Archive for April, 2011
Several centuries ago in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church.
No one was permitted to see the plans or the inside of the church until it was finished. At its grand opening, the people gathered and marvelled at the beauty of the new church. Everything had been thought of and included.
It was a masterpiece. But then someone said, "Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It is really quite dark in here. How will the church be lighted?"
The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls, and then he gave each family a lamp, which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship. "Each time you are here" the nobleman said, "the place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here, that place will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark"
Whenever you are not at church there is a huge hole in that community and in God’s church. Remember how important your presence is in God’s house each week. Only then will your lamp shine and fill God’s house with light.
“Amazing Grace” was written by John Newton. He was born on July 24, 1725, in London, England, and he died there on December 21, 1807.
This is probably the most popular hymn in the English language—a television documentary was even made about it. Perhaps it is because its words so well describe the author: John Newton was a slave trader before coming to Christ. It was sung at the funeral of American president Ronald Reagan.
His mother died when he was six years old, and he joined his father at sea when he was eleven. He served his apprenticeship as a sailor, and rose through the ranks until he became the captain of a slave ship. He abandoned the religious training that he had experienced as a child, and reveled in the dissolute life of a slave trader. He was noted for his profanity and his cruelty.
But one stormy night, when his ship was in danger of sinking and he was in danger of dying, Newton had a real change of heart. It might have been his religious training at his mother’s knee surfacing after all those years –– or it might have been his love for Mary Catlett, a Christian woman whom he later married –– or it might have been his reading of the book, Imitation of Christ, by William Law –– or it might have been all three. In any event, Newton had a real conversion experience.
He began to treat both the slaves and his crew with a good deal more compassion. Later, he left his ship and took a job onshore when he was convinced that the slave trade was wrong.
He then felt a call to the ministry, and was ordained at age forty and assigned to a church at Olney, England. He continued in ministry through the rest of his long life, even after failing eyesight made it impossible for him to read.
This hymn, Amazing Grace, is in a sense Newton’s own story. It was amazing grace that saved him, and it was amazing grace that was the focus of his preaching. But Amazing Grace is the story of every Christian. It is amazing grace that saves us –– nothing else –– no works of our hands or gifts of our wealth. It was amazing that God would love and save John Newton, but it is amazing that God would love and save any of us. It is indeed a sweet sound to hear about it, but it is so amazing that it is hard to believe. Believe it, because it is true.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
Notes: This hymn was probably composed between 1760 and 1770 and put in the Olney Hymns. “Amazing Grace” was possibly one of the hymns written for a weekly service. Through the years other writers have composed additional verses to the hymn, and possibly verses from other Newton Hymns have been added. However, there are the six stanzas that appeared, with minor spelling variations, in both the first edition in 1779 and the 1808 edition, the one nearest the date of Newton’s death. It appeared under the heading “Faith’s Review and Expectation,” along with a reference to I Chronicles 17:16-17.
A young man had been to Wednesday night Bible Study. The Pastor had shared about listening to God. The young man couldn’t help but wonder, "Does God still speak to people?"
After service he went out with some friends for coffee and pie and they discussed the idea. Several different people talked about how God had led them to do things in different ways.
It was about ten o’clock when the young man started driving home. Sitting in his car, he just began to pray, "God… If you still speak to people, speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to serve your wishes."
As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought, to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said out loud, "God is that you?" He didn’t get a reply and started on toward home.
But again, the thought was there, "Buy a gallon of milk."
The young man thought about how he’d heard that not all those spoken to recognized God’s quiet voice inside of one’s mind. Then he said, "Okay, God, in case that is you, I will buy the milk."
It didn’t seem like too hard a request to fulfill. He could always use the milk himself if nothing else. So he stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started off toward home.
As he passed Seventh street, he again felt the urge, "Turn down that street."
"This is crazy," he thought and drove on pass the intersection.
Again, he felt that he should turn down seventh street. At the next intersection, he turned back and headed down Seventh. Half jokingly, he said out loud, "Okay, God, I will."
He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in a semi-commercial area of town. It wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst of neighborhoods either.
The businesses were closed and most of the houses looked dark like the people were already in bed. Again, he sensed something, "Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street." The young man
looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep.
He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. "God, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad and I will look stupid."
Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the car door, "Okay God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, okay. I want to do as you wish. I guess that will count for something, but if they don’t answer right away, I am out of here."
He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man’s voice yelled out, "Who is it? What do you want?"
Then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man was standing there in his jeans and t-shirt. He looked like he’d just gotten out of bed. He had a strange look on his face and he didn’t seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep.
"What is it?"
The young man thrust out the gallon of milk. "Here, I brought this to you," he said nervously.
The man took the milk and rushed down a hall way speaking loudly in Spanish. Then from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man was following her holding a baby. The baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face.
The man began speaking and half crying, "We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We didn’t have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to
get some milk."
His wife in the kitchen yelled out, "I asked Him to send an Angel with some milk. Are you an Angel?"
In response to hearing this, the young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put in the man’s hand. He turned and walked back toward his car as the tears were streaming down
his face. He knew that God still answers prayers and that God still speaks to people.
Are You Listening???