You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”  1 Corinthians 1:26 (KJV)

One of my favorite preachers was an old-timer named Dr. B.R. Lakin. He used to refer to a television commercial that spotlighted the women’s liberation movement. It was actually a Virginia Slims cigarette commercial that ended by saying “You come a long way, baby!” I remember hearing Dr. Lakin preach, and he sometimes referenced his humble beginnings in the hills of West Virginia. He grew up in hard times, and often plowed a mule all day in his bare feet. Occasionally the plow would hit a root and the plow handle would fly up and bust his lip or nose. As the blood trickled, he would stop, fall down on his knees, look up to the sky and cry out with tear-filled eyes, “Lord, will I EVER amount to anything?”
Decades later, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, would bring his mentor, Dr. Lakin, up to preach in the church or at Liberty University. As he sat comfortably in the private Learjet, he would think back to his childhood upbringing in poverty and hard times. He too would repeat the phrase in his mind, “You’ve come along way, baby!”
I also had a similar experience. Many years ago as I flew into a large city to preach a revival meeting, I felt completely overwhelmed. As the big jet descended on final approach into Detroit International Airport, I looked out the window and could see the city lights as far as I looked in any direction. I was humbled as I began to think of just who I was, and from where I had come. I admit feeling a bit intimidated to say the least. Who was I to be invited to preach in a church in Lincoln Park, Michigan? I was raised in rural Mississippi, in what I call the “backwoods of nowhere”. I had nothing, came from nothing and knew hard times and poverty as well. I knew all too well, how unlikely a candidate I was for such a task as this. I would have been voted “the most unlikely to succeed”, had there been such a category in high school yearbooks! When I see and talk with my old friends and classmates, they often say to me, “Randall, of all the people in our school, I would have never dreamed that you would be a preacher of the gospel!”
However, in almost the same instant, God comforted my heart by reminding me of what He said in 1 Corinthians 1:26. He typically chooses the nothings and nobodies of this world to accomplish His purposes. God does not usually call the rich, famous, or the powerful, to do His will. Not many mighty or noble are called. God does not always call the most educated, well-spoken, wealthy or influential people. But instead, He often calls the weak, lowly and common people to confound the wise of the world. “Why? you may ask? Because when something supernatural or miraculous happens, then He gets all the glory because it must be of God and not the human instruments He uses! God may use us humans, but he certainly does not have to. By the way, I cannot close without mentioning one of God’s greatest choices of all time, a little farm boy from North Carolina named Billy Graham!
So, when we feel unworthy, unable or inadequate, we should remember what the Apostle Paul said; “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry”, (1 Timothy 1:12 KJV). To God be the glory, great things He has done!

The Importance Of Jesus’ Burial

“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4 (KJV)

Easter is a blessed time to remember all that Jesus did for us. I love preaching the simple, yet profound, messages about His death, burial and resurrection. We may forget some of the best truths about the Gospel message. For example, we know that the Gospel message consists of three important facts; the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Do you ever wonder why the burial of Christ is such an important part? Let me further illustrate it.

In my morning devotional readings recently, I was reminded of this. While it is profitable sometime to take a quick glance back to the past, we should not linger there. Our adversary, the devil, would like to keep us in bondage to our pasts. He wants a cloud of guilt and shame to always overshadow us, and render us ineffective in service to our Lord. But, not only did we die with Christ, but our old life is actually buried with Christ! It is hidden and out of sight as far as God is concerned.

We don’t have to carry the burdens and guilt of what we used to be. It is okay to glimpse back occasionally, but don’t let Satan keep you bogged down in the old, dead bones of a past life. And by the way, don’t ever forget that we are raised to walk in newness of life in Him!

The Test Of Obscurity

“Go ye into the village over against you: in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither.” Luke 19:30.

Jesus’ disciples had been with Him for three years in intimate, one-on-one training for great works after He ascended back to the Father. They could have felt like going after a little donkey was an errand for which they were over-qualified. Maybe it was too trivial or small, and only a few would ever know about it. But there are no trivial jobs for the Master. Whatever He asks us to do is always important.
Most of us have probably felt the same way at times. We may feel that our role in the kingdom of God is unimportant. But I have come to learn that if we are too big for a little job, then we are actually too little for the big jobs. Sometimes pastors feel like they are too big and important for the church they are serving. One pastor actually told me once, “These people just don’t appreciate all my gifts!” Thats an exact quote, believe it or not! Again, if a person is too big for a small church, then he is too small for the big church he desires.
Another principle that I have come to grips with is equally important. I call it the test of obscurity. If no one ever sees us do what we do, will we continue to do it? Must we be seen and recognized? Do we have to be awarded with plaques, trophies, and certificates? What if no one ever pats us on the back and says, “that was a great sermon.” What if no one ever brags on your singing? I remember once hearing Dr. Jerry Vines use the following rhyme. “Where shall I serve today?”, and my love flowed warm and free. He pointed to a little tiny spot and said “tend that for me.” I said “No Lord, not that tiny little spot, none of my friends will see.” He wept as he sent me back and said, “are you serving them or Me?”
That colt was an important part of God’s plan from before the foundation of the world. Our Lord who created us and the donkey needed us both in His plan of redeeming a fallen, sinful world. Jesus often used common or ordinary things and people. In fact, throughout The Bible you will find instances where God used someone for no other reason except that they were in the right place at the right time. God does not have any unimportant people or jobs in His kingdom’s work.
So the next time we are commissioned to go ‘borrow a colt’ for the Lord’s service, remember that it really is a big deal. Know also that your obedience will not go unnoticed, or unrewarded. As Jesus’ mother said, “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.” This humble little colt was a fulfillment of prophecy made centuries earlier. Why? Because “the Lord hath need of him.” Remember that nothing is too lowly if the Lord needs it, and never forget the test of obscurity.

Crippling Casualness

      Many years ago I remember buying and reading a book by Dr. Charles Stanley, about Crippling Casualness. It made a lasting impact on me, and I remember much of the content to this day. As a traveling evangelist I have opportunity to worship in many different churches each year. As I enter the churches I see many different styles of worship and activities. Some churches are quiet and dignified, while others are noisy and casual. It seems that modern churches have gone to one of two extremes relative to the sanctuary and what goes on inside its walls. I have noticed that churches either fry in fanaticism or freeze in formalism. It is hard to find what I believe to be a right balance of reverential worship. By that I mean, worship that honors God, and is not stuffy, dry or ritualistic. By the same token, there are some things going on in churches today that I believe must be grievous to our Holy God.
One of my mentors and one of the most consistently Christian men I have ever known, Dr. Lehman Strauss, reminded me once of this exact point. Dr. Strauss said to me one day, “Spirit-led Christians are never misled.” I totally agree in that, the Holy Spirit will never lead someone to do anything that is contrary to his revealed and written Word.
Isaiah the prophet wrote in chapter six, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” A key phrase is that the Lord was “high and lifted up.” This refers to God’s holiness of character. The seraphim cried ‘Holy, holy, holy.’ Friends, in modern-day churches there seems to be a lack of reverence toward God. In many circles, He is no longer regarded as Holy, but just a “good ole, backslappin’ buddy”. He has become “the old man upstairs” to millions. Not many today give God the honor and glory due His matchless name. He is still God, very God, a God of holiness, and He is worthy to be praised!
You may ask how I come to the conclusion that there is a “crippling casualness” in churches today? All one needs to do is travel around and observe. I know and accept the fact that those of us who dare broach this subject, are considered old fogies, square and out of touch. We are considered a dinosaur from another planet. But something that has clearly changed in church in the last twenty to thirty years, is a casualness of dress. You can tell a person’s attitude toward God by the way they come before God’s presence. I believe the sanctuary of God is a special place and we should show it by our giving our very best to God when we come to worship him. I am not saying everyone should wear suits and ties or long, evening gowns. But I am saying that when we come to present ourselves to God in worship, we should have on our very best. Yes, I am unashamedly old-school, as you have already ascertained.
Let me illustrate in this way. I have always been amazed at folks who would wear tuxedos and evening gowns, to a prom or inaugural ball, and then drag into the house of God in t-shirts, ragged jeans or immodest shorts. If we received an invitation to the White House would we wear the same clothes that many are wearing to church? If we dressed up for the White House event, and then came to church in casual attire, we would be showing more respect to the president of the United States than we do Almighty God! I just happen to believe that God deserves more respect than even a powerful leader like the president, or any other king or prime minister, etc. By our dress we send a loud, clear message that a governor, a president or a dance is more important to us than our Holy God! Friends there is a crippling casualness that has invaded and plagues our churches today.
Now someone will invariably bring up the objection, that it is not what is on the outside, but what is in the heart that matters. The Bible does say that as mere humans we can look only on the outside appearance, but God looks at the heart. However, the Bible also speaks of modesty (1 Tim 2:9), in reference to the way we dress. Christians should try to dress decently, modestly and in a way that they would not be uncomfortable to stand before the very presence of God at any moment. I have seen some very disturbing trends in modern churches, and few are saying anything about it, for fear of being called legalistic or Pharasaical.
I have preached many times in Mark chapter five, concerning the demon possessed man of Gadara whom Jesus confronted one day. Before he met Jesus, he lived among the tombs and was wild and could not be chained or contained in any way. He cut himself with sharp stones, tore his clothes off continually and was what you might call a “streaker.” But the most interesting thing happened when Jesus cast out the demons from him. The next scenario shows him “sitting, and clothed and in his right mind:” (Mark 5:15). Amazing isn’t it? The first thing he wanted to do when he was saved, was to put some clothes on to cover his body! In a world that is taking off more and more, God’s people need to be putting on more. We do not need to lower the standard, but raise it.
Yes, there is a disturbing trend in churches today. Our casualness in dress reflects our casualness toward God. Oh that we would get back to the place where we view God as high and holy and lifted up! He is God, and worthy to be praised. Let us honor Him both in doctrine and deportment. After all, as Dr. D. Martin-Lloyd Jones said, “what a person really believes, they act upon, everything else is mere religion.”

How Do You See It?

It is obvious that good people of all persuasions and backgrounds will inevitably disagree, thus making this the understatement of all time. Both human history and personal experience are replete with examples. We disagree on politics, economics, morals and education. Our tastes and dislikes are manifold when it comes to music, dress, sports, food, cars, and simple things like colors. There is no end to the premise about which I am writing. But we humans are the most volatile when it comes to the subject of religion. We are disparate and divided in our view of and discussions about God, and what we believe to be the written word of God. People go ballistic at the mention of religion.
It is most unfortunate that bloody wars, racism and prejudice emanate from our passions about “religion.” But for the purpose of this brief article, I must quickly narrow the scope of my discussion. Being a conservative Christian, my views will obviously focus upon born-again Christians. More specifically I will focus upon their disagreements when it comes to the interpretation of the Bible, relative to both doctrine and deportment. The Bible, God’s infallible word, will obviously be the basis for my views. To me, it is the final authority in all matters, now and eternity. It is God’s word that will be the basis for judgment when all mankind stands before Him in his holiness and purity (Rev 20:12).
Prov 22:21 says, “That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?” God admonishes us in Jude 1:3 that we should ” . . .earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Someone once said that contention for the sake of contention is sin, but contention for the sake of truth is a divine mandate. There comes a time when Bible-believing Christians must give defense to the precious Word of God. The Biblical word “contend” means to agonize in the defense of. So allow me now to share with my readers some terms which should help us clear the air on what we should be “contentious” about, and by the same token, what we should not be contentious about.
Let me begin by first looking at a term we use called convictions. Convictions are based upon unquestionable Bible doctrine, and are backed up by what some call “proof texts.” Convictions are courtroom material. They are the certainties and confidences which form our strong, unwavering belief systems. There is no room for doubts and skepticism in convictions. Dr. Warren Wiersbe says this about convictions, “Convictions are the compasses of life – they keep us moving in the right direction. They are the foundation stones that help us stand firm when everything around us is shaking and changing.” To that I say ‘Amen and amen!’
I have learned as a student of Scripture that convictions usually come by convulsions, i.e., through pain, suffering, and heartaches. Convictions usually are birthed out of long hours of Bible study, and may be labeled as “breakthroughs” in our Christian growth. We are living in a time when doctrinal, moral, and ethical norms are being systematically attacked. This is not anything new, but it is rather intensified in these latter days.
I have learned from experience that there are certain convictions that should be settled early by the new believer. Some doctrines like Jesus’ virgin birth, his sinless life and vicarious death on the cross of Calvary. We must nail down what we believe about salvation, the Bible, the church and her ordinances, offices, and the Holy Spirit. These are things that must never be “voted on” as to whether they are truth or not. Some things are not optional equipment for the child of God. It is important to note that convictions are not what we hold: BUT our convictions hold us! A conviction is based on the eternal Word of God and will never change.
There is a vast difference in convictions and opinions. An opinion has been defined as “a belief stronger than impression, but less strong than positive knowledge.” Opinions are unlimited in their diversity. They are both easy to come by and easily changed. Opinions vary with experiences. For example, when we meet someone for the first time, we form an opinion of them. We generally like or dislike them. But after a closer or prolonged association with the person, our opinion of them often changes. We ofttimes misjudge people and later change our view of them. As I mentioned, opinions change like the wind, based upon our experiences. For example, we form opinions as to which airline is best, based on our dealings with them. The same principle applies to restaurants, physicians or name brands.
Opinions are questionable and debatable. They are as varied as people themselves. Opinions should never be the cause of division among people, nor should it be the sole basis for fellowship. Our opinions should never be used to determine the level of spirituality among fellow believers. We have often heard the axiom, that we should learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. While convictions are the stuff of which Bible interpretation is formed, our opinions really do not count when we come the Word of God! God’s word always supersedes our human opinions.
Next is the term, prejudice. Prejudice is different from convictions and opinions, in that it is “unwarranted discrimination.” This occurs when we form an opinion for or against something without adequate basis. Prejudice is a learned behavior. Children acquire their prejudices from their parents. I believe we all have been “tainted” in some way, in the realm of prejudice. We must spend a lifetime dealing with prejudice. We most often avoid examining our prejudices, because human pride is so afraid it will be proven wrong!
There is no room for bigotry, bias and impartiality in the family of God. Jesus died for all, and will save whoever will come to him in genuine repentance and faith. We are all born sinners, but the new birth changes our desires to those things that please God and honors his Son Jesus. Prejudice is unbiblical and dangerous. Prejudice always hampers spiritual progress and maturity. Thus far we have seen that convictions are unquestionable doctrine, opinions are unlimited in diversity and prejudice is unwarranted discrimination.
Finally, we all have personal tastes, which are unexplained desires. We all have individual preferences and personal selections based on desire. We simply like some things better than others. But our personal tastes must never supplant our convictions! Some of our basic desires are common, such as food, newspapers, preachers, clothes or colleges. For example, we all agree on what is commonly called Great Commission, if we believe the Bible. The church is commanded of God to take the message of the gospel to every person, but we do not all agree on how to get it done! Our ideas about mission programs vary greatly among denominations and local churches.
One example of this is found in Mark 9:38 . . . “And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.” But Jesus lovingly rebuked them by saying if someone was not against him, they were for Him! Whenever churches are without pastors, everyone has different tastes in what they would like to have in their new pastor. Some desire a young man, modern and contemporary in his thoughts. Some prefer the old-time, hard-hitting evangelistic style. Others like the expository methods of a pastor. All of this is personal taste. But we should leave this to God and let him send us who we need for our pastor. God knows who and what we need better that we know ourselves.
It is interesting how we there are things that we consider “old,” but actually they were once considered contemporary, wicked and heretical! We should NEVER compromise convictions based on Biblical doctrines. And we should also be careful that our opinions, prejudices, tastes do not bleed over and become confused with important Bible doctrines. Additionally, there should never be disunity over disagreement. The disciples were all different and sometimes disagreed, but overall, they usually had unity. Remember that when you and I disagree with someone, it should not result in a personal attack on them, nor should we construe their disagreement with us as so. Say, how do you see things? Through convictions or opinions? Prejudice or personal taste? How DO you see it?
I suggest we see things the way God sees them. His viewpoint is all that matters ultimately, and can only be found in the Bible, which IS His word.

The Goodness Of God

     Whether in your own homes or elsewhere, many of you can remember hearing a simple prayer at meal times. From earliest childhood you may recall someone reciting this, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food; by His hands we are fed, thank you Lord for daily bread.” As I grew older, particularly after salvation, I learned more and more of the goodness of God. Someone told me as a little boy, “Always be good, and one day you will go to heaven.”  However, I came to realize at the age of 17, that a person cannot be saved by being good. We as humans have no goodness. All of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the sight of a Holy God. Jesus said that He did not come to save the righteous but He came to seek and to save that which is lost. Jesus also said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick,” Matthew 9:12 (KJV).

     Now, in these later years, I have come to realize more and more that God is a good God, whether He ever expresses that goodness to me or not. Goodness is an intrinsic part of the make-up of our God! He is so good, loving, full of grace and mercy. So I want to be sure to praise God for his goodness at every opportunity. I leave you now with this verse from the book of Romans 2:4 (KJV), “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”

Can You Explain It?

     Scientists, politicians, and psychologists, and most all of society, have explanations for human behavior. They explain both what is considered normal and deviant. Talk show hosts give their “spin” on why people behave certain ways, offering a myriad of cures for the ills of human society. But how can you explain the immediate, radical and permanent changes that take place in some people. I am a man, so I will use one of us as an example, but the following behavior could be true of anyone, regardless of gender. In describing this person prior to the radical change, I make no reference to national origin, religion, race, or social standing. I merely use a human illustration.

     The man to which I refer has a sordid and wicked past with a host of vices. As a child he disrespected his parents, was rebellious and a habitual liar. He stole from his siblings and parents, used profane language and cheated in school. He began smoking at an early age and drank alcohol during his teenage years. He was a bully with a quick temper and would fight constantly. He stayed in trouble in school and with law enforcement. He had no regard for the laws of the land, constantly getting traffic citations and having car accidents. He was known to shoplift and loved looking at pornographic material. This person broke into a house and vandalized it, then robbed the elderly couple of most of their treasured heirlooms, as well as cash. He once snatched an old lady’s purse, knocked her down and fled the parking lot. In his late teens he began to experiment with drugs. Later he became a heavy user, and was dependent mainly on crack cocaine, and sometimes heroin.

     He married a young lady who loved him dearly and hoped he would someday change his lifestyle. The honeymoon was short-lived and he soon began to be an abusive husband. His unchecked temper would cause him to unleash his anger on his wife. She would become a human punching bag. The beatings were constant. He was unfaithful to her during the first year of the marriage. Adultery became a way of life for him. She did not plan to become pregnant, and was horrified at the thought of bringing a baby into this lifestyle. However, she did get pregnant, and a beautiful, healthy little girl was born. For a time, her dad was loving and proud, but his behavior toward the baby quickly changed. He was harsh and impatient, showing little affection toward his daughter, and spent less and less time with her. He had drugs to buy, strip bars to frequent and women to seduce. He became a masterful gambler to help support his drug habit. He would do anything he had to do in order to get his daily fix of drugs, even murder. His drug addiction also led him into money laundering and racketeering. He continued to drink heavily, and He could not keep a job because of his lifestyle of debauchery.

     As the man’s daughter began to near the teenage years, she was blossoming into an charming young girl. Her father, with lust in his heart, began to do the unthinkable. He began to sacrifice his own daughter’s innocence and purity, on the altar of his lust and perversion. A look here, a touch there, and before long he was sexually molesting his precious young daughter. He threatened to kill her and her mom if she told anyone. The young girl’s life was scarred forever. She suffered untold emotional damage as a result of her father violating her. Despite all the deviant behavior of this man, the family unit managed to remain intact.

     As the man slowly began to acknowledge his dilemma, he sought help. He tried counseling, 12-step programs, and even checked himself into a voluntary drug/alcohol treatment program, at a hospital chemical dependency unit. He would seem to change his behavior for a short time, but he invariably reverted back to his old lifestyle. Each relapse only put him deeper into bondage. Nothing seemed to work. He was not a changed man, he only reformed for a brief period of time, but the old man was still very much in charge.

     The man suffered continually from depression and other debilitating emotional breakdowns. One day as he sat on a park bench, contemplating suicide, and old high school classmate recognized him. After a short reunion, the friend could clearly see the shape his old friend was in. They talked a long time and each went their separate ways. The man came home as his wife was coming in from a hard day at work. His daughter sat staring into space. He informed them both he was going out for a while and back later on that night. He cleaned up and got dressed. As he walked to the front door, he said, “don’t worry about me, I’ll be back soon.”

     About four hours later he walked back into the front door of his house a different man. He had a totally different look about him, and a peaceful calm radiated from his face. He was soft-spoken and kind in his demeanor. It was as though he had a metamorphosis and had been transformed into a completely different man. He sat down on the couch and gently took his wife’s hand and tearfully told her how sorry he was for what he had put her through. He said “I am so sorry, please forgive me. I have been wrong for so long. I am sorry for every time I hurt you, disappointed you and broke your heart. I will never, ever do it again.” She was very skeptical and hesitated to respond. But he seemed to be so different!

     He gently rubbed her hand and leaned forward to embrace her with hot tears streaming down his face. Tears were something she had rarely seen. She could not believe what she was seeing and hearing. They embraced as he slid down onto the floor, to his knees. His teenage daughter looked at her father with fear and suspicion, as he turned toward her. He motioned with open arms for her to come near. Cynical, yet amazed at what she was seeing, she slowly came to her father’s side.

     Still on both knees, he began to weep uncontrollably. Then he called her name and said, “honey, I first want to say how sorry I am for all the times I hurt you. I love you more than words can express; more than I ever imagined a father could love his child. I beg you to please find it in your heart to forgive me and let us begin again. Your daddy is different now. I am not the man that left this house four hours ago. I love you and I am so sorry.” The man appeared to be a changed man, but as the old adage puts it . . . time would tell.

     Time did attest to the validity of his change. It has been twenty-six years since that night, and he has grown in his love and compassion toward his family and everyone he met. So how do you explain this radical and immediate change? The man has not reverted back to the old lifestyle even once. He has been a model husband, a hard worker and a loving, dedicated father. He is the most wonderful, warmhearted and sensitive man you can imagine. He has a wholesome relationship with his daughter now, and adores his two grandchildren. He spends every moment he can with them. He helps his neighbors and is kind to everyone he meets. In twenty-six years he has rarely even raised his voice, much less lost his temper, or use a vulgar word, not once! He has never touched another drop of alcohol since that night, in fact he hates the thought of it. He detests pornography and has never desired even once to take drugs again!

     He is now full of love and compassion, where he used to be full of hate. He now loves every race; he used to be prejudiced and full of racism. He hasn’t broken into anyone’s home in twenty-six years. He does not gamble his money away any more. He is humble now, but he used to be proud and arrogant. He is generous now where he used to be greedy and selfish. He laughs and is full of joy, but he once was sad and miserable. He now enjoys life and looks forward to each new day. Before that night twenty-six years ago, he dreaded to wake up everyday. Many days he hoped he would not wake up. He had nothing to live for, now he lives life to its fullest, enjoying every moment of every day.

     How do you explain this transformation from a wicked, vile man, to a loving, compassionate gentleman? Religion? No. More education? Not at all. Was it a change of environment? No, this change occurred not far from his own home. Reformation? No. Drug or alcohol treatment programs? No, they did not work. Was it social clubs, civic organizations, lodges or fraternities? No, it couldn’t not have been that, for he did not belong to any? Was it community work? No he did none. How then do you explain this amazing transformation of this man?

     There is no secular or social explanation. There is no political answer. This man’s transformation came not from religion, nor reformation, but from a relationship. Yes, he had an old-fashioned salvation experience with Jesus Christ the son of God. You see his high school friend invited him to a little church where there was meeting in progress that the church calls a ‘revival’. This is where usually a visiting preacher comes in for a week or so, and preaches from the Bible in hopes of stirring or reviving the local congregation. They hope to be challenged and changed in their commitments to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his church. Often as believers are revived, unsaved, lost unbelievers are introduced to Jesus and his saving grace. This is exactly what brought about such an extraordinary change in this man’s life. He was born again of the Spirit of God. As the evangelist preached the gospel, he was convicted of his sins by the Holy Spirit, and realized his need of salvation. Understanding he could not save himself, he forsook his sins and called upon Jesus, the only one that could set him free from all the bondage and pain of his former lifestyle. It happened instantly, eternally, with many clear manifestations.

     How do you know what happened to him was real? Look at his changed life. Ask the ones who lived with him before and after his experience with God. The Bible says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (1 Corinthians 5:17). You can tell a tree by the fruit it bears. The man’s heart changed, along with his desires, language, priorities and motives. His behavior changed when his beliefs changed. Everything about his life changed in a moment of time. There is not a political, sociological, secular, or educational endeavor that can make such a change. A very famous public figure in our nation once stated that is far more economical to send a person to college than to house them in prison. But yet the problem of the heart is not addressed. College graduates still steal, rob and rape. They are convicted of every conceivable crime. Education alone does not change the human heart. Neither can government handouts or social programs. Only Jesus Christ can change a human heart.

     It has been said that people do what they do, because they are what they are. The Bible declares that we are sinners, and are in need of a Savior. Everything else has failed in America and around the world. Why do people not let God have a shot at fixing their shattered lives? I am firmly convinced the heart of the human problem is the problem with the human heart. The reason there is a crime problem in America is because there is a heart problem in America. I do not believe that changes in labels, words, flags or creeds will make a difference. Until the hearts of people change, this nation or world will not be changed.

     When a person’s heart is changed, that person will no longer break into your house and steal your possessions. People would no longer kill each other, nor would they riot, protest and burn our cities. Vandalism and looting would cease if hearts were changed. Bribery and extortion would stop. Spousal and child abuse would stop, if hearts were changed. Corruption in politics would cease if hearts were changed. Gangs would be extinct. Violence, murder and school shootings would stop. The killing of millions of innocent babies would stop if hearts were changed. Guns would only be needed and used for hunting or competitive shooting matches, not personal protection. If hearts were changed, there would be no rape, incest, kidnaping, car theft, shoplifting, or burglary. The peddlers of pornography would be defunct. There would be no need to build more prisons. Law enforcement would have very little to do, and their jobs would be much safer. Teachers could once again teach effectively if little children came to school with respect for authority instilled in their hearts.

     The old-timers used to say, “what is in the well comes up in the bucket.” America is reaping the consequences of a people who see no need of God in their lives. Atheists, Satanists, humanists and other Christ-rejecting entities, strut and boast of not needing a ‘god’ in their life. However it is a foolish person who says, there is no God, or “no, God.” This writer may not have much materially, nor be much in the eyes of socialites. I have no claims to perfection, except to my position in Jesus Christ. But the same thing that happened to the man in this story, happened to me as a seventeen year-old boy. I was born again, and received a new heart on a Sunday night in the Fall of 1971. I have not been all I could have been, nor should have been, but I have never been the same since the day Jesus saved my wretched soul.

     I do not have religion, but I have a relationship. This world has seen enough religion. It needs to see people whose lives have been changed by the power of the blood that Jesus shed on an old rugged cross, called Calvary. I cannot explain it all, nor do I understand it all. But I am like the man who was born blind, and received his sight again. All I know is this, I used to be blind, and now I can see. Praise His holy name. Hallelujah what a Savior!

     Are you tired of trying to be something you are not? Are you tired of reforming your life only to revert back to the same old way of living? Are you tired of lying your head on the pillow at night without any real peace and happiness? Is your life wrapped up in the here and now? Do you ever look beyond this short life to what lies ahead? Do you ever wonder what will happen to you, five seconds after your heart stops beating, and your lungs exhale their last breath? Where will you spend eternity? There are only two destinies, heaven or hell. Where you spend eternity depends on what you decide about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and his offer of salvation. He died, was buried and rose again to make it possible for you to have this heart change, that the man in the story and millions more have experienced.

     If you know the Spirit of God is convicting (troubling) your heart about your sins, and if you will repent (be remorseful, change your mind about sin) and turn to God, and believe, by faith, in His son Jesus, you will be saved, and heaven will be your home for all eternity. You will experience peace and joy like you have never known. You will never be the same again.

The Yoke Of Jesus

     Matthew 11:28-30 is a very special place in God’s Word. It is the only place in Scripture where Jesus offers any kind of self-description. It is in this great invitation that He says ‘I am meek and lowly in heart.’ With this profoundly simple statement, He paints a word picture that describes two of his attributes, meekness and humility. Immediately following these two characteristics, Jesus ensures his followers that their loads will be lighter. Those who yoke up with Jesus, will actually find rest in their souls, while toiling and laboring with him. Our burdens will be lighter, because of His yoke that is ‘easier.’ What an amazing concept; we work for and with Jesus, while at the same time, we acquire rest! It is at this point that I wish to delve a little deeper, considering the yoke of Jesus and its relevance to us today. How may we practically apply this yoke to our Christian walk?

The Description of the Yoke

     Throughout Scripture you find that a yoke was used literally on animals, captives and slaves. The word yoke is found fifty-three times in the Old Testament and six times in the New Testament. The symbolism is employed to speak of human oppression and hard service. Jeremiah records that a yoke symbolized entire nations being in submission to the nation of Babylon, (Jeremiah 27:8). Yokes were also used to portray being in bondage to sin. The Bible uses the phrase ‘the yoke of my transgressions’ (Lamentations 1:14).

     In the New Testament the yoke principle is used by Christ in Matthew 11, speaking of Christian discipleship and growth. However, the concept points to legalism in Galatians where it says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). Finally Paul uses the image of the yoke to forbid Christians not to be ‘unequally yoked’ with unbelievers, (2 Corinthians 6:14). It is widely held that the Corinthian reference is a direct prohibition of the marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian. Paul uses strong terminology like light and darkness, righteousness and unrighteousness, and Christ and Belial (Satan). The Holy Spirit inspires Paul to spell it out plainly by saying . . . ‘or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?’ It is obvious that the analogies of the yoke are applied in various ways in Scripture. Let us now take a practical look at the yoke with particular reference to the modern-day Christian’s daily walk.

The Demands of the Yoke

     If this article seems a bit “preachy,” it is because this is the subject at in my most recent Bible studies and I plan to preach it! Let us turn our attention to the aforementioned symbolism of the yoke. First of all, a yoke is a symbol of submission. This says that as we ‘yoke’ up with Jesus in salvation and discipleship, we are declaring that He is Master, Lord and boss of our lives. Whereas an ox or other animal often had to be forcible yoked, the child of God willingly and gladly puts on the yoke of Jesus. We submit to His will by putting our necks (lives) into his yoke and plowing and working with Him. The Bible says ‘The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord’ (Matthew 10:24). We should be willing to do whatever our Master does.

     The yoke also is a symbol of sacrifice. To yoke up with Jesus implies that we are giving up what we want and doing what He wants. We are trading our wills for His. We exchange our desires for Jesus’. Further, the yoke is a symbol of suffering. By this I mean that you and I will often suffer persecution socially, verbally and sometimes physically. We live in a world that is growing more hostile toward conservative Christianity. We have heard the political left and a liberal news media, screaming intolerance for years now, but have you noticed how intolerant the unregenerate world is toward Christianity? We have recently seen what some have termed ‘religious profiling’ in the confirmation process of our Attorney General, John Ashcroft. Millions of Americans were appalled as the Senate Judiciary Committee drilled Senator Ashcroft for days. They were calloused, merciless and at times, haughty. I was astounded at those who probed and ridiculed a clean, decent Christian man. Senator Ashcroft has perhaps as good a record in racial matters as any governor or congressman in the nation, yet it was implied that he was racially biased. We watched as red-faced drunks and adulterers (guess who) verbally persecuted a man, whose only crime was being an honest, decent and conservative Christian. The committee assaulted the reputation of a godly man who loves Jesus with all his heart. Dear Christians, it will not get any better before Jesus comes! We will suffer reproach in the yoke of Jesus.

     Additionally, the yoke means service. When we put on the yoke with Christ, it means hard work. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 for those who ‘labor’ and are ‘heavy laden’ to come to Him to find rest. There is work to do in the service of Christ. The family of God is no place for the slothful, lazy servant. There is work to do and burdens to bear. There is a daily, spiritual warfare going on all around us. The Bible says for us to work heartily, zealously for Jesus as we serve him.

     In talking about the demands of the yoke, there is one more term I would like to address. The yoke is a symbol of sanctification. Do not let this term cause disinterest. It is a good word. In the Bible it refers to a holy and separate walk. It means to be set apart for service. It implies holiness in character and conduct. Simply put, to walk or plow with Jesus means that we must be in agreement with Him in doctrinal matters. Jesus said much about being holy and mature. The New Testament uses the word ‘perfect’ to point to our walk with him. Philippians 2:15 speaks of our lifestyle in this world as ‘blameless.’ Amos 3:3 says . . . “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” We must live holy, sanctified lives as we plow in the same yoke and harness with our Lord.

The Delights of the Yoke

     When thinking of the yoke symbolism, there are many rewards or delights that accompany the yoke of Jesus. The first one I think of is the sharing of the yoke. We share both burdens and blessings with our Lord. He makes things easier and lighter. We are not in this alone. Man was not made to be alone, and Jesus is our constant companion in life. He shares our griefs and glories. We are beside Him, but more importantly HE is beside us through every day, over all the way!

     Another delightful aspect of the yoke is the strength of it. While I can do nothing without Him (John 15:5), I can do all things through Christ which ‘strenghteneth me’ (Philippians 4:13). It is said that oxen or mules, etc., will triple or even quadruple their strength when they pull beside a partner. They will simply give more and pull harder alongside another. We do likewise in our service to Christ.

      Finally, when thinking of the delights of the yoke, I have to mention the success of it. The Bible says that when God starts a good work in us, He will complete it. Philippians 1:6 says “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

     Charlton Heston relates a story about the filming of the classic movie Ben Hur. The movie had many scenes involving some major chariot races. Heston had to literally learn how to drive the powerful horse teams which pulled his chariot, for the race scenes. He says it was a demanding task, to say the least. Once when Heston seemed to be getting the “hang of it”, but still had questions about his chariot-driving skills, he shared that concern with his director. The director of the movie replied firmly to Charlton Heston, “you stay in the chariot and drive, I’ll see to it that you win the race!” Beloved, all we have to do is stay in the yoke of Jesus, He will see to it that we win our race!