10 ways we know people are lost

The Son of Man has come to seek and save those who were lost (Luke 19:10).

Someone asked Daniel Boone if in all his wilderness travels he had ever been lost. “No,” he drawled, “but once I was bewildered for three whole days.”

Bewildered in a wilderness. Sounds like the place to do that.

The great difficulty in rescuing the lost–the assignment God’s children have been handed by the Lord Jesus–is compounded when the subjects do not realize their dire situation.

How would one go about convincing a lost person he was lost? And why do that in the first place?

Clearly, if one is on-board the damaged Titanic and while scurrying to get off the doomed vessel with as many survivors as possible, he runs into partying passengers without the slightest awareness of their situation, he needs to tell them. He will want to alarm them even, and convince them to take action to save themselves. Whether they will listen is another story.

If we know the hurricane is coming and this neighborhood is about to be destroyed, we will do all in our power to alert the residents.

The days of our lives are finite and this world is doomed. Someone needs to tell the passengers.

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Tasks that are finished and ships that have sailed

“It is finished” (John 19:30).

In a panel discussion regarding the movie Saving Mr. Banks, actor Tom Hanks, who plays Walt Disney in the film, tells of the final conversation between Disney and the creator of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers.

“Just after the premiere of the movie, Mrs. Travers said, ‘Oh, we have much work to do on this movie, Mr. Disney. Much work indeed.’

Disney said to her, ‘Pam, that ship has sailed,’ and walked away.”

Hanks says, “It was the last time they ever spoke.”

That ship has sailed.

It’s a wonderful expression to indicate tasks that are complete and should now be set aside, events that are now history and cannot be changed, projects that are finished and cannot be tampered with.

When a movie is “in the can,” as they say, it’s done.

Here are a few other over-and-done things that come to mind, ships that have sailed….

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Envy: The malaise afflicting the redeemed

A friend asked, “Have you noticed that so many Christians seem to be discontented with their lot?  That they envy the rest of the world, and maybe even resent a little having to live like Jesus?”

If this is true–and I suspect it is–it’s not a new phenomenon.  The condition has been with us from early on.

The malady was voiced perfectly by the Psalmist:

I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:3).

You and I suspect the Psalmist may have been a bit too selective of the ungodly whom he chose to envy. But that’s how we do it, after all.

Envy is selective.

All around the Psalmist were wicked people living wretched lives, filling the jails, fighting and killing, fornicating and drinking themselves into early graves.  Those people also are “the boastful” and “the wicked.”  But he focuses on none of those.  The ones he admires and even envies are the “up and out,” not the “down and out.”  Look how he describes them….

–There are no pangs in their death. (Psalm 73:4)

–They are not in trouble like other people. (73:5)

–They have an abundance of this world’s goods. (73:7)

–They speak against God and show no respect for sacred things, and seem to get by with it. (73:8-9)

–They are always at ease; they increase in riches. (73:12)

In short, those he envies have “got it made.”

After casting the envious eye toward his wealthy and ungodly neighbors, the Psalmist begins to wonder if he has wasted his own time serving God. “Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain.”  “All day long I have been plagued and chastened every morning,” he says, implying that it was all for nothing.

Let’s admit something up front: Serving God can often be tough. 

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Where are the sins God has forgiven?

Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.  Micah 7:19

Gospel song of the 1950s…

You ask me why I’m happy, I’ll tell you the reason why: My sins are gone.

And when I meet the scoffers who ask me where they are, I say, My sins are gone.

They’re underneath the blood of the cross of Calvary, as far removed as darkness is from dawn.  In the sea of God’s forgetfulness, that’s good enough for me, praise God, my sins are gone.

(second verse)  When Satan comes to tempt me, and cause me to doubt, I say, my sins are gone.  You got me into trouble, but Jesus got me out. I’m glad, my sins are gone. (then the chorus)

It’s a good song, take my word for it!

Some lessons God’s children have to keep learning…

She was a faithful member of the church I had gone to right after seminary.  I was 27 years old with a lot to learn about ministry.  But I knew something about her she thought no one else did.

One day the church secretary had blurted out to me that a year earlier Gloria Mae had had an affair with a man she worked with.  “And she thinks no one knows it!”  Well, it’s impossible to unknow something once you hear it.  And I was sorry to know this.  But God used that…

One day sometime later, while making my morning hospital rounds, I noticed that Gloria Mae had been admitted as a patient. I went in to visit her.  “My ulcer is acting up,” she told me.  As we visited, she said, “Pastor, one of these days there is something I need to tell you. Something that bothers me.”

I said, “I’m available any time,” and continued to stand there by her bed talking and listening.  And because I was patient, she began pouring out the sad tale of her sin.  She wept and my heart broke for her.  Finally, I said, “Gloria, has God forgiven you?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, “He has, but I can’t forgive myself.”

I said, “So, you have a higher standard than God. Is that right?”

She was almost offended.  “Brother Joe! Whatever does that mean?”

I said, “Well, listen to you.  Sure, God forgave me.  It’s easy for Him.  But I’m harder on myself than He is.”  I paused to let that sink in and said, “Gloria, if God forgave you, why don’t you forgive yourself?”

We prayed together and left that sordid business at the cross, where it belonged.  One year later, I received a note from her saying, “It was a year ago today that you visited me in the hospital.  And you said exactly what I needed to hear. I am well today. Thank you.”

Her sins were gone.  And how good is that???

Question: Where were her sins?  What had God done with them? Continue reading

My sin is just a little thing

A pastor in Haiti tells about a fellow he knew who wanted to sell his house for $2,000. In time, he found a buyer, but the man could scrape together only half the asking price. The owner agreed to sell for that amount but with one reservation: he would continue to own one nail above the front door.

A couple of years later, the first fellow decided he wanted to repurchase the house. The new owner declined, saying, “I like this house; I don’t want to sell.”

The previous owner found the carcass of a dead dog on the street and hung it from the nail he still owned above the front door. Soon the stench became so strong no one could go in or out of the house, and the family had to leave. They sold the house to the former owner.

The Haitian pastor said, “If we leave the devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making our lives unfit for Christ’s habitation.”

–I sure am enjoying my new life in Christ. Bible study is great, my new friends at church are wonderful, and I’m loving the new relationships. I wish I’d done this years ago. Some nights I’m down at the church til 10 o’clock with my friends there. Sometimes we are praying, studying the Bible, or working on various projects. I hope no one finds out what I’m watching on the internet at home. I know it’s called pornography, but it’s such a little thing and as long as no one knows, what can be wrong with it?

–My wife and I have this wonderful relationship. After 20 years of marriage, we know each other completely and have learned to work together as a team. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s so good with our kids, and I’m always proud of her when we go out in public. I don’t want her to find out about the harmless little flirtation I’m having with this girl at the office, though. She wouldn’t understand.

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Man is basically good. Try saying that with a straight face.

A pastor friend says he was checking into a website responsible for a series of “believe-in-yourself” television commercials that had been airing. When he checked to see who was responsible and what their values were, he found this: We believe in the basic goodness of all people.

One wonders what kind of number a person would have to do on himself to convince himself of that misguided philosophy.

True, we want to believe that. It’s part of our sinful nature to believe that everyone is all right and no one needs forgiving or saving. A major strain in our sinful system holds that all we need to do is release everyone from restraints and preachers should quit laying guilt trips on unsuspecting audiences.

Yeah, right.  But one wonders how many people were killed last night by those who were resisting restraints and determined to have their own way.

In two rather unexpected places, I came upon discussions regarding the contradictory nature of man. One was a western novel and the other a biography of a longshoreman philosopher from over 40 years ago.

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Why your good sermon turned out to be a dud

Pastor, if you are like the rest of us, you’ve had this happen….

You brought a sermon on an important scriptural passage which you knew beyond a doubt was from the Lord and inspired of God.  You had a great time studying and praying for this sermon, and you knew this was cutting edge stuff. So, why was the sermon itself so poorly received?  Halfway through, you could sense the congregation’s collective minds wandering.  How could this happen?

Clearly, the problem could be any of one thousand things. But if I may, I will share a strong conviction on the number one reason your excellent sermon was so poorly received.

You failed to lay the foundation for it.

That is, you preached the event without setting the stage and placing the context for it before the congregation.  For instance….

–You preach Matthew 1:18ff and Luke 1:26ff, the Mary and Joseph event.  This beloved story needs you to point out how the world had lain in darkness for centuries, with no word from God, no prophets appearing, no fresh revelation.  And then the angel Gabriel showed up.  Bingo!

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I’ve been forgiven? How could I have forgotten??

If you had nearly died from a strange illness and the doctors had given up hope, then suddenly you recovered and were able to get on with your life, could you ever ever forget that?

If you had suffered on death’s row at Angola Prison, and the prison chaplain was preparing a final prayer and the chef had laid out your last meal, when suddenly the governor pardoned you and you walked outside a free man, and then got on with your life, could you ever forget it?

Apparently some people can forget the most momentuous events in their lives.

Consider this line: For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten that he was forgiven from his past sins. (II Peter 1:9)

It appears that some calling themselves Christians no longer remember that they have been forgiven of their sins. How strange is that? And how does it happen?

I think we know.

The Apostle Peter saw professing Christians around him living as though they had no past, as though they had dropped full-grown into the Christian life out of heaven.

It was a bizarre thought to him, as it is to us.

Peter identifies qualities which make for fruitfulness and usefulness in a believer’s life: Applying all diligence, add to your faith moral excellence, and to your moral excellence knowledge, and to your knowledge, self-control….perseverance….godliness….brotherly kindness….love. (II Peter 1:5-7)

Believers exhibiting such godly traits have great influence for the Lord in this world. However, some who call themselves believers show no evidence of moral excellence (virtue), have no knowledge, little or no self-control, a complete lack of perseverance, and so forth (vs. 8). That is, they are living in sin, are ignorant of God’s word, indulge every passion, cannot stay with anything they start, show no signs of Christlikeness or simple kindness or a love for other believers. And yet they call themselves Christians. How could this be?

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Envy: The sneakiest sin of all

Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:26)

I find it funny how the Old Testament’s references to envy focus on God’s people looking outward to the world (“sinners”). They were not to envy wrongdoers, those on the outside.

However, the New Testament directs its instructions inwardly, warning believers against envying each other. For those of us who know the inner workings of church life, we fully understand the change.

Now, a confession first.

I have decided this “deadly sin” is not my problem, that envy is not a problem in my part of the world. I honestly don’t know anyone sitting around stewing over the neighbors having a car and wishing it was in their own driveway. I know of no preachers fuming because another pastor received a doctorate which he should have rightfully received. So, maybe envy is no longer a problem to moderns.

But hold on.  Not so fast.

Perhaps I’ve been defining envy too narrowly.

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Pride: The sin that looks most like me

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (I Peter 5:5)

When a British newspaper invited readers to submit their answers to the question “What’s Wrong With the World?” the inimitable G. K. Chesterton wrote: “Editors: I am. Sincerely, G. K. Chesterton.”

Whenever the so-called seven deadly sins are listed, pride invariably leads the parade. It’s the granddaddy of them all, the source of the other six. Consider how this is so—

–Lust is pride expressing itself sexually, as well as in other ways. It takes what it wants, uses it, and tosses it in the trash.

–Avarice is pride in the marketplace and in our culture. It wants more and more and is never satisfied.

–Anger is pride on the highway and in relationships. It didn’t get what it wants and wants revenge.

–Envy is pride casting an evil eye at its neighbor, wishing for what he has and that he had a wart on his nose. (An old childhood curse we would inflict in jest)

–Sloth is pride expressing its selfishness concerning work. None for him, thanks. He’ll sit this one out. Everyone owes him.

–Gluttony is pride at the dinner table.

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