A Sermon in G-Major

IMG_0166When I was a young Christian, fresh out of the Marine Corps, I was a minstrel with a mission.  I carried my guitar everywhere I went, singing Christian favorites, as well as songs of my own composition.  The size of my audience didn’t matter; there might be one or two, there might be a roomful.  I just loved to sing about Jesus and looked for opportunities to do so.


One day in September of 1973, during my first semester at a northern California Bible college, I went into the chapel after classes to practice my repertoire.  The chapel appeared empty, so I went onto the platform, got out my guitar and began singing to the Lord.   A few minutes later a girl at the rear of the chapel (she’d been lying on the floor praying), poked her head over a pew and stared across the chapel at me.  It was a funny “peekaboo-I-see-you” moment.  Then she immediately jumped up and rushed out of the door. 

Needless to say, this didn’t encourage my musical self-esteem.  I’d had an audience of one and she bolted like her hair was on fire!

I continued singing.  Five minutes later the girl returned and asked if I would be willing to speak and sing at her church the following Sunday.  I guess she liked my singing after all.  The church in question was a small country fellowship in the hills north of San Francisco.  Not having cell phones in those days, she had just rushed out to phone her pastor to see if inviting me was all right with him.  It was. 

I said sure.

Sunday was two days away, so there was plenty of time to cook up a sermon, right?  It didn’t work out that way.


The next day as I boarded a bus for the trip I still had no sermon prepped, just my guitar and a handful of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  I also had the audacity to trust that God would use me to somehow to bless His people.  I remember praying on the bus that God would give me something to talk about the next morning.  I was apprehensive, to say the least.  Still, no topic came to mind.

I had to change buses in San Francisco, and catch another one that went on to the mountain community.  I had about an hour’s wait, so I pulled out my guitar and began to sing.  That might sound a little strange to people today, but back in the days of the Jesus Movement it wasn’t uncommon at all to see young people singing on street corners, or in parks, or other public places.  It went with the times.

Soon a small crowd gathered around to listen.  I sang Amazing Grace, I sang I Wish We’d All Been Ready, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, interspersed with some of my own songs and personal testimony.


When my bus arrived I packed up and headed for it.  A moment later a good-looking, well-dressed man about forty-something followed me to the rear of the bus and stepped into the seat in front of me.  But instead of sitting down he leaned over the seat-back and looked at me. 

“I was listening to you singing,” he said, with tears in his eyes.  “I’m a backslidden Assemblies of God pastor.”

He went on to confess that he had wandered from the path of righteousness, and had gotten into a bad way of living.  Even now he was heading to Las Vegas to continue his wayward lifestyle.  He told me that as I was singing, the Holy Spirit convicted him of his sin, and he wanted to repent.  We prayed right there. 

Afterward he thanked me, walked to the front of the bus and got off.  I watched him disappear into the station crowd, stunned and amazed at God’s grace.  Then I thought about what had just happened. 

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

I had my sermon. 

I told this story to the little church in the mountains.  My sermon didn’t have a three point outline with a joke and a punchline, it wouldn’t have passed a Homiletics class, but the Holy Spirit used it to bless the saints in a little mountain church.  I sang my songs, and we all rejoiced together.


Obviously, I have never forgotten that story, which occurred over forty years ago.  I don’t know whatever became of the backslidden pastor.  Was his repentance genuine?  It sure seemed so to me.  Did he get back onto the path of righteousness?  I hope so, but I don’t know.  That’s not my business, it’s God’s.  My business is to walk in the Spirit and “make use of every opportunity [to share Christ], because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16).  This is so much more true today than it was back in 1973.

The Apostle Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19).  A Spirit-filled life is a song-filled life.  The child of God who is filled with the Spirit cannot help but sing!  And when we sing unto the Lord, those walking in darkness cannot help but take notice.  They will be drawn to the Source of spiritual music and life.

Have you been making melody in your heart to the Lord lately?

Lord, fill us with the audacity of Your Spirit, that we might minister to a lost and dying world.   


A Faith That Works

imgresThere are many today who say they believe in God but their lifestyles suggest otherwise.  My purpose for this writing is not to judge, nor to discourage, but to encourage each of us to put our faith into action, to pursue Jesus with all our heart, mind and strength.


James wrote that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  Earlier he said: “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that––and shudder” (James 2:19).  The same Greek word for believe (pisteuo) is used in both instances.  Interestingly, the demons’ belief goes beyond mere intellectual assent.  They shudder.  They know that God is who He says He is, and because of that belief they tremble at the implications of it.  They know that their time is short, that one day they’ll be judged and cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).  Because of their belief they’re enraged, and work all the harder to thwart God’s plans (Rev 12:12). 

I don’t care two hoots about the fate of devils; I care about those who may believe that they are right with God, but in fact are not genuine believers at all.  Paul says:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you––unless, of course, you fail the test?” (1 Cor 13:5). 


There are many who have a creedal understanding of the “gospel;” that is, they believe the gospel to be true, they believe the Bible to be true––the Word of God.  But that’s as far as it goes.  There is no outworking of genuine faith or commitment to their belief.  They may go to church on Sundays and holy days, thinking that this somehow earn points in their account.  It doesn’t.  Their “faith” is dead.  Again, Paul says:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed––not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence––continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Phil 2:12). 

Genuine belief calls one to action.  It takes hold of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.  It takes up its cross and follows Jesus in resurrection power, working to advance His kingdom on earth. 


To illustrate the difference between intellectually believing something to be true and committing to that belief, consider the true story of Jean Francois Gravelet––the Great Blondin (1824-1897).

Blondin (so called because of his blonde hair) was a French tightrope walker who did most of his amazing stunts during the 19th Century.  One of his most famous stunts occurred on June 30, 1859, when Blondin stretched a 3 inch cable wire 1100 feet across Niagara Falls, 160 feet above the turbulent waters below.

Before huge crowds of amazed onlookers he crossed the gorge not once but on many occasions, sometimes stopping mid-way to cook meals, or to lie down.  Sometimes he crossed blindfolded, on stilts, and he even pushed a wheelbarrow across loaded with sacks of grain!  Then on one occasion he asked the crowd if they believed that he could carry a man across on his back.

The crowd roared “Yes!”  So he asked for a volunteer.  Silence!  Even though the crowd believed he could do it, not one person volunteered.  Finally, Blondin asked his manager, a man by the name of Harry Colcord, to ride on his back, which he did.


Though the crowd believed that Blondin could do the incredible stunt, none of them but his manager exercised faith in him.  Their belief amounted to nothing.  It produced no works.  Their faith was dead.   

Although we are saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9)––and let there be no quibbling about that––genuine faith, the kind of faith that pleases God is a working faith.  It will produce good works, works that will be seen by men who will then glorify God because of them (Matt 5:16).  Genuine faith trusts God’s Word and His promises; it produces love for both God and man.  It is obedient, consecrated to holiness.  It seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  It is a faith that shines in the darkness, a faith that produces a life that is winsome, salty, and effective.  It’s a faith that seeks to reproduce itself in the lives of others. 

Genuine faith moves forward when everyone else stands still.  It sees the unseen and moves mountains.  When others fall back or compromise with culture, it follows Jesus first and last.

Onward and Upward! 


When God Doesn’t Seem to Hear

We’ve all prayed prayers that God either hasn’t answered yet, or seems slow to answer, or doesn’t imgresanswer the way we thought He should.  But God always answers our prayers.  He may have answered with a No.  He may have said Yes (we like Yes).  He may have said Wait.   This is the one He most often answers me.  I don’t like waiting. 

Hmmm…I wonder if He’s trying to teach me something?      

There have been times in my life when I have come close to despair in waiting for God to answer my prayers.  Father, why don’t you answer this?  I know it has to be your will that this person comes to Christ.  I had been praying for certain loved ones for years and God didn’t seem to hear me.  They continued in their bad choices, at times even mocking the faith.  They seemed irreparably lost.


My stepfather was one of them.  I had been praying for Gary for over forty years.  Gary was a medical doctor with a thriving practice.  He was handsome, intelligent, a great athlete (windsurfing and skiing well into his 70s), and he was married to my mom, a beautiful lady.  Further, he was a genuinely nice guy.  He had it all.    

However, when I’d broach the subject of Christianity with him, he would shut down discussion.  He had no use for it.  Jesus did not appeal to him.  He truly believed that one day science would eliminate disease, possibly even death, and that something or someone from the galaxies beyond would come and save the planet.  He was a devoted “Trekkie.”    

About three years ago Gary started forgetting things.  He’d leave the tap on, the car door opened as he exited his car, engine running, and so on.  As a medical doctor he knew what was coming.  We all did, for we had witnessed these very symptoms in his mother.  Gary was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia.


With the dark clouds of dementia there came a silver ling.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear Gary asking me to pray for him during our visits.  This was amazing!  Clearly, something was changing in him.  He was still fairly lucid but there were obvious signs he was not the same man he once was.  I would pray, “Jesus, have mercy on Gary.  Comfort him.  Draw him close to you.”   He would smile and thank me. 

One day after another of our visits, we were about to leave, but I’d forgotten to pray for Gary.  As we headed to the car he followed me outside and said, “You didn’t pray for me, Mike.”  I felt terrible and of course prayed for him in the driveway.  I felt better.  And I could see in Gary’s expression that he felt better too.  He truly took comfort in my prayers.

Driving home, however, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit––a sense of urgency.  I told Cathy I should have talked to Gary more about Jesus.  I should have said something.  I should have… 


I called him on my cell phone (Cathy was driving), and for about ten minutes Gary and I discussed the Christian faith.  I hung up, again feeling better about it, but something was still prodding me to do more.  The Holy Spirit.  Why didn’t you invite Gary to come to Jesus?

As soon as I got home, I called again.  I told my mom I needed to talk with Gary.  Moments later he was on the line.  I shared the Gospel with him and then I asked if he would like to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  Gary’s response floored me.  “Yes.  What do I have to do?”  Fighting back tears, I led Gary in a simple prayer.  He repeated every word I said––just like a child––and in that moment Gary, the once devoted Trekkie, became a child of God. 

It was just a short time later that the window of lucidity in Gary’s mind closed.  A caretaker in his home read the Bible to him every day, but his mind was quickly going.  I’d pray with him when he was in the hospital, holding his withered hand, but I wasn’t sure if he even knew who I was.  Gary went home to be with the Lord the end of last October.  He is now in the Presence of the One who so loved the world––had so loved Gary Hathaway––who in the fulness of time opened his heart, gave him saving faith and eternal life.


Dear ones, never give up praying for your loved ones, no matter how hardened to the Gospel they appear to be.  Just know that God loves them infinitely more than we ever could.  God hears your prayers.  He will answer in His perfect time.  The one arguing the most may be the very one who is struggling with God.  Pray without ceasing, for as James says, “The effective prayers of the righteous will accomplish much” (James 5:16).    

Finally, be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit who may be prodding you to boldly share the love of Christ with someone––friend, colleague, or family member.  Remember, someone once led you to faith in Christ.  They’d been praying for you, maybe wondering if God was hearing their prayers.  They’d asked God to give them courage to talk with you about Jesus.  They did. 

Be that person, that light, to that dear soul wandering in the darkness.  Eternal Life awaits them!

Onward and Upward! 

Birth Pangs

One of the happiest dd969d2f1a6df44419c3b73273e232e8bays of my life was the time when my wife Cathy told me she was pregnant with our first child.  I shouted it from the rooftops.  Cathy’s pregnant.  A baby is coming!  Our baby!


Month one, two, three––everything was relatively normal.  Funny, you don’t look pregnant, Honey.  Month four, five and six––definitely showing signs.  No doubt about it now.  You’re pregnant.  Baby’s room is decorated.  Lamaze classes begin.  “Pant, blow?  That’s it?”  Piece of cake.  Month seven and eight––major discomfort for Momma.  Month nine––big as a house––hurry up, Baby, Momma’s not liking this. 

And then they started…birth pangs! 

“I think it’s time,” Cathy said one night.  The pangs were five minutes apart, so we packed up our baby gear and headed for the hospital.  However, after a brief checkup we were sent home. 

False alarm.

The pangs continued regularly.  Then at 6:00 pm the next night the interval between pangs decreased to around 2 to 4 minutes apart.  They were more intense.  Pant––pant––blow––blow.  We headed to the hospital again.  No mistaking it now.  The signs were regular, more intense.

What followed was twenty-six hours of labor, followed by ten hours of HARD labor.  Cathy was exhausted.  She’d given up on Lamaze, she just took it.  I was nervous.  It wasn’t supposed to take this long, I thought, or be this hard.  I actually wondered if Cathy and the baby would survive.  One nurse examined her, then quipped, “I don’t think you’re ever going to have this baby.”  I almost punched her. 

The baby was in the birth canal for ten hours of very intense labor!  The baby was major stressed, Cathy was major stressed.  I was praying like crazy.  Finally, after what seemed an interminable amount of pain, the moment arrived.  Brandon was born, the cord twisted around his neck three times!  It was a miracle that he survived!


Jesus said that His Coming would be like the birth pangs of a woman in travail (Matt 24:8).  The Apostle Paul said the same in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3.  There would be birth pangs before the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ.  As in a natural birth, the pangs would increase in intensity, the intervals between them shorten, and then the time would come.  What would these birth pangs look like? 


Jesus said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:37ff; Gen 6:5).  What was it like in the days of Noah?  Genesis 6:5 reveals that wickedness covered the face of the earth, continually. 

On April, 20, 1995 Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma Federal Building, killing 168 people and wounding over 600.  The nation was shocked.  Four years later, almost to the day, two teenage killers murdered 12 fellow students and one teacher at Columbine High School.  Again, the nation was in shock.

Everyone at the studio where I worked at the time stared dumbfounded at the news reports on a widescreen television.  The carnage, the cold-hearted wickedness, was stunning.  Who could image such a thing happening.  Two years later, on September 11, 2001, it happened again. 

I groaned in my spirit, as did we all, at such wickedness.   

Since then there have been more mass murders, more school killings, theater killings, train killings, riot after riot, here and abroad, at shortened intervals, with heightened intensity.  As it was in the days of Noah!


Jesus said it (Luke 17:28-30).  A reading of Genesis 19 will give us a sickening glimpse into the depravity of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It is no wonder that God destroyed them.  Is the world any different today than it was then?  With the recent Supreme Court decision to redefine marriage, I wonder if we aren’t living in the days of Lot. 

Other birth pangs will include the rise of false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, worldwide deception, the love of many growing cold, children hating their parents, worldwide apostasy, the persecution of genuine Christians, and on and on.  These birth pangs are being felt around the world today.  Jesus is coming soon!


Immorality continues to increase.  Celebrity worshippers gawk at their “stars” audacity.  The killing of unborn babies continues at an alarming rate of 1.6 million a year in the US alone, with Planned Parenthood selling baby parts for profit!

Every baby killed is yet another birth pang.

How long, O Lord? 

The news pundits point to this or that cause but miss it entirely.  Man is wicked.  His wickedness will increase until one day, finally, the heavenly trumpet will sound.  It won’t be a false alarm either.  The heavens will open and Jesus will appear in the clouds, so that every eye will see Him!  The dead in Christ will rise from their graves, and we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the air to meet the King of kings, and Lord of lords in His glory!   


Dear ones, the birth pangs are many.  They continue to grow and become more intense.  More frequent.  But let us not lose heart.  Jesus said, “When you see these things begin to happen, look up for your redemption draws near”  (Luke 21:28).  Be comforted with His words.  In the meantime let us “hasten the day” of His coming (2 Peter 3:2), by living godly and holy lives, and by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost world.  Let us be found doing so when the Master returns.   


When the Foundations are being Destroyed

Constitution of the United States via “Caveman Chuck” Coker
Constitution of the United States

That morning of January 17, 1994, I was thrown out of bed at 4:30.  There had been a terrific crash of glass.  The room was moving, the floor shuddering, a roaring like the sound of a freight train filled my ears.  I knew what it was as I raced across the bedroom down the hall in my bare feet.

Earthquake!  Big one!

“The children!” my wife called after me.

I was moving in a rush, mindful of broken glass in the carpet.  A fish tank had shattered, fish flopping on the floor.

My youngest daughter was crying, holding me.  “Daddy?”

“Was that an earthquake?” my eldest daughter wanted to know.

“Yes.  Is everyone all right?”

They were, thank God.  “Let’s get out of the house.  Put on your slippers.”


The 1994 Northridge, California, earthquake.  Terrifying.  It caused great damage, jolted our in-ground swimming pool upward to resettle at an uneven cant.  57 people were killed that day, over 5,000 injured.  Homes and businesses were destroyed.  Freeways buckled, became parking lots.  In that predawn morning Officer Clarence Wayne Dean rode his motorcycle over the overpass from the Antelope Valley Fwy 14 to the Golden State 5, like he did every morning on his way to work.  But this morning, his last, he rode his bike into the air.   The overpass had collapsed.

Those of us living near the San Fernando Valley can well remember that morning.  We all felt so out of control, so helpless, so small compared to the awesome forces of nature.


I think a lot of us are feeling a little wobbly after the last few weeks of change in our country, as though we’ve been knocked a little off-balance by great tectonic plates shifting beneath our feet.  It’s been on my mind since that Friday.  I’m sure it’s been on a lot of others’ minds as well; those celebrating the SCOTUS decision, those alarmed by it.

When we see fissures in our Constitution, the foundations of our country crumbling beneath us, it causes fear.  It causes uncertainty, anger, despair.  A longing for the good old days wells up in our hearts, a longing for heaven.   For home.


“When the foundations are destroyed what will the righteous do?” was written by David as he fled from King Saul.

When I reflected upon Psalm 11 this morning God spoke peace into my soul.  He gave me renewed hope and trust.  Let me share my reflections with you.


In the LORD I take refuge.  How can you say to me: flee like a bird to your mountain.  For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.  When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?  (Ps 11:1-3)

When trouble strikes us personally or corporately our natural tendency is to want to flee to the mountains.  The mountains are safe.  They are a refuge.  But read on.

The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne…(vs 4)

Whoa!  Yes!  Our God is firmly ensconced upon His throne in heaven.  He is the Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords.  Nothing that is happening at the present has taken God by surprise.  It’s part of His plan, His story.  He is sovereignly in control!  One day soon Jesus will return with ten thousands of His holy ones to establish righteousness upon the earth.  What a day of rejoicing that will be!


In the meantime, God is still in control, and He has a mission for us.  We are to love the unlovely, share the Gospel with people who are very lost, like we once were.  We are to link arms with fellow believers around the world, of all stripes, all denominations, every ethnicity, every culture.  We are to link arms with those who call upon the name of the Lord and pray for the lost.  We are to love them as Jesus loves them.

We are to show them Jesus!

We are also to fight against evil, using the spiritual weapons at our disposal.  Prayer.  The Word of God.  Righteousness.  Truth.  The Good News of salvation to all who will believe and repent.  Above all we are to fix our eyes upon Jesus, and think not upon the waves roiling at our feet.

For “men are like grass…the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is 40:6-8).

Let me know what you think.

Islands in the Stream

Welcome to my new blog.  My name is Michael Joens.  My goal for this blog is to talk about Christian essentials––islands in the stream of world culture, a culture that is fluid, always moving, ever-changing.  I trust that my writing will be winsome, entertaining and insightful, pointing always to the Rock of our faith, Jesus Christ––the God-Man who seeks to save lost sinners.

It’s my hope to post a couple times a week to start, and hopefully gain momentum in time.  I really would love to have a conversation with you, so please respond in the comments section if you want to say something.  If you like what I say, let me know.  If you disagree, that’s okay.  That’s what makes a relationship interesting, and it will help us to grow in our pursuit of truth, joy, and God’s desire for our lives.

I look forward to beginning a new adventure with you!