Saturday, September 18, 2010

Heaven, Hell & Eternity Part 3 – Eternity


Please open your Bibles to the book of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament.

So far in this series we have learned that:
1. Heaven is the temporary residence for those who are justified by grace. 2. Hell is the temporary holding place for the souls of the unjust until the final judgment day.

Malachi 3 NKJV
13 ¶ "Your words have been harsh against Me," Says the LORD, "Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’
14 You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the LORD of hosts?
15 So now we call the proud blessed, For those who do wickedness are raised up; They even tempt God and go free.’"
16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, And the LORD listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the LORD And who meditate on His name.
17 "They shall be Mine," says the LORD of hosts, "On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him."
18 Then you shall again discern Between the righteous and the wicked, Between one who serves God And one who does not serve Him.

Basically God says: “It’s not over yet!” God is keeping records and in a day to come you will clearly discern between the righteous and the wicked, between the ones who served God and the one who did not.

What is God talking about? Eternity!

As I said a moment ago, so far in this series we have learned that:
1. Heaven is the temporary residence for those who are justified by grace.
2. Hell is the temporary holding place for the souls of the unjust until the final judgment day.

Today we also learn that:

3. Earth is also a temporary dwelling place, the only place which affords you an opportunity to choose where you will spend eternity.

Let me make this personal: You will spend eternity either in the New City of Jerusalem with the one and only God and His Son, Jesus, and all that is heaven, or else you will spend eternity in the lake of fire along with the devil and his angels and all that is hell.

Three essential truths about where you will spend eternity:
1. The choice is yours.
2. You have to make it now.
3. Eternity is forever!

However, it is also necessary to understand that Jesus came not only to save us from an eternity in hell but also from the hell of this life.

Why? Because on earth, bad things still happen to good people, even God’s people, and God wants to help you overcome in this life.

Go with me to the book of Acts, Chapter 16.

In about AD 51 or AD 52, the Apostle Paul decided to go and visit the churches which he and Barnabas had established on their first missionary journey together. Barnabas wanted to take Mark along with them but Paul did not. So, in the end Barnabas took Mark and went on his way while Paul chose Silas to accompany him, and they set out on what is commonly known as Paul’s Second Missionary Journey.

Paul and Silas visited several of the Churches and confirmed the believers in each one. When they were finished, Paul wanted to continue to preach further into Asia but was forbidden to do so by the Holy Spirit at that time. While he was seeking God as to what direction he should take, he received a vision in the night of a man in Macedonia asking for help.

Knowing this to be direction from heaven, Paul and Silas arose and went to Macedonia, which is now known as Greece. Landing in the port city of Neapolis, Paul and Silas traveled the 10 miles northeast to Philippi, the capital city of Macedonia. There they began ministering to those whom they found willing to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many were saved.

One day when they were on their way to prayer they encountered a woman who was possessed with a spirit of divination. She continued to follow them saying that they were sent from God to declare the way to salvation. Even though what the woman was saying was the truth, it grieved Paul to know the source of this woman’s knowledge. Finally having enough, Paul commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the woman. She was delivered but her owners, who were making their living from her fortune telling, were not happy with having lost their meal ticket.

So, they dragged Paul and Silas to the town square and incited a crowd against them and demanded that these Jews who were troubling the city be judged by the city’s officials and severely punished.

Have you found Acts 16? Let’s read:

Acts 16 KJV
22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.
23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed …

God will hear your midnight cry. “At midnight Paul and Silas prayed”. They had been dragged to the market place, ordered to be stripped naked in front of an angry mob, beaten with many stripes and then cast into prison. I can imagine they were hurting, hungry, and tired. But instead of screaming the injustice of it all or allowing their worries, fear, and pain sink them in despair and trap them in depression … they prayed!

In the summer of 1980 God was teaching me and Brenda how to hear His voice and live by faith. In order to do a quick, but a deep, work in us, God clearly spoke to us and told us to sell or give away all we owned, give all our money to His Kingdom work, and begin believing Him for everything.

Note: Now this is my journey, not yours! This is our testimony and not meant to be a roadmap to your success. My story is a description of what God did in my situation and not a prescription for what He may choose to do in your situation. You cannot afford to take someone else’s prescription … it might help you or it might hurt you … you need your own prescription from God. So … don’t sell everything and attempt to live by faith just because you hear that God told me to do it. If you lived your life based on what God told me to do, you’d want to marry my wife and pastor this church and that would just be silly … and silly won’t count for faith!

30 years later, I am still 100% sure God told me to get rid of all our possessions, give all our money to His Kingdom work, and begin believing Him for everything … so we did!

Brenda and I, with our two small children, moved into the College Drive apartments in Texarkana, Texas, without any money, any furniture, any extra clothes, and without a car or a job. Our families did not understand and we could not satisfy their concerns. However, we were excited.

Since we didn’t have any furniture and I was busy studying the Bible all day long each day, Brenda took it upon herself to make a home for us in that bare apartment. She went down to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store and climbed into the dumpster to get some boxes. She turned some on their sides to make shelves for our children’s clothes which we were believing God for, and she also found this big box, which she carried home and made into our kitchen table with little boxes around it so April and Ashley would have a place to sit. We all slept on the floor and acted just as if we had good sense.

Looking back on it now I can imagine how awkward it was for the few visitors we had to come by and sit on the living room floor with us … perhaps this is why we had so few visitors.

Brenda and I began attending a small church which had grown out of a Bible study and met at the Sheraton Hotel on Sundays. My dad let us borrow a car sometimes and at other times we got rides from new friends at the church.

One Saturday afternoon I clearly heard the Holy Spirit tell me to go to Spring Lake Park. My dad had left his car with us for that weekend so I told Brenda to get the children and let’s all go. Since we were learning to hear from God and walk by faith, I questioned why God might want me to go to the park. On our short drive Brenda and I considered that it might just be that God wanted our children and us to have some family fun. We decided and agreed in prayer to keep our eyes and ears open and see if we could discern why the Holy Spirit had spoken so directly to me.

I remember it like it was yesterday. We were swinging April and Ashley in some tall silver painted swings with dug out places under each swing where children had dragged their feet, brushing the sand away making pits which would catch water when it rained. I was standing in front of the swing ready to catch it and push it again when I heard the Lord say, “see that man on that park bench … he is my child and I want to talk to him.”

I told Brenda what I heard and left her with the children while I walked across the park towards a man laying on a park bench. When I approached him he looked like a 25 year old homeless bum. His clothes were all wrinkled, his shirt unbuttoned, his shoes were a mess, his hair was sticking out, he was asleep on his back with his left arm across his eyes and his right arm dangling from the bench to a plastic milk jug half filled with water sitting on the ground beside him. His left leg was cocked up and his right leg was stretched out straight, with his foot on the ground. He was not much more than skin and bones and certainly didn’t look like a child of God with any future.

I positioned myself between him and the sun, positioning was a habit I learned from a former job, and I spoke to him to wake him up. He opened his eyes and squinted into the sun trying to see who it was that was bothering him. Later he told me he first thought I was the police so he thought he better sit up and listen.

I told him that I knew that this was going to sound a bit strange since I did not know how he believed about some things, but I was a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and that God had something He wanted to say to him and the Holy Spirit wanted to use me to say it.

The young man was in kind of a daze with a just woke up sort of confused look on his face, still squinting but trying to give me his attention as best he could. I had seen that look a hundred times before mostly while arresting people who were either drunk or on drugs.

I asked him if he minded me just going ahead and letting the Lord speak through me. He told me to go ahead. So I just started prophesying. I didn’t know what I was going to say next but it kept coming up out of my spirit as both he and I were listening to what the Lord was telling him.

Through me the Holy Spirit told him that he was a child of God and that God loved him and had heard his cry. The Lord told him that He knew that he felt abandoned by his father and that the breech between him and his father would be healed and that God would restore his relationship. The Lord also told him to not be selling his blood any more for God was going to change his life, meet his needs, direct his path and give him the desires of his heart and that He was going to begin today.

When I got finished with all I told him he was alert, sitting up straight, eyes fully focused, jaw dropped in amazement and both hands on the bench beside his knees. He couldn’t say a word but just sat there. Later he told me that during the time I was prophesying his thoughts changed from thinking I was a policeman to thinking I was an angel. It scared him so bad he was shaking.

He was just sitting there not saying anything, but after hearing what the Lord said I felt like I knew him and so I told him to get up and come on with me. While we were walking back to where Brenda and the children were, he asked me where we were going. I told him that the Lord said that He was going to start taking care of him and begin a life change today and so we needed to begin it now.

When we got back to Brenda I went to introduce him and realized I didn’t know his name so I asked him and he said his name was Nick. I told Brenda that Nick was going home with us to begin his life change. Nick said that he and his father had a big falling out and he had been kicked out of his house and was selling his blood every two weeks, eating a little until the money ran out, and then sleeping in the park drinking water he collected in a milk jug from the spring. Nick still looked a little shocked as Brenda got into the back seat with the kids and he sat up front with me on our way back to our apartment.

I told Nick that the Lord meant what He said and that He could stop worrying and start believing and thanking God that God had heard his prayers. He told me that the night before he was in the darkest time of his life and he had cried out to God and prayed and asked God that if He was real would He please help him. He said that when he was a little boy he had gone to church and gotten saved, but that he had not been living the way he should for years. He had gotten into drugs and drinking and fighting and forgotten about God. I told him that God never had forgotten about him and that God heard his cry and had sent me to help.

I still remember the look on Nick’s face when we first walked into our apartment. There was no furniture and we had boxes in the kitchen instead of a table and chairs. He was confused. Although he didn’t say it right then later he asked me how in the world was I going to help him when I didn’t even have anything. I told him that I didn’t make the promise, God did and it was God who was going to help. I challenged him to just watch and see!

Brenda asked Nick if he was hungry and he said a big yes! She fixed him a hamburger, bread and meat and mustard only. After he ate it he asked if we were going to eat and we told him no, not right now. He was a bit inquisitive and asked if we had anything to eat. I was honest and told him that we did not and yes, Brenda had offered and prepared our only hamburger for him and that we did not have any more food in the house except some cereal that the kids would eat, but that we were living by faith and God would provide. He was more confused now than ever.

Nick slept on the living room floor and the next morning we got up and got ready for church and told Nick that the Lord was going to continue to do what He said He would do so let’s watch God work today. I told him to expect a miracle and we shared what an adventure it was to serve the Lord. He listened, still a bit in unbelief, but happy to not be on the park bench and willing to watch and see.

Church worship was good in that crowd of about 30 to 35 people. After the word that morning a man came up to me and handed me $20.00. The Lord told me it was for Nick. Nick had gone up to the altar for prayer. As we were leaving church I asked Nick how he liked it. He said that it was wonderful and that he had recommitted his life to the Lord. I told Nick that the Lord said He was going to give him the desires of his heart. I asked Nick what he desired to do.

Nick told me that he had a strong desire to go to Dallas and get a job and begin a new life. He couldn’t explain it but that’s all he knew, he had a strong desire to go to Dallas. So, we drove straight to the bus station in downtown Texarkana which was only about 15 minutes away. On the drive there Nick told me that some weeks earlier he had hocked an old suitcase with some clothes and personal items at the bus station for $10 and that he would like to have it but didn’t know what it would take to get it back or even if they still had it. I told him once again, God said that He would begin taking care of you, just watch and see what the Lord does.

Nine years earlier I had worked for Texarkana Mack Truck Sales & Service running parts. One of my stops to ship and receive parts was the bus station, so I knew my way around the place pretty well. When I walked into the station and went over to the storage cage I asked for the suitcase right in front of me with Nick written on the claim tag. The man handed it to me and I said thank you and walked right out the door and handed it to Nick. Once again he was amazed and I was having fun.

I asked the station attendant for a one way ticket to Dallas and he charged me something like $11.40 and told me that the bus would depart in 5 minutes. I went back to the car where Brenda and the children were sitting with Nick and handed him the ticket and the change from the $20. He couldn’t imagine how all this was happening. In less than 24 hours he was off the park bench, recommitted to Christ, headed to Dallas with money in his pocket and clothes in his suitcase.

We prayed with him and watched him get onto the bus and drive away with tears in our eyes and joy in our heart. He waved and we wondered if we would ever see Nick again.

As the bus pulled out of sight Brenda and I sat and offered up a special prayer for Nick. We said, “Lord Jesus, we asked that just as you sent us to deliver Nick from the park bench, that you would send someone there to the bus to meet him when he arrives in Dallas. Help him find a place to stay, give him a job and continue Your good work in him. Amen.”

Well, did we ever see Nick again? To find out you’ll have to hear the second part of this story which I’ll tell this coming Wednesday night. But for now, let’s focus on the fact that God will hear your midnight cry – just like He heard Nick’s – Just like He heard Paul and Silas …

Acts 16 KJV
25 ¶ And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.

Remember I said earlier: Jesus died not only to save you from an eternity in hell, but also from the hell of this life.

You can be saved today:
1. The choice is yours.
2. You have to choose now.
3. The choice you make today could be forever!

What will you do in your midnight hour?