A friend wrote to me about arrogant Atheists constantly baiting him to argue, but having no sincere interest in the Truth. In 1681, Thomas Watson wrote about God’s point of view of believers during Malachi’s era, 300+ years before the birth of Christ (Mal. 3:16-17): “The Lord was much taken with the holy conferences and dialogues of these saints . . . When others were inveighing against the Deity, that there should be a parcel of holy souls speaking of glory, and the life to come, their words were music in God’s ears.” – (The Great Gain of Godliness by Thomas Watson, p.7, Banner of Truth edition, 2006)
Let us use every means at our disposal to do as they did.
May those who love us, love us.
And for those who don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he can not turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we may know them by their limping.
May you live as long as you want,and never want as long as you live.
-copied from Mary Abrahams
Though none would minimize
The loneliness we all must bear,
Each grief has its unique kind of pain.
Yet somehow, losses can’t compare
Or duplicate the emptiness
When Mom’s gone over there.
But up above, celestial land
Is surely made more real
When Mother dawns eternal gown,
New homesickness we feel.
[Written in 1989 when the author experienced the loss of his mother.]
The story of the Unjust Judge, one of Jesus’ parables, explains that although the Judge was unjust, still because of a widow’s persistent pleas, he granted her request. Many sermons have challenged believers to be relentless in prayer, based upon this passage and parable. For thirty years, I have believed that one of the primary messages of this parable (Luke 18:1-7) was that our prayers should be persistent.
G. Campbell Morgan points out that the parable draws two points of contrast between the Unjust Judge and God. First is the fact that the Judge was unjust or unrighteous, whereas God is always just and right. He will “avenge.” Notice the word is not revenge. To avenge is to perform justice. God’s actions toward us are always just. He cannot do anything unrighteous.
The second contrast is the necessity of persistent pleading, which was required to move the Unjust Judge to meet the widow’s need. In context, Jesus gave the parable on purpose: “to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” (Luke 18:1) If we would always pray, we would not need to beg and plead.
WHAT IS A PRAYER LIFE?
Morgan explains, “The prayer life does not consist of perpetual repetition of our petitions. The prayer life consists of life that is always upward and onward and Godward. The passion of the heart is for the kingdom of God; the devotion of the mind is to His will; the attitude of the spirit is conformity . . . the higher we climb in the realm of prayer, the more unceasing will prayer be, and the fewer will be the petitions.”
HOW GOD VIEWS PRAYER
Our gracious God is the opposite of the Unjust Judge. He is “not willing that any should perish” (II Peter 3:9), but is eager to pardon sinners. (Isaiah 55:7)
Likewise, God is so full of compassion, so full of power and unlimited ability, and so absolutely just that “the foremost wish of the weakest, feeblest, frailest soul brings an answer.” (-Morgan) That is why we “ought always to pray and not to faint.” There ought to be no fainting among the people of God, because they are praying.
THE HEART OF PRAYER
Prayer without ceasing is a life lived with a perpetual desire for His Name, His Kingdom, and His Will. Morgan comments, “The man who makes prayer a scheme by which occasionally he tries to get something for himself has not learned the deep profound secret of prayer. Prayer is life passionately wanting, wishing, desiring God’s triumph. . . . When men so pray they do not faint. They mount up with wings as eagles, they run without weariness, they tramp the hardest, roughest road, and they do not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
We had it all wrong. Although we may profitably use a list, prayer is not repeating or rehearsing a list. It is not reminding God that we are still waiting. Instead, it is bringing all my aspirations to Him, not to convince Him, but to ascertain His preference about it. It works like the chorus by Margaret W. Brown, which we sang in our youth group many years ago:
“I keep in touch with Jesus, and He keeps touch with me. And so we walk together, in perfect harmony. There’s not a day that passes, there’s not an hour goes by, but that we have sweet fellowship, my precious Lord and I.”
Jesus ended the parable with a question: “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (verse 8) Our daily life is a life of faith, or else we walk by sight (II Corinthians 5:7).
John H. Sammis captured the idea:
“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His word, what a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.” (Trust and Obey)
As a young teenager, I walked with Him and enjoyed that sweet fellowship and prayer. But as I grew older, my vistas became clouded with humanistic ideas of success. In the process, I became susceptible to man-centered concepts of prayer.
Have you had it wrong? He still resists the proud, but gives grace – undeserved favor – to the humble.
[G. Campbell Morgan quotations are from the sermon Prayer or Fainting The Westminster Pulpit, Vol 3 (London: Pickering and Inglis).]
There is a universal familiarity of Americans with the song Amazing Grace, and an excellent gospel tract about its story. Some time ago, I discovered a unique and compelling way of using the song and story of the songwriter in witnessing to a wide demographic of the populace. Although I have not used this approach much with children, I find it is useful with most people, from young teens to senior citizens.
Here is the way I employ this excellent tool: When I meet a person, in almost any setting, I find a way to ask, “Do you know much about music?” (I really don’t care how they answer, because I am only using this question to launch the conversation. So, it doesn’t matter whether they say “Yes” or “No.”) Some may reply with an explanation of their interest or lack of interest in music. A few may begin to tell me about childhood music lessons, or a particular genre or stye of music they prefer. This is fine with me, because as I listen to whatever they wish to say, I know that any resistance to me talking about my point of view is dissipating. In fact, by listening with interest to their comments, nodding agreement if possible, smiling, and even offering encouraging comments, I am already on my way to winning a hearing for the Amazing Grace story.
My next question is, “Have you heard of a song called . . . um . . . Amazing Grace?” I usually hesitate as if I’m having trouble recalling the title of the song in order to further lower their defenses. If they imagine that I am speaking off-the-cuff, they are more likely to allow me to continue, since curiosity often overrides suspicion.
Usually, the response I get at this point is laced with incredulity, something like, “Oh, everybody knows Amazing Grace.” To which I immediately reply, “Who wrote it?” Few are able to answer that, so again, this approach puts them off balance for a moment, keeps them focused on answering my queries, and intensifies interest.
Soul-winning often provides a venue for humor. Once, I asked a man in Florida about Amazing Grace, and he replied, “Ever’body know’ Amazin‘ Grace.” I asked, “Who wrote it?” He wrinkled his brow, “W-w-was it Ray Charles?” I nearly lost my composure!
I wait a few moments while they try to recall who wrote the song, then I follow up with another question: “How old is it?” This question has provided some comic relief also. One young lady said, “Oh, it’s really old.” So, I asked, “How old?” She said, “At least fifty years.” I grinned and said, “Don’t insult me like that.” We both snickered, because I am over sixty.
THE MAIN PRESENTATION
Next, I launch into the main part of my presentation: “It was written by a guy named John Newton, who lived during the 1700’s. He was Captain of a slave trading ship. His Christian mother begged him not to go into the slave trade, but his Dad was a slave trader, and he knew he could make a lot of money. So he bought people captured in Africa and sold them in slave auctions in the American colonies. So you see, the song is over 200 years old. Another amazing thing is, it is still recorded year after year.”
Continuing, I say, “Now you can see why he wrote the lyrics he did: ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a WRETCH like me.’ – He knew he was a wretch! He abused and probably killed a lot of people, treating them worse than livestock. He was so cruel and vile that his own crew of sailors despised him. Once, he was drunk and fell overboard. He couldn’t swim. They argued whether to just let him drown. Finally, they harpooned him like a whale and dragged him back on board half drowned. He could have died from the wounds. Later, his ship was overtaken by another ship. They flogged him and nearly beat him to death! During that time, he remembered his mother’s prayers and began to cry out to God in prayer, begging the Lord to save him. Amazingly, his prayers (or his mother’s) were answered. He made it back to England. There, he became a Christian, married a fine lady, and eventually became a preacher. He wrote over 500 gospel songs, but the only one we still sing is Amazing Grace.”
A ONE-WORD DEFINITION
There are usually some comments about the story, so I listen and offer my own remarks in response to whatever they say. As soon as feasible without rude interruption, I ask my next question: “May I ask you a question that I ask people all the time? Could you give me a one-word definition of the word GRACE?”
It is my experience that it is best to ask for a one-word definition. Otherwise, they may filibuster, repeating platitudes and ideas to impress or simply to “muddy the waters.” By limiting the request to one word, you also eliminate the likelihood of religiously trained people spouting definitions they’ve learned in catechism or Sunday school. Most will be stumped, and will stall, trying to think of an appropriate answer. Many offer various one-word answers, such as “faith,” “God,” “love,” “hope,” or “Jesus.” I smile approvingly at each attempt, but shake my head indicating it is a wrong answer. Most will only attempt one answer.
Then I say, “The word grace comes from a Greek word Charis (pronounced Kair-is). Some people name their daughter Charis. Have you heard of that? The word derives from a word that means ‘gift’ – but not just any gift. This is an undeserved, unearned gift. That is what John Newton was writing about in the song. He knew he was a wretch, who did not deserve God’s mercy and kindness, but God gave him that Amazing GIft anyway. He realized that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of our sin, to provide that undeserved gift to each of us.”
Depending upon their responses, I may go ahead with a simple appeal to believe the promises of God: that He provided Eternal Life as a gift to undeserving sinners, which includes all of mankind. If I sense conviction and an open heart, I go directly to my closing questions.
However, if I’ve sensed some resistance to the idea that he is a sinner; if I sense doubt about the deity of Christ, or the certainty of God’s Judgment, or sense any indication that they need a more thorough presentation of the gospel (the good news of God’s grace), I usually ask them to look with me at verses like these: Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 5:12, 10:9-10, John 3:15-18, I John 5:11-13. Using a question – answer approach, I try to ascertain what may be the problem in their mind, repelling them from Christ. I try to provide Bible answers to resolve these issues. Many people in America have some understanding of gospel truth, but most do not understand the concept of grace.
Frequently, I use this approach at some point in my presentation of the gospel: “There really are only two categories of religion (or 2 kinds) in the world. One is a religion of works. Works religion always says, ‘Here is a list of things you must DO, and a list of things you must NOT DO, in order to go to heaven. If you DO all the do’s (or most of them) and DON’T all the don’ts, you’ll ‘make it.’ But the Bible says ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us’ (Titus 3:5). Ephesians 2:8-9 says, ‘by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.’ If we could ‘make it’ by our works, we could brag about it, but we have no right to boast, because our best works are insufficient.”
“The other kind is the religion of Grace – ‘by grace are ye saved through faith.’ Romans 6:23 says, ‘the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Jesus Christ paid the price for your sin (and mine) with His blood on the cross. He offers eternal life as a free gift to all who will receive it.”
Always, my goal is to get to my closing questions: “Let me ask you an open-ended question. Salespeople usually ask questions that hint at the answer they want you to give. Such as, ‘You’d like the red car, wouldn’t you?’ (nodding head vigorously). But, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I just want to help you think this through. I don’t intend to offend you by asking in this way, so you can just give the first answer that comes to mind. Here’s the question:
“If Jesus Christ would take you just the way you are, would you be willing to take him as your Savior right now, and really mean it?”
I introduce the question this way because they may be offended if they think I am suggesting that they do not believe in Jesus Christ. But, by asking this way, I find they usually respond immediately with a heartfelt reply, if they are seriously considering the information already provided, and especially if the Holy Spirit is bringing conviction to their heart. The heartfelt response will usually be one of two possible options: They will immediately say, “Yes.” Or, the alternative reaction is, “I’ve already done that.”
IF THEY SAY “YES”
If they say “Yes,” I ask them if I may pray for them right now. I immediately pray aloud, but softly (especially if others might hear) a very short prayer: “Lord, Joe is willing to take You as his Savior. I know You are eager to hear his prayer . . . Joe, while our heads are bowed, just go ahead and ask the Lord Jesus Christ to save your soul and forgive your sins, right now. Pray aloud, and I’ll be your witness.” I remain silent, with my head bowed, not looking for eye contact. If he is sincere, he will usually begin his prayer. I listen carefully. If his prayer is not specifically asking Christ to save him, I wait for a pause and then suggest, “Say, ‘Please forgive my sins and take me to Heaven when I die.’”
Telling the prospect “Pray aloud, and I’ll be your witness” is to encourage him to pray aloud. For many years, I asked people to pray, waited respectfully, but heard nothing. Then I would have to ask, “Did you pray?” Or “Do you need some help wording your prayer?” Often, they would say, “I prayed in my heart.” The fact is, they do not need a witness, but I want to be the witness to their prayer. Hearing their prayer helps me to know how to help them further. If the prayer is silent, I go away wondering if they really prayed. And, I think many of them were left wondering if their prayer was heard.
I realize some will criticize the idea of coaching or suggesting words for the prayer. It really boils down to the heart motive of the soul-winner. If my motive is to run back to church and brag about “winning” someone, my suggested prayer is probably already being subverted by spiritual enemies (demonic) at work to distract the prospect from real salvation anyway. If my motive is purely a compassionate heart, longing to win souls and snatch them from a burning hell, the prospect has probably already sensed that in me, and is willing to receive my guidance as he prays.
I’VE ALREADY DONE THAT
When the soul-winner has properly set up the question, he can be pretty certain that “I’ve already done that” is an honest response. There will be other indicators if the prospect is merely trying another ploy. In any event, I accept the response at face value, and begin moving toward final remarks and courtesies. However, this is a very good time, if you are convinced the prospect understands and is truthfully responding, to ask, “Have you been baptized in deep water, like Jesus, since you received the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart?” This may provide a wonderful opportunity to lead them on to baptism, membership, and discipleship through a local church. We need to remember that in His great commission, the Lord Jesus sent us not only to “preach the gospel” and make disciples, but also “baptizing them” and “teaching them to observe all things . . .” (Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:19-20) When people pray, receiving the Lord by faith (John 1:12) in our presence, we have only helped with the birth of a babe in Christ. Obeying His commission has just begun.
AN ADAPTABLE TOOL
The Amazing Grace method is adaptable to very brief conversations also. In such situations, I merely ask the introductory questions and comments, and then offer to give them a shortened version of John Newton’s story. I don’t call it a “tract,” or “pamphlet,” because those terms are used to describe political and religious literature, which many are predisposed to reject. If my time is limited and the conversation is ending, I offer the tract: “Hey, here’s the whole story about the song and John Newton, that you can read when you have time.”
For several years, I have used an Amazing Grace tract written by Lindsay Terry and published by the American Tract Society (www.ATStracts.org). Scripture references are from the King James Bible (my preference). There are other variations of the Amazing Grace story in print. I like this one because it transitions from the story into a point by point presentation of the gospel with Scripture texts included. This is especially good for the quick contacts where there is not enough time to whet the prospect’s appetite with the warm up about who wrote the song, and other details.
– C.T.L. Spear
On this day, March 17, 1966, I preached my first “sermon,” standing on a box in front of the J.C. Penney’s store on 16th Street in downtown Omaha, NE. It was St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone wore green. I felt rather green myself! My text was Amos 4:12 “prepare to meet thy God.” This happened only because Arnold Busenitz, a senior student, was ill. All upperclassmen on the Street Preaching team were sick. Although I protested that I knew nothing about preaching and had no intention of being a preacher, W.A. Regier, the Christian Service Director, insisted that there was no one else to fill the slot. Whereas my duty on the team had been to listen to the speaker and be ready to hand out tracts to any passers-by, I had less than a week to prepare, practice in a music hall practice room, and with great trepidation, preach on the street. After this, several of my teammates, including Arnie Busenitz, encouraged me that they thought God’s hand was upon me for preaching. Arnie later urged me to enroll in a summer pastoral internship program. I protested that I wasn’t going to be a pastor, but he ignored my protestations and insisted he was sure it would do me good.
My former pastor, Adrian House, without knowing any of these events, coincidentally invited me to spend the summer with his family in Cheyenne, WY, where he had planted a new church. He told me they could not pay, but would take up a love offering at summer’s end. It was my first real step of faith, realizing I would not be able to return to Bible college in the fall without Divine provision.
Late that summer, as I prepared a message to give to two youth groups at Berean Baptist Church in Laramie, WY, I suddenly felt compelled to kneel and pray. On my knees in the basement of Pastor House’s home at 1010 East Fifth Street in Cheyenne, I told the Lord that I wasn’t sure whether He was actually calling me to preach, or not, but if so, I promised I would do it as He would enable me. From that moment, the focus of my life has been upon the preaching of the Word of God! A few months later, my college roommate, Ron Stradinger ( Alice Stradinger) insisted that I sit down in our room. He then told me that it was obvious that the summer internship had notably changed my life – that I was now more certain of my direction in life than he had known me to be before that.
Praise God for His unspeakable gift, and for His inexpressible gifting to His servants! What a ride it has been! I’m still RIDING HIGH (Dt. 32:13)!
ABOUT MY SWEETIE
Dr. Henry Morris wrote about Solomon’s first love, Naamah, mother of his only son, Rehoboam, who was 41 when he became King, succeeding his father. Solomon only reigned 40 years, so he was quite young when he married Naamah, who remained his first love, the one he still loved supremely when, as an old man, he wrote to his son, “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity…” (Eccl 9:9) He had learned the hard way that “it don’t get no better!” When he was courting Naamah, he said, “Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant…” (Song 1:16)
Morris points out that the Hebrew word for “pleasant” is very similar to her name, Naamah, as though Solomon were calling her by a shortened form of her name as a term of endearment. This same word is occasionally translated “sweet.” Naamah certainly was a sweet, pleasant maiden in her youth, but she also had the endowments to become the Queen, and is a type of the church, as Solomon is a type of Christ. Our Lord’s love for His bride is never failing, despite our faults.
Like Solomon, I’ve grown old and confess that, thank God, my “Sweetie” grows more “pleasant” in spite of my failings. Sharen has endured “many dangers, toils and snares” to remain my dearest companion and best friend on earth. “Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant…” and sweet! Happy Valentine’s Day!
After a conversation with a Christian leader several months ago, I revisited his assessment of a well-known fundamental church: “Grace doesn’t grow well in the legalistic environment.” I thought about that indictment.
Evangelicals seem to have plenty of grace. Their grace extends to giving frequent top billing to quotes of C.S. Lewis, or Neo-Orthodox theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner (whose neo-orthodox view of Scripture teaches that the Bible contains the Word of God; that it becomes God’s Word if it speaks to you, rather than boldly proclaiming “The Bible IS the Word of God”). Evangelicals often have grace to overlook or even espouse the hyper-calvinist theology of the Reformed movement (which ignores “whosoever will” and accuses God of electing some to damnation). They hold hands with Charismatics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Nazarenes, American Baptists, and others in common causes like the National Association of Evangelicals, and National Religious Broadcasters. I do not wish to imply that these are not worthy causes, but only point out the camaraderie that exists in these relationships while simultaneously marginalizing any who separate from what they perceive as “worldly” practices and associations.
One pastor was addressing the topic of Christian conduct with leaders in the church he serves. A deacon spoke up, “Nobody is going to tell me whether or not I can have a drink. If I want a beer, I’ll have one.” Such lack of grace toward believers who adhere to separation principles is becoming ever more common. A Christian training institution (Colorado Christian University) that once prohibited students’ involvement in “worldly” amusements now promotes a dance recital.
For many, grace seems to be in short supply when the discussion turns to those who insist on standards of conduct – separation concerns that were standard expectations at Moody Bible Institute, BIOLA, and most of the evangelistic schools and movements which grew out of the revivals of 1865-1930; institutions that gave birth to the preponderance of evangelicalism today. There is little or no grace for those who have dress codes or who proscribe amusements like movies, dancing, social drinking, card-playing, and even gambling. Those who abstain from such practices are expected to have grace in their hearts for those who run roughshod over their preferences, while being branded legalists if they so much as question the wisdom of such interaction with the world’s system.
I readily admit that I “went to seed” on the preaching of standards, probably doing damage to Christians by giving the impression that the works of separatism are, along with soul-winning, the primary core values of the faith. In my zeal to pluck some out of the fire (Jude 23), and to warn youth against the wiles of the devil, I overemphasized the wrath of God against sin, without providing the balancing force of conviction about His abundant mercy and grace. Jesus unequivocally accused the scribes and Pharisees of this same error, labeling them “hypocrites.” Their fixation on exact tithing was an obsession with specific standards of performance that made them leave out “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” (Mt. 23:23-28) Jesus did not suggest they should stop tithing, or eliminate standards of conduct, but summarized, “these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” He condemned their obsession with external appearances, and turned the spotlight on their inner defilement, declaring “ye…are within full… of all uncleanness.”
A study of the term uncleanness in scripture reveals a link with sexual immorality, along with a connection to the spirit world (Num. 5:19, Ezra 9:11, Rom. 1:24, 6:19, II Cor. 12:21, Gal. 5:19, Eph. 4:19, 5:3, Col. 3:5, I Thes. 4:4-7, II Pt 2:10, note: “unclean spirit” Zech. 13:1-2). Demonic influences encourage uncleanness, corruption, and defilement. Some proudly insist their understanding of spiritual matters is superior to that of earlier generations, but satanic influence continues to expand, undermining our ministries.
In recent years, scandals among Fundamentalists, Charismatics, Evangelicals, and every category of Christendom abound, providing evidence that Jesus would make the same accusation that he made against the Pharisees. Jesus’ evaluation reached its crescendo when he said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Mt. 23:33) Indeed. It is high time that “all men” pay heed to “the grace of God which bringeth salvation.” (Tit. 2:11) Salvation is not delivered by the law. The law only spotlights our desperate need for it. Deliverance from condemnation is only provided “by grace through faith.” (Eph. 2:8) If it is accurate to apply Jesus’ words to today’s milieu, we must be prepared to acknowledge that many evangelicals are in fact unredeemed; unconverted.
Is your kind of Christianity a place where grace grows? Are people saved to a life that exhibits what the Lord spoke to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee…” (II Cor. 12:9)? Or are you saved by grace to a life of external appearance-maintenance? Do you still battle with infirmities (weakness toward temptation), trying to corral them with rules and regulations, and even straining at gnats while swallowing camels? Do you evaluate the spiritual walk of others on the basis of their conformity to a few “gnatsty” standards, while turning a blind eye to blatant violations of spirituality like gossip or lying?
Paul said he learned to praise God for infirmities, “that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The Lord permits “infirmities… reproaches… necessities… persecutions… distresses…” (II Cor. 12:9-10) to continue tempting and testing to keep us aware of our moment by moment need for grace – spiritual power to overcome, provided by the Holy Spirit himself.
God did not drive out all the enemies of Israel immediately when they invaded Canaan. His purpose was to keep his people in a position of dependence upon his undeserved favor (grace) and supernatural strength despite their weakness. He told Paul, “…my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Cor. 12:9) His strength reaches full maturity (perfect), reflecting all the credit back to His Glory, when in our weakness we glory in our infirmities, rejoicing that here is another opportunity to demonstrate our weakness over-compensated-for by His Strength.