Monday, November 27, 2017

Life After Death Row

Image result for jail

60 Minutes headlined the story of Ray Hinton—an Alabama man who sat on death row for 30 years waiting his execution. However, in 2016 he was exonerated because of new evidence that emerged. In order to understand Hinton’s story, we have to go back to 1985. Ray was misidentified by a witness who picked him out of a mug shot book. His picture was in there after a theft conviction. When police found a gun in his mother’s house, a lieutenant told him that he’d been arrested in three shootings including the murders of two restaurant managers.

Hinton was wrongfully convicted at age 30. He remembers, too vividly, the Alabama electric chair and the scent that permeated the cell block when a man was met by 2,000 volts. He was 57 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9 to zero that his defense had been ineffective. A new ballistics test found that the gun was not the murder weapon. All the charges against Hinton were dropped, but sadly the State did nothing to help Ray get back up on his feet, much less compensate him for lost earnings.

Image result for ray hinton 60 minutes

Ray Hinton 

During the interview with Ray, a reporter asked him, “Are you angry?” and here is how he responded, “They took 30 years of my life. What joy I have left I cannot afford to give that to them. And so being angry would be letting them win. In a way I would still be in prison. I don’t want to spend what little time I have left wasting it on hating people and events I can’t change.”[1]

What a response! Ray’s answer to injustice reminded me of the painful ordeal that Joseph went through. You remember, Joseph—Jacob’s favored son with the technicolor coat. His eleven envious brothers plotted to stage his death. He was thrown into a pit and sold to slave traders bound for Egypt. While in Egypt he rose to prominence as the master over Potiphar’s house. Things looked great for Joe, but then Mrs. Potiphar made a move on Joe and he resisted her seduction. The jilted lady got her revenge on Joe by concocting a story that he tried to rape her. As a result, Joseph was wrongfully convicted and thrown into an Egyptian prison (Gen. 37-40).  

From an earthly perspective the Egyptian jail was the tragic conclusion of Joseph’s life. Satan could chalk up a victory for the dark side. All of God’s plans to use Joseph seemed to end with the slamming of the jail door. The Enemy had Joe right where he wanted him, but so did God.

Consider the insight of the Psalmist, “17 Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 18 His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; 19 until what he [God] had said came to pass,
the word of the Lord tested him.” (Ps. 105:17-19). Don’t miss that last part. God was using the prison for something greater in Joseph’s life. No doubt, God used that experience to humble His man.  

As a boy Joseph was prone to softness. Jacob spoiled him. Joseph talked about his dreams and ambitions. A bit too full of himself, perhaps. Even in Potiphar’s house Joseph was the darling of the estate. Quickly promoted, often noticed. Success came easily. Perhaps, pride did as well. If so a prison term would purge that. God knew the challenges that lay ahead, and He used Joseph’s stint in the slammer to make him a better man.

Max Lucado adds, “If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter and angry. Yet, if you see your troubles as tests used by God for His glory and your maturity, then even the smallest incidents take on significance . . . If God can make a prince out of a prisoner, don’t you think he can make something good out of your mess? If you allow it this test will become your testimony. Your mess can become your message. Rather than ask God to change your circumstances, ask Him to use your circumstances to change you.”[2] -DM  

[1] Scott Pelley, “Life After Death Row,” CBS: 60 Minutes, 10 January 2016 <>
[2] Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 45-55. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Holy Spirit and Thanksgiving

Image result for Thanksgiving God

Have you ever noticed the connection between thanksgiving and the Holy Spirit? Thanksgiving is trinitarian. Thanksgiving flows to God the Father, through God the Son, from the Holy Spirit.

In Eph. 5:18-21 we read, “18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul gives us an interesting analogy, comparing the filling of the Holy Spirit in a believer’ life, with a person who has come under the influence of alcohol. The analogy goes something like this—what the influence of alcohol does to the body negatively, the influence of the Spirit does for the believer positively. While alcohol is a depressant, the Spirit is an enabler. Drunkenness has side effects—slurred speech, slowed reaction time, confusion—and in the same way, being filled with the Spirit has side effects—singing, praising, transformation and thanksgiving!    

Why does the Spirit of God produce thanksgiving? Because according to Gal. 5:22 one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. Moreover, Jesus reiterated in John 15:10-11, “10 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit . . . 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

My son Daniel is an adventurous four-year-old. When I am out in the garden working he likes to be there right alongside helping in his own way. If I have the garden hose out watering the plants he always comes us with his plastic bucket and he says, “Fill me too Daddy!” So, I fill up his little bucket and off he goes to make mud. What is funny is watching him try to carry that bucket full of water. He can hardly carry it without sloshing and splashing water along the way. Then when he’s done he comes back and says it again, “Fill me too Daddy!”

That’s the way the Spirit of God works in us. We can come to the Heavenly Father in worship and say, “Fill me too Daddy!” and God fills our little thimble with His Pacific Ocean sized reservoir of joy. We can never exhaust His endless supply. And as we go about our lives the super-abundant joy of God is meant to spill over and touch others.  

G.K Chesterton remarks at the end of his book Orthodoxy, “Joy, which is the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”[1] Joy and thanksgiving go together like turkey and dressing and they are signs that the Holy Spirit calls your heart home. -DM  

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004), 153. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sleeping Saints

Image result for sleeping in church

Let’s be honest—at some point in your church life you’ve nodded off during the sermon. I can remember vividly one time as a kid, I had stayed up late the night before and I was sitting in church struggling to stay awake. I could feel myself losing the battle, as my head was bobbing I would catch myself and awaken for a few seconds. I did this for several minutes, until I went down for the count. My head leaned forward and “thump!” My forehead nailed the pew in front of me. I jolted awake again and quickly looked around to see if anyone saw it – of course, my mom did who sitting beside me. I think she had hard time not laughing out loud.

It’s interesting as a preacher because I see the ugly (and sometimes hilarious) reality of sleeping saints from the pulpit. I have witnessed bobbing heads, closed eyes and open, yawning mouths, on occasion a snore or two. When I first started preaching, it bothered me, but then I realized that it also happened to one of the greatest preachers of all time and I felt some consolation.

In Acts 20 we have a passage that is certainly eye-opening. While preaching in the Greek city of Troas, Paul encountered a sleeping saint named Eutychus. The young man was precariously perched in a third-story window when his eyes slammed shut, and he fell to his death.

As I studied this story, I started thinking about how Eutychus is an object lesson about sleeping saints. The sad reality is that in a spiritual sense there is a Eutychus sitting in every church. The Eutychus Effect happens when someone is present physically, but spiritually they are asleep.

In fact, the Bible is full of sleeping saints who checked out for various reasons, and like Eutychus they had a great fall. Consider Jonah, God’s prodigal prophet who said, “No” when God said, “Go.” The Bible says that when Jonah got on the boat to flee to Tarshish that he went down into the cabin and fell asleep (Jonah 1:5). Meanwhile, God sent a terrible storm to get the attention of Jonah and awaken him! Jonah snored while the thunder roared! Reminds me of a Vance Havner quote, “Most Christians live so far below the standard, you would have to backslide to be in fellowship with them.” It’s a dangerous place when the child of God is so backslid they can’t hear the voice of God.  

Samson also fell asleep while resting his head in the lap of Delilah. While He-man slept, Delilah betrayed him and cut his hair, which was the sign of his commitment to God. When Samson awoke the Bible says He did not know that his hair had been cut and that the presence of the Lord had left him (Judges 16). Sin and compromise with the world gradually desensitizes us to the presence of God. The danger of drifting away from God is that you’re miles away before you realize it.

Then there is Peter who fell asleep in Gethsemane, when he should have been praying (Mark 14). Soon after this scene, we know Peter denied Christ three times. Yet, Jesus warned Peter that Satan was after him to “sift him as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Peter’s biggest failure can untimely be traced back to his lack of prayer. A prayer-less Christian is a powerless Christian. 

That brings me back to Eutychus. Look at his position in the text—sitting in a window (20:7-9). In other words, his body was half in the church and half out the church. He was in a compromising place, and when he fell sleep he had a great fall. There are many Christians in this dangerous position—they are trying to keep one foot in the church and one in the world. Of course, James warns adamantly against this lifestyle, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” (4:3).

One question we need to ask ourselves from this text is this, “Am I sitting in the window?” Are you in a compromising position with the world, while the Devil has lulled you into a slumber?

There are few things more miserable than trying to fight off sleep. Likewise, no one is more miserable than the casual Christian. Adrian Rogers said it best, “The backslider has just enough Christianity to be miserable in a nightclub, and not enough to be happy in a prayer meeting.” If you are “sitting in the widow” you will never have contentment and peace in your spiritual life.

Paul’s resurrection of this young man is a picture not only of salvation, but of God’s grace to slumbering saints. If you are spiritually dead today, God can give you new life in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). If you have become a slumbering saint and experienced a great fall, God wants to restore you and offer you second-chance. As Paul says in Eph. 5:14, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 

Here’s the good news—Eutychus fell asleep and died, but Paul restored him. Jonah fell asleep, but God got him back on track by way of a great fish and the Word of the Lord came to him a second time. Samson fell asleep and he lost his hair and God’s anointing. But, on the last day his life God gave him another chance, and at his death he killed more of the enemy than he did during his entire life. Peter fell asleep and denied Christ. But God wasn’t done with Him either.

And friend, there’s grace for you too! God’s alarm clock is going off—don’t hit the snooze! -DM

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

God Can Restore Your Lost Years

Image result for joel 2:25

A few weeks ago, I was about 75% done with a sermon manuscript, when I decided to step away for a lunch break. Having worked on this sermon for several hours, my brain was in a fog. I had several word documents open and I started closing them out. I can’t even explain now why or how this happened, but by accident I closed out the sermon I was working on without saving it! I even looked at the warning message that said, “Are you want to close without saving?” and for some stupid reason I clicked, “Don’t Save.”

The panic and anger that came over me was intense and immediate. Have you ever seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn where Captain Kirk finally realizes the depths of his mortal enemy’s treachery and yells out, “KAHHHHHHN!” (click here)Yeah, it was that bad. NOOOOOOOOO! I was mad enough to eat bees. Here I had worked all morning on this message and poof it was gone!

I started thinking, “There’s got to be a way I can recover it?” So, I went to Google and I searched “document recovery.” Sure enough, I pulled up a tutorial and within a few minutes I had figured out a way to wave a magic wand and make that deleted document reappear. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I breathed a sigh of relief and I exclaimed, “Thank you God!” as this time I was quick to click the “Save” button.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if God had a program like that for our mistakes and regrets in life? Unfortunately, we are trapped on the steadily moving conveyor belt of time and we can’t go back. However, there is a wonderful promise that God spoke through the prophet Joel:

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.” (2:25)

In context, the Lord is talking about a swarm of locusts that he sent as judgment upon his rebellious people. The locusts devoured the nation’s crops, which devastated them agriculturally and economically. Yet, in the midst of this calamity, God issued a promise of grace, restoration and hope. A day was coming when God would make up Israel’s losses.  

This is the promise of the Gospel as well—in His timing, all things lost will be recovered. We may not see it all come to pass in this life, but in eternity the promise “to make all things new” is just as steady. So how exactly can God carry out this “operation restoration” in our lives right now?

Well, God can restore lost years by multiplying your fruitfulness. After the locust plague, the Lord blessed the people’s land by giving them bumper crops over the next years. This surplus helped make up the difference. The Lord can do this in your life as well. Ask Him to help you be intentional with the time you have left and make the latter years more productive than the ones wasted in sin and selfish folly. -DM  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Cop Who Forgave His Killer

Image result for forgiveness

Earlier this year, thousands of people assembled for the funeral of a New York hero—NYPD Detective Steven McDonald. McDonald was on patrol on July 12, 1986, when he spotted a bicycle thief and two other teenagers in Central Park. When he moved to frisk one of them, 15-year-old Shavod Jones shot McDonald three times, with one bullet piercing the officer’s spinal column and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

As Steven began to realize the full extent of his injuries, he was overwhelmed with despair and anger. McDonald had a turning point when he turned to Christ and prayed the famous prayer of Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon….” Gradually, his attitude changed, and Steven became an advocate for forgiveness. About six months after the accident, McDonald made a statement about Jones through his wife that defined the rest of his life: “I forgive him and hope he can find peace and purpose in his life.”

Image result for officer steven mcdonald

In the years following the shooting, McDonald’s message of forgiveness opened the door for him to travel around the world. He met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela, and sat for an interview with Barbara Walters. He also took his message of forgiveness to Israel, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

When McDonald passed away at age 59, his family encircled him and prayed the Lord’s Prayer focusing especially on this part: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. (Matt. 6:12)[i]

There is nothing closer to Christ-likeness than when we release an offender from an offense. Simply put, forgiven people are forgiving people. If you can’t learn to forgive then you don’t understand the Gospel. As C.S. Lewis has written, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”[ii]

We can’t survive life’s traumas if we don’t learn to forgive others. When we forgive someone, we are not excusing or condoning their actions. We are choosing to release the bitterness that can poison our own personalities. We are letting a ray of compassion break through the clouds so we can forgive as God has forgiven us.

Lewis Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to put down your 50-pound pack after a 10 mile climb up a mountain. To forgive is fall into a chair after a marathon. To forgive is to reach back into your hurting past and recreate it in your memory so that you can begin again. It is to ride the crest of love’s highest wave. To forgive is set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”[iii]

[i] “Steven McDonald, Paralyzed Police Officer Who Forgave Shooter, Remembered as 'Superman,'” USA Today, 13 January 2017 <>
[ii] Jerry Root and Wayne Martindale, The Quotable C.S. Lewis, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2012), 221.
[iii] Lewis B. Smedes, “Forgiveness, The Power to Change the Past,” Christianity Today, January 7, 1983, p. 26.