“I serve a risen savior,” His strong baritone voice began. “He’s in the world today. He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” He paused and looked over the congregation. “We just sang that song because of what this day stands for. How many of you believe it, raise your hands”
The entire congregation raised their hands. “You all believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is here today living in the lives of all believers.”
Jan heard an “Amen,” from her father still sitting on the stage behind the podium.
“And how many of you a few years back drove all the way to
Most of the congregation said “Amen” to this.
“We are Christians not because Jesus died, we are Christians, born again and saved from eternal damnation because He is alive. Today – right now – present in this auditorium, filling the heart of all believers.”
There were numerous “Amen’s” again, as he paused to catch his breath. Jan thought he was off to a good start, and he did have excellent delivery, not the irritating sing-song some preachers affected. She saw for the first time a tremble in his hand and a look of fear in his eyes. He took a deep breath like someone about to jump off a high dive at the swimming pool.
“Then why is it when you visit a Christian bookstore that three fourths of all the books are about death and destruction?” He paused to gauge the reaction of the congregation. “Jesus said ‘I have come to give life and that more abundantly’ yet all Christians seem to think about is the second coming of Christ. Completely forgetting and ignoring the first coming.”
The auditorium was totally silent, not even the usual cough.
You have my attention. Jan thought.
“When I was in Junior High School, being raised Baptist” he kept on. “Everyone was reading Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth. It was a national best seller. It scared me to death at what was described as going to happen to the world in the tribulation and great tribulation time period.
He stopped for a beat to let his thought settle in. “A few years ago I can remember the horror of what happened at
He moved away from behind the podium and stood leaning on the side of it. “Next there was the millennium bug. Remember the fuss and feathers? Remember the doom and gloom fear over what would happen when all the computers messed up? The world was going to come to an end. Christ would come and destroy the world because it was the year 2000. Didn’t happen – did it.”
He smiled and could see the smiles of most everyone else in the room. “I wasn’t quite as gullible this time around, but part of my life did come to an end a year later."
He moved back behind the lectern and his expression changed to deep grief. “My wife and two year old son were killed in an automobile accident – not a world wide apocalypse like 911, but earth shattering to me.”
The room became totally quiet. Jan took in a quick breath nothing had prepared her for this.
“I finally came face to face with death and destruction, and in my journey of grief and loss I encountered the truth about Jesus, the importance of his first coming and why he is in the world and living in our hearts.“
Paul looked around the congregation and could see everyone’s eyes directly on him. He took a deep breath to speak forcefully the point he wanted to make.
“Christ brings comfort for those who are in pain. He gives strength to those who are too weak to get out of bed. He gives us a reason to live when we are in despair and depression. I don’t know what deity the writers and preachers of doom and destruction worship, but it is not a God worthy of worship.”
He could see the shock on some of the people’s faces. Still he pressed on, “God is a God of Life. He is in the business of building lives from the broken pieces that we give him. He has given me a sunshiny positive future, not a gloomy doomed future. A future filled with the love and compassion from John and Martha and the members of this church.” The tension eased with these words.
“As it is written in the book of James ‘God is Love’. Amos states emphatically that the day of destruction when it comes is not a day of light, but a day of darkness and God is not looking forward to it, why then should we His followers be so heavily focused on it?”
Jan had not listened so intently to a sermon in years. She knew most of Dad’s by heart, because he repeated them, and after a lifetime of sitting in the pew they blurred into meaninglessness. Paul was striking a chord within her. She could not help but compare all of Brother Bobby’s and her ex-husband’s sermons with this one. He was asking the same questions she had asked, but he was also giving her answers to those questions.
“There are two powers at work in the world today – the power of love and the power of death.”
She refocused on what he was saying.
“People worship either the God of Love or the God of Death. Nowhere in the Bible does it ever say that God is a God of Death! In Exodus with the ten plagues He sent an Angel of Death, so that death would not be associated directly to Him. Look at what those that worship a God of Death leave in their wake.”
Jan immediately saw the face in the trees. She shook her head to clear the image.
“Muslim death worshipers know only how to destroy buildings. Christian death worshipers know only how to take over denominations and then destroy them by pushing out everyone that won’t goose step to their tune. Their entire belief system is conformity, exclusion, my way or the highway. They have replaced the Great Commission of going into the World telling and converting the lost to Christ with our life’s testimony to political activism, legislation, adjudication and indoctrination. Instead of persuasion and allowing the Holy Spirit to convict the lost, they are using force to make people live Christian lives whether they want to or not.”
Paul saw a few heads nodding in agreement. “A judge in
He noticed the heads stopped nodding in agreement. “God is not a two ton statue of the law.” He boomed out letting it reverberate from the walls. “Jesus said ‘The law brings death, the spirit brings life.’ It is the spirit of Christ living in our lives that’s important, and I or you don’t need any government official to tell me if that is right or not. God does not ask me to break his commandments in order to honor them. In honoring the Ten Commandments that judge has evidently not read the very first one which says ‘I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ He sacrificed his career for the Ten Commandments, not for God. That two ton rock has become his God. If he truly worshipped God he would stay on the bench and render sound legal decisions that would glorify both God and the State he worked for.”
Paul saw a number of shocked looks, but he had to continue. “He also forgot the commandment that says ‘Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image.’ If a two ton replica of the commandments isn’t a graven image what is?”
Again, he let the rhetorical question ring out. “It is said that God is the same for Christians and Muslims. There is some truth to that. The Christians that massacred thousands during the Crusades worshiped a God of Death and left destruction in their wake. The Muslims that attacked
He took a glass of water from behind the podium taking of sip of water to lubricate his throat, moved back to the side of the podium again then thundered, “God does not ask his people to murder innocents.”
The auditorium was filled with his voice and then became absolutely silent. “God is Love,” He continued in a soft voice, nearly a whisper. “Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not the leader of Crusades or Jihads.” He paused to let his major point sink in.
Looking down he saw Jan. She was gorgeous, and he knew that John and Martha were hoping he would be interested in her. Martha could speak of no one else when he ate Sunday dinner with them. Don’t get distracted now! he said to himself, and looked back at his notes to find his place.
“God is in the business of building lives not destroying them. It was Jesus living in my heart, walking and talking, that saw me through my darkest days, and rebuilt my life. It is Jesus, walking and talking, that keeps me together to this very day. God didn’t take my wife and son’s life. It was a drunk driver, but it was Jesus, alive and living in the world today, that made me see how precious life is – too precious to be wasted on bitterness and anger. Those are the emotions that feed, gorging, stuffing, but never satiating all Gods of death. Hate and vengeance are powerful emotions, and that is the path I could have followed. I could rage against alcohol and its evils. I could let the cancer of those emotions fester inside me directed at the man who stole my loved ones by his irresponsibility. But the God I worship is a God of Love, not Hate, of Forgiveness instead of Vengeance. When I released those feelings and forced myself to forgive that man (which was the single most difficult decision I have ever made, and I fight it daily) but Jesus has given me a new outlook on life, and a calmness and peace that defies all understanding.”
He had to pause for another drink of water and moved back behind the podium. “At first all I could think about was the years of happy marriage I was robbed of by that driver. How my son was deprived of a future, and the grandchildren lost with his life. Then Jesus taught me to be thankful for the two years I had with my son. To be grateful for the four wonderful years of marriage, and the seven years I knew my beloved wife. He taught me to focus on the life we had together, not the destruction that ended it.” He choked up with emotion feeling the heat on his face as the blood rushed up. Losing the fight against tears they streamed down his cheeks.
"I am still a work in progress,” croaked out of his throat. He swallowed hard. “There are days when those feelings and emotions still surface, and I would love to believe in a God that would strike that man down with a bolt of lightning. I fight those thoughts continually, and every day the Love and Forgiveness of Jesus eases my pain and the fight becomes never easier, but endurable."
The tears dried up and he regained his composure. Speaking now with authority, “All hate does is eat up the person who feels it. It is an emotion that must be vented or it consumes the vessel that harbors it. Jesus is my safety valve, releasing the anger and hate and filling me with his comfort and Love."
He moved from behind the podium and stepped down from the stage. “I serve a risen savior. He’s in the world today. That is the greatest testimony of life and how much God thought of it in order to give us His Son. I implore you to focus on the first coming of Christ and on His love, His peace and on His life.”