Why did Noah first send out a raven from the ark? Why did Jesus, who could calm the wind and conquer death, use a whip to clear the Temple? Why did David choose five stones when he’s called a man of faith? A raven, a whip, and a stone—discover what these three things have in common.
1 Samuel 17:40 says, “And David took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones out of the brook and put them in his shepherd’s bag, which he had, even a script, and the sling was in his hand, and he drew near the Philistine.” Then, in verse 49, “And David put his hand in his bag and took from there a stone and slung it and smote the Philistine in the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead and he fell upon his face to the earth.”
The question I’d like to put before you is this: why did David choose five smooth stones? Why didn’t he just choose one? Some people say, “Well, Goliath could have had four big brothers.” Others say, perhaps it was unbelief. But perhaps not. In Hebrews 11, David is listed as being one of the heroes of faith. He had confidence in his own ability. He had confidence in God.
There could be another explanation. I believe it’s in Ephesians 4:11. Most of us are very familiar with Ephesians 4:11, when God gave some apostles, some prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. There are five smooth stones. The five-fold ministry. Smooth stones, those who have been plucked from the lively stones of the brook of God’s people, know that God smooths those who He’s about to use in his five-fold ministry.
The Painful Process of Preparation
There was a very painful preparatory process for those God is about to use. A.W. Tozer said, “Before God uses a man, God breaks the man.” There are five smooth stones in the shepherd’s bag we call the church, but it only takes one to bring the downfall of the enemy. It is the thrust of the ministry of the evangelist that God has ordained to bring about the downfall of that enemy. The apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers stay within the church. The evangelist’s ministry is outside the church.
“A.W. Tozer said, ‘Before God uses a man, God breaks the man.’”
After the death of Princess Diana, I sat in front of the television, filled with anticipation, because I heard there was an estimated listening audience of something like 2 billion people, that is 2 thousand million people. Here was an appropriate time for the stone to come out of the bag, for the gospel to be preached.
It was not only opportune, it was also appropriate. It would have been very simple for a minister of the gospel to say, “Here we have a tragic death of this young woman, but it reminds us of the fact that we all have an appointment to keep. The soul that sins, it shall die. It is appointed to man once to die after this, then the Judgment. Each of us will have to stand before God and give an account of every idle word spoken. We’ll be judged by the standard of the 10 Commandments.
If we’ve looked with lust, then we’ve committed adultery in our hearts. If we’ve hated someone, the Bible says we’re murderers. If you tell one lie, you’re a liar. If you steal one thing, irrespective of its value, you’re a thief. The Bible says, ‘The eye of the Lord is in every place, beholding the evil and the good. There is nothing hid before His eyes.’ The day is coming when God will judge the world in righteousness. There is nothing hid before the eyes of Him.
It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. Hell awaits those who’ve transgressed that Law. Yet God was rich in mercy. He sent forth his Son, born of a woman, to die on a cross. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us. He satisfied the demands of eternal justice, rose from the dead, defeated the power of the grave, and all who repent and trust in Him receive remission of sins and the gift of everlasting life.”
But not a word, even the hymns had a little evangelistic light. I was disappointed, but I was consoled in the fact that God is sovereign. God looking down through the annals of time could see what would take place, and 20 years earlier He could have taken a man for such a time as this and prepared his heart and put him in that position. But God didn’t do that. That’s not God’s way, it seems.
See, if I was God, I’d manifest myself as a burning bush at the base of Bill Gates’ bed. I’d say in a booming, thunderous voice, “There is a ministry in California I want you to give to liberally.” Then I would take that finance, $10 billion or $15 billion, and I’d go to CBS, NBC, CNN, and Time Magazine and say, “I’m going to buy some advertising. Primetime advertising.” I’d make quality advertisements proclaiming the gospel tastefully. But that’s not God’s way. If it is, I’m open.
Now, when we first came to the US, Sue and I, my family were appalled at how Halloween had such a stronghold in this country. We didn’t have Halloween at that time in New Zealand. To go into Walmart or a supermarket or a toy store and see witchcraft, the occult, with a stronghold in those places really grieved us. Somehow, the enemy had set up his business right in the heart of this once-godly nation. Halloween, for a number of years, was a time for us to withdraw. We’d just turn the lights off, we’d go to bed, we wouldn’t go to the door. We didn’t want to encourage anyone into that realm.
We kept the stone in the bag. But let me tell you why of late I have grown to love Halloween. This last time we got notice, put it out in the front yard, and it said, “Trick or treaters welcome!” We got hundreds of Ziploc bags and we put tracts, three tracts, our wallet tract and a couple of others, and some candy in a bag and we gave away over 100 bags that night. What other night of the year do you have over 100 strangers come to your door to be given gospel tracts?
A Zeal for God’s House
Look at John 2:13: “And the Jews’ Passover was at hand and Jesus went up to Jerusalem and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves and the changers of money sitting. They were staying there. When He’d made a scourge of small cords, He drove them out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overthrew the tables. He said to them that sold doves, ‘Take these things from here. Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal of my house has eaten me up.’”
The enemy wasn’t just knocking at the door, he had set up a stronghold right in the heart of God’s house. But Jesus didn’t withdraw into a monastic existence. He made a scourge, a whip of small cords, and turned the tables on the enemy. Now, how can we do the same thing? Well, firstly, I believe we should follow the example Jesus gave. The zeal of God’s house ate Him up. It consumed Him. He had a fire within His soul. That’s the prerequisite for a Christian. He should love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength and love his neighbor as himself. If there’s no fire in our hearts, we’re not going to turn any tables.
Some time ago I got up early, 6:00 a.m. to be exact. I was wearing a white robe, which is biblical, and I made myself a cup of tea. As I leaned over the hotplate in my white robe, I suddenly heard a scary sound from the sleeve area. As my sleeve caught fire, I suddenly heard a crackling noise around my back. Then I heard a third crackling on the other side as my other sleeve caught fire. I thought to myself, “Ray, you’ve got a problem.” Then I thought, “Now, where’s the fire extinguisher I purchased? It’s just behind me. What did it say to do? It said, ‘Stand six feet from the fire and aim the nozzle at the base.’ That’s not going to be easy.”
I took the robe off and threw it down. As I threw it on the floor it nearly exploded as it burst into flames. I thought, “My, the manufacturers of the robe have soaked it in gasoline to make life more interesting for those who’ve purchased it.” But I learned two things from that experience. One, do not lean over a naked flame in a white robe, and two, a man on fire moves rather quickly. Now, if you look at the book of Acts, you’ll see the disciples move rather quickly. Why? They had received the fire of God. There was a zeal of God’s house that ate them up.
The Inconceivable Desire
What was it that consumed the Apostle Paul’s soul? What was the fire in his soul? What moved Paul more than anything else? Well, most of us have asked the question. We’d look at Philippians 3:8-10. He said, “I count all things but loss with the excellency of knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I’ve suffered the loss of all things and count them but dung that I might win Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, that I might know Him in the power of His resurrection.”
Nothing was more important to the Apostle Paul than knowing Jesus Christ and having a relationship with the Savior. Or was there? I think there may have been something more important to him than his relationship with Jesus. In Romans 9:1-3, we see some incredible words. This is what Paul said. “I speak the truth in Christ. I lie not, my conscience bearing witness in the Holy Spirit. But I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Paul was about to say something so unbelievable, so unthinkable, so inconceivable, his fellows would not be able to conceive what he was saying. He backs up and he begins almost with an oath. He said, “I speak the truth in Christ. I am not lying, my conscience bearing witness in the Holy Spirit.” I believe Paul is saying, “I would give up my salvation. I would be accursed from Jesus Christ if it meant Israel being saved.” Now, I’ve checked out different Bible commentators, and they think that thought is inconceivable. It’s unthinkable and unbelievable. Some of them say, “Well, Paul couldn’t be talking about his salvation because of the fact that it’s just unbelievable.”
They think that he is just saying he’s anathema from Israel. He’s prepared to lose his relationship with Israel, to be separated, accursed from the nation. But he was already separated from Israel for his faith in Jesus. I’m convinced that Paul backed up and used that oath because he was speaking about his salvation. Moses said a similar thing. He said, “Lord, blot me out from the Book of Life that you might save Israel.” Paul had a passion for the lost, something that really is unbelievable, to a point where he’d give up his salvation. But it certainly challenges me.
Zeal for the Lost
Which brings us to the second zeal I believe we need to have. Firstly, we need zeal for God’s house. Secondly, we need zeal for the lost. To be effective in turning the tables, we must have a zeal for the lost. I believe we can most effectively do this by walking in a spirit of love, manifest clearly in James 3:17. This is what it says. “The wisdom that’s from above is first pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” That’s the spirit we should witness in our faith, not a condemning attitude. Not a holier-than-thou, self-righteous attitude or “I know it all” attitude.
But purity, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. It’s just common courtesy to listen to sinners, even if what they’re saying is nothing but nonsense. Media Management listed the 10 most annoying mistakes while listening.
These are the 10 most annoying things that people do. Number one, the lack of eye contact. If anyone should be able to look the world in the eye, it’s the church. Number two, disagreeing with everything said. You agree with that? Number three, holding side conversations. Number four, correcting grammar or word choices.
Number five, answering before the question is finished. Number six, not responding. Number seven, bad breath or sitting too close. Number eight, completing speakers’ sentences. Number nine, coughing or clearing of the throat. Number 10, interrupting.
Of all things, we should be good listeners. I was in Minneapolis earlier this year, and when I was at the Mall of America, I saw a teddy bear. Sue, my wife, saves teddy bears. We’ve got about 10 or 15 up our stairs, just sitting there looking at you as you go up just to encourage you on the way up so you get to the top.
This teddy bear I liked. It was sound-activated. When you slapped your hands or snapped your fingers, it would immediately snore really loud, but more than that, as it snored, its chest heaved. It rose and went down with every snore. I bought this thing for Sue and brought it home and liked it so much I didn’t put it with her collection. I put it in the living room. One day a man went in the living room and it was a pastor. I didn’t know the guy, but he said he had listened to our teaching and enjoyed it and he began to share his heart that he was going through a time of brokenness.
Suddenly, as he was sharing his heart, the dog barked. It set off the teddy bear, and immediately it began snoring. With every snore, I put my hand over the mouthpiece. I said, “Did you hear that noise in the back?” He said, “I did, actually.” I said, “Oh, it’s my wife’s teddy bear. It always snores when the dog barks.” I haven’t heard from him since. Of all things, we should be good listeners. We should stay awake and listen when people are talking to us.
Zeal According to Knowledge
This brings us to the third zeal: we should have a zeal according to knowledge. Zeal without knowledge is not a good thing. We should have zeal according to knowledge. We should have a sound theology when it comes to reaching the lost. In Genesis 8:6, we see that the Noahic flood had just taken place; God had flooded the earth in judgment.
“It came to pass,” says verse six, “at the end of 40 days, Noah opened the window of the ark, which he’d made, and he sent forth a raven which went to and fro until the waters were dried up off the earth. He sent forth a dove from him to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground. But the dove found no rest for the sole of her feet and she returned to him in the ark. The waters were on the face of the whole earth and he put forth his hand and took her and pulled her in to him into the ark. He stayed yet another seven days and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark and the dove came to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off. Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.”
Now, what happened? Noah sent out a raven, or a crow, same family. He sent out a raven. The raven went to and fro looking for a place. Didn’t find rest. Then he sent out a dove, and the dove returned to him. Then he sent out the dove again and it returned to him with an olive leaf in its mouth. Now, a raven differs from a dove, as it’s not a bird of peace. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. No doubt you’ve had the experience of awakening at about 4:30 in the morning and hearing that beautiful sound of a crow doing its thing, trying to breathe in Southern California. Many a time I’ve wanted to get my BB gun and send a little message to the crow.
Now, God opened the windows of Heaven at Mount Sinai and sent forth His Law. The Law cannot bring peace. That’s not its purpose. The purpose of God’s Law is to awaken the sleeping sinner. We see from that experience the raven went to and fro until the waters had abated off the earth. John Wesley said, “The Law isn’t an irreconcilable enemy to sin, searching it out wherever it is.” God’s Law searches out the waters of iniquity and will not find a place of rest until it is satisfied.
Then God sent forth a Son, and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. But He returned to Heaven. He said that it was expedient that He return to His Father. Then on the day of Pentecost, God sent His Holy Spirit. The dove was the Holy Spirit with a freshly plucked olive leaf in His mouth because the waters of wrath were abated at Calvary. God could birth His church on earth. If you read Romans 11:24, you’ll see that Scripture likens the church to an olive tree. The raven came before the dove, and the Law precedes the Gospel for a reason.
If I gave you a bow and said, “Fire this arrow,” would you say, “Well, I don’t need the bow,” and you’d just throw the arrow? No, the bow gives the arrow its thrust. It’s the Law that gives the arrow its thrust. Remember, David used a sling to send that stone to the forehead of Goliath. It was the sling that gave the stone its thrust. In the same way, the Law gives the Gospel its thrust. It sends the smooth stone of the Gospel of salvation like lightning into the forehead of the sinner, the place of understanding. A sinful world will only flee from the wrath that’s to come when it understands there’s wrath to come.
The Whip of God’s Law
The function of God’s Law is to thunder its voice and drive him to grace. It chases a sinner from Sinai to Calvary, from a mountain of wrath to a mountain of mercy. Remember, Jesus used a whip to clear the temple. Why did Jesus use a whip? This is the one that spoke to the storm and the winds and the sea obeyed His voice, “Peace, be still.” They were still. This is the one to whom death bowed the knee. Why did Jesus use a whip? Well, a whip tends to move people. If we want to see the temple cleansed, if we want to see tables turned, we must, with God-given authority, crack this great whip that Charles Spurgeon called “a most able auxiliary.”
“The function of God’s Law is to thunder its voice and drive him to grace. It chases a sinner from Sinai to Calvary.”
Now, how can we crack that whip? Well, picture this scene. It’s 1943, and we have a French soldier in the heart of Nazi Germany. He’s in a bar. He’s been given a profile of an ally he’s going to make contact with. He looks across the room. He sees the man. He’s been given a code. He gets beside him and he says to the man, “The green grass is brown on the other side of the yellow fence.” The man looks at him in the eye and says, “The white cat ran when the black dog barked.” The soldier smiles because he’s made contact with his ally. Now, listen carefully. God has given us an ally right in the heart of the enemy. It is the sinner’s conscience, something the Bible calls in Romans 2:15 “the work of the Law written in their hearts,” the conscience bearing witness.
Both the Law, that is, the 10 Commandments, and the work of the Law on the sinner’s heart, are working for the same side. They’re allies. God has given us a code that we may make contact with that conscience. I was sitting on a plane coming back from Texas about two months ago and a Russian woman was next to me. She was a scientist. I talked to her about science for a few moments and then I said to her, “Do you have a belief in God, being a scientist?” She says, “Oh, yes, but I don’t accept the seven days of Creation.” She didn’t accept Genesis. I said to her, “Well, how do you think it all began?” It was the big bang thing, and from the big bang a big puddle, and from the big puddle a couple of amoebas that grew.
I said, “Well, how did we get male and female in every species?” She says, “Well, it was just the tree in another branch, another branch here and there.” She was very confident in what she was saying. I decided after about 10 minutes it was time to make contact with my ally. I gave the code. I just said to her, “Have you kept the 10 Commandments?” We went through the Law, and suddenly, once I made contact with the ally, we moved out of the realm of her intellect into the realm of her conscience. Suddenly, no longer was she buying and selling in the area of a carnal mind. No, the tables were turned. The whip had been snapped and her back was suddenly against the wall.
The Battleground is the Conscience
Genesis was no longer the issue. Genesis was no longer on trial. She was now on trial as a guilty party running from the wrath of an angry God whose Law she had so blatantly violated. Some years ago, I was in an airport and I slid alongside this young guy. I got out one of our gospel tracts and I gave it to him. It’s the IQ tract. Well, he turned it over and he said, “I don’t believe in God. There’s no God.” I said, “Are you an atheist?” He says, “I’m a university student.” I said to him, “Spell the word ‘shop.’” He said, “What?” I said, “Spell the word ‘shop.’” He said, “S-H-O-P.” I said, “What do you do when you come to a green light?” He said, “Stop.” I said, “No, you don’t. You go when you come to a green light. You can’t trust your judgments.”
If you get someone to spell the word “shop,” say “What do you do when you come to a green light?” They’ll usually say “stop.” We can’t trust our judgments. Same thing works with “silk.” Spell the word “silk.” What do cows drink? Most people say “milk.” When they can’t reach the udder, they drink water. I said, “You can’t trust your own judgments,” and began to witness to him. Now, while I was witnessing to him, the boarding call was given twice. He didn’t hear it the first time. I did, but this was too important to let go. Boarding call was given twice. Suddenly, he heard it the second time. He looked at his watch, saw the time had gone, and used the name of Jesus Christ as blasphemy.
I looked at him and said, “Man, that’s heavy. You’ve just taken the name of the Lord your God in vain.” He looked at me and he says, “Oh! I was just calling on His name for help.” An atheist calling on His name for help? I said, “You were not. You were using His name as a curse word. I wouldn’t be in your shoes on Judgment Day for all the tea in China.” I just turned my back on him and left. Now, that’s the only time I’ve done it in 25 years. The Apostle Paul did a similar thing when the Jews blasphemed in Acts 18:6. He just says, “I’m out of here.” He just left.
There are times I believe when we should leave sinners in the hands of an angry God. We soon got to the gates, and I was walking ahead of him. He looked at his watch and used the name of God in blasphemy again. I heard him, swung around, our eyes met, and he gasped and put his hand on his mouth. He looked up at me and said, “I’m happy, though! I’ve got peace!” I thought you had peace. The Law strips the sinner of false peace. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. I can see the ally of conscience doing work right in the heart of the enemy.
The Deceitfulness of Modern Evangelism
If our theology leaves out the Law and thus there’s a necessity of Holy Spirit conviction of sin, we’ll see nothing wrong with leaving a sinner with false peace. In Jeremiah 8:11, God spoke to the priest and the prophets of Israel, and He said, “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” It is very easy to fall into renditions of modern evangelism and give sinners false peace. This is how we can do it. You just go up to someone, mention the things of God, and say, “Do you know that you’re going to Heaven? Have you got assurance that you’re really going to Heaven?”
He says, “Well, I sure hope so. I think I’m a fairly good person.” “Sir, well, do you know the Bible says you can have that assurance? Did you realize that Jesus died for your sins and if you invite Him into your life you can have a place in Heaven? You can be assured of everlasting life. Would you like me to pray for you right now, lead you in a prayer so you can have assurance of Heaven?” You say, “Well, what’s wrong with that?” Let me see if I can illustrate what’s wrong with that with an anecdote.
We have a blind man who’s tapping his way toward a 1,000-foot cliff. It’s about 20 feet in front of him. He’s unwittingly heading for destruction. Modern evangelism slides alongside him and says, “Hey, blind man, I got something for you. It’s real peace.” He says, “What do you mean?” He says, “Put these earphones on.” He plays a cassette with a 10,000-voice choir singing “Amazing Grace.” The blind man’s blind eyes widen as he listens. He says, “Oh, that is giving me such peace. Thank you, modern evangelism.” Modern evangelism says, “God bless you, blind man,” and leaves him still heading for the path of destruction, still heading for a 1,000-foot cliff.
Now, what he’s done is tremendous disservice to the blind man because, one, he has given him false assurance, false peace, and two, he has now deafened his ears to any further warnings. There are many walking the streets and even sitting in the pews of false peace who are strangers to biblical repentance. They’ve been given peace by a zealous modern evangelist, zeal without knowledge, when there’s no peace without biblical repentance. That is a turning away from the cliff of eternal wrath. Which is worse? Having a sinner come under the searchlight of God’s Law and having him squirm under the temple torments of an awakened conscience, or having him cast into the Lake of Fire for eternity?
The Law Shows the Truth Motif
What the Law does is it has the incredible capacity to search out a sinner’s motive, to show him his self-righteousness, to show him his path of destruction. I was in Hawaii some time ago ministering and I was speaking to missionaries, about 70 or 80 of them, and my daughter, Rachel, was sitting among missionaries. She was training. Just as we opened the Bible, two young ladies come forward and they had a lei, beautiful flowers in Hawaii, that they were going to place on my head. These were not Pick-n-Save leis, these were the genuine thing. Beautiful, beautiful flowers. They placed them over my head as a token of hospitality and love, and kissed me on the cheek and went and sat down.
As I stood there, I looked across at my daughter and my eyes began to water, and I walked towards her, took the lei off, and put it on her head and kissed her on the cheek, and the whole place just went, “Ah! What a token of love and honor towards my daughter.” No, it wasn’t. Truth be known, those things stunk so bad they were making my eyes water. I thought, “How can I get rid of these without being offensive?” There were fumes coming up; I could hardly breathe. Now, in the same way, the Law makes the sinner’s motive manifest. It makes the truth be known. The god of this world has blinded him. The Law gives him light.
It takes him to the edge of the cliff and throws over 10 rocks that he might hear the path of his destruction, so he can understand his danger and flee from the wrath that’s to come. Last weekend, I was ministering in Michigan. I was in Ohio across state. I arrived in Michigan, arrived at the airport in Detroit, and was picked up by a man named Jim in a very nice car. Made a two-hour drive, so we pulled into a Taco Bell to get some health food and we parked the car. He locked the car as we got out, and as we walked through the door I just turned around and as I often do, I pointed my hand at the car and went, “Beep, beep!” Which I’ve seen many people do in California, so I just imitate it.
Then I went, and as I went through I looked through the window and there were two guys in a flat-deck truck sitting there and laughing. God had obviously gifted them with an insight into quality humor. I went back out and I went up to them and said, “Hey, you guys know where’s a phone around here?” They said, “Yeah, there’s one over there, yeah.” They were congenial, so I said, “Hey, check this out.” I showed them our curved illusion tracts, the pink and blues that fool the eyes. They said, “Whoa!” Then I got my money out and did sleight of hand, and turned two $1.00 bills into a $5.00 bill. One of them said, “Whoa, blankety-blank, how did you do that? It’s incredible!”
Then I got a penny with the 10 Commandments out, gave each of them one, and said, “Have you guys kept the 10 Commandments? Have you ever told a lie?” They had. “Ever stolen?” They had. “Ever looked with lust?” They had. I said, “On Judgment Day, are you going to be innocent or guilty of breaking God’s Law?” They said, “Innocent.” I said, “Why is that?” One of them said, “Well, I just have to believe in Jesus Christ.” I said, “You guys don’t, though, do you?” One of them looked at me with a blank face. He says, “Why did you say that?” I said, “It’s just because of what you said a minute ago.” I spelt the “blankety-blank” words that they’d said. I said, “The mouth speaks the abundance of the heart.”
One of them looked and me and says, “You’re right, you know.” You see, that conscience will bear witness. I have gained great confidence in the faithful workings of the ally. You’ll say, “No, people will get offended.” No, they don’t, because their conscience accuses them. The work of the Law is running through their hearts. People can detect the wisdom that’s from above. If you walk in the Spirit that Scripture tells us to, in gentleness and love, it’s easy to entreat. They can feel if you’re concerned for their eternal salvation or if you’re just out to get members for your church.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “By manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience.” When we manifest the truth, what we do is commend ourselves to every man’s conscience. This is how the Amplified Bible translates that verse: “We have renounced the disgraceful ways, secret thoughts, feelings, desires, and underhandedness, methods, and arts that men hide through shame. We refuse to deal craftily or to practice trickery and cunning or to adulterate or handle dishonestly the Word of God. But we state the truth openly, clearly, and candidly. So we commend ourselves in the sight and presence of God to every man’s conscience.”
This was broadcast on a Michigan radio station recently. Two men want to go duck shooting. They got their brand new Grand Cherokee, which cost them $30,000, $400 monthly payment. They got their guns, they got their dog, and they got their beer, and they drove onto the ice, which you can do. It’s frozen pretty solid, so it can take the weight of a car. Now, when they got there they wanted to build a place for their decoy ducks, the landing site for the ducks to come in. So what they did is they took along a stick of dynamite. Now, they weren’t silly. In a 40-second fuse they didn’t want to blow up their car, so they moved well away from the car and they lit the dynamite and threw the stick to blow up the ice to make a hole that the ducks would come and land in.
Well, about that time, their highly trained Black Labrador with greased lightning went after the stick of dynamite. The men, as the dog ran after the dynamite to retrieve it, waved their arms and screamed furiously. The dog, cheered on, grabbed the dynamite and kept coming back towards them. One of the guys got his gun and he shot the dog. Unfortunately, duck shot is hardly enough to stop an excited Black Labrador. The dog got hit, got confused, went under the new $30,000 Cherokee, and both the Cherokee and the dog went to Heaven. The insurance company refused to cover the vehicle because they said it was an illegal use of explosives. The men were left with $400 monthly payments on a nonexistent vehicle.
How Can We Rejoice In Trials?
Conscience is like that faithful dog. Men sin and then cast their guilt far from them. But conscience brings it back to them with a stick of dynamite in its mouth. What do they do? They fire the buckshot of good works, hoping that it will pacify. But it doesn’t. The only thing that can defuse what the Bible calls an “evil conscience” is the shed blood of Jesus Christ. So let me ask you a question. What sinister Halloween is knocking at your door? Well, no matter how dark and ugly his mask, confront him with the light. That’s what the disciples did in the Philippian jail. Think of them.
They were taken, they were whipped, and they were thrown in a dark Philippian jail. What do they do? They sang hymns. Most say, “Well, this is an illustration of their faith. This is a lesson on faith. This is a lesson on their joy.” So it was, but I think it goes further. Knowing the spirit of these men, knowing the fact that the fire of God’s house, the zeal of God’s house, ate them up, knowing that these are the men who put their lives on the line for the gospel, knowing that these are the ones who said, “We cannot but speak that which you have seen and heard,” I believe they sang songs to be a witness to those that were around them. They were optimists. They knew that God had them there for a reason.
Listen to the dictionary’s definition of optimism: “The doctrine that everything is ordained for the best.” Oh, that’s Romans 8:28. Listen to what it says of realism: “The tendency to be concerned with and act in accordance with facts rather than ideas and feelings.” The tendency to be concerned and act in accordance with the facts. Oh, that’s faith in God’s promises. The facts were that all things were working together for good to those that love God or those who were called according to His purposes. Well, what were the disciples called to do? To proclaim the gospel of salvation, to seek and save that which is lost.
They were in prison, but they were not prisoners. Their steps were ordained by the Lord. They were God-ordained missionaries in a dying world. They had a captive audience, those who were sitting in the shadow of death. The disciples knew that of all people, they were most blessed on the earth. Jesus had turned the tables at Calvary’s cross and even as prisoners in a black and filthy dungeon, they had treasure in earthly vessels. Death had lost its sting. A penniless Christian, dying in a dirty ditch, is infinitely richer than a godless billionaire living in luxury. Any light affliction that comes our way works for us a far more exceeding eternal weight of glory. The sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared to the glory that should be ours.
Life Is a Vapor
Do you remember Simeon? Simeon was that priest that Jesus was dedicated by. Mary and Joseph took Jesus, and they handed him to Simeon. Simeon took the babe Jesus, he lifted Him before God. He said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen your glory.” I don’t know about you, but time seems to be flying past, much faster than it did in the past. The years seem to be flashing by like power poles out the window of a fast-moving train. Recently, I became a grandfather, much to my shock. Was nothing, really. But Sue brings this little baby, she holds the little baby Julia up to me and says, “Here’s your grandfather!” I said, “Oh, I wouldn’t get that carried away kid. Just a close friend of the family.”
I mean, I’m growing old disgracefully. I am trimming the hairs out of my ears. God cursed the ground, not my ears, with weeds. I’m fighting it. I remember when I got the little babe in my arms, I went in the living room, no one’s around, and I held that baby up to the Lord. I said, “This is my grandchild, Lord, oh, Lord, now let your servant be used for your glory before I go.” Now, I’m not praying that God takes me to glory, I’m praying that God uses me. I’m 47. Soon I’ll be 74. My cry is, “Oh, God, please use me.”
My impression of Simeon is he was a very old man. I don’t know if I’m reading correctly into that, but as I’ve read it I’ve seen him as being just an old man with a big beard. He just lifts up the babe in his arms, “Lord, let your servant depart in peace!” and he’s just about ready to go anyway. But it seems that many within the body of Christ are quite prepared to become Simeonites, to follow in the footsteps of Simeon. They give their hearts to Jesus, they say, “Now, Lord, I’ve met Jesus, I’ve tasted salvation, let your servant depart in peace.” They’re quite prepared to sit in this thing, a coffin with legs we call a “pew.” That seems to be a quite appropriate title, doesn’t it? Pew.
They say, “Lord, let me now depart in peace.” It’s time to say, “Lazarus, come forth.” We’ve been saved to serve. Don’t let opportunity pass you by. Say, “What is my life?” It’s been a vapor that’s here for a moment and then vanishes away. Take the smooth stone out of the bag. Use the God-given sling to give it thrust. Turn the tables on the enemy. Crack the whip and face the darkness with the light. Let me close with something that helps me keep my life in proportion and things that come before me in proportion.
Don’t Focus on Your “Problems”
This is from the latest book that we have called “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Righteousness.” It’s called, “I have a problem.”
“Father, I have a problem. It’s weighing heavy on me. It’s all I can think about night and day. Before I bring it to you in prayer, I suppose I should pray for those who are less fortunate than me, those in the world who have hardly enough food for this day and for those that don’t have a roof over their heads at night. I also pray for families who have lost loved ones in sudden death, for parents whose children have leukemia, for the many people who are dying of brain tumors, and the hundreds of thousands who are laid waste with other terrible cancers.
For people whose bodies have been suddenly shattered in car wrecks, for those who are lying in hospitals with agonizing burns all over their bodies, whose faces have been marred beyond recognition. I pray for people with emphysema, whose eyes fill with terror as they struggle for every breath merely to live, for those who are tormented beyond words by irrational fears. For the elderly who are wracked with the pains of aging, whose only escape is death. I pray for people who are watching their loved ones fade before their eyes through the grief of Alzheimer’s disease, for the many thousands who are suffering the agony of AIDS, for those that are in such despair they’re about to commit suicide, for people who are tormented by the demons of alcoholism and drug addiction.
I pray for children who have been abandoned by their parents, for those who are sexually abused, for wives held in quiet despair, beaten and abused by cruel and drunken husbands, for people whose minds have been destroyed by mental disorders, for those who have lost everything in floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. I pray for the blind, who never see the faces of the ones they love or the beauty of a sunrise. For those whose bodies are horribly deformed by painful arthritis, for the many whose lives will be taken from them today by murderers, for those wasting away on their deathbeds in hospitals.
Most of all, I cry out for the millions who don’t know the forgiveness that’s in Jesus Christ, for those who in a moment of time will be swept into Hell by the cold hand of death and find in utter horror the unspeakable vengeance of eternal fire. They will be eternally damned to everlasting punishment. Oh, God, I pray for them. Strange. I can’t seem to remember what my problem was. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”
May God help each of us to keep in perspective that which comes our way and to never lose sight of the Great Commission that God has entrusted to us.