Elder Selection

Posted by on December 31, 1996 under Bulletin Articles

      The following is a brief summation of the lessons presented on leadership in the fall of 1997.   For outlines of those lessons, follow links to 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 sermons.

      1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 were not intended to become “check lists” for elder qualifications. Neither scripture included these basic, critical qualifications:

    1. The quality and nature of the man’s faith.
    2. The man’s love for people, and how he demonstrates his love.
    3. The man’s love for the congregation (a shepherd must love the sheep).
    4. His possessing and demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23).
    5. His possessing and demonstrating the Christian graces (1 Peter 1:5-8).

      1 Timothy 3 gives the profile of the kind of man qualified to be a shepherd in the urban church of the huge city of Ephesus. This city was a business and religious center with a population of 250,000 people. It was a wealthy, sophisticated city with a significant degree of cultural development.

      This congregation already had elders–some good, some evil. They needed more elders. They did not need just to add some men. They needed to add a particular type of Christian man. His profile: he is respected for his mature spiritual character. His values stress the spiritual, not the material. He is a family man who knows how to love and work with people. He is not deceived by unspiritual thinking. The urban community respects him.

      Titus 1 gives a profile of the kind of man qualified to shepherd one of the congregations on the island of Crete. People living there had an earned reputation for evil. They were known for greed, violence, and earthiness. They were self-indulgent people who loved money. Christian shepherds needed to be devoted to God’s work (not selfish ambitions); to loving good (not honoring evil); to being upright (not being devious); and to being holy (not being sensuous and earthly).

      1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 stress this essential understanding: spiritual leadership in a congregation provides shepherding while addressing the real needs of the congregation in the context of its “real world” situation.

      In 1 Peter 5:1-5, Peter, an elder, gives a charge to other elders. As an elder, he walked in their sandals, he actually saw Jesus’ sufferings, and he understood the eternal destination. Peter focused them on their responsibility. Their primary responsibility: shepherd the sheep (or take care of the Christians). Remember: sheep are hard to care for. (1) Exercise oversight, (2) do it because you want to do it, (3) lead by example, (4) do not lord it over them (or do not lead by using power and control).

      Selecting men to be elders (entrusting them with leadership within the congregation) is the most critical moment in the life of a congregation. That decision affects the health and future of the congregation more than any other single leadership decision. Too many help make that decision while having little understanding of the spiritual concerns or responsibilities involved. The biblical selection of elders should never become (1) a popularity contest, (2) a reward for successful business accomplishments, (3) a political campaign, (4) a contest between factions within a congregation, or (5) “a good business decision” that chooses someone who “knows how to make business decisions and handle money.”

      The real issue: who has the spiritual ability to capably shepherd this congregation? Who has the spiritual maturity, the Christ-like personality, and the compassionate disposition that will enable this man to be an inspirational guide? Who can encourage us as we serve and follow Jesus Christ? Who (1) would I turn to in the moment of crisis, (2) would I trust to be of help when I am struggling, (3) would spiritually “carry me on his shoulder” when I was too discouraged or too weary to continue on?

      The central consideration: The central consideration does not focus on questions and issues that concern real estate and finances. The central consideration focuses on ministering to souls–souls that are troubled, or discouraged, or weak, or tempted, or deceived, or misguided, or fallen, or energetic, or motivated, or purpose driven, or developing and maturing. The central consideration focuses on people, not on things.

The Truest Measure of a Person

Posted by on December 29, 1996 under Sermons

Focus verse: Hebrews 11:6–Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of those who seek him.

College football is big business in this country. Some of the one-game losses in the top five teams late in the season cost the team that lost as much as 9 million dollars because the loss changed the bowl bid they would receive. College football is a major industry, and that industry peaks every year during this week.

For years, college football also created a major national debate every year the first week in January. In years past, there was a big argument about which team was truly the national champion. Only occasionally was there consensus about the team that was the “true” national champion.

So in January, 1996, division one college football inaugurated a brand new system that would make that debate unnecessary. Through a coalition of bowl games, the number one team would play the number two team every year, and the winner would be the undisputed national champion. A tie breaker was even inaugurated to make it impossible for the game to end in a tie. When that game was over, there would be a winner; there would be a national champion.

I well remember when that game was played for the first time on January 2 of this year, 1996. I well remember the endless television hype, the promotions, the predictions, the days of pre-game analysis. This game was to be the dream game. A fast scoring, passing team (Florida) would play a powerful running team (Nebraska). We were told again and again that this would be the most exciting, interesting game of the year.

To the shock and amazement of the analysts and the poor TV announcers who covered the game, it was a real dud. It was a “no contest” game. Almost from beginning to end, it was a no contest game. Florida suffered a devastating defeat.

In this country, losing is powerfully associated with failure. In 1995 Florida had an exceptional football team. That year, they won every regular season game, and they broke a lot of records doing it. But they lost the national championship game in the Fiesta Bowl. So many regarded their year to be a failure.

To me, one of the worst interviews a person could be asked to give would be this interview: the losing coach’s interview after a national championship defeat that many expected him to win. Steve Spurier gave that interview. This is what he said: Nebraska was the better team. The better team had beaten the Florida team and the Florida coaches in every aspect of the game. The Nebraska team was probably the best team he had seen in the six years that he had been the head coach at Florida. Nebraska was well prepared for the game and played hard on every single play.

Spurier had a great team. His great team lost. Without hesitation, he respectfully acknowledged that he, his coaches, and his team had been thoroughly defeated.

It is easy to enjoy victory. It is hard to deal with defeat. It is easy to enjoy success. It is hard to deal with failure.

  1. I have always had a profound respect and admiration for any person who refused to surrender his or her life to failure.
    1. I have great respect for a marriage that never experienced a serious marriage crisis.
      1. That kind of marriage does not happen by accident.
        1. It is no accident that Jesse and Mary Huff celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last Sunday.
        2. It is no accident that Hazel and John Richards celebrated their 50 years of marriage yesterday.
        3. It is no accident that Tom and Lou Porter just celebrated 51 years of successful marriage.
      2. It takes commitment, hard work, love, sensitivity, and attentiveness to sustain a successful marriage.
    2. But I have even greater respect for a married couple who suffers a devastating crisis in their marriage and successfully puts their marriage back together.
      1. To do that takes incredible courage and sacrifice.
      2. No one understands how hard it is to do that except the couples who have done it.
      3. It is much easier to sustain a good marriage than it is to successfully rebuild a troubled marriage.
    3. I have great respect for a person who has never been married who builds a positive, productive life that is filled with faith and involvement.
      1. Building a positive, productive life that is focused on God when you live alone is a significant accomplishment.
      2. Having the support and encouragement of a mate who believes in you and encourages you is a powerful asset in building a godly life.
      3. Building a godly, involved life without that support and encouragement is a major accomplishment.
    4. But I have even greater respect for a person who has experienced a devastating divorce and still builds a positive, productive life that is focused on God.
      1. A failed marriage can easily create a bitterness that will devour your heart and soul.
      2. It is common for a failed marriage to destroy your confidence, to murder your self esteem, and to strip you of any vestige of dignity or worth.
      3. Building a faith-focused life while refusing to surrender to some of life’s most powerful negative forces is an incredible accomplishment.
    5. I have great respect for any person who through integrity, honesty, faith, and hard work succeeds in any career or business.
      1. True success never comes easily.
      2. It is not easy to succeed in any form in enterprise.
      3. Success in anything takes sacrifice, commitment, and lots of hard work.
    6. I have even greater respect for any person who through integrity, honesty, faith, and hard work succeeds in a career or business after experiencing a career or business failure.
      1. After such failure, it is hard to trust God.
      2. It is hard to find any confidence in your ability.
      3. It is awfully hard to continue to hold to your integrity, your honesty, and your faith.
      4. Having failed once, it is hard to set aside your fears, restore your confidence, and rebuild your dreams.
  2. As Christians, we struggle to develop faith in God–it is never easy to learn to trust God.
    1. Perhaps the most difficult faith to develop is the faith that trusts God to help us overcome our failures.
      1. We all experience failures–many, many failures.
      2. Every single failure we experience begins in our hearts and minds.
      3. The most difficult faith to develop is the faith that allows God to help us discover and address the failures that are within us.
    2. A Christian must learn to trust that:
      1. God can still the storms that rage “in here.”
      2. God can strengthen me to endure in the trying, demanding moments of my life “in here.”
      3. God can heal what is broken “in here.”
      4. God can help me understand what I do not grasp, help me see what I am blind to, help me face what I have always run from.
    3. That is the faith every one of us must develop! Spiritual survival is dependent on that faith.
      1. Every one of us has storms “in here.”
      2. Every one of us must deal with trying, demanding moments “in here.”
      3. Every one of us has something broken “in here” that desperately needs to be healed, that only God can heal.
      4. Every one of us has things that we do not grasp, blind spots, and things that we run from.
  3. In the gospel of Matthew, we are told that Jesus told people that they had little faith four times.
    1. In Matthew 6:30, he told those who were filled with anxiety about their physical needs that they were people of little faith.
    2. In Matthew 8:26, Jesus’ disciples were filled with fear as a storm was swamping their boat, and Jesus said that they had little faith.
    3. In Matthew 14:31, Peter was walking to Jesus on a stormy sea at night.
      1. When he was within reach of Jesus, he suddenly became afraid and began to sink.
      2. Jesus said that he had little faith.
    4. In Matthew 16:8, the disciples misunderstood a statement Jesus made.
      1. They though Jesus was criticizing them.
      2. Jesus said they had little faith.
    5. People had little faith when:
      1. Physical needs created a controlling anxiety.
      2. They feared for survival in the presence of Jesus.
      3. They were distracted from Jesus and became afraid.
      4. They misunderstood Jesus.

In every area of life, we need great faith. In every dimension of our lives, we need faith. We urgently need to learn how to trust God in all areas of human existence.

But in no area of life do we need faith more, do we need to trust God more, than in the areas of our failures. Without faith, failure will defeat us. With faith, God can always help us rebuild our lives through a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

We live in the presence of a God who forgives. We live in the family of a God who powerfully works within us.

Even in your failures, you can glorify God. You can glorify him by accepting His forgiveness and allowing Him to work in you.

The Responsibility of Being a Righteous Person

Posted by on December 22, 1996 under Sermons

Matthew 7:1-12

The most health conscious congregation that I, personally, have ever known is the congregation I worked with in Oxford, Mississippi. Over a period of several years some of the most involved members of the congregation had to have heart bypass surgery or angioplasty procedures. Most of these people were still in the prime of life and very active.

Having either one of the procedures resulted in radical changes in life style. With those changes, some of them began to preach the gospel of heart healthy eating. When we had a fellowship meal, they would prepare heart healthy dishes and mark these dishes with a distinctive sign that had a heart on it.

Now in the churches of Christ, we are against drinking, against smoking, against profanity, against gambling, and against numerous life styles. But we are very pro food. It is pretty much true that we will tolerate others speaking out against many life styles. But don’t mess with our food. We may not drink and we may not smoke, but we eat. So don’t mess with my eating.

And when we eat, we want “good” food, food that tastes wonderful, food that literally begs us to eat too much and then groan because we are too full. That is the measure of good food at a great fellowship–the number of people who talk about how miserable they are because they ate too much.

Well, needless to say, there were a number of members who did not view the gospel of heart healthy food kindly. Take the fat out, and you take the cherished taste out. Take the fat out, you get all you want of that food before you can over eat. And that takes all the fun out of eating. That means you have to start eating to live instead of living to eat. Where is the fun in that?

I share that to make this point. Even when we know something is good for us, even when we freely confess that it is in our best interest, we still don’t like changes in our life styles–we don’t even like changes in our understandings.

We are examining Jesus’ presentation of revolutionary new concepts of righteousness in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. He has completely redefined what it meant to be righteous and completely redefined how righteousness is expressed in a person’s life. The concepts Jesus shared stood in radical contrast to the common concepts promoted by the Pharisees.

  1. Thus far in this sermon:
    1. Jesus redefined the proper description of a righteous person.
    2. He contrasted righteous conduct with common, accepted religious conduct.
    3. He stressed that righteous motives were essential to righteous conduct.
    4. He rejected the materialistic focus of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  2. Jesus concluded this sermon by emphasizing five responsibilities that a righteous person will accept.
    1. The responsibility of self-evaluation–accept ownership of your own problems.
    2. The responsibility of spiritual discretion–use wisdom in sharing your new understanding.
    3. The responsibility of initiative–God responds to seekers.
    4. The responsibility for choosing direction–the direction of our lives is a matter of choice.
    5. The responsibility for exercising caution–protection against being misled.
    6. We want to look at the responsibility of self-evaluation tonight.
  3. The responsibility of self-evaluation:
    1. Remember Jesus has already stated that their righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).
      1. They could not “out deed” the Pharisees; you could not perform more religious deeds than they did.
      2. They could not “out study” the Pharisees; you could not know more information about the scriptures than they did.
      3. They could not “out religion” the Pharisees; you could not be more religious than they were.
    2. Then how could their righteousness be surpassed?
      1. One fundamental way to surpass their righteousness was to refuse to pass judgment or condemnation.
      2. The Pharisees had an “out there” religion.
        1. Their religious concepts were firmly based in scripture.
        2. They could give book, chapter, and verse for everything they did; they had proof texts for all their emphases and deductions.
      3. But the primary reason for having knowledge was to pass judgment on other people.
        1. You learned for the purpose of establishing the criteria of correctness.
        2. Then you measured other people by the criteria.
        3. By using the criteria, you determined what was wrong with them.
        4. Then you condemned them for their error.
        5. From the Pharisees’ perspective, that was the purpose of knowledge, that was the way the you appropriately represented God.
      4. From their perspective of representing God by condemning others, at this point, Jesus’ sermon seemed to be an open invitation to pass judgment on the Pharisees.
        1. In chapter five Jesus said in this sermon:
          1. Reconciliation takes precedence over worship; so shouldn’t you condemn those who refuse to pursue reconciliation?
          2. Pornographic lust is adultery; so should you not condemn those who have pornographic eyes and hearts?
          3. Divorce produced adultery; so should you not condemn all who were divorced?
          4. Righteous people honor their word; so should you not condemn all who use their word to deceive and exploit others?
          5. Vengeance does not represent the will of God; so should you not condemn all those who seek to do harm to their enemies?
        2. In chapter six:
          1. Beware of doing righteous deeds for wrong motives; shouldn’t you judge those who have wrong motives?
          2. Don’t seek human praise through your benevolent deeds.
          3. Don’t seek human praise through prayers.
          4. Don’t seek human praise through fasting.
          5. Don’t place your trust and sense of security in material possessions.
          6. Don’t waste life by living in anxiety out of concern for the physical.
          7. Shouldn’t you condemn people who do those things?
      5. But Jesus followed all of these revelations with a very clear instruction: don’t judge.
        1. “I don’t understand that. It doesn’t make sense. Isn’t our mission to straighten out the religious world and to gain control of an ungodly society? We really need to fight and condemn ungodliness in religion and evil in society. Don’t we need to get God in control of religion and society?”
        2. That is a very complex issue that deals with many valid questions and many valid concepts.
        3. There is great spiritual danger in oversimplifying that issue; may I suggest some thoughts that we need to keep in our awareness.
          1. First, consider the view that “we” need to get God in control of religion and society. “We”?
            1. God more than takes care of Himself and His concerns both in religion and society.
            2. God is not dependent on us; God is taking care of His affairs.
          2. Second, God did not use political means to establish and advance Christianity in the first century.
            1. This is not a pro or a con statement about politics–I do not intend for it to be.
            2. I intend it only as an observation: political process is not the key to achieving spiritual objectives.
            3. If you are attracted to the up side of the possibilities, consider the downside: many of the militia movements use religious concerns as primary justification for their movement and actions; the Klan uses religious concerns as primary justification for advancing the concept of racial supremacy.
            4. Both seek to use a political process to achieve declared spiritual objectives.
      6. What Jesus is asking them to understand is very simple, so simple that we fail to see its power.
        1. “Do not judge, do not pass condemnation (as do the Pharisees); it is not the mission of righteousness to pass judgment.”
        2. “God will judge you by the same criteria that you use to pass judgment on others.”
          1. To me, that is a terrifying statement.
          2. That is a powerful reason for being compassionate.
          3. God will measure my heart, my motives, and my actions by the same yardstick that I use to measure other people’s hearts, motives, and actions.
        3. It would have been natural and easy for the people listening to this sermon to say:
          1. “Yes, Jesus! Right on, Jesus. Stick it those self-righteous, pain-in-the-neck Pharisees and everybody who thinks and acts like them.”
          2. “Right on! They do miss the point! I always knew something was wrong with them. They make life miserable for everybody.”
      7. A judgmental focus uses knowledge to pick people apart.
        1. If something is obviously wrong in their lives, attack them.
        2. If you can’t see anything wrong with them, become suspicious: they are too good. No one is that good. “We need to be cautious here!” Then the search for specks is on.
      8. The focus in judging:
        1. Is an “out there” focus rather than an “in here” focus (my heart, my mind, my life).
        2. Judging focuses my attention on “their mistakes” and totally distracts me from my problems and my needs.
          1. When someone condemns you, what is the first thing that jumps into your awareness? Their inconsistency–they see your problems but they are blind to their own.
          2. When we condemn others, those we condemn see our inconsistency.
          3. Jesus said condemning others (even if our condemnation is intended to correct them) when we are not identifying and addressing our own problems is hypocrisy.
      9. My primary concern, my primary responsibility in all spiritual knowledge and understanding is to discover and to address my own ungodliness and my own spiritual problems.
      10. Have you identified your logs in your eye? Have you accepted the responsibility to work on removing your logs?

It took me many years to understand an essential truth about helping people. I have always wanted to help people. I have always wanted to help people find the understandings that would enable them to escape their burdens and their guilt. I have always believed that God was the source of help for everyone, regardless of the nature of their problems. I have understood for many years that Jesus can effectively address any problem in human life no matter what that problem might be.

But wanting to help people is not enough. Knowing that God is the source of help is not enough. Knowing that Jesus can effectively address any spiritual need in human life is not enough.

You can help a person only if the person is receptive to your help. I have learned this about helping people.

Never will a person be open to help or teaching from someone who is condescending and derogatory.

Never will a person be open to help or teaching from a person who has no feeling or respect for them.

Rarely will a person be open to help or teaching from someone who seeks to force them into the glaring light of their failures and mistakes.

Rarely will a person be open to help or teaching from a know-it-all who has all the answers.

Rarely will a person be open to help or teaching from a person who is full of advice and always knows what is best.

From whom will a person more likely accept help and teaching? From a person who accepts ownership of and responsibility for his own problems. From a person who is obviously working on his own life, his own weakness, his own needs. From a person who cares. From a person who shares rather than judges, who leads to understanding rather than condemning. If I understand Jesus, the Christian who does this is the righteous person Jesus described in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.

Jesus Came To Do Good, And Did

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Our initial impression of Jesus often becomes the basis of our spiritualfocus. The Lord directed Peter to Cornelius. A confused Peter finallyunderstood that he was to introduce Cornelius to Jesus. This was hisintroduction:

You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God appointed him with the Holy Spiritand with power, and how he went about doing good, healing all who wereoppressed by the devil; for God was with him (Acts 10:38).

These words leap out: “…He went about doing good…, for God was withhim.” What a beautiful summation of Jesus’ ministry! Jesus went about doinggood because God was with Him. What a marvelous insight!

You and I have difficulty seeing evil. Sure, we see the evil that torturesus or that personally offends us. But, we do not see all evil in all of itsforms and presentations. Jesus did: the evil in hearts, motives, andattitudes as well as the evil in actions and human interaction. Yet, seeingall evil, He went about doing good.

Incredible! Our greatest reasons for refusing to do good arise from ourawareness of evil. Evil discourages us. It “turns us off.” It intimidatesus. It disillusions us. It makes us cynical and judgmental. It powerfullyconvinces us that it is “wrong” to do good. We find others’ evil sooffensive that we refuse to do good.

Christians who stumble and fall frustrate us. Godly people who fall prey toevil motives anger us. Evil within the church outrages us. We set otherChristians on idealistic pedestals. Then we are disgusted when they failto meet our expectations.

In all circumstances, Jesus saw evil as we are incapable of seeing it. Yet,He went about doing good.

Jesus was born to do good, lived to do good, died to do good, and He everreigns to do good. May we follow His leadership. Why? Because God is withus. Remember: the more God’s presence fills us, the more good we will do.

Why Was Heaven So Happy?

Posted by on under Sermons

Can there be joy without a cause? Can there be a celebration without a reason? On the night that Jesus was born, just after his birth, Luke 2:8-13 tells us that some shepherds who were close to Bethlehem had a visit from an angel. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the angel was standing in front of them, and the Lord’s glory was shining all around them. And they were terrified.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy, a joy that is for everyone.” The angel then told them of Jesus’ birth and told them where to find him.

Just as suddenly as the angel appeared, then there appeared a multitude of heavenly beings with the angel. These heavenly beings were praising God, declaring, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased.”

Question: why was heaven celebrating? What was heaven so thrilled about? Why did the fact of Jesus’ birth fill them with such ecstasy?

  1. Didn’t they know? Didn’t they understand?
    1. Did they not realize what Jesus’ birth set in motion for Jesus?
      1. Did they not know that he was born in poverty, would be raised in poverty, and would live his entire life in poverty?
        1. Once a scribe came to Jesus and said, “I will follow you wherever you go” (Matthew 8:19,20).
        2. Jesus replied, “The foxes have dens and the birds have nests, but I don’t even have a place to sleep.”
      2. Did heaven not know that his own brothers would refuse to believe in him?
        1. Once his brothers asked him why he was not going to Jerusalem to the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-4).
        2. Jesus was such a controversial figure in Jerusalem that there was a serious desire by some to kill him.
        3. It was not yet time for him to die, and for that reason he was in Galilee.
        4. His brothers said:
          1. “Why don’t you go down to Judea so your disciples can see the things that you are doing?”
          2. “You should not be doing these things secretly–you need to show yourself to the world.”
        5. They were urging Jesus to place his life in danger because they “were not believing in him.”
      3. Did heaven not know that even his own family would think that he was crazy?
        1. Early in his ministry Jesus was attracting such huge crowds that he could not even eat a meal.
        2. Mark 3:20,21 states that when his own people heard this, that they went to take custody of him saying, “He has lost his senses.”
      4. Did heaven not know that Jesus would have powerful enemies in high places who would complicate his ministry and make his life as miserable as they could?
      5. Did heaven not know that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve men who lived and worked with him? Did heaven not know the agony Jesus would endure when one of his best friends denied that he ever knew him?
      6. Did heaven not know the humiliation and abuse Jesus would confront in his trials–the being slapped, the being mocked, the being spat upon?
      7. Did heaven not know the pain he would endure in his scourging when he was stripped of his clothes, tied to a post, and beaten with a leather whip?
      8. Did heaven not know the emotional and physical agony he would endure for hours as he was crucified?
    2. Didn’t heaven know all this? Yes, heaven knew this.
      1. Well, if heaven knew, what were they celebrating? What is the joy about?
      2. How could they be so excited, so happy, so filled with praise if they knew that this baby just born would be successful only if he confronted and endured all this?
      3. This is hard for us to understand, isn’t it?
      4. What if you knew immediately after your child’s birth every bad experience, every trauma, every serious sorrow, and every pain that your newborn would face–including the fact that he or she would die a tragic, painful death? If you knew all of that, would it affect the your joy on the day of birth?
        1. The birth of a child that we love and want is such a euphoric, joyous event in our prosperous, free society because of our ignorance.
        2. We look into the face of that tiny infant and see nothing but hope, and dreams, and good things to come.
        3. At that moment it is as though trouble could never touch that new life sleeping in his or her innocence.
        4. Yet, the truth is, trouble touches and afflicts every life.
      5. After a birth, we can rejoice and celebrate because of our ignorance; after Jesus’ birth, heaven rejoiced and celebrated in full knowledge of what was to happen.
        1. Heaven knew everything that awaited this infant in his human experience.
        2. And with that knowledge, heaven rejoiced.
  2. Do you understand that? We need to. We need to in order to properly, fully appreciate all that God has done and is doing in Jesus the Christ.
    1. They were not rejoicing at the prospect of Jesus’ ordeals and pain; they were rejoicing because of what God and Jesus would accomplish through his ordeals and pain.
      1. Heaven rejoiced because God was very near complete success.
        1. The plan that God set in motion the day that Adam and Eve rebelled had begun its final phase.
        2. They rejoiced because God’s objective was at hand–perfect redemption from evil, total forgiveness of sins, complete salvation would soon be a reality.
      2. Heaven rejoiced because God’s complete victory over Satan was within God’s grasp.
        1. Satan had been thrown out of heaven.
        2. Soon the power of death, which was Satan’s power and control over a human’s life, could be destroyed.
      3. Heaven rejoiced because after the cross would come the resurrection when Jesus would be Lord and Christ, and Satan would be in defeat.
        1. Hebrews 12:2 states that Jesus endured the cross and looked with contempt upon shame because of the joy that lay beyond the cross.
        2. It was the joy beyond the cross that caused heaven to rejoice.
      4. Heaven rejoiced because the birth of this child meant that at last there could be peace among people with whom God was pleased.
        1. Jesus was born to create the opportunity for us at last to be at peace with God, and also to be at peace with each other because we are at peace with God.
        2. The natural product of being at peace with God through Jesus is being at peace with everyone who has made peace with God through Jesus.
        3. Being at peace with God teaches us and shows us how to be at peace every one else who is in Jesus Christ.

An angel told Mary that she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38), and an angel told Joseph not to be afraid to marry her (Matthew 1:18-25). Angels rejoiced and praised God when Jesus was born. Angels came and ministered to Jesus when his temptations in the wilderness concluded (Matthew 4:11). When Jesus prayed with such intensity in the Garden of Gethsemane that he sweated as though he were bleeding, an angel came and strengthened him (Luke 22:43). An angel rolled the stone away from Jesus’ tomb when he was resurrected, and told the women who made their early morning visit to the tomb, that Jesus was not there, that he had arisen (Matthew 28:1-7). Immediately after Jesus ascended back into heaven, heavenly messengers promised Jesus’ disciples that Jesus would return in the same manner that he left (Acts 1:10, 11).

From the moment Jesus entered this world to the moment Jesus left this world, heaven took great interest in all that occurred in Jesus’ life. Heaven rejoiced when he was born, and rejoiced again when he returned. Revelation 5:9, 10 states that all the creatures of heaven bowed before the resurrected Jesus and sang this song:

You are worthy to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.

Just as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-11, I thank Jesus for not clinging to his equality with God, for emptying his divine self into the form of a human slave taking upon himself our humanity. I thank Jesus for humbling himself as a human in total obedience to God, obedience that even accepted death on a cross.

I thank God for exalting him, for giving him a name, a title, the Christ, which is the most powerful and significant name ever given anyone. I thank God that the day will come when every being in heaven and every person who has ever lived on earth will bow before Jesus. And that everyone, voluntarily, will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And in that moment, God will be appropriately glorified for all that He has done in making our salvation a reality.

Just as heaven was personally and directly involved in Jesus’ life from the moment he was born through the time of his resurrection, if you choose to place your life in the resurrected Jesus, heaven will be personally and directly involved in your life–from the moment you are born into God’s family through the time of your resurrection. Jesus was born to create your opportunity to choose. Jesus was raised from the dead to give you that choice. It is your choice. If you choose life in Christ, heaven will rejoice again.

A Righteous Person’s View of Physical Life

Posted by on December 15, 1996 under Sermons

Matthew 6:19-34

Each of us has an identical problem in being a spiritual person. The problem? We each are physical. We all have an identical problem in living the life of a righteous person. We are all physical beings in a physical world. Consider two rather simple realities about life in this physical world: (#1) evil opposes righteous living in the physical world; (#2) evil uses the physical world to discourage those who seek to be spiritual.

This is the constant challenge that I face in my life: how do I promote and nurture the spiritual in my life while I responsibly care for the physical in my life? Finding the best balance, the healthiest balance, the balance that God wants me to have, is a never-ending search. I never locate and permanently fix the ideal point of balance. Permanently establishing the ideal point of balance is impossible because my life is constantly changing. What is a good, godly balance between the spiritual and the physical in one set of circumstances becomes a spiritually hurtful balance in a different set of circumstances.

We all have this problem. All of us are beckoned by two extremes. Extreme #1: “God will take complete care of me; I don’t need to do anything. All I need is faith in God.” This is the extreme of no responsibility. “I have no responsibility. God will take care of everything.” When I was a teenager, I lived in a poverty area in the mountains of east Tennessee. One of my adult Christian friends took this position in the midst of stressful economic conditions. He decided if he did nothing God would take care of him. That decision came close to producing major disaster.

Extreme #2: “God takes care of those who take care of themselves.” This is the extreme of total responsibility. “God does nothing; I do everything. It is all up to me.” Many years ago a preacher was visiting a prosperous farmer in a remote rural area. The man had a beautiful farm that was very profitable. The preacher walked over the farm with him and commented, “The Lord surely has blessed you!” The farmer replied, “Perhaps so, but you should have seen this place when the Lord had it all by himself.”

Both extremes are seriously out of balance.

Tonight Jesus talks about how a righteous person views his physical circumstances.

  1. As always, we need to set the context and understand the circumstances.
    1. The two major religious influences and two major sources of spiritual leadership in Israel were the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
      1. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, or in spirits, or in angels.
        1. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin, Israel’s supreme court, was composed primarily of Sadducees and Pharisees.
        2. When Paul was brought before this court in Acts 23, he knew that the Pharisees and Sadducees had already decided to cooperate in condemning him to death.
        3. So he shouted out in court, “I am a second generation Pharisee, and I am being tried because of the hope and resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6-8).
        4. The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection, so he successfully divided the court and avoided trial and sentencing.
      2. What spiritual effect did not believing in the resurrection have on the Sadducees?
        1. They believed all God’s blessings were physical and took the form of material prosperity.
        2. According to them, genuine faith in God meant that you were a materialist.
      3. In as many things as the Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed, they shared a common attitude toward money and prosperity.
        1. Luke 16:14 declares that the Pharisees loved money.
    2. The people to whom Jesus spoke were people who always had lived under a religious leadership that either (1) said that the only way God blesses you is through physical blessings or (2) loved money.
      1. There was a distinct materialistic focus in Judaism’s leadership.
      2. These common people lived in a socio-religious climate that stressed and emphasized materialism as a spiritual focus.
      3. Most of them lived in poverty, and in poverty people long for material security.
      4. Jesus’ statement that we now examine was truly a radical statement.
  2. Do not live to seek wealth; do not make material security the focus of your life.
    1. Why, Jesus?
      1. Reason #1: material wealth is itself insecure.
        1. That fact is as true today as it was then.
        2. However, then that truth was blatantly obvious in a world of no banks, no security systems, and national instability (Israel lost its independence less than 100 years previously).
        3. Jesus’ points were clearly, soberly understood–natural forces destroy wealth, and thieves take wealth.
      2. Reason #2: the only wealth out of the reach of natural forces and thieves is the wealth you store in heaven–only there is it out of the reach of the dangers of the physical world.
      3. Reason #3: your heart will reside with your treasure, on earth or in heaven.
        1. A person always invests his or her heart in that which he or she acknowledges to be his or her treasure.
        2. Whatever is of supreme importance and value owns a person’s heart.
        3. You can have wealth and it not be your treasure; if it is not your treasure, your heart does not belong to your wealth.
        4. You may be poor and wealth still be your treasure; because it is your treasure, your heart does belong to the ambition and hunger to obtain wealth even though you are poor.
      4. Illustration:
        1. The human eye is the only window in the human body.
        2. The eye is the only part of the body that can utilize light.
        3. If the eye is healthy, “clear,” the whole body is filled with the benefit of the light that comes through the eye.
        4. If the eye has a thick cataract that blocks the light out, the whole body is filled with darkness–and how black that darkness is.
        5. Materialism is the cataract that prevents light from entering the mind, the understanding, the perspective of the person.
      5. Fact:
        1. If you serve God, God is your master–you cannot serve him unless you allow him to be your master.
        2. If you serve materialism, it is your master–you cannot serve materialism unless you allow it to be your master.
        3. Your master is your final authority; it is the controlling force within your life.
        4. You cannot serve two masters–there cannot be two controlling forces in charge of our life.
        5. You cannot serve God and mammon–you cannot let both God and physical possessions be the controlling force in your life.
    2. If you are committed to becoming and being a righteous person, then you will not permit materialism to be your master. To reject the control of materialism, you must understand some basic awareness.
      1. Awareness #1: anxiety will not be permitted to be the controlling force within you. Worry rooted in concern for physical needs will not be the driving force in your life.
        1. Remember: Jesus is talking to people living in poverty.
        2. He declared that physical necessities are not the basic issues of existence.
          1. Concern about food, drink, and clothes do not constitute the basic needs of life or the basic concerns in existence.
          2. There is an existence need that is more important than food, drink, and clothes.
          3. That is an incredible statement to make to poor people.
      2. Illustrations:
        1. God feeds the birds (provides food for the birds to eat).
          1. Birds are incapable of planting and harvesting crops to provide the food they need.
          2. Birds are not irresponsible–they are industrious as they gather food for themselves and their young from daybreak to dark.
          3. God provides what they cannot provide themselves, but what they desperately need.
          4. You are more precious to God than birds.
        2. It is impossible for you to lengthen your life by worrying about physical necessities–anxiety does nothing to feed you, give you drink, or clothe you.
        3. God clothes the flowers in splendor.
          1. They are incapable of making their own colorful attire.
          2. Humans, not even the wealthiest, could clothe themselves in such splendor (very true and a powerful point then).
          3. If God clothes those plants in splendor that soon become fuel to warm the bread ovens, will he not do even more for you, you people of little faith?
    3. Do not allow your life, your thinking, and your actions to be controlled by anxiety, a basic driving force for materialism.
      1. The fundamental questions of life are not:
        1. “What will we eat?”
        2. “What will we drink?”
        3. “Where will we find clothes?”
      2. These are the concerns and the focus of godless people–this is their passionate pursuit.
      3. God is fully aware that you have every one of these needs.
    4. This is what you must understand if you chose God to be your master:
      1. You accept two priorities.
        1. You will seek his kingdom above all else–seeking the kingdom includes the church, but it includes much more than the church.
        2. You will seek God’s righteousness, righteousness as it is defined by Jesus.
      2. If seeking the kingdom and God’s righteousness are your priorities, God will provide opportunity to have food, drink, and clothes.
    5. This is fact about anxiety or worry (still remember that Jesus is talking to poor people living in poverty conditions).
      1. You cannot address tomorrow’s worries today–fretting today about things that you cannot control that may occur tomorrow is lost energy and life.
      2. The only way to be prepared to face and address tomorrow’s problems is to responsibly address today’s problems.
      3. Taking responsible care of today’s troubles will give you all that you can handle–every day has enough trouble of its own.

A righteous person has a distinctively different perspective on physical necessities and on anxiety or worry.

How much do you worry? What do you worry about? Do you understood that being a righteous person changes the way you look at necessities, changes the way you look at security, changes the way you identify needs, and changes the concern you have about the physical?

The righteous person is responsibly active instead of anxious. He trusts God instead of fretting about what is beyond his or her control. He or she uses life to serve God’s purposes in his or her life. He or she will not permit anxiety to entice him or her into serving the goals of materialism.

Like My Lord

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Paul told the Philippian congregation to develop the attitude toward eachother that Jesus had toward God (Philippians 2:5-11). This was practicalguidance given to a good congregation that needed to adjust some basicattitudes. Though they loved Christ and Paul (1:9), they inadequately lovedeach other. Selfishness, or conceit, or a sense of self-importancecharacterized many of them (2:2, 3). Two fine Christian women were inserious conflict. Each had provided Paul invaluable assistance “in thecause of the gospel” (4:2, 3). However, they failed to translate love forChrist into respect for each other.

Their relationship problems were rooted in attitudes. The problems would beaddressed productively if this happened: they identified, understood, andadopted the mind of Jesus Christ. Having the “mind of Christ” is the key tomaking godly mental and emotional adjustments. Two events in Jesus’ lifemust be understood if His “mind” is to reform our minds and impact ourrelationships. The first: his mind-set before entering this world. Thesecond: his mind-set as he faced and experienced the cross.

Preoccupation with blame and fault is a major curse. We are too easilyconsumed with a passion to assign fault and affix blame. In Jesus’willingness to be born and to die, the blameless Jesus was unconcerned aboutassigning fault or affixing blame.

Consider his crucifixion. Who was to blame? Who was at fault? Judas thebetrayer? Peter the denier? The twelve who fled? The religious leaderswho condemned Him? The multitudes who screamed for His death? Pilate whorefused to release Him? The soldiers who mocked, scourged, and executedHim? Adam and Eve who first rebelled? Humanity–because we all rebel and fail?Blame was unimportant, fault irrelevant. Evil had conquered everyone. Godmust satisfy divine justice to freely extend divine grace and unconditionalforgiveness. Only Jesus’ death could produce atonement and redemption.Jesus focused on that objective. Concern about fault and blame was adangerous distraction. So the dying Jesus refused to consider the grossinjustices surrounding His death. He placed those in God’s hands (1 Peter2:21-24).

Unconcerned about fault or blame, he said, “Father, forgive them; they donot understand what they are doing.” God, when we are victimized by ourpassion to assign fault or affix blame, forgive us. Help us be enveloped bythe mind of Jesus Christ.

Our God Is an Awesome God

Posted by on under Sermons

In the early 1960’s I first heard the hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” It quickly became one of my favorite hymns. In a very personal, meaningful manner, it gave voice to my deep feelings about the majesty and the greatness of my God.

“O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
 Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
 I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
 Thy power throughout the universe displayed,
 Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee;
 How great thou art, how great thou art!”

In recent years I heard the praise song, “Awesome God.” It immediately became one of my favorite songs of praise for the same reason. It allows me to express my deep, personal feelings for God.

“Our God is an awesome God; He reigns from heaven above
 with wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God!”

Songs and hymns that focus on God’s greatness and majesty have always touched and moved me because God has always touched and moved me. Songs that focus on God are deeply meaningful to me.

“Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee”
“This Is My Father’s World”
“Holy, Holy, Holy”
“Father of Mercies”
“Can You Count the Stars?”
“As the Deer Pants for the Water”
“Father, I Adore You”
“Glorify Thy Name”
“On Bended Knee I Come”

Such songs and hymns move me because, to me, they declare the incomprehensible greatness of my God.

  1. In every aspect of his existence and self-expression, God is too vast for any human to fully comprehend.
    1. His wisdom, his power, his love, his mercy, and his grace are much too great for any human mind to fully comprehend.
      1. God guided human language and human thinking in producing the Bible to reveal just a glimpse of himself to people–and that is all human language can reveal about God, just a glimpse.
      2. God is so unlike us, even the very best of us.
        1. We cannot fathom God’s love–the finest human love is a poor imitation of God’s love.
        2. We cannot fathom God’s forgiveness–the finest human forgiveness cannot even imitate God’s forgiveness.
        3. We cannot fathom God’s grace–the finest expressions of human goodness and kindness are ugly when they are placed beside the goodness and kindness of God.
        4. We cannot grasp the measure or the nature of God’s mercy, compassion, or concern for us.
      3. The sovereign God is consistent, but the sovereign God is never predictable.
    2. In the Bible, God eloquently declares that he is incomprehensible to humans.
      1. Isaiah 40:13, 14–Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has informed him? With whom did he consult and who gave him understanding? And who taught him in the path of justice and taught him knowledge, and informed him of the way of understanding?
      2. Isaiah 55:8, 9–“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
      3. Romans 11:33-36–O the depth of the riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became his counselor? Or who has first given to him that it might be paid back to him again? For from him and through him and to him are all things. Tohim be the glory forever. Amen.
      4. 1 Corinthians 1:25-31–The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world toshame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that he might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him that boasts, boast in the Lord.”
  2. The book of Genesis tells us that God spoke the universe into existence.
    1. There was chaos, and God spoke, and because he spoke, there was order.
      1. He spoke, and our world in all its complexity came into being.
      2. He spoke, and life in all of its forms came into being.
      3. He spoke, and we came into being–designed in his own image, with independent wills, with the power of choice, with the ability to act on our choices.
      4. Our God is an awesome God!
    2. God spoke, and brought everything into being in perfect order; we rebelled and marred his perfect creation beyond repair.
      1. We rebelled, and we destroyed life as he intended for us to experience it.
      2. We rebelled, and we cursed ourselves with consequences that we cannot escape.
      3. We rebelled, and we alienated ourselves from the loving God who created us.
      4. But our God is so awesome that not even the ruin we brought into the world and our lives could alienate us from his love.
      5. Our God is an awesome God!
  3. God immediately put in motion a plan to create a deliverance that would free us from the consequences of our own failure.
    1. In step one of his plan, God worked through the weak and often evil family of Abraham.
      1. God could work through this family for one reason: Abraham trusted God with a unique faith.
      2. But even Abraham had moments when he was controlled by his doubts.
      3. Sarah, his wife, had great confidence in her own solutions and no confidence in God’s promises–she even lied to God’s messengers.
      4. Isaac, his son, betrayed the confidence of his own wife and became a self-centered man with a horribly dysfunctional family.
      5. Esau, one of his grandsons, was a short-sighted man who exaggerated his needs and lived for the moment.
      6. Jacob, his other grandson, was a crafty deceiver who used deception to cheat and steal from his own family.
      7. Jacob’s sons, Abraham’s great grandsons, collectively were everything you never want your sons to be.
      8. Yet, through this weak and often evil family, God poured the footing for our salvation.
      9. Our God is an awesome God!
    2. Step two began a little over 400 years after this family moved to Egypt.
      1. They moved to Egypt as invited guests; in time they became slaves, several hundred thousand slaves.
      2. God promised Abraham that he would build a nation out of his descendants, and God started that process with these slaves.
      3. God did the impossible–he secured their release from Egyptian slavery by using ten plagues. Through Moses:
        1. He turned the waters of Egypt into a foul smelling liquid.
        2. He covered the land with frogs.
        3. He turned the dust into lice.
        4. He sent swarms of insects that filled their homes.
        5. He killed many of their livestock with disease.
        6. He covered both people and livestock with boils.
        7. He sent swarms of locusts that ate their crops.
        8. He sent a period of thick darkness when the sun did not shine for days.
        9. Then he killed the firstborn sons of every Egyptian family on the same night.
        10. After all of that, the Egyptians begged the king to release these slaves.
        11. After they left, the king changed his mind and tried to recapture these slaves, but God allowed the slaves to escape the king’s army by dividing the waters of the Red Sea and letting them cross; then he used that same water to destroy the army when it tried to cross.
        12. Truly free, this new nation of people celebrated and praised God on the other side of the sea.
        13. Our God is an awesome God.
      4. In step three God preserved these people in a hostile desert for forty years.
        1. Their clothing and shoes did not wear out.
        2. He fed them with food that appeared on the ground with the dew every morning.
        3. He provided them water in waterless places.
        4. He preserved them when enemies attacked them.
        5. Finally, in spite of their faithlessness and disobedience, he allowed them to possess the land of Canaan.
        6. In all of that, our God was an awesome God.
    3. In step four God refused to stop working in this nation when they failed him again and again for hundreds of years.
      1. They refused to stop worshipping idols.
      2. They neglected the worship and service of God.
      3. At times they were unbelievably evil.
      4. Ten tribes became so evil that they were destroyed.
      5. The other two tribes were so evil that they were captured by the Babylonians and placed in exile.
      6. Yet, in all that, God kept his plans and purposes intact.
      7. In all of that, our God continued to be an awesome God.
    4. In step five, God accomplished his objective–through that stubborn, often evil nation, he sent his son, Jesus.
      1. He sent Jesus to teach the good news about God’s salvation.
      2. He allowed Jesus to be rejected and betrayed.
      3. He allowed Jesus to die a criminal’s execution, and in that death God accepted Jesus’ innocent blood as the atonement for all the evil committed by all humanity in all ages.
      4. Three days after he died, God raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord and Christ.
      5. Through that death and resurrection, God announced the reality of eternal forgiveness, eternal redemption, the new birth, the newness of life, and his own sustaining grace.
      6. Our God is an awesome God.
    5. And then God took:
      1. People who despised each other–the Pharisees and Sadducees.
      2. People who hated each other–Jews and non-Jews.
      3. People who were totally ignorant of God’s inspired writings.
      4. People who thought they knew everything about God’s inspired writings.
      5. People who were completely ignorant of God’s work in Israel.
      6. People who worshipped idols.
      7. And people who worshipped him.
      8. He took all those people, and, from those who placed their trust in Jesus the Christ and were baptized into Jesus the Christ, he placed them in Christ , and made them all one saved people, one family, brothers and sisters, one church.
    6. Even after God did all this, they still had trouble learning to love and respect each other, they still argued and fought with each other, and they still had struggles because some had much knowledge and some had no knowledge.
      1. But they were still his people, his family, his church–for just one reason–he placed all of them in Christ.
      2. He did precisely the same thing for each one of them.
        1. He placed the sins of each one on the crucified body of Jesus.
        2. He forgave each one of them of all their sins.
        3. He cleansed each one of them in Jesus’ blood.
        4. He bought each one of them back from sin
        5. He purified each one of them and made them holy.
        6. He sustained each one of them everyday in his forgiveness and his grace, his goodness.
        7. And because of what He did for each one of them in Christ, they were his church, his family.
      3. Our God is an awesome God!
  4. And this awesome God:
    1. Who created the world and created us.
      1. Who worked through the weak and often evil family of Abraham.
      2. Who delivered Israel from Egypt and made them a nation.
      3. Who persevered through Israel’s wickedness, rebellion, and captivities.
      4. Who sent Jesus, who let him die on a cross, and who resurrected him from the dead.
      5. Who made a new, saved, spiritual family out of people who despised each other, and people who thought they knew everything, and people who knew almost nothing, and who had terrible prejudices.
      6. Who made this family, this church, by placing these people in Christ.
      7. This awesome God is still adding people to his family, is still expanding his church by working in the lives of people who are troubled, or do not agree, or have a lot of knowledge, or have little knowledge.
      8. And he is doing it in the same way he did it at the very beginning of the church:
        1. By placing each one of us in Christ.
        2. By making us all one in Christ.
        3. By placing each of our sins on the dying body of Jesus.
        4. By forgiving each one of us.
        5. By cleansing each one of us in the blood of Jesus.
        6. By purifying each one of us and making us holy.
        7. By sustaining each one of us every day with his grace and his goodness.

Our awesome God is no less awesome today than he was when he was at creation, or in the lives of Abraham’s family, or in his perseverance in Israel, and in his accomplishments in Jesus.

Our awesome God still works through human failure to accomplish his purposes.

He loves every one of us so much–there is not a single one of us he does not love. Our challenge is to love each other like our awesome God loves all of us.

Never forget that our awesome God always accomplishes his purposes through weak and imperfect people–not because of us, but because He is the awesome God.

Motives Matter

Posted by on December 8, 1996 under Sermons

Matthew 6:1-18

In human relationships, motives matter. We have understood that truth in our marriages, in our friendships, in our relationships with parents, and in the business world. First, consider the business world. This is a well-known statement: “There are no free lunches.” In the business world, if someone other than a friend takes you out for lunch, there is a business reason. There is a business motive for taking you to lunch.

Second, consider personal relationships. Those of you who are single, think with me for a moment. If someone that you hardly know of the opposite sex begins to send you a gift every week, how does that affect you? If you hardly know the person, a likely first reaction will be, “Why is he (she) sending me gifts?” As you continue to receive gifts week after week, the next likely reaction will be suspicion: “What does he (she) want?” If the gifts continue to come, and you still don’t know why you are receiving them, just receiving the gifts can become frightening. You likely will regard receiving a gift as an act of harassment. Gifts received for unknown motives are suspect.

Husbands, suppose we really “outdo ourselves” in being thoughtful, caring, and considerate to our wives, far beyond the bounds of our usual behavior. We know we are in trouble if she reacts to our uncommon consideration and asks, “Just why are you being so nice to me?” She wants to understand the motive behind our behavior. Wives, when (if?) we husbands show extraordinary kindness and attentiveness, what is the first question that enters your conscious thinking? Is it, “What does he want?” or, “What has he done?”

In every relationship context, motives are critical. The way we react to other people’s actions and deeds will almost always be determined by our perception of their motives.

Human motives are as important to God in our relationship with Him as motives are in our relationship with each other.

  1. Thus far in our examination of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, we have noted:
    1. Jesus began by giving his description of a righteous person. The righteous person:
      1. Recognizes his or her own spiritual poverty.
      2. Is grieved over that poverty.
      3. Is gentle or meek.
      4. Hungers and thirsts for righteousness.
      5. Is merciful.
      6. Has a pure heart.
      7. Is committed to promoting reconciliation.
      8. Will endure hardship and opposition for Jesus’ sake.
    2. Next, Jesus stated how the righteous person would function in an unrighteous society.
      1. He or she would be light.
      2. He or she would be a saving or preserving influence, like salt.

    (Transition: tonight, Jesus focuses us on the motives of a righteous person. Jesus emphasized that in being righteous, motives matter.)
  2. Jesus began with a warning: Do not perform godly acts for the purpose of bringing attention and praise to yourself; if you do, that is the only reward that you will receive.
    1. Let’s clearly understand the warning.
      1. The warning does not focus on the visibility of our good deeds, but on our personal motives for doing the good deeds.
        1. Remember, in this very same sermon, in chapter 5:16 Jesus has already said, Let your light shine before men in such a way as they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
        2. Our good works are to be open and obvious–we do not shun visibility.
        3. But we are not calculating in our good deeds; we do not perform them in a manner that promotes self rather than God.
      2. If we do good deeds and religious acts to win praise and promote ourselves, the praise and attention that we receive is our reward for what we do, and our only reward.
        1. The only reward that we will receive is human praise; there will be no reward from God.
        2. When we receive the praise we were seeking, we are at that moment paid in full.
        3. We got what we wanted; we achieved our objective; there is nothing further to be received from God.
      3. Jesus clearly illustrated his warning by using three common examples that occurred every day in their society. Example # 1: the practice of giving alms or giving assistance to the disabled.
        1. That is still an important good deed, an important religious deed in Arabic cultures and in a number of third world countries.
        2. It served a purpose close to the intent of our social security system.
          1. The handicapped and disabled must be cared for even in a poor society, and Israel was a poor society.
          2. It was the responsibility of the disabled to publicly ask for alms.
          3. It was a godly act, a good deed, to give something to those in need.
          4. There is a tremendous emphasis in the Old Testament on the importance of helping those in need.
          5. Jesus continued that emphasis in his teachings.
        3. You and I would view standing on the street asking for help from strangers as undignified and shameful, but it was the responsible thing to do then.
        4. The warning: when you give help to a needy person requesting your help either in the synagogue or on the street, do not give your help in a manner calculated to attract attention to yourself, or act for the purpose of gaining praise from others.
          1. To do so is an act of hypocrisy.
          2. Why?
          3. Because you are making a public declaration of concern for “this poor, unfortunate person” when your primarily concern is not for the person.
          4. You are primarily concerned about shaping and influencing other people’s perception of you.
          5. Since your real motive is to gain attention and praise, when you receive that attention and praise, you are paid in full.
        5. When you give help to another, do it quietly, in genuine concern for the person as an act of your devotion to God.
        6. People do not have to know what you have done for God to see what you have done.
      4. Example # 2 concerned personal prayers that were prayed in public (this is not speaking of assembly or group prayers where one person is leading a collective prayer).
        1. Praying private prayers publicly was a common, accepted practice that was so commonplace you likely were regarded to be odd if you did not do it.
          1. That was why a person went to the temple daily if he lived in Jerusalem.
          2. That was commonly a part of synagogue practices.
          3. It still occurs in Jerusalem every day at the Wailing Wall, the only remaining remnant of the temple.
        2. At some point that practice had evolved into at least some praying personal prayers aloud in public.
          1. It became a means of attracting attention to yourself as you prayed your personal prayers.
          2. If a person prayed his personal prayers aloud in public to attract attention and win praise, then he was paid in full when he received the attention and praise.
        3. Jesus said the person who did that was hypocritical.
          1. Why?
          2. He publicly presented himself as communicating with God, but his primary objective was creating an image for himself, not communicating with God.
        4. Jesus then presented some new emphases and concepts concerning personal prayers.
          1. Meaningless repetition does not impress God–that was an idolatrous concept.
          2. God is completely aware of our needs before we ask for His help; the objective of personal prayer is not to inform God.
          3. In personal prayer:
            1. Honor and praise God.
            2. Pray for God’s purposes to be achieved.
            3. Ask God to supply your physical needs (not your wants–prayer is not a tool to be used by our greed).
            4. Ask for forgiveness from God as you are willing to extend forgiveness to others.
            5. Ask God to guide you away from temptation and to deliver you from evil.
          4. This focuses on the basic concerns of the righteous person:
            1. Honoring God.
            2. Commitment to the will and purposes of God.
            3. Receiving basic physical necessities.
            4. Receiving forgiveness.
            5. Receiving guidance away from temptation.
            6. Receiving deliverance from evil.
          5. Jesus ended this emphasis with a sober admonition: forgive if you want God to forgive you.
      5. Example # 3 concerned the practice of fasting every week.
        1. The practice of weekly fasting arose in Israel as a means of declaring humility before God.
        2. In many past generations, Israelites suffered severe consequences because their pride made them stubborn before God.
        3. The primary message intended by weekly fasting was this: “God, I am not stubborn and I know my place. You don’t have to punish me to teach me my place.”
        4. But they perceived a problem with fasting as a private act: other people would not be aware that you were fasting.
          1. In the same spirit and with the same motives of the other two examples, it was important to make others aware that you were fasting.
          2. So they put flour on their faces and wore somber expressions to attraction attention to the fact that they were fasting.
          3. Jesus said the attention was their reward; they were paid in full.
        5. Again, he said such activity was an act of hypocrisy.
          1. Why?
          2. They gave the public appearance of humbling themselves; actually, what they were doing was an act of pride because they coveted the attention of others.
        6. If you are fasting as an expression of humility before God, don’t make your fasting apparent to others.
        7. God sees and accepts when people can’t see.

    Alms, prayers, and fasting were long established, unquestioned expressions of righteous commitment to a godly existence. Absolutely nothing was wrong with any of those three acts–unless they were performed for the wrong reason in wrong motives. Done for the right reason and right motives, they were godly acts. But done for the wrong reasons and motives they were ungodly acts that resulted in God’s rejection.

    Consider a couple of examples that relate more to our realities in religious practices.

  3. Example #1: a Christian has just arrived in a community and is establishing a new business in the area.
    1. His desires and his motives:
      1. He wants to establish the best and most profitable contacts in the area, so he chooses a congregation that has the greatest potential to help his business.
      2. He gets involved in that congregation in every high profile manner available to him.
      3. What he does is good–there is nothing wrong with his deeds and actions, but his primary motive is not serving the Lord, but building his business.
      4. Good deeds, good involvement, wrong motive.
      5. He builds his business; he accomplished his objective–paid in full.
    2. Taking tax credits for our contributions to the congregation.
      1. Is that wrong? Not to my understanding.
      2. In my personal judgment, it is a responsible act of good Christian stewardship.
        1. Personally, I can use more money for specific support of congregational projects and works if I accept tax credits for my contributions.
        2. I never want to stop growing as a better steward of all of God’s blessings, and I want to constantly grow in generosity.
        3. But there is a difference in a Christian using tax laws to be a generous, better steward, and a Christian using tax laws strictly as a good business decision.
        4. Regardless of our motives, the funds we give will benefit the congregation or the godly work, just as the giving of alms benefited the needy person regardless of the motive of the giver.
        5. But our personal motives will determine if our generosity is of spiritual benefit and reward to self.

We need to jump ahead in Jesus’ sermon to emphasize an important truth. If a Christian brother or sister is personally convinced that it is wrong for him or her to take a tax credit for his or her contributions, then he or she should not take it. I should not judge him in his decision, and he should not judge me in mine. At the beginning of chapter 7 Jesus addresses this truth.

One of many things neither you nor I can do is accurately determine and judge the motives of another person. God knows my motives, and if they honor him, he accepts them. God knows your motives, and if they honor him, he accepts them.

When it comes to motives, we each are responsible to be aware of our own; we each are responsible to honor our own consciences in a manner that is true to our motives; and we each are responsible not to pass judgment on each other’s motives.

We must never forget that in godly acts and deeds, motives matter.

Not When I Am In the Boat

Posted by on under Sermons

My Dad used to say that there was no such thing as minor surgery if you were talking about his surgery. He said, “Surgery can be minor if it is on someone else; but all surgery on me is major.”

I believe that reflects a perspective we all have. We will say that someone else’s problem is a minor problem; but if we are experiencing the same problem, it is a major problem. We will say that someone else’s crisis is a manageable crisis; but if we are experiencing a crisis, it is not a manageable crisis. We will say that someone else’s difficult situation has a simple solution; but if we are experiencing the same difficult situation, it is too complex for a simple solution.

Nowhere do we reflect this common perspective more than in our faith in Jesus Christ’s ability to help people. Quickly, emphatically, we will tell someone else, “Jesus Christ can help you with any problem or trial that you experience. There is simply nothing that Jesus cannot help you with.” Then we will encourage, even insist, that the person place his or her confidence in Jesus’ help and power. Yet, when we are struggling with any kind of problem or any form of trial, we do not function on that conviction and confidence. Then, when someone tries to encourage us to depend on Jesus’ help and power, we resist their encouragement. Sometimes we are offended by their encouragement.

  1. In the third chapter of the gospel of Luke, we are introduced to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Palestine.
    1. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John.
    2. Immediately after his baptism, he spent some time in the wilderness fasting and enduring some special temptations from Satan.
      1. We are told that Jesus returned to Galilee from his wilderness experience “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).
      2. The news about what Jesus was teaching and doing literally exploded throughout the district (Luke 4:14).
      3. Jesus’ personal popularity zoomed off the charts.
  2. The gospel of Luke immediately stresses Jesus’ teaching ministry.
    1. Jesus taught in the synagogues throughout the area and was praised by everyone (Luke 4:15).
      1. Among those synagogues was the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town (Luke 4:16-30).
        1. The lesson that he taught in his home congregation enraged those who attended–which included many people who knew him when he was a child.
        2. They were so upset at what he taught that in the emotion of the moment they were determined to kill him.
        3. A mob took him to a cliff just outside of town intending to throw him off the cliff.
        4. But when they arrived at the cliff, Jesus just turned around and walked through the angry mob as though they were not there.
      2. He went to the city of Capernaum and began teaching in their synagogue on Saturdays (Luke 4:31-37).
        1. The people present were amazed at his lessons and at his teaching style.
        2. One Saturday, a demon possessed man was in attendance.
        3. When he heard and saw Jesus, the demon began shouting at Jesus, “Why are you here? To destroy us? We know who you are–you are the holy one of God.”
        4. Jesus rebuked the demonic spirit, made it hush, or ordered it to leave the man.
          1. The spirit threw the man on the floor as it left his body, but it left him unharmed.
          2. Everyone present was astounded.
          3. Immediately they all began to discuss the fact that Jesus had the power to command demonic spirits to obey him, and they did.
        5. Shortly after this, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a high fever (Luke 4:38).
          1. Immediately, she got up and began serving them.
        6. That evening everyone in Capernaum who had sick or diseased people in their family brought their sick to Jesus, and he healed every one of them (Luke 4:40)
        7. One morning after that, Peter, a fisherman, had fished all night with his partners and caught nothing (Luke 5:1-8).
          1. On the sea of Galilee, they netted fish at night because the fish fed on the surface at night; in daylight, the fish went into deep water.
          2. After daylight, Jesus told Peter take his net and drop it in a specific spot.
          3. To be polite, Peter did–and he netted so many fish that the net began to break.
        8. Jesus healed a man of leprosy, a disease that everyone regarded to be incurable (Luke 5:12-15).
        9. He instantly restored a paralyzed man to perfect health; in fact, the man walked away carrying his stretcher (Luke 5:18-25).
        10. A Roman military officer who had a dying servant came to Jesus (Luke 7:2-10).
          1. He was so concerned about his servant that he asked Jesus to heal the servant.
          2. Jesus said that he would go with the man to his house and heal the servant, but the Roman officer said that was not necessary.
          3. He trusted Jesus’ power; he said that he knew that Jesus could heal the servant without going to his house–he was not worthy of Jesus entering his house.
          4. And Jesus did! He healed the man long distance without ever seeing or speaking to the man.
        11. Jesus was on a journey and came near the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17).
          1. As he neared the town, he met a funeral procession.
          2. A widow’s only son had died, virtually guaranteeing that she would face a destitute future.
          3. Jesus felt deep compassion for the grieving mother and raised her dead son to life right there on the road as they were going to the cemetery.
        12. Later, he cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2).
  3. Now, I want you to pretend with me just a moment: let’s suppose that someone who has not heard Jesus teach or seen any of Jesus’ miracles walks up to his disciples.
    1. They are standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, as Luke 8:22 states, and Jesus is close by talking to and working with people.
      1. The disciples know Jesus will leave soon, so they stay close to the boat.
    2. Let’s suppose that this man asks the disciples, “Is Jesus for real? Does he actually have the power to do all the things people say that he is doing? Or is it just exaggeration? Is it all talk and coincidence?”
      1. The disciples reply:
        1. “You must be kidding! Where have you been?”
        2. All twelve of them begin talking at once.
        3. “We can understand that it is hard for you to believe what you have heard, but we have seen these things with our own eyes.”
        4. “He walked through an angry mob that was determined to kill him, and no one even touched him.”
        5. “We have seen him cast out so many demons that we have lost count.”
        6. “We have seen him heal every single sick person brought to him, and it did not matter what the sickness or disease was or who had it.”
        7. “You should have been there the morning that he told Peter where to drop his fishing net–Peter caught so many fish that the net began to break.”
        8. “We saw him heal a man of leprosy, and the man’s skin was immediately as healthy and clean as it could be.”
        9. “We saw him heal a paralyzed man–the man actually walked off carrying his stretcher!”
        10. “We were there when he healed a man long distance–never saw the man, never touched the man, just healed him!”
        11. “We were standing right by him on the road to Nain when he raised a man from the dead–he stopped the funeral procession and raised the man to life!”
        12. “Jesus has the power to do anything–there is nothing that Jesus can’t do!”
  4. Now consider what actually happened in Luke 8:22-25.
    1. Jesus said to these twelve disciples, “Get in the boat and let’s cross the lake.”
    2. So he and the twelve got into the boat and launched it.
      1. As they started, the lake was smooth and the wind was calm.
      2. Jesus was exhausted from all of his people work, so he went to sleep on a cushion.
      3. Sudden, fierce storms could arise on the Sea of Galilee, and one did.
        1. A gale force wind blasted down the lake and instantly churned up white caps that were swamping the boat.
        2. The boat was taking on water so fast that all the disciples were convinced that they were going to die within a matter of minutes.
        3. They woke Jesus up shouting, “We are going to die!”
        4. Jesus woke up, told the wind to be still and the water to be calm, and instantly the lake was as smooth as glass without a puff of wind blowing.
        5. And he turned to the disciples and asked, “Where is your faith?”
        6. And the disciples were terrified, not of the storm that had stopped, but of the man in the boat who stopped the storm.
  5. Why? Why were they suddenly afraid of Jesus? Why were they amazed at his stilling the storm? With all the ways they had witnessed Jesus use his power, why were they amazed that he had stopped a storm?
    1. Why? Because they were in the boat; because it was their storm.
      1. All the miracles they had witnessed–casting out demons, healing sickness and disease, healing a paralytic, healing long distance, raising a man from the dead–those were all someone else’s storms.
      2. On all those occasions they were merely spectators.
      3. Not this time–this time it was their life, their death, and their storm.
      4. They had total confidence in Jesus’ ability to take care of someone else’s storm.
      5. But it was an entirely different issue to believe that Jesus could take care of their storm.
      6. They did not believe that the man who could cure diseases, cast out demons, and raise dead people back to life, could do anything about wind and waves–especially the wind and waves that were threatening their lives.
    2. I am afraid that many of us are just like the twelve.
      1. Someone says to us:
        1. “We are really having family problems right now;” and we say, “Jesus can help you–he really can; please let him.”
        2. “I have really made a mess out of my life;” and we say, “It is never too late to let Jesus help you.”
        3. “Everything around me is falling apart;” and we say, “Jesus can get you through this.”
        4. “I am in the biggest crisis I have ever experienced;” and we say, “No crisis is too big for Jesus.”
      2. Then we have family problems, or find our lives in a mess, or see our world falling apart, or have a huge crisis; and we say, “I don’t think Jesus can help me with my situation.”
    3. I want you to focus on two lessons that come from inside that boat.
      1. Lesson # 1: You can’t sink a boat that has Jesus in it.
        1. You can’t sink a life that has Jesus in it.
        2. You can’t sink a congregation that has Jesus in it.
      2. Lesson # 2: Jesus stills storms, but Jesus does not bail boats.
        1. When Jesus stilled the storm, the boat still had a dangerous amount of water in it.
        2. Jesus stilled the storm, but it says nothing about him bailing the water out of the boat.
        3. Jesus is in charge of storm control; disciples are in charge of bailing out the boat.

When the disciples experienced the direct benefit of Jesus’ power in the face of certain tragedy, in fear and awe they asked, “Who is this man?” I assure you, the first time you experience the direct benefit of Jesus’ power in the face of certain tragedy, you, too, in fear and awe will ask yourself, “Who is this man?”