Dr. William Leslie went as a missionary in 1912 to a remote part of the Congo. There he shared Christ for 17 years, but felt as though he had little impact. He had a dispute with tribal leaders, and they asked him to leave and to not come back. He left a defeated man, thinking that he was a failure.
Fast forward one hundred years to the shocking events of 2010. Mark Ellis writes, "A team led by Eric Ramsey with Tom Cox World Ministries made a shocking and sensational discovery. They found a network of reproducing churches hidden like glittering diamonds in the dense jungle across the Kwilu River from Vanga, where Dr. Leslie was stationed."
Ramsey reports, "When we got in there, we found a network of reproducing churches throughout the jungle,” Ramsey reports. 'Each village had its own gospel choir, although they wouldn’t call it that,' he notes. ;They wrote their own songs and would have sing-offs from village to village.'"
In each village that Ramsey and his team visited, they found a church. And there was even a thousand set stone cathedral!
This just shows that God can take our "failures" and make incredible things come out of them. And is that not the essence of the cross? Praise God!
In Zechariah 3:1-3, Satan, the accuser, is standing beside Joshua, the very human high priest who is sinful and clothed in filthy robes. He is ready to accuse Joshua for his sins, when the Lord intervenes and says,
“The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick SNATCHED from the FIRE?”
God planned to save and redeem Joshua--ultimately by sending Jesus (Jesus is the Greek version of the name Joshua) to be a perfect high priest and king. Satan was only there to hurl insults, shame, and accusations. He saw no value in Joshua. But God did. He deserved death, but God saved him by his grace, as a "burning stick snatched from the fire."
There is a great sermon illustration for this passage (or any other passage on God's grace and redemption) from in this story - JOHN WESLEY - A BRAND PLUCKED FROM THE FIRE! Like Joshua the high priest, God would redeem Josh Wesley, not discard him, and use him for something incredible and powerful.
"At the age of five the Wesleys’ home caught on fire in the night. All the children were removed safely from the house, but when they were counted, John was missing. A farmer from nearby spotted little John looking out of an upstairs window amid the leaping flames. Several neighbors climbed on each other’s shoulders, ‘till the man on top was able to put his arms around the boy and pull him out of the flames to safety. Only moments after he was rescued, the entire house exploded in flames. Ever after, for the rest of his life, John Wesley referred to himself 'as a brand plucked from the burning,' quoting Zechariah 3:2. . .
As a young man, John and his brother Charles went to Oxford University. Influenced by the home schooling he received from his mother Susanna Wesley, John was a very serious young man. At Oxford he became the leader of a small group of serious Christian young men called the “Holy Club.” George Whitefield was also a member.
But it was not until several years later that he came under the influence of Luther’s writings and experienced a true conversion.
John and his brother Charles were sent by the Church of England as missionaries to Georgia, in the American colony. On board ship, while sailing to America, he saw a group of German Moravians who were unafraid of a great storm that nearly destroyed the ship. John himself was terrified by the storm. But those German Christians sang songs and had no fear. This impressed him greatly.
John failed as a missionary in Georgia. During this time he realized that he had never been truly converted. As he left Georgia for a return trip to England he knew he had failed. He wrote in his Journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me? Who shall deliver me from this heart of unbelief? O, who will deliver me from the fear of death?”
When he got back to London John Wesley met Peter Bohler, a member of the group of German Moravians who had impressed him with their braveness during that storm at sea. Peter Bohler instructed him in how to experience conversion. The counselling of Bohler and his readings from Luther’s commentary on Galatians, which emphasized justification by faith in Christ alone, prepared him for true conversion.
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society [Bible study group] in Aldersgate, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while [Luther] was describing the change which God works in the heart though faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and had saved me from the law of sin and death.”
His brother Charles Wesley had been converted a few days earlier. Now they were ready to join together to lead the First Great Awakening in England, along with the great preacher George Whitefield, a friend of theirs from school days at Oxford.
John Wesley began preaching the new birth in various Anglican [Episcopal] churches around the London area. Again and again, he was shut out of those churches for his strong preaching on the need of the new birth. The ministers were afraid of strong preaching on this subject, as most are today. At last there was no church that would let him preach. It was then that his long-time friend George Whitefield persuaded him to speak outdoors in the open fields. He began preaching in the fields near Bristol in 1739. The First Great Awakening in England had begun. The fire of revival would sweep across the world during his long lifetime, due to the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Howell Harris and other Methodists.
During the following fifty years John Wesley rode 250,000 miles on the roads of England, Scotland and Ireland. He gave over 42,000 sermons, always preaching twice each day, and often three or four times daily, for fifty years. His tireless work changed British society and made evangelistic Christianity a life-giving force throughout the English-speaking world . . . .
At the age of 86 he was still preaching to huge gatherings of people two and three times a day, seven days a week. On October 7, 1790 he preached his last outdoor sermon in a churchyard in Kent. His last sermon was given in a house in the country village of Leatherhead on February 23, 1791. His last sermon text was,
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).
What do you think of this story?
How Hitler's Radio Transmitter, Intended for Nazi Propaganda, Is Being Used to Transmit the Gospel to Millions
During World War II, Adolf Hitler ordered the building of a 100,000 Watt radiotransmitter in Monte Carlo, Monaco, that he planned on using to broadcast venomous Nazi propaganda throughout the world.
It was never used.
But today, the transmitter is used by TrasWorld Radio (TWR) to broadcast the gospel in numerous languages to millions of people all around the world, including Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. What Hitler intended for evil, God used for good. Is that not the essence of the gospel?
Note the following from the article, "Celebrating 50 Years Broadcasting from Monaco":
“Sometimes God turns the efforts of evil men into vehicles for His work in the world,” says TWR President Lauren Libby. “God provided TWR a huge voice to speak in Jesus’ name at a strategic time in history. Today, TWR’s programs from Monte Carlo still bring hope and encouragement to millions.”
Here is an excerpt from prisoner in Poland whose life was eternally touched by TWR's broadcasts from Monte Carlo:
"One night, after everyone else had gone to sleep, I flipped through the radio stations and came across one that would soon change my life forever! Someone was talking about the love of God that cleanses sin, forgives, heals, restores, and gives joy and peace.
I became addicted to listening to Trans World Radio. One day, I bowed my head and cried out: 'Lord have mercy on me, forgive me, save me, come and renew my broken spirit, I want to be a new person and I want to live for you.' Suddenly, the gloom and fretfulness were gone. Instead, joy and peace filled my heart. I started witnessing to my fellow inmates. As many as 10 gathered around the radio to listen to TWR. For five more years in prison, God used me to witness to the broken hearts."
What an amazing story, that God could "redeem" this work of man for the salvation of people's souls and the spread of the gospel. Praise God!
Isn't this an amazing story!
More Muslims Have Converted to Christianity in Last 14 Years than All of 14 Centuries of Islamic History!
Sometimes as Christians, we can get down and defeated. It seems that everywhere, Satan is winning. Fear. Terrorism. ISIS.
But what we see on the news is not the full story.
Note the following quote from a Christianity Today article on ISIS Undermining Islamic Faith.
"Muslims frightened by the inhumane acts by the ISIS, which the militants claim they are doing in the name of their god Allah, are now questioning their very own faith, and presumably considering to leave it, CBS News reported on Friday.
This is backed by testimonies from missionaries working in the Islamic world who noted that more Muslims have converted to Christianity in the last 14 years since the devastating Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. The number of converts in the recent period, they said, is greater than during the entire 14 centuries of Islamic history."
So do not despair! God is at work in the world, and he has already won the victory through Jesus Christ. Could it be God's plan to use the horrors of ISIS to bring Muslims into the fold of Christ? That is the essence of the gospel--God taking the worst that sin has to offer in death and the cross, and creating resurrection and new life from it. Praise God for what he is doing in the Muslim world!
How do you see God at work in the Muslim world?
CLICK HERE FOR AN INCREDIBLE STORY OF A YOUNG WOMAN NAMED "ABBY" WHO RECEIVED A HEART TRANSPLANT!
In Ezekiel 36:26-27, God makes this promise to his people:
"26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."
God's people have been unwilling and unable to follow him and keep his commandments due to their heart condition. And so God says, I am going to give you a heart transplant. I am going to give you a new heart, a new spirit--so that you can keep my commandments.
What God is promising is not just forgiveness for his people, but transformation. He will help them become what he calls them to be--a pure act of grace.
In the above video, a young woman named Abby tells of needing a HEART TRANSPLANT--and talks about how someone's SON had to die in order for her to receive her new heart. Abby was incredibly grateful to this family's son because of what he gave her through his death.
I thought that this video was touching and filled with obvious Christian parallels. Christ died not only for our sins, but for our transformation. And through his death and the sending of his Spirit, we have received a new heart. Now, may we live our lives in gratitude to this Son who died for us and gave us a heart transplant!
What do you think of this story/illustration?
I am convinced more and more that the essence of preaching is the proclamation of the redemptive story--God reaching out to humanity out of his love, sending Christ to live and sacrificially die for us, and raising Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a story about God taking the blackest of life and bringing light into the world. It is about the restoration of hope through the cross.
We are not primarily preaching about morality or better behavior or better marriages--though following God can lead to these things, and they are important. Like Paul, we preach Christ and him crucified--the only story which has the power to truly change and transform our lives, our morals, our marriages, and our family relations.
So for me, no topical preaching lesson will have more impact than if it is connected to this redemptive story. That includes lessons like Mother's Day sermons. The story below tells of a mother's love for her child, which causes her to sacrifice everything for him.
Solomon Rosenberg, his wife, his two sons, and his mother and father were arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust of WWII. It was a labor camp and the rules were simple: As long as you can do your work, you are permitted to live. When you become too weak to do your work, then you will be exterminated.
Rosenberg watched his mother and father being marched off to their deaths when they became too weak to work. He knew that his youngest son, David, would be next because David had always been a frail child. Every evening when Rosenberg came back into the barracks after his hours of labor, he would search for the faces of his family. When he found them, they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life.
One day Rosenberg came back, but he didn't see those familiar faces. He finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled, weeping, and praying. He said, "Josh, tell me it's not true." Joshua turned and said, "It is true, Poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work, so they came for him."
"But where is your mother?" asked Mr. Rosenberg.
"Oh Poppa," he exclaimed. "When they came for David, he was afraid and he was crying. Momma said, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of, David,' and then she took his hand and went with him."
That, my friends, is powerful. That, my friends, is redemptive. That, my friends, illustrates the kind of love that Christ has for us--a love so strong that he gave himself up for us.
I would propose that what we find so good in mothers is that sacrificial, selfless love. It touches us because it points to that incredible sacrifice of Christ and the great redemptive story. Mothers have played an incredible part in this redemptive story, from Eve to Sarah to Tamar to Ruth to Bathsheba to Mary. And they continue to play an incredible part in this story in their lives of daily sacrifice. Mothers, we honor you for who you are and for who you so powerfully remind us of--Jesus Christ!
What stories in the Bible do you see that point to the redemptive roles of mothers?
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Dr. James Nored is a preacher, evangelist, writer, and missional leader. He currently preaches and helps lead the church into mission at the Fairfax Church of Christ in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.