When Needs Connect to Power

Posted by on February 23, 1997 under Sermons

Several years ago a man started a rural business in a tiny community. His tiny farming community was located 150 miles from any town of any size. So he began by stocking things in small amounts that he knew the people in his area needed–a little feed, a little fertilizer, a few basic farming supplies.

He was six foot four, weighed a lean but muscular 240 pounds, and was strong as an ox. When a truck arrived with his supplies, he moved everything by hand. He just picked it up and carried to where he wanted it.

His business grew. Since his was the most convenient place to get supplies, his orders grew bigger and bigger. For example, when he started, a thousand pounds of feed was a huge order. Now he was ordering feed by the tons. The same thing happened with all his supplies–volume really increased. He was still strong as an ox, but it was close to impossible to move all those supplies by hand.

One day a driver said, “I can’t believe you don’t have a forklift.” He didn’t know anything about a forklift. The driver explained, “A forklift would move all this stuff wherever you wanted it in a tenth of the time it is taking you now.”

So the man ordered a one-ton forklift by phone. When it was delivered, the person who delivered it assumed that the man knew how to use it. He showed him how to start it, how to run it, how to raise the lift, and how to place a load. He demonstrated with five sacks of feed.

The man who bought the lift was amazed and thrilled. He would manually place five one-hundred pound bags on the lift, drive the bags where he wanted them, manually stack them, and go get five more bags. And he was elated that he could do the job so much faster and easier.

One day the driver arrived with an especially large order of feed. He knew the man had bought the forklift, so he asked if he could use it to off load the feed. The man was dumbfounded as he watched the driver move this huge order, lifting pallet by pallet. He was astounded to realized that he had access to all that power and did not even know it was there.

Many of us in our prayer life are too much like the man hauling five hundred pounds of feed on a one-ton forklift. Each time we discover the power of prayer on a higher level, we are astounded when we realize that we had all that power available and did not even know it was there.

  1. Before we consider the power of prayer, I want to make what I regard to be some important observations.
    1. Observation #1: Effective prayer is dependent on heart and attitude, not on procedure.
      1. If you have a four-year-old, an eight-year-old, and an eleven-year-old, you will listen to, understand, and respond to each one of them.
        1. They each will have different vocabularies, differing abilities to communicate, and different levels of thinking and awareness.
        2. But you are quite capable of listening to each one of them on his or her own level and with understanding responding to that child’s true needs.
        3. If you have more than one child in your family, every one of them is different, and–unless they are identical twins–they have totally different levels of communication and comprehension.
        4. Having children of different ages challenges our abilities to listen and understand, but rarely does it exceed our abilities.
      2. God is a better parent to His children than we ever dreamed of becoming.
        1. He understands what we are asking and what we need when we do not even understand ourselves.
        2. He understands what we are trying to say when we don’t even know how to say it.
      3. The key to effective prayer is a matter of heart and attitude.
        1. If the heart and attitude are right, God is touched.
        2. Procedures and technicalities are never the key to effective prayer.
      4. Jesus made that point eloquently in the parable about the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
    2. Observation # 2: We must understand and hold a critical awareness about relationship if we are to pray effectively.
      1. God does not exist to be our servant; we exist to be God’s servant.
        1. God is our Father, not our servant.
        2. We must approach Him as a Father that we love and respect dearly.
        3. We must never approach Him as though it is His obligation to do as we instruct Him to do.
        4. He exalts the humble; he turns a deaf ear to the egotistical.
      2. We did not make God; God made us.
        1. God is not our creation.
        2. You and I are God’s creation.
        3. God does not depend on us–for anything; his purposes will come to pass with or without us.
        4. We are dependent on him–for everything; our true purposes cannot come to pass without him.
    3. Observation # 3: God commonly works in unexpected ways to do the unexpected.
      1. When God had the prostitute Rahab rescued from Jericho , he allowed her to be one of the ancestors through whom the Christ came; God was working in an unexpected way to do the unexpected.
      2. When God sent Jonah with a message for the cruel, vicious, idolatrous nation of Assyria, God was working in an unexpected way to do the unexpected.
      3. When Jesus worked through a Samaritan woman who had been divorced five times and was living with a man to whom she was not married, God was working in an unexpected way doing the unexpected.
      4. When Jesus when to the home of Zachaeus, a wealthy tax collector who was a social untouchable in the city of Jericho, God was working in an unexpected way doing the unexpected.
      5. When Jesus told the thief who was dying on a cross beside his cross that the thief would be with Jesus in paradise that day, God was working in an unexpected way doing the unexpected.
      6. God has never stopped working in unexpected ways doing the unexpected.
  2. There are so many examples of the power God makes available to us through prayer that it is difficult to pick just a few. I want to call your attention to two.
    1. The first example I call to your attention is Hannah in 1 Samuel chapters one and two.
      1. Hannah’s husband was a polygamist; Hannah was one of two wives married to Elkanah.
      2. Elkanah was a devout Israelite.
        1. He was very conscientious in making a yearly trip to the tabernacle to offer sacrificial worship to God.
        2. He loved Hannah, was very kind to her, and was very generous to her.
      3. But Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife, took the occasion of this annual trip to the tabernacle to torment Hannah.
        1. Peninnah had children–she had been blessed by God; she was fulfilling her role in Israel.
        2. Hannah had no children, so when the family made their annual trip to worship at the tabernacle, Peninnah made it an occasion to remind Hannah that she had not been blessed by God.
        3. She would provoke Hannah bitterly, deliberately irritating her because she had no children (1:6).
      4. One year she tormented Hannah so much that Hannah could do nothing but cry–she could not even eat.
        1. Elkanah lovingly tried to comfort her, but without success.
        2. Hannah privately went to the tabernacle in great distress and prayed to the Lord as she wept bitterly.
        3. In her prayer she made a vow: “If you will bless me with a son, Lord, I will give him back to you.”
        4. She prayed silently, but she moved her lips as she prayed.
        5. Eli, the high priest, saw her weeping and moving her lips and concluded she was drunk, and he chastised her for being drunk.
        6. She respectfully explained the she was oppressed in her spirit and that she was pouring out her soul before the Lord.
        7. Eli told her to go in peace and said, “May the Lord grant your petition.”
      5. In less than a year Hannah had a son.
      6. When her son, Samuel, was three years old she took him to the tabernacle and dedicated him to the Lord.
      7. He became one of the great prophets and great leaders of Israel in one of the most evil, troubled periods in Israel’s history.
      8. It happened because Hannah prayed to God.
    2. The second example I call to your attention is Jesus when he prayed the last night of his earthly life.
      1. At no time in Jesus’ life do you see the reality of his humanity as clearly as you do on the last night of his life.
      2. When he entered the garden to pray, Matthew tells us that he was grieved and distressed (Matthew 26:37).
        1. He told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death” [I am as distressed as I would be if I were actually dying] (Matthew 26:38).
        2. He prayed three times, pleading with God to remove the necessity of his death.
        3. But he also yielded to the will of his Father.
      3. Mark describes Jesus’ mental state when he entered the garden to pray as being very distressed and troubled (Mark 14:33).
        1. Mark also records that Jesus told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mark 14:34).
        2. Mark records Jesus saying in one of his prayers, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
      4. Luke says of that evening, that “being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44).
      5. You ask, “Where is the power in that prayer? He died. The death was not removed.”
        1. The power is seen in the way he surrendered to his captors and healed Malchus’ ear.
        2. The power is seen in his demeanor in the Jewish trials.
        3. The power is seen in the way he interacted with Pilate.
        4. The power is seen in the way he faced and endured death.
        5. The power is seen in the way he treated everyone while he was in the agony of one of the most painful forms of death ever invented.
        6. The power is seen in everything Jesus did after he prayed.
      6. God had the power to take the worst things that Satan could do and create an eternal Savior.
        1. He gave Jesus the strength to succeed in his sacrificial death.
        2. He raised Jesus from the dead.
        3. He made him Lord and Christ.
  3. May I call two scriptures to your attention that affirm the enormous power that is available to us as children of God.
    1. In Romans 8, Paul was giving encouragement to the Christians in Rome who had endured and were enduring discouragement and suffering because they were Christians.
      1. The struggle was real.
      2. To me, Romans 8:31-39 is one of the most powerful and most encouraging scriptures ever written to Christians.
      3. In verses 31 and 32 Paul asks:
        If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own son, but delivered him up for us all, how will He not also with him freely give us all things?
      4. There is no power superior to God’s.
        1. Nothing can defeat Him.
        2. We belong to the winner who can not be conquered.
      5. How can we doubt that He will respond in any way necessary if He has already allowed His own son to die for us?
    2. The second statement was made to the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 3:20-21:
      Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
      1. You cannot have a need or make a request that exceeds God’s power to be of help.
      2. He can do more than we can even imagine according to the power at work within us–right now.
      3. That is the power that keeps us in a saved condition, that forgives us, that sanctifies and purifies us, and that sustains our relationship with God.

There is no condition that Satan can create in your world or your life that God cannot work in. If God could take the crucifixion and create a Savior, God can take anything that happens in your life and produce your salvation.

Never conclude when terrible things happen in your life that God is not at work. He is not causing the terrible things, but he is working through those terrible things to advance your salvation. I have finally understood that when I am going through the most trying times of my life, God is doing His best and most powerful work. God’s power is most evident in my life when I am at my weakest.

The Power of Whole Person Love

Posted by on under Sermons

The most powerful force in human life is love. Love will motivate people in ways that nothing else can. A husband who loves his wife will do things for her that he will do for no one else. Love will endure in ways that nothing else can. Nothing can equal the commitment of a loving mother to her child. Love will make sacrifices that nothing else will consider. Look at the sacrifices a loving spouse makes for his or her mate who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Love always hopes. Look at the loving parents who live in the hope that their addicted child will someday reach out for help.

Love advances every good thing into something that defies belief. Forgiveness is good. In any context, forgiveness functions in amazing ways. But the forgiveness that is rooted in love defies belief. Mercy is good. In any context, mercy functions in amazing ways. But the mercy that rises from love defies belief. Compassion is good. In any context, compassion functions in amazing ways. But the compassion that springs from love defies belief.

Answer this question. What is the most powerful form of love that exists? Of all forms of love, which one is the greatest? It is God Himself who revealed to us the most powerful form of love. The most powerful form of love that exists is “whole person” love.

  1. God revealed “whole person” love by showing us His love for us.
    1. God loves us with His whole being–what an incredible understanding!
      1. Because God loves us:
        1. He chooses to show us mercy instead of giving us the wrath we deserve.
        2. He chooses to forgive us instead of punishing us for our failures and mistakes.
        3. He chooses to show us patience, giving us time to repent rather than demanding that we be immediately accountable for the evil we do.
        4. He chooses to treat us with kindness instead of justice.
        5. He chose to make sacrifices for us instead of being practical and cutting His losses.
      2. God can and does make these choices to our benefit because He loves us with His whole being.
    2. In our response to His love, God expects us to love Him with our “whole person.”
      1. That is God’s greatest desire.
        1. That is what God had always wanted–from the moment that he created Adam and Eve.
        2. That has always been the only acceptable response to God’s love.
        3. Heaven will be filled with people who love God with their whole person.
      2. Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 introduced Israel to this expectation.
        1. With God’s direction and through God’s instruction, Moses:
          1. Secured the release of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
          2. Led Israel across the Red Sea to escape the Egyptian army.
          3. For forty years he led them in a hostile wilderness.
          4. Twice he led them to the border of the country God promised to give them.
        2. The last time he led them to that border he was a very old man, about 120 years old.
          1. The Old Testament book named Deuteronomy is Moses’ last instructions and directions to the nation before he dies.
          2. It is a review of God’s instructions and expectations.
          3. Listen to this statement:
            The Lord our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
      3. Hundreds of years later the New Testament Gospel of Luke (10:25-28) tells us that a lawyer approached Jesus asking, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
        1. That kind of lawyer was not the same occupation of the lawyers of today.
          1. He was an expert in Jewish law, in religious law, in what we call the law of Moses.
          2. His question was not a serious question–he asked Jesus a religious question designed to put Jesus to the test.
          3. He was the expert in religious law; Jesus was an uneducated teacher from the country.
        2. Jesus returned his question to him: “You are the expert; how do you read the law? What answer does the law give to your question?”
          1. Since the man was knowledgeable and regarded himself to be the expert, he answered without hesitation.
          2. This was his answer: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).
        3. Jesus responded: “You have given the correct answer; do this and you will live.”
      4. The Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 22:34-40) tells us that another lawyer approached Jesus during the last week of his life.
        1. This lawyer was a part of the group of Pharisees who were determined to discredit Jesus and turn the people against him.
          1. They had already plotted together to try to trap Jesus in something that he said (Matthew 22:15).
          2. Each attempt was very unsuccessful, so the lawyer asked a question that he hoped would trip Jesus.
          3. The question: “Teacher, of all the commandments from God recorded in the law that Moses gave us, which one of those commandments is the greatest commandment?”
          4. By greatest commandment, he meant which one commandment of all the commandments that God gave us is the most important.
        2. Jesus answered without hesitation:
          ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
        3. Then Jesus made this astounding statement: “On these two commandments depend the whole law and the Prophets.”
        4. These two commandments stand as the foundation of every commandment given by God given to Israel!
      5. During this same week, the last week of Jesus’ life, the Gospel of Mark (Mark 12:28-34) tells us that a scribe was listening to all the attempts to discredit Jesus.
        1. A scribe was a person who wrote; one of his most important jobs was to produce copies. Likely this scribe was one of the men who helped make copies of scripture.
          1. Since the printing press would not be invented for hundreds of years, all copies of scripture had to be hand copied.
          2. This man was likely one of the people who helped do that.
          3. The very exact, deliberate process of copying scripture would make him very knowledgeable about what scripture said.
        2. One day this scribe was listening as different groups were politely asking Jesus questions that were intended to make Jesus look foolish or stupid.
          1. He was impressed with Jesus’ answers, for Jesus never sounded foolish, uninformed, or stupid.
          2. He was impressed with the way Jesus handled the situation.
        3. So this scribe asks a serious question: “What is the most important commandment God has given us?”
        4. Jesus answered:
          The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. ‘ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
        5. Then Jesus said, “There is no other commandment greater than these.”
        6. The scribe agreed. In fact, the scribe declared that these two commandments were more important than the commandments to offer sacrificial worship to God.
        7. When Jesus heard the scribe answer so intelligently, he told the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
  2. I want you to think with me for a minute.
    1. What can you do to give the greatest possible obedience to God?
      1. Of everything that is within human ability to do, what is the most important obedience you can give?
      2. What obedience does God see as being the most significant obedience we can give?
    2. We give the greatest possible obedience when we obey the greatest commands, or, we give the most important possible obedience when we obey the most important commands.
      1. When we love God with “whole person” love, we are rendering the greatest obedience possible.
      2. When we love God with “whole person” love, we will express that love in loving others as we love ourselves.
      3. There is no obedience we can offer that is more important than that obedience.
      4. I am not suggesting that because we obey these two commandments we can ignore any of God’s other instructions.
        1. But these two commands are the foundation for all obedience.
        2. If we obey all other commands but these two, we have nothing.
      5. Why? “Whole person” love is the most accurate reflection of God that we are capable of reflecting.
      6. The scribe understood that “whole person” love is more important than obeying worship commands.
        1. The scribe was not suggesting that worshipping God was unimportant; he was acknowledging that in the list of spiritual priorities, loving God is number one on the list.
        2. That sounds so strange to us that it sounds like it just could not be correct–we have been told many times through the years that worship is number one on the list of spiritual priorities.
        3. It is possible to do everything we are instructed to do in worship without loving God–we can cross every “t” and dot every “i” and do it without love.
        4. But it is impossible to love God with your “whole person” and not worship God.
        5. Worship coming from love is powerful; worship without love is without meaning.
        6. Jesus even said that “whole person” love for God and loving people as we love ourselves is the highway to heaven.
      7. Paul wrote in Romans 13:8,10:
        Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
        Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
  3. I personally do not believe that it is possible to exaggerate the power and the importance of “whole person” love.
    1. Nothing is needed more desperately right now than for us to allow God to teach us how to love with the “whole person,” and then for us to love God with the “whole person.”
      1. When you see marriages that are truly successful, you are witnessing “whole person” love. You are witnessing a person love someone else as much as he or she loves self.
        1. In truly successful marriages there is communication, kindness, supportiveness, consideration, compassion, unselfishness, sacrifice, joy, respect, appreciation, consideration, mercy, and forgiveness.
        2. Those things exist only where there is “whole person” love.
      2. When you see exceptional, enduring friendships, you are witnessing whole person love. You are watching someone love another person as much as he or she loves self.
        1. In an exceptional friendship that endures there is trust, respect, appreciation, kindness, empathy, consideration, the keeping of confidences, joy, kindness, generosity, and supportiveness.
        2. Those things only exist where there is “whole person” love.
      3. When you see extraordinary parent-child relationships, you are witnessing “whole person” love. You are witnessing parents and children love the other as self is loved.
        1. In the parent you see nurturing, compassion, forgiveness, encouragement, communication, constructive discipline, support in trials, assistance in failure, compliments in success, reasonable expectations, and a constant attention to education in life and values.
        2. In the child you see honor, respect, confidence, dependence, awareness that affection and support are unconditional, and a never-failing confidence in the fact that the child is important and significant.
        3. Those things only exist where there is “whole person” love.
      4. When you see quality Christian relationships, you are witnessing “whole person” love. You are watching people who love others as much as they love themselves.
        1. There are Christian relationships in which the persons could not be closer if they had been born in the same family.
        2. The love they have for each other, the support they give others, the understanding they share, the bond that exists between heart, mind, and soul are so unusual that a person has few such relationships in life.
        3. That exists only where there is “whole person” love.
      5. When you see an exceptional congregation, you are witnessing “whole person” love. You are witnessing people who are committed to loving others as much as they love themselves.
        1. In such a congregation there is a spirit, an attitude, a state of heart and of mind that you can actually feel.
        2. It is so caring, so positive, so genuine, people want to be a part of that community of Christians.
        3. These people don’t just meet a couple or three times a week and go their separate ways–they love being together, talking, sharing, and laughing–and they love helping, encouraging, and lifting up.
        4. They as quickly cry together as they laugh together.
        5. They reach out to others–they are not a closed family but an open community.
        6. They are hungry to make strangers quickly feel welcome, to make newcomers feel a part, to lift up the spirits of the discouraged, to help bear burdens, and to encourage.
        7. They find joy in each other just as they find it in God.
        8. That exists only where there is “whole person” love.

Whole person love is the most powerful force on earth. It is the most powerful force on earth because it is the finest reflection of God on earth. It can be the most powerful, positive force in your life. If it is, it will change every relationship in your life.

I Want . . .

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

“I want to draw closer to God than I have ever been. I want Jesus to exercise greater influence in my life. I want God’s Spirit to live in my mind and heart. I want to have more friends and better relationships. I want to increase the joy and happiness in my salvation.”

Wonderful! All of that can begin with one simple step. It can begin to happen in just one hour a week. By scheduling an hour a week, you can begin improving your relationship with God, Christ, and God’s Spirit and you can make friends and build relationships. The result will be increased joy and happiness in your salvation.

“Great! That’s an incredible opportunity! What do I do?” Attend a Sunday morning Bible class. A variety of study opportunities are offered. Numerous needs will be addressed in the classes.

Our spiritual needs are not identical. Our spiritual concerns are not identical. Our life crises are not identical. We seek to offer quality Bible classes that target our diverse adult needs. Each class will pursue a better understanding of God’s message in His Word.

Do you want to be closer to God? Increase Jesus’ influence in your life? Give God’s Spirit a greater place in your mind and heart? Develop more friendships? Build quality relationships? Increase joy and happiness in your salvation? Be a part of a class! SEE YOU IN BIBLE CLASS!

God, I Can’t Hear You!

Posted by on February 16, 1997 under Sermons

One of the more difficult realities all of us must deal with is the reality of failed expectations. In virtually every area of our lives we have expectations. Many of our expectations are very important to us. Our expectations are rooted in our hopes. Only when we are completely without hope do we have no expectations.

One of life’s common experiences is for our expectations to fail to materialize. Expectations can fail to materialize for many reasons. Sometimes we expect the impossible. Sometimes we expect too much. Sometimes we have no reason for our expectation. Sometimes our expectation is no more than a wish.

Our expectations are so important to us that every failed expectation causes pain. The mildest reaction we have to a failed expectation is disappointment. The most common reaction to a failed expectation is depression. Severe reactions to failed expectations are hopelessness and a loss of faith.

Failed expectations seriously damage relationships. They severely damage a friendship, a marriage, a parent-child relationship, and a relationship with God.

There is a major assault on our relationship with God when God does not meet our expectations. Perhaps prayer is the most common reason for our concluding that God has failed to meet our expectations. We are urged to pray. We are urged to pray in confidence. We are urged to trust God to hear and respond to our prayers. Because we pray, we expect. When what we expect does not occur, we may be disappointed, or we may be depressed, or we may lose faith because we lose hope. When we pray and our expectations crash, if God is responding, we can’t hear Him.

  1. We are given many assurances that are based on our trusting God in prayer.
    1. Let’s look at some of the common assurances.
      1. Jesus made this statement in a sermon to his disciples in Matthew 7:7, 8:
        Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.
      2. Jesus is speaking to his twelve disciples in Matthew 18.
        1. He is answering a question that they asked.
        2. He has just assured them that whatever they bound or loosed on earth would be bound or loosed in heaven.
        3. Then he said to them in verse 19:
          Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven.
      3. In Matthew 21 Jesus is again having a conversation with his twelve disciples in verse 18.
        1. At Jesus’ word, a fig tree withered and died.
        2. The next day the twelve were amazed to see the tree withered and asked how the tree withered so quickly.
        3. Jesus explained that they had to have the faith that did not doubt.
        4. Then he assured the twelve in verse 22:
          And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.
      4. In John 14 Jesus gave his final words and instructions to the twelve disciples just hours before his betrayal and arrest.
        1. Much of what he said to them was offered as assurance and encouragement.
        2. In verse 13, he told them:
          And whatever you ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
      5. Then there is the parable in Luke 18 beginning in verse 1 when Jesus encouraged his disciples to always pray, and not to lose heart. In verse 7 Jesus asks:
        Now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?
    2. The New Testament letters to congregations and to Christian individuals contain many statements about prayerfulness.
      1. The authors often declare their prayerfulness.
      2. Some of Paul’s letters contain prayers he offered for those people.
      3. Christians were urged to pray.
    3. It is important to understand each statement in context.
      1. I do not conclude that the promises that Jesus made specifically to his twelve disciples are made to all Christians.
      2. However, there is the undeniable assurance that God responds to our request.
        1. If we place our confidence in Christ and God, we pray in faith expecting an answer.
        2. When we think we do not receive an answer, our expectations are often shattered.
        3. Shattered expectations can severely damage our faith.
    4. How are we to look at those times when we cannot hear God’s answer?
      1. That is a very complex question.
      2. I want to examine just one part of the answer this evening by examining a Scripture concerning prayer that we commonly give too little attention.
  2. Please take a Bible and turn with me to James 4:1-10.
    1. Follow me by looking at the passage as I discuss it.
      1. Verse one begins with two questions.
        1. What causes us (I presume, in context, Christians) to quarrel so much?
          1. Obviously, he is writing to some Christians who fight with each other.
          2. Obviously, the quarreling is not an evidence of their godliness.
        2. Do you not realize that the sources of our pleasures are the basis of our conflicts?
      2. Verse two:
        1. You have consuming desires but those desires are never fulfilled, never satisfied.
        2. Those unsatisfied desires motivate you to kill (destroy?) each other.
        3. He is talking about the fact that these Christians are spiritually destructive to each other.
          1. You envy what the other has, but you cannot acquire it.
          2. So you fight and quarrel because you cannot have it.
        4. The reason you don’t have it is because you don’t ask God for it (pray!).
        5. Anticipated response:
          1. “Is that the reason I don’t have it? If all I have to do to get it is pray, then I’ll ask for it.”
          2. “God, let me have it; give me what I want.”
      3. Verse three: When you ask for it, God does not give it to you because your motive is wrong.
        1. You want it for the wrong purpose.
        2. Your concern is your own pleasure.
        3. You are asking, wanting, because you want to invest in your pleasure.
      4. Verse 4 states God and the ungodliness of this existence represent absolute opposites.
        1. God and godlessness in this existence are as opposite as total darkness and brilliant, pure light.
        2. They are enemies of each other; they cannot coexist; one must dominate.
        3. Either the darkness will consume the light, or the light will consume the darkness.
        4. To belong to God and to flirt with the ungodliness of this existence is to commit spiritual adultery as a Christian.
        5. That is unfaithfulness of the highest magnitude.
        6. To be a friend to the ungodliness of this existence is within itself an act of hostility toward God.
        7. It is impossible to befriend both.
      5. Verse 5 is a difficult verse.
        1. I understand that it is also a difficult verse to translate.
        2. Perhaps he is saying that even though they are ungodly in their desires and are consumed by their hunger for pleasure, God still yearns for them to belong to Him.
      6. Verse 6 states that God’s goodness is great enough to care for this situation–as bad as their motives and desires are, the situation is not impossible.
        1. His limitless goodness that gave us Jesus on the cross is adequate.
        2. His limitless goodness that paid in full the redemption price for all sin is adequate.
      7. Verses 6 through 10 state six things they can do to have access to the goodness of God.
        1. They can turn loose of their pride (which is causing their quarrels and wars) and be humble with each other. God responds to the humble.
        2. They can be submissive to God.
          1. Who was in control?
          2. Since the issue was “my pleasures,” the person was.
          3. In his prayers and his life, he was primarily concerned about self, about “my joy,” about “what I want.”
          4. He was not primarily concerned about God or God’s desires.
        3. They can resist Satan in their personal lives.
          1. When Satan is resisted, he flees.
          2. Satan is a deceiver, a discourager, an illusionist, not a confrontational fighter.
          3. The problem is that most Christians want to resist Satan everywhere but within their own lives.
          4. We get fired up about fighting evil “out there”; but we often ignore the war against evil that should be going on “in here.”
        4. They can get as close to God as choice and decision permit.
          1. “If you choose to come as close as you can to God,
          2. “Then God will come even closer than that to you.”
        5. They could grieve over their quarreling, the destructive treatment of each other, their friendship with the ungodly existence, and their devotion to their own pleasures. “Stop finding your joy in the problem!”
        6. They could humble themselves before God Himself. “Let God do the exalting instead of you attempting to exalt yourself.”
      8. Their problems:
        1. Quarreling.
        2. Devoting themselves to their desires for pleasure.
        3. Destructive treatment of each other.
        4. Envy.
        5. Friendship with the ungodly existence.
      9. Their keys to accessing God’s goodness:
        1. Humility toward each other.
        2. Submissiveness before God.
        3. Resisting Satan in their lives.
        4. Closeness to God.
        5. Grief over their present condition.
        6. Humility before God.

Please notice that all this makes a powerful statement on prayer and failed expectations. They had two problems. The first: they simply did not pray. The second: when they prayed, they had ungodly desires and ungodly motives.

Discussing communication with God is a complex discussion. We dare not oversimplify it. James 4 addresses an assumption that we need to correct. Physical well-being and pleasurable desires are extremely important to us on this earth. Because they are so important to us, we assume that they are also one of God’s top priorities. We assume that our having what we want and enjoy in this life is one of God’s great concerns. We assume that God wants us to be happy on this earth (by our concept of happiness). We assume God places great importance on fulfilling our physical and material desires.

Those are incorrect assumptions. God seeks our happiness for eternity, not on earth. God’s desires and purposes for us far exceed our physical and material desires and ambitions. When our prayers focus primarily on our physical and material desires, we have a wrong focus and wrong motives.

What Are You Trying to Prove?

Posted by on under Sermons

Four or five times a week I work out at a gym. John Glidewell graciously and patiently allows me to workout with him. This is not a new experience. I been involved in exercise programs for over 20 years.

Why? Why exercise all that time? Why go to a gym and get into a physical fitness program? Why pay someone to sweat and strain and get sore? Different people have different reasons–and there are many, many reasons. Let me note just three reasons.

Some people work out to compete or to prepare for some form of competition. If you work out at the gym to compete with other people who work out, you will always meet someone who is stronger, bigger, and better developed than you are.

Some people work out to feel better about themselves. They use exercise to build their self-esteem, self-image, or self-confidence. That has merit. But it also has risk. With age and time, we lose physical ability. If we completely invest our concept of self in our physical bodies, we face a major crisis when our bodies decline.

Some people work out for the sake of their health. They want to become and to be the healthiest that they can be.

I knew before I began to work out that I had no interest in competing with anyone. I surely am glad I realized that! Competing is not an option for me! Sometimes I struggle to lift the bar with no weight on it! But this is true: if I could lift ten pounds more than someone, that would not make me more significant than that person.

I also realized that I did not want to define my person with my body. With my body, that is also fortunate! My body is just the house I live in while I am on this earth. “Me” is the person who resides in that house. “Me” will continue to live after this body dies.

Physically, I wanted to be the healthiest person that I can become. I want to be the healthiest I can be because I want to use my life to its fullest. There are many things I yet want to do with my life, and a healthy body is critical to doing those things.

Making a long term commitment to working out is the commitment to becoming and being. That becoming and being is based on a number of discoveries. Each discovery opens a door to new possibilities.

In that there is an important parallel between the long term commitment to exercise and the long term commitment to being a Christian.

  1. In the New Testament, the Christians who were the church at Colossae had difficulty understanding a basic truth about Christian existence. Paul talked to them about their misunderstanding in Colossians 3:5-11.
    1. They had a hard time understanding that their existence before they became Christians and their existence after they became Christians were contrasting existences.
    2. The person each of them was before becoming a Christian and the person each of them was after becoming a Christian were distinctly different persons.
      1. When they became Christians, they did not become members of a club, or a fraternity, or a social organization–it was not a membership thing, it was a becoming thing.
      2. Becoming a Christian was much more than changing habits or accepting responsibilities.
      3. As a Christian person, he or she actually became something that never existed before.
    3. Since they as persons had become something that never existed before, their behavior, their moral conduct, and their relationships should reflect this new existence.
      1. Since what they now were had not existed previously, a radical transition had occurred.
      2. That radical change should be evident :
        1. In the way they used their bodies.
        2. n the way they used their lives.
        3. In all their relationships.
    4. This new person who now existed should understand that he or she has a new reason for existing.
      1. Before this new person existed, the old person was concerned about the physical, about now, about sensual gratification, about possessing.
      2. In the old person, those concerns controlled their thinking, their desires, and their ambitions.
      3. Those things controlled their daily conduct and focused their daily lives.
      4. Those also were the things that made them God’s enemies and stirred God’s just anger.
    5. Paul said, “But Jesus taught us and showed us that life is not about the physical, the now, sensual gratification, or the hunger to possess.”
      1. “The person that you were before you became a Christian:
        1. Indulged sexual desires by being sexually active outside of marriage.
        2. Pursued the yearnings and desires of greed.
        3. And both of these are forms of idolatry–they controlled you, and you served them.”
      2. “If you believe and understand that being in Christ makes you a different person, then you will make these commitments:
        1. The commitment to end sexual indulgence.
        2. The commitment to kill greed within you.
        3. The commitment to destroy both of these idols in your life–you serve Christ, not the idols of sexual desire and greed.”
      3. “You will bring to an end all forms of abusive speech.”
      4. “You will stop lying to each other.”
      5. “These things characterized the old person you were.
        1. They do not reveal the new person you have become.
        2. They should have died in you when the old person you were died.”
    6. “Let your body, your behavior, and your daily life reveal the new person.”
      1. “This new person is in a constant state of renovation.
        1. Your mind, your understanding, your concepts are in a continual state of transition, in a constant state of reconstruction.
        2. How do you sustain this continual state of transition, this constant state of reconstruction? Not by the false teachings about Christ you heard, but by the correct knowledge of Christ.”
      2. “Jesus created us.
        1. He created me physically, because he was God’s agent of creation when God created people.
        2. He created me spiritually when he forgave me and brought me into spiritual existence as a child of God.
        3. As my accurate knowledge and understanding of Jesus grows, the renovation and reconstruction of my life progresses.”
      3. “Everyone in Christ, no matter who he or she is, no matter where he or she came from, from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high is in a continual state of renovation.”
  2. Please allow me to call two important facts to your attention.
    1. Fact number one: Paul was writing to people who had been Christians for a while.
      1. Obviously, these Christians did not grasp the full meaning of their baptism.
      2. Their comprehension of what had happened in their lives at their baptism was incomplete.
      3. They did not understand God’s powerful act of placing them in Christ.
        1. God just a surely performed that spiritual, creative act as He performed the creative act that brought physical life in existence.
        2. They were new persons because of God’s act.
      4. Even though they did not fully comprehend what happened, even though they did not correctly understand what happened, it still happened.
      5. They needed to grow in their understanding of what happened because they needed to begin the process of renovating their lives.
      6. They needed to bring their physical lives into harmony with the new person God made them.
        1. That renovation would not proceed on the basis of the false information they had heard about Jesus Christ.
        2. It would proceed on the correct knowledge of Jesus Christ.
        3. Understanding the image of Jesus would produce the reconstruction of their lives.
    2. Fact number two: They needed a serious commitment to reflect the new person in their physical lives.
      1. God spiritually re-created them when they were baptized into Christ.
        1. He forgave them and breathed spiritual life into them.
        2. He purified them and clothed them in Christ.
      2. But they had not put on their new natures.
        1. This new “self” was not yet revealed in their behavior and relationships.
        2. In Colossians 3:12-17 Paul is very specific about the expressions of the new “self:”
          1. Compassion
          2. Kindness
          3. Humility
          4. Gentleness
          5. Forbearance toward others
          6. Forgiveness
          7. Love
          8. Peace
          9. Gratitude
        3. God gives us our new spiritual existence, but we must renovate our lives; we must allow these qualities to control our physical existence.
  3. When we are baptized, we tend to view the Christian life as a very “doable” commitment.
    1. At first we think it is just a matter of deeds–replace bad habits and acts with good habits and acts.
    2. Then we learn it involves our thinking–so it requires some re-education.
    3. Then we learn it involves our emotions–so we need to change the way we feel, and transition begins to get complicated.
    4. Then we learn it involves our motives–so we must deal with why we do what we do, and that is more complicated.
    5. And then we begin to learn how entwined evil is within our deepest self.
      1. We realize that the facts we believe, the stands we take, and the doctrines we defend are actually spiritual kindergarten.
      2. We begin to wake up to the real “me” and we see how much reconstruction the real “me” needs.
      3. That is when we finally understand how totally dependent we are on the forgiveness, mercy, and love of God every day.
    6. Every time we reach a new level of understanding, we face a new challenge of putting on the new self, of making renovations in our lives.
    7. That is when we discover that being a Christian involves much more:
      1. Than belonging to Christ’s church.
      2. Than defending Christian principles.
      3. Than deciding a position to take on an issue.
      4. Than preserving our religious heritage.
      5. Certainly, each of these has a level of importance and significance.
    8. But we discover that there is something more important, more significant, that lies deep within the foundation of the new self.
      1. Being a Christian is a constant process of becoming; we are constantly growing toward the image of Jesus.
      2. We are constantly concerned about the renovation of our lives.
      3. We are always involved in the process of putting on the new self.

As Christians, you and I are not in competition. You are not measured by me, and I am not measured by you. No two Christians start renovating life at the same place. No two Christians need identical renovations. The process of renovation may not even look similar. The starting point for each of us does not matter. No matter where the staring point is for each of us, we all are involved in the same process–the process of putting on the new self.

Were you to ask me what I am trying to prove at the gym, I would tell you, “Nothing. I go because I am in the process of becoming, of being, not of trying to prove something.” Were you to ask me what I am trying to prove as a Christian, I would tell you, “Nothing. I am in the process of becoming, of being, not of trying to prove anything.”

Opportunity Knocks

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Love trusts and nurtures. Fear is suspicious and defends. When love is wounded in a marriage, fear emerges. Trust is displaced by suspicion. Mutual nurturing is displaced by defensiveness.

Can the relationship heal? Certainly! Love can assume again its role of promoting trust and nurturing if fear and its suspicions die. If the couple is afraid to love, they will not risk being vulnerable. Recovery is questionable. If the couple has the courage to restore healthy love, recovery will occur.

Should the couple forget the experience? Should they wipe from memory the events and attitudes that wounded love and created fear? No. If memory is erased, the experience does not teach them. If the experience taught no constructive lessons, the mistakes are likely to be repeated.

Should those memories dominate their awareness? No. If love for each other does not dominate thoughts and emotions, the relationship will not heal or mature.

The same is true in a congregation. Love trusts and nurtures. Fear is suspicious and defends. When love is wounded, fear emerges. Trust is displaced with suspicion, and nurturing is displaced with defensiveness. Relationships heal if fear and suspicions are allowed to die. While constructive lessons must be learned from bad experiences, heartache and disappointment must not dominate thoughts and feelings. The congregation seeks more than healing. It seeks the success only growth and maturity produce.

Help fear and suspicion die. Help restore love’s trust and nurturing. Do not fear congregational vulnerability–God is in control. Nurture living relationships that reflect the life and hope found in being God’s family and Christ’s body.

Pray for others by name. Let them know that they are in your prayers. Help them form relationships. Be as warm, excited, and helpful as is our Father.

Excuse Me God, Can We Talk?

Posted by on February 9, 1997 under Sermons

Christians are constantly challenged to remember that God is not human. God is not the perfect human, or the perfectly developed human, or the human with all supernatural powers. You might say, “I never think God is human.”

Do you believe that God thinks like you think? Do you believe in spiritual matters that you and God stand together on identical positions? Do you believe that your religious convictions and your spiritual perspectives thrill God because He looks at everything just as you do? When we believe that God thinks our thoughts, as we all do in at least some matters, we are humanizing God.

God is totally unlike us in every consideration. He is so different, it defies comprehension. Let me give you an example.

  1. Think for a moment about three questions.
    1. The three questions:
      1. Who do you enjoy listening to? These are the people it takes no effort to listen to–it is a pleasure, a joy to have opportunity to listen to these people.
      2. Who are you willing to listen to? It is not a bad experience to listen to these people, but neither is it a thrilling experience.
      3. Who can you listen to? It takes effort to listen to these people, but you can make yourself listen.
    2. Let’s think about the answers to those three questions. (In each of these questions I am talking about listening by choice, listening you choose to do.)
      1. Question one: To whom do you enjoy listening?
        1. You enjoy listening to people who reflect your educational level.
          1. I am not talking about people who hold similar scholastic degrees to yours.
          2. I am talking about people who easily “connect” with your thinking and your perspectives because you share similar levels of knowledge and experience.
          3. That person’s thinking stimulates your thinking.
          4. Their thoughts and understanding challenge you without threatening you.
          5. You can share and discuss things with this person that you cannot discuss with just anyone.
          6. Typically, all of us truly enjoy listening to such a person.
      2. Question two: To whom are you willing to listen?
        1. Most of us are willing to listen to anyone who does not:
          1. Bore us.
          2. Insult us.
          3. Attack us.
          4. Address us with contempt.
        2. We generally are willing to listen to anyone who has a decent attitude and treats us respectfully.
      3. Question three: To whom can you listen?
        1. You can listen to virtually anyone that you can understand.
          1. Most of the time, we can choose to listen to anyone who is intelligible.
          2. If we can follow the person’s thoughts, we can choose to listen to the person.
        2. That also means there are some persons that we cannot listen to even if we choose to try to hear and understand.
          1. There are some who have such a level of ignorance that you cannot understand them.
          2. In no way do I mean that as a condescending statement.
          3. For example, those of you who are professional or possess specialized skills:
            1. You encounter people who want to discuss your area of knowledge and experience, but they simply do not know what they are talking about.
            2. They are certain that they know what they are talking about, but they don’t.
            3. Because they have too little knowledge, you cannot follow what they say or respond to their comments.
            4. You might courteously allow them to talk, but you cannot listen to them.
          4. A second example of people you cannot listen to are people who “get on your nerves.”
            1. You have an involuntary emotional reaction when this person speaks.
            2. Your feelings declare that you actually cannot endure listening to what they have to say–just listening to their voice is distressful.
            3. Everything within you shouts that you must get away from this person.
    3. In contrast to these very common human reactions, consider God: to whom can God listen?
      1. God can and will listen to anyone.
      2. God can and will listen to anyone who speaks honestly and openly to Him from the heart.
  2. Maybe your first reaction is skeptical, or perhaps you disagree that God can and will listen to anyone who speaks openly and honestly from the heart.
    1. If you disagree, you might disagree on the basis of a statement found in John 9:31: We know that God does not hear sinners.
    2. Please take a Bible and turn with me to John 9, and follow me as we look at the context of this statement.
      1. Jesus and his disciples walked past a man who was born blind.
        1. From the moment of birth he had never seen.
        2. Today, we understand that this man was probably blind before birth.
      2. The disciples asked Jesus a common, important theological question of that day–a question that was often discussed in concern.
      3. The question: Is this man blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned?
      4. First, let’s use the scripture to understand the background of this question.
        1. In all of God’s interaction with the nation of Israel, God’s primary means for blessing these people in all generations was prosperity and physical well being–remember such men as Abraham, Job, and David.
        2. God’s promises to Israel as a nation and to individuals was peace and prosperity if they obeyed Him.
        3. Look at Deuteronomy 28.
          1. Verse 1–If you obey Me and keep My commandments:
          2. Verse 3–I will bless your cities and your rural areas.
          3. Verse 4–You will have many children, and your livestock will reproduce.
          4. Verse 5–I will bless you with food.
          5. Verse 6–You will go and come in prosperity.
          6. Verse 7–I will defeat your enemies and cause them to be afraid of you.
          7. Verse 8–I will fill your barns and bless all your work.
          8. Verse 11–I will make you very prosperous.
          9. Verse 12–I will give you wonderful growing seasons for your crops.
          10. Verses l, 9, 13, 14 state the basis for blessings–this is how I will bless you if you obey Me, keep My commandments, and refuse to reject Me.
        4. Verses 15-68 state the terrible things that will happen if they do not obey Him and keep His commandments. Among those terrible things are:
          1. Verse 22–You will have fever and swelling.
          2. Verse 27–You will have boils, tumors, scabs, and itch.
          3. Verse 28–You will suffer madness, blindness, and a confused mind.
        5. This is the teaching of Moses, of the law of Moses, of the absolute spiritual authority for the Jewish people.
          1. Also remember that in the Old Testament the concept of heaven and hell had not been revealed.
          2. Prior to Jesus, it was beginning to emerge, but those concepts came to full revelation after Jesus’ death.
      5. Now turn back to John 9.
      6. This man was an interesting case.
        1. He was born blind.
        2. Someone had not kept God’s commandments.
        3. Had his parents sinned, or had he sinned?
      7. Jesus said in this case neither sinned; the man was born blind so God could display His power.
        1. In verse 6 Jesus spit on the ground, made a mud paste, covered the blind man’s eyes with the mud paste, and told him to go wash it off in the pool of Siloam.
        2. The man did, and he returned with his sight–and that caused quite a stir.
        3. The neighbors began questioning: “Isn’t this the blind beggar?” Some said, “No, he just looks like him;” some said, “Yes, it is him;” he was constantly telling them, “I’m the man.”
        4. “Well, explain how you can see.”
        5. He told them what Jesus did.
        6. “Where is that man?” “I don’t know.”
      8. Probably because the miracle was performed on the Sabbath day, the day when the religious law forbid anyone to work, they took the man to the Pharisees.
        1. The law of Moses strictly forbid working on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees regard a miracle of this type to be work.
        2. When the Pharisees heard what had happened, some of them said, “The man who did this is not from God because he violated the Sabbath.”
        3. Others disagreed, “If he were not from God, how do you explain his power to do this?”
        4. They asked the blind man, “What do you say about this man Jesus?” He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
        5. The Pharisees decided it was a hoax; the man never was blind; so they called his parents.
        6. The parents were terrified because everyone knew that the Pharisees would expel anyone from the synagogue who said Jesus was the Christ–and that would create a major difficulty for the person.
        7. The Pharisees asked them if this man was their son, and, if so, explain how he could see.
        8. They replied that it was their son, but they could not explain how he gained his sight; “Ask him; he is an adult.”
        9. So the Pharisees questioned the man again, and began by declaring, “We know Jesus is a sinner. Give God the glory for what happened. And tell us again how it happened.”
        10. The man was now irritated: “I told you, and you would not listen. Are you considering being Jesus’ disciples?”
        11. Tension was high. “You follow Jesus; we follow Moses; we don’t know where this man came from.”
        12. “That is astounding! The man gave me my sight, and you don’t know where he came from. We, you and I, know that God does not listen to the request of sinners; the very fact that Jesus had this power is proof that he reverences God and does God’s will. Never in history has a person who was born blind gained his sight. If Jesus were not from God, he could not do this.”
        13. Now the Pharisees are really angry: “You were born in sin, and you dare to try to teach us?” (Oh, the arrogance of self-righteousness!) They threw him out of the synagogue.
      9. Jesus heard what happened and found the man.
        1. He asked the man, “Do you believe in God’s son?”
        2. The man said, “I would if I knew who he was.”
        3. Jesus said, “You are looking at him and listening to him.”
        4. The man declared, “I believe!” and worshipped Jesus.
    3. Consider the context:
      1. Who made the statement, “We know that God does not hear sinners”? The man who received his sight.
      2. Was he speaking from inspiration when he made the statement? No, he was not speaking from inspiration.
      3. Was he making a theological statement or declaring a doctrinal position? No, he was making an observation based on the evidence.
      4. What was his point? He was stating the obvious to the Pharisees: they could not discredit the miracle or the power of Jesus by saying Jesus was a sinner.
      5. Did the man know who Jesus was when he made this statement? No.
  3. That statement does not deny that anyone who speaks to God openly, honestly, and from the heart will be heard.
    1. I want you to think about something astounding, too incredible to comprehend.
      1. God can and will listen to the prayers of:
        1. The most primitive people on earth who do not even have a written language, and to the most sophisticated people on earth who are patrons of the arts.
        2. The most uneducated people on earth, who are illiterate and never had opportunity for one day of education, and to the most educated people in our world.
      2. No one is too primitive for God to hear, and no one is too advanced for God to hear.
        1. All are beneath God, but it does not matter.
        2. All are sinful, but it does not matter.
        3. No one is too ignorant, too boring, or “gets on God’s nerves.”
      3. He listens to people you and I can’t and won’t listen to.

“Thank You, God, for Your willingness to listen. Thank You for hearing all people. Forgive us for not listening as You listen. Thank You for being the God who loves the world, who loves all humanity, who wants to extend Your grace and Your forgiveness to every single individual on earth.”

I urge you to learn how to pray as you have never prayed before. I urge you to pray in the full understanding that you are talking to the God who listens.

Even the Strong Are Weak

Posted by on under Sermons

This week I have been grieved at heart. My heart grief does not come from any personal tragedies. Personally, it has been a week rich with blessings. The heart grief comes from knowing what is happening in the lives of some Christian friends. It arises from seeing what continues to happen in our society. It arises from seeing how desperately people need help.

A Christian friend called me this week. After spending most of his life as an agnostic, he was converted about two years ago. He has an exception mind, a hungry mind. He reads two or three books at once, and he reads thought provoking material. It has only been in the last couple of years that he has learned how to read the Bible in a way that produces understanding.

Recently he was in a Bible class that discussed 2 Corinthians 5:10. “We must all appear before Christ’s judgment seat. We will be rewarded according the to deeds we have done in the body.” That verse ran over him like a huge truck loaded with bricks. He consumed with thoughts of accountability without any awareness of forgiveness. That thinking helped plunge him into deep darkness. He could not stop thinking about all the terrible things he had done in the past. He concluded that God could not possibly love a person like him.

In my friend’s mind there are two kinds of people: good people and bad people. Good people are strong. Bad people are weak. For the bad who are weak, it is hopeless.

Though he probably does not know where he got that idea, I am confident it was formed by some church or religious group in his past. That perception of strength and weakness threatens to devour him.

  1. We must allow the New Testament to create our perceptions about strength and weakness.
    1. If I asked you to nominate someone in the New Testament that you regard to be a truly strong Christian, who would you nominate?
      1. Take a moment–think of a specific person that you would nominate.
      2. I am sure several people would be nominated, but I think two persons would be nominated more than anyone else.
      3. I think Paul and Peter would receive the majority of our nominations.
      4. From the typical criteria that we use to define spiritual strength, both of these men were exceptionally strong Christians.
      5. While I could use either man to share something that I want you to see, let me use Peter to illustrate the fact that even the spiritually strong are weak.
    2. As one of the twelve disciples, Peter’s strengths were impressive.
      1. He literally walked off his job and left his means of financial support to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16-18).
      2. After he became Jesus’ disciple, Jesus gave him a new name (John 1:42).
        1. He named him Cephas (Aramaic) or Petros (Greek) or Peter (English) which means “rock.”
        2. Jesus renamed Peter–Jesus called him “rock.”
      3. Peter’s credentials as one of Jesus’ twelve special disciples is impressive.
        1. He was of the first disciples that Jesus called (Mark 1:16-18).
        2. His name always is the first name to appear in the listing of the twelve disciples.
        3. Commonly he was the spokesman for the twelve.
        4. He was one of three disciples who formed an inner circle, one of the three closest to Jesus.
          1. Only these three saw the act of Jesus raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37).
          2. Only these three saw Jesus change from his physical body to his spiritual body (Mark 9:2).
          3. -Only these three were invited to go with Jesus into the garden where he prayed just before he was arrested (Mark 14:33)–they were the only persons Jesus had near him when he was deeply troubled.
          4. Always, Peter was one of the three.
    3. Jesus made a promise to Peter that he made to no one else–Peter and only Peter received this promise in Matthew 16:13-20.
      1. Jesus asked all twelve the same question: “Who are people saying that I am?”
      2. All them answered.
      3. He asked all twelve again, “Who do you say that I am?”
      4. This time only Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”
      5. Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Peter. God has revealed this to you. I will build my church upon this truth that you understand. Death will not prevent me from building it. And I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
      6. Peter would be the person who opened the church to people, who opened the gates that permitted people to be citizens in God’s kingdom.
      7. He promised Peter, and later the rest of the twelve (Matthew 18:18), that whatever they bound or loosed in the kingdom would be bound or loosed in heaven.
    4. Peter’s devotion to Jesus could hardly be exaggerated.
      1. Only Peter dared to climb out of a boat and walk on a stormy sea because Jesus told him that he could do it (Matthew 14:29).
      2. It was Peter who said, “If everyone falls, I will not fall” (Mark 14:29)
      3. It was Peter who tried to defended Jesus against as many as 600 soldiers who came to arrest Jesus (John 18:10).
      4. Peter was loyal, committed, and determined.
    5. On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, Peter confronted his weakness.
      1. He would have gladly died for Jesus defending him with that sword, but he had to die his way, not Jesus’ way.
      2. When Peter put down the sword, he moved away in the darkness, and followed the arrest party from a distance (Luke 22:54).
      3. He then quietly appeared at the Jewish trials of Jesus, but just being there soon put him in the spotlight, and he denied that he knew Jesus, not once, but three times.
      4. After his third denial, the roster crowed, just as Jesus had predicted, and Jesus looked at him, and Peter fled into the night weeping (Luke 22:61,62).
      5. The first forty days after Jesus’ death was a horrible period for Peter.
      6. Perhaps the worst moment was when Jesus appeared and asked Peter three times if Peter loved him (John 21:15-17).
    6. Then Peter recovered and became stronger, wiser, and more mature.
      1. He assumed leadership of the disciples again and took the lead in appointing someone to take Judas’ place (Acts 1:15)
      2. On Pentecost, as the leader, he became the principal speaker who opened God’s kingdom to the Jewish people (Acts 2:14).
      3. From that day and that moment, the strong Peter exploded on the scene in Jerusalem.
        1. He healed a lame man at the temple (Acts 3:4).
        2. He and John were arrested, and he told the highest court in Israel, “There is salvation in no one else…” (Acts 4:8,12).
        3. He confronted the Christians, Ananias and Sapphira, for lying to the God, and they died instantly (Act 5:1-11).
        4. He was so respected that people lined the streets with the sick in the hope that Peter would pass by and his shadow would fall on the sick and heal them (Acts 5:15).
        5. When all the apostles were arrested, Peter told the same court, “We must obey God instead of man” (Acts 5:29).
        6. When the church sent Peter and John to Samaria, the Christian Simon tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, and Peter condemned him to his face (Acts 8:20).
        7. In Joppa Peter raised the Christian woman Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:39-41).
        8. The stronger-than-ever Peter seemed to be untouchable in the city of Jerusalem.
      4. Then events were set into motion by a command from the Lord that again would bring Peter face to face with his weakness.
        1. The Lord sent Peter to Cesarea to open the kingdom of God to non-Jews, and he did–he taught and baptized people who were not Jews (Acts 10).
        2. Though he did what the Lord told him to do, the Christians in Jerusalem strongly disapproved, and they confronted him when he returned (Acts 11:2).
        3. He finally proved that the Lord approved of what he did, but things were never the same–he is not mentioned again in a leadership capacity in the church in Jerusalem.
        4. In fact, some time after that, the untouchable Peter was arrested and put in jail to await execution by the government–only the intervention of the Lord saved his life (Acts 12).
      5. All of this had a powerful, painful impact on Peter.
        1. Later he was visiting the non-Jewish congregation in Antioch of Syria (Galatians 2:11-14).
        2. When he first arrived, he was fellowshipping non-Jewish Christians freely and openly.
        3. Then a group from the Jerusalem congregation came, and Peter was afraid of them.
        4. So, in his fear, he broke fellowship with the non-Jewish Christians and even was successful in influencing Barnabas to do the same.
        5. Paul confronted Peter publicly to his face and declared, “This is wrong!”
        6. And Peter stared straight into the eyes of his weakness again.
  • We all have some false perceptions of strength and weakness.
    1. Those false perceptions exist in many forms.
      1. “People who are spiritually strong never do ‘X’.”
        1. Have an affair.
        2. Get a divorce.
        3. Get hooked on drugs.
        4. Have a problem with alcohol.
        5. They never have family problems.
        6. They don’t make serious mistakes.
      2. “The spiritually strong are the people who have the same convictions that I have.”
        1. They have come to the same conclusions I have reached.
        2. We are agreed on what is right.
        3. We are agreed on what is proper.
      3. “The spiritually strong use their heads, their logic, and their knowledge–they are not emotional; feelings and emotions are certain signs of weakness.”
        1. The spiritually strong reason, they don’t feel.
        2. The spiritually strong build their spiritual foundations on the mind, not on the heart.
    2. It is such false perceptions of strength that too often betray us, that actually move us away from Jesus Christ.
      1. How? False perceptions of being strong deceive us by convincing us that:
        1. We must have everything figured out religiously–that is being strong.
        2. We must have all the right answers–that is being strong.
        3. We must hide behind the institution instead of hiding behind the Cross.
      2. False perceptions of spiritual strength convince us that we must keep 100% of our attention and focus on all the evils “out there.”
        1. Keep our attention on what is wrong in the ungodly world.
        2. Keep our attention on what is wrong with society.
        3. Keep our attention on what is wrong in other religious bodies.
      3. Why do false perceptions of spiritual strength do that to us?
        1. As long as I am so focused on and consumed with what is wrong “out there,” I never have time to look at what is wrong “in here.”
        2. I never have to look at my own weaknesses, I never have to examine the reasons for my weaknesses, so I can deny that I have any weaknesses.
    3. Because of false perceptions of spiritual strength, I must pretend that I am strong.
      1. Because of our false perceptions, we are scared to death to see or admit our weaknesses.
      2. We are convinced that if anyone ever discovers our weaknesses, we will be rejected.

    The apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh. It was a real handicap. It made him feel ineffective and limited, and it made him look weak . The powerful Paul who had so many spiritual gifts, who could do so many miracles begged the Lord three times to take the weakness away. Do you remember the Lord’s answer?

    My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

    Why are we so certain that strong Christians do not have weaknesses when the Lord perfected power in apostles through weakness?

    Even the strong are weak. That is why every person’s salvation comes from the grace of God, not from human strength.

  • It Just Is Not Fair!

    Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

    The injustices of life often flood our worlds like a torrential cloudburst that refuses to stop. A person whose faith builds a beautiful life falls prey to an unthinkable disease. A person whose generous heart willingly shares “the shirt off his back” is tossed on the reefs of economic calamity. A person of compassion who always helps victims of tragedy is victimized by tragedy. A person whose life is guided by positive attitudes and a refreshing spirit dies much “before her time.” It is not fair!

    Life’s unfairness has been a constant in earthly existence since Adam blamed God and Eve for his failure. The unfairness of injustice never skips a generation–Cain did kill Abel. The Bible is a documentary on the realities of injustice. To the extent that evil prospers, the unfairness of injustice abounds.

    Christians commonly assume that Christianity “makes everything fair.” Some see “fairness” as a benefit of Christianity, some see it as a goal, and some see it as Christianity’s purpose. It is true that fairness blossoms in the lives of the godly. As we learn to treat others as we want to be treated, those blossoms mature to ripe fruit. Still, the unfairness of injustice is an unremovable constant in everything touched by evil. Everywhere evil exerts influence, the unfairness of injustice thrives. When we conclude (because we belong to Christ) that we will not experience the unfairness of injustice, we are prepared to be disillusioned. We can conclude that so easily! When disillusionment occurs, we are outraged.

    Unfortunately, the unfairness of injustice often blinds us to the unfairness of salvation. Forgiveness is unfair. So is mercy. And so are compassion, kindness, and forbearance. All of them are based on undeserved consideration. All are built on the preferential treatment of love. None of them concern themselves with what we deserve; they concern themselves only with the noblest expressions of love.

    Evil and its consequences are so unfair! In that unfairness is pain, grief, and destruction. God and the consequences of His mercy are so unfair! In that unfairness is peace, joy, hope, and salvation. Thank you, God, for being unfair, for it is in your unfairness that I find love and salvation. Please, God, help us understand how to be unfair as are you, not as is this world.

    How Should I Interpret Forbearance?

    Posted by on February 2, 1997 under Sermons

    The last three Sunday evenings we have examined forbearance. Those three lessons are the background for our study tonight.

    Obviously, the important question is this: how am I as a Christian to interpret the responsibility to be forbearing? What are the appropriate understandings and practices of forbearance?

    1. To establish the context to answer those questions, I want to make a concise review of the first three lessons.
      1. We defined forbearance.
        1. To forbear is “to hold oneself back.”
        2. It is to “restrain oneself.”
        3. Commonly, God’s forbearance is seen in His restraining His wrath.
      2. In lesson one, we learned that forbearance is a part of God’s divine nature, one defining aspect of who God is and how God acts.
        1. Romans 2:4 stressed the urgency of understanding the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience.
        2. Romans 3:21-25 revealed how God’s forbearance created the means of and opportunity for salvation.
        3. 2 Peter 3:9 provides an incredible insight into God’s forbearance: He is delaying the return of Jesus because He in the hope that all will come to repentance and no one will be destroyed.
      3. In lesson two, we observed God’s forbearance at work in the congregation at Corinth.
        1. This troubled congregation had:
          1. A destructive division problem (1:11-17).
          2. Sexual immorality problems (5:1-13).
          3. Terrible relationship problems (6:1-11).
          4. Conviction/conscience problems (chapter 8).
          5. Cultural problems (11:1-16).
          6. Demeaning fellowship problems (11:17-34).
          7. Worship problems (chapter 14).
          8. Doctrinal problems (chapter 15).
        2. In spite of these problems, Paul:
          1. Called them brethren 21 times.
          2. Spiritually claimed them as his children (4:14,15).
          3. Repeatedly affirmed their continuing relationship with God and Christ:
            1. He addressed them as the “church of God in Corinth” (1:2).
            2. “By God’s love you are in Christ” (1:30).
            3. As a congregation, they “are” God’s temple and the Spirit “dwells” in them (3:16).
            4. They were washed, sanctified, and justified (6:10,11).
            5. Though they did not understand it, they “are” Christ’s body (12:27).
            6. They were included in a cooperative multi-congregational work (16:1-5).
            7. He repeated affirmed his personal relationship with them in chapter 16.
        3. It is evident that, in spite of their problems, that they:
          1. Were not out of Christ.
          2. Were not out of the brotherhood.
          3. Were not out of fellowship with other congregations.
          4. Were not out of fellowship with Paul.
        4. He declared:
          1. They must address their problems.
          2. They must awaken to the damage their problems were causing.
      4. In lesson three, we observed God’s forbearance at work in the seven congregations in Asia Minor (Revelation 2, 3).
        1. We noted:
          1. Ephesus had six positive qualities and one negative.
          2. Smyrna and Philadelphia each had three positive and one negative.
          3. Pergamum had three positive and two negatives.
          4. Thyatira has three positives and one negative of several parts.
          5. Sardis and Laodicea had all negatives and no positives.
        2. The negatives included:
          1. Loveless obedience.
          2. Encouraging idolatry.
          3. Supporting sexual immorality.
          4. Being spiritually dead.
          5. Never completing what was started.
          6. Spiritual self-delusion.
        3. All that being unquestionably true, at the time of writing:
          1. All seven congregations were still in fellowship with Christ.
          2. None were asked to break fellowship with the other.
          3. The “faithful” were not asked to separate from the “unfaithful.”
          4. The dead Sardis congregation still had some within it that were pure.
          5. The self-deluded Laodicea congregation was still loved by the Lord.
    2. Now I focus your attention on an example that I believe reveals practical insights into forbearance: the problem was centered on the serious doctrinal question concerning eating or abstaining from meat.
      1. First, we must understand this first century problem among Christians.
        1. For two thousand years, from the time of Moses, Israelites were forbidden by divine authority and law to eat certain meats (Leviticus 11).
          1. For centuries, devout Jews had not eaten these meats.
          2. For generations, devout families had not eaten these meats.
        2. For generations, devout idol worshippers had eaten all kinds of meat.
          1. The typical way that an idol was worshipped in the first century was by eating a portion of their sacrifice in a sacred banquet.
          2. Eating the sacrifice was an act of worshipping the idol.
        3. In the church, two common situations are quite understandable.
          1. Some converted Jews had major conscience problems when they were asked to eat a meat that had always been forbidden to them.
          2. Some converted idolaters had major conscience problems eating a meat that had been sacrificed to an idol–eating such meat had been an act of worshipping the idol.
        4. However, some converted Jews and some converted idol worshippers correctly understood that all food was just food, a gift from the Creator God. They understood that:
          1. Food had no spiritual significance.
          2. Food could not bring you closer to God or separate you from God.
          3. All food could be eaten in purity and clear conscience.
      2. Paul in a straight forward manner dealt with this problem doctrinally in 1 Timothy 4:1-5: for a Christian to teach that other Christians must not eat meat was to yield to “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
        1. He doctrinally stated the truth.
          1. Those who believe and know the truth understand that God created all food.
          2. They gratefully accept all food.
          3. All food is good because it was created by God.
            1. It is to be received with gratitude.
            2. It is not to be rejected.
            3. It is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.
          4. Those who teach otherwise are hypocritical liars with numb consciences.
        2. This was the doctrinally correct position:
          1. All food comes from God.
          2. All food is good.
          3. Food had no spiritual or religious significance.
      3. Romans 14 focused on the problem within the congregation at Rome.
        1. Some converts, as an act of faith, ate meat (14:2).
        2. Some converts, as an act of faith, were vegetarians (14:2).
        3. Meat eating Christians must not hold vegetarian Christians in contempt (14:3).
        4. Vegetarian Christians must not judge meat eating Christians (14:3).
        5. God accepted the meat eating Christian even if the vegetarian Christian refused to accept him (14:3).
        6. The same principle was true in regard to the observance of holy days (14:5).
        7. Basic true facts (14:5,6):
          1. The vegetarian abstained from meat to honor the Lord.
          2. The meat eater ate in thanksgiving to the Lord.
          3. The one who refused to honor holy days did so to honor the Lord.
          4. The one who kept holy days did so to honor the Lord.
          5. Each was honoring the Lord in what he or she did.
        8. Responsibilities:
          1. Do not pass judgment on each other’s opinions/conclusions (14:1).
          2. Do not hold those who disagree with you in contempt (14:3).
          3. Do not judge each other (14:3).
            1. Only the Lord is the master; none of you are the master (14:4).
            2. The Lord can and will make each of them stand (14:4).
          4. Let each Christian be convinced in his own mind (understanding) and honor his own conscience (14:5).
      4. Conclusions to be drawn from Paul’s instructions to Timothy and to the church in Rome:
        1. To teach Christians that they must not eat meat was to declare a deceitful, demonic doctrine.
        2. For a Christian to refuse to eat meat because he or she is convinced in his or her own conscience that it would displease God was an acceptable expression of devotion to the Lord, was accepted as a genuine expression of faith.
        3. No Christian may bind his own conscience on others; every Christian is free to follow his own conscience.
        4. We must not hold each other in contempt, and we must not pass judgment on each other.
        5. Even when we radically differ in our conclusions, the Lord knows our hearts, the Lord knows our consciences, the Lord knows our reasoning, and the Lord accepts us.
        6. God is that forbearing, and God is our Father; Jesus is that forbearing, and Jesus is our Lord; we must learn to be forbearing as is God and Jesus.
    3. Basic observations:
      1. Forbearance is a mutual responsibility.
        1. Forbearance is not a responsibility of one group in a congregation, one side of an issue, or one position of a question.
        2. Every Christian is equally responsible to be forbearing to every other Christian.
      2. We must not hold each other in contempt or judge each other when we through study reach different conclusions and accept different responsibilities.
      3. Just a few examples:
        1. If a Christian woman is convinced in her conscience that she should worship with her head covered, she should cover it; she should not be ridiculed, nor should she pass judgment on women who, through study, have reached a different conclusion.
        2. If a Christian woman is convinced in her own conscience that she should wear only dresses, she should wear only dresses; she should not be ridiculed for her conviction, nor should she judge those who through their study reach a different conclusion.
        3. There are occasions we applaud in our assemblies. If a person is convinced through his study that he should not applaud, then he should not applaud; he should not be regarded unloving or inferior in faith because he does not applaud, but neither should he pass judgment on those who through study conclude that it is appropriate to applaud.
        4. In my understanding, such matters illustrate the specific point of Romans 14.
          1. The Lord accepts acts of conscience as appropriate expressions of faith.
          2. In such matters we are not to judge, not to be condescending, or to hold brothers or sisters in contempt.

    All factions of those who are in Christ are my brothers and sisters. We all are brothers and sisters by the act of spiritual birth. God placed us in His family. The Lord added us together as His people. We are not brothers and sisters because we agree on everything each of us deems appropriate or important. We are brothers and sisters because we are in Christ. The Lord is the master over each one of us and all of us. He can make each of us stand, and he does make each of us stand. We are not family because we agree. We are family because we are in Christ.