Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Sermon to Silence

Stephen Grellet (1773-1855) was a Quaker preacher who came to America in 1796 as a missionary to the fledgling nation. In 1799 he traveled south from Philadelphia to North Carolina, with missionary John Hall. The journey through the hills and hollers of Appalachian country was dangerous and rigorous. In his journal he recalled contending with rattlesnakes, wolves, hunger and storms. Grellet led many mountaineers to Christ and he even preached to slaves along the way.      

Image result for Stephen Grellet bio 
                   Stephen Grellet

Perhaps, one of the most colorful stories of his ministry came on his return journey to Pennsylvania. Grellet passed through a camp of lumberjacks.  He had heard that these men were notorious for their drunkenness and debauchery, yet he felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to preach to them. However, when he reached the lumber camp he found it deserted.  The men had moved deeper into the forest for that day’s work.  

So, there he was with a story to tell and no one to hear it. Standing in the mess hall, Grellet decided, “Well, I’ve come this far, I might as well preach” and so he did. After he finished his sermon, he bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, I don’t understand why you brought me out here, but I obeyed.” Grellet left the camp perplexed and eventually returned to Europe.

Several years later, while walking across London Bridge, he was accosted by a stranger. The man told Grellet, “You’re the preacher I have been looking for all these years. I have found you at last!” “There must be some mistake,” said Grellet. “I don’t know you.” “But I know you,” said the stranger. “Didn’t you preach at a lumber camp in the American forest?” “Yes, but there was no one there.” Grellet replied.  “I was there,” responded the man, “and I heard the sermon.”

The man went on to explain how he had come back from the forest to fetch a saw that had been left behind, when he was startled at hearing the sound of a man's voice. Approaching the mess hall, he looked through a chink in the logs and saw Grellet standing by himself preaching the sermon. He listened to the preacher, was convicted of sin, got hold of a Bible and gave his life to Christ.[1]

Image result for Stephen Grellet bio

There are so many applications we can make from this incredible story. First, is the blessing that always accompanies obedience to the Holy Spirit. Luke 11:28 says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.” We don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately. Sometimes we won’t receive understanding until after we’ve obeyed.

Second, is the power of God’s word. Isaiah 55:11 says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The preaching of God’s Word is always effectual. When we are obedient to share God’s Word we are either planting seeds, watering or harvesting. We don’t know where we are in that process, but the Holy Spirit does and He adds the increase to our obedience.

Third, is the divine design behind detours. Sometimes, the Lord detours us from our daily pattern or planned route. We may not know why, but chances are it’s because He has someone He wants to cross our path with who needs encouragement or evangelism. Make yourself to available to God and He will order your steps in surprising ways. -DM      

[1] David Jeremiah, Turning Points with God: 365 Daily Devotions (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2014), May 7.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Peculiar Preacher

The Lord gives each of us a unique personality, and his choicest servants have sometimes been, well, peculiar. William Sheffey was chief among the oddball saints.

Sheffey was born on Independence Day, 1820 to a single mother. When his mother died, an aunt in Abingdon, Virginia, took him in. There, in her apartment over a general store, he was converted on January 9, 1839 at the age of 19. Unfortunately Sheffey’s “early dislike for books and an aversion for profound study,” made him a terrible student and the new believer soon dropped out of seminary. Feeling the unquenchable call to preach, he started through the Virginia hills and hollers as a Methodist circuit rider preaching the Gospel.

Robert Sheffey 

His ministry was an oddity. For example, one day he was called to a cabin on Wolfe Creek. He had previously tried to win this family to Christ, but without success. As he rode up this time, things were different. A member had been bitten by a rattlesnake. There seemed little hope. Entering the house, Sheffey sank to his knees and prayed, “O Lord, we do thank thee for rattlesnakes. If it had not been for a rattlesnake they would not have called on You. Send a rattlesnake to bite Bill, one to bite John, and send a great big one to bite the old man!”

He is well-remembered for prayers like that. An acquaintance said, “Preacher Sheffey was the most powerful man in prayer I ever heard, but he couldn’t preach a lick.” Once, encountering moonshiners in the mountains, he dismounted, knelt, and offered a long prayer for God to “smash the still into smithereens.” He rose, smoothed his trousers, and continued his journey. Later than week a terrific thunderstorm blew in and a heavy tree fell on the still, wrecking it. The owner rebuilt it, and Sheffey prayed again. This time a flash flood did the job.

Robert Sheffey’s unorthodox prayers and sermons ushered many mountaineers into the kingdom and earned him the title the Peculiar Preacher. Robert Sheffey went to be with the Lord on August 30, 1902, after having preached throughout Southwest Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. His tombstone simply reads, “The poor were sorry when he died.”[1]

Sheffey’s unorthodox but powerful ministry reminded of what the Sadducees thought about Peter and John as they stood before the Sanhedrin, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Friend, God does not care about your age, ancestry, affluence, achievement or appearance. What He does care about it your availability. Peter and John were just simple fishermen. Preacher Scheffey was a college dropout. D.L. Moody was a shoe clerk and William Carey a cobbler. Despite their lowly backgrounds these men were used by God because they availed themselves to God. They were uneducated by worldly standards, but the difference maker was that they had spent time with Jesus. We will not become bold witnesses for Christ by accident. Nor does it happen by osmosis or by hanging around church and going through all the religious motions. Like a blacksmith heating up a piece of iron in a fire, the only way we can become red hot for the Gospel is by spending time with Christ. -DM   

[1] Robert J. Morgan, On This Day (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), January 9.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Holy Spirit Goes Before You

Image result for holy spirit evangelism

When Bible translator Jim Walton first entered the primeval jungles of La Sabana in Columbia, South America, he thought no one there had previously heard the Gospel. Then he met Andres.

Andres was the oldest son of Chief Fernando of the Muinane tribe, and by occupation a tapper of latex from rubber trees. While slaving away in the rubber trees one day, Andres began pondering the deep questions of life—where did we come from, what happens after we die, is there really a God? Answers eluded him.

A few nights later in boredom, Andres started fiddling with a transistor radio given to him by a rubber baron. Suddenly he picked up a crystal clear signal from Trans World Radio in Bonaire. A preacher was reading the following words from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven…” (Matt. 24:29-30, KJV).  

By strange coincidence, that very evening the moon did not give its light. Though Andres didn’t understand it at the time, a total lunar eclipse had covered the jungle with thick blackness. The young Columbian was deeply stirred, especially since he’d been questioning life, death and eternity.

As providence would have it, the next day Jim Walton arrived unexpectedly in his village to preach the Gospel. Jim opened his New Testament in front of Chief Fernando’s family and began to read. Andres was spellbound. He later recalled:

“When I saw Mr. Jim reading that book, I knew it was the book from the radio, the book that contained the truth. And when he said it was God’s Word, and he wanted to put it into my language I wanted to help.”

Andres gave his life to Christ and began helping Jim Walton. For the next 18 years, Andres served Jim Walton as con-translator, helping him complete the first draft of the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament in the language of the Muinane people.[1]

Jim Walton

                           Jim Walton

When you seek to share your faith in Christ, remember that God has gone before you, preparing the heart of the listener, just as a diligent farmer plows and prepares the ground in which he intends to sow his seed. In fact, this is exactly what the Holy Spirit was up to when Philip was directed to meet the Ethiopian official on a dusty desert road (Acts 8). The Ethiopian was reading the passage from Isaiah 53, a prophetic portrait of Jesus’ suffering and death, but he didn’t understand it. However, Philip did and the Holy Spirit ordered his steps to meet this royal official so he could lead him to Christ.  It was a divine appointment.

Here’s a thought—ask God to take you to those folks whose hearts have been prepared by the Holy Spirit. There is no lower hanging fruit than the people who’ve ben pre-evangelized by the Spirit. As D. L. Moody once said, "There is no better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit." Be prepared for God to lead you into some exciting situations. “Lord, place me in the path of somebody who needs to hear the Gospel. Give me the words to say and the courage to share Christ.” –DM

1. Robert J. Morgan, Real Stories for the Soul (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 23-25.  

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Henry Martyn: Heart on the Altar

Henry Martyn was a man who literally burned out for God in a short lifespan of thirty-one years. He only spent six years on the mission field in India, but he served with an intensity that accomplished more than many who live the allotted threescore years and ten.

As a young man, Henry turned his back on a very promising academic career to become a preacher of the Gospel. Many of his peers thought it a waste of talent and tried to dissuade him from missionary service; but once he had put his hand to the plow, there was no turning back.

Before he set sail for India, Henry had to make a sacrifice. Like most young men, he was not immune to cupid’s bow. He was smitten by Lydia Grenfill, a young lady six years his senior, whose home was not far from his in the south of England. Martyn proposed to her, but she turned him down because she did not want to leave England for the mission field. As you might imagine, Henry was heartbroken. However, Henry did not allow his love for Lydia to keep him from the work to which God had called him. On the eve of his departure from England, Martyn said, he had to let go of Lydia for the sake of his calling and smash his “beloved idol.”

Image result for henry martyn

During his time in India the longing of his heart for Lydia is apparent throughout his journals. He wrote, “Lydia is a snare to me. My heart is still entangled with this idolatrous affection and consequently unhappy.” Undaunted, Henry Martyn continued his ministry, working incessantly on translating the NT into Hindustani, Persian and Urdu. Henry worked long hours and suffered from the heat and tropical diseases. His health began to fail in 1808; but he said, “While there is work which we need to do, we shall live.” A year later he was devastated by the news that his sister Sally had died of tuberculosis, a disease which now ravaged him as well. By 1812 he completed his translations of the New Testament and in October he passed. Interestingly, Lydia, his “beloved idol” died of cancer in 1829—an unmarried, lonely, unhappy, and confused spinster of 54.

As I thought about Henry Martyn’s life I was struck by the sacrifice he was willing to make. He chose the call of Christ over a life with Lydia. That takes guts. But God will be a debtor to no man. Remember what Jesus said in Mark 10:29-30, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”   

Notice the “hundredfold” guarantee in that passage. The Gospel is a radical call to let go of earthly things—relationships, plans, wealth, position—so that God can place in our hands something of greater value. Martyn made a smart trade, but not an easy trade. Because of his sacrifice think of the untold number of souls who came to salvation by his translations of the NT. On the other hand, think of Lydia’s loss. Think of all she could have accomplished alongside Henry Martyn had she shared his vision and passion for the Gospel. In the end, she died empty-handed and forfeited the chance at an amazing marriage and ministry.   

The application for us is the same. What must we sacrifice in order to follow Christ? It may not be easy to let go of our “beloved idols” but Christ promises to bless that obedience one-hundred times over. However, if we hold back or hold on to earthly things, then we will trade the eternal for the temporal. We will lose the greater reward for something of lesser value. -DM