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A Sunday night service I will never forget started an unusual series of events I never could have imagined.
We were prepared to serve Communion to the congregation, and I was looking forward to preaching from the Word of God. In addition, a young couple-gospel singers from Nashville-were prepared to sing for us that night. But none of that ever happened. While we were singing praise songs to the Lord, an extended time of free-flowing worship began. As people poured out their adoration to God, an awesome sense of his presence filled the auditorium. All of us were overwhelmed as rivers of deeper and deeper praise ascended from our hearts to the Lord. All sense of time seemed to disappear as we became lost in God's presence. Nothing seemed to matter except worshiping "the Lamb at the center of the throne" (Revelation 7:17), the One who is worthy to be praised forever. It seemed as if wave after wave of God's glory rolled over us as we stood, sat, and knelt before him.
As I looked out over the congregation from the platform, I realized that God was doing a special work among us by his Spirit. A kind of divine surgery was going on as worship and praisemingled with petitions and intercessions. Conviction of sin was very strong, which always happens when the Spirit of God manifests his holy presence among his people. To stop or hinder what was going on seemed like a terrible grieving of the Spirit, so I never even took an offering that evening. The bills would wait. I just could not interrupt the wonderful ways in which the Lord was working in people's lives. The service ended hours later, and people were still kneeling or sitting quietly before the Lord when I finally left the auditorium.
Carol and I arrived home late. We were physically exhausted from a long day of ministering, but our hearts still basked in the afterglow of our time with the Lord. When I came out of the bathroom, Carol was already in bed and had turned on the television. We often watched the national broadcast of one of America's foremost televangelists late on Sunday nights. The program was usually a tape of one of his crusade meetings, and that night was no exception. The televangelist was already preaching his sermon when I began watching from the bathroom doorway.
During the previous months, we had been saddened by the increasingly shrill and harsh spirit of this man's preaching. Instead of carefully and humbly handling God's Word, his preaching was dominated by bombast and denunciations of sinners high and low. But we were not prepared for what he said that night.
As he discussed social evils contaminating America, he referred to a recent child molestation case featured prominently in the news. "I'll tell you what needs to be done with a person like that," he roared as he paced back and forth on the stage. "If I had my way, he'd be lined up and they would empty a shotgun into his chest!" Suddenly the crowd exploded; people leaped to their feet with a thunderous applause and shouted, "Amen."
My wife groaned, "O God, help us!" I was stunned, frozen where I stood. The spiritual shock of the evangelist's comments went deep. Our hearts were still tender from the hours we had just spent in the presence of the God who is love. Now we watched as more than fifteen thousand Christians cheered for the shooting of another human being whom God created! No matter how awful this man's sin might have been, I thought, this is not what Jesus is about. I had attended all kinds of church services in my life, but I had never experienced anything like this. The thought of the pulpit and a congregation being perverted like this absolutely took my breath away. The anger, venom, and vengeance on the screen before us were worlds apart from the Spirit of Jesus who prayed for those who were crucifying him.
The next thing I remember, Carol began sobbing and saying, "Please, Jim, turn it off. I can't watch anymore." I did as she asked and felt my tears welling up. Is this what viewers around America need to hear? I thought. With all the problems around us, how can this be the good news Jesus told us to spread?
"Someone has to talk to him, Jim, before it's too late," Carol blurted out as I began turning out the lights. "Something is really wrong in his spirit, and he will hurt the cause of the gospel before it's all over."
"I know," I said. I had the same ominous feeling as my wife, but it seemed there was little we could do.
"Can't you talk to your friend who knows him pretty well?" Carol asked. "Maybe he can counsel or warn him before it's too late."
I lay in bed that night praying that somehow God would stop this brother in Christ from pursuing what seemed to be a self-destructive course. Carol and I talked about the situation during the next week, but I didn't feel right about approaching my friend and asking him to intervene with someone of world renown whom I had never even met.
Eight days later, Carol and I again talked about the televangelist. Was there anything we could do for him-anything God wanted us to do?
Suddenly I felt a strong, distinct prompting to call my friend. He had a national ministry as well, and I knew he had spoken several times at the televangelist's school. I quickly picked up the phone and dialed his home. He answered, and after brief greetings I nervously got to the point of my call. "I really don't know how to say this, brother, and I sure don't want to put pressure on our friendship, but Carol and I are really troubled about something."
I quickly summarized our special Sunday night service and the spiritual pain we had felt upon hearing the televangelist's raw remarks. I told my friend how deeply this had affected us and that we just couldn't put it aside. But the phone seemed to go dead on the other end as I rambled on. "Are you still there, brother?" I asked.
After a brief pause, he slowly and emotionally replied, "Go on, Jim."
"Well, that's really it. We're aware that you know him pretty well, and maybe there's something God would have you do. Somebody has to do something, or we feel he's going to self-destruct. Do you know what I mean?"
Again, there was a strange silence. I was almost sure I could hear quiet sobbing on the other end of the line. "Hey, maybe I'm calling at a bad time," I added nervously. "Maybe I shouldn't even be bothering you with stuff like this."
"Jim, I'm glad you called," my friend said. "God meant for us to talk right now."
He then told me that just ten days earlier he and his wife had visited the televangelist's school. My friend had gone there to preach and was alarmed by what he had seen and discerned. The pace and pressure were so overwhelming, the financial crush so phenomenal, and the broadcasting and crusade schedule so demanding that the televangelist had no time for spiritual priorities. My friend saw him becoming spiritually shallow. Careful Bible study, time alone with the Lord, time alone with his wife-these essentials were being overrun by a monstrous empire that demanded all of his time and energy. My friend returned home with a broken heart and warning signals sounding inside him.
But that wasn't all. While in prayer a few nights before my call, my friend felt God's Spirit come upon him. The Lord seemed to give him a prophetic word of warning for the televangelist. With godly fear and trembling, he wrote it out in a letter. The main thrust of the letter was, "Shut it down. God wants you to shut it all down no matter what the cost may be. Get back to prayer, the Word, your family-get back to God. Don't worry about the supposed cost of shutting everything down, because the cost will be greater if you don't go back to your spiritual roots of communion with God."
My friend said he had prepared the letter for mailing but told his secretary not to send it until he gave the word. He wanted to be sure the Spirit of God was leading him because he knew that the letter could cost him his friendship with the televangelist. As my friend prayed that night in his study, he asked God to give him a sign-some confirmation that sending the letter of warning was of the Lord. That's when the phone rang. There I was on the other end, bringing up the very same subject!
The letter was sent the next day, but the response was not encouraging. My friend was told that his discernment and "word from the Lord" were way off base. The televangelist could never think of "shutting it all down" because too much was at stake-too many cities and countries to reach, too many television contracts signed, too many crusades planned, too much money coming in daily-to think that God could ever say something as radical as "shut it all down!"
The televangelist never listened to our mutual friend whom God used to warn him of the perils ahead. Soon the day came when he probably wished he had listened, wished he had shut it all down. But by then it was too late. By then his name and picture were known around the world as a symbol of scandal and shame. The spiritual cancer that had been growing for a long time had finally claimed its victim. All the tears and public apologies came too late to stop his life from careening out of control. In the end, it was all shut down-the empire, the international television ministry, the massive crusades. It became part of one of the saddest religious stories of the twentieth century.
I was much younger then as I watched the story unfold before me. I knew of at least one hidden episode of God's efforts to save the televangelist before his nasty fall. God is faithful, and God is love. The problem was, God was speaking but nobody was listening.
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The problem was, God was speaking but nobody was listening.
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From beginning to end, the Word of God greatly emphasizes the need to listen. We all make mistakes, fail to do God's will perfectly, and even rebel against his commands. But when we refuse to listen to his voice of correction and direction, things can quickly reach critical mass.
I remember how true this was on the playgrounds of Brooklyn where I played as a kid. Basketball was my thing; I devoted myself to the game. When I began playing on the varsity team at Erasmus Hall High School-a school with a great basketball tradition-I noticed something odd right away. The guys I knew from the park could play really well, but they never made the team, which meant that receiving a college athletic scholarship was out of the question. Many of these talented guys had one main problem: they wouldn't listen. No coach was going to change anything about their game. No, sir! No one could tell them how to defend better, shoot more accurately, or rebound better. They were uncoachable. They wouldn't listen. So all their God-given talent and ability counted for nothing.
Every instructor knows the dilemma of having a student who won't yield. Every parent knows the pain of having a prodigal who must have his or her way. Where we see failure, wasted opportunities, and heartache, this fatal flaw is invariably present.
THE KING WHO STARTED WELL
It's not always easy to listen. King Amaziah is one of God's poster people for this kind of problem. He is the man who wouldn't listen. The strange thing is that Amaziah did listen at first. He listened very closely and obediently to the Word of the Lord when he began his reign as king of Judah.
Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years.... He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly. After the kingdom was firmly in his control, he executed the officials who had murdered his father the king. Yet he did not put their sons to death, but acted in accordance with what is written in the Law, in the Book of Moses, where the Lord commanded: "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins" (2 Chronicles 25:1-4).
After he was established on the throne, Amaziah had to take care of some unfinished business. His father, the late King Joash, had been assassinated, and it was Amaziah's duty to punish the men responsible for this vicious crime. Although he now had absolute power, Amaziah did not give in to the desire for unbridled vengeance by executing the assassins and their families. (This was a common practice during those rough-and-tumble days when royal power wreaked havoc among the peoples of the world.) Rather, King Amaziah heeded the com-
Excerpted from THE Life GOD BLESSES by JIM CYMBALA PASTOR OF THE BROOKLYN TABERNACLE with Stephen Sorenson Copyright © 2001 by Jim Cymbala
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted October 24, 2013
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