Death fascinates us. We cannot avoid speaking of the last enemy, this final scourge of all mankind. Though death is the last thing we talk about, it is nonetheless inevitable. The Word of God speaks of some who die only to be condemned to eternal separation from the love of God. As an example, recall that Jesus related an incident that occurred when two men died. One of those men was a poor man named Lazarus. The other individual was a rich man, and though we are not given his name, it is obvious that he was well-known in his community. The Master related at the appropriate point in the account, “One day the beggar died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In the afterlife, …he was in constant torment” [LUKE 16:22-23 ISV].
In another week, we will celebrate the conquest of death! We’ll celebrate the Resurrection of our Master, Jesus, who is the Christ. He conquered death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. Today, preparing our hearts to rejoice in Christ’s victory over death, hell and the grave, I ask you to focus on two men as they entered Heaven. We’d be inclined to say that one of those men should never have entered into the precincts of Heaven; the other man, we’d likely agree, surely merited being received into heavenly mansions.
An old proverb states that truth is the best advertising, propaganda and public relations tool. Fact-supported truth is a powerful narrative. Unfortunately, the truth can be hidden, ignored, obscured or inundated by error, creating what is identified as a weaponised narrative. The concept of a narrative has become increasingly popular in contemporary society. One American President popularised the idea of the narrative in political and social discussions. A native activist complained that a Catholic school boy “stole his narrative.” Of course, this hasn’t turned out quite the way the native activist thought it would.
This concept of “the narrative” has been trumpeted by talk-show hosts and politicians of various stripes during the past decade. Promoting the idea of a narrative implies manipulation of perception to ensure a particular outcome during debate between proponents of opposing views. Narratives as currently employed have a tangential relationship to truth, at the best. Increasingly, the idea of a narrative is being weaponised in contemporary society.
The message I seek to deliver this day is intended for those individuals who follow Christ as Master of life. For any who are outside the precincts of grace, the message does not apply directly. It is not that I am unconcerned for those who do not follow Christ—I am tremendously concerned that all who are outside of Christ should be saved. Any who are not following Christ are lost; they are under divine condemnation now. Walking with Christ is an impossibility until such are born from above and into the Family of God.
Christ-followers struggle with sin. I don’t mean that they look for opportunities to sin; I mean that they are conscious that they do sin, and the knowledge disturbs them. The ongoing struggle is prominently displayed when the Apostle writes in his Letter to the believers in Rome, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Cities dye their rivers green in his honour; political dignitaries and athletes march in parades named for him and people drink beer dyed green in honour of him. Around the world, countries celebrate this day set aside in his name. All this in honor of a man whose real story few people actually know. As a Christian, you should know his story.
Imagine that you were credited with 120,000 conversions and the planting of three hundred churches. How would you begin your memoirs? Here’s how Patrick began his memoir: “I Patrick, a sinner, the rudest and the least of all the faithful, and an object of the greatest contempt to many…” In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I commend a reading of his “Confession.”  Anyone doing so will undoubtedly be astounded by what they find, especially will you be astounded by his genuine humility as an instrument of God’s grace.
Scripture gives me scant hope for God’s continued blessing on our nation. Speaking with a woman some weeks past, we were discussing the moral climate of the nation. As we spoke, I commented that witnessing the moral choices being made by many professed Christians, I was distressed, disappointed. She agreed, noting that many of her single friends were promiscuous—they were openly sleeping with multiple sexual partners—and the women of whom she spoke were professing Christians. Excusing immorality appears to be rather common among the professed people of God; demands for holiness from the pulpit are increasingly rare.
Reading morning devotions one crisp morning a few weeks past, I heard the voice of God speaking through Jeremiah. Jeremiah warned the nation, “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: ‘You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD’” [JEREMIAH 23:1-4].
Have you ever prayed the psalmist’s prayer? “How long, O Lord, will you look on” [PSALM 35:17]? When did you first ask the question asked by the prophet so many years ago, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper” [JEREMIAH 12:1]? Why, indeed? Life is not fair! Drug dealers get rich, feeding on the death of men and women whom we know. Sex offenders are not held to account. Politicians continue to lie their way into office, far too many of them exposed as crooks. Murderers are not called to account for their misdeeds. And among the churches, charlatans weasel their way into positions of authority and destroy the Zion of God. Hypocrites abound, and we question God. How long will injustice flourish? Where is God in all this? Is He unable to put an end to the evil that seems to plague our world?
The story is told of a child who brought a cocoon into her bedroom. She had been told that in time a butterfly would emerge from the cocoon; so, in her eagerness to free the butterfly, she carefully snipped the silken threads so the butterfly could emerge without a struggle. The child didn’t understand that the struggle to emerge was necessary if the butterfly was ever to fulfil the destiny for which it had been created. Without the struggle to free itself from the cocoon, the butterfly would never be able to fly as it was created to do. By “helping” the poor creature, she doomed it to a brief life of walking, rather than a full life of flying, even migrating great distances. The tiring struggle to free itself from the cocoon was necessary for the butterfly to be transformed into the beautiful creature God created it to be.
Just as this child thoughtlessly neglected the truth that the butterfly needed to struggle if it would fulfil the destiny for which it was created, we are prone to forget that it is precisely the struggle that confronts us day-by-day, the wind in our faces, the seemingly constant opposition, that makes us strong. If you will ever be the beautiful example of the believer God intends you to be, you will need to inure yourself to hardship. The trials you are facing today are designed to transform you into the gracious example of a redeemed individual that glorifies the Saviour.
Have you ever hit the wall? I mean, have you ever reached the point that you questioned who you were, what you were doing or whether God even knew whether you existed? I am certain that all of us have been there. In fact, some of us may be there now. We have all passed through times when we whinged and whined, pouted and postured—we were doing what we were certain God had appointed us to do, and things got uncomfortable. I don’t mean that we were uneasy; rather, we felt threatened, believed our life and our future was in jeopardy. At that time, we were certain that nothing remained except for us to flee from the perceived danger as fast as we could run. We wanted to “get out of Dodge!”
Think about that. One moment you are a mighty lion, the next you are a timid mouse. For those honest enough to admit that this is not foreign territory, please know there is nothing wrong with you—you are normal. No one of us is immune to such disquieting experiences. In his second letter to the saints in Corinth, Paul writes of his personal experience at one dark point in his ministry. The Apostle writes, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many [2 CORINTHIANS 1:8-11].
Becoming another casualty in the worship wars or a wounded healer who suffers the wrath of some unthinking church member may send you on a journey that God never ordained. Such a journey could happen to you; it happened to Elijah. It has happened to many who have gone before you; unfortunately, it will happen again. Church goers can be cruel, horrendous in destroying those with whom they disagree. Professing Christians can perpetuate some of the most jaw-dropping abuse and not even be aware that they are being abusive.
I am aware that the common perception is that pastors are the ones who fail in their marriages. The stories of pastors who are unfaithful seem to be the stuff of legend, but the truth is that a pastor’s wife is every bit as likely to desert the marriage as is any pastor. Is it possible that modern churches really don’t have a clue what is meant when Paul writes that a man must “manage his own family?”
“I was seated next to a young Muslim,” he wrote, “a diplomat from one of the Middle Eastern embassies. In our brief conversation, I asked him how long he had been in Washington. ‘Less than a year,’ was his answer. I asked him what it was like for him to live and work in our nation’s capital. He smiled. ‘We’re not supposed to say this kind of thing, but this is a wonderful place to be.’ And then he added a comment, gesturing toward the platform as he said it: ‘Washington is the centre of the universe.’”
Mouw then concluded by writing, “There wasn’t time to continue the conversation, so I did not have a chance to tell him about my map of the universe. It is described in the first chapter of Colossians.”  The passage Mouw cited reads, “By [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” [COLOSSIANS 1:16-17].
Her approach following the service communicated determination; she was a woman on a mission. She informed me that she was uncomfortable with how the message might be perceived by outsiders or by Christians on the fringes of the Faith. It wasn’t her first time to register her concerns—she confronted me at least once each month. After a few years, and gaining no traction, she ceased attending our services. She seemed distressed that she could not get her way on the issue. Her idea of the pastoral role was that the pastor must make everyone happy and never make anyone uncomfortable. Frankly, she was ignorant of the Word of God.
If our concern is primarily how the world sees us, our message can be muted before individuals who despise Jesus our Master. However, I recall Someone who said when He had forgiven a woman of her sins, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” [LUKE 7:47]. If we love the praise of men more than we love the smile of Heaven, we will be silent in the face of vicious attacks against the Saviour.
“What About Bob?” is a comedic movie produced in the early 90s. Starring Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray, the film follows the antics of a psychiatric patient named Bob (Murray) and his therapist (Dreyfuss) as Bob unwittingly intrudes into the life of his psychiatrist while the psychiatrist seeks respite with his family while on holiday. Bob ingratiates himself to the family of the psychiatrist, and the family continually asks before every venture, “What about Bob?” Ultimately, Bob pushes the psychiatrist beyond his limits, precipitating a complete breakdown of the once noted therapist.
What is described in the text before us is not comedy—it is life. Peter, acting like Peter, reveals far more about us than we may care to see revealed. Through the Kingdom of our Lord, Christians are appointed to service in varied places and to differing positions of service. The great tragedy is that, like Peter, many saints look about them and ask the Master who appointed them, “What about John?”
A missionary facing a situation where he could not speak the language well? A missionary who was partially deaf? A missionary who had witnessed no conversions? Surely, that sounds like an impossible situation. What would you do? This is what John Hyde did. In 1908, John Hyde began to pray, “God, give me one soul each day.” He prayed when he first awakened and continued praying each day for God to give him one soul. It appeared to be an impossible request for an impossible situation. He would pray sometimes for a full day, skipping meals and pleading with God to do the impossible. At the end of that year, his records showed that he had been used by God to lead over four hundred people to Christ.
In 1909, Hyde changed his prayer, asking God to give him two souls each day. At the end of that year, records showed that almost eight hundred people had given their life to Christ the Lord through this man’s prayers. After this, he became known as “Praying John Hyde.” God was working in an impossible situation to glorify His Name.
The following year, 1910, he changed his prayer again, praying, “O God, give me four souls each day, and nothing less.” At the end of that year, the records of the mission revealed that more than sixteen hundred people had received Christ Jesus as Master over life as result of John Hyde’s prayers. 
John Hyde died in 1912. It is fair to say that John Hyde accomplished more for the cause of the Kingdom of God in those few short years than most Christians accomplish in a lifetime. We wouldn’t be wrong to say that he accomplished more in those few short years than most churches accomplish in their lifetime. This is what God is prepared to do through His people when they are facing an impossible situation that drives them to look to God to accomplish the impossibility
Christ’s fnal word to the churches of Asia opens with a serious charge to the Laodicean congregation.
Jesus warned, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my
mouth” [REVELATION 3:14 CSB]. I suppose this verse qualifes as one of the better-known verses of the
Apocalypse, even if few among the churches are willing to make application of the verse to themselves or
to their own congregation. The picture is graphic as presented in the original language. The Lord warns
that Laodicean congregation that they make Him sick. Cold? He could work among them to kindle a fame
to get a few coals burning again. Hot? He could employ them in His service. Lukewarm? They had
Lukewarm means we think we are warm enough to be useful. Lukewarm means that we are not hot
enough to be used. We pastors want to be “cool,” to be suave, to be someone who speaks with verve and
passion ensuring that people hang onto every word. Christians, in general, especially in the western world,
want to live with one foot in the world and one foot in the church. Far too many contemporary church
members want just enough religion to be comfortable with churchy matters, but not so committed that
they offend the world.