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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Priorities...You have to be thankful. (Fifth in a series)

32,000 souls experienced Jesus Christ as a result of one man's passionate, direct conversations with them. That much we know. What I've been trying to flesh out in this series is the how and the why of what drove Art DeMoss to manage this amazing feat while running successful businesses and raising a healthy family.
This morning another motive occurred to me.  Thankfulness.
Do you and I truly appreciate what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross? Do we even spend time thinking about it...about the entire content of the plan of salvation? Have we given enough time to ponder our fate had it not been for Jesus reaching us...undoubtedly through the words or deeds of someone else? And I'm not limiting this consideration to simply the eternal fate of our souls. What about our lives since that day? What did He really save us from? Who were we before that head-on collision?
For the past three weeks I have been reading through the Gospels. It's the first daily, devotional reading I have been able to do since graduation. The first time I've read without it being part of a class in over 3 years. I chose the Gospels because I needed to refresh my relationship with Jesus as He lived among us. I am daily moved by His compassion...His humanity...His willingness to feel the things that hurt us deeply and let those hurts move Him to the obedience of the Cross. He died to save us, from the curse of the law and from the pain of humanity.  Do we appreciate this?
Are we thankful enough to want to share this with others? Do we remember the whole of that from which He saved us? We cannot repay the debt but we can share the gift. And we will if we truly appreciate it.
A thankful heart will drive a man to do the work it takes to win thousands to Jesus...or only one. It's not the number that makes us obedient. It's simply being obedient. Be thankful for what Jesus did for you. Say "Thank You" by doing the only thing He asked...tell someone else.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Taking down Joe Paterno's statue...some final thoughts

Today Penn State University unceremoniously removed the statue of Joe Paterno from in front of Beaver Stadium. They erected a temporary fence, brought in a forklift and took it away wrapped in a tarp. It looked like a body bag. Like Joe had died all over again.
In the days that have transpired since the Freeh report was released, I have had to come to grips with the sad truth that a man I revered as a role model, and an example of how one should live ones life, had failed when it mattered most.
This morning I was torn as I watched the statue come down. It had to come down...I get it. As long as this Sandusky mess is being talked about, that statue will be the lemon juice being perpetually poured in the paper-cut.
I have accepted Joe's role in this horror. And it broke my heart. Maybe somewhere deep in my soul I am secretly hoping that some new documents will be unearthed and we'll find out that Joe went all over the state trying to find justice for those boys and found himself hitting blockades at every turn. Somewhere in my heart I guess I hope he'll somehow be vindicated in a year, or ten, or twenty. But I know that won't happen.
I've thought about all the angles. All the questions that really are fair and really should be answered. Like with all the investigations going on from 1998 until 2009 who was left for Joe to have spoken up about this to that didn't already know, and buried it just as much as Joe did? That's a fair question. I want to know why ALL those agencies failed. I want to know how Jerry Sandusky adopted SIX kids and was foster parent to more, and not ONE caseworker caught this monster or was even suspicious. (My friends who have adopted know the gigantic microscope they place in your butt to get through the process) How did he fool those experts?
I think it's fair to ask for the head of Tom Corbett on a platter, politically. The governor of Pennsylvania took $200,000 from Sandusky's group knowing his office had been conducting an investigation into allegations in 2003. He approved a 3 Million dollar grant to Sandusky in 2011 right after coming to the same calender year Sandusky was arrested. He had to know the grand jury had convened on yet another molestation accusation.
I want to know why cops, and caseworkers and teachers and people outside of Happy Valley and away from the influence of PSU football missed this animal. There are answers yet to be discovered.
Maybe those answers will ultimately reveal a wall that was too high for even Joe Paterno to scale.
But I doubt it.
And so his statue has to come down. And it breaks my heart.
I grew up without the influence of my father in my life. I gravitated to my coaches from my earliest days. I thank God I had good men without proclivity for this sort of sickness because as desperate as I was for a father figure to pay attention to me I would have been an easy mark.
In my life there were two men I especially looked to as role models. Two men about whom I said to myself  "I want to grow up to be men like this". Two men I saw as the epitome of what a good, charactered, integritous, solid man should be and what he could be. Those two men were Brian Piccolo and Joe Paterno.
The funny thing is I didn't even play football and only cared about it from the standpoint of a fan watching on TV.  I played hockey and baseball and those were my passions.
But somehow when the time came for a very young Craig Daliessio to find himself a raised bar to meet or exceed...I discovered it was set by two Italian football guys. One a hard working player who fought a gallant battle against the insidious enemy of cancer, and the other a dark-haired coach who was legendary for training men to be men beyond the field, and who graduated players, and whose charges never got into trouble and always became so much more than just ex-jocks.
Brian Piccolo taught me that your life is of great value no matter how well you do in your career. That it's about how you touch others that really matters in the end. Was this world better for your having been in it, if even for a tragically short time?
Joe Paterno taught me something else. For years I thought he taught me about fairness. About hard work, integrity, playing by the rules, emphasising what was really important--more important than the final score. I thought he showed me the ultimate team spirit when he never relented on the issue of  not having player names on the backs of the jerseys because no player was bigger than the team as a whole.
Maybe that's the most tragic thing in all of this. Because in the was that "Nobody is more important than doing what's best for us all" thing that he betrayed. It turns out that when doing what was right was going to jeopardize the team, he chose to avoid doing what was right.
I have been wrestling all week with Joe's legacy. What is it and what remains of it? Those who say he is as guilty as Sandusky...please. Stop with that nonsense. It's not the same. To say that denigrates those poor boys, grown into adulthood now, who suffered at the hands of that monster. Joe's guilt in this is different.
But nonetheless I can't seem to hold up Joe as any sort of measure of a man anymore. That's why I think the statue had to come down. Can we undo all the wonderful things Paterno did in his lifetime? way that can happen. Does this one failure render them invisible? Does it mean he was a bad coach after all? A scourge on the earth? No. What makes this so heartrendingly sad to me as not just a "fan" of this man...but as someone who lived his life hoping that I would measure up to Joe Paterno's standard in even the smallest that it doesn't undo his tremendous acts of generosity. It renders them meaningless. And that is far worse.
What good is it if Joe stood for all these things, said all these things, taught these great lessons, graduated such a high rate, impacted so many young men...and showed a young kid from the suburbs of Philly what kind of man to grow up to be...if in the one moment that mattered most he didn't live it? Joe Paterno living by those rigid standards and guiding the lives of countless thousands of people doesn't really mean anything now...because when he most needed to have the spirit that wore nameless jerseys and did the right thing no matter the cost...he failed.It only took one failure. Sometimes all our good doesn't outweigh our bad.
I don't hate him for it. I'm not going to spit whenever I speak his name or reject the valuable lessons I took from afar as I watched him live his life. But I have this gigantic hole in my heart when I think about all that good...wasted. All those lessons...empty. The final chapter being sadder and uglier than the beauty of all that was written before. It's not that this whole thing showed us that Joe Paterno was never the man of the's just that when it mattered most he wasn't. And that makes all the times he was statuesque, meaningless.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Take your time Lord Jesus...

It's Friday morning July 20.
This morning...very early while most people were asleep or just getting to sleep, a masked gunman walked into a movie theater in Aurora Colorado with a gun, and a gas canister and opened fire on the movie-goers. 14 are dead as of right now and at least 50 wounded.
Just last week I wrote about hell and how it's the absence of God. Last night would qualify as a glimpse. Just a slight glimpse of that horror.
I know Paul and other Apostles frequently said "Surely come quickly Lord Jesus..." and I know it's biblical to say that. But I will never speak those words again.
I can't. I am sitting here thinking about the world my daughter is growing up in now and the world that awaits her children. It would be comforting for me to say "Come quickly Lord Jesus" because my daughter and those I love are all believers in Jesus and I know where they would be if He showed up today. But I was put on this earth for more than just my immediate family and a few close friends.
I can't escape the vision of hell as the Bible shows it. I want to know why it has been probably 25 years since I've heard a sermon on Hell. Why has this topic been abandoned by our pastors? Why?
If Jesus comes today my loved ones will be secure. But what about those around me whom I don't even know? Is it okay with me if they fend for themselves where their eternal soul is concerned, so long as me and mine are secure? Is that right? Is that being salt and light?
For me personally it's being selfish. I can't pray that prayer. I haven't done nearly enough to stem the tide of souls as they march blindly into hell. I need more time and I WANT more time.
It's not the reward in heaven I seek. It's the knowledge that there would be fewer souls suffering an eternity in unfathomable agony and horror. That's why I want more time.
My heart is in anguish for the lost, these days.
For me, my prayer is "Surely, take your time, Lord Jesus"

Monday, July 16, 2012

You Have to Really Love Jesus...(Fourth in a series)

32000 people is a lot. That's a lot of people to share your faith with. A lot of people to spend the extra hours with, stay awake on a cross-country flight with, write letters back and forth to, and a lot of people to spend some sleepless hours in prayer for.
You have to really want to be a soul winner to achieve that sort of number.
You have to really believe in a literal hell and that belief has to drive your desire to prevent people from going there.
You have to really love people if you're going to expend the effort it takes to reach that sort of number.
And you have to really love Jesus.
What else could give you strength to do something like this? What else could give you the focus it takes to memorize scripture, to pray for hours, to think out the answers to possible questions long before they are asked? The drive to research apologetics and find a suitable response to the atheist, and the skeptic, and the hurting.
Is it the belief in hell by itself that motivates us? No...because even then we are left to imagine what that awful place is like, even the vivid picture painted in the Bible does it no justice. Then too, there are people we meet that even in our most compassionate selves they rub us the wrong way and we aren't as zealous about their eternal destination as we are for others.
Is it the love of People? No of course not. People will fail us and our love for them and burden for them will wax and wane as our emotions dictate sometimes.
To be a consistently evangelistic believer we need all of these things. But we need something more. We need a deep-down, consuming love for Jesus. We need a real, authentic, real-deal relationship with Him. Or else we don't really know what we are talking about. And our reasons for our urgency become trite and bumper-sticker-ish. We can get our priority out of whack even if soul winning is our priority. When our first response is that of providing a "fire-escape" we tend to trivialize the salvation experience just a bit. Do I want the lost to come to Jesus because it prevents them from spending eternity in hell? Yes by all means!
But what I really want...because I love what He wants. Jesus died for those lost folks too. Just as he died for me. He longs for them. He crossed eternity to lay down his life for everyone. Not just a "select elect". If I love Him as I claim to, it will yield two undeniable fruits. (1) I will want what makes Him happy because I love Him. And what Jesus wants is for us to preach the Gospel. All of us. All who know Him as Savior and name the name. Our first job is to win the lost. That makes Him happy. He came that all might have life and all might have it more abundantly. "For God so loved the world...that whosoever..." Not some of them. Not most of them. Everyone who believes. Everyone who calls out to Jesus and accepts his gift of life and His place as Lord. He loved them more than we can comprehend. Because of that (2) I will want others to know the wonder of a relationship with Jesus. Is my faith real? is it really life saving and life changing? Is this love affair with the King of Kings really what I say it is? Is it even 1/ 100th what I say it is? If so, then I should be virtually gushing to anyone within earshot about how wonderful Jesus is and how much they need Him. Not just for eternity but for right now! If I am madly in love with Jesus of Nazareth and if I have truly found the pearl of great price and if this faith really is an active, alive, vital, life-giving relationship with a loving God through a living could I not tell everyone I see? How can I hold it back if I love Him like I say I do? The words ought to flow from my lips like a songbirds whistle. I had a friend here in Nashville who passed away a few years ago. His name was Terry. He was much older than me and was a father figure to me. There are many things I recall about him but one of the most vivid memories is how Terry would always steer every conversation toward Jesus. You could be talking about horses (which was a passion of his) or baseball or old cars or airplanes but eventually you'd be talking about Jesus. Because that was where Terry's heart was. His first love was Jesus and it always showed, eventually.
If I truly love Jesus it will show. If I want to be a consistent, consumed, committed, soul-winning believer I will be so in love with Jesus that it flavors every conversation. We need to fall more deeply in love with him so that we can be more ready and wanting to share that love with a lost world.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You have to love people...(Third in a series)

I am still amazed when I read the last two blogs. Still amazed at the sheer number that Art DeMoss affected for Christ before his death. 32,000.
My Nashville friends...that's one entire HALF of L.P. Field (Home of the Titans) Half of Lincoln Financial Field where my Eagles play. 3/4 of Citizens Bank Park. Almost the entire capacity of Wrigley field. You get my point.
Consider that Art DeMoss was also a very successful businessman, having run several companies including one of the largest insurance firms in the country, He was also an amazing father to his children. I knew his son David personally. His son Mark worked with Dr. Falwell as his Public Relations Director before beginning his own highly successful PR firm. His daughter Nancy has hosted "Revive our Hearts" on Christian radio for years. All of his children are successful, grounded in their faith, and Spiritually connected. What does this mean?
It means that in the middle of all the incredible time it took to develop multiple businesses and raise a family, Art DeMoss still made it a focused, concentrated effort each day to train to be ready to share his faith. He was of a mind to be looking for someone who was looking for Jesus. He must have had a keen sense of hurting people. People must have found him easy to talk to, a commanding presence, and authoritative, while simultaneously sensing that he cared.
It takes a lot out of you to run a large corporation. It takes even more to be a dad. ...and a deacon, and a friend, and a husband. Mr. DeMoss did all of these things with great effort and to great success. Yet he still won 32,000 people to Jesus Christ. He must have never said no to anyone who looked to him for an answer about Jesus. He must have gone nights on end with little sleep because he was witnessing on a redye flight across country, or on a train or on the phone while in his car.
He must have written letters filled with scripture and personal stories of his walk with Jesus. He must have truly been "ready to give his answer to the hope that lies within us".  To be a highly successful business man and still win that many lost to Jesus you can't miss even one opportunity. You can't ever take a day off or slack your lines for even one hour. You have to be constantly aware of those around you and their needs and the opportunities to begin the conversation and lead it toward Jesus. It's a sacrifice and you can only make it if you truly love people. All people.
You have to love them beyond their faults, their heinous sins, their dreadfully repulsive acts. You have to deeply love them like Jesus loved them. You have to weep when their brother dies like He did over Lazerus. You have to become their friend when the rest of the religious world has stones in their hands and blood on their tongue, like he did the woman caught in adultery. You have to care more about the thirsty woman at the well and her repeated failures and the deeper need she had not for another husband to love her, but for the love of God to present itself to her.  And even if she has a bad reputation and even if she is of a different race or group than you, and even if it's socially detrimental to even speak kindly to have to take her the gospel too, and you can only do that if you love her. Love her as God himself loves her.
If I am ever going to win even one-100th the number of people to Jesus Christ that Art DeMoss did,  I need to love them all the way there. I need to see their needs and their sins as the work of the enemy and not the work of their will. I need to see them as trapped and needing to be freed instead of rebellious and insulting to my high-handed superiority.
I have a friend back home...I have known him since the 9th grade. He is adopted and has never made peace with this. He is a chronic, horribly indulgent alcoholic. He tells enormous lies about his life because deep down he wishes he was someone other than who he is. He has told people he was a Navy Seal, a police officer, and owned a Budweiser brewery in Scotland. He has angered a lot of our mutual friends with his antics...especially those who served in the military and who feel that he steals from the honor they earned. I don't disagree with them at all. But perhaps it's because I know him a little better and I am familiar with his pain, instead of confronting him over his lies and probably never speaking to him again, I try to keep the door open because I am certain I am the only person speaking Jesus into his life. Believe would be less draining to just confront him and lose his friendship. But somehow a long time ago God granted me a glimpse into his tormented soul and I can't turn my back on him. I might not win his soul, but I will try. Because I love my friend.
That sort of love is needed if we will ever approach a lifetime of soul winning as a way of life. Love must convict...or else there is nothing for the lost to turn from as far as they are concerned. But love must remain faithful. Because you never know if you are the only love someone has.
Mr. DeMoss surely loved people. Otherwise he would have switched off the overhead light and slept on all those red-eye flights. He would have gone to bed or watched TV with his kids instead of having that conversation on the phone or written that lengthy letter explaining the road to salvation.
He would have taken all the time used to memorize scriptures or pray for the lost and invested it in his companies, his kids, or his hobbies.
Instead, love for people drove him to his knees, to a few sleepless nights, and to a magnificent reward on that day when his life was called into account and the balance sheet was reconciled.
My challenge to myself and to all of us who name the people as this man did, because he loved them as Jesus did. He knew the value of a human soul and let that value drive his life.
You have to love people...

Until tomorrow

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Reality of Hell (part two in a series)

So Saturday I wrote about Art Demoss and the incredible passion he had for souls. A passion that challenged me at my Baccalaureate Service this past May 11th when Dr. Luis Palau spoke and told us about the incredible number of people Mr. DeMoss had personally won to Jesus.
I briefly touched on what kind of heart held such a passion. What kind of preparation would render a man literally "Always ready to give an answer to the hope that lies within you..." (1 Peter 3:15) I wondered at the scripture memorization, the boldness, the fervor, the vision. I marveled as I wrote that post. Art DeMoss was not a pastor or an evangelist. He was a businessman. He owned an insurance company (amongst other businesses). Arthur Demoss was that rare individual who was able to be about his Father's business while doing business in the world.
But what motivated him? What was it about his soul that took the Great Commission so seriously and followed it so thoroughly? What could we do to follow the example he left?
I never knew Mr. DeMoss, so everything I write here will be conjecture on my part. But I think I am on the right track in what I have to say. I think the incredible burden God has placed on my soul over this matter will suffice where it comes to assuming what drove  Art DeMoss's passion for the lost.
So for the next few days...or weeks...I am going to explore what it is I believe--and what God reveals to me as we go along--Art DeMoss thought and felt and what drove his passion. Whatever it was, I do know it is found in scripture, so the secret isn't really a secret at all. It's a matter of looking to a man who took Jesus at His word and never failed to tell anyone within earshot about his Savior. This is something we can all do.
So what drives a passion for the lost?
I think the obvious answer is in three parts. One: The incredible, soul-consuming desire to want others to have a relationship with Jesus as we do. If our faith is even a sliver of what we say it is or what the Bible says it can be...we should want everyone to have that. We'll get back to this point on another post. Point two is the overwhelming desire to obey and please Jesus Christ. To do what brings Him joy. Well address that later as well.
Today I want to address the third driving force.
I am 48 years old...almost 49. I have attended church since I was 9 years old. In the 40 years that have come and gone I have watched as the evangelical pendulum swung from the old extreme of "Hell, fire, and brimstone" preaching that made the average person cringe with it's shallow approach of salvation-as-a-fire escape, and painting a picture of a God who hates us all. It swung to the new extreme of not mentioning hell at all.
I wondered as I grew older, how can we reconcile the teaching that God loved us and that He punishes us in such a furious anger? Let me be clear, I never doubted the need for punishment or the biblical propriety of eternal hell. I got it. God is righteous and we are not. Our sin caused us eternal separation from God. My issue came about with the fierce, ruthless anger with which God was presented to me back then. The God I grew up knowing was cruel. He thoroughly enjoyed the Hell that awaited us rotten sinners. The entire image I had of Him didn't jive with why He ever sent his son to die for us in the first place. I mean if God was this angry at us...why did He sacrifice Jesus for us?
The preachers of the day seemed to relish the idea that a fiery hell awaited the lost. It's all they ever talked about. Never about a God who says of Himself; "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23) That God was lost in translation. Screaming about God's hatred of sin and increasingly blurring the lines between the sin and the sinners trapped in them was the rule of the day. The more angry a preacher got, the more he yelled and pronounced curses upon the lost world, the more godliness he was assigned. I was raised in a church that heaped heavy burdens on the shoulders of it's members. Burdens of guilt, shame, and fear. Fear of the very God who was desperately trying to love us.
This isn't the Hell that motivates a man to win 32,000 people to Jesus in a brief 53 year lifespan. That hell would cause emotional overload at some point. Because who would believe so deeply in a God so angry? How can that God motivate me to boldly, unapologetically, consistently, and fervently preach the gospel with my life in a minute by minute sermon heard by every living soul in my proximity?
I think the view of hell that motivates me to devote my life to the lost is the hell that really exists. The place of eternal separation from God.  The place where God's heart is more broken than it was at Calvary. The one place in all of Creation where not a shred of His presence exists. Hell is punishment, this is certain. I believe in a literal hell. I believe it is as it appears in scripture...a place of torment, pain, fire, punishment and darkness. But I believe it is more than that. Hell is the total, complete and utter absence of God and of any tiniest sliver of good. The eternal darkness is not so much the dark of night as it is the absence of any light. Any light. A dark so deep and complete that it strikes fear in your heart, A dark that screams in silence; "There is no hope of light ever penetrating here...not even for a nanosecond...not ever." A dark that consumes you with dread. A dark that is the spiritual absence of God Himself.
I am not a nihilist. I do not believe that God eventually consumes hell and ends the suffering of it's occupants. I believe it is as eternal as Heaven is. I also believe that the biggest source of pain and suffering in hell will not be the punishment that is extracted there. I believe what makes hell the terrible place it the absence of God.
God's presence in this world...and in our souls to a minute degree (Pascal's God shaped vacuum) is really what keeps this world in some sort of order. It's why our laws work for the vast majority of us.
Had we not been created in His image...and had not a tiny spark of that image remained even after the fall...this world would be a declining bloodbath of savagery. We would break every law and rule from jaywalking to spitting on the sidewalk to adultery, theft and murder. There would be chaos without restraint. Human nature teaches us this. We are selfish and we want what we want. The laws aren't what stops chaos...if that were the case not one law would be broken by anyone. It's the image of God...what we call our "conscience" that keeps us on this side of the law and keeps the world a fairly orderly place.
Remove God's presence from this place, both His unseen (but not unfelt) presence in the world at large and His presence in us as our conscience, and you would have total depravity. You would have a world that was declining at an alarming rate. You'd have murder, mayhem, adultery, theft...all manner of wickedness. You'd have a dark pawl cast over this world that we have never even imagined. The darkness as Jesus hung on the cross was a tiny example...just a few moments long...of what becomes of the world when God looks away and withdrawals Himself.
That is hell. Hell is where God is not. It's where God will never be and where man will be left to his own devices without any moral restraint whatsoever. The image of Satan and his minions stabbing sinners with pitchforks as they roast over an open flame is not exactly true. He is there for punishment too and he'll be too consumed with his own eternal fate to be part of a ruling class. Hell's furious severity will be the culmination of the wickedness of mankind all concentrated in one dark, dreadful place. In their anguish, anger, and pain, the occupants of hell will extract from each other the price for their sin. Take God out of the world and the world will devour itself. The is what hell will be only there will be no death, so the horror will never stop for the occupants.
This is what drives a man to devote himself to soul-winning. Not some screaming pulpit-smashing "Prea-chuh" who picks the low-hanging fruit by scaring people into a trip to the altar. This vision of hell drives us not to anger or fear but to broken hearted compassion. This hell is the greatest monument to man's free will ever created. Every occupant but Satan will walk in under his own power...marching toward his final choice.
That hell is so terrible that God would let his own beloved Son be butchered...carved like a piece of meat and hung on a cross as an object of all we need to know about how terrible a place this is. And yet...
When was the last time you or I heard a sermon series about Hell?
That pendulum has swung so far toward the opposite end that hell is never mentioned anymore. We hear well known Evangelicals speaking about sex, money, politics, Heaven, music, worship, tithing, what book to read ans how many Twitter followers they have. But they never mention hell.
The latest trend in Evangelical churches is to preach on heaven. There are probably a dozen books on the topic right now. Books by little kids who had near-death experiences and saw Heaven. Books by evangelists and preachers. (My own pastors book about Heaven notwithstanding...but his is a bit different and was born out of the comfort he and his wife sought after their oldest son went to Heaven after a car crash.)
But when have we heard a series on Hell? The Bible is chock full of references about Hell. Jesus spoke often about Hell. There were biblical examples of hell opening up and consuming wicked folks before they even died. We believe...or claim to believe...that hell is a ghastly place where the unsaved spend eternity. But I fear the church has long ago stopped really believing in hell. Hell doesn't keep us awake at night worrying about folks ending up there. Hell doesn't haunt our dreams or drive us to our knees in anguished hours of prayer. Hell doesn't motivate our thoughts or prompt our words. hell is not foremost on our minds when we view a lost world.
I know...I am guilty of this too.
Because I have not thought about the biblical hell, and because I have not been subject to preaching and teaching about hell, I have allowed hell to become--in my heart and mind-- just a place where the eternal score is evened. I imagine it as punishment that I could dispense. Where bullies get their due and murderers are burning forever. But It's more a vision of hell if Craig Daliessio was in charge. There would be good guys there who did the punishing. Jerry Sandusky's victims would be there...safely behind a double wall of glass...enjoying iced tea and finger food as their monstrous tormenter was given his come-uppance. Then the whistle would blow at 5pm and all the players in the grand play would retire to their cells for the night and the whole thing would begin again in the morning. The reality is that hell will (unless Grace reaches him) torment Jerry Sandusky in such a complete, wicked, dreadful manner that even his victims would look away in horror. Hitler's hell would drive a Holocaust survivor to tears. That is the reality of hell. And that is a message I have not heard in probably 30 years.
And unless we catch a vision of the real hell...and let it begin to drive us to our knees and then to the streets...we will never have the sort of passion that wins 32,000 individual souls to Jesus in our lifetimes.
We need to smell the fires in our nostrils just a bit. We need to hear the echoes of the screams of the damned as we sleep. We need a clear, no-holds-barred presentation of the reality of hell in our pulpits and let it push us to become a soul-winning people once again.
I believe Art DeMoss believed in hell. I believe it was a part of what motivated him to live a life of harvest. I pray to God I can catch but a glimpse...
Until tomorrow

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Priorities...(First in a Series)

This series has been brewing for a while now. I don't know how long it is going to last or how many installments it will take. I have a lot to share here and some of it is already formulated and some of it is still in germination.
For the past 8 or 10 months I have been kicking around the idea of where my next step will be and what my future is going to look like. I pondered a career in motivational speaking, and I certainly am equipped and qualified. My story is inspirational on a lot of levels and there would be no shame in pursuing that.
But something happened on May 11th that began a real sea-change in my soul and I am unable to settle for a career that is based on monetary gain or personal preference. I have had to reshuffle my priorities and realign my vision to match with God's and what follows is, and will be, different from what I had planned for the last year or so.
Most of you know, but for the sake of the few...I graduated from Liberty University this past May 12th. 28 years and half a lifetime in the making, my degree was the culmination of dreams that date back to my teenage years. May 11th was our Baccalaureate service. This years speaker was Dr. Luis Palau, the renowned evangelist from Brazil. It was at this service that my plans began to change and my vision was recast.
Dr. Palau preached an exciting, invigorating, stirring message about big faith, big dreams, and praying big prayers. He gave an example that has kept me up at night since that day.
He told the story of meeting the widow of Arthur S, DeMoss, the legendary Christian businessman, founder of National Liberty Life Insurance Company, and benefactor of Liberty University. I knew his youngest son while a freshman at LU. David was a great young man whose death came tragically ahead of time for those who knew him.
Dr. Palau related how Mr. DeMoss' wife told him that after his death at age 53, in 1979, she found a journal containing the names of every person he had personally lead to Jesus Christ in his lifetime. These were personal commitments, not people who were reached by reading one of his books or hearing him speak at a church. These were one-on-one, tell your story, listen to theirs, and show them to the Cross conversions.
The journals contained 32000 names.
Read that again...Thirty-Two Thousand
I was in awe when Dr. Palau said that number. The next day at Commencement, there were 35,000 packed into Williams Stadium. At one point during the excitement of graduation I looked around and the number came to life. "One man..." I said to myself, "One single man witnessed and prayed with this many people in his lifetime."  I was stunned.
What was even more amazing...Arthur DeMoss died at 53. I don't know the circumstances surrounding his conversion but assuming he was a Christian as early as age 16, (I believe it was much later than that) and he died at 53, that's 37 years. That's 865 people per year he lead to Jesus. That's more than 2 a day on average.
I have been thinking about this for almost 2 months now. 2 per day. Can you imagine what it's going to be like for us to watch his awards ceremony in Heaven? That is going to take a while.
The more I thought about it the more I realized it was really illuminating to me. It shed light on what's really wrong with the church today...particularly the church in America and especially the church in the American South.
You win 2 people a day to Jesus have to be trying to. You have to want to. You have to be ready to. You have to have it as your main priority and goal. You have to prepare and pray and wait, and be so in tune with the Spirit that you don't miss so much as one opportunity to share the Gospel. There can't be hesitation or delay. You can't be weak or scared or ashamed. You have to know the Word and have it committed to memory and be ready to give your answer in the blink of an eye.
Soul winning has to be a priority if you are going to win 32000 people to Jesus in a short 53 year life.
Soul winning. Not "engaging" not "encouraging" not "uplifting, equipping, anointing", or even "Discipling" Before all those worthy and necessary things can be must evangelize! You must win them before you can work with them. 
We have gotten so far afield from where we were told to go and what we were told to do. Art DeMoss didn't win 32000 souls by reading McDonald or C.S. Lewis or even Manning. He surely read those authors but my point is Art DeMoss wasn't about a soft-sell method of  "Taking Jesus to the Market place" He was about causing "Head-on Collisions with the King of Kings". This has become my favorite phrase of late and I long to see it happening in my own life.
Art DeMoss didn't spend a lot of time reading and learning from Hybels and Driscoll and Stanley. He didn't write books about small groups or soothing, emotionally based praise and worship. He wasn't about service structure and surveys and focus groups.  He parked himself every single day on the well in Samaria and told the people who came out about the streams of living water that Jesus promised would flow from their bellies. He was up into the wee hours with thousands of Nicodemus' who came to him by night and who did not leave until they heard "Marvel not that I have said to you ' You MUST be born again..." and in almost every case they prayed with him.
Art DeMoss met fisherman on the shore unloading he biggest catch of their lives and dared them to follow Jesus instead.
Art DeMoss was hard after the things that Jesus was all about...causing those unmistakable head-on collisions.
I find myself thirsting fiercely for this same sort of experience and life calling. I am filled to overflowing with small-groups and mega-churches, and bumper stickers and engaging, uplifting equipping and encouraging. I want to be EVANGELIZING! I want to find--as Dr. Greene always so perfectly put it--"That soul closest to Hell" and pray and wrestle the enemy for his eternal destiny.
I doubt I will ever approach a number like Art DeMoss achieved in his short time on Earth. But I can achieve the fervor, focus, devotion and urgency that he possessed.
I am in the process of reshuffling my priorities to accommodate this. I hope to encourage others to follow along with me. The only hope this world has is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I Cor 2:2.
Until tomorrow...