Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Speech Given to Pleasant Grove First Baptist Church Last Spring:

There are a lot of voices out there. The world tells us it’s all about us. You deserve a break today. You’re worth it. Do whatever you feel like. Nobody will ever know. Isn’t that what they mean when they say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”?

And Satan, himself, will tell you all kinds of lies like “Well, you’ve blown it now. You’re not good enough. You’re not worthy. What would God want with the likes of you?”

Or, sometimes, “You’re good enough. You don’t need Jesus to be saved. There are many ways to heaven, and besides there’s no hell anyway.”

Lucifer became Satan when he came against God, because Satan means adversary. To justify himself, he accused God, thus becoming the devil, because devil means accuser, and that accuser is out to steal, kill, and destroy that which does not belong to him, us, for we are God’s workmanship. We are His creation.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve chose to listen to the voice of Satan, God’s adversary. God had clearly told them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, one commandment, just one, and they couldn’t keep it.

Do you realize we never had to have the knowledge of evil? If Adam and Eve would’ve obeyed, none of us would have ever seen evil, destruction, or despair. If Adam and Eve would’ve obeyed, we would have known only that which is good. And, if they had obeyed, none of us would have ever had to die, not Bronner, not Nick, not even Jesus.

God had said to his creation, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

You shall surely die, not maybe and not probably, but surely.

You idiots! How could you mess up perfection? How could you mess up in the Garden of Eden? You got to walk with God everyday in the cool of the day. You knew God. It’s not like you didn’t know Him. You knew and had seen God, and you listened to a stupid serpent?

None of us would have ever done that, would we?

Or, would we?

Isn’t that what we do all the time? We know God, but we choose to shut Him out. We won’t listen. We think we know better than God how to live our own lives, and so we choose our own way.

And the world goes right along with us. It says, “Don’t limit yourself to Jesus. That’s old fashioned. Try something new and hip from the eastern religions like Budhism, and if you’re really daring, why not even Islam? God is God, right? Doesn’t matter what you call him?”

People will say, “Homosexuality isn’t a sin. You were born that way.” Or, “What man can stay faithful to one woman his whole life? Everybody has affairs; you shouldn’t feel so guilty about it. And to his wife, “girl, you know I wouldn’t put up with that. You need to just go on and leave him.”

So many voices.

And in the midst of it all, there’s a still small voice deep in our hearts beckoning, “Come. Come to me and I will give you rest.” “Cast your cares on me, because I care for you.” “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” “I am the bread of life. Take and eat of me and live forever.” “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

“Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on our own understanding, and in all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Listen. Listen for God’s voice. He will help you. He will direct your paths. Listen and trust Him. You can trust him, no matter what life throws at you. Don’t let Satan tell you to give up. Press on. Fight the good fight. Run your race, and in the end you will be more than conquerors in the fight. You will win, if you do not give up, the crown of righteousness and gain eternal life.

What is not worth that? Nothing. I can endure. I can stand. I can because of Christ.

Abraham was a man who trusted God even when God asked him to sacrifice his own son, the same son God had promised to establish his covenant through. Abraham didn’t wait either. He knew God’s voice and he trusted Him, so he got up early in the morning, the bible says, to go and do exactly what God had told him to do. He didn’t want to. He loved Isaac. He had waited a lifetime for him. Isaac was the son of promise for Abraham, yet he was willing to bind his own son, lay him on an alter, and draw up his knife to slay him.”

Rick said, “God didn’t ask us before he took Bronner, and it’s a good thing too, because I don’t think we would have been so faithful.”

God says, “Trust me.” “It won’t always be like this.”

Satan will come to sift you like wheat here in this world. But there’s someone praying for you, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, Jesus. Jesus is praying for our endurance. That we will be able to stand against Satan’s scheming and when his fiery darts come our way, that we will hold up the shield of faith and fight, that we will press on even as the pangs of Sheol encompass you.

Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

An angel stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son on the alter, but there was no angel there to stop the hand of God from pouring down his wrath upon his own son with whom he was well pleased, the son he loved. No angel stopped the Roman soldiers as they beat and mocked and nailed Jesus to the cross. No angel stopped the plan of God that was formed before the foundation of the world.

God, himself, was the one who made skins for Adam and Eve in the garden, killing an animal to clothe them. The first sacrifice was made by God himself, and so was the last. Jesus offered himself up on the alter of sacrifice as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

When God took my son, my sweet baby Bronner, I kept saying, “But we were so happy. We were so happy God.” And He said, “But I want you to be holy.”

God wasn’t so interested in my happiness here on earth but in my holiness forever. He lay this cross upon me to test me, to try me in the furnace of affliction. He wanted me to suffer as Christ has suffered. But why?

The bible tells us in Romans 8:17 that anyone who is to be glorified with Christ, at his second coming, must also suffer with Christ, now.

And 1 Peter 4:1 says, “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing so.”

Then in 1 Peter 5:10, God’s word says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

“In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.”

Now let’s go to 1 Peter, chapter one, and read together verses 3-9:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

God in taking my baby wanted me to see the world for what it really is, fallen and cursed, but that one day the curse will be lifted. This world, as it is, is not heaven, no matter how hard I tried to make it that. Life here on earth isn’t perfect nor can it be, not now. God didn’t want me to set my hopes on what I could see but rather on what I couldn’t see.

I can’t see Bronner anymore, but I know him. I had touched him and loved him and kissed him. I know he’s real. I’ve seen him with my very own eyes, and because I know Bronner’s real, that makes the place where he is and the person he’s with that much more real to me too.

God wants us to know He’s real, and that His inheritance far outweighs any suffering we experience now, and that his abode, heaven, is worth waiting for.

The heroes of faith from Hebrews 11, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses… "all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better county, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."

The Apostle John said, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'”

It won’t always be this way. Jesus is making all things new.

So we wait for it with patience knowing that although God won’t always shield us from the storm, he’ll be there waiting it out with us, and when the wind and earthquake and fire are gone, we’ll be ready to listen for the sound of a low whisper.

I heard God speak to my heart so many times in the days and weeks and months following my life’s most terrible storm. That very night he assured me that this was his will. I heard him pray through me, not my will but thine, oh Lord, be done. I didn’t pray that, but it came just the same. It was the Holy Spirit within me because all I wanted was my baby. And I was begging, prostrate, laid bare before the Lord, begging for my son’s life to be restored as Isaac’s had been, and then I heard within my own soul “Not my will but thine, Oh Lord, be done."

God had a purpose and a plan in my baby’s dying, and no plan of God’s can be thwarted. I knew this was God’s will, and I had listen for what He was going to teach me through it.

The next day I heard him say to my spirit, “Rick is not your helper. You’re his.” I had not even thought about that. But God came before me. See ’cause He knows me, and he knew that in my flesh, I was going to start blaming Rick for not being there to help me with our three boys that night. But God was taking me to a new place with him, a place led by the Spirit, who knew this had nothing to do with Rick or with me or with anyone else I might try to blame.

God had plan and a purpose in my baby’s dying, and no plan of God’s can be thwarted.

God gave Rick a dream and in it, he was battling a demon. He was screaming scripture at what looked like a woman dressed as a gypsy, and she was screaming back at him. And he fought with this demon for what seemed like hours before he grew tired and had to sit down, but when he sat down, I stood up, and started battling the demon in his place.

God was showing us that Rick and I are a team, and when one of us gets tired, the other will be there to pick him up. Our marriage is stronger than ever and God is using us together to fight against evil.

One day, I received a book in the mail, and on the back, there was a bio of the author. It said he was pastor at such and such place, he went to such and such seminary. He had a wife. I can’t remember her name, and four children, one of whom has gone on to be with the Lord. His son drown just like mine had.

I read that and burst into tears, and I started pleading with God to tell my why. "Why the children? Why so many children? Why do you take the children of people like this pastor who had given his life for you, God, and why Bronner, a baby who couldn’t have been more loved or more wanted in this world. Why? Why the children?" And I said, “God, there is nothing worse than losing a child. Nothing.

I know you lost your son, but you got him back after three days. Three days!"

And he said to me, “But what about the others? All my children I have to send away from my presence for eternity. You’re going to get a glorious reunion with your son, but not all of my children will I see again except on that day when they rise again only to die a second death.”

We’re all God’s creation. It’s His breath that gives us life. We’re all His, and God saw fit to take my happy life away from me - for a time - in order that many lost souls would be turned to Him, that he wouldn’t have to send them off to die a second death but that through the testimony of a small child named Bronner they would live forever.

See ’cause death has a way of waking people up to the reality of itself. And they start asking questions like “What if that had been my child? Or, what if it had been me? What would happen to my soul if I died today?"

God had a plan and a purpose in my baby’s dying, and I had to get on board with it, so I could help carry on to completion what God had started.

I had a dream of Bronner swimming through the water. All I could see was Bronner and water, water above him and water below him. But he was swimming through that water with a huge smile on his face and he was beautiful. He didn’t have on any clothes, and he looked like a little Valentine cherub with his milky white skin, red hair and red lips. And he was happy.

I had that dream on a Saturday night. And on Monday, I received another book in the mail. It was from a woman from Dothan whose little son Luke had drown the day Bronner was born.

I started reading Within the Gates, a little book written over a hundred years ago, and there I read about a woman getting her first glimpse of heaven and she was swimming through the River of Life... water above her and water below her and she felt exuberant.

I knew what God was saying. He was saying "Bronner came to me through the water, not the water in your backyard, not the water in your pool, but he came to me through the waters of the River of Life, and he’s alive just as Jesus is alive and they are in a place where the River of Life flows through and no unclean thing can ever enter there."

Bronner’s more than o.k. He’s exuberant. He’s surrounded by the glory of God and he is filled with joy. And I know he’s running though heaven with reckless abandon, because that’s how he is. He was my runner. He loved to run.

Still, our family wanted to reclaim that water in the pool in our backyard. We wanted to overcome evil with good, so we planned a baptism in the pool in our backyard. Our son, Brody, was six almost seven at the time. He had already asked Jesus into his heart and wanted to be baptized anyway. So we planned a ceremony for April 26, 2008 in the pool where his brother had gone to heaven three months before.

That morning as I was preparing everything, I blew up about 50 balloons and in each of them I placed bible verses and prayers or praises. We were going to release the balloons at the end of the ceremony to lift our eyes heavenward. We hoped that Bronner could see them. But as I was taking them through the door to take them down to the pool, one of the balloons popped, just one, and a bible verse fell at my feet. It said, “I will fight for you, you need only be still.”

I felt God had given me that verse to tell me He was there and he was fighting for me. He wanted me to be still, to rest in him. He is for me, so who can be against me? Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus, my Lord.

After the ceremony, I found another little scrap of paper that had fallen from where one of the balloons had popped in a tree, and all it said was “love.”

About that time, I started noticing dragonflies everywhere, and they were always this baby blue color that made me think of Bronner. I saw them at his grave, around the pool, at our farm, everywhere, not just a few but hundreds of baby blue dragonflies so close I could reach out and touch them.

I felt like God was trying to say something to me through those dragonflies, but I didn’t know what. I thought maybe he was letting Bronner come sit with me for a while. I didn’t know, but my friend, Brenda, told me that after her dad had died, she kept seeing these little yellow butterflies. She didn’t know why either until one day she was walking into a church and she saw a little caterpillar crawling around in the grass, and it hit her why God kept sending her the butterflies. “We, here on earth, are like the caterpillar, but her dad in heaven is like the butterfly.”

"That is an awesome message, Brenda, but why does God keep sending me dragonflies?" She didn’t know, but she did know it was the Lord’s comfort, meant to show me and teach me something.

I didn’t know anything about dragonflies, so I looked them up on the internet, and I found out that a dragonfly goes through a metamorphosis just like a butterfly does, but dragonflies start their life out in the water.

Now that made sense. God wanted me to know that Bronner’s life didn’t end that night in the water. It began.

A dragonfly lays its eggs in the water, and when they hatch they’re a little nymph that lives in the water for up to three years, and when they’re ready, they climb out of the water on a reed or a stick and when their skin touches the air, it begins to breath and through a little slit on their backs out comes the full grown dragonfly, wings outstretched in the shape of a cross.

I also found out that there are about 500 different kinds of dragonflies, but the one I kept seeing, the baby blue one, is called a blue dasher. How appropriate for my little runner, my blue dasher! Isn’t God cool?

Then, we started noticing sevens. Bronner was the seventh member of our family. He had seven letters in each of his names, William Bronner Burgess, 777. He was born May 27, 2005. May’s the fifth month, so numerically, it’s 5-27-2005. Add the five and the two in front of the seven and the five and the two in the back of the seven, and you’ve 777. He lived 2 years, seven months, and 23 days. You already have one seven. Add the 2 two’s and the three together and you have another seven. The last full year of his life was the seventh year of this century, 2007. He even had three sevens in his social security number.

Seven is the number in the bible that represents perfection, fullness, completion. It stands for the seven days of creation, and it’s mentioned upward of 50 times in the Book of Revelation, the completion of God’s plan and purpose for the earth as it is and ushers in the new heaven and the new earth.

God wanted us to know that Bronner’s life on earth had been complete and perfect at 2 ½ years. He had fulfilled the purpose for which he came. God himself had formed the days for Bronner when as yet there were none of them.

I talked about the sevens in a speech I did that August, the year of Bronner’s heaven-going. It was my home church, Shades Mountain Baptist, and I got a call that afternoon. They had taken up an offering for Bronner’s Memorial Fund that day, and they had collected $7,777. One woman had written a check for $1.23. Do you realize what a miracle that is? How God had to work in the hearts of everyone there to come up with that amount.

God’s confirmation…

But, you won’t believe when I tell you. It happened again. Betty Bussey and I spoke the next August, August 2009, at Frazier Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery. They took up a collection, and Betty and I were still there having some lunch after we talked and the Women’s Director came and told me that they had collected more than $7,000 for Bronner’s Memorial Fund. She was excited because she thought that was a large amount, and I said, “Seven thousand what?” She said, “I don’t know exactly, but I can find out.”

I told her the reason why I was asking. She had no idea what had happened at Shades. But she left the room, and when she came back, she said, “The collection was $7,777.77.” And 77 cents. God is real. God is real and He is working among his people. Look around, you’ll see him. Listen for his voice, and He will speak.

Tune in. He has something to say to you.

You’ll know when God speaks, and you’ll know the other voices, too. We know who’s speaking to us. We’ve eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know the difference. We know the difference between good and evil, and we have the same choice to make that Adam and Eve had to make. Are we going to listen to the voice of God, or are we going to listen to the voice of the serpent?

Every day we choose to live either by our flesh and the desires of the flesh or to live by the Spirit of God which brings peace and power and wisdom.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Follow Jesus to the cross right now. Cast your cares on him, because he cares for you.

Jesus came not to condemn the world but to set it free from the law of sin and death. He brings life and light. He is Jacob’s ladder to heaven. He is the door of heaven. He is the narrow way. The Spirit of God testifies with our spirit that Jesus is the only way no matter what the world says.

And we are called to follow Jesus no matter where He takes us. Follow Him. It’s not easy road that Jesus traveled. No, The Lamb of God was slain, and He tells us to be slain also. Die to yourself; live for God. Love not your life so much as to shrink even from death.

I’m studying the Revelation in Community Bible Study right now, and I see it over and over and over again in that last book of our bible. People choosing what is temporary over what is eternal. The world offers a lot right now, wealth, fame, education, entertainment, and sometimes even happiness.

Choose holiness. Choose the eternal. Choose God. He’s already chosen you.

Come to Jesus, right now. Listen to his voice calling you. Come. Come to me all you are weary, and I will give you rest. I am the bread of life. Take and eat of me and live forever. I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Some of you may need to say to God, I’ve accepted your free gift of salvation, but I want more of you, God.

Some of you may be in the midst of a great trial yourselves and want to fall at the feet of Jesus and give it all to him.

So, I’m going to ask all of you to come and pray at this alter. As many as can, come and pray. Whatever God has laid on your heart today, tell him, talk to him. Pray to him and listen for his answer. I’m going to give you a few minutes alone with God at the alter, and then I’ll voice an audible prayer including a prayer of salvation to close us. So, come, pray at this alter right now.

Sometimes, I know it’s not easy to take that first step alone, so here’s what I want you to do, look to the person sitting next to you and say, I’ll go with you. I’ll go with you.

(Time of Silent Prayer)

Lord God, thank you for your presence here with us today. Thank you for loving us and sending your son to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross. We know that the penalty for sin is death and that Jesus died for us so that whether our bodies are asleep or awake we might live together with him. Let us not be content with the things of this world, but let us have a passion for what is to come. Let us be eagerly awaiting the day you come for us, Lord Jesus. Set our minds on things above not on earthly things, and give us peace that transcends all understanding, and we will rejoice in you, Father. Lord, I pray that if there are any here today who aren’t sure of their salvation, who have never accepted the atoning sacrifice of the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, that today will be the day they make their salvation sure. Pray with me right now: Lord, I know I am a sinner and all my righteousness is like filthy rags compared to you. I confess my sins before you and ask for forgiveness. I believe that you, Jesus, are the Son of God, that you bore the wrath of God upon yourself, and that you died and were raised on the third day. I pray to receive you as my Savior and my God. I pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, to help me abide in Christ always and that when I come to die, I will be with you forever. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

With every head bowed and every eye closed, if you prayed with prayed that prayer with me just now, just look up at me for a second. Acknowledge Christ before men, and He will acknowledge you before His father. So, look up.

Know that this is just the beginning of your journey with Christ, and you’re going to need help. Get involved in church. Get involved in bible study. And never cease to praise Him. Praise guards your heart from losing its joy. Sing praises to him. Get some cd’s and sing in the car. And pray. You can’t establish a relationship with someone unless you spend time with them. Spend time with the Lord in prayer and reading the bible everyday. I would recommend getting to know the person of Jesus Christ first through the gospels. The Gospel of John would be a great starting point, and then I’d go on to Romans which is the most complete statement for the basis or foundation of our faith, a very important book of the bible.

Now, lift your head if you have determined today to listen for God’s voice and His leading in your life, that you will trust him no matter what life throws at you, and that you will walk the path that Christ lays for you knowing that life with Christ brings joy and peace but that sometimes it brings sorrow as well and when it does you are determined to endure it, to stand, and press on, running your race until it brings you to the gates of heaven.

That should be everybody…

Let’s commit together today to listen more, to not run aimlessly through life checking off boxes in a to do list, but stop and listen and look around for what God has for us, that we will be still more before the Lord and that we rest in the hope of his salvation.

God bless…