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Those Who Wander from the Path

Sixty six year old retired nurse and hiking enthusiast Geraldine was lost and she knew she was in deep trouble. She’d tried repeatedly to call and text her husband from the deep woods but there was no service. ‘She was afraid to be alone and scared of the dark’ a friend said. Out of food, supplies and hopelessly lost, Geraldine wrote in her journal “When you find my body, it would be a great kindness if you would please call my husband and daughter and tell them I am dead…”. Then, inside her sleeping bag, inside her tent, she died. It would be a full two years before her remains were found by a logging company surveyor. 
If you walked from Palestine’s hospital to the Gateway gas station just south of the loop on highway 79 you’d have walked almost exactly two miles. That’s how far from the path and help Geraldine was.

Proverbs 4:14 sais “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.” Many verses echo this truth and warn us that there are right paths, wrong paths, plain paths, uneven paths, crooked paths and straight paths. Sadly we live in a generation wherein many seem to think that no matter how lost they are, they’re still on their own path. Too many think that wherever they are is their path and they don’t want to be warned {judged} no matter how far from the real path they’ve wandered. To them the path is wherever they happen to be. Statistics report that between 2010-2014 192 people died while hiking…they got lost and starved.

So it is spiritually as well. There are some plain paths in life for the Christian to follow and some they’re told to avoid. In life, hikers doom themselves by being unprepared, inexperienced and making poor decisions. In the spiritual life this holds true as well: we find Christians failing through a lack of Bible study, making poor spiritual decisions and most of all a lack of experience {relationship} with God. Many years ago I took my Great and Terrible God by the hand and asked him to show me and lead me in a plain path. There have been times when I wandered off the path, but it was because I let go of his hand. Each time I’ve stopped and shouted and called for him and he came to me and led me back to the path. Each time he has warned me to stay beside him and hold his hand. If you’ve gotten off the path and lost your way we urge you to stop where you are and call out to God. He will lead you back to the plain path! 

Why Hast Thou Done This?

Last week we looked into Jonah’s refusal to obey God and his finding of a ship to escape the will of God. This week let me call your attention to Jonah chapter 1 verses 4 through 10. In his rebellion to God’s will Jonah found a ship, paid the fare, found a good spot and went to sleep. [In like manner many Christians have done so; abandoned their post, found a comfy spot in the world and gone to sleep]. In verse 4 and 5 God sent a terrible storm. In verse 6 through 9 the mariners feared for their lives and struggled to determine why this storm was upon them. [There is a massive doctrinal and life lesson there too] can you see it? In verse 8 and 9 (with 11 considered) they confront Jonah and he confesses who he is and why the storm has befallen them. In verse 10 after Jonah tells these seasoned veteran shipmasters why they face the destruction of their ship and their lives, they were terrified and they demanded to know “Why Hast Thou Done This”?

Let me borrow your imagination for a few moments. The sky is black with storm clouds, the wind howls, the peels of lightening flash and the thunder is deafening. It rips the sails to shreds and breaks beams! You must shout to be heard by the man standing next to you. The ship reels and bucks and groans under the strain as the waves crash down on the deck. It plunges down into the troughs and then up on the next wave. Crates, ropes and tackle shatter against the railing. The men, white with panic, stagger and struggle to find something to hold onto. Some have seen the huge fish circling the ship. They fear the ship will be destroyed and they will all perish. Amidst this scene they shout their accusatory question at Jonah “WHY HAST THOU DONE THIS”?!

Why have you turned your back on God? Why have you abandoned what He told you to do? Why did you say “I surrender all to thee” when you had no intention to do so?! For the rebelling Christian alone many hard life lessons are stuffed into these few verses. Questions like: ‘Why did you tell God you would do His will and then turn your back on it’? ‘Has your storm arrived yet?’ Are you already in the belly of hell? Jonah 2:2. Can I point out that God sends storms only to turn those He loves back. He sends a storm because all else has failed to get our attention! When the mariners obeyed God that storm stopped. Can I point out that God has some storms beyond our wildest dreams if that’s what it takes to break our pride. We’re out of time and space for this week but let me urge you to study your Bible and see what God might show you.

Those Little Loving Reminders from God

Back years ago while preparing to enter full time ministry, I had started a family business to leave with my children in Florida. I was setting up a landscaping & tree work business. I had taken a tough job which involved removing a large heavy tree that was leaning far over a fence and a deep ravine in a posh neighborhood. 
The job was in a wooded section of two adjoining yards over a deep ravine with a chain link fence separating the two. It was hard, meticulous and dangerous work. I should’ve passed on it. Worse yet I had underbid it and left myself no room for error. The “climber” I had hired to rope it down piece by piece was costing me as well. Everything was going fine until he made a wrong cut and sure enough, down came 3000 pounds of solid oak and flattened that chain link fence into mangled scrap. I was now in the hole on this job! I was outraged. I was furious at the tree, furious at the fence, furious at the climber for making a stupid mistake, furious with myself for starting a business, furious at the birds for singing – you get the picture. Angrily I ordered my son and the climber to go to Lowe’s and buy the materials needed to repair the destroyed section of fence. Three new fence posts, 12 ft. of chain link fencing, ties, post caps.

After they left I stood there brooding and frustrated and worried. I looked up into the blue sky and said “Lord, I sure do need your help right now”. As I said it I drew back and kicked the pile of leaves at my feet. Clang! A metal against metal sound? I did it again. Clang! Absentmindedly I started kicking leaves and bramble aside with my boot. Low and behold what lay at my feet? Three chain link fence posts, three post caps, ties, and a roll of left over chain link exactly the amount I needed to fix the destroyed section! It had been buried there under the bramble and leaves and weeds just waiting and God had parked my feet right in the perfect spot to reveal it when I needed it. When did he make that provision for me? I do not know. But I do know that when I asked the Lord for help he answered me just like he said – Glory! I looked up into that blue sky and remembered Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end”. I remembered Job’s words in Job 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…”. I couldn’t help but be reminded yet again how my sweet King gives me these little loving reminders that He sees me. He hears my prayers and my cries. He knows my needs. Even little insignificant me, standing in a muddy ravine brooding in my anger he took time to send me a reminder – I love you! {Psalm 50:15}
How about you friend? Are you watching for God’s little reminders of love? Don’t let yourself get to thinking that you are not important to the great and terrible God of the living!

Putting the Wood in Order

1st Kings records the hilarious account of Elijah and the false prophets of Ba-al [Chapter 18]. It tells of Elijah’s famous challenge to the false prophets of the false gods of his time (it’s just new names, new false prophets and newer false gods in our time). It records Elijah’s humorous mocking of the false prophets of Ba-al [vs 27-28] and exposes the ridiculous antics of false religions. After the spectators saw how useless foolish ‘religious nonsense’ can be; Elijah called the people to him and repaired the altar of the REAL GOD of the bible. In the course of rebuilding the altar of the Lord we then read the result: verse 33 says “he put the wood in order”.

Years ago I often wondered why the Lord would bother to record such an obvious thing in the scripture. I thought, “of course Elijah put the wood in order, how could anyone think otherwise?” The entire altar was rebuilt and everything was done as it was supposed to be done. The Lord showed me the answer one day as I was studying this. Elijah did this, then Elijah straightened out that, then he put things back together the way God said, and then, after he put things the way God specified we see verse 38 “Then the fire of the Lord fell”… and not one moment sooner. The prophets of Ba-al had wasted their time calling upon a non-existent god. It is equally absurd to think the Fire of the Lord is going to fall on a false pastor or preacher or church or congregation. 
The Fire of the Lord is not going to fall on a false bible, false doctrine or unsanctified altar. God doesn’t alter His holiness to accommodate our carnality, He won’t send the fire of the Lord onto an unsanctified, unqualified, unpurified, unbiblical pile of chaos. Yet we see ‘churches’ where the fire hasn’t fallen in a long time, if ever. Those of us who’ve been in old fashioned bible believing country churches were shocked when the fire did not fall. I hate to say it but now-days people are shocked when it does! Worse yet is a church where the folks would prefer the fire didn’t fall because it would stir things up and get people excited about God! 
You can ‘mark’er down’ brethren: The Fire of the Lord doesn’t fall on a false pastor! The Fire of the Lord doesn’t fall on false doctrine! The Fire of the Lord doesn’t fall on a false bible! The Fire of the Lord doesn’t fall on a false church! The Fire of the Lord doesn’t fall on false worship, false praise, false music, or unsanctified hearts! No Sir! The Fire of the Lord doesn’t fall until the wood is put in order!

Oh but when we PUT THE WOOD IN ORDER the Fire of the Lord falls! When it does lives are changed! When it does there is a New Creature in Christ! There is spiritual renewal! There is a spiritual awakening of hearts! When the church “puts the wood in order” in the pulpit, the church gets excited and the people find themselves drawn to the altar of God. They become an Elijah in their family and in their homes! Listen sir! Hear me Ma’am; if you will put the wood in order in your heart, your home, your prayer time, your study time the Fire of the Lord will fall on it! 

When God Provides Cornbread

After Elijah killed the false prophets of Ba-al [1st Kings 18:40] we find him running for his life in the next chapter [see 1st Kings 19:3-4]. The notorious blow-hard queen Jezebel was all in a tizzy over Elijah killing her 400 dancing monkeys at the first annual Ba-al worship concert and she’d threatened to kill him within 24 hrs. This scripture baffled me for a long time in years past. I questioned Elijah’s stamina and judged him harshly for running. How in the world, I wondered, could the great Elijah possibly be afraid of a mop-head like Jezebel? Run from her, surely you can’t be serious? In fact I wondered why Elijah didn’t invite her to bring her “Ba-al worshippers against God” sign and come on down to Mt. Carmel so he could straighten her out like he had her false prophets. I’ve many times wondered why he feared her. But let’s go on.

As we take up his story, it was just a few days ago that the miraculous “fire of the Lord” fell upon the altar of God in Mt. Carmel. It was such a dramatic demonstration of the power and majesty of the Living God that Elijah must’ve thought ‘surely this will turn the world back to the Living God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses!’ None could deny it. Yet, within hours many of the infuriated Jews and Gentiles had again thrown down the altar of God and were after Elijah! How could it be? From this great miracle where people had shouted “The Lord, He is God” [Ch 18:39] had degenerated into an angry mob! {That should sound familiar to those who study their Bibles}.

It is no surprise to me personally that we find Elijah in chapter 19:3-4 discouraged, depressed and exasperated. Like many who suffer from depression he’s sought solitude. Exhausted from running, he’s laid under a tree alone and gone to sleep. Yet God, who loves us and watches over “his children”, who never leaves us nor forsakes us, has seen every step Elijah has taken and watched him fall asleep. In His tender pity and mercy He sent an angel to build a fire and cook a little “cake” for Elijah [the country preacher commentary, by which I mean mine, says “cake” in the Hebrew means cornbread]. Now the Lord could have simply dropped a bag of manna from heaven beside Elijah. He could have just given Elijah the strength of Sampson or the courage of Gabriel and strengthened him and sent him home. But no, our God sent His angel to cook this discouraged weary servant a “cake” {cornbread and maybe some coffee too}; in fact verse 7 says he did it twice! Psalm 34:7 says “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them”. I urge you to read verse 6 and then read Psalm 27:13-14 too. The point is, look at our God’s tender handling of His servant during this darkest hour of Elijah’s life. Look how gentle and providential He was! When my children were small I often sat beside them as they slept and softly rubbed their head. I won’t be one bit surprised to one day learn that God does that to us during hard times. I know beyond all doubt that in my deepest pits my tender Lord whispered “trust me”.

A God of Second Chances

Jonah 2:10-3:1 tells us that while Jonah was inside the whale’s belly God spoke to it and at His word the whale beached itself and vomited Jonah out on the sand. Then, the word of the Lord came to Jonah, watch this – “the second time…”. That ought to be enough to make the crustiest old dignified Baptist run and shout Hallelujah Glory! I personally wish Jonah had got it right the first time around. I wish he’d have taken just a moment to think to himself “self, we don’t deserve one of the wonderful things God has done in our life so let’s honor Him by going and doing what He asked us to do”. But he didn’t do that.

If you and I would be plain and honest with the great and terrible God with whom we have to do, we’d admit that like Jonah, we don’t deserve one thing He’s done in our life either. But Jonah didn’t think about it. He made a terrible mistake and did exactly the opposite of what God said. In our younger years we tend to think Jonah was quite a scoundrel for acting like that. But as we get a little deeper in our Bible we start seeing our own life in the mirror of God’s word and we admit that we’re the scoundrel amen?! Maybe you’re thinking ‘well pastor, since Jonah blew it, why did God even record Jonah’s story in the Bible?’ So you could see that God is a merciful God of second chances. Even when we don’t deserve it. So you could see that even if you blow it God, who is rich in mercy, still loves you! Oh let’s take a look at Adam and Eve…they blew it bad and it cost them a high price but look close and see that God still used them, still loved them and gave them his mercy again. Who all can we see in the Bible who got a second chance? I would tell you Adam did! Eve did! Job did! Moses did! Noah did! Rahab the harlot did! Peter did! Paul did! On and on and on the list goes and my name is on it just like yours is! Abraham lied but God still used him! Job questioned his torment but God still used him. Sampson got sideways over ungodly women but God still used him after he repented. Lot moved to wicked Sodom but God still loved him and called him righteous! David committed adultery and murder and he paid dearly for it but God still loved him and gave him a second chance! John Mark turned his back on the ministry for a time and went home. Peter said Lord, I’ll follow you even to death if it comes to it and the Lord looked at him and said ‘Peter you won’t make it to breakfast before you deny you even know me’. Still though even after that Jesus loved Peter and gave him a second chance!

Maybe you’ve blown it and you’re out of church and out of God’s will. Maybe you’re in a mess. Maybe something has been missing from your life so long you think its just how you are…no, what that is sir, is the absence of your walk with God. Its your soul longing for a relationship with Him. Can I tell you from the Bible – our God is a God of second chances and His love is as strong for you right now as it was when he laid you in your mother’s womb. We’re a church that welcomes folks who need a second chance! 

The Preaching that I Bid Thee

As we continue looking at Jonah I’d like to encourage you to stop here and read chapter 1-3, it will only take a moment. Notice in chapter 3 vs 1 that after Jonah got vomited onto the beach, the word of the Lord came to him a 2nd time [see last week’s article “A God of Second Chances”]. Verse 2 gives us some important doctrine! Notice there that God told Jonah “go…preach…”! I know, as do some of you, that in these last few hours ‘the desperate need in our churches is men, bold men, holy men…we need no more genteel diplomats of the world but rather, godly men cut from the cloth from which the prophets and martyrs were cut! Away with this pharisaical postulating we need no more power point presentations but plain cast iron preaching!

So let’s take notice that God didn’t send Jonah to Nineveh to organize a ‘contemporary Christian music concert’. God didn’t send Jonah to Nineveh to set up a roadside healing tent or a prophecy banquet at the Inn. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to do what many churches are NOT DOING – God sent him TO PREACH! Why is it in these days that we find so many who are against what God is for? Why it is that God chose ‘the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe’? [1st Corinthians 1:21] Why is it that God sent the apostle Paul to say “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” [1st Corinthians 1:18]? I’ll refer you to 1st & 2nd Timothy for the answer. 
He said to Jonah, not only do I want you to go and preach, but I want you to preach unto it “…the preaching that I bid thee”. Those of us who still ask that old question “…is there any word from the Lord?” are finding it harder and harder to find those little country churches where a ‘Fire & Brimstone” Jeremiah will lift up his voice like a trumpet [Isaiah 58:1] and shout “…there is”. There is all the world of difference between this man-made theological theorizing and ‘that preaching’ that God bids His servants to preach! Nineveh had collapsed into the same idolatrous sin that America has adopted. It was filled with decadence and moral decay. It was wicked. The only thing that will turn a wicked people from their wicked ways is preaching. As such God sent no Biblically ignorant Christian celebrity. He called on no winking smiling televangelists to deliver a message of a more prosperous personal journey…NO!

A.W. Tozer once said “If I see clearly, the cross of popular religion is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men, the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it”. So God sent Jonah with eight simple words. Come worship the Living God with us at Calvary and see what words God might say to you!

When the Real Horsemen are Released

In Alan Dean Foster’s bestselling western novel “Pale Rider” the main character {a role later played by actor and director Clint Eastwood} is portrayed as gun slinging whiskey drinking preacher ‘Gabriel’ who mysteriously comes to the rescue of poor downtrodden gold claim miners who are oppressed by a gold greedy land baron. Set with ominous music there is a scene where someone reads part of Revelation 6:8 “And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him…”

But instead of getting our doctrine from Hollywood let’s look at what the Bible has to say about the real PALE rider. “The Four Horsemen” of the Revelation is far more frightening than you might think. First, get this settled in your head: If you are really a “born again” [John 2:3] “saved” [Acts 16] “believer” [John 1:12] of the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus Christ [I Cor 15:1-4] –You Won’t Be Here when the Divine Seals are broken and the Angelic Horsemen are released. Look at Revelation 6 where we will find the period known as ‘The Tribulation’ or “The Time of Jacob’s trouble” [Jeremiah 30:7]. The FIRST SEAL is broken and the FIRST ANGEL horseman is released. He is ‘The Conqueror’ upon his WHITE horse. His ministry is terrible! Government and Nations of the world will collapse and be ripped to shreds. He will turn them against each other and against Israel.

The SECOND ANGEL horseman will combine his terrible power with that of the first – WAR rides the RED horse. The planet will be devastated. Peace will be taken from all the earth. On a global scale no one senses peace but rather a sense of impending doom and battle. He will cause man to turn on man and nation to turn on nation. It will be savage and brutal war unending until the “anti-Christ comes with his false promise of peace”. It will be horrible when the White horse conqueror and the Red rider of WAR is released.

Now “come and see” the third seal broken and the THIRD ANGEL Horseman comes thundering out of heaven riding a BLACK horse and with his balances in his hand [Revelation 6:5]. The BLACK horse rider is empowered to bring global economic ruin. Food, fuel, electricity, hospitals and all things that require economy will be brought to collapse. The ensuing panic and plagues will be unimaginable. Hunger and violence and homelessness and mob rule will grip the planet under the BLACK horse rider.
These three ANGEL Horseman will leave the earth a smoking war-torn battlefield. Now try to hear with your imagination as the fourth beast says “Come and see” and here let me urge you to read Revelation 6:8 in its entirety…and behold, a PALE HORSE and his name that sat on him was Death…and these FOUR angelic horseman will have power to kill with plague, wild animals, starvation and war! I just cannot imagine this scene and frankly I don’t want to. It will be merciless. I don’t know about you but I am glad I won’t have to see the suffering these Horsemen bring …because I’ll be with my Lord at the marriage supper.

The Prisoners Heard Them

This past Sunday evening at Calvary Independent Baptist Church we looked into Acts chapter 16 vs 15-30 where Paul and Silas (servants of the most high God) had been attacked by a mob, stripped of their clothes, beaten, jailed deep in the prison and even had their feet locked into ‘stocks’ to make sure they couldn’t get out. They knew not whether they’d be there for years or be crucified the next day. Yet, in the darkness of midnight, in a terrible prison of torment the Bible says “…Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them”! Vs 26 says suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately ALL [not some select few, not some pre-chosen] but ALL of the doors were opened, and “EVERY ONE’S bands were loosed”.If I had been there I’d sure have wanted that earthquake to deliver me from the mob, the beating, the jailer! But no, God didn’t send the earthquake to stop the mob! He didn’t send the earthquake to stop the beating! He didn’t send the earthquake to stop the jailer! Why? Why didn’t God deliver them from this angry mob, this shameful attack and the horrible beating? Why did God allow them to suffer so? Well, picture in your mind those helpless souls there in a dingy darkened prison. Picture the tears running down their faces as they strained to hear the praying and sweet words of those old hymns echoing in the darkness as Paul and Silas praised God, prayed and sang. The earthquake didn’t come until those desperate discouraged prisoners got to hear these men sing hymns to God!Could I just tell you that sometimes God needs His disciples {that’s you if you’re saved} to be faithful even in terrible and hopeless situations; so that the prisoners of the devil [2 Timothy 2:25-26] AND the prisoners of this hard life who face their own torments troubles trials and tribulations may draw strength courage and help in the sweet hour of prayer from your faith! Some are facing deep pits of despair. Others are facing physical infirmities or worse. Some face financial difficulties or family hardships or personal heartaches. There is someone close to you who has almost given up on God! Perhaps you are the only one in their life who is still praying, praising and singing God’s praise, still glorifying His name! How many I wonder are near you who desperately need to hear you sing! Who need you to remind them that our God is FAITHFUL and TRUE! Perhaps you are facing hardships not because of sin, but because God is trusting you to SING so that others in a dark prison cell can hear you! God help us be faithful no matter how dark the night seems. Has my Father not been a glorious God to you? Has He not done far more for you than you deserved? As His preacher I ask you the question from the old hymn “how long has it been, since you talked with the Lord”?  
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When it Seems You’re All Alone

One of the saddest things I suppose we Christians can experience is the feeling that God is far from us! Sin can bring about this feeling of abandonment and hopelessness. *There is a huge difference between spiritual {judicial} forgiveness and parental forgiveness. In fact in Psalms 22:11 the great king David cried out “Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help”. I agree with him – I notice that sometimes God allows a bad situation to get so bad that I am faced with the irrefutable realization that there is not a soul on earth who could have helped me deal with what I was facing. At such times, when God does finally step in, it has gotten so bad that I must acknowledge that He alone could have helped. I think when David said “…for there is none to help”, it was because he had reached that place where God alone could help. Have you ever felt that way?

Look at these similar places in David’s life where he cried out to God in desperation: Psalm 22:19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Again in Psalm 27:9 Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. David, you may remember, made some huge blunders in his spiritual life and committed some atrocious sins [2 Samuel chapter 11 onward]: Lust, Adultery and Murder yet he repented of his sins [Psalm 51]. I always find it humorous to hear someone say that they have finally reached a place where they don’t commit sin {John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, popularized the teaching of Christian perfection in his 1777 book “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”}. I am glad for our sakes that God recorded David’s sin, confession and repentance in the Bible! We find David again crying out in Psalm 35:22 “This thou hast seen, O LORD: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.” If that isn’t enough to convince you that even David wasn’t perfect, take a look at Psalm 38:21 “Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me” and Psalm 71:12 “O God, be not far from me: O my God, make haste for my help”.

As you were reading David’s great psalms / prayers beseeching God to not leave him alone and without hope, I trust you noticed that any one of these prayers might be great to memorize for your own dark hours. Over the many years thousands like yourself have cried out to God and cited these prayers of David or words very similar! This feeling of being alone in deep despair and hopelessness is not new to us and in fact if you’ll turn in your Bible to Matthew chapter 28 verse 46 you’ll find our Lord Jesus Christ praying “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”? Jesus was forsaken in your place that through his sacrifice you might have the fellowship He has with the Father and never be forsaken again! Glorious work of Calvary!

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