Through Whose Eyes Do You See Life?

Posted by on August 31, 1997 under Sermons

Recently I saw Bill Yick, one of our members, perform the role of the king in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, “The King and I.” The king of Siam hired an English lady to teach his children. He wanted them to be trained in Western thinking.

Early in the play the king talked to himself. Always he has been the total authoritarian. Learning enlightened thinking created confusion for him. He wanted the son who replaced him as king to understand Western thinking. But Western thinking created enormous conflicts for the king.

Listen as he begins this insightful talk with himself.

    When I was a boy, world was a better spot
    What was so was so, what was not was not.
    Now I am a man, world have changed a lot;
    Some things nearly so, some things nearly not.

    There are times I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know;
    Very often find confusion in conclusion I concluded long ago.
    In my head are many facts that as a student I have studied to procure.
    In my head are many facts of which I wish I was more certain I was sure.

    Is a puzzlement! What to tell a growing son!

Do I ever understand the king’s confusion! Do you? I would guess that either you really understand, or you really don’t understand. But if you don’t, and you have children, the day will come when you do understand.

This morning I primarily want to share with our young people, our teens, and our college students. I want to start by talking to the teens.

  1. Today is a very frustrating time to be an adolescent (I say that quite aware that adolescence is a frustrating time in any generation).
    1. In every generation teenagers feel isolated and misunderstood.
      1. That is the nature of adolescence.
      2. The years of teenage life are unlike any other years of life.
        1. It is that age when the transition is made from child to adult.
        2. For a few years you are neither child nor adult.
        3. In those years neither you nor your parents know what you really are because you are in the process of developing your sense of self.
    2. While the experience of traveling through adolescence is basically the same in each generation, I think the frustration level for teens today is generally higher than it has ever been.
      1. This is one of the reasons the frustration level is so high: commonly, parents, grandparents, and the church have not realized what is happening in the teenager’s world.
      2. We don’t understand, and teens accept as fact that we will not understand.
      3. As a result, communication between teens and adults is unusually bad.
        1. Teens, you are told that you are not very spiritual.
          1. But the way you measure being spiritual and the way many adults measure being spiritual are two entirely different measurements.
          2. Often adults do not recognize your spiritual concerns as being spiritual, and often they do not see your spiritual concerns as being spiritual.
        2. Teens, you are told that you are irresponsible, but you don’t measure responsibility in the same way that most adults measure responsibility.
          1. Most adults you know measure responsibility by the way they manage and care for jobs and material things–the highest level of responsibility is doing what you are supposed to do in your work.
          2. You measure responsibility by the way you take care of relationships –the highest level or responsibility is in being loyal to your friends.
        3. Teens, you are told how easy you have it today.
          1. Your parents and grandparents tell you about the sacrifices they made to go to school.
          2. But you live with the fear of gangs, weapons, and violence at school.
          3. Your parents and grandparents tell you about the physically demanding work they had to do when they were teens.
          4. But you have friends who are so depressed that they talk seriously about committing suicide–and you don’t know how to help them.
          5. Your parents and grandparents tell you about how little money and how few things they had when they were your age.
          6. But you know more teens who are sexually active than teens who are not, and you always feel the pressure to become sexually active.
        4. Your parents and your grandparents tell you how great kids have it today.
          1. And you wonder.
          2. If teens have it so great, why is the highest suicide rate of any age group found among teens.
          3. Why is suicide the # 2 cause of death among teens?
          4. Why is the # 1 killer of teens alcohol-related deaths?
          5. If kids have it made, what are they running from?
      4. Many reasons cause you to feel frustrated, but this is one of the biggest reasons: instead of trying to understand and help you, too often adults and the church say that either your problems are not that bad, or they say it is ridiculous for you to pay any attention to such problems.
  2. No one sees more honestly what is happening in today’s homes as do our children.
    1. As you get older, you see and you reject.
      1. Mom and Dad seem to think that the key to happiness and meaningful life is possessions–homes, furnishings, cars, possessions of all kinds.
        1. But you see how often Mom is obviously lonely.
        2. You see how often both Mom and Dad are obviously unhappy.
        3. You see how isolated Dad is.
        4. You see, hear, and feel the tension at home.
        5. You know how often everyone acts like everything is wonderful when you know everything is bad.
        6. The whole family is always too busy to share, to talk–and you are afraid to share and talk because they won’t understand.
        7. When opportunities for sharing and talking come, you are always afraid that real sharing will create an argument or increase tensions.
      2. And you know by talking to and listening to all your friends that it is no better in most other homes–in fact, it is often worse.
        1. In the house we just sold is an enormous attic with an inside stairway leading into it.
        2. That attic was absolutely stuffed with all kinds of things.
        3. One day one of our sons had a neighborhood friend visiting, and they went upon into the attic.
        4. He could not believe all the stuff up there.
        5. My son asked, “What do you do with all your stuff?”
        6. He replied, “We don’t have any–there are just two suitcases in our attic.”
        7. Mom and Dad had divorced, then later decided to live together.
        8. Everything was temporary and could end on a moments notice. Their attic was empty.
    2. Teens, you look at the church and you listen.
      1. Sometimes what you hear is this:
        1. “These are the commandments, and they are very important.”
        2. “These are the rules, and you absolutely must keep them.”
      2. As you grow, you begin to ask:
        1. Isn’t it more important to build love and loyalty in the home?
        2. Isn’t it more important for families to succeed in being families?
        3. Isn’t it more important to treat people with dignity and respect?
        4. Isn’t it more important to address fear and give hope?
        5. Isn’t it more important to accept people and help them than to reject people and alienate them?
      3. And, it grieves me to say, that we do not couple teaching with application as we should; that is one reason that 50% of our young people leave the church when they leave home and begin their adult lives.
  3. The gospel of Luke is the only New Testament writing that tells us anything about Jesus’ childhood (Luke 2:39-52).
    1. I am sure all of our young people have learned about the time Jesus went with his parents to the temple when he was twelve years old.
      1. You know how he stayed in Jerusalem to study and ask questions in the temple when his parents left to return home.
      2. You know that his parents came back to look for him.
      3. You know that he explained that he had to be in his Father’s house.
    2. But I want to call your attention to the verse just before that story and the verse just after that story.
      1. Just before telling us about the temple trip, Luke writes (2:40):
        And the child (Jesus) continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him.
      2. Just after telling us about the temple trip, Luke writes (2:52):
        And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
      3. Twice Luke said that as Jesus grew up, he grew in wisdom.
        1. Maybe for you the word “wisdom” doesn’t have much of a definition.
        2. It isn’t a strange word; it just may not mean much to you.
        3. But for all of you young people, it is one of the most important words you need to know.
      4. Even though you are young, you still live in this complicated world.
        1. Through the television, that world comes into your house every day.
        2. Because you go to school, you go out in that world at least five days a week.
        3. You face a thousand situations your Mom and Dad will never know about.
        4. You make thousands of decisions that Mom and Dad will never hear about.
      5. Even though you are young, you choose what you will do.
        1. Mom and Dad give you rules, but rules are not enough.
        2. The church gives you facts, but facts are not enough.
        3. Your teachers teach you how to question, but questions are not enough.
      6. You desperately need to grow in wisdom.
      7. When you grow in wisdom, you do two things:
        1. First, you grow in your understanding.
        2. Second, you use your understanding to make good choices, choices that are really best for you.
        3. When you must make a choice, you don’t chose what you want; you don’t choose fun; you choose what is really best for you.
    3. I want you to remember four things about God.
      1. No matter what is happening in your life, God loves you–He never considers your problems to be foolish or ridiculous; He knows they are real.
      2. No matter what is happening in your life, God will help you if you will let Him.
      3. God never creates your problems.
      4. Because problems will always exist, God wants to show you how to live so that you don’t hurt yourself.

Now I want to talk to both parents and teachers. Two things really impressed me in our Vacation Bible School. First, the classes were really creative–they were very interesting and created powerful impressions. Second, the practical applications were excellent. I have a question: don’t all our Bible classes need to be creative, produce powerful impressions, and make memorable applications? Shouldn’t all of our Bible classes help our children grow in wisdom?

Obviously it is not just our children who need wisdom. The world is a complicated thing. People of every age need to remember that God wants us to live in ways that don’t hurt ourselves.

We have a God who knows every choice we make and every mistake we make and every failure we have. God is willing to wipe our souls clean of sin. He tells us, “Don’t live in the past. Use greater understanding.”

Christianity is starting new every day.

Let God’s forgiveness bless you. Be baptized and let the blood of Jesus wash your sins away.

God Is Always At Work!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Jesus told the apostles that the sacrifices they made to follow him would result in a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms now, and eternal life in the age to come (Mark 10:29, 30).

Joyce and I left Fort Smith to return to Oxford, Mississippi, early Monday morning, August 18. We were to close on our Oxford house early Wednesday, the 20th, and return to Fort Smith.

That closing was delayed until 5 p.m. By 3 p.m. Joyce was extremely sick. After closing, Joyce was too sick to travel. Thursday morning she was admitted to the hospital. Friday she had gall bladder surgery. The infection kept her hospitalized until late Monday morning.

We were so blessed! We stayed in the home of close friends. The hospital was familiar to us. She did many years of volunteer work there. We knew many people on staff. Many, many friends saw to our every need as they provided constant support.

Joyce has been sick about a year. Her variation in symptoms made diagnosis difficult. The amount of infection indicated that this had been her problem for a long time. We were so grateful to finally determine the problem and care for it.

When we look back at the lengthy process of the sell and closing, we now understand that it was not a mere frustration. It was a blessing. We were blessed with homes and family that far exceeded our need. We were blessed by being a part of God’s great family as a grave need was addressed in a wonderful way.

Wives, Joyce advises you to get sick away from home while visiting friends. Your husband has no office or home to go to. He has nothing to do but take care of you.

I thanked God that we were privileged to know two great groups of Christians who are so generous with their love, concern, and caring. It was a wonderful time of love and sharing with our friends in Oxford. It is wonderful to be home in Fort Smith.

Spiritual Arithmetic

Posted by on August 17, 1997 under Sermons

In the process of maturing spiritually, Christians face four primary growth challenges. Those four primary growth challenges are growing in our understanding of God, growing in our understanding of Jesus Christ, growing in the understanding of the Holy Spirit, growing in our understanding of the meaning of scripture.

Each one of those challenges is difficult. At each level of understanding, our tendency is to stop growing and be content. It is convenient to feel that “we know enough” or “we know all that it is important to know.” When we think that, we feel certain that we know all that we need to know about God, about Christ, about the Holy Spirit, and about scripture.

It is comforting to believe that we understand everything that we need to understand. It is easier to believe that we need to defend what we know than to recognize that we need to increase what we understand.

The temptation to defend what we believe instead of growing in our understanding is the most powerful when we decide that we have God figured out. When we are certain that we know what God would say and do, when we are certain that we know what God would not do, we stop growing in understanding.

We do not stop studying, but the purpose of our study is to defend what we believe. When the purpose of our study is to defend what we believe, we do not advance our faith through advancing our understanding of God’s teachings.

When we study, the primary decision we must make is this: do I adjust scripture to fit my beliefs, or do I adjust my beliefs as I increase my understanding of scripture. What is the difference? If I adjust scripture, I say, “This is what I believe; therefore all scripture must agree with what I believe. I must explained every scripture in a way that fits what I already believe.” When I adjust my beliefs, each time that I learn something from scripture that I did not know, each time my understanding of scripture grows, I adjust my beliefs to fit scripture. I do not make scripture fit my beliefs; I allow scripture to determine and shape my beliefs.

Regardless of what I do, I am performing what might be called spiritual math. Each way I use my knowledge of scripture to reach a conclusion.

  1. Let me illustrate how that we use spiritual math.
    1. It is easy for a Christian to conclude that God is predictable.
      1. We conclude that God is predictable when we are confident that we have God figured out.
      2. We are confident that we can predict how God reacts to any given situation or set of circumstances.
      3. Commonly the spiritual math is very simple.
        1. Examine a situation and decide if evil exists in it.
        2. Define the evil that exists in the situation.
        3. Acknowledge that there is no evil in God, that God hates evil.
        4. Since God hates evil, God would not be involved with anything that is evil.
        5. Add all that up and this is our conclusion: God would condemn that situation: wants us to condemn the situation; would not be associated with it.
    2. The first scriptural challenge to that approach is a challenge to the beginning assumption: God is predictable.
      1. Many statements and many situations in scripture plainly state or reveal that God is not predicable.
      2. In Isaiah 55:8 & 9, Isaiah writes to the people of Judah and Jerusalem,
        “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
        1. No human can think God’s thoughts or calculate God’s actions.
        2. Only to the extent that we comprehend God’s revelation of Himself can we think his thoughts.
        3. If God’s thoughts and ways are so far beyond us, it is impossible for us to predict God’s actions.
      3. In the gospels, one basic reason for the Jewish leaders rejecting Jesus was their conviction that God was predictable.
        1. They knew God’s laws.
        2. They knew scripture.
        3. They knew God.
        4. So they knew what God said, what God wanted, how God would act, and what God would do.
        5. The predictable God would not do what Jesus did.
        6. Since God was predictable, and since Jesus did not conform to the predictable God, it was obvious that Jesus did not come from God.
        7. But Jesus did come from God; he was God in the flesh.
      4. The Jewish people Paul addressed in the book of Romans struggled because the concept of salvation in Jesus did not agree with their understanding of the predictable God.
        1. Paul’s explanation of salvation in Christ through faith and grace was confusing and unacceptable–that is not the way God would save.
        2. In Romans 9:6-13 Paul responded to the criticism that it was unjust for God to extend salvation to the Gentiles through faith and grace.
        3. Paul declared in 9:14 that there is no injustice in God.
        4. In 9:15 Paul wrote that even in the time of Moses God said, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
        5. God is not predictable; neither are his mercy and his compassion predictable.
        6. Romans 9:19-33 states that we can no more tell God how He must save or to whom He can extend forgiveness than a piece of clay can tell the potter what he must do.
        7. God is sovereign; because He is sovereign, He makes His own decisions.
  2. The truth that God is not predictable is not a new thought about God; it is a very old truth easily illustrated in the Old Testament.
    1. Let me illustrate that Bible truth in a way that is easily seen.
      1. Let me give you an accurate, factual profile of a man, and you decide if God would use this man.
      2. This man:
        1. Was a man of violence; he likely was responsible for several thousand deaths of people who were enemies.
        2. He once killed a chief enemy in hand-to-hand combat, cut his head off, and carried the head with him as a trophy.
        3. He paid his dowry to his father-in-law by killing two hundred men who were enemies.
        4. He knowingly and intentionally deceived a priest in order to obtain some food that the law specially stated only the priests were to eat.
        5. Because this priest gave food to the man, he and 84 more priests were murdered, and the men, women, children, babies, and livestock in the priest’s city were slaughtered.
        6. Once he publicly praised and honored God by dancing with all his might in a religious ceremony wearing almost no clothing.
        7. Once he saw a beautiful married woman that he lusted to have and seduced her.
          1. As a result, she was pregnant.
          2. In an attempt to cover the pregnancy, he had her husband killed and married her quickly.
          3. When he was confronted with his evil almost a year later, he confessed and repented, but he kept the woman as his wife.
      3. Would God use this man?
        1. If we view God as predictable, we would say, “No.”
        2. If we understand that God is not predictable, perhaps we would say, “It’s possible.”
    2. Many of you quickly picked up on the fact that the man is King David of Israel, the man both the Old and New Testaments state was the man after God’s own heart–or the man who was devoted to God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
      1. I doubt that we could calculate how many thousand people died as a result of David’s military success against the Philistines.
        1. Twenty thousand Israelite men died when Absalom lost his rebellion against his father’s rule (2 Samuel 18:7).
        2. He personally instructed the commander of his forces to arrange for Uriah’s death (2 Samuel 11:14-21).
        3. Seventy thousand Israelites died as a result of a sin of arrogance that David committed (2 Samuel 24:15).
      2. When David cut Goliath’s head off, he took the head with him when he was taken to King Saul, and he took the head with him when he returned to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17:51,54,57).
      3. He found 200 Philistine men, killed them, cut off body parts, and gave the body parts to King Saul as a dowry to marry his daughter (1 Samuel 18:27).
      4. When he was fleeing from Saul, he told the priest Ahimelech that he was on King Saul’s urgent secret business and had to leave so quickly that he did not have time to get food or a weapon (1 Samuel 21:1-9).
        1. The priest gave him the ceremonial bread of presence to eat.
        2. The law states that only the priests were to eat that bread (Leviticus 24:5-9).
        3. King Saul ordered Doeg, an Edomite, to kill Ahimelech, and he killed 85 priests plus most of the residents of the village of the priests (1 Samuel 22:18,19).
      5. When David brought the sacred ark of the covenant into the city of Jerusalem, every six steps an animal was sacrificed to God, and David danced with all his might with very little clothing on (2 Samuel 6:13-15).
        1. When his first wife ridiculed him for disgracing himself by dancing in public naked, David replied that he had done it before the Lord who made him King; he celebrated before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:21).
      6. He saw Bathsheba and wanted to commit adultery with her (2 Samuel 11).
        1. He had her brought to the palace where he seduced her.
        2. When pregnancy resulted, he had her husband, Uriah, killed and quickly married her in an attempt to cover the adultery.
        3. When he was confronted with the sin, he repented, deeply, earnestly (2 Samuel 12; Psalms 51).
        4. He suffered great consequences as a result of his evil act.
        5. Bathsheba remained his wife, and a later son, Solomon, became king with God’s blessings.
    3. Did God use David?
      1. David belonged to God in the way that God wanted all people to belong to Him.
      2. Israel considered David their greatest and most godly king.
      3. The place of God in Israel under the rule of David was second only to the time of Joshua when Israel began to conquer the land of Canaan.
      4. God inspired him–I do regard the Psalms as scripture that was inspired by God, and David authored the majority of the psalms.
      5. The Christ came from the lineage of David; an accepted Messianic title was “the Son of David.”
      6. Even Jesus used David to illustrate the importance of understanding the full message and complete meaning of scripture (Matthew 12:3).
    4. Now, let me ask again:
      1. Do we adjust the scriptures to fit the belief that God is predictable?
      2. Or do we adjust our belief by understanding the message, the lessons of these scriptures?
  3. The challenge of understanding the complete message of scripture creates a dilemma for us.
    1. Our dilemma can be stated in these three concerns.
      1. We absolutely do not want to create the impression the sin does not matter, that a person can knowingly choose to do evil, and God does not care.
        1. There is zero desire to create the impression that God’s grace and forgiveness gives us a license to do evil.
        2. There is zero desire to create the impression that it is acceptable for a Christian to be spiritually indifferent and irresponsible.
      2. We absolutely do not want to create the impression that any penitent person is beyond God’s forgiveness.
        1. We want every sinner to know that he or she can repent, and that he or she is promised forgiveness when he or she repents and enters Christ.
        2. We want every Christian to know that he or she can be forgiven of any evil, any mistake, any failure if he or she will repent.
        3. We want no person to see himself or herself as being hopeless.
      3. We absolutely do not want to encourage self-righteousness in those who are obedient, who have no visible failures or visible struggles.
        1. No one must be encouraged to believe that he or she is righteous because of his or her deeds or accomplishments.
        2. No one is to be encouraged to believe that he or she has saved himself or herself because of what he or she has done.
    2. So how do we:
      1. Help people who want to exploit God’s grace and mercy understand that is not possible?
      2. AND, help people who are struggling in guilt understand that no one is beyond God’s forgiveness.
      3. AND, help people understand that they insult God if they believe that they are good and righteous because of their own deeds and accomplishments?
      4. We do that by teaching all that scripture reveals, by constantly growing in our understanding, by teaching all of us how to adjust our beliefs when we learn more and understand better.

God is not predictable, but God is certain. We cannot tell God to whom He will and will not show mercy, to whom He will and will not show compassion. Oh, I can try to decide for God, but it would be as foolish and meaningless as it would be for a lump of clay to tell the potter what to do.

But God’s promises are certain. God never fails to keep a promise. He may not use the means to keep the promise that we expect; but He will keep it.

Liberated From the Need to Hide

Posted by on under Sermons

All people possess a set of masks. And, all people use those mask. We wear several masks every day. Masks exist to conceal. We hide behind masks. By using our masks, we attempt to control how well other people know us. Typically, we allow a person to know us as well as we want him or her to know us.

How well I allow you to know me depends on how secure I feel with you. So, a person has one mask for strangers, another for acquaintances, another for friends, another for best friends, and a special set of masks for family members.

We wear some masks so frequently that we are not even aware that we have them on. Other masks are put on deliberately, consciously. We wear these masks because we fear the dangers of someone knowing us too well. Sometimes we wear a mask to protect self, and sometimes we wear a mask in the attempt to hide something. Sometimes we wear a mask to hide from ourselves; sometimes we wear a mask to hide from others; and sometimes we wear a mask to hide from God.

The number one reason for wearing masks is to hide.

  1. If we place our lives in Jesus by accepting his forgiveness, he extends many unique, wonderful blessings.
    1. One of the wonderful blessings that he gives us is this: he liberates us from the need to hide.
      1. In the introduction of the gospel of John, the writer explains the significance of Jesus.
      2. In stating Jesus’ significance, John writes in 1:9:
        “There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
        1. When we hide, we hide in a dark place–not in the light.
        2. As true light, Jesus did not come to enlighten people to destroy them; he came to enlighten people to save them.
        3. By coming as the true light, Jesus had a primary objective: that objective was to enlighten persons.
        4. Enlightening situations, or enlightening circumstances, or enlightening issues, or enlightening causes was not his primary objective.
        5. Jesus enlightens persons; as a result of enlightening persons, situations, circumstances, issues, and causes improve.
        6. Jesus enlightens each person who places his or her life in Jesus.
          1. God doesn’t need enlightening — God already sees and understands.
          2. It is the person who needs enlightening; I am the one who is in the dark.
      3. In John 3:19-21, Jesus said to Nicodemus,
        “And this is judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
        1. Simply because the light has come does not mean that I am enlightened.
        2. My deeds are my basic expressions of me; if my deeds are evil, I do not want to be enlightened; I prefer the darkness; I love the darkness.
        3. I hate the light because I don’t want to be exposed.
        4. But if I practice the truth–we are still talking about deeds–I come to the light.
        5. By conscious choice I seek to be enlightened.
        6. I want my life and my deeds to be exposed–not for praise, but I want it to be clearly evident that God is reconstructing my life and my deeds.
    2. In Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus, I want you to carefully note some specifics.
      1. Jesus said that I do more than bring my teachings to the light, more than bring my beliefs to the light–that is good, but that is not enough.
      2. Jesus said I bring myself to the light.
      3. Why is it important to bring myself to the light? For two obvious reasons.
        1. To the degree that I do not want to see and know myself, to that degree I love the darkness.
        2. The basic objective of faith in Christ is a life of repentance.
        3. Repentance is both the act and the process of redirecting my life.
        4. It is impossible for me to redirect my life if I refuse to be enlightened.
        5. If I hate the evil within me, I come to the light–I don’t want to hide; I want to see me; I want to see and know the truth about me.
        6. It is only when I see and understand that I can repent and be liberated from the fear that causes me to hide.
    3. One of the great spiritual deficiencies among Christians is caused by a choice we make: our choice of where to place our spiritual focus.
      1. Many Christians keep our spiritual focus on what we believe.
        1. Certainly, what we believe is extremely important.
        2. Certainly, what we believe must be biblical, must respect the authority of scripture.
        3. But, when we place our spiritual focus on what we believe, we place our spiritual focus on matters outside of self–as persons, we are not enlightened just by focusing on beliefs.
      2. While we must be concerned about our beliefs, we must be even more concerned about ourselves.
        1. When my primary focus is on what I am, I must examine myself.
        2. I am constantly seeking to let Jesus enlighten me.
        3. If I do not allow Jesus to enlighten me as a person, all that I believe can quickly become irrelevant to God.
      3. When the focus of my faith in Jesus is on me, I don’t want to hide; I want to be enlightened; I want to see and understand myself.
  2. For many years of my adult life I knew I had an unreasonable drive within me to prove something that I never could prove.
    1. I knew that drive consumed me, but I had no idea why the drive was there, what I was trying to prove, or to whom I was trying to prove it.
      1. I did know that I could never fulfill the drive, that I could never prove whatever it was that I was trying to prove.
        1. No matter how hard I worked, I never worked hard enough.
        2. No matter how much I sacrificed, I never sacrificed enough.
        3. No matter how much I did for other people, I never did enough.
      2. Though for years I did not know it, I now understand that those are the classic expressions of conditional love.
        1. Our society is saturated with the concept of conditional love–the majority think love is conditional.
        2. The concept of conditional love declares that “I can be loved only if I deserve to be loved.”
        3. Any love a person receives depends on the person’s performance or on the person pleasing the one who loves him or her.
        4. “Only if I am super wife will my husband love me.”
          1. “I must do everything better than his mom.”
          2. “I must be superior to all other women that he meets.”
          3. “Only then can he love me.”
        5. “Only if I am super husband will my wife love me.”
          1. “I must make enough to afford everything she wants.”
          2. “I must provide for her better than other men could.”
          3. “Only then can she love me.”
        6. “Only if I am super parent can my children love me.”
          1. “I must give them all the things other kids have.”
          2. “I must create opportunities for them that other kids don’t have.”
          3. “Only then can they love me.”
        7. “Only if I am super child will my parents love me.”
          1. “I must achieve more in school than other kids.”
          2. “I must participate in at least one thing in which I can be the best.”
          3. “Only then can my parents love me.”
    2. I did not know it, but my life was filled with the insecurities of conditional love.
      1. Understanding why took years of being enlightened.
      2. My father loved me and blessed my life in many, many ways.
        1. But I grew up feeling like I never met his expectations.
        2. I grew up wanting his approval and never feeling like I had it.
        3. I knew he loved me, but I always felt a distance between us.
      3. When I was about ten years old, I learned for the first time that I had an older brother who died before I was born.
        1. Ray’s death devastated my Dad–so much so that I never heard my Dad say his name until my Dad was critically ill.
        2. From birth, Ray was the picture of health; then suddenly, in a week, he died near the age of two.
        3. From birth, I was the picture of illness, and never really became healthy until I was around sixteen years of age.
        4. Dad was so deeply grieved by the death of Ray that emotionally he was unable to form an attachment to me.
        5. Emotionally, he could not survive the death of another son.
      4. Understanding that has been the second most liberating understanding in my life.
        1. It released me from the unreasonable driving force within.
        2. I have stopped tying to prove that which cannot be proven.
        3. I can love my Dad with an appreciation I never had before.
        4. It all happened because I was enlightened; Jesus taught me that the light liberates.
  3. “Well, is the liberation of being enlightened really that important?” Oh, yes! It is extremely important to all of us.
    1. On the judgment day, we each will stand before the true light; the “real me” will be clearly evident; and nothing will be hidden.
      1. Revelation 6:14-17 says the sky will be rolled up like a roll of paper towels, that mountains and islands will move, and people from the most important to the least important will cry out for the rocks and the mountains to hide them:
        “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?”
      2. But Peter said to Christians in 1 Peter 4:13:
        “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”
    2. So what is the difference? When Christ returns, some are screaming to be hidden and some are rejoicing. Why?
      1. Those who loved the darkness want to hide when the true light returns because they spent their lives hiding from the light.
      2. Those who have been enlightened have nothing to hide because they have spent their lives coming to the light.

“David, you said that your second most liberating understanding was understanding your father’s grief when your oldest brother died. What is your most liberating understanding?”

My most liberating understanding is the most liberating understanding anyone can have. God’s love is not conditional. In God’s love, you have nothing to prove. In God’s love, you become; you don’t prove. And you become through the repentance that happens because you dare come to the light.

We are confused about many things in life. But we are really confused if we think there is blessing in hiding or blessing in darkness. Hiding doesn’t accomplish anything. Avoiding makes life more complicated.
There is a place to destroy the need to hide. Jesus, the Light, will give you life instead of fear. Have you come to the Light? Or are you still trying to hide? Don’t hide anymore. Pursue the Light. End the deception. Find the joy in repentance.

Troubles Have Spiritual Purpose

Posted by on August 10, 1997 under Sermons

Everybody has troubles. No one wants the troubles he or she has. When it comes to troubles, we have two basic preferences. First preference: we don’t want any. We want a daily life that is literally free from trouble of any kind. We spend lots of energy and effort trying to discover a trouble free daily existence.

Second preference: if we must have troubles of some kind, we want to swap the troubles we have for someone else’s troubles. We want the troubles of our choice instead of the troubles of necessity. No one likes the troubles that he or she has. And, we all know many people who have troubles that we do not want. But, we know some people who have the kind of troubles we would trade our troubles for their troubles.

Think a moment about the first preference: a daily life that is genuinely trouble free. Spiritually, that would be one of the worst things that could happen to any Christian. It certainly would be one of the most dangerous things that could happen to a Christian. Why? When we have no troubles, we do not feel a need for God. We become self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-confident. We don’t feel like we need saving, so we don’t feel a need for our Savior.

Consider the second preference: having troubles of choice instead of having troubles of necessity. If you could pick your troubles, what troubles would you choose? In spite of appearances, there are no easy troubles. Some troubles have many more external consequences than others, but every trouble does basically the same thing to our minds and hearts. Troubles are not called troubles because they are insignificant or pleasurable. If we were allowed to choose troubles, we would choose a different set every six months. Six months is about as long as it would take for us to be thoroughly distressed with the troubles we had.

  1. In the world of in-depth Bible study and Christian theology, it is not unusual for people to put Paul on a pedestal.
    1. Many things impress Christians about Paul.
      1. The dramatic redirection of his life at his conversion is impressive.
        1. He went from a violent, obsessive man to a helpful, committed man.
        2. He went from total confidence in his own knowledge to total confidence in Jesus Christ.
        3. He went from a man dedicated to destroying people to a man dedicated to saving people.
        4. That is impressive.
      2. His encounters with the resurrected Jesus are impressive.
        1. His conversion encounter on the Damascus road is impressive (Acts 9).
        2. The fact that everything he knew about the gospel was directly communicated to him by Jesus is impressive–he had no human teachers! (Galatians 1:11,12).
        3. The fact that Jesus spoke directly to him on a number of occasions is impressive (i.e. Acts 18:9,10).
      3. His education and knowledge are impressive.
        1. He is the most educated Christian that we are acquainted with in the first century.
        2. He is the best educated writer in the New Testament.
        3. Of the twenty-seven New Testament writings, thirteen actually bear his name as the author.
      4. His spiritual gifts and experiences are impressive–no first century Christian had more of either.
      5. The hardships that he endured because of his faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ are impressive (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
    2. Because of these impressive things about Paul’s life, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 declares a powerful lesson.
      Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me–to keep me from exalting myself. Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for (my) power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
      1. Paul had some incredible spiritual experiences.
      2. Among those experiences, was this one: he actually visited the realm that God lives in.
        1. While there, he heard things that he was not permitted to share with people on earth.
        2. Can you think of any spiritual experience that would equal that?
        3. How much difference would it make in your faith and your life to have actually visited the realm called heaven?
      3. That experience would provide the building blocks for arrogance, self-confidence, and self-importance.
        1. “Yes, God thought so much of me that he let me visit heaven.”
        2. “I would tell you what I heard while I was there, but God won’t let me.”
        3. “Can you believe that God thought enough of me to let me do that?”
        4. “Guess I must be pretty important to God.”
        5. “You do know that He has given me a special work to do on earth–no one else can do what I am to do.”
      4. Listen to what Paul said:
        1. “Because I had this incredible experience, there was a real danger that I might exalt myself–I might decide that I was beyond Satan’s reach.”
        2. “So Satan placed a thorn in my physical life–Satan did it, not God.”
        3. “Satan did it to distress me–to prove that I was not beyond his reach.”
        4. “It worked–I hurt, my effectiveness suffered, and I knew Satan could still afflict my life.”
        5. “So I begged Jesus three times to pull the thorn out.”
        6. “And this is what Jesus told me: ‘The thorn makes you depend on me, not yourself.'”
          1. “My grace is more than enough to cover your weakness.”
          2. “Actually, my power in you reaches its fullness in your human weakness.”
      5. Paul learned something (after he visited God’s realm! after he had his revelations from Jesus!): he learned Christ does his most powerful work in us through our weakness because weakness makes us depend on God instead of ourselves.
      6. Paul did not ask again for the weakness to be removed.
        1. He found joy in his weakness.
        2. He gladly accepted the reality of being weak.
        3. Now he understood: it is our weakness that allows Christ to use a greater measure of his power in our lives.
  2. “A thorn in the physical body doesn’t sound like much trouble–I would never call my trouble a mere thorn in my body; it is much more like a knife in my heart.”
    1. May I make a couple of observations about Paul?
      1. This is the man who was publicly whipped too many times to remember; who was thrown into jail many times; who was stoned once; who was shipwrecked three times; who knew hunger, thirsty, cold, and extreme weariness; and who experienced about every form of danger you can name (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
      2. I doubt that you and I would consider what Satan did to Paul a mere thorn.
    2. How long has it been since you had a thorn you could not remove from the “holding, grasping” side of one of your fingers?
      1. Remember how red and infected it got?
      2. Remember how it hurt when you touched anything?
      3. Remember how badly you wanted to get it out?
      4. It was not a mere “small inconvenience!”

The lesson is powerful and much needed. When we seek to be godly and serve in godly ways, troubles play an important role in our lives. Troubles led us to greater dependence on God. Greater dependence on God results in Christ becoming more powerful in us.

The greater your spiritual experiences, the more important it is that you experience troubles.

Wearing Big Shoes

Posted by on under Sermons

There are moments in the lives of small children that delight parents in every generation. Though those moments occur in every generation, the very same incident never gets old, never stops touching us, never fails to make us smile.

One such moment is the sight of a three or four year old child wearing Dad’s shoes. Dad’s shoes are too big for the child to lift off the floor. If he tries, he steps out of the shoes. So he struggles to keep his small feet and legs in Daddy’s shoes as he scoots those huge shoes across the floor.

Small children have been trying to walk in Daddy’s shoes as long as Daddies have been wearing shoes. Yet, that sight always makes us smile. We are never bored by a small child trying to wear Daddy’s shoes.

Why do small children try to wear Daddy’s shoes? To the child, Daddy is bigger than life and can do anything. Daddy is his hero. He wants to be like Daddy.

One of the songs I remember singing in worship when I was a child is “Stepping in the Light.”

Trying to walk in the steps of the Savior,
Trying to follow our Savior and King;
Shaping our lives by His blessed example,
Happy, how happy, the songs that we bring.
How beautiful to walk in the steps of the Savior,
Stepping in the light; . . .
Led in paths of light!
  (Eliza E. Hewitt & William J. Kirkpatrick, 1889)

A newer song of worship that I find deeply meaningful is “Step by Step.”

O God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You.
I will seek You in the morning,
And I will learn to walk in Your ways,
And step by step You’ll lead me,
And I will follow You all of my days.

(Copyright © 1991, Kid Brothers of St. Frank Publishing/ASCAP)

As Christians, we are trying to wear Jesus’ sandals and step in his footprints.

  1. We have a Savior.
    1. As Christians, our Savior is bigger than life — literally.
      1. He is our hero.
        1. He loved us, wanted us, and was not ashamed of us before we knew him.
        2. He not only saved us from all the forces outside ourselves that were destroying us, but he also saved us from ourselves — from all the forces within us that were destroying us.
        3. Because we know him, because we place our confidence in him, because we have begun to understand what he did for us, by our choice, he is the controlling force within our lives.
      2. He loved us so much that he saved us from eternal death.
        1. He took our punishment for our mistakes and paid for our failures.
        2. He did that before we understood who he was or what he was doing.
        3. In fact, he did that before we realized that we were destroying ourselves.
      3. Because he saved us, because he actually gave us new life, because he will give us life again after we physically die, we want to be like him.
        1. That is why we call ourselves Christians — the people who seek to be like Christ.
        2. We live in him, and by our conscious choice he lives in us.
      4. Unless he teaches us, we will not understand the purpose of living.
      5. Unless he guides us, we will not find the direction that leads to life with God.
    2. Our Savior Jesus is unique.
      1. In every age of this world there have been would be saviors.
        1. These saviors are always certain that they know what we must learn.
        2. But they want to save us by telling us what we should do.
      2. Jesus never limited his efforts to help us by just telling us what to do.
        1. As he told us, he showed us by using his own life as an example.
        2. Often he showed us before he told us.
      3. So, to the Christian, Jesus is much more than our teacher.
        1. Because he showed us, he is also our example.
        2. So each day we put our small feet and short legs into his huge sandals, and each day we try to wear his sandals as we walk in his steps.
    3. About 2000 years ago he actually walked the sandy beach of time.
      1. His footprints are still clearly visible on that beach — they will remain on the beach of time long as this earth exists.
      2. Each day, in front of us, are his sandal prints as he walked through life.
      3. As we walk down that beach of time, we struggle to wear his sandals and step in his footprints.
      4. As our patient, loving heavenly Father and loving, resurrected Savior watch, that must be a comical sight.
  2. There were twelve hand-picked men who followed Jesus every day.
    1. Acts 1 indicates that there were many more than these twelve who followed Jesus daily, but these twelve were hand-picked by Jesus.
      1. Every day they listened to Jesus teach, watched him help all kinds of people, and witnessed the miracles he performed.
      2. The night before his execution, Jesus made this statement to these twelve men (John 13:13-17).
        You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
    2. Because we declare that we are Christians, we propose to be Jesus’ disciples — not just on Sundays when we spend two or three hours in study and worship, but every day.
      1. We call him Teacher and Lord.
      2. For each of us, he has done more than wash our feet — he has washed our sins away.
      3. Since he has forgiven us, he asks us to forgive each other.
      4. In his cleansing of us he has given us an example of both humility and service to others.
      5. In his example he has given us a purpose bigger than self, bigger than material ambitions, and bigger than physical desires.
      6. He specifically gave us his example because he wants us to put on his sandals and walk in his footprints.
      7. If we are to wear his sandals and walk in his footprints, there is something very basic that we must understand: we are never more important than he is.
        1. If something was not beneath him, it cannot be beneath us.
        2. If something was important to him, it must be important to us.
        3. It is by looking at and understanding him that we literally define who we are and what our purpose on earth is.
      8. If we know these things, we are blessed if we do them.
  3. If I am going to wear his sandals and walk in his footprints, I must listen as he explains something very fundamental about belonging to God.
    1. In John 5 Jesus was in Jerusalem.
      1. He healed a man on the Jewish Sabbath day, the day on which God’s law forbid anyone to work.
      2. He told the healed man to pick up his mat and go home.
      3. According to the religious leaders, that was an act of work that violated God’s law.
      4. When these leaders turned on him, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, the Son can do nothing of himself, unless it is something he sees the Father doing; for whatsoever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19).
      5. In that same statement Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30).
    2. In John 6 both the religious leaders and a huge crowd of people who were following Jesus became very upset at some things Jesus said about himself.
      1. Among many things Jesus said to them, he made this statement: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).
    3. In John 8 Jesus was involved in another confrontation with the religious leaders.
      1. The situation was growing increasingly tense.
      2. Jesus was quite aware that these people would succeed in having him killed, and that he would be executed on a cross.
      3. So he said to those who would succeed in having him killed, “When you lift up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me” (John 8:28).
  4. Jesus was so powerful, so popular, so untouchable that the twelve hand-picked disciples began to feel like very important people.
    1. They had visions of Jesus being king in Jerusalem and of them occupying very prestigious and important places in Jesus’ kingdom.
      1. Each one of them was filled with ambition and a sense of personal importance, and each considered himself more important than the other eleven men.
      2. When they gathered to eat the religious meal called the Passover on the last night of Jesus’ life, they were a pride filled, arrogant group.
      3. Because they wore sandals in those days, their feet quickly got dirty as they walked.
        1. When guests came or when the family came in for the evening, it was a matter of good manners and warm hospitality to wash people’s feet.
        2. Not one of the disciples dared lower himself to wash the other disciples’ feet.
      4. So Jesus, their Lord and Teacher, got up, took off his robe, put a towel around his waist, poured a basin of water, and washed their feet.
    2. When he finished, he asked “Do you know what I have done?”
      1. That is when he said that they rightfully called him Lord and Teacher.
      2. If he could wash their feet, they should wash each others’ feet.
      3. “I have given you an example; do as I did.”
    3. If you are going to wear Jesus’ sandals and walk in his footprints, there are two things you must never forget.
      1. The first thing: always follow God’s lead.
        1. If Jesus could do nothing of himself, we surely can do nothing of ourselves.
        2. Our spiritual ambitions are unimportant; God’s purposes are essential.
        3. Don’t decide for God; listen to God, and follow.
        4. Almost every day I remind myself, “It’s about God; it is not about you.”
      2. The second thing: nothing in serving God’s purposes is beneath you.
        1. Execution by death on a cross was not beneath Jesus.
        2. No use that God would make of a Christian’s life is beneath him or her.
        3. Self-importance and arrogance have no place in a Christian heart.

Is anything more important than your living with God in heaven? Without hesitation, you probably say no. Do you really mean that? If you really mean that, then in surrender to the Lord and Teacher, begin to pray this prayer. “Whatever it takes, Lord, whatever it takes. I want to be your spiritual person. I want to live close to you now. I want to live in heaven with you. Let me experience whatever it takes.” Then step into Jesus’ sandals and begin the most incredible journey of your life.

A small child can’t fill his daddy’s shoes. I can’t fill my Lord’s sandals.

It won’t happen.
It can’t happen.
It will never happen.
Some days I may do a fair job stepping in His footsteps. Some days I struggle to even find His footsteps. God said we had to follow His son, not necessarily in His same steps.
Above all things, God wants me to have Jesus’ heart. Don’t say you can’t do it. God loves you more than you love your child. The strength is in God, not in you.
Will you let Him lead you home?

Several “Think Abouts”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Operation Encouragement should be at full speed! Did you remember to write your note of encouragement to someone this week? It is not too late! Make your day–and someone else’s!

This week’s operation encouragement suggestion: write a note to the elders that specifically names something you genuinely appreciate about this congregation. Could you send your note to the church’s address so that all of the elders could read it? It will be wonderful for our elders to receive a few hundred such notes this week! Without hesitation, we tell them what disturbs us. Have you ever told them what you appreciate? This week is the perfect opportunity!

Sam Roberts was recently asked, “Where are we going as a congregation?” An excellent question that is deserving of a carefully considered, well thought out answer. My “off-the-cuff” response for the immediate future focused on three goals: meaningfully development in spirituality and Christ-likeness as a congregation; developing our community outreach in ways that keep pace with and support our missions outreach; providing this congregation with the tools (facilities) that will enable us to advance fellowship and nurturing among our members. For me, all of this is in addition to (not in replacement of) the wonderful things already happening at West-Ark.

I so appreciate the job our greeters are doing! They are here early (they beat me to the building!). I don’t think anyone can enter the main building without receiving several genuine welcomes. Last Sunday Bob and Sharon Faries were among the greeters. Bob said, “Greeting is a wonderful job! It makes you aware of all the great people we have here.” He told me how much he and Sharon enjoyed it, and how much fun it was. He observed that you cannot see and talk to that many people unless you are a greeter, and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. To all of you greeters, thanks! You make a difference!

God’s Higher Calling

Posted by on August 3, 1997 under Sermons

It would be fascinating to listen to people in the different stages of successful marriage discuss the higher calling of marriage. Don’t you think that would be fascinating?

What would a person deeply in love, engaged to be married soon, and genuinely prepared to marry, say about the higher calling of marriage? “The higher calling of marriage is to love. Marriage should make the person feel loved as he or she had never felt loved before. Making the person feel loved is the higher calling of marriage.”

What would newlyweds who had been married a month and love being married say about the higher calling of marriage? “The higher calling of marriage is to feel truly a part of someone else’s life. Sharing life in marriage is an incredible experience! Achieving shared life is the higher calling of marriage.”

What would a couple who had begun their family, who have two small children say about the higher calling of marriage? “The higher calling of marriage is sharing responsibility and meeting challenges together. Having children changes everything. When you can know that responsibility will be shared and when you meet every challenge together, you have responded to the higher call of marriage.”

What would a couple in their 40’s who are advancing careers to support the family and educate the children say about the higher calling of marriage? “Knowing that you are supported, that your mate will be there for you, that you will receive understanding, that your home will be a haven of escape from outside stresses, that is the high calling of marriage.”

What would a couple who have adjusted to the empty nest say the high calling of marriage is? “The high calling of marriage is being friends to each other like no one else on earth can be. To know that you are loved and valued just for being you, that is the high calling of marriage.”

So which of them are right? Which people correctly identified the high calling of marriage? They all were right. They all correctly identified the high calling of marriage at their level of marital maturity. As each marriage grows and matures, the calling rises to a higher level.

  1. Listen to Paul’s statement about himself in Philippians 3:13, 14.
        “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
    1. In context, in chapter 3, Paul said, “I could brag with the best of them about what I accomplished as a Jew — my Jewish accomplishments were awesome!”
      1. “But I have absolutely nothing to brag about as a Christian.
      2. “God showed me something in Jesus Christ that never existed through my Jewish accomplishments.
      3. “I want (the presence tense) the righteousness that can be received only through faith as God’s gift.
      4. “I want to be resurrected from the dead in Jesus Christ.
      5. “Christ took my life for a purpose, and I am pursuing that purpose.
    2. “However, I have not arrived; Christ’s purpose in me has not been accomplished.”
      1. That is a fascinating statement.
      2. Considering all the teaching Paul had done.
      3. Considering all the mission work Paul had done.
      4. Considering Paul’s dedication and sacrifice.
      5. Paul was not saying that he, as of that moment, was not saved or had not done enough — the entire context of that statement emphasized that serving Christ’s purpose is not about accomplishments.
      6. Allowing Christ’s purpose be worked in him involved three things:
        1. Forgetting the past (present tense, not living on past failures or successes).
        2. Reaching forward (present tense, extending myself toward the future).
        3. “I press on” (present tense, straining to move ahead).
      7. The objective of allowing Christ’s purpose be worked in him was reaching the goal of the upward call of God in Christ.
        1. The prize was the crown, the wreath, that was given to the victor in an athletic contest.
        2. In this analogy, the goal would be winning, but here winning is not defeating someone else or being better than someone else.
        3. The goal involved a becoming — he fulfilled Christ’s highest purpose for him when he experienced resurrection in Christ.
        4. The upward call of God was always calling him toward the resurrection.
  2. It is in the higher calling of God in Christ Jesus that we see God’s purpose for our lives.
    1. The more we spiritually mature, the more we understand God’s purposes in Christ, and the better we understand God’s purpose for us.
      1. What is God’s purpose for the person owned by evil? “God’s purpose is to call me to repentance.”
      2. What is God’s purpose for the person who repents? “God’s purpose is to call me to the new birth.”
      3. What is God’s purpose for the new convert? “God’s purpose is for me to learn to function as a living part of Christ’s body, to worship, to fellowship, and to get involved.”
      4. What is God’s purpose for the developing Christian? “God’s purpose is for me to share Christ as I nurture my brothers and sisters and reach out to those still owned by evil.”
      5. What is God’s purpose for the mature Christian? “God’s purpose is for me to live by the nature, the mind, the heart, and the attitudes of Jesus.”
      6. What is God’s purpose for the spiritually aware Christian? “God’s purpose is for me to complete the journey. This world and life is temporary. It is just a journey. I am called to be godly in Christ Jesus and to let Christlikeness be the number one objective in my daily life.”
      7. What is God’s purpose for every Christian? “To use the resurrection to bring us home to live with Him.”

Which one is God’s true calling? They all are. Every call we receive in Christ just leads us to a higher calling in Christ. From sinfulness the higher call is to repentance. From repentance the higher call is to new birth. From new birth the higher call is to become a functioning part of the body. From being a functioning part of the body, the higher call is to share Christ. From sharing Christ, the higher call is to develop the heart and mind of Christ. From developing the heart and mind of Christ, the higher call is to complete the journey. From the pilgrimage, the higher call is to come home to God.

No matter where you are in your spiritual development, God always has a higher calling. That calling is always God’s call in Christ. The better you understand God’s work in Christ, the better you understand the call.

Do you hear God calling you?
Hear the call to serve God in ways that are a little more mature, a little more dedicated.
It is not a station to be arrived at — it is an ongoing process.

The Only Thing We Will Take To Heaven

Posted by on under Sermons

Husbands, I want to ask you some questions about your wives. What is the most difficult request your wife has ever made of you? What is your wife’s most difficult expectation in your life? What is the greatest challenge your wife has ever given you?

Wives, l want to ask you some questions about your husbands. What is the most difficult request your husband has ever made of you? What is your husband’s most difficult expectation in your life? What is the greatest challenge your husband has ever given you?

To the unmarried, may I ask you the same questions about your parents or your closest friend? What is the most difficult request ever made of you? What is the most difficult expectation placed on you? What is the greatest challenge someone else has given you?

Likely, for most of us, each of those questions has a different answer. The most difficult request is probably different from the most difficult expectation. The most difficult expectation is probably different from the most difficult challenge.

May I ask four questions about God? What is the hardest command God has given you? What is the most difficult request God has made of you? What is the most difficult expectation God has of you? What is the greatest challenge God has given you?

I want to suggest to you that the answer to all four questions is the same. The hardest commandment God has given us is to love. The most difficult request God has made of us is to love. The most difficult expectation God has of us is for us to love. The greatest challenge God has given us is the challenge found in loving.

  1. The New Testament declares the most incredible statements about love.
    1. Jesus plainly said that the greatest command that God ever gave was the commandment to love.
      1. Jesus said (Mark 12:30,31):
        1. The greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
        2. The second greatest commandment was to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
      2. What does that mean?
        1. No commandment God has ever given is more important than the command to love God and to love people.
        2. No commandment from God gives us something more important to do than loving God and loving people.
        3. No commandment God has given us reveals something more important about accomplishing God’s purposes than the command to love God and to love people.
        4. The command to love God and people is God’s number one expectation, God’s number one request, and God’s number one challenge.
    2. In Paul’s practical application section of the book of Romans, he made this astounding statement in 13:8 — “Owe nothing to anyone except to love each other; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
      1. If I correctly understand Paul, he is declaring that we should pay our debts.
        1. Do not borrow and fail to return.
        2. Do not borrow and forget to repay.
        3. Do not act like other people owe you what you borrowed.
      2. There is only one debt that you cannot repay.
        1. You cannot repay your debt of love.
        2. Each of us are deeply in debt to God — we are in debt to God for all He has done for us in love.
        3. It is impossible for us to repay God our debt of love, and He does not ask us to repay Him.
      3. He asks us to make payments on our debt of love by loving people.
        1. He loved us when we were unlovable and undeserving, and He continues to love us when we are unlovable and undeserving.
        2. His love for us did not and does not depend on our being deserving.
        3. He asks that we love people in the same way that He loves us.
      4. Then Paul made this astounding statement: every law, every commandment God has given about the proper treatment of other people will be fulfilled in our lives, will be obeyed in the way that God wants us to obey it, when we love other people.
        1. If our greatest concern is obedience, Paul says that the key is love.
        2. Love produces obedience that fulfills everything that God has in mind for us to do, and, if we love, we will do it the way that God wants it done.
    3. Paul made another statement that is just as astounding as Jesus’ statement.
      1. Remember, Jesus said the two greatest commandments God ever gave was to love God and to love people.
      2. In verification of that truth, Paul told the Corinthian Christians that godly acts done without love mean nothing to God or Christ (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
          “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
      3. In our theology of belonging to and obeying God, we place more importance on many things than we place on love.
      4. At times we create the impression that love is good, but love is not a salvation issue: I can go to heaven without it — you don’t have to have love to go to heaven; I can be right without it — you don’t have to have love to be right; I can belong to God without it — you don’t have to have love to belong to God.
      5. Jesus and Paul obviously disagreed with that reasoning.
        1. A Christian can communicate God’s message with the languages of men and with the language that comes from heaven.
          1. The languages can be impressive and the message be correct.
          2. But if love is absent, to God it is just loud, irritating noise.
        2. A Christian can have the gift of prophecy, which in the next chapter Paul told these same Christians is God’s most important spiritual gift.
          1. He can explain all the mysteries — like the resurrection, like how God makes us all one in Christ Jesus.
          2. He can have all knowledge; he can truly be the expert when it comes to information about God and scripture.
          3. He can be faith filled and have a powerful faith — in fact his faith can be so powerful that he actually moves mountains.
          4. But if he does not have love — even with the gift of prophecy, the understanding of mysteries, all knowledge, and mountain moving faith — he is nothing.
        3. He can be an incredibly generous Christian.
          1. He can literally give away everything he owns to feed the poor.
          2. In faith, he can sacrificially yield his body to death by fire.
          3. But if there is no love, there is no benefit to him — it profits him nothing.
  2. Perhaps your initial reaction is, “David, that is emphasizing love entirely too much.”
    1. If you are tempted to think this is overemphasis, let me ask you to consider the importance of love from a different perspective.
      1. The most important thing God ever did for you and me was to love us.
      2. Loving us is also the most difficult thing God ever did for us.
        1. Because God loved us, that love made the greatest demands ever placed on God.
        2. Loving us is the most costly thing God ever did.
        3. Because He loved us:
          1. He endured human rejection and human failure.
          2. He endured injustice and grief of sin from the days of Abraham to the coming of Jesus.
          3. He allowed His son to leave heaven and come to earth — and we think it is hard to let our children leave home.
          4. He allowed Jesus to be executed in a grotesque, horrible way.
      3. Because he loves us:
        1. He gives us mercy instead of justice.
        2. He gives us compassion instead of anger.
        3. He gives us forgiveness instead of condemnation.
        4. He gives us kindness instead of giving us what we deserve.
        5. He endures our ignorance, He tolerates our flaws, and He picks us up when we fall.
      4. Loving us is:
        1. The most expensive thing God has ever done.
        2. The most demanding thing God has ever done.
        3. The most frustrating thing God has ever done.
        4. The most exasperating thing God has ever done.
    2. In our lives, God values love for him and love for people more than any other quality that we can develop.
      1. God places a high premium on your love for Him and your love for people.
      2. It is the hardest, most demanding responsibility that He has given Christians.
      3. Why? Because the Christian defines love as God defines love, and because the Christian loves people as God loves people.
      4. Nothing is as hard to do as loving as God loves.
        1. When you love, you show mercy.
        2. When you love, you forgive.
        3. When you love, you forbear.
        4. When you love, you are kind.
        5. When you love, you are patient.
      5. And Jesus put the teeth in our responsibility to love when he said, “If you just love those who love you, you are no different from any evil, godless person” (Matthew 5:46).

Perhaps you are tempted to think, “Love cannot be that important. Love is too weak. There simply is not that much to love — It is not that big a deal. Many Christian responsibilities are much more important than love.” If you think that, look at divine patience and explain how love is weak. Look at divine forgiveness and explain how love is weak. Look at the cross and explain how love is weak.

If you think love is too easy, answer two questions. How many times in your life have you loved God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength? How often in your life have you loved other people as much as you loved yourself? How many times in your life have you genuinely obeyed the two greatest commandments God has given?

What do you think you will take to heaven with you? “My reputation for godliness.” You wouldn’t want it in heaven even if you could take it. “My faith — I have enormous confidence in God.” Wonderful! But you won’t need faith in heaven. You only need faith on earth. “My hope — I have invested all my hope in Jesus Christ.” Wonderful! But you won’t need hope in heaven. You only need hope on earth. You and I will take just one thing from earth to heaven. It is only thing that we need on earth and will still need in heaven. The only thing we will take with us is our love. We need love on earth and in heaven. “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13.

There are ways of thinking of the Day of Judgement that can be terribly frightening. There are also some marvelous things to consider when we stand before God.

One thing would frighten me more than anything else. There is one mistake that I fear above all others. It is the one mistake that I do not want to take with me into the judgment. As I stand before the God who loved me enough to give me Jesus, and before the Jesus who loved me enough to die on the cross, I do not want to stand there having only loved those who loved me. In my understanding, that would be the most serious failure I could make as a Christian.

Consider the great love God had for us, shown by sending Jesus. God can teach us how to refocus and redirect our lives. He sent Jesus to teach us how to love. God lets you experience His love before He expects you to love.

Operation Encouragement

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

This is the “slow” time. No, life’s rat race did not take a break. Regardless of the month of the year, “hectic” is always the pace and “too busy” is always the reality.

Late July and August have their own personality in a congregation’s life. It is the “slow” time. The weather is hot and dry. The heat zaps our energy. Activities are not as much fun because of the weather’s discomfort. The kids are bored–many actually look forward to school starting. Even the summertime routine breaks down in families.

Within the congregation, it is the “wrong time” to begin anything new. Momentum would place last in a snail race. Attendance is erratic because families are making their last trips before school starts. It is difficult to find teachers or men to take leading roles in assemblies because so many are gone. Ministry work crawls.

“What’s wrong?” Nothing. This is always typical of late July and August. It simply is “that time of the year.” It is amazing to watch the life, the involvement, and the momentum revive themselves when September arrives.

The most significant danger in this period is the possibility of developing a bad case of congregational “blahs.” Since healthy congregational routines and involvement tend to suffer, it is easy to lose sight of our blessings. Minor frustrations look like monsters.

To help us “see” our blessings and fight the blahs, let’s begin “Operation Encouragement” this week. For the next few weeks, I challenge every member to consciously focus on our blessings. Focus on everything that brings you gratitude and joy.

We will sharpen and intensify that focus in a very simple way. Each week I will ask every member to write and mail a note. Just one note, just one stamp! I will suggest a different focus for our notes each week.

THIS WEEK: WRITE A NOTE TO SOMEONE IN THE CONGREGATION WHOM YOU APPRECIATE! It can be anyone you appreciate–someone who touches your life, or encourages you, or renews your faith, or lifts your spirits. Write to someone that others may not write. Perhaps it is someone that you have wanted to thank for a long time.

Do it this week! It will sharpen your focus on our blessings! It will lift the spirits and gladden the heart of the person who receives your note!