When the Vague Hypothetical Becomes the Sobering Actual

Posted by on September 28, 1997 under Bulletin Articles

We discuss the importance of being friendly. We stress the need for convenient relationship opportunities. Visitors and new members need friends. However, that discussion tends to be a faceless generality dealing with a hypothetical.

An alarming number of college students from Christian homes and church programs leave Christianity when they leave home. This has happened for decades. Conservative estimates are that 55% of our children cease actively expressing faith when they go to college. Wonder what the percentage is for those who begin jobs?

We had an exceptional group of senior high students who became college freshman this fall. They had excellent fellowship with each other. They encouraged younger teens. They were spiritually active with peers. They provided quality leadership in our youth group.

Last week on the same day Brad received a call and a letter from two of those freshmen. Both were “strong;” true leaders within our youth group. One wrote, “I miss you guys. I’m starting to see why so many college kids leave the church. It’s just hard to get excited about going to church when you don’t know anyone there. It is SO different from home.”

One called. She is searching for a local church where she feels welcome. Though she attends with two sophomores from this congregation, she feels like no one has noticed her at any of the church functions or activities. For the first time she realizes how special it was to be a part of our youth program and our church family. She misses the involvement and the encouragement.

Sobering? Perhaps frightening? Our own flesh and blood, strong members of our own spiritual family are discouraged in a month. Suddenly the importance of and need for friendliness and relationship are real and urgent, not hypothetical.

What difference would a friend within the congregation make? A friendly voice that cared? A face that noticed you were there? They do not want to be lost in the crowd; they just feel lost in the crowd.

What about people who know no one when they walk into our building? What about those who sit in our assemblies for weeks and know almost no one? Do you think it really matters?

When Worlds Are Superimposed

Posted by on September 21, 1997 under Sermons

Two of the common concerns in every decade, every century, every age are function and method. Consider some simple examples that obviously always have been and always will be primary concerns in every decade, every century, and every age.

What is the function of government?

What method(s) should government use to govern?

What is the function of business?

What method(s) should business use to achieve its purposes?

What is the function of the family?

What method(s) should the family use to serve its purposes?

What is the function of religion?

What method(s) should religion use to touch people?

Those questions of function and method can never be answered once and for all. In fact, they must be reasked and reanswered in every decade, every century, every age. As societies change, as interaction between countries and people increase, as the rate of development increases, new needs are born and new situations arise. Each time we are forced to address new needs and cope with new situations, we must again ask, “What is the function of . . . ? What method(s) will be used to . . . ?”

The powerful temptation is to superimpose old functions on new needs and to superimpose old methods on new situations. That is not only the powerful temptation; that is the common reaction.

Nowhere is that done more zealously and more predictably than in religion. In Christianity, when a new need arises, we typically react by declaring old functions will adequately address the new need. When new situations arise, we typically react by declaring that old methods will adequately address the new situations.

Let me use a specific example. The leadership needs of a rural congregation in the 1950’s and the leadership needs of an urban congregation in the 1990’s bear little similarity. The lives and daily world of families living on farms and the lives and daily world of families living in a city and working in industry or business are different in more ways than they are alike. What is necessary to nurture and minister to the families in those two situations is quite different.

A man could be a superb leader in the rural congregation but be quite ineffective in the urban congregation. Or, a man could be a superb leader in the urban congregation and even more ineffective in the rural congregation.

The general qualities of successful leadership are basically the same for each congregation, but the function of successful leadership and the necessary methods for successful leadership in each congregation are quite different.

  1. Congregational leadership is not a simple question; it is a very complex issue.
    1. Without question, the basic biblical qualifications for leadership are fairly simple.
    2. But the critical issue facing congregations today is not the qualifications of a leader.
      1. However, the question of qualifications is about the only leadership question that we seriously address.
      2. We can have intense discussions about what are necessary qualifications.
      3. We can have intense discussions about who is and is not qualified.
      4. But we have almost no discussion about the purpose of leadership or what we expect of leadership.
    3. When it comes to the function of leadership and the methods leadership is to use, we want to superimpose the functions and methods of the past on the needs and the situations of the present.
      1. As congregations, we rarely ask the necessary questions.
      2. As congregations, even when we ask the necessary questions, we often do not make a serious attempt to understand the questions or to answer them.
      3. In considering the function and methods of congregational leadership, what are the necessary questions?
        1. # 1: What are the actual needs in the congregation? We must clearly define and accurately understand the needs.
        2. # 2: Is each specific need being effectively addressed? Is the congregation as a whole and are the members individually going to grow and develop the way we are currently addressing the needs?
        3. # 3: Can we better define function and better identify available methods to more effectively and successfully address our specific needs?
        4. # 4: Will the way we presently address our specific needs allow us:
          1. To touch and influence more lives of people in the community who are not Christians?
          2. To nurture, build up, and bring to maturity the lives of Christians within the congregation?
  2. The questions involving leadership function and methods in congregational leadership have been and are complex and complicated.
    1. When Christianity began, it was totally different from any widely known or widely practiced religion.
      1. Nothing like it had existed before.
      2. Everything about it was different, including leadership.
        1. It was distinctly different from Judaism.
        2. It was distinctly different from widely known forms of idol worship.
      3. Christianity was distinctly different in the way it dealt with needs.
        1. Questions involving function were new questions.
        2. Questions involving method were new questions.
      4. When Jews became Christians or when idol worshipers became Christians, they faced a confusing transition.
        1. Their transition from the functions and methods of Judaism or idolatry was a difficult transition.
        2. That transition was still in progress when the New Testament closed.
        3. If you look and listen as you read the epistles, the difficulty of the transition is apparent.
    2. Judaism’s system of leadership had been in place for well over 1000 years.
      1. Power and control were vested in the high priest who, in the Old Testament, served in that role from appointment until death.
        1. He had to be a direct descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother.
        2. By divine law, only he was permitted to preside over certain rites of worship and atonement.
        3. Only he could enter the Most Holy Place.
        4. He was in charge of the other priests.
      2. The other priests performed the common rites of worship.
        1. They prepared and offered most of the sacrifices.
        2. They were in charge of most of the temple rituals.
      3. As far as religious leadership, the priesthood was in charge.
        1. In the Old Testament they even read the law to the people.
        2. In the New Testament they controlled the temple area and functions, and that was the actual heart of the nation of Israel.
      4. Basically the people had a passive role in both worship and leadership.
        1. Basically they thought what they were told to think, they did what they were told to do, and they complied to the laws in the manner those laws were explained to them.
        2. The high priest represented them before God.
        3. The priests were in charge of their acts of worship.
        4. They brought their sacrifices, they complied with their instructions, but they were not active participants in many things.
    3. Consider leadership in idolatry with its temples.
      1. Again, leadership was vested in the priests.
        1. The priests at the temples often also served as the city administrators.
        2. Often there was little distinction between a religious function and a civic function.
          1. The gods were often brought out of the temple to greet important government officials that came to the city.
          2. Important government officials visiting the city often went to the temple to pay a courtesy call on the god.
          3. Civic buildings were often used for religious purposes, and temples were often used for civic business.
      2. The priests were in charge and control of the temple, the religious activities, and the affairs of the god.
        1. They answered the questions of pilgrims who visited the temple.
        2. They kept order.
      3. It was not unusual for lawyers to come to the temple, stand before the god, present their briefs, and explain their cases.
      4. In a number of places the temple served as the city’s banking institution.
      5. The priests occupied a very prominent role of leadership, and, again, the worshipers basically had a passive role in what occurred.
        1. They ate sacrificial meals.
        2. They performed certain rites under the guidance and direction of the priests.
    4. I know this presentation of leadership in Judaism and idolatry is generalization, that there were exceptions, but the generalization is typical.
  3. Now think about the incredible contrast with leadership in Christianity.
    1. The focus of leadership function and methods in Judaism was on God; the focus of leadership function and methods in idolatry was on the god or goddess; but the focus of leadership in function and methods in Christianity is on ministering to and serving Christians.
      1. Jesus made it very clear:
        1. The way you take care of people is the way you treat me.
        2. To worship God and call me Lord when you are unconcerned with people is meaningless.
      2. Leaders in the congregations are shepherds, not priests.
        1. They exist to take care of the flock, not represent people to God.
        2. Their concern is to serve the sick, the weak, the troubled, and the discouraged.
        3. They are to protect the flock from evil people who would destroy them.
        4. That is a radically different concept of the function of leadership!
      3. Leaders are not figures with control and unquestionable power.
        1. Christians are not coerced to follow.
        2. Leaders lead by example.
        3. Christians follow leaders because they respect them.
        4. Power and control are not the primary issues; the leader who uses power to control leads from weakness, not strength.
    2. Another radical difference: Christians participated in the leadership process from the very beginning.
      1. In Acts 1:15-26, one hundred twenty men and women who were believers chose the two men to be considered to become an apostle.
        1. What a difference in function and method!
      2. In Acts 6, the apostles told the entire congregation to choose seven men to administer the program for taking care of the physical needs of the widows.
        1. The apostles and elders were hands off that decision (other than giving the congregation the basic qualifications).
        2. They simply confirmed the seven whom the congregation chose.
      3. In Acts 15:22 the whole church confirmed the method to be used to inform Gentile congregations of a critical doctrinal decision.
        1. The context suggests that they witnessed the discussion and the decision.
        2. They obviously had an active part in implementing the decision.
    3. There were many struggles in the first century church that arose out of this leadership function and methodology because it was so different.
  4. Some final observations.
    1. You and I do not know much about shepherds.
      1. Most of us never saw one.
      2. Few of us ever watched a shepherd actually lead sheep.
      3. The words “open range” mean nothing to most of us.
      4. At best, the concept of shepherding is vague to us; it is reduced to a few intellectual facts uninfluenced by any form of experience.
    2. You and I know a lot about the function and methods of a board of directors (which did not exist in the first century).
      1. We know and understand how a board of directors functions.
        1. It is typically vested with a high degree of control and authority.
        2. They hold a “high ground” position when a matter is discussed.
        3. While it is wise for them to be sensitive to those they represent, the power of decision is in their hands.
    3. Because the function and methods of a board of directors is familiar, in the past we superimposed the board of director concept on the leadership of the church.
      1. That was not all bad–it in the past has produced many good things.
      2. But neither is it all good, and it is an enormous mistake to decide that it is the divinely approved way to lead.
      3. With today’s wide spread skepticism and with today’s different needs, congregational leadership that functions like a board of directors is less effective than it has ever been.

Think about two things. First, we always tend to superimpose that which is familiar to us. Second, when we consider function and method, we must always ask the key questions: What is the purpose? What are the needs? What is in the true best interest of all parts of the congregation?

A New Me In a New World

Posted by on under Sermons

“He is a changed man. From the time he was a freshman in college, all he did was chase women. For him, life existed to have a good time, and to have it any way you could find it. You could not depend on him for anything. He did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it, and that is all he did. Today you would never guess that he had been that kind of person.”

“She is a changed woman. From the time she left home, all she did was party. Could she drink! And she smoked like a chimney! She had a different boyfriend every week. She was never serious with anyone, never serious about anyone. When she finally got a good job, she worked five days a week so she could party hard every weekend. Today you would never guess that she ever lived that kind of life!”

Each of us knows someone who totally turned his or her life around. This man or woman made a life-altering decision. That decision completely redirected his or her life. He was uptight; now he is easy going. She was stressed out; now she is calm. He was driven and compulsive; now he follows a sound value system. She was overbearing; now she is understanding. He was money hungry; now he is family centered. She was addicted to prestige; now she is truly down-to-earth.

Usually such people fall into one of two general categories. Some are convinced, “I have no choice. I have to be who I am; I have to live this life.” Others are convinced, “I have to achieve my ambition. This is the only path to my ambition. If I am going where I want to go, I have no choice–I simply must do this.”

Then one day she finally realizes, “I do have a choice; I can choose a totally different life.” One day he realizes, “The life I am living is not worth the price I am paying. It is stupid to live my life this way.”

The day that we are converted to Jesus Christ, that is what happens in our lives. Something brings us to a point of decision that says, “My life cannot continue to be what it has been. I cannot keep on living life as I have lived it. I do have a choice, and I can make it. It is just not worth the price to keep on living the way that I have lived.”

The conversion decision is the decision to be a new me living in a new world.

  1. For some of us, the moment of conversion came simultaneously with our baptism into Christ; for others of us the moment of conversion came when we matured in our understanding of our baptism into Christ.
    1. For an adult who lived a life devastated by evil, who then discovered Jesus Christ, and who then learned about hope and forgiveness, the moment of conversion likely was the moment of baptism.
      1. The moment was not created by the act of baptism–conversion was not just the fact that he or she was immersed in some water.
      2. The moment of conversion is represented by the decision leading to baptism.
        1. By decision, he or she is dying to sin.
        2. By decision, he or she is entering Christ.
        3. By faith, he or she is being buried with and resurrected with Christ.
    2. For a young person, for one of our children who has always lived in a Christian environment, in simple love for God and simple desire to obey God, he or she is baptized.
      1. In most instances this young person has never known great sin or devastating evil.
      2. He or she obeys God by being baptized, but he or she has not yet experienced the true devastation of evil.
      3. Conversion with its life directing commitment comes later.
        1. It comes when he or she confronts the realities of evil.
        2. It comes when he or she consciously, gratefully, decides to walk with Jesus.
    3. Most of us who are Christians know many facts about baptism.
      1. When combined with faith and repentance, baptism results in the remission of sin (Acts 2:38).
      2. It places us in Christ and allows us to be clothed in Christ (Galatians 3:27)
      3. It makes us a part of the body of people who belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).
  2. But as much as we know about baptism, it is amazing to realize that there are many things that we do not understand about our baptism.
    1. The book of Acts is the only New Testament book that talks about people who were not Christians who decided to become Christians.
      1. Yet, except for Acts 2:38 and 22:16, the book of Acts teaches us very little about the significance of baptism.
      2. It tells us that people who were not Christians were baptized when they learned about Jesus, his death, and his resurrection.
        1. The first time Jesus was presented as Lord and Christ, three thousand who placed confidence in Jesus’ resurrection were (Acts 2:41).
        2. Men and women in Samaria were (Acts 8:12).
        3. Simon who practiced magic as sorcery was (Acts 8:13).
        4. The Ethiopian eunuch was (Acts 8:36).
        5. Paul was (Acts 9:18).
        6. Cornelius and his friends were (Acts 10:47,48).
        7. Lydia was and her household was (Acts 16:15).
        8. The Philippian jailor and his household was (Acts 16:33).
        9. Crispus and many Corinthians were (Acts 18:8).
        10. And some disciples in Ephesus were (Acts 19:5).
    2. But I find these facts amazing.
      1. Amazing fact one: Acts records a number of sermons preached to people who were not Christians, and the primary subject of each of those sermons is Jesus Christ.
        1. None of those sermons use baptism as a subject.
        2. In the entire New Testament there is no sermon to the unconverted on baptism.
      2. Amazing fact two: Most of the New Testament teaching on the meaning, the significance, and the importance of baptism was written to Christians, to people who had already been baptized.
        1. It is obvious that these people had been baptized.
        2. It is also obvious that most of them had not grasped the meaning and significance of their baptism.
      3. Amazing fact three: Often when a New Testament writer discussed baptism with Christians, he said that the reason they had spiritual problems was this: they did not understand baptism; they did not trust what God did when they were baptized.
    3. Let me give you some specific examples.
      1. In Rome some Jewish Christians rejected the idea of grace in Jesus Christ.
        1. They argued that grace did not produce salvation.
        2. They said if salvation came by grace, Christians should sin as much as possible to demonstrate the truth of grace.
        3. Paul said that the fact that they would make that argument showed that they did not understand their baptism (Romans 6:1-11).
      2. The congregation at Corinth had an enormous problem with internal division.
        1. They divided up into groups that fought and rejected each other.
        2. Paul said one of their primary problems was in this fact: they did not understand baptism (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).
      3. The congregations in the province of Galatia had turned away from Jesus Christ to follow the legalistic teachings of Judaism.
        1. That decision dumbfounded Paul–he could not believe they did this.
        2. He plainly declared that these non-Jewish Christians did not understand what God had done when they were baptized (Galatians 3:26, 27).
      4. There was a horrible rift between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians in the congregation at Ephesus.
        1. Jewish Christians shunned and rejected non-Jewish Christians–at best non-Jewish Christians were considered to be spiritually inferior.
        2. Paul said God made all of them one–they were one because there was one body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God (Ephesians 4:1-6).
      5. This same inferiority issue was raised in the congregation at Colossae.
        1. Paul said no one who is baptized into Christ is inferior.
        2. In baptism God cuts the evil away from every person’s life, and God resurrects that person to a new life in Christ (Colossians 2:11-14).
  3. Please take your Bibles; I want you to see something in the book of 1 Peter.
    1. In chapter one, Peter writes:
      1. You have an eternal inheritance that no one can take from you, and you are protected by God’s power (1:3-5).
      2. Even so, your faith in Jesus is going to be tried by fire just like gold is refined–persecution is coming, so get ready (1:6-12).
      3. Knowing that, commit yourself without reservation to a holy life (1:13-21).
    2. I want you to clearly understand how you are to act in your relationships.
      1. This is how you treat people who do not believe in God (2:11-12).
      2. This is how you treat government officials (2:13-17).
      3. Slaves, this is how you treat owners who make you suffer (2:18-25).
      4. Wives, this is how you treat your husbands (3:1-6).
      5. Husbands, this is how you treat your wives (3:7).
      6. This is how you conduct yourself in general (3:8-12).
    3. Please look carefully at 3:13-22.
      1. Persecution is coming, but you are less likely to be abused if you do good.
      2. But, if you do good and still are abused, God will bless you.
      3. In these difficult times, this is what you must do:
        1. Let Christ be the only Lord who sits on the throne of your heart.
        2. Preserve your good conscience by the way you live and act.
        3. It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
        4. Trust your salvation; trust what God did when you were baptized.
      4. Look closely at verses 17-22:
        1. Affirmation: It is better to suffer for doing right than doing wrong.
        2. Reasoning:
          1. Christ died for everybody’s sins to bring us to God.
          2. People killed Christ physically, but God gave his spirit life.
          3. God achieved His purposes in Jesus–and Jesus declared to the world of the dead that his death accomplished God’s purposes.
          4. Just like God used the flood in evil days to save Noah, God will use your baptism in evil days to save you.
          5. God’s power did it then; God’s power will do it now.
          6. It wasn’t the boat, and it is not washing dirty bodies.
          7. It is your good conscience looking to God and trusting Jesus’ resurrection.
        3. When times get tough, trust your salvation because you trust your baptism, and trust your baptism because you trust Jesus’ resurrection.

Baptism is not a matter of changing religions or adding a religion to your life. It is not a matter of changing churches or adding a church to your life. Baptism is a matter of finding a Savior, of accepting his forgiveness, and of trusting his resurrection. Baptism is the decision to become a new me and live in a new world.

May Our Spirits Exalt Our Lord!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Thank you for helping elevate our level of praise on Sunday mornings! Our God created us physically and spiritually. Each of us, by our choices and decisions, allowed evil to destroy us spiritually. Faith in Jesus and the choice to redirect life (repentance) moved us to participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection (baptism). God’s grace expressed through Jesus’ blood created us again. Our forgiven sins are destroyed, and forgiveness is a continuing, daily reality in our lives. While we are not given a license to sin, we never exhaust God’s forgiveness. It is absolutely impossible for us to be perfect, but it is absolutely possible for us to be committed to faith and service.

Every week our reasons for praising God exceed our awareness. That is true if it is a week of life’s finest experiences or a week of life’s worst experiences. Regardless of the nature of our experiences, God’s unconditional love remains a constant, never ending reality in our lives.

The quality of our singing has improved significantly the past two weeks. The improvement is far more than volume and harmony–it is equally heart and spirit.

As we worship, sing with all your heart as you reflect on your blessings. Meditate with your whole mind and spirit as we consider Jesus and our forgiveness in communion. Let your prayers rise with sincerity. Show your gratitude for your blessings as we give. As we study, let your understanding grow and your commitment gain resolve.

And Jesus Said, “You Don’t Get It!”

Posted by on September 14, 1997 under Sermons

School is in session. College is in session. Without doubt this morning we have a number of teachers and a number of parents who already share the same frustration. The frustration: trying to teach a student who “just doesn’t get it.”

I can guarantee you that it is no fun being that student who “doesn’t get it.” When I was in the fourth grade I had a horrible time understanding the concept of fractions. I simply “did not get” the concept. My teacher could not communicate that concept to me, so Mom took up the challenge. One night she was trying hard to explain fractions. She was having no success. So, creatively, she said, “David, if six birds are sitting on the fence, and two fly away, what is left?” Well, I am not stupid! I knew the answer to that question: “Four!” Mom asked, “Four what?” In my brilliance I answered, “Four birds.”

Sometimes we “do not get it” because we do not understand the concept. Sometimes we “do not get it” because the concept is so radically different that we do not believe it, will not accept it, and refuse to trust it.

No one has ever been as frustrated as Jesus by people who “did not get” the concept.

  1. The world, the country, and the age that Jesus lived in was an age of dictators.
    1. The western world was controlled by the Roman Empire’s reigning Caesar.
    2. When Jesus was born, Herod the Great controlled Palestine with a iron hand.
      1. Herod was a powerful, regional king who ruled by Caesar Augustus’ permission.
      2. When Herod the Great died, Caesar Augustus allowed his sons to be figure head rulers over areas of their father’s kingdom, but Rome controlled the political affairs of Palestine.
      3. Even as figure heads, they had power and used it–John the Baptist condemned Herod Antipas for taking his half-brother’s wife, and Herod Antipas had the power to imprison, then behead John.
    3. Jesus’ world knew nothing about the democratic process–there were no human rights.
      1. The social and political reality was quite simple.
        1. In the world of politics, he who possessed the power held position, and he who held position exercised control.
        2. In the religious world including Judaism, the same was true: he who possessed power held position and exercised control.
      2. Jesus’ twelve disciples had never experienced the democratic process.
        1. They knew nothing about human rights.
        2. Reality was simple: get power; take position; exercise control; live the good life.
        3. That was reality in politics, religion, and business.
  2. These twelve men watched Jesus every day.
    1. Jesus had power–power like no one else ever had.
      1. He could heal any disease that existed.
      2. He could raise people from the dead.
      3. He could stop storms and still foaming waves.
    2. Jesus had position.
      1. They knew he was Lord.
      2. Peter confessed that he was the Christ.
    3. But they never saw Jesus use his power or position to control people.
      1. Each day Jesus served.
      2. And with his power and position:
        1. He never lived “the good life.”
        2. He never destroyed his enemies or exalted himself.
        3. He just served, and mostly he served the defeated and disadvantaged.

      Though they watched Jesus every day, the reality of their world controlled their thinking and desires.

  3. In Mark 9:33-37 Jesus returned to Capernaum.
    1. When he reached the house, Jesus asked the twelve, “What were you talking about as we were walking to Capernaum?”
      1. They didn’t answer his question; they did not want to tell him.
      2. They discussed which of them was the most important, and they knew he would not like that.
    2. Jesus sat down and told the twelve to come to him.
      1. In essence Jesus said, “You still don’t get it, do you?”
      2. “If you want to be of importance in my kingdom, then you must be the last, the last of all, the servant of all.”
        1. Quite honestly, that paradoxical statement doesn’t make a lot of sense.
        2. How can you be last and first at the same time?
        3. You can’t get to be first by working to be last.
        4. You can’t get to the top by serving everyone else; you get to the top by gaining position so everyone else has to serve you.
        5. This is true in all societies because all societies are governed by “this world” perspectives.
        6. But it is not true in Jesus’ nation, his kingdom–Jesus’ nation or kingdom is as unique and different as is Jesus.
        7. What is necessary to be first in the ungodly human society will not make you first in Jesus’ godly kingdom.
        8. What is necessary to be first in Jesus’ godly kingdom will make you a servant in both ungodly human society and in Jesus’ kingdom.
      3. Jesus took a child in his arms and said, “Whoever receives one child like this in my name receives me…”
  4. The twelve still did not “get it”–right up to the very night Jesus was betrayed, they still did not get it.
    1. In Matthew 20:20-28, during the last week of his life, Jesus tried again to penetrate their thinking.
      1. James and John had their mother to make a request of Jesus.
        1. She approached Jesus as a woman of that day would approach any man or a person would approach a king, bowing before him.
        2. He asked, “What to you want of me?”
        3. “I want you to give my two sons the two prestige positions in your kingdom.”
        4. He replied, “You don’t know what you are asking for.”
        5. Then, turning to James and John, he asked, “Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink.” He was referring to his death.
        6. They had no idea that he was about to be crucified, so they replied, “We are able.”
        7. Jesus replied, “You will drink the cup; but God, my Father, will decide who gets what positions in my kingdom.”
      2. The other ten heard the request and knew precisely what was happening.
        1. James and John were trying to get what they wanted, and they were trying to gain unfair advantage over them.
        2. So they were indignant with James and John.
      3. Jesus had a heart-to-heart talk with all twelve.
        1. “I know that we Jews are being governed by non-Jewish rulers.”
        2. “I know that these rulers are under powerful men who love to use their authority.”
        3. “But my kingdom just does not work that way.”
        4. “If you want greatness in my kingdom, if you want importance, then you will serve everyone else.”
        5. “The person who occupies the highest position in my kingdom will be the person who serves as slave.”
        6. “I am the example, and in my kingdom you will be what I am.”
          1. “I will sacrifice my life as a ransom for many.”
          2. “I did not come to be served; I came to serve.”
    2. They still did not “get it.”
      1. They wanted to rise in the pecking order; they wanted authority; they wanted the right to control, to call “the shots.”
      2. They did not understand before the crucifixion.
      3. They did not understand after the crucifixion.
      4. They did not understand when Jesus’ ascended back into heaven.
      5. They did not understand until the Holy Spirit came almost two months after Jesus died, and they preached the good news for the first time.
    3. If you are a citizen in Jesus’ kingdom, if Jesus saved you from your sins, if Jesus rules your life, the road to significance is the road of humble, unselfish service, the service given by a devoted slave.
  5. That is the astounding paradox.
    1. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords who will someday judge the world.
      1. All who accept his forgiveness accept his rule as willing citizens in his kingdom.
      2. All authority and power are his.
    2. But his kingdom does not exist to use power and authority to defeat human enemies or to exercise control over society.
      1. His kingdom exists to serve people while it serves God.
      2. His kingdom is as interested in serving the troubled and defeated as the victorious and liberated.
  6. When you are standing before Jesus on the day of judgment, what do you want Jesus to say to you?
    1. I cannot count the times I have heard Christians pray in worship for God to help us live in a way that will allow us to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
      1. That statement comes from Matthew 25:14-30 in the parable of the servants who were given the talents.
        1. The two who served well were commended and blessed.
        2. They were told, “Well done, good an faithful servant.”
      2. Look at that statement carefully.
        1. It is not, “Well done, good and faithful scholar, or theologian, or debater, or judge, or worshiper, or member.”
        2. It is “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
      3. Am I condemning or demeaning study, or knowledge, or standing for spiritual truth and values, or worship?
        1. Absolutely not!
        2. I focusing your attention on what Jesus obviously emphasized: no matter what you do, no matter how you develop, no matter what success you achieve, the end result of your spirituality must be service.
        3. Whatever you are as a Christian, whatever you do as a Christian, by Jesus own declaration, goodness and faithfulness involve service.

It would be incredible to witness what would happen in a congregation, any congregation, if three things happened: no one believed that Christ appointed him or her to tell everyone else what to do; everyone understood that he or she existed as a Christian to serve; as Christians served, no one cared who got the credit. You cannot imagine what any congregation could accomplish if the greatest commitment of its members was to accomplish God’s purposes by doing as much good as they could.

During Jesus’ life time, the twelve did not “get it.” They believed power gave a person position, and position gave a person control. But in Jesus’ kingdom, all power creates is greater opportunity to serve. The twelve did not “get it.” Do you?

It has taken me a long time to understand that I am a slave. I am influenced as much as anyone else by the society in which we live. But I have realized that of myself, I am nothing. I only have significance when I serve the One who saved me, the One who rescued me.

You only find life when you give it away.
You only find purpose when you give up your own.

When we are baptized we acknowledge who we are–condemned nobodies–then somebodies because of whose we become.

Christ died for you.
Will you give your life to Him?

Seeing God’s Fingerprints

Posted by on September 7, 1997 under Sermons

There are truths that I know and accept intellectually, but even with unquestioning acceptance, that truth staggers my imagination. All of us know what a fingerprint is. All of us know that each of us has a set of fingerprints. All of us know that each set of fingerprints is distintinctive–no two people’s fingerprints are identical. Fingerprints are so distinctive, so unique, that you can be found and identified by your fingerprints no matter where you are in the world.

That staggers my imagination. Of all the people who have ever lived, of all the people who ever will live, no two people will ever have the same fingerprints. Of all the people living in the world right now, you and I have fingerprints that are so unique, so distinctive that we can be identified by our fingerprints.

If our fingerprints are all over it, it is our work.

God has fingerprints, and His fingerprints are also distinctive. Anyone can learn to recognize God’s fingerprints. The certain way to learn to recognize God’s finger- prints is to learn to correctly identify God’s work in your life. Commonly we learn to identify God’s fingerprints by looking at past experiences and seeing how God was at work within us. It is by seeing God’s fingerprints in His past work in our lives that gives us the courage to confidently place the present in God’s hands.

  1. One night God directed Abraham to take Isaac, the son God promised Abraham, and kill him by offering Isaac as a sacrifice on an altar (Genesis 22).
    1. Abraham got up early the next morning and made preparation to sacrifice his son quickly, his son that God promised him, his son that he deeply loved.
      1. He split the wood to be used in the sacrifice before he left.
      2. He took the fire with him so that he could make the sacrifice quickly.
      3. He took two young servants with him to assist him in making the journey as fast as possible.
      4. He was an elderly man, so he rode a donkey to make certain that he completed the journey.
      5. As he neared the site of sacrifice, he told the young servants to stay behind so that they would not interfere with the sacrifice.
      6. It took three days to get to the place God specified; that is a long time to knowingly take your only son that you love to his death.
      7. At the place God designated, Abraham built an altar, placed Isaac on it, and would have killed him if an angel had not stopped him.
      8. The angel said, “I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
      9. Why was Abraham ready and willing to quickly sacrifice a son that he waited twenty-five years to be born?
        1. He could look back from the time that he was 75 years old and see God’s fingerprints all over his life.
        2. He could see God’s fingerprints during the twenty-five years that he waited for God to give him Isaac.
        3. He looked back and saw how God repeatedly did the impossible in his life.
        4. Because he saw God’s fingerprints on his past, he did not hesitate to entrust his present to the hands of God.
    2. If ever a teenager experienced the best and worst of life, it was Joseph (Genesis 37).
      1. Of Jacob’s twelve sons, Joseph was the favorite.
      2. His rich father gave Joseph the best his world had to offer.
      3. But because Joseph was such an arrogant brat, his brothers hated him.
      4. They hated him so much that:
        1. They captured him in the wilderness.
        2. They sold him as a slave to the Midianites.
      5. As a slave he grew up fast and became honorable, trustworthy, and a diligent laborer (Genesis 37:39-41).
        1. He refused the sexual advances of his owner’s wife.
        2. She was angered by his rejection and accused him of attempted rape.
        3. As a result his deceived, very angry owner had him imprisoned in the royal prison.
      6. In prison he was a model prisoner and was appointed a trustee.
        1. He was so responsible and trusted that he was placed in charge of all the prisoners, and the warden did not even supervise his work.
        2. He helped the king’s cup bearer whom the king put in prison, and all he asked was for this servant to remember Joseph when he was released and restored to his position.
        3. The servant was released and restored to his position, and promptly forgot about Joseph.
      7. Opportunity came for Joseph to interpret the king’s dreams, and as a result the king made him the second most powerful ruler in the nation of Egypt.
      8. In that position as a powerful ruler, he saved his father, his brothers, and their families from starvation.
      9. After his father died, the brothers were terrified that Joseph would take vengeance on them for selling him into slavery.
      10. Joseph assured them that he would never take vengeance, and said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
      11. As he looked back over his life, Joseph clearly saw God’s fingerprints.
  2. It is relatively easy for Christians to look into the distant past and see God’s fingerprints.
    1. For example, you and I can look back at Jesus’ betrayal, trials, and execution on the cross and clearly see God’s fingerprints.
      1. God’s fingerprints at the crucifixion are so obvious to us.
        1. God was not only at work, God was doing His greatest work.
        2. We look and the cross and see God’s fingerprints in:
          1. Forgiveness.
          2. Redemption.
          3. Justification.
          4. Atonement and propitiation.
      2. You and I owe every spiritual blessing we have to God’s work in the cross of Jesus.
      3. Every Sunday morning we declare our faith in God’s work through the cross by taking the Lord’s Supper.
        1. We consciously reflect on what Jesus did for us by dying on that cross.
        2. We remind ourselves of what God did for us by letting him die.
      4. But the believers who watched him die did not see God’s fingerprints.
        1. All they saw was the victory of evil–evil won; it killed God’s son.
        2. They saw no divine plan, no divine purpose, no divine accomplishment.
        3. It is all to common to be unaware that God is at work when God is working.
    2. Isn’t that the way it always works?
      1. We look back at the arrogant, self-confident, take-control Peter and see how God remolded his heart and attitude, but Peter could not see that as it was happening.
      2. We look back at the murdering, blaspheming Paul who hurt and destroyed men and women who placed their faith in Christ and see how God remolded his heart and attitude, but Paul could not see it as it was happening.
  3. When I look back through my life, I see God’s fingerprints on my life so clearly in so many situations.
    1. During Joyce and my mission work in West Africa, due to some bureaucratic misunderstandings, the government closed our work down for six months.
      1. For six months I could not visit any of the congregations, could not preach, could not have contact with national Christians, could not explain to them what had happened.
      2. If I had attempted to do those things, we would have been deported, the church would have been banned, and Christians who defied the ban would have been put in prison.
      3. The missionaries took ever possible course of action to resolve the misunderstanding.
        1. We were finally reduced to sitting, praying, and hoping.
        2. That is when God really taught me what faith is–I thought I knew what faith was, but I didn’t.
        3. And in that adversity, the church made progress I never dreamed possible.
        4. In time, the misunderstanding was corrected, and the problem was resolved.
    2. In the past two weeks, God’s finger prints have been evident in our lives in a prominent manner.
      1. We had a difficult time finding a buyer for our house in Oxford.
      2. We had a difficult time closing the sell.
      3. There were lots of ups and downs, lots of uncertainties, lots of problems, and lots of delays.
      4. But when Joyce was hospitalized, I saw God’s fingerprints, and felt greatly blessed and deeply grateful.
  4. Can the people closest to you see God’s fingerprints on your life? Your heart? Your attitudes and emotions?
    1. Husband, can your wife and children see them?
    2. Wife, can your husband and children see them?
    3. Children, can your parents see them?
    4. Christians, can your friends, your coworkers, your boss, your fellow students, your neighbors see God’s fingerprints in your life?

There are places that we despise seeing fingerprints. No one who wears glasses likes to see fingerprints on his or her glasses. We don’t like fingerprints on any kind of window, any kind of mirror, around light switches, on shiny counters or glass table tops. There are many, many places that we never want to see fingerprints.

But there is one place I want to see fingerprints, and see them clearly. The fingerprints I want to see are fingerprints on my heart. And I want them to be God’s fingerprints. I never want God to stop molding and shaping my heart. When I let God mold my heart, the rest of my life follows.

I want my heart to be just like this play dough. I want it to be soft and pliable in God’s hands. I want God to constantly shape my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my attitudes, my motives, and my outlooks. I want God to constantly touch my heart. And each time He touches my heart, I want Him to leave His fingerprints.

Who’s shaping your heart? God or Satan is. If it is hard and unfeeling, if it is cold and judgmental, if it is lifeless and stiff, Satan is shaping it, and his cruel fingerprints are on it.

If it is soft and yielding, if it is kind and compassionate, if it is repentant and gracious, God is shaping it.

Who do you want to mold it? Whose fingerprints do you want to be on your heart?

Have you ever been baptized into Christ? Do you know what baptism is? A person sees the handprints of God on the Cross. A person decides, “I am no longer going to live as I did.” Baptism is the point where one takes his or her heart and gives it to God and says, “Here it is. It is yours.”

Do you realize what a mess you make with your life if you are molding your own heart? It would be our joy to assist you with turning your heart over to God.