so sorry for all that I did.”

And then after breakfast, to Peter’s relief, Jesus approached him.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17 (ESV)

In this little exchange Peter gets an opportunity to express his heart, and Jesus leads him every part of the way. And that is where it gets interesting. You see, Peter clearly wants to proclaim his love for Christ, and yet it may seem hollow in light of his failure. So Jesus leads him, asking him the question three times, and hearing Peter’s response, telling him, “Feed my sheep (lambs),” two times, and, “Tend my sheep” once.

Love Christ By…

So, for the rest of us, if we want to express our love for Christ, we must shepherd those in our care. Love them by feeding them. One way a mother loves Christ is by feeding her children physically and spiritually. And a Pastor loves Jesus by faithfully giving people the Word of God and caring for their souls. For all Christians given the charge over or the responsibility for others – it is the way we show our love for Jesus. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and as a shepherd, his overriding concern is the care of His sheep.

How We Know This Is True

Aside from this passage, here’s how we instinctively know this is true: Would you like to know perhaps the best way to love me? Love and bless my children. There is not much in this world nearer and dearer to my heart. Bless them and you bless me. Hurt them and you hurt me.

And so, would you like to know the best way to love Jesus?

Feed His sheep.

For Tuesday, November 3: James 1

 

 

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Sharing Your Faith With Dead People

Have you ever wondered why your friend will simply not listen to you when you try to tell them about your faith? Jesus explains…

“If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” John 8:46-47 (ESV)

Some people just cannot hear, because God has not given them ears. Or, as Jesus put it, they are “not of God.” Therefore, our first step must always be to ask God to give them hearing.

This truth reminds me of the story of the homiletics (preaching) professor who one day took his class to the cemetery. The bewildered students stood around a grave, and he asked one of them to begin preaching to the dead person, telling him to come to life. The student thought the prof was joking. He said he was quite serious. So the student began to talk to the grave, and then seizing the moment, actually began to shout at the dead person.

Satisfied that the young man had done what was asked, the professor looked around and said, “Do you understand the lesson?”

The students said nothing, which seemed the safest course.

So the professor continued, “One day, God willing, you will be called to a church. And some of those people in the pews will say they are alive, but they will dead. When you try to talk to them about conviction of sin, or repentance, or new life in Christ, they may nod their head, but there will be no change…because there will be no life. And similarly, when you relate to a professing unbeliever in the community about Christ, he or she will not be able to hear you, because they will be spiritually dead. They might as well be 6 feet under.

“So you must remember that the new birth is not something that you can manufacture with persuasive arguments and especially good illustrations, or with compelling preaching. Your church services may have terrific music and your preaching may be wonderful, but unless God makes someone alive, it will all be for naught.”

And so it is true with those we love and long to see come into the Kingdom. We must be faithful to share with them, but ultimately, our only hope for their salvation is the power of the Holy Spirit.

If He moves, they will be moved. If He makes them alive, only then can they come out of the grave.

For tomorrow, Thursday, October 15: John 9

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Pastor and a Rabbi Preach a Sermon…

Imagine you were traveling across the country, and found yourself scanning radio stations. Now suppose you heard an engaging preacher and stopped to listen – here’s my question: how would you be able to tell if it was a Christian preacher or a Jewish Rabbi? (To make this more interesting, let’s just say that in this scenario, Jewish folks are a bigger presence in our country than they actually are, and that as many Rabbis are on the radio as Pastors. So you’ve got a 50-50 shot here.)

The message from this mystery expositor, of course, is from the Old Testament. The New Testament would be a dead giveaway. So…would you be able to tell?

And by the way, no fair listening till the end when the Christian closes in prayer, and says, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I’m talking about actual content here.

The truth is that in such a situation, whether listening to a sermon from Exodus or Ezekiel, a lot of times, most of us (myself included) wouldn’t be able to tell, and that’s a bad thing – not for us, mind you – but for the engaging Christian Pastor who’s preaching and who sounds just like the engaging Rabbi. So a message on murder or adultery from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 would sound the same from either communicator: “It’s bad. Very bad. Be sure you don’t do it.” Only from a good communicator, much more clever.

As a pastor, I’ve made the “sounds just like a Rabbi” mistake too many times. It’s moralism, and it’s pretty easy to do.  But consider this – whenever the Apostle Paul preached, he always had the same message, and that message…was Christ:

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. Ephesians 3:8 (ESV)

Here was a man with only the Old Testament to work with and yet, when he preached, he always proclaimed Christ. Always.

  • Did they hand him the scroll of Exodus in the Synagogue? Jesus was the Passover lamb.
  • The scroll of Isaiah? That’s an easy one – Christ was the Suffering Servant.
  • 1 Samuel and David and Goliath? The message from Paul would not have been “Try to trust God more like David did, and you’ll slay your giants too,” but, “Isn’t it great that we too have a Champion who slayed the giants of sin and death for us, so we can rush forward in victory?”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard those messages on David and Goliath, and I’ve tried that “Trust God and try harder plan” against the giants in my life, and yet I’ve still got one or two (or more) giants greeting me every day. So you see, the first message on “being a better trust-er” only puts me under the condemnation pile, but the second one…fills me with hope. The real giants have fallen because HE was perfect in HIS trust.

So, whether Paul’s text was from the Prophets or Proverbs – the Apostle talked about Jesus. Because ultimately, if the message is not about Christ, it is only a warmed up version of “try harder.” And to be sure, the “try harder” message is often preached very cleverly and sometimes with great insight and humor, but it’s still the law, and such messages usually produce about as much change as a New Year’s resolution.

Paul, however, had a better plan, the only plan for the Christian preacher:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)

 

For tomorrow, Friday, June 26th: Ephesians 4

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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