You eat what you kill! That was what I was told when I started selling for Saint John Toyota in 1985. Angela and I had spent most of the previous year in upstate New York on staff at a Wesleyan church and that didn’t work out the way we anticipated and so we had returned to Saint John and eventually I ended up selling Toyotas. I never liked saying I sold cars, it’s because people think less of you, but when you say you sold Toyotas it’s like you’ve done a service to humanity, and really it wasn’t a bad gig and I was always driving a brand new car.
If there was one down side it was the salary, there wasn’t one, there was no base, no minimum, it was completely commission, or as I was told “You eat what you kill”.
And so one day my Sales manager asked me if I had sold anything that morning to which I responded “I almost sold a Camry.” To which he responded, “Well then, I will almost pay you on Friday.”
How often do we use the word Almost? I tell people, “I run almost every day, almost Monday, almost Tuesday. . .” Which means in reality that I never run. The Oxford Dictionary defines almost this way; Almost: adverb Not quite; very nearly: Remember this (Get Smart Clip). Almost means that you missed it, it might have only been by this much but you still missed it.
When I was a kid, when somebody said “I almost did this” or “I almost did that” the proper response was, “Almost only counts in horseshoes.” Did you ever say that? Did you know why almost only counted in horseshoes? Because in Horseshoes if you are close you still get some points.
That is one of the facts of life: almost doesn’t cut it, as a matter of fact “Almost only counts in horseshoes.”
We’ve been following Paul on his journeys and as we continue down the road Paul has been arrested for preaching the Gospel, again. This time the Roman Consulate Festus decides to hand over the responsibility of Paul to King Agrippa, who wasn’t really a king at all he was actually Herod Agrippa the second, who ruled over a small part of Palestine at the grace of the Romans with his sister Bernice, who was the sister in law of Festus. The story is told in the book of Acts in chapter 26 Paul states his case, he starts with his early life and then how he persecuted the Christians, and then he told of his conversion, in short he gave his testimony. Paul has laid everything out and used all his ammunition, and then he closes with these words in Acts 26:27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do—”
Paul has become the master fisherman. He has baited his hook, he has cast his line and now he has a nibble, he can see Agrippa taking the bait, easy, easy, and gotcha. He gives the line a jerk to set the hook. You know it’s at this point that most of us fail in being fishers of men. We testify, we witness and get folks interested and then we don’t set the hook and they eat the goodies and swim away. But not Paul, Paul takes the time to set the hook. Paul was used to success, and I’m sure that he was ready for Agrippa to say, “I believe Paul, I believe”.
But instead we read in Acts 26:28 Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”
You might be more familiar with this translation Acts 26:28 NKJV Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” Almost Paul, but not quite. Paul must have been flabbergasted, discouraged, disgusted. And when I get discouraged I think of Paul, he blew it, he wasn’t a hundred percent.
Why? Who knows, maybe he wasn’t convincing enough, perhaps he had turned Agrippa off in some way or perhaps Agrippa wasn’t paying attention maybe his mind was wandering and was thinking of something else. We don’t know why Agrippa was only “Almost persuaded”. Paul had done everything right but it didn’t seem enough.
I love the ministry, it’s my life, and to a certain degree I have been training for the ministry since I was sixteen years old. During the summers I spent working on salvage tugs and oil tankers but during my high school years I began selling and I continued to sell into my time at college. I sold dress clothes, blue jeans, vacuum cleaners, wood stoves, bicycles, cars, trucks, travel trailers and advertising. From the time that I was sixteen years old I made my living convincing people that they needed what I had to offer.
And really, ministry is sales. No that’s not sacrilege. I have something other people don’t have but need. My job very simply is to convince them that they need Jesus Christ. Every once in a while someone will ask me if I can do something about the weather to which I reply “Sorry I’m in sales not management.”
Now I am not one of those people who can sell everything to everybody I will never be able to sell refrigerators to the Inuit, I worked hard at my selling and I used all of the tools of my trade. I made sure that I was properly groomed, and well dressed, I discovered how to address people and set them at ease, and I learned everything about my product and I learned how to set the hook. I discovered early that it was no good spending time selling a product and then never actually asking the customer if they actually wanted to buy it or not.
And so Paul is ready to set the hook, He says “King Agrippa, do you believe?” and Agrippa says “You know Paul, you almost persuaded me”. Not good enough Agrippa, almost found is still lost, almost saved is still doomed.
I’m sure that Paul wanted to say, “Agrippa, almost only counts in horseshoes.” But Paul wasn’t alone and neither was Agrippa.
In Second Peter 2:5, Peter refers to Noah as a “Preacher of righteousness” Now you would think, at least I would, and that if this fellow was a good enough preacher to get mentioned in the Bible as a preacher of righteousness that he must have been pretty persuasive. Wrong, out of all the people on earth he only persuaded seven people to join him on the ark.
Noah Didn’t Persuade Everyone
Only eight people all up were willing to forsake sin for God, while the rest forsook God for sin, why? Because they were more concerned with the temporal then with the eternal. That’s the way most of us are. The concept of delayed gratification is lost on us, we want what we want and we want it now. We just can’t see much further then tomorrow. That’s why so many people don’t look at resale value when they buy cars, that’s down the road. That’s why the government makes CPP contributions mandatory and why we have the old age pension. That’s why people don’t make up wills or funeral arrangements, they can’t imagine that this will end.
The people of Noah’s day were having a ball, they were saying, “Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die” today our philosophy is “eat drink and be merry for you ain’t never gonna die. The people of Noah’s day didn’t want to hear that things were coming to an end any more than people today want to hear that.
Hebrews 11:25 speaks of the “Fleeting pleasures of sin.” God doesn’t try to tell us that sin isn’t fun, but he does say that the fun doesn’t last. I’m sure that if Noah’s neighbours had of realized how close the reality of judgment was they would have changed their ways.
Now I’m not advocating that you need to give up your fun and games, and live a dull, boring, humdrum, ho-hum, monotonous life in order to get to heaven. Even Zig Zigler couldn’t’ sell salvation with a line like that. Jesus didn’t say “I have come to take the fun out of life” and Jesus didn’t say “I have come to make life unbearable” and Jesus didn’t say “I have come that life may be a drag” what Jesus said was recorded in John 10:10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Who is them? Them is you? They were those who had responded to the claims of the Gospel. Millions of people have discovered an important fact, and that is that Christianity does not take the enjoyment out of life. Jesus Christ’s primary motivation is not to make life miserable but to make life full and rewarding.
If you don’t think that you can have fun as a Christian I would wager that is because you are receiving your “Fun” from external sources. Drugs, alcohol, or premarital or extra marital sexual activity. In other words you aren’t receiving your gratification from within or from friends you are dependent on external stimuli.
But things do end, and eventually the rain started, and Noah and his family went into the ark. And those on the outside, yelled out things like “Noah, you almost convinced us to repent.” And Noah leaned over the rail and said, “Almost only counts in horseshoes.”
But wait, Noah and Paul you’re not alone. Genesis 19 records the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sin and immorality abounded in those two cities and God told Abraham that he was going to destroy the cities. Abraham began negotiating, “If I can find, 50, 45,40, 20, 10 righteous men will you spare the city” and God said “sure” or something like that. But in the end only four people were saved, Lot, his wife and their two daughters. Lot tried to convince his future son-in-laws, in Genesis 19:14 So Lot rushed out to tell his daughters’ fiancés, “Quick, get out of the city! The Lord is about to destroy it.” But the young men thought he was only joking.
Lot Didn’t Persuade Everyone
Lot’s future son-in-laws didn’t take the claims of God serious. They thought it was a game; unfortunately too many people have that attitude today. Religion is one big game show. And so society asks us “Do you believe door number one, door number two or door number three? And whatever beliefs you pick you win as long as you live that belief sincerely.” It doesn’t matter if it is Christianity or Islam, or Mormonism, or Hinduism, or J.W.ism, they are all seen in the same light. Wrong, It’s just that people refuse to take the words of Jesus Christ seriously, he said and I quote from John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
You say, “No preacher that isn’t right, what he really meant was that if you are a good person then he won’t punish you.” wrong, he meant what he said, and what he said was “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. The only door to heaven is called Christianity and all others doors lead to hell.
God wasn’t joking when he said that the wages of sin are death, and when the fire and brimstone rained down on Sodom Lot’s son in laws must have cast their voices heavenward and said, “Lot almost persuaded us” And when lot looked down on the charred remains of those 2 great cities he said “Almost only counts in horseshoes” Paul, Noah and Lot you’re not alone
Luke 18:18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus responded by saying, “That’s a good question, I’m glad you asked, keep all the commandments” and the ruler said, “been there, done that” and so Jesus says in Luke 18:22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
And then in the next verse we see the man’s response: Luke 18:23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
Jesus Didn’t Persuade Everyone
Now let’s get one thing straight, money is not the important thing here, the important thing is the attitude. Money, an unsaved boyfriend or girlfriend, a job, a hobby a habit, what is the thing in your life that is more important than Jesus.
With me, look I would have come to the Lord three months sooner than I did if it hadn’t been for a female. She was something else. When I was with her I felt like a million dollars. She had a gorgeous shape, all the curves were in the right places and she drew stares where ever we were. If I left her for five minutes when I came back there was a crowd around her. I’d only been serious with her for six months, but I had first laid eyes on her two years before and it was love at first sight. Every nickel I earned’ was spent on her and I knew deep down in my heart that when I accepted Jesus as Lord that I’d have to give her up.
Right then she was my life and I fought a battle for three long months knowing it was her or God. And on the night that I turned my heart over to the Lord he told me “if you are going to serve me 100% then she has to go.” and I knew what I had to do and the next day I did it, I put a for sale sign on her. Oh did I fail to mention that “she” was a 1971 Cutlass Supreme convertible. She was fire engine red, with white top and leather interior power windows and a 350 rocket engine with four barrel carby and, and, and.
Maybe you aren’t foolish enough to let something as dumb as a car stand in the way of your salvation, maybe it’s your career or your friends, or you money or your pride. Jesus is looking for all of you. The rich young ruler thought he had it in the bag, it wasn’t until Jesus spoke that he understood, “He didn’t have the riches, the riches had him”. Who or what is standing in your way. What is it in your life that is more important than Jesus?
The rich young ruler wanted to follow Jesus, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he wasn’t ready to give it all up. Salvation is free but it aint cheap, it will cost you all that you have and all that you are. The rich young ruler knew that there were things in his life that would hold him back. It would save a lot of time, if some people were at least honest enough with God, and with themselves to do what the rich your ruler did. And that was to say, “Jesus you almost persuaded me to follow you", and then he walked away. And Jesus must have been broken hearted as he thought, “Almost only counts in horseshoes.”
Paul you are not alone.
But there were others who were persuaded. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Bartholomew, Matthew and the rest of the 12. Zacchaeus was persuaded and so was Nicodemus, and Joseph of Aramiathia, and the woman at the well, and Simon the Pharisees, and the Paralytic at Peter’s house, the lone leper, the Prostitute who washed Jesus feet, the centurion at the cross, Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius, Priscilla, Eunice, Jude, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Moody, Graham, Mansvelt, Kneebone, Wickwire, Slauenwhite and the list goes on and on and on.
In Hebrews chapter 12 Paul writes Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
That crowd represents the millions upon millions of people who have done more then “almost believe”. That crowd of witnesses is all of those who have gone on before you who were persuaded. The twelve were persuaded, the 120 were persuaded, the 3000 were persuaded, the multitudes were persuaded.
You say “Denn you almost persuade me to become a Christian” almost isn’t good enough, almost finishing the race means that you didn’t make it. Almost in means that you are still out, almost healed means that you are still sick, and almost saved means that you are still lost.
Denn Won’t Persuade Everyone
Almost doesn’t make it down here and almost won’t make it on judgement day. When Agrippa died and stood at the pearly gates, and said “Paul almost persuaded me to become a Christian” St. Peter would have said, “Sorry Agrippa, Almost only counts in horseshoes.”
The big difference is that horseshoes is only a game, and if you blow it then you play another game. Life and salvation are no game, there is no second chance. When it’s done, it done. That great American Philosopher Yogi Berra said “It aint over til it’s over” and that’s true, but remember Yogi , when it’s over it’s over. Paul said it best when he stated in the book of Hebrews 9:27 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,
Almost persuaded isn’t good enough, it won’t help you follow Jesus in this life and it won’t get you to heaven in the next life. Why was Agrippa only “almost persuaded” ?I don’t know. It wasn’t Paul’s fault, he did everything he could and it wasn’t God’s fault. Why is it that some who sit under my ministry are only “almost persuaded?” I don’t know, it’s not my fault, it’s not God’s fault. Jesus lost some, Paul lost some, Noah lost some, Lot lost some and Denn Guptill will lose some but I don’t want to. Are you almost persuaded?