The Message of Communion

Posted by on March 30, 1997 under Sermons

When you love someone so deeply, so completely that words simply cannot reveal your love, how do you let him know how much you love him? How do you let her know how much you love her? When love is so great that it cannot be revealed by the power of words, we usually give a gift to the person we love. It may be an expensive gift. It may be a special, personal treasure–a gift that has great meaning and value to the giver. It may be a very intimate gift.

Humanity was in desperate trouble. We were doomed. There was no escape, no way out. And it was all our fault–as always, we were the victims of our own evil. God knew the desperation created by our need. And God responded to our desperation.

God loved us when He made us. God loved us when we failed Him. God loved us when we gave ourselves to evil. God loved us in our desperate need.

God loved us more than words could declare, but not even God’s words could solve our problem or address our need. So God gave us a gift–a gift that was very precious to Him; a gift that would become very precious to us. He gave us His son. He sent him into this world to be just like us–but without sin. He sent him to correct our wrong impressions of God. He sent him to correct our wrong impressions of evil. He sent him to give us the perfect escape route from our doom.

He sent Jesus to live among us, and that was a huge gift from His love, but it was not God’s greatest gift of love. He let Jesus minister and teach among us with power and truth, and that was a huge gift from His love, but it was not God’s greatest gift of love. He let Jesus die. God let His own son to be object, the target of all the evil God despised. God let religious people shame him, abuse him, ridicule him, and taunt him. God let hardened, godless men disgrace him and spill his blood in the dust. God gave us the most precious thing He knew, and He let us, in all our evil, kill him. God loved us enough to let us kill His Son.

Because God loved us that much, we learned who God is. We learned what evil is. We learned what forgiveness is. We learned what life is. Because God loved us that much, we have a Savior. It is because we have this Savior that we are here this morning.

God loved us so much that the gave us the death of His son. In that death, God gave us a Savior. Every Sunday we remember God’s gift. Every Sunday we remember the price Jesus paid to be our Savior.


Suppose that you knew the exact day and the exact moment when the “big one” would hit California. People in California have been told to expect the “big one” for decades. A huge earthquake known as the “big one” is certain to happen. The “big one” will produce destruction and chaos beyond comprehension. Suppose that you knew, with absolute certainty, exactly when the “big one” would occur.

Suppose that you tried to inform people that they needed to make serious preparation for the “big one.” This preparation would take serious time and major effort. Suppose that as you warned them, day after day you watched people living life as usual–they stayed very busy living life as if the “big one” would never come. This thought would scream in your mind: “How can all these people invest life and time in so many things that just will not matter?”

All of us know about investing life and time in things that just do not matter. We know about it. But we permit ourselves to be so distracted that we never think about it. We are so busy, so involved, so committed. Nothing we do can be neglected. Every commitment requires 110% of us 200% of the time. We are slaves to our commitments. It is as though everything depends on us. It is as though the world would stop without us.

And then one day Moma is rushed to the hospital at the point of death. And we stop. And the world goes on. And we wonder, “What is really important?” Or, one day our child is critically injured in a horrible accident and must be flown to specialists in a hospital three states away. In grief and anxiety, we drop everything and go with our child. And all those things that we simply had to do, either someone else does them, or they weren’t urgent enough to be done. And the world kept going. And we think about what is really important.

God knows planet earth has an appointment with a fiery destruction. God knows that physical life, time, and physical realities will end on that day. God knows that all of us, and everyone else who has ever lived, already has an appointment to keep on that day. The appointment is with justice. If we live life and use life in Christ, in God’s forgiveness, justice will have no jurisdiction over us on that day. If we live life and use life for our own earthly purposes and objectives, only justice will have jurisdiction over us on that day.

God knows that day is certain. God knows the precise moment it will come. He has done and is doing everything possible to help us make serious preparation for our “big one.” And He watches as we invest life and time in countless things that just do not matter. From that comes the second message of communion. Invest life and time in the eternal. God did. He invested life and time by investing Jesus. He invested Jesus to give you and me opportunity to invest our lives and time in the eternal.

The Complex Became Simple

Posted by on March 23, 1997 under Sermons

We human beings have the uncanny ability to take anything that is simple and make it complex. How many times have you said, “It used to be so simple. Why have they made it so complicated?” Or, “In the past, I could make sense of out this. Why is it so confusing now?”

It is income tax season. Many of us are experiencing the “thrill” of filing income tax forms. Every few years we are informed that the process is being simplified. How often has a simplification made it easier for you to file your taxes? How often has the simplification made your taxes more understandable? Generally, do you not find that the harder we try to understand the more confusing it becomes?

As a general rule, we need to follow this principle: “If it is simple, if it works well, leave it alone.” In any endeavor, in any area of life, in any consideration, too often our attempts to simplify just create complexity and confusion.

  1. From the moment sin entered this creation, God had a single objective: to reconcile the people to Himself.
    1. Creating that reconciliation, making reconciliation reality was a slow, long process that involved many necessary steps.
    2. In a very condensed manner, we can state the process in this way:
      1. First, God had to find a man who would place his trust and confidence in God and God’s promises.
        1. That man was Abraham.
        2. But it took a long time for God to find an Abraham.
      2. Second, God had to build a nation from the descendants of that man.
        1. That nation was Israel; Israelites are the descendants of Abraham.
        2. God hoped that this nation of descendants would learn to trust God just as the man did.
        3. Unfortunately, they did not learn to trust God as did Abraham, and God spent centuries working with these people trying to bring them to that trust.
      3. Third, God would allow His Son to be born as a human being in that nation.
        1. That Son was Jesus who was born as an Israelite in the nation of Israel.
        2. God’s basic objective in His relationship with Abraham and in His centuries of work with the nation of Israel was to bring Jesus to earth.
      4. In his earthly life, Jesus had specific objectives that were designated by God.
        1. In his earthly ministry:
          1. He was to verify his identity through his teaching, his power, and his deeds.
          2. He was to surrender his life in a sacrificial death.
          3. He was to be raised from the dead through the power of God.
        2. Jesus understood those divine objectives and surrendered himself and his life to them.
    3. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God created the perfect opportunity for reconciliation and the perfect means of reconciliation.
      1. All who place faith in Jesus, repent of their evil, and surrender self and life to Christ will be reconciled to God.
      2. Universally, people could be reunited with God as God’s children.
      3. The redeemed person’s reconciliation and life would be based on the simple.
  2. Please think about the contrast between God’s work through the nation of Israel and God’s work through Christians, the body of Christ, the church.
    1. God’s work in Israel was complex.
      1. It was an exclusive work restricted to just one nation.
      2. Because the nation was formed of people who did not know God, God had to gain control of these people.
      3. The nation was rigidly structured–divided into tribes who were located in specific geographical areas with tribal boundaries.
      4. Their public worship was complex.
        1. It was ritualized sacrifice (the right sacrifice had to be offered at the right time in the right place with the right ritual).
        2. It could be offered only by the priests, and only the descendants of Aaron could be priests.
        3. It had to be offered at one geographical site in the nation of Israel, and only within the nation of Israel.
          1. To reveal how important that was, remember that all sacrificial worship ceased when Israel went into captivity.
          2. There was no public sacrificial worship in Babylon.
          3. The priests could not function in their public worship roles.
        4. In Israel, public worship was highly ceremonial with specific procedures, specific priestly garments, specific furnishings, and performed at specific times.
    2. Please thoughtfully consider this.
      1. I want to use two illustrations: the first is the most important holy day in Israel, the Passover worship.
        1. The Passover was instituted and observed immediately before Israel left Egypt (Exodus 12). Listen to the detailed, specific instructions.
          1. Each family was to acquire a lamb on the 10th of a specific month.
          2. The lamb was to be sacrificed on the 14th day of that month.
          3. The age of the lamb was specified.
          4. They were told what to do with the blood.
          5. They were told how to cook and eat the lamb.
          6. They were told what to eat with the lamb.
          7. They were told what to do with the leftovers.
          8. They were told not to eat yeast for the next seven days.
        2. Deuteronomy 16:1-8 gave these additional instructions.
          1. All lambs were to be sacrificed at one site.
          2. All the families of Israel were to cook and eat their lamb at that site.
        3. Numbers 9:1-14 declared:
          1. Who could eat the lamb.
          2. The consequences for an Israelite if he did not eat the Passover.
      2. The day of atonement was the second holiest day in Israel, and Leviticus 16 gives the worship instructions for that day. Read that chapter and you will see:
        1. Detailed procedures.
        2. Specific ways on how to dress the high priest and specific instructions on what he was to wear.
        3. The precise order of the sacrifices and the procedure for sacrifices.
        4. The use of the tabernacle (later the temple).
        5. The specific offerings to be given.
        6. You see detail upon detail, and at one point it declared that the high priest would die if he did not do exactly what he was supposed to do.
      3. In both these examples, the instructions are specific, detailed, and complex–and those occasions could be duplicated today because we are told exactly what to do and what procedure to follow.
    3. God’s work in the body of Christ, the church, is as simple as His work in the nation of Israel was complex.
      1. Through Christ, God reaches out to the whole world, not to a single nation.
      2. There are no approved geographic regions, no tribal boundaries, no tribal structure.
      3. There is no specified or approved site for worship–the place for public worship is not restricted.
      4. In public worship:
        1. There are no ritual procedures.
        2. There are no designated ceremonies.
        3. There are no prescribed formats or methods.
        4. There is no designated group of individuals to preside.
        5. There are no models to follow, no detailed instructions imposed.
        6. There are no holy days and no commemorative dates.
    4. It is appropriate to compare our observance of the Lord’s Supper with Israel’s observance of Passover.
      1. In the Lord’s Supper we remember the death of Jesus which marked the beginning of our deliverance from evil.
      2. In the Passover, Israel remembered their deliverance from Egyptian slavery; it marked the night that their slavery ended.
      3. Contrast our Lord’s Supper observance with their Passover observance.
        1. We use bread and grape juice; they used an entire meal.
        2. We were given no instructions on how to prepare the bread and wine; they were told how to cook the meal.
        3. We are not told “how” to eat the Lord’s Supper; they were told “how” to eat the Passover meal.
        4. Nothing is said to us about leftovers; they were told what to do with the leftovers.
        5. We are not restricted to a place; they were restricted to a place.
        6. We are told to remember Christ; they were given ritual ceremonies to keep.
    5. It is also appropriate to contrast our baptism with their day of atonement.
      1. When we are baptized, our sins are destroyed, permanently removed.
      2. On the day of atonement, their sins were temporarily removed for one year.
      3. Examine the contrast between baptism and the day of atonement.
        1. We were given no instructions about who should perform baptisms.
        2. Their high priest, with detailed instructions, was placed in charge and was governed by those specific instructions.
        3. We were not told how to proceed with a baptism (we were given no ceremony, no ritual, no procedure); baptism is a simple burial in water.
        4. They were governed by detailed ritual and ceremony.
        5. We are told nothing about what the baptized person should wear.
        6. The priests had specific instructions about what to wear.
        7. We offer no sacrifices.
        8. They had specific sacrifices to offer in prescribed procedures.
        9. Baptism is not “place dependent” or “time dependent.”
        10. They had to celebrate the day of atonement at one place on a specific day.
  3. The contrast is astounding: you cannot miss it–it is the complexity in Israel versus the simplicity in Christianity.
    1. Please do some more thinking.
      1. In the Old Testament:
        1. We can give many details about what happened at Passover.
        2. We can give many details about what happened on the day of atonement.
        3. We can give many details about various occasions of sacrificial worship.
        4. We know all kinds of laws governing the procedures given for Israel.
      2. But in the New Testament:
        1. We are told nothing about “how” they immersed a person in water; the emphasis is on the fact that it was done, not on how it was done.
        2. We are told nothing about “how” they took the Lord’s Supper.
          1. No account of proper observance of communion is recorded.
          2. No scripture is written to give us instructions.
        3. We are told nothing about how they conducted their worship assemblies.
          1. We do not have a single detailed account of their worship assemblies.
          2. No scripture tells us, “This is how you have a proper public worship.”
        4. There is nothing specific to turn into a ritual, ceremony, or procedure.
        5. There is nothing but silence about those matters.
    2. The laws of Israel were intended for one people, one very small nation; Christianity is intended for all people in all nations in all cultures in all societies.
      1. Christianity, by design, is so, so simple.
        1. Christians in public worship:
          1. Sang songs they understood that praised God and honored Christ.
          2. They observed the Lord’s supper, in a very simple way.
          3. They learned.
          4. They praised God and Christ.
          5. They prayed.
          6. What they did could be done simply at any place.
        2. Christians learned how to live.
          1. They learned how to treat each other.
          2. They learned how to be kind and helpful to those who were not Christians.
          3. They learned how to treat their families.
          4. They learned how to treat their fellow man.
          5. They learned how to be moral and act with integrity.
          6. They learned how to conduct business ethically.
          7. While doing these things is not simple, understanding what they did is very simple.
    3. Consider:
      1. A person approaches us saying, “I want to be a Christian, just a Christian. What must I do?”
        1. First, we sincerely tell the person that is wonderful.
        2. Second, we tell the person all that he or she needs to do is what the Bible says.
        3. Then, we help the person build faith in Jesus, we help the person understand repentance, and on the basis of his or her faith and repentance, we baptize him or her into Christ–being very careful to show the person how plainly the Bible teaches what to do.
        4. The person then asks, “Am I a Christian?” and we assure them, “Yes! You are a Christian!”
      2. Then the person begins trying to learn how we as a church do things , and quickly senses that it is not only important to do what scripture says, but that it is also important that he or she learns to do it exactly like we want it done.
      3. And that is not simple; in fact that is confusing.
        1. When he or she asks why we do many of the things we do, he or she may be told, “This is the way faithful people do it.”
        2. Quickly, it becomes anything but simple.
    4. It is too easy to use the silence of the New Testament to create an unwritten creed that we use to measure faithfulness.
      1. Look at all the rules we have about worship that come from the silence of scripture.
      2. Look at all the rules we have about the autonomy of the church that come from the silence of scripture.
      3. Look at all the rules we have about leadership in the church that come from the silence of scripture.
      4. Look at all the rules about organization that come from the silence of the scripture.

My point is not that all rules are evil and bad. My point is that we make a terrible mistake when we become so devoted to rules taken from silence that we destroy the simplicity of Christianity. When we take what God made simple and make it complex, we do not improve it.

Our rules, reasoned from the silence of scripture, paint a heavy coat of varnish on the church and hide the beauty of its God-given simplicity.

How do we remove the varnish? By each one of us catching ourselves in the act when we do that. By each of us refusing to measure faithfulness by rules that come from silence.

God Reveals His Glory Through Us

Posted by on under Sermons

Have you wanted to be someone else? As children, we all probably wished we were someone else. A very common fantasy of children is pretending to be their hero or superstar.

As an adult, have you ever wanted to be someone else? Some of us would say, “No, I have never wanted to be anyone but me.” Some of us would say, “Yes, I would like to be someone else every day of my life.” To those of us who say, “No, I have always wanted to be me,” have you ever wanted to swap places with someone else? That is wanting to be “me” in his or her circumstances. That is awfully close to wanting to be someone else.

As a Christian, have you ever wanted to be someone else? Have you ever thought, “Spiritually, my life would be a lot simpler if I could change places with him (or her). Have you ever thought, “I could do what I want to do for the Lord if I had her (or his) life!”

Perhaps more often than we realize we say to ourselves, “If I had her money…,” or, “If I had his voice…,” or, “If I had her talent…,” or, “If I had his education…,” or, “If I had her opportunities…,” or, “If I had his leadership ability…,” or, “If I had her background…,” or, “If I had his speaking ability then I could do something truly significant for God.”

Let me ask the same question in several different ways. What is the most important thing a person can do for God? What is the most significant thing a person can do for God? What is the most valuable thing a person can do for God?

The most important thing you can do for God is to let God reveal His glory through your life. The most significant thing you can do for God is to let God reveal His glory through your life. The most valuable thing you can do for God is to let God reveal His glory through your life.

Nothing we can do brings greater tribute to God, nothing more fully accomplishes God’s purposes than our allowing God to reveal His glory through our lives.

  1. Unfortunately, most of us believe we have to be something we can never be before God can be glorified in our lives.
    1. We just do not believe that the life we have, that the abilities we possess, that the life situation we are in can be used by God to bring glory to Himself.
      1. If we were a person that it is impossible for us to be,
      2. If we could do things that it is impossible for us to do,
      3. If we had opportunities that will never exist for us,
      4. Then, if we were that other person, doing those impossible things, and having those impossible opportunities, God could use us to glorify Himself.
      5. But God cannot glorify Himself in us if we are who we are, with our situation, with our struggles, with our problems–or so we believe.
    2. About 2000 years ago some Christians came to that same conclusion.
      1. Listen to what Paul said to them in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (read).
      2. If I understand that situation correctly, this was what happened.
        1. Some converted Jews said, “If I had not been born and reared as a Jew, I could really serve Christ–I would not be steeped in all these legalistic, isolationist attitudes and perspectives that hinder me spiritually.”
        2. Some converted non-Jews said, “If I had not been born and reared in a family of idol worshipers, I could really serve Christ–but I don’t know anything about scripture; I don’t even know much about the true God.”
        3. Some converted slaves said, “If I were not a slave, I could really serve Christ–but I am not free, and so many things happen in my life that I have no control over.”
      3. Paul said, “Your thinking is completely misdirected–you miss the point.”
        1. “You can be the Christian God wants you to be just by being who you are where you are.”
        2. “You do not have to change life situations to be able to accomplish God’s purposes in your life.”
        3. “Allowing Christ to live in you in your life situation and circumstances is precisely what God wants to happen.”
    3. What Paul said and the New Testament repeatedly affirms is a message we need to shout in Fort Smith.
      1. Too long we deliberately have created the impression that God’s glory can be revealed only by one particular type of life and distinctive kind of person.
      2. That impression is this: “God can be glorified only by:
        1. “The person who establishes a Christian family and maintains a Christian home.
        2. “The person who has no struggles, has no ‘serious’ personal problems.
        3. “The person who always makes the right decision and does the right thing.
        4. “The person who never had a moral problem.
        5. “The person who never had an addiction problem–greed, alcohol, or drugs.
        6. “The person who never had any financial problems.
        7. “The person who never made any horrible mistakes.
        8. “The person who was ‘good’ before baptism and remained ‘good’ after baptism.”
          1. He did not need to repent of anything serious.
          2. He just need to keep doing what he was doing and living like he was living.
      3. When we affirm that this is the only person who can reveal God’s glory, we automatically affirm these things.
        1. We affirm that if you are not married you cannot glorify God as well as the Christian who is married.
        2. We affirm that if your marriage failed, you cannot fully glorify God.
        3. We affirm that if you experienced moral problems, you cannot glorify God fully.
        4. We affirm that if you struggle with any kind of addiction, you cannot glorify God.
        5. We affirm that if you made bad decisions and choices, if you made serious mistakes, if you struggle with serious problems, then God is limited in the way He can use your life to bring Him glory.
        6. God just cannot be truly glorified in lives like those.
      4. Just who declared that? Is that God speaking, or that us speaking?
  2. If you have been a Christian for ten years, and if you are a serious student of the Bible–you regularly study the Bible to understand and learn: and aside from Jesus Christ, there is one person who has spiritually influenced your life more powerfully than anyone else.
    1. This person who influences your life so powerfully was:
      1. A man of violence (Acts 8:3).
      2. An aggressive intimidator who used fear to destroy Christians (Acts 26:11).
      3. A man who called Jesus a liar and impostor who was anything but God’s son (Acts 26:9, 10).
      4. He physically abused Christians and treated them with total contempt (Acts 9:1, 2).
    2. When this man became a Christian, he had the visible appearance and personal presence of a weak man (2 Corinthians 10:10).
      1. He struggled with a problem that prevented him from serving Christ as effectively as he wanted to (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
      2. And there is considerable evidence that a number of Christians had no respect for him (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).
    3. Yet, most Christians today see God’s glory shining through this man’s life.
      1. It is probable that he influences your spiritual thinking and your Christian concepts as much as Jesus Christ.
      2. Unfortunately, when we affirm spiritual truth and declare Christian doctrine, many Christians are more likely to quote this man than our Savior, Jesus.
    4. And just who is this man? In the New Testament, he is the apostle Paul.
      1. And what did Paul say about himself as a Christian?
      2. Read with me 1 Timothy 1:12-17.
      3. Did God use Paul’s life to reveal God’s glory? Yes.
        1. You mean that God revealed His glory through this aggressive, strong-headed, driven, unmarried man?
        2. You mean that God revealed His glory through this man who once helped kill Christians, who once declared Jesus was an impostor and liar, and who once used violence to enforce his religious views?
        3. You mean that God revealed His glory through this man who, as a Christian, was held in contempt by the Jews, who was declared weak and ineffective by some Christians, and who was a target for persecution most places that he went?
        4. You mean that God revealed His glory through this man who spent a lot of time in jail or prison, who was run out of town more than once, and who was executed as a dangerous criminal?
      4. And what did this Paul say about himself?
        1. “God was making a statement through me.”
        2. “God said that He sent Jesus to save sinners–any sinner of any kind.”
        3. “When God saved me, he saved the worst sinner that ever existed.”
        4. “He saved me to declare to all sinners that if God could save me in Jesus Christ, God can save anyone.”
        5. “I am the proof of the perfect patience of Jesus.”
        6. “I am the example of God’s power to forgive anyone who dares place his or her faith in Jesus Christ.”
  3. God makes a statement in the life of every man and woman who places faith and life in Jesus Christ–no matter who he or she is, no matter what he or she has done.
    1. When God makes this statement, God uses the person to reveal His glory.
      1. Every time a person repents, God is revealing His glory through that person.
      2. Every time a person fails, then reaches out to clasp God’s hand, God is revealing His glory through that person.
      3. Every time a person lives a life of struggle and hardship in Jesus Christ, God is revealing His glory through that person.
      4. Every time a person burdened with a weakness is sustained by God, God is revealing His glory through that person.
    2. That is not my speculation; that is believing and affirming what the Bible says.
      1. Peter cursed and swore, saying that he never knew Jesus, and God used that to reveal His glory (Matthew 26:69-75).
      2. Jesus struggled in Gethsemane, praying until he sweated, sweating as though he were bleeding, and God used that to reveal His glory (Luke 22:44).
      3. A thief begged for consideration as he died at Jesus’ side, and God used that to reveal His glory (Luke 23:39-43).
      4. Paul, the man of violence, the blasphemer, repented, and God used that to reveal His glory (1 Timothy 1:12-17).
      5. Barnabas with generous and kind heart sold his property and gave the money to help Christians in need, and God used that to reveal His glory (Acts 4:32-37).
      6. Dorcas made clothing for people who had none, and God used that to reveal His glory (Acts 9:36-43).
    3. If you place your faith in Christ and hold to God’s hand, if you from the heart repent of the evil that trips you up every time that evil trips you, and if you draw your life and strength from the goodness and forgiveness of God, God will use you and your life to reveal His glory.
      1. If I am single? Yes.
      2. If I am a single parent? Yes.
      3. If I am divorced? Yes.
      4. If I am in a troubled marriage? Yes.
      5. If I am really struggling? Yes.
      6. If I have made some really dumb moral mistakes? Yes.
      7. If I have a good life, a good home, and few problems? Yes–as long as you place your faith in Christ instead of yourself.
    4. Luke 8:26-39 tells us that Jesus once met a man who was a demon-possessed maniac.
      1. He was violent and uncontrollable as he terrorized the whole area running around naked, screaming–his strength was incredible, and no one dared get close to him!
      2. Jesus cast a multitude of demons out of this man and permitted the demons to enter a herd of pigs on the hillside by the sea.
        1. The pigs immediately stampeded into the sea and drowned.
      3. Everyone came from town to see what happened.
        1. They saw two things.
        2. A herd of dead pigs floating in the sea.
        3. The former maniac sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet, clothed, in his right mind.
      4. And all those people were afraid and asked Jesus to leave their area.
      5. The man wanted to leave with Jesus so badly that he begged, “Please, let me go with you.”
        1. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be for him to continue to live in that place?
        2. Can you imagine how grateful he was?
        3. Can you imagine how much he wanted to be with Jesus?
      6. But listen to what Jesus said: “Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you.”
      7. Or, “Let God reveal His glory through you right here.”

It takes a whole world filled with every kind of people in every kind of situation to reveal God’s glory.

Do you have a great marriage? A wonderful home? A spiritual life of opportunity? Let God use you to reveal His glory.

Are you struggling? Weak? Do you have problems bigger than you are? Have you made enormous mistakes? Let God use you to reveal His glory.

Are you single? A single parent? Divorced? In a troubled marriage? Let God use you to reveal His glory.

Your ability to glorify God is not based on what you can do to help God, but on what God can do to help you.

Through Jesus Christ, God can work in all of us. It will take all of us in all of our situations to reveal what an incredible, glorious God and Savior that we have.

Reflecting Jesus’ Compassion

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Jesus healed many sick people and fed many hungry people. He validated his spiritual message by ministering to physical needs. He always was concerned about the whole person–mind, body, emotions, and spirit. He reeducated minds, fed bodies, redirected emotions, and cleansed spirits. He healed the body and forgave the sins.

He stressed the fact that his disciples concerned themselves with people’s physical and spiritual well being. Read Matthew 25:31-46 again.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Wealthy Christians were instructed to place their hope in God. They did so by being rich in good works, generosity, and readiness to share (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

We are wealthy Christians. If you compare our living standard to people of virtually all other nations, we are unbelievably prosperous.

Is the Church an Institution?

Posted by on March 16, 1997 under Sermons

If I use the phrase, “blood-bought institution,” what do you think of? I make these predictions. First, I predict that a visitor unfamiliar with the Church of Christ may be wondering, “Whatever is he talking about?” Second, I predict that most of our teens and twenty-year-old adults assign no meaning to that phrase. Third, I predict that many of our thirty- and forty-year-old adults think that phrase has a familiar ring to it. Fourth, I predict that everyone over fifty who grew up in the Church of Christ immediately assigns a meaning to that phrase.

When I was a teenager, the phrase “blood-bought institution” was commonly used in the church. In Acts 20:28, Paul reminded the elders of the church in Ephesus that the Holy Spirit made them overseers to shepherd the church of God which the Lord purchased (or acquired) with his own blood. Clearly Paul said the church was purchased or acquired by Jesus’ blood.

Are elders to be overseers in the church? Yes. Are they to be shepherds in the church? Yes. Does the church belong to God and to Jesus? Yes. Did Jesus acquire or purchase the church with his own blood? Yes. Is the church an institution? We need to think about that question carefully before we answer.

Remember our key illustration. Grandma’s funeral has just been conducted. The adult children and grandchildren are looking around in the attic of the old home place. They see an old table that looks awful–it has so much paint and varnish on it that it looks like a piece of junk. The oldest son takes it home, carefully strips off all the paint and varnish, and finds a priceless treasure. It is hand-crafted by excellent craftsmanship and made of beautiful walnut. This valuable treasure appeared to be junk because it was covered with so much paint and varnish.

The church is like that table. It was hand-crafted by the superb craftsmanship of Jesus Christ. It is one of God’s unique treasures in this world. But to too many, it has the appearance of a piece of junk. It has been varnished and painted so many times they cannot see the divine craftsmanship nor the exquisite material.

We want to remove the varnish to allow the beauty of God’s treasure to be seen.

  1. Our concepts are formed and shaped by our known realities and experiences.
    1. Each time we conceptualize something, each time we understand something, each time we picture something in our minds, we combine our knowledge and experience.
      1. That is all that we can do.
      2. We cannot generate concepts and understanding that are based on things that we know absolutely nothing about.
    2. Every one of us is a product of the industrial world.
      1. Those of us who are older have spent most of our lives in the industrial world, and those of us under retirement age have spent every day of our lives in the industrial world.
      2. All of us live in a world created by the industrial revolution.
    3. There was a very different world prior to the industrial revolution, and that world had no industrial concepts.
      1. Some of us love and appreciate the craftsmanship of the pre-industrial world; we value antiques.
      2. We value antiques because we appreciate the creativity of personal craftsmanship.
      3. Consider the differences between the productivity of personal craftsmanship and the productivity of industry.
        1. The product of craftsmanship depended upon the knowledge, skills, and understanding of a craftsman.
          1. He had the “know-how.”
          2. He had the creativity.
          3. He understood the product he was producing, the materials he worked with, and the necessary steps to make the product.
          4. He was involved in each step from beginning to end.
        2. The product of industry depends upon the knowledge of management.
          1. A person is just a part of the labor force that produces the product.
          2. As a laborer, the person does not have to possess creative skills, he does not have to understand the materials being used, and he does not have to know how to produce the product.
          3. All he has to know is how to perform his job well.
        3. A craftsman depended on himself, his mind, his skills, his understanding, and his creativity.
        4. A laborer in industry depends on management–he does his specific job well and with understanding, but that is all that is basically required of him.
      4. Look at the contrast (I am not making a good versus bad comparison):
        1. An individual with talent and experience produces a product that exists as a result of his own creative craftsmanship; he uses but is not dependent upon those who assist him.
        2. A laborer in an industry partially produces a product and is dependent on the industry’s ownership, board of directors, management, and his fellow laborers.
      5. This is the point that I want you to consider:
        1. In the pre-industrial world, our concept of institution did not even exist.
        2. After the industrial world existed, the institution was life’s common reality.
    4. Today our daily world is increasingly complex because of technological revolution.
      1. Now our economic world is marrying skilled, creative jobs to institutional structures.
      2. As a result, creative teamwork is evolving as we watch whole industries become dependent on creative teams and their skills.
      3. And, too commonly, the institution with its layers of owners, boards of directors, and management is a liability instead of an asset.
    5. What is my point?
      1. In the world you and I live in, the institutional concept is a part of the foundation of our thinking.
        1. The institutional concept is a basic concept in all of our lives.
        2. When we think about any body of people working together to accomplish something, we use our institutional concepts.
      2. The church is a body of people working together to accomplish God’s purposes.
        1. Because the institution is basic to our everyday life and world, we automatically think in institutional terms.
        2. We assume that the church is an institution–that assumption is so common that it is accepted as fact.
        3. It is natural for us to form our concepts of the church by using our institutional thinking and understanding.
          1. It is natural to use the institutional concept to decide how the church should do things.
          2. It is natural to use the institutional concept to decide how the church should be led and directed.
          3. It is natural to use the institutional concept to measure success in the church.
  2. Let me show you how this is done.
    1. Consider the congregation:
      1. God is the owner.
      2. Jesus is the C.E.O., Chief Executive Officer.
      3. The elders are the board of directors.
      4. The deacons and ministry leaders are management.
      5. Members are the work force.
    2. That is the institutional concept.
      1. Most members of the Church of Christ who either grew up in the church or spent most of their lives in the church think of the church in these institutional terms.
      2. But there is a critical problem with our institutional concept.
        1. We have made a critical assumption for a long time.
        2. We assume that the church is an institution.
          1. All reasoning about the church begins with that assumption in place and unchallenged.
          2. Many of our common concerns about what the church should or should not do are based on the assumption that the church is an institution.
        3. Yet, the truth is this: the church existed hundreds of years prior to the industrial revolution, prior to the institutional concept.
        4. In Jesus’ day and Paul’s day, there had never been a board of directors, a C.E.O., or management and labor as we know them today.
      3. If we are serious about being the church of the New Testament, we cannot base our concepts on the assumption that the church is an institution.
  3. The institution of today and the nation of Israel in the Bible have something in common: both used a hierarchy.
    1. We have already noted the hierarchy of an institution: owner(s), C.E.O., board of directors, management (several layers), laborers.
      1. Any idea or problem from labor must go through the layers of that hierarchy.
      2. Any institutional directive must come down through the layers of that hierarchy.
    2. The religion, Judaism, had a hierarchy: God, high priest, priests, Levites, Israelite man, Israelite woman.
    3. Typical government in the ancient world had a hierarchy: king, his counselors or advisors, his officers in charge of specific assignments, the citizen (who existed to serve the king), slaves (the work force).
    4. Just as we naturally think in institutional terms, first-century people naturally thought in hierarchy terms.
  4. Both the institutional concept and the hierarchy concept share some common concerns: who has the power? who is in control? who has the right to make decisions and enforce them?
    1. In the church we commonly combine both concepts: we function as a church on the basis of hierarchy and institution.
      1. In both the institution and the hierarchy, we theoretically vest power in the elders.
      2. The number one issue that causes so many problems in the church is the power/control issue.
        1. So many of our problems involve control.
        2. So many of our problems involve struggles for power.
        3. Too often the issue is not what scripture actually says.
          1. An issue may involve reasoned conclusions.
          2. The real issue is not what scripture actually says; the real issue is control.
          3. Control becomes an essential concern because the church is viewed as an institution, and control is the primary issue in an institution.
    2. In both the institutional concept and the hierarchy concept, you create territories or turfs.
      1. Law #1: You shall at all times correctly identify territorial boundaries.
      2. Law # 2: You shall at all times respect those boundaries.
      3. Law # 3: You shall not, for any reason, invade the territory of someone who occupies a position higher than yours.
  5. Is the church an institution?
    1. Please consider the evidence for yourself by examining the book of Acts.
      1. The first congregation came into existence in Acts 2.
        1. Verse 42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread (Lord’s supper), and prayer.
        2. Verse 44, 45: They shared their material possessions and provided financial assistance to those who were in need.
        3. Verse 46: Daily they assembled at the temple courtyard and joyfully ate meals together in their homes.
        4. Verse 47: They praised God and had an excellent reputation in Jerusalem.
        5. Verse 47: Every day the Lord added those who were being saved to them.
        6. Are those the activities of an institution?
      2. Acts 4:32-37 tells us more about their activities (the apostles have been arrested and released.)
        1. Verse 32: They were of one heart and one soul.
        2. Verse 32: They regarded their material possessions as common property.
        3. Verse 33: The apostles were powerfully serving as witnesses of the resurrection.
        4. Verse 34: No one was in need.
        5. Are those the activities of an institution?
      3. In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira were caught in their lie and immediately died.
        1. Verse 11 says, “And great fear came upon the whole church…”
      4. Acts 8 gives us some very specific insights into the concept of church.
        1. Verse 1 states that on the very day the Christian Steven was killed a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem.
        2. Verse 3 states that Paul ravaged the church by making a house-to-house search, by entering the private homes of Christians, and by dragging Christians out of their homes and taking them to prison.
      5. Acts 9:30 tells us that Christians in Jerusalem helped Paul return home to Tarsus because his life was in danger.
        1. When Paul left, Jerusalem and the area quieted down.
        2. And the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed peace, was built up, and–in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit–continued to grow in number.
      6. Acts 11:22 tells us that news about a new congregation in Antioch of Syria “reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem.”
      7. Acts 11:26 states that Paul and Barnabas spent an entire year in Antioch meeting with the church and teaching considerable numbers; and it was here that for the first time disciples were called Christians.
      8. Acts 12:1 states that Herod the king arrested “some who belonged to the church” and mistreated them.
        1. Verse 5 says that the church prayed fervently for Peter when he was arrested.
      9. Acts 13:1, 2 states that at Antioch in the church there were prophets and teachers who ministered to the Lord and fasted.
      10. Acts 14:23 informs us that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders “for them in every church.”
      11. Acts 14:27 states they gathered the church together in Antioch to give them a report–they were the church whether gathered or ungathered.
      12. Acts 15 states:
        1. In verse 3 that Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem by the church.
        2. In verse 4 that when they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church.
        3. In verse 22 that the decision to send letters to Gentile congregations about a controversial doctrinal decision was made by the apostles, elders, and the whole church.
        4. In verse 41 that Paul and Silas traveled through the areas of Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches.
    2. Does the collective evidence of those scriptures support the idea that the church is an institution?
      1. In my understanding, it does not.
      2. In my understanding, the evidence confirms that the church is a community, a community that places its faith in Jesus, that exists in the love of God, and that loves and cares for all community members as they seek to share Jesus with others.

In your thinking and your studying, I ask you to seriously consider this: is it possible that one of the reasons the church continues to experience so many unspiritual problems is because we are trying to force what God designed to exist and function as a community to exist and function like an institution?

I submit this for your consideration: when we present the church as an institution, we paint a very heavy coat of varnish on God’s masterpiece.

How do we remove the varnish? By each one of us learning how to be a loving part of the community instead of trying to belong to an institution.

God’s Goodness or Our Goodness?

Posted by on under Sermons

I want you to focus on your relationships. I particularly ask you to focus on your best relationships. Would you please call to mind your three best, most successful relationships? By name and by face, focus on the three people with whom you have your finest relationships. Do you have them pictured? Now answer this question: Are those three people good people?

Let’s use three relationships as examples. “One of the greatest relationships is my relationship with my wife (or my husband).” If I asked, “Is your wife (or husband) a good person?” you would say, “Oh, yes!” and then you would tell me about her or his good qualities. To you, one of the reasons it is such a wonderful relationship is found in the fact that she or he is a good person.

“One of my greatest relationships is with my father (or my mother). Again, if I asked, “Is your father (or your mother) a good person?” you would respond, “Oh, yes!” and then tell me about your father or mother’s good qualities. To you, one of the reasons that it is a wonderful relationship is because your father or mother is such a good person.

“One of my greatest relationships is with my best friend. She (or he) is incredible! You cannot believe how close we are!” If I asked, “Is your best friend a good person?” you would promptly tell me, “Oh, yes!” and tell me about her or him. To you, one of the reasons you two share an exceptional relationship is found in the fact that she or he is such a good person.”

Question: How many exceptional relationships do you have with individuals that you do not consider to be good persons? Certainly, some of us have exceptional relationships with persons who are not considered “good.” That is definitely possible. While it is possible, it is unusual.

That fact clearly distinguishes God from us. We are most likely to have exceptional relationships with good people. God can and does have exceptional relationships with anyone. The prerequisite for a quality relationship with God is not personal goodness. The prerequisites for a quality relationship with God are a heart that will repent and confidence in God’s promises.

  1. When you and I measure human goodness, we base our measurements on human-to-human comparisons.
    1. When we determine a person’s goodness, we do not use an absolute standard; instead, we make relative comparisons.
      1. How good the person looks depends on the context of the comparison.
        1. To whom or to what is he or she being compared? Or, he or she is good as compared to what or to whom?
        2. It is possible to look very good in one comparative context, quite average in another, and bad in still another.
      2. “I don’t understand that. Can you help me understand?”
        1. This is the description of the person: He uses a lot of curse words and vulgar expressions when he talks and those words have no significance to him; he does not have much patience with people; and he possess poor relationship skills. So it is easy for him to argue, easy for him to be offensive, and easy for him to hurt other people’s feelings.
        2. If you compare this person to a group of godly people, he does not look like a good person.
        3. If you compare him with a group of non-religious people in the community, he is no worse than average and may even be better than most.
        4. If you compare him with a group of violent criminals in prison, he looks like and sounds like a really good person.
      3. I think that illustrates relative or comparative goodness.
    2. When most of us rate the goodness or the badness of a person:
      1. We typically rate the person’s goodness by the way his or her life and deeds impact other people.
        1. “These are the good ways that his or her life influences other people’s lives.”
        2. “This is the good that is produced through his or her deeds.”
      2. We typically rate the evil of another person’s life in the same way.
        1. “This is the bad influence he or she has on others.”
        2. “These are the bad deeds he has done and their consequences.”
      3. In our human view, it is the good or bad impact of a person’s life on other people that determines if the person is good or bad.
    3. What we seldom consider is the impact of a person’s life on God.
      1. We seem to think that humans have impact on humans, but humans do not have impact on God.
      2. A lot of testimony from scripture declares that is not true.
        1. Humans totally corrupted God’s creation–God made it very good, but now the creation is in such ruin that it waits for its destruction (2 Peter 3:10). That had an enormous impact on God
        2. Humans destroyed the ideal, unrestricted relationship between God and people (Genesis 3). That had an enormous impact on God.
        3. Humans have caused God centuries of grief (Genesis 6:1-8). That has enormous impact on God.
        4. Humans placed God in internal conflict by placing God’s justice and God’s love in conflict (Hosea 11). That had enormous impact on God.
        5. If you want to see the reality of the impact human evil has had on God just remember that it was necessary for God to allow His Son to die because of human failure.
      3. And these are just the obvious ways that human evil impacted God.
    4. This is the way that we tend to evaluate evil in human life:
      1. Position one: Attitudes and emotions are not evil if they do not physically harm someone else.
      2. Position two: If your deeds do not immediately, visibly hurt someone else, your deeds should not be called evil.
      3. Position three: If the people involved in an activity are involved by personal choice, it is their business and that should not be called evil.
      4. Why? Because we evaluate good or evil by evaluating the impact that one person has on other persons.
  2. Let’s use an illustration that grabs our minds and shakes our thinking.
    1. If you made your own list of the ten worst evils, what would be on your list?
      1. How many of these things would be on your list?
        1. Homosexuality.
        2. Adultery.
        3. Prostitution.
        4. Rape.
        5. Murder.
        6. Abortion.
        7. Child abuse.
        8. Child abduction.
        9. Random violence.
        10. Criminal injustice (when innocent people are victimized by deliberate criminal injustice).
      2. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, and Revelation 21:8 give lists of evils that will prevent a person from inheriting the kingdom of heaven.
        1. The list in 1 Corinthians 5:10, 11 includes six things, and two of them are verbal abusiveness and swindling.
        2. The list in Galatians 5:19-21 includes fifteen things and three of them are greed, swindling, and verbal abuse.
        3. The list in Revelation 21:8 includes eight things and one of them is lying.
      3. Would your list of the ten worst evils include verbal abuse, swindling, greed, and lying?
    2. It is obvious that we do not define evil as God does–we are certain that there are much worse evils than verbal abuse, swindling, greed, and lying.
      1. We do not determine evil as God does because we do not determine good as God does.
      2. This is the difference:
        1. God is absolute goodness.
          1. He is pure good.
          2. There is a total absence of evil in God.
        2. We have never seen or experienced absolute good.
          1. If we saw absolute good, I doubt that we would recognize it.
          2. You and I are so far removed from absolute good that we cannot recognize all the evil in our own lives.
        3. When God determines good or evil, He compares a person’s heart, mind, and actions to absolute good.
        4. When you and I determine good or evil, we compare imperfect people to imperfect people.
    3. “Is it important that we understand that difference?” It is not only important; it is critical.
      1. Let me illustrate the importance by using something I taught in the past.
      2. Question: How much divine grace does it take to save a person?
        1. Here is a devout Christian; he is 65% good; God adds 35% grace.
        2. Here is a struggling Christian; he is 40% good; God adds 60% grace.
        3. Here is a weak Christian; he is only 10% good; God adds 90% grace.
        4. Here is a Christian who has entered Christ, but is completely without goodness; if he can be saved, God must add 100% grace.
        5. Conclusion: if you, with genuine faith and repentance, are as good as you can be, by whatever % you miss the mark, God will add that much grace.
      3. I pray that I did not do serious damage to anyone’s life with that teaching.
        1. I was sincere, but I was sincerely wrong.
        2. That whole concept is a personal insult to the goodness of God.
        3. How much grace does it take to save us?
          1. It takes the same amount for each and every one of us; 100%.
          2. It takes all of everything God did when He let Jesus die and when He raised Jesus from the dead.
          3. It takes all of His forgiveness and all of His mercy.
  3. Please let Jesus emphasize that point in Luke 15:11-32.
    1. A wealthy man had two sons, and the younger son was rebellious and unhappy.
      1. He told his father, “I want my inheritance right now.”
        1. Within days of receiving his inheritance, he was out of there–went as far as he could get from father and older brother.
        2. He went so far away from home that absolutely nothing reminded him of home–no synagogue, no Sabbath day, no prayers, no readings, and no reminders of any kind that he was a Jew or a part of God’s nation.
        3. Whatever he felt like doing, whatever he wanted to do, he did, and he wasted every bit of his money–he had nothing.
        4. He spent it all having fun in any way he wanted to pleasure himself.
        5. When he was broke, hard times hit the country he was in; everyone was having hard times.
        6. He had no place to stay, no food, no friends, and the only job he could get was slopping hogs.
        7. He was so hungry that he would have eaten the hogs’ food had it been digestible.
        8. One day, in the hog pen, dirty, tired, and hungry, he came to his senses–with real courage, he decided to go home, confess to his father what an evil fool he had been, admit that he had sinned against his father and God, and just maybe his father would let him work as a servant.
      2. Every day his father looked down the road, hoping his son would return.
        1. He never gave up.
        2. And one day he saw his skinny, ragged, dirty son in the distance and recognized him.
        3. He ran to him, hugged and kissed him, and welcomed him home.
        4. In honor of his return, the father immediately threw a big party for the neighborhood because a son who was dead to him had come home.
      3. The older brother was working out in the field when he heard the celebration.
        1. He asked someone, “What is going on?” and was told that it was a celebration because his brother had returned home.
        2. He was angry! Angry that a wonderful greeting was given his worthless brother! Angry that he had always stayed home and worked hard and never received such attention!.
        3. He was so angry that he refused his own father’s pleading to come join the celebration.
    2. This parable makes a powerful statement about God’s love and a powerful statement about God’s goodness.
      1. We often have discussed God’s love to be seen in the father’s forgiveness of his wayward son.
      2. But I want you to consider the statement about God’s goodness to be seen in the angry son.
        1. The older brother was so impressed with his own goodness that he could not see his father’s goodness.
        2. The older brother’s concept of goodness was comparative or relative goodness.
          1. He was good because his brother was bad.
          2. He was good because his brother left home but he stayed.
          3. He was good because his brother behaved wickedly and he behaved responsibly.
        3. But his father was good because he loved his son, loved beyond failure, loved because he valued his son.
          1. He did not value his lost son more than his son that stayed home.
          2. Nor did he love one more than the other.
          3. The truth is simple: in his goodness, he loved both completely.
          4. When you compare the goodness of the oldest brother to the goodness of the father, the oldest brother looks mean and heartless.
          5. It is only when you compare the older brother to the failure of the younger brother that the older brother looks good.
        4. This is the tragedy: the older brother was so concerned about being rewarded for his own goodness that he forfeited his relationship with his father who loved him.
    3. The tragic irony is this: it is very common for the goodness of God to “turn off” and “leave cold” those Christians who are impressed with their own goodness.
      1. We don’t like to remember what Jesus said in Luke 17:10:
        When you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.”
      2. We find it painful when we realize that every one of us is saved by the goodness of God.
      3. We find it painful to understand that when we are compared to the absolute goodness of God, all of us are without true goodness.

Will it make you mad if our sovereign God, our father who loves all people completely, saves someone you think should not be saved? Or will you rejoice in the goodness of God, knowing that it is His goodness that makes your salvation possible?

The Joy of Salvation Expresses Itself

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The first natural, spontaneous expression of Christianity was generosity. A huge crowd of people heard Peter explain that they had encouraged and supported the execution of God’s Son (Acts 2:14-41). Three thousand openhearted people repented and were baptized that day. And the first congregation of Christians began.

The apostles taught them many things (Acts 2:42), but one reaction to their newly found salvation in God’s new Savior was spontaneous. Generosity exploded!

“Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:43-47)

“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:32-37)

The Church Must Get the Credit!

Posted by on March 9, 1997 under Sermons

In December, close to Christmas, Joyce and I were tired physically and emotionally. In a period of about 2 months, we moved out of a house that we had lived in twenty-two years; we prepared that house to be put on the market; we bought a house here with much less storage space; and we moved in. We needed to relax.

One Friday night we decided to eat out and go to a movie. After eating, we arrived at the theater early. We were among the first people there, but soon three ladies came and sat two rows in front of us.

Joyce and I were talking, so I hardly noticed them. They seemed to be talking about an acquaintance whose behavior confused them. I only heard two statements, but both caught my attention. One of the three said, “She’s Church of Christ.” Another responded, “Oh! That explains it.” From their tone, it was obvious that they were not impressed. The image projected by her being “Church of Christ” was not a positive image.

Please remember the primary illustration from last week. Grandma died and left an old table in the attic. It has been varnished and painted so many times that it looked like a piece of junk. Only when her oldest son stripped all the paint and varnish off did he discover the table was a treasure, not a piece of junk. When he removed the paint and varnish he found a beautiful walnut table handmade by a skilled craftsman.

The church is like that table. It was made by the skilled craftsmanship of Jesus, and it is made out of Jesus. It is unique and incredibly beautiful. But it has been painted and varnished so many times that it appears to be a piece of junk to many, many people.

We want to remove the paint and varnish without damaging the craftsmanship or marring the wood.

  1. I ask you to do something that is very difficult for many of us to do.
    1. I want you to look at the Church of Christ through the eyes of a person who has never belonged to any church.
      1. There are a few of us who can do that with relative ease.
        1. A person who can do that with relative ease did not become a Christian until he or she was an adult.
        2. He or she has actually looked at the church through those eyes.
      2. However most of us find it very hard to look at the Church of Christ as though we have never been a member of any church.
        1. Most of us have families that have been members of the Church of Christ for two, three, or four generations.
        2. We have always looked at the church from a very specific perspective and have a hard time understanding that other people can not see it as we see it.
        3. It comes as quite a shock to many of us to learn how others look at the church.
    2. If a person has never been a member of any church, it is highly probable that his or her concepts of church, any church, are negative concepts.
      1. Common negative concept one: churches intensify and perpetuate people’s pain.
        1. A church is not a place to get help if you have a problem causing you to suffer.
        2. A church will intensify your guilt feelings but will do little to help you resolve the problem or deal with the emotional pain.
        3. If you tell a church that you have the problem, they will tell you how evil you are for having that problem, and they will limit their association with you.
        4. People in a church want you to know that they don’t have your problem, they don’t like your problem, and that you are inferior because you have the problem.
      2. Common negative concept two: churches intensify hopelessness.
        1. If you are determined to stay even though you have a problem, a church still does not give you any real direction or hope.
        2. If you openly declare: “I am struggling with ‘x’ problem. I want to recover my life and redirect it. What do I need to do?”
        3. If your problem is one that churches do not deal with, they will tell you:
          1. “You have a very serious problem.”
          2. “Beyond repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness, we don’t know what to suggest.”
          3. “We don’t know what God will do or can do in a case like yours.”
        4. Christians need to understand how easy it is to make people who struggle with guilt and pain conclude that their situation is hopeless.
    3. We need to understand that to those who do not belong to any church, churches are a dime a dozen.
      1. While we are convinced that we are unique and distinctive, they are not.
      2. From their vantage point:
        1. Many churches are dedicated to evangelism.
        2. Many churches seriously study the Bible.
        3. Many churches acknowledge the Bible to be God’s word to people.
        4. Many churches regard the Bible to be God’s authority.
        5. Many churches are dedicated to prayer and to dependence on God and Christ.
      3. While it may come as a surprise to us, there are numerous churches that are committed to the concept of restoration.
        1. Right at this moment, there is probably more concern in more American religious bodies for returning to the Bible than there ever has been in America.
        2. There is more concern than there ever has been about accepting the Bible as the exclusive divine guide.
        3. In this shared desire to restore Christianity, there will be basic disagreement about how to pursue restoration and what to restore.
        4. But there will be little difference in the shared concern for the importance and necessity of returning to the Bible and Jesus Christ.
    4. By far the largest segment of our American society is those people who belong to no church.
      1. We must understand that our declarations and claims do not make us distinct as far as those people are concerned.
      2. To us, in our own opinion, our declarations and claims make us distinct.
      3. But to them, our declarations and claims give us no distinction.
    5. When we fail to understand that, when we preach and teach, we just talk to ourselves.
  2. Throughout this century we have placed a major emphasis on preserving the distinctiveness of the church.
    1. That is a valid concern.
      1. We need distinctively to belong to Jesus Christ.
      2. We need distinctively to have the purposes that Jesus Christ gave us.
      3. We need distinctively to be God’s family.
      4. We need to establish and preserve that distinctiveness.
    2. However, in our desire to preserve the distinctiveness of the church, we have reasoned ourselves to a set of different concerns. Our reasoning has gone something like this:
      1. Position one: To preserve the distinctiveness of the church, it must get credit for anything that happens religiously or spiritually.
      2. Position two: We must advance and preserve the image of the church by being careful to do only those things that will give credit to the Church of Christ; we must not take part in any cooperative efforts.
        1. Cooperative efforts endanger our distinctiveness.
        2. Cooperative efforts run the risk of compromise.
        3. Cooperative efforts might appear to endorse error.
    3. Personally, I am very familiar with this line of reasoning because, in the past, I held that perspective strongly.
      1. “Why don’t you still hold that perspective?” That is a fair question.
      2. It was not a quick or sudden transition, but a slow process that took several years.
      3. The process began during my mission work in Africa.
        1. I quickly discovered that some of my concepts were American concepts, not Bible concepts.
        2. If Christ is the Savior of the world, a person does not have to be an American, or learn to think like an American, or reason like an American, or understand religious concerns in America to become a Christian.
      4. As my Bible study proceeded to deeper levels, I began to understand that some of our concerns about the church did not match the concerns of Jesus or the epistles.
      5. As I studied and interacted with people who are not Christians, I learned:
        1. They did not see us as distinctive but as confusing.
        2. They actually thought that the Church of Christ was a closed society that did not welcome visitors and did not want new members–they thought that we wanted to exist in isolation.
        3. This was a common question: If we want to reach out to others, why do we isolate? How do we expect people to understand us if we never associate with them?
      6. I learned this: what I thought were efforts to preserve the image of the church was seen by others to be a deliberate attempt to isolate the church.
      7. Thus the things I thought preserved the image of the church actually created a false image of the church.
  3. In our concern and our reasoned approaches to preserving the church’s image, we painted another thick coat of varnish on the church that actually hides Jesus and the beauty of his craftsmanship.
    1. I want to share two scriptures that are, to me, very insightful.
    2. Please turn to Philippians 1:12-18 and think with me.
      1. We first must begin with some background of this letter from Paul to the Christians at Philippi.
        1. Paul started this congregation (Acts 16:12-40).
          1. Among its first converts were two very unusual persons–Lydia, a businesswoman, and a jailor who likely was a soldier in the Roman army.
          2. Paul was not in Philippi long, and during his short stay he was beaten, placed in jail, and begged by the city officials to leave town–he was a very unpopular visitor, and many were relieved when he left.
        2. Though he was there only a brief time, Paul formed a powerful bond with this new congregation; they had an unusual relationship.
          1. Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter.
          2. This congregation already had sent a man named Epaphroditus to Paul bringing monetary help and personally helping care for Paul’s needs (Philippians 2:25).
          3. This was perhaps the only congregation that Paul allowed to financially assist him in his evangelistic travels (Philippians 4:15).
          4. The gift they sent him in prison was a generous one (Philippians 4:18).
        3. These Christians were so involved in Paul’s life and work that his imprisonment likely discouraged them.
        4. One of his reasons for writing the letter was to encourage them.
      2. Listen to the unusual way that he encourages them in Philippians 1:12-18.
        1. Verse 12: I want you to know that my being in prison has actually produced greater progress in spreading the message of the gospel.
        2. Verse 13: Because I am in prison, everyone is talking about Jesus Christ–the entire elite Roman guard and everyone else is talking about Jesus.
        3. Verse 14: My being in prison has actually been a blessing to the Christians here.
          1. They have placed their trust in the Lord.
          2. Instead of being afraid, they have found courage.
          3. They speak the word of God without fear.
        4. Verse 15: Surely, some of them are talking about Jesus with wrong motives and with evil goals.
          1. Some are talking about Jesus out of envy and strife.
          2. Some are talking about Jesus from their hearts in dedication to good will.
          3. Verse 16: Those who do it out of good will do it out of love; they know that I am going to take my stand on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
          4. Verse 17: Those who are preaching Jesus out of envy and strife have selfish ambitions and impure motives–they think that they are going to intensify my distress in prison.
        5. Verse 18: But what happens to me really is not important.
          1. The wonderful thing is that Christ is being proclaimed, and the motives of those who are talking about him do not matter.
          2. I rejoice in the fact that everyone is talking about Jesus and I will continue to rejoice in that.
      3. Think about Paul’s statement very carefully.
        1. Ask yourself how his statement fits our typical concerns about the image of the church.
        2. When compared to our typical concerns about preserving the image of the church, everything about this situation and Paul’s statement seems to oppose the image of the church.
    3. The second scripture is Luke 7:18-23.
      1. John the baptizer is in prison.
      2. His disciples were keeping him informed about Jesus and his activities.
      3. John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one?”
      4. They came to Jesus at a time when he was very active in doing miracles.
      5. Jesus’ answer is terribly insightful: Go tell John what you see and hear:
        1. The blind receive sight.
        2. The lame walk.
        3. Those with leprosy are cured.
        4. The deaf hear.
        5. The dead are raised to life.
        6. The poor have the gospel preached to them.
      6. Those activities are the fulfillment of prophecies about the Messiah in Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1.
      7. Note what Jesus did not say: He did not say, “Go tell John:”
        1. “How I am exposing the scriptural error of the Pharisees.”
        2. “How I am exposing the doctrinal error of the Sadducees.”
        3. “How I am revealing how established religion in Israel has missed the point.”
        4. Jesus did all those things, but none of that was primary, and none of that proved he was the one.
    4. If we are Christ’s church, we will think like Jesus, we will feel about God and people as did Jesus, and we will emphasize the things Jesus emphasized.
      1. We will be concerned about the things he was concerned about–because we are his church, he is our Lord, and he is our Savior.
      2. It is too easy to be more concerned about the church than we are about the Christ.
      3. Championing the church and championing Jesus Christ are not the same thing.
      4. It took a lot of time and a lot of earnest Bible study before I understood the difference.
      5. I do not demand that you see what it has taken me so long to see and understand; that would be unfair and unkind. I only ask you to think about it.

I pray that this congregation as Christ’s church will grow away from the image of being “that church with the great big building,” or being “that church who does not believe in music,” or being “that church who thinks they are the only ones going to heaven,” or being “that church who fights everyone,” or being “that church who exists to argue.”

I pray that as Christ’s church we will grow into the image of being “that church who really loves God,” “that church who really follows and serves Jesus Christ,” “that church who is so caring and kind,” “that church who is so compassionate–they really help people,” and “that church who really blesses Fort Smith.”

How do we remove the varnish? One person at a time; each person from himself or herself. Let the real Jesus shine through you!

A Seat on the Pew:  Life or Death?

Posted by on under Sermons

In November, 1992, I was invited to speak at the Technical Institute located in Kalinningrad, Russia. The English Department invited me to present a series of lectures in English. It was permissible to speak from the Bible as long as I did not “evangelize or sermonize.” I could challenge the students to think as long as I confined my teaching to sharing information. The largest lecture hall in the institute was made available to me, and the Dean of the English Department served as my translator.

I have taught in several different countries, but the Kalinningrad experience was my most fascinating and insightful experience. It was also one of my most enjoyable teaching experiences.

The city has over 400,000 residents. At that time, most of the residents of the city were living without hope. I had never been in a city filled with people who had lost hope. They were not depressed; they were not angry; they were not enraged; they were not even protesting. The people in the city were calm and accepting. My hosts in the institute and the students were very gracious and kind. The people simply had no hope. Their hope had died because their confidence had been destroyed.

How did that happen? For sixty years they sincerely believed that conditions in Western Europe were worse than their conditions. Then one day television signals brought them pictures of life in Western Europe. They saw the prosperity of Western Europe. Hope became terminally ill.

For sixty years they sincerely believed that the only true hope for their economic recovery was communism. Communism would save the economy and stabilize the Soviet Union. Then on a specific day communism collapsed. The communist government ceased to exist. And terminally ill hope died.

In 1992, everyone was powerless. They faced extremely stressful conditions, and there was no opportunity for improvement. There was no correct thing to do, no correct way to improve your situation, no correct means of creating opportunity. No matter what you did, it made no immediate difference. In 1992, nothing held the promise of an improved future. There was no hope.

I was the guest of very gracious, considerate people who had no hope. That was the most unusual circumstance I have ever experienced.

  1. When there is no hope, there is only a mindless, spiritless, physical existence.
    1. Without hope, life has no purpose.
      1. Without purpose, there is no reason to exist.
      2. People without hope physically survive each day by going through the necessary motions.
      3. Except for immediate family, there is almost no interaction with people.
      4. Why? When there is no hope, any other person is a threat, a competitor in the ruthless game of survival.
        1. No one is a blessing.
        2. In fact, without hope, there is no concept of blessing.
    2. None of us can physically survive without hope.
      1. When we lose hope, we get depressed.
      2. When our depression becomes severe, we either get sick and die, or we kill ourselves–suicide is the act of a person who is without value to himself or herself because he or she has no hope.
  2. Is it surprising that a major theme of Christianity in the New Testament is hope?
    1. Someone asks, “David, are you sure about that? Can you really say that hope is a major New Testament theme for Christianity?”
      1. “We Christians don’t talk much about hope.”
      2. “We don’t preach much about hope.”
      3. “We don’t study much about hope in our Bible classes.”
      4. “How can hope be a major theme in Christianity when we place so little emphasis on hope and talk so little about hope.”
    2. I will let you decide for yourself: Is hope a major Christian theme in the New Testament?
      1. First, there are three primary, internal forces that sustain spiritual life in a person while he or she lives in this world.
        1. God gives us spiritual life through Jesus Christ.
        2. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the source of spiritual life–anyone who is in Jesus Christ is spiritually alive, and anyone who is not in Jesus Christ is not spiritually alive.
        3. The proper way to respond to the gift of spiritual life is to allow these three forces to be the dominant forces in our lives.
        4. What are those three forces?
        5. The New Testament writer, Paul, identified them:
          But now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
          1. Of the three, love is the greatest because it is eternal.
          2. But all three are essential to spiritual life in this world.
      2. There are so many statements in the New Testament that declare the importance of hope that we cannot mention them all, but consider a few.
        1. The Ephesian Christians were told that “you were called in one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:4).
        2. The non-Jewish Colossian Christians were told that God had revealed the riches of His glory to non-Jews through this understanding: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
        3. Timothy was told that “Jesus Christ (is) our hope of glory” (1 Timothy 1:1).
        4. The author of the book of Hebrews declared, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast . . .” (Hebrews 6:19).
        5. Peter wrote that God in His great mercy “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
    3. If you can, take a Bible and look at Romans chapters 4 and 5 with me.
      1. Look at Romans 4:18: In hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which has been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.”
        1. Paul is writing about Abraham–all of Romans chapter four discusses Abraham.
        2. Paul is teaching the Christians in Rome a basic lesson about faith by using Abraham’s faith.
        3. God assured Abraham when he was ninety-nine years old (and his wife was eighty-nine years old) that he and Sarah would have their first child, and the descendants of that child would become many nations.
        4. There was no physical hope that Abraham and Sarah could become parents–they were too old, and they had never had children.
        5. But Abraham hoped because God promised it would happen, and only because God promised it would happen.
        6. He literally hoped against hope.
        7. And Isaac was born when Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety years old.
        8. Only because Abraham could hope could Abraham believe.
      2. Romans 5:1-5 is Paul’s application statement.
        1. After devoting all of chapter 4 explaining faith and hope, Paul made several application points.
        2. You have been justified by faith, just as Abraham was justified by faith.
        3. Because you were justified by faith, you are at peace with God.
        4. Jesus Christ made possible both your justification and your peace.
        5. This same faith has introduced you to grace, and it is grace that enables you to spiritually stand.
        6. The end product of faith, justification, peace, and grace is hope–a hope that makes you feel triumphant.
        7. Understand this: severe hardship teaches you how to hang in there; hanging in there develops character, and developing character generates hope.
        8. That hope will never disappoint you–once you find hope in Christ, you will never regret having it, and you will never regret the price of finding it.
        9. Why? Because when you find hope, you also find the love of God, and the Holy Spirit pours your heart full of that love.
    4. Hope is a cornerstone message about Jesus.
      1. A cornerstone was a genuinely square stone used to start the foundation of a house.
        1. If the stone was truly square, the foundation of the house would fit together at the corners.
        2. If the stone was slightly out of square, the corners of the house would not meet.
        3. Without a proper understanding of hope, the foundation of Christianity will not come together in your life–the corners will not meet.
      2. Hope is a cornerstone message.
        1. The first message of the cross is the reality of God’s love; the second message of the cross is the reality of your hope.
        2. The first message of the resurrection is the power of the God who loves you; the second message of the resurrection is the power that guarantees the hope that God gives you.
        3. Jesus’ compassion is the message of hope.
        4. Jesus’ forgiveness is the message of hope.
        5. Jesus’ mercy is the message of hope.
  3. We believe the Bible is God’s word and is inspired by God, and we believe that the message of that word comes straight from the mind and heart of God.
    1. During the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, how many people do you think that Jesus healed and forgave?
      1. I would not dare to try to guess–that number would be at least in the tens of thousands if not the hundreds of thousands.
      2. Chapter after chapter in the gospels reveals people Jesus healed and people Jesus forgave.
    2. In guiding the writing of the Gospels, how many examples did the Holy Spirit have to choose from? How many examples of forgiveness or healing were available to the Holy Spirit for use as examples in the gospels?
      1. More than you and I can count!
      2. The Gospel of John ends with the statement, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written” (John 21:25).
    3. With all the examples that the Holy Spirit had available, have you considered the examples the Holy Spirit chose?
      1. In Matthew:
        1. He told a paralyzed man, “Take courage, my son, your sins are forgiven” (9:2).
        2. He spent personal, meaningful time associating with and eating with tax collectors and people everyone knew to be evil people (9:10).
        3. He cast demons out of people who were possessed by those evil spirits (9:32).
      2. In Luke:
        1. An uninvited, sexually immoral woman just walked in a home where Jesus was guest for a meal (7:36-50).
          1. Her behavior was totally unacceptable–she entered without asking; she let her hair down; she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears; and she repeatedly kissed Jesus’ feet.
          2. And Jesus told this woman, “Your sins have been forgiven.”
        2. He told a story, a parable, about a son that deliberately left home to live a wasteful, disgraceful, wicked life (15:11-32).
          1. When he came to his senses and returned home, his father welcomed him with love and total forgiveness.
        3. He told a story about a sick beggar who died and went to live with the blessed, and a wealthy man who died and went to live with the condemned (16:19-31).
        4. He told a story about a very religious man that God refused to listen to and a very wicked man that God heard and forgave (18:9-14).
      3. In John:
        1. Jesus offered the living water of salvation to an outcast woman who had been married and divorced five times and was presently living with a man to whom she was not married (4:7-26).
        2. He told a woman captured in the very act of adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (8:1-11).
        3. He healed a blind man that the religious leaders declared to be a sinner who was born blind because of sin (9).
      4. Of course you have to include Peter who cursed and swore that he did not know Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75) and the thief who died beside Jesus whom Jesus forgave as he was dying (Luke 23:39-43).
    4. So what’s the message in all these examples? Why did the Holy Spirit choose so many of these examples?
      1. The message is clear: “There is hope, hope for anyone with any problem, hope for everyone controlled by evil.”
      2. The message of Jesus is this: “God can help you where you are. I will forgive you where you are. Where you are is where you and I begin.”

Is a seat in the pew the opportunity for life or the curse of death? If you find the hope God created in Jesus Christ, it is the opportunity for life. If your hope is destroyed, it is death. Hopelessness kills us physically, and hopelessness kills us spiritually.

If it is my struggling son sitting in the pew, help him find hope in Jesus. If it is my struggling daughter, help her find hope. If it is my struggling wife, help her find hope. If it is my struggling husband, help him find hope. If it is my struggling parent, help him or her find hope. If it is my struggling friend, help him or her find hope.

Why? When you find hope in Jesus, you find life and love. And the corners of your spiritual house will fit together.

When the Focus Is On Jesus, Things Happen!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

A new congregation sprang into existence–seemingly from nowhere! It was this country’s first congregation, and it sprang to life almost spontaneously. Missionaries did not start it. It came into existence when some Christians arrived in the area looking for a place to live. Living in visible joy and faith, they introduced people to the crucified, resurrected Jesus.

This congregation was truly unique! Previously, Christ was not shared with people like these. This kind of people simply were not taught in other countries.

Before this congregation, all congregations began with a core group of converts who knew scripture and understood prophecies. Previously, each congregation had this core group the moment it began. From its beginning, it had a basic, sound understanding of godliness and morality.

But this new congregation began without that core group. Its converts previously worshipped idols. Therefore, their pre-conversion concept of morality was strikingly different. A scripture-based concept of godliness was new to them.

The first (and oldest) congregation was concerned. Since this new congregation began without their knowledge or oversight, they were not sure what had happened. Because they had not sent the teachers, they also were concerned about what was happening.

This “oldest of all congregations” decided it was wise to send a personal representative to evaluate the situation. When he arrived, the representative was thrilled! He saw that the hand of the Lord was with these people. He clearly saw the grace of God at work. With joy, he encouraged these new Christians to resolve to remain true to the Lord. Read about this congregation in Acts 11:19-30 and 13:1-3. They became an important missions base in the Roman empire.

When the focus is on Jesus, things happen!