THIS WEEKS MESSAGE
"TO KEEP THE AGAPE LOVE OF GOD"
Presented to by Pastor John S. Torell from his
Your responses and comments are always welcome.
9 November 1997
I have been preaching on the love of God for four to five weeks. I did not know what to do today. As I went to my study late yesterday afternoon, I asked the Lord to reveal to me what I should preach on. As I was going over the related messages, the Lord revealed these words-TO KEEP THE AGAPE LOVE OF GOD. It was just that quick. I said, "Lord, what do I say on the subject? This is a subject that I do not known that much about." When you receive a title you have to act upon it and do it. I wrote down the title and the number of the sermon, and the date, then I said, "God, you have to fill this page." He did!
Turn to Matthew chapter 24 verse 8. All these are the beginnings of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my names sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall receive many. [In the King James.] And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. [In the Greek text.] And because lawlessness shall increase, the love of many shall wax cold.
The lawlessness here is not necessarily that crime is going to increase. It is that the people shall leave the word of God and become lawless. And because the love of lawlessness shall increase the love of many shall wax cold. A Christian magazine that I have read this week in the black denomination of the Church of God, they had given information out that the ministry was about 60 years old. He was a Bishop and a pastor of a large church over 14 other churches. He had been taken out of the ministry and stripped of his authority, then put into rehabilitation because he had embezzled money. He was also involved in pornography, selling and using drugs. This man was not teenager. This man was 60 years old. He had been a minister for many years. He is recovering now. As we have seen many people fall around us, I ask these questions: Can God's Agape love survive total rejection? Can a Christian be filled with God's Agape love for the duration of his life on this earth? How much abuse can the Agape love of God bear before it collapses and disintegrates? These are questions that we need to ask ourselves. Some of you have been saved for many years. We have noticed over the years that people come and people go. Have you really thought it out? Will you be able to finish your life on this earth or will your love wax cold? Will it get less? These are questions I want to answer today through the Bible.
Turn to the book of Acts chapter 6 verse 1. [Stephen, a young man, became deacon.] And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look you out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. And the work of God increased; and number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
This man Stephen who became a deacon had the job of dispersing the food, taking care of the lodging and the rest of the peoples needs. After the disciples prayed over him, the anointing was so great that he turned into an evangelizing preacher. He began to speak the word God boldly.
Verse 9, Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians and of them of Cilician and Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
The people of Libertines were people that had their own philosophy. They begin to dispute him and they could not change his mind. When the world cannot handle the Holy Ghost, Satan comes in with the only weapon he has had; that is brut force. I want to inject here that the United States last night passed another border that we have never passed before. It is one notch deeper into the pits. Yesterday the president of the United States was a keynote speaker at a gala dinner for homosexuals. Never before has a president done this. The sound bites that came out of that meeting were this: Clinton said that in order for America to be whole, we must include all segments, which includes the homosexual community.
As a nation we're flowing deeper and deeper into the very pits of hell. There was a borderline we crossed. God cannot tolerate sin. There is the call for judgment in the courthouse of heaven. We need men like Stephen that will stand up and proclaim, "thus says the Lord God Almighty."
Yesterday I think I could see everything that I could see. I was looking at a photograph that was sent to me. I want to share with you how deep the world has sunk. It was a picture of four young women in their early '20s. They were dressed in very skimpy swimming suits which covered very little of their bodies. They were standing on a platform; each one was holding a cross. The article was from Swedish television; it was talking about Miss Bible. These ladies had been each given a hammer, nails and some wood. There was a band playing church music. These girls in their skimpy outfits would try to build a cross as they would run up to the microphone and sing as the band played. The one that finished the cross first was crowned Miss Bible of Sweden 1997. The producer of this program stated this is all in fun. Satan hates God so much that he doesn't know how low he can sink to mock the Lord. The love of money is waxing people cold. We need to realize that there is an assault upon the very fiber of Christianity. It is time for you and I to rise and begin to pray, to fast and seek the Lord. We need to say, "Father God, let me be one of those that will finish the race and have the love God in me." I feel sad for these four women. Unless they get saved before they die, I know exactly what they are going to do for eternity in hell. They're going to have to put together a burning cross that will burn them so bad they will be screaming in the flames, and they will curse the producer and anyone else who enticed them to do this to blaspheme against God. Unless Clinton gets saved and repents, he will burn in hell and later the lake of fire forever. He will wish he had never been president of the United States of America, but that he would have found Christ. I don't know if you have seen Clinton's face lately; you'll notice he has aged about twenty years. This face is very drawn and very dry. There is a lot of pressure on this man. He has one foot in the grave and one foot on a banana peel. He is living very dangerously right now because he has challenged God Almighty.
Stephen stood before a crowd just like this. False witnesses were called in. We read in verse 11; Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. And all that sat in this council, looking steadfastly upon him, saw his face is it had been the face of an angel.
Stephen was facing a very hostile crowd.
Turn to chapter 7 of Acts verse 51. [Rejected and during the process of being murdered, Stephen loved his murderers!] You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets have not your father's persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just one; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a low voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
A lot of us are bucking suffering. A lot of us are bucking the love of God. We say, "Father God, I am not ready to be that loving. I am not ready to give my life. I want this; I want that." I want you to see something here this morning; hear me. The few months or weeks that Stephen preached we do not know about, but he reached a number of people for Christ. God had a man by the name of Saul; he was the chief of police for the Jewish religion. He was chief of their secret police. He was a murderer. He was tough. I don't know if you have ever seen someone that was tough, but they showed some people yesterday on the national news from Israel who were mourning for Rabin. These people were crying. Then the camera panned over to the conservative Jew. His face was beaming and he said, "I am not sad. I'm not weeping. I am glad Rabin is dead."
Saul hated Jesus. Saul hated Christianity. Saul was a murderer. God had, before the world was created, ordained the murderer Saul would become, the Apostle Paul. To get to Saul he had to have one of his choice servants sacrificed. Stephen had to give his blood in that stone pit, so that God could touch Saul, who became the greatest Apostle, who actually is the father of our faith. Stephen did not know that when he stood down in that pit, as he stood there in that pit and they were throwing boulders on him,-they were breaking his bones and causing him great pain-he did not know there was a man up there by the name of Saul. Instead God gave him a vision and he saw straight into heaven. He saw Jesus not sitting, but standing. The love of God filled Stephen. He no longer felt the pain of the stoning, the sharp rocks coming down on him. He simply said, "Father, lay it not upon them what they are doing." That is just like what Jesus said, "Forgive them, they know not what they do." And Stephen died. Now the focus is on Saul.
Turn to the book of Acts chapter 8 verse 1. And Saul was consenting [that means he was applauding] unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against a church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock [total destruction of the church] of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
God had a plan. When Saul met Jesus, hate was turned into Agape love; a murderer was converted into an Agape loving, gospel preacher!
Turn to the book of Acts chapter 9 verse 1. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did he eat nor drink.
Have you had a Damascus Road experience? Most of us never have. There was Saul confronted by Jesus Christ. He would not eat or drink for three days and three nights. He was praying. He did not know what was going on but he knew something had happened, that he had met God. It changed him forever.
Verse 10. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth. And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But he Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
I want you to know something; to be a Christian means that you're going to suffer. Suffering and sickness are two different things. Sometimes there will be sickness. The most you and I are going to suffer will be rejection; rejection by people, backbiting, gossiping, people stabbing you in the back, people sailing you down the river that said they would stand with you when you get in trouble but when trouble comes they are nowhere to be found. They will lie against you. They will do just about anything that can be mentioned under this sun. There is great suffering. No one will get away from it. The suffering is going to test our love to the maximum. Some people will last. I was thinking about the people in this church last night. Some of you have walked with the Lord for many years. Some of you have been backsliders and have come back to the Lord. You know what made you backslide. What made you walk away from God. I believe it is the spirit of offense. Someone offended you. Something offended you. Something didn't work out. Some preacher said the wrong thing. Something happened or something went wrong and a few of you lost your faith. You were stunned. As we have read in Matthew 24, about lawlessness. You walked away from the word. The world was there, waiting to give you a drink, to give you drugs, to give you some kind of pleasure, to soil you until Satan convinced you that you could not come back. You were so broken that you felt there was no way back. Jesus came! Praise the Lord! There he is a restoration. The Apostle Paul had to suffer greatly.
Verse 22, But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews to which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
I was very young in the Lord when I attended my first Southern Baptist meeting. If you have ever been to a Southern Baptist business meeting ,you'll know what I am talking about. Because of the business meetings, we had bonded to our pastor that had helped us to come in to Christ and disciple us. I was not prepared for that. My wife and I were so happy we had a smile on our faces. We couldn't wait for Sunday so that we could go to church. We dressed our best and always got to church early. We couldnt wait for the message that was going to be given. The happiness just flowed out of us. When the pastor was through preaching, he walked out towards the congregation and said, "I have something to tell you." I said to myself, "This is exciting." The pastor said, "I am resigning today." All the air went out of us. He said, "There is a lot of backbiting in the church; people do not want me to be here and I am leaving." My world collapsed. I said, "God, I have been in the world. I have had all the pain I need. Is there no bright future for me? Is there pain in the church, too?" I wept that day. The pastor took me by the hand afterwards and we went to another room and sat down. He said, "John, I love you. I know you love me. Your allegiance cannot be to me, it has to be to Jesus. I am going to leave. I want you to be faithful to Jesus Christ. When the church gets another pastor, I want you to rally around him. Uphold him in prayer and support him like you have me." I looked upon him and said, "I want to go with you. I do not want to stay here." He said, "You cannot go with me. You stay here and be faithful." The man knew what he was doing. Since then, he has been here to visit our church. I stayed at that church. I did not know that I would be going through hundreds of business meetings where there would be the most vicious cutting, backbiting, stabbing, the ugliest; I have never seen two people fight as ugly as two believers. God seasoned me and we survived. My wife and I have survived just about everything that could happen to a person. We had friends leave us. The church breaking up. People being put in prison, deaths, you name it. Just like with Paul, there was something happening. You put your faith in the faith of Jesus. Praise God, that my wife and I have lasted for over 30 years. I think we are going to make it.
Paul was first rejected by the church in Jerusalem. Acts chapter 9 verse 23. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took council to kill him: But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples to came by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
God always has a Barnabas for us. It was a Barnabas that said I will stay with you and stick with you. It can be tough. I want you to know that it's tough when youre rejected. People say, "Who are you?" I know what it means to be rejected, because my language is not original American. I have been laughed at, scorned at, asked when I got off the boat, when was I leaving on the boat-rejection. You have to learn to take it, if you simply put your faith in to the faith of Jesus.
Turn to the book of Acts chapter 13 verse 42. And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, and contradicting and blaspheming.
As you study the book of Acts you will find that Paul over and over and over again had to be run out of town, had to flee because the Jews were always on his heels. Persecution, rejection how much can we really take? How much could Paul take? He took a lot. I'm going to share with you a little later in the message what we have to do to take it.
In this town you can go into any church and ask the pastor if he knows my name. I do not think there's a church that does not know my name. They may have never seen me, but they know my name. They will get a strange look on their face and say, "He is a trouble maker. He is anti-semantic. He is casting out demons. He is a cult. He is into false teaching." Ask these pastors if they have ever heard a message that I have spoke? No! I don't need to, I got it from the denomination: word-of-mouth! If you want to be rejected, begin to speak the truth. Rejection and persecution were a common everyday experience for the Apostle Paul.
Turn to the book of Acts chapter 14 verse 7. [Despite the persecution Paul was faithful.] And there they preached the gospel. And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked: The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.
Paul was steadfast. He preached the word, healed the sick, cast out demons. He did not care what people called him or his reputation. He had one mission-that was to move down the road and proclaim Jesus Christ at any cost. Are you there? You can only do it if you are filled with God's love.
In the book of Acts chapter 15 chapter 1, you'll find how Paul encountered people with false doctrine.
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
Have you ever had your doctrine questioned? Have you ever had people tell you this, that you are all wet, that you're out to lunch, you do not know what you are talking about, you don't know Greek, you don't know Hebrew, you don't know things. People have religious spirits. They will argue you down, as long as they have breath in them. Paul met those people that challenged him.
In the book of Acts chapter 15 verse 35. [I believe this is probably the hardest blow that Paul suffered.] Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. And some days after Paul said onto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with him John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.
Paul lost his deep personal friendship with Barnabas. This was the closest brother he had. He is the one that stood with him through thick and thin. Suddenly the conflict was so immense that the friendship was destroyed. Have you ever lost a friend? Have you ever had someone that you really counted dear, you were walking with very close, that you counted as your brother or sister in Christ? You prayed with them. You sang with them and suddenly they were gone; something became between you and them. There was destruction. The devil comes in and says, "Have a drink. Go out and do something dumb." Saul was stripped of everything that he could be stripped of.
Turn to the book of Acts chapter 16 verse 16. And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, these men are the servants on the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days, But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrate, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble or city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against him: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, had commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
Here he are Paul and Silas bleeding, bound in a dungeon, rats are eating on them. Where was the love of God? It was still there. If you have ever seen some of the dungeons that the archeologist have uncovered, you'll see they are below the surface. The hands and the feet of the prisoner where clamped down so they could not defend themselves. In the night the rats would come out and eat on the feet of the prisoner. There was nothing the prisoner could do. If you were in a situation like that would you began to praise the Lord? Sure we can sing here. You may say, "Yes, I think I could do that." What we really need to do is pray and say, "Father God, give us grace." When the chips are down we really do not know what we're going to do or how we're going to react. I know this, if we cannot praise God under a little pressure, most likely we're not going to praise Him under lots of pressure. God has a solution. God always comes at midnight. When the situation is at its worst. At the darkest hour.
Verse 25: And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
God heard their praise. God will give us grace. God will bring us out in his time. God wants to bring us to the place where our faith is built upon Jesus, not a checkbook that is full, not a job that is secure, not goodness and grace, but faith built upon Jesus Christ, in all circumstances. This is where He wants us. We are moving into the end times. Suffering could not quench the Agape love in Paul.
Please turn to second Corinthians Chapter 11 verse 24. [When you and I see Paul, he may not look the same way as he did on this earth. We should see him with a resurrected, glorified body. Paul was not a pretty sight while on this earth. I'm sure his nose was broken. His face was probably full of scars. He had many broken bones. He must have looked terrible and abused. Inside he was unbroken.] Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stone, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren: In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concerned mine infirmities.
When we get to heaven we will begin to share our combat experiences with Paul and other saints. There'll be people that have been tortured in China, Russia and other countries. When it comes to our turn to give a testimony, will I say I was so stressed out. I was so busy. I suffered so much. I think you and I in this generation do not know what suffering really is. A broken toaster or the microwave doesn't work; that it is really suffering. We have not suffered. We do not even know what suffering really is. We have been afflicted. God is preparing us. Many people have lost their love. The question is, why could Paul keep the love of God in him?
Turn to the book of Acts chapter 9 verse 4. [Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.] And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
Have you had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ? That does not mean you have to have a Damascus Road experience. I did not have a Damascus Road experience. What I had was a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. He began to convict me of my sins. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I could not make it. I needed a savior. I knew at the moment that I turned and said, "Father God, in the name of Jesus forgive me. Jesus come into my life and be my Lord and savior." I know there was a change because He came in. I can drive a stake down and say on that day I met Jesus. I believe that most of you here have had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. After the personal encounter, just like a baby, I backslid for about eight months.
Turn to the book of Acts chapter 16 verse 7. [Secondly Paul had a vision from God.] After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia and prayed him, saying, Come over into a Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately he endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.
I want to ask you this question today. Do you have a vision? Or are you drifting. If you are drifting, you'll be battered. That doesn't mean your vision has to be that you must go to a foreign country. God will give every child of His a vision, a command, what he wants you to do in this life. If you pray, "Father God, what is my vision?" He will give it to you. Most believers in Christ just drift. They go to work. They go home. They go to bed. They eat. They hope the next day will be better. They go to church. What are your plans for next year? I do know this life is a rat race. I want to go to the mountains. I want to go to the ocean. What does God want you to do? I don't know! YOU NEED A VISION! You need a vision where you know that God has a purpose for your life. God touched me. God touches us in different ways. I will never forget the time when I had been in church for about four or five weeks. I was just as shy as some of you are. I was just sitting there enjoying the service, and they were going to close in prayer. Someone said, "John, will you close the service in prayer?" I froze. I did not know what to say. I was speechless. A sister in the Lord that was sitting next to me she stood up and prayed. I said thank you sister. I asked myself, "How come I could not pray?" I could talk. I could talk about everything. It bothered me. Sometime later a person came to me and said, "We want you to speak to the adults in the Sunday school class next week. I will be out of town next week." I said, "Me! I cant speak." She said, "I have a magazine. Read it. It will tell you what to do." At that point I knew that God wanted me to do something. I said, "Yes, I will." I read the magazine and I said, "I can do better than this." And I preached my first sermon. I was about five months old in Christ. Praise God! You must have a vision. You must know where you are going.
Third, Paul had a personal word from God. In the book of Acts chapter 18 verse 8, we read: And Crispus, the Chiefs ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: before I am with you, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. [Paul had a personal word from God. Paul was focused to obey Jesus.]
In chapter 21 of the book of Acts verse 12, we read: And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, What mean you to weep and to break my heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of Lord be done. [Paul focused to obey Jesus.]
I want to go over these points again. Paul had had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Have you? Paul had had a vision from God. Have you? Paul had had a personal word from God. Have you? Paul was focused to obey Jesus. Are you?
Love, faith, and hope. In first Corinthians chapter 13 verse 13, we read: And now abideth faith, hope, charity [love, Agape love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity [Agape love].
Why would God go and pick Saul who was a murderer and make him into the great Apostle Paul? Most people in this room speak better English than I do. Most people in this room were born in this country. You read and write better than I do. Would it not have been better in Gods economy that he would have called you? You could have been a pastor or the minister of this church, and I could then be sitting down there learning from you. Why did God go overseas, pick up a guy that was a total failure. He could not speak the English language. He had all kinds of problems. He brought him here to minister to you at this time. I do not know. God has a lot of humor. I know this, I know where I am going. I know where I have been. Where do you get faith?
In the book of Romans chapter 10 verse 13 it says faith comes by hearing and the hearing by the word of God or the word of Christ.
If you want to go places, here is where you start. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
Agape love gives a man hope to have faith in God and faith brings actions. Turn to the book of Hebrews Chapter 11 verse 32. Then what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdom's, wrought righteousness, obtain promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wondered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
Agape love gives man hope to have faith in God, and faith brings action.
In this congregation today we have a number of different people. Some of you may say, "I can't." Some of you may say, "Brother John, my body is deteriorating. I cannot walk that fast." No you can't, but God can change you. Why has your body deteriorated? The first reason is you let it deteriorate. The longer you sit, the more you will deteriorate. Brother John, I am too tired to exercise. The more you rest the more tired you'll be. Someday they're going to rest your body completely. They will stretch you out in a nice coffin with a white silk sheet. You will look very nice resting with your bones stiff and your muscles gone. I want to charge you today. Nothing is impossible with God. The problem is in our head. We have a head problem. We want to be pampered and babied all the time. We don't need to be babied anymore. The diapers and milk bottles need to be taken away. We need to grow up. Let's begin to say, "Father God, I need to have a vision as to how I'm going to end my life." Some of youre doing great things. Praise God; do more. You cannot be sentimental. You have to be compassionate.
Two years ago my father came to me. He had become ill and we did not know how or what it was. He had lost all his muscle mass. He could not even open a water bottle. I said, "Dad, you have to go back to the gym." He said, "I do not want to go to the gym. I do not want to lift those little weights. The ladies will look at me." I said, "Forget the ladies." I said, "Get the ladies weights and lift them." He did! Today he is lifting 30 pounds on each arm. That is not too bad for an 83 year old man. He could not stay at home and expect to get well by just lifting his eyelids. He put his body and mind into it and went to the gym and worked out. You have to say, "Father God, I have faith, hope, and I want some action. I am tired of being a baby." Take your violin and break it. Get a new song.
Turn to second Timothy chapter 4 verse 6. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I finish my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. Do you diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, has departed unto Thessaloniaca; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, When thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his words: Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words. At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me: that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
There was the time when Paul was let out of the prison; he was about 60 years old at the time. When he came out to be beheaded, he did not walk around lamenting, feeling sorry from himself saying, "Oh! My neck, my neck." He walked out of that prison praising God, worshipping the Lord saying, "I am going home; I have a flight." I don't think they had to push his head down. I think he laid his head down voluntarily and he was singing glory. Whack down came the sword and Paul was gone. There must have been good temperament in Paul, instead of what we see in the old folks homes where everyone wants to be babied, where the people wish they would have taken some action. God wants you to move in faith, hope and love.
Turn to the book of Galatians chapter 2 verse 19. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Can you confess that you are crucified with Christ? Nevertheless I live but not I but Christ who lives within me. I want you to think about that. It is an action you have to take, you have to make a decision. You have to take self off the throne today and say, "Self, you are going to die." They're going to be a lot of deaths in the prayer corner today, where self is going to die. It will not be me, me, me or baby, baby, baby anymore. We're going to say, "My heavenly Father, how can I be of service to you today? How can I serve you today, with my life, with my finances,? How can I be a blessing today?
Ministry is never convenient. I learned this a longtime ago. People say they want to be in the ministry, but remember it is never convenient.
When you have your wedding anniversary or birthday you simply say, "Pastor, we have a wedding anniversary. Bye-bye time." I say, "Goodbye!" It is the same thing with birthdays. A minister has no wedding anniversary or birthdays. People always have problems. There is not a day where you can say this is my total day off. In the ministry you work when God calls you. The self has to die. Are you willing today to say I'm crucified. I'm going to surrender Jesus Christ.
Turn to the gospel of John chapter 15 verse 4. [You know the satisfaction after you have been obedient to Christ, to know that my flesh has not had its way today. I did Gods will today. Someone was blessed today. That is satisfaction. How do we come to this confession? By abiding in Christ.] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples.
This is a secret; abide in Christ. How do you abide in Christ? You make a decision that you are going to abide with Christ. To give you an idea how to make this decision, my wife and I made the decision to join the Central Baptist Church in Salt Lake City some years ago. We made the decision to be baptized in water. I made a decision to attend the meetings. We made the decision to read the word. We made the decision to teach Sunday school. When God called me to prepare for the ministry, I said, "Yes, I will resign my job." We sold our furniture. We gave stuff away. It continued over the years. We have said, "yes, yes, yes, as God has led." We have abided in the Lord. On our last wedding anniversary we spent it in a prayer meeting. We didn't even question that it was our anniversary. We went to the prayer meeting. We can always celebrate our wedding anniversary on another day. Abiding in Christ means that you die to yourself. Your ambitions go limp. You say, "Jesus, from this moment on I am your bond slave. I will abide in you and obey Your words."
It is invitation time. The altar is open. Pray this prayer with me. Say, "Father God, in the name of Jesus I want to surrender today to Jesus Christ." If you prayed that and you mean it, God will touch you. I had no idea where I was going when I surrendered, but I knew who was holding my hand.
May God richly bless you is my prayer.