Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On This Day: March 28, 1937, "A Trial Sermon"

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Rev. John Milner, the dean of Florida Bible Institute, had his hands full with a student named William. On the first day of class, William took out a scout knife and carved his initials in a desk. William and his roommate would often skip class to go fishing or to play golf on the course adjacent to the Bible college. William also got into a few scrapes with town bullies and did not adhere to the school’s strict dress code.

But Dean Milner had endless patience and knew potential when he saw it. On a Saturday evening before Easter the next day, Milner called on William. He informed William that he had arranged for him to preach the Easter service at the tiny Bostwick Baptist Church. William nearly had a heart attack, “Sir, I have never preached before.” Dean Minder laughed, “We’ll pray and God will help you.”

William later reflected on that night, “I was stunned. My repertoire at the time consisted of about four borrowed sermons, which I had adapted and practiced but never preached. What else could I say to the dean of my school? But I was so frightened that I spent the night studying and praying instead of sleeping. I did the same most of the next day, practicing aloud. By evening I felt confident that any one of my sermons should be good for at least twenty or thirty minutes.”

On Easter Sunday, March 28, 1937, William and Dean Milner arrived at the small, clapboard church. The meeting room was small, with a potbellied iron stove near the front to take the chill off that cold, windy night. The song leader, who chewed tobacco, had to go to the door every so often to spit outside. The congregation included forty ranchers and cowboys in overalls and their women in cotton wash dresses.

When it came time for the sermon young William nervously walked to the pulpit. In his own words, here is what happened next: “My knees shook and perspiration glistened on my hands. I launched into sermon number one. It seemed to be over almost as soon as I got started, so I added number two. And number three. And eventually number four. Then I sat down. Eight minutes – that was all it took to preach all four of my sermons!”[1]

Such was the beginning of the preaching ministry of William Franklin Graham—better known as Billy.[2]

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1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  (2 Tim. 4:1-2)


[1] Billy, Graham, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997), 48-49
[2] Robert J. Morgan, On This Day (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), March 28.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

4,999 Pieces

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The British newspaper, The Sun, recently ran a story about an 86-year-old man, Jack Harris, who spent seven long years working on a huge jigsaw puzzle of 5,000 pieces only to discover the last piece was missing. As you might imagine, he was more than frustrated, especially when he learned the puzzle was no longer in production and there was no chance of finding a replacement.

Interestingly, the puzzle was a reproduction of French artist James Tissot’s 1862 painting, “Return of the Prodigal Son.” But this story has a happy ending, the public outcry caused The Sun to commission a perfect copy of the final piece, and photographers were on hand when Jack snapped it into place.[1]

              Complete: Jack Harris, 86, has been given the missing piece of his giant jigsaw by manufacturers Falcon Games - seven years after starting the puzzle
                                      Jack Harris and the 5,000 piece puzzle

That story made me think, “How many are laboring away at life day and night, growing old, trying to piece together the puzzle of life? How many get to the end only to realize they’re missing the key to it all?”

This happened to be one of the vexing problems in Solomon’s life. Even though Solomon reigned over Israel during its Golden Age, the one thing that escaped him was a meaningful life. He had all the brains and all the bucks, but none of made him contended. Foolishly, in his mid-life Solomon lost his way and he tried filling the void with inferior substitutes. He opined in his unvarnished journal called Ecclesiastes:

9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecc. 2:9-11, ESV)

Solomon’s life was more empty than a soap bubble. He had it all and tried it all—wine, women, wealth, work. He had 4,999 pieces, but lacked the most important one . . . God.

Christ is the central piece—and the central peace—of life. His pardon covers our faults. His promises ensure our future. His purposes give meaning to life. And His providence guides our steps. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt. 6:33, ESV). And Paul wrote to the Colossians “. . . and you are complete in Him” (Col. 2:10, NKJV).

C.S. Lewis added his insights in Mere Christianity, “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is make to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. God designed the human machine to run on Himself . . . That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion.”[2]

Maybe the bumper sticker I saw the other day sums it up best. It was just two lines of text. The top read, “No Christ, no peace.” Then the bottom line read, “Know Christ, Know Peace.”


[1]Piece at last! Jigsaw fan, 86, finishes 5ft puzzle after SEVEN years, Daily Mail, 19 May 2010, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1279440/Jigsaw-fan-Jack-Harris-finishes-5-000-piece-puzzle-SEVEN-years.html>
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper One, 1952), 50. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What Are the Chances?

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Every year, I get caught up in the college basketball bonanza that is March Madness. I love every second of the Cinderella teams making a run deep into the tourney, the buzzer beating shots, the Bracketology. By the way, have you filled out your bracket yet? This year I filled out five, just for fun. But like most fans, I find that after the first two rounds my bracket is busted.  

If you're holding out hope that this is the year you're finally going to break through and get that perfect bracket, you may need to wait a while. Like, a few billion years. The odds of you filling out a perfect bracket are a staggering: 1 chance in 9.2 quintillion tries. That's a nine with 18 zeroes. How big is that? It’s 500,000 times more than our $19 trillion national debt. You'd have a better chance of hitting four holes-in-one in a single round of golf. Using that number, if everyone in the United States filled out a bracket, we'd see a perfect one every 400 years.[1]  

As staggering as those figures are, crunching the numbers on Messianic prophecy is even more mind-boggling. Years ago, Peter Stoner a brilliant mathematician and professor turned his attention to the subject of prophecy, specifically the odds of an individual fulfilling numerous prophecies like Jesus. The result of his study was a landmark book entitled, Science Speaks.

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                                                                     Dr. Peter Stoner

He identified over 300 specific prophecies fulfilled in the life of Christ, 30 of which were satisfied in the last 24 hours leading up to His death on the Cross. Stoner selected 16 of the most prominent prophecies and then gave the following illustration of the chances that one man fulfilled them as Christ did.
“We find the chance that one man fulfilled all 16 prophecies is 1 in 1045.  Let us try to visualize this . . . Taking this number of silver dollars you could stack coins from the earth to the sun thirty times. The earth is approximately 93 million miles from the sun. If you can imagine randomly marking one silver dollar with red paint from one of the thirty stacks of coins reaching to the sun and then blindfolding a man and telling him to pick out one dollar, and expect it to be the marked one, you have somewhat of a picture of how absolutely the fulfillment of sixteen prophecies referring to Jesus Christ proves both that He is the Son of God and that our Bible is inspired . . . Any man who rejects Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact proved perhaps more absolutely than any other fact in the world.”[2]

If we let the facts speak for themselves it’s clear that Jesus alone fit the Messianic profile. Each Gospel writer highlighted Jesus’ unique identity as the one that the Old Testament predicted would be the sin-bearer of the world. In this way, we can see how the events that transpired on Calvary were simply history written in advance. The Cross was no accident, but the divine drama of redemption complete with a protagonist, supporting roles and prop pieces.

Not only does fulfilled prophecy confirm Jesus as the Son of God, but also the Bible as the Word of God. 2 Peter 1:19-22 says, “19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Fulfilled prophecy down to the gnat’s whisker is what sets the Bible and Christ apart from all the phony prophets and their sacred books. Check it out and you’ll find that Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius and the rest of the world’s religious leaders don’t come close to meeting Jesus and the Bible in this arena. When it comes to Saviors, Jesus is the only safe bet. -DM  

[1] Chris Chase, “What Are the Odds of a Perfect NCAA Tournament Bracket?” USA TODAY Sports, 19 March 2013
< http://www.usatoday.com/story/gameon/2013/03/19/ncaa-tournament-perfect-bracket-odds-quintillion/1999795/>
[2] Peter Stoner, Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), 100-112. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Giving God the Oranges

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This morning when you sat down for breakfast chances are you enjoyed a tangy glass of orange juice. But, did you ever stop to think how that delicious citrus staple got from a tree to your table? The story of O.J. is closely linked with that of a Sicilian immigrant, Anthony Rossi, who came to America as a wide-eyed 21-year-old. Rossi arrived at Ellis Island, like so many others, with nothing more than a dream in his heart and the clothes on his back. He was unable to speak any English, had no formal education, had no money, and no connections to help him get started in America. Yet, the symbol of Lady Liberty in New York harbor was a beacon of hope.   

Rossi began working in a New York City grocery store, but his eventual goal was to be a farmer. By and by, he steadily moved up the corporate ladder and became the owner of a small grocery store. One day, Rossi visited a public library and found a book on agriculture. He sat down to read it at one of the long tables. He noticed another book was on the table, entitled The Life of Christ. Rossi was raised Catholic, but knew little about Christ, so he began reading it and was transfixed. The next day he purchased a Bible and became engrossed in its message.

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                                                                       Anthony Rossi

Rossi started attending a Methodist Church where a Christian couple befriended him and through their love he came to know Christ as his Savior and Lord. One Sunday in church, he prayed: “Lord, if you give me an idea for a business, I will be faithful to give a portion of everything I make back to Your work.” That very morning, Rossi said the idea of “Fresh squeezed orange juice” popped into his head. Rossi had been given a vision and he seized it.

Rossi sold his grocery store and decided to move South in search of an orange grove to begin building his business. He purchased a small orange juice company in Bradenton, FL and through innovation, creativity and tenacity, transformed it into the industry leader, Tropicana.

Rossi became a leading Christian businessman, whose legacy far exceeded the “100% pure squeezed sunshine” that made him famous. He was also faithful to give to God—not just 10% of his income, as many faithful believers do, but 50% of his income for 60 years until his death in 1993! He also gave truckloads of free O.J. to Christian colleges throughout the country.[1]  

Rossi’s story is a testament to one of the great promises in the Bible regarding giving, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).

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As far as I know this is one of the only places in the Scriptures where we are told to test the Lord. God challenges us, “I dare you to start giving and just see what happens.” If you have not been giving I challenge you to start giving your tithe every week and if you go broke or hungry and your family ends out on the streets then you can call God a liar, but you’ll be the first.   

Tithing is an exercise in trusting that God can supernaturally do more for you with 90% than you can do with 100%. Tithing places faith over sight. On paper it doesn’t make sense, when you crunch the numbers it might look like you have more going out than coming in.  However, when we put God first, it grows our faith and tests us to depend on Him to meet our needs.     

God is the greatest giver that there has ever been and it’s impossible to out-give Him. Someone once asked Rossi how he could give so much to the Lord's work and still possess great wealth. He replied, “Oh, as I shovel it out, He shovels it in, and the Lord has a bigger shovel!”

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that if you tithe you’ll become a millionaire. But you will be blessed in ways that will blow your hair back and that’s a guarantee from God.

Friends, there’s only one reason a man or woman won’t tithe—and that is, they just don’t believe it. But for those who trust and obey, in this area they will see the windows of heaven open up and they will have so many blessings they will be drinking from their saucer!  -DM

[1] Sanna Barlow Rossi, Anthony T. Rossi: Christian & Entrepreneur (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 158.