I once visited with a wonderful man who had just learned he had stage four lung cancer. As we talked about his condition, he said, “Pastor, we’re all terminal!” How true. James 4:14 tells us that our life is like a vapor – here one minute and gone the next. The truth is that we are all dying physically. There is no way to get around that. Start your day with that thought and it will change your priorities, your perspective and your focus. He then made another statement, one that I found staggering. He said, “Cancer isn’t a gift but it is a responsibility!” What a spiritually mature perspective from someone who was looking at the final months of his life due to cancer. This man realized that he had a responsibility to use his cancer to the ultimate and highest glory of God. And that he did, all the way up to the moment he went home to be with Jesus. Folks, Listen, bad things come into our lives. Many times we can’t prevent that. But not only are we to be good stewards of the time, talent, and good treasure that God has entrusted us with, we must also be good stewards of the tough circumstances that the Lord allows to come into each of our lives for His glory.
My Grandpa Distler was a pastor for over 50 years before ending his ministry as a superintendent of a Rescue Mission in northern California. He’s a big reason why I am a pastor today. Years ago, my Grandpa was spending his final days in his battle against cancer. I flew out to visit my Grandpa knowing it would be the final time I would ever get to see him and talk to him this side of heaven. When it finally came time to say good-bye I walked into his bedroom where my Grandpa was laying on a hospital bed, his body riddled with cancer. I laid my head on his chest, weeping. I remember my grandpa wrapping his arms around me and speaking the last words to me that I would ever hear him say. He simply said, “Son, don't ever give up on the Lord”. Those were his final words. “Don't ever give up on the Lord.” I'm not sure I understood the power of those words back then as I told my grandpas good-bye but the older I get, the more meaningful they have become. Ministry can be tough and it has produced its share pf scars in my life but I have been able to remember those last words of my grandpa, “Son, don't ever give up on the Lord.”
The story is told of the day when President Kennedy was in the oval office in a high level meeting with some of the greatest military minds in the world. Those were tense times for our country and meetings such as these were a top priority. As this meeting went on, a little boy named “John-John” came racing down the hall of the west wing. He ran by armed security guards, by secret service agents, by administrative hierarchy, and he ran right in to the oval office where he leaped into the lap of President Kennedy who stopped what he was doing and focused his attention on little “John-John.” Why was “John-John” able to do that? Because “John-John” was the child of the President of the United States. Through faith in Christ we have become children of the living God. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” That means that any time we want we can run down the portals of heaven through prayer, past angelic honor guard, past the cherubim and the seraphim, and we can run right in to the throne room of God and leap into the lap of Almighty God and He will focus His attention on us.
Do you have any BHAG’s? The term BHAG, spelled B-H-A-G, stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goals. As followers of Jesus, I believe we need to have some BHAG’s when it comes to impacting our community and our world for Jesus Christ. The great evangelist of years ago, D.L. Moody, once said, “If God be your partner, make your plans large!” I remember an airline commercial on television when I was a kid where a football team is in the locker room at halftime and the coach is really giving it to them. He’s yelling and pounding his fist against the locker asking questions like, “How can we be playing so bad? How can we be missing so many tackles? How come they keep getting to our quarterback?” Finally, one player sheepishly pipes up and asks, “But coach, aren’t we ahead 41-0?” To that the coach says, “That’s exactly the attitude I’m talking about…when you become satisfied as a football player we’re through as a football team!” That is how I feel sometimes about the church. Sometimes it seems that we have just become satisfied. Ephesians 3:20 tells us that we serve a God who can do superabundantly beyond anything we could ever ask or dream. D.L. Moody was right – “If God is our partner we can make our plans large!”
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible teaches us that true Biblical love is patient. This is actually a word meaning “long-tempered.” It describes a person who is wronged, has the power to retaliate, but chooses not to. One of the best examples we see of this in Scripture is in the story of Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph are espoused which was a legally binding commitment but, during this time frame, they were not yet together and had to remain pure. One day, Mary communicates to Joseph that she is pregnant. He knows that he is not the father and can only come to the conclusion which was that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Under Jewish law, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death. In Joseph’s mind, Mary had wronged him in a very deep way and he had the power to retaliate. But in Matthew 1:18-19, Joseph instead chose to put Mary away quietly, without even stating the reason for ending the relationship. Why did Joseph do this? I believe it was because he loved her. Folks, listen, in most every relationship we are in there will be times that we get wronged. But if we truly have a Biblical love, even if we have the power to retaliate, we’ll choose not to because love is patient.
My spiritual mentor taught me that nothing of eternal importance ever happens apart from prayer. If that is really true, than I have to ask the following question, “Why don’t we pray more often?” If you’re like me, it’s often because I am so busy that I simply don’t set aside time to pray. But what if each of us made it a priority to pray for just two minutes every single day? Could two minutes really make a difference? Many people don’t realize that prior to Abraham Lincoln giving his 2-minute Gettysburg Address, a famous silver-tongued orator of that day named Edward Everett spoke for nearly two hours. Here’s my question, which speech made more of an impact on our country – Edward Everett’s two hour address or President Lincoln’s two minute speech? Frankly, I have never run into a person who can quote from memory one line of Edward Everett’s two hour address, but most people can at least quote some of Abraham Lincoln’s two minute Gettysburg Address that began with the words, “Fourscore and seven years ago.” Folks, listen, we should never underestimate the impact that two minutes of prayer every day can make in our lives, our families, our churches, our communities, and our country. Folks listen, nothing of eternal importance ever happens apart from prayer.
What one word would you use to describe the average American Christian’s prayer life? In James 5:16 we read that “the effective prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.” The word effective in the original language is where we get our word “energetic.” When Peter was in prison, Acts 5:12 says that the church was praying “fervently” for him. That was a medical term meaning to “stretch a muscle to its limit.” In other words, they weren’t just praying, “God, please bless Peter,” they were “stretching their spiritual muscles to the limit” as they prayed for Peter. When Paul asks the church at Rome to pray for him in Romans 15:30, he uses the word “agonizomai,” where we get our word “agonize.” He didn’t just say, “Please pray for me.” He asked them to “agonize” in prayer for him. In Hebrews 13:3, we are told to remember in prayer those who are in prison for their faith as it we were in prison with them. In other words, we are to pray for their need as if it were our need. Imagine what happen if every time we prayed for someone else, we did so with the same energy – the same intensity – that we would pray if their problem were really our problem. Folks, listen, that would revolutionize our prayer lives!
In the Old Testament Enoch was a man who walked with God step by step, word by word, thought by thought, and action by action. Ultimately, the Bible says that “he was not because God took him!” He walked so closely with God that it's as if God said, “I just can't wait any longer, Enoch, come here!” This was not simply a geographical relocation. This wasn't God moving Enoch to a new neighborhood or a new town. Enoch becomes one of only two men in the Bible who went from earth to heaven without every dying. The other one was Elijah who was taken to heaven by a whirlwind. Enoch and Elijah are the only two individuals in the Bible who got to heaven without going through the avenue of physical death but they won’t be the last ones. The Bible teaches that there's coming a day when millions of Christ followers will have an Enoch experience. They will go straight from earth to heaven without dying. We call it in theology, the rapture of the church. So though Enoch is one of only two individuals in the Bible who got to heaven without dying they won't be the last ones. Be encouraged, my friend. Jesus is coming back, and if you know Him, the best is yet to come!
In Genesis 5 we meet a man named Enoch who lived to be 365 and is most known for “walking with God.” All throughout the Bible we see the concept of walking when it comes to our faith. In the New Testament we're told to walk by the spirit; to walk by faith; and to walk worthy of our calling. The key to living a vibrant, powerful, effective Christian life is just that – walking with God. What does walking necessitate? It happens when you take steps. A series of steps is what results in walking. To walk with God means that every step I take I'm focused on my relationship with God. Every thought I think I'm focused on my relationship with God. Every word I speak, I'm focused on my relationship with God. Every action I take I'm focused on my relationship with God. Every reaction I make, I'm focused on God. Today, instead of living their life walking step by step, Most Christians live their life Sunday by Sunday. They come to church on Sunday and they focus on God while at church. But then they don't focus on God again until next Sunday. Walking with God does not occur week by week. It doesn't even occur day by day or hour by hour. Walking with God occurs step by step.
After God rejects Cain’s offering, Cain becomes very angry and God warns him with Saying, “If you don’t do well, sin is crouching at the door and you must master it.” He is saying, “Cain, you are on thin ice. You have allowed this anger to rear up in your life because your heart is not right and sin is crouching at the door and it wants to destroy you.” He pictures sin like an animal crouching, ready to pounce. That should bring to mind 1 Peter 5:8 where Satan is likened to a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He's saying, “Cain, sin is at the door. You better guard your heart. Because if you don't, sin's going to pounce on you. You better master this.” Folks, Listen, if you don't become a victor over sin you will ultimately become sin's victim. And that's exactly what happens to Cain. He doesn't listen to God and as a result he intentionally kills his brother Abel. It's not an accident. Because he did not get victory over his sin he now becomes a victim of his sin as he becomes the first murderer in the Bible. Be careful, my friend. Sin is crouching at the door. If you don’t become a victor over it, you will likely become a victim to it.