When Knowledge Exceeds Understanding

Posted by on November 30, 1997 under Sermons

Spiritually, we create an enormous danger when we have sound knowledge of God’s facts and truths, but have little or no knowledge of God’s purposes. That danger has existed from the time of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God in the garden of Eden. That same danger intensified and rose to a new level when Jesus was born. That danger was clearly evident in Jesus’ ministry. The Pharisees knew God’s facts, but they did not know God’s purposes. The twelve disciples understood new facts from God, but they did not understand God’s purposes. This same danger intensified again and rose to still a higher level when Jesus died and was raised from the dead. That danger is as real and powerful today as it has ever been.

I want you to understand that danger and consider how it exists for us personally and as a congregation by studying Matthew 16:13-23.

  1. In Matthew 16 we find Jesus in one of those rare moments when just he and the twelve disciples were together.
    1. They were in the northern most section of the area of Palestine in the region of Caesarea Philippi.
      1. Jesus’ work, miracles, and teaching generated lots of conversation.
        1. Jesus was a main topic of conversation among the Jewish people.
        2. How did you explain this unusual man who did all these things that had never been done before?
        3. Were these the acts of Satan as the Pharisees claimed, or were these the acts of God?
        4. Jesus asked these twelve men, “What are people saying about me? Who do they think I am?”
        5. The twelve: “Oh, they say that you are several different people.”
          1. “Some say that you are John the Baptist” (who was dead, executed by one of Herod the Great’s sons –Matthew 14:10,11).
          2. “Others say that you are the prophet Elijah” (who had been dead for centuries).
          3. “Still others say that you are Jeremiah” (who also had been dead for centuries).
          4. “Some just say that you are one of the prophets.”
      2. Jesus asked a second question: “What do you say about me? Who do you think that I am?”
        1. Peter answered very specifically: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
          1. Peter said that Jesus was the person God had promised Israel that He would send from the time of Abraham.
          2. He was the living God’s Son.
        2. Jesus responded to Peter with a very impressive statement.
          1. “You are blessed.”
          2. “You don’t know this because some other person told you this; you know this because my Father in heaven revealed it to you.”
          3. This was not knowledge through instruction; this was knowledge through revelation–Peter knew something that God caused him to know.
          4. “Peter, upon this rock I will build my church.”
            1. This is my understanding of that statement: “Peter, upon the truth that I am the Christ, the living God’s Son, I will establish my called out people.”
            2. “Death won’t stop me; it will not keep me from bringing into existence my called out people.”
            3. “I am giving you the keys to the kingdom to bind and loose on earth.” (He made the same statement to all twelve in Matthew 18:18).
    2. That is an astounding statement for Jesus to make to any person.
      1. “Peter, you understand something the other eleven do not understand.”
      2. “You understand it because God Himself reveled it to you.”
      3. “You understand a fact, a truth so important that I am going to use this truth to create my own people who will submit to me as their king.”
      4. “Nothing will stop me from creating my own people, not even death.”
      5. “And Peter, I am giving you the keys to open the doors to those who would become my people so they can be a part of my kingdom.”
      6. “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; what you free on earth will be freed in heaven.”
        1. If Jesus made those statements to you, would it mess with your mind?
        2. Would it make you feel more important than you are?
        3. Would it make you feel like you knew more than anyone else, more than you actually knew?
        4. Would it cause you to believe that you understood things that others were not able to understand?
  2. It affected Peter like it probably would affect most of us–since God had revealed something to him, since Jesus had given him the keys to the kingdom, he concluded that he knew and understood more than he did.
    1. Immediately after this conversation, Jesus began to explain to his disciples the sequence of events that would happen.
      1. He would travel to the city of Jerusalem.
      2. The Jewish leaders would cause him a lot of suffering.
      3. He would be killed.
      4. He would be resurrected from death on the third day.
    2. The Peter to whom God had given a revelation of knowledge, to whom Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom now was certain that he understood what God would do better than Jesus did. God had revealed to him who Jesus was, so he knew what God wanted to do.
      1. He did not like Jesus saying these things–this was not what God had planned for Jesus.
      2. He knew what was supposed to happen and what was going to happen–God revealed to him the knowledge and truth about Jesus being the Christ.
        1. Why shouldn’t he believe that what he saw in the future for Jesus was not also a revelation from God?
        2. For centuries God had promised Israel a Messiah, a Christ.
        3. Israel was God’s chosen people, the people God promised Abraham.
        4. Jesus was the Christ that God had promised Israel.
        5. Jesus would become the ruler, the king of Israel, and bring Israel to a new level of existence and power.
        6. Then God would do with Israel whatever God planned to do through Israel and through Jesus as Israel’s king.
        7. That was how it would happen; Peter had it all figured out; Peter was sure this, too, was God’s revelation.
        8. I can see Peter thinking to himself, “I know this just like I knew Jesus is the Christ.”
      3. Since he was a disciple, he certainly did not want to be disrespectful to Jesus in front of the other disciples, so he took Jesus aside privately.
        1. He began to rebuke Jesus: “Lord, you are wrong about this. You are not helping anything by making statements like that. That kind of talk has got to stop. You must stop saying things like that.”
        2. “This will not happen! God will not let it happen! You are not going to be killed!”
        3. The one to whom God had made a revelation had spoken.
      4. Then Jesus, who told Peter that he had received a revelation, had something else to tell Peter.
        1. Satan, get behind me.”
        2. “You are a stumbling block (literal meaning, “the bait stick in a trap”) for me.”
        3. Peter’s rebuke was a serious, agonizing temptation to Jesus.
        4. The thought of not having to die was powerful and appealing to Jesus physically.
        5. “Peter, your mind is not focused on God’s interests, God’s concerns.”
        6. “Peter, your mind is on human interests, human concerns.”
        7. There is no way that Peter regarded his concern a human concern instead of a divine concern.
  3. This whole incident takes my breath away and deeply sobers me.
    1. “David, what is it about this incident that shakes you up?”
      1. First, this same disciple, within a few days, was both God’s spokesman who recognized that Jesus was God’s son and Satan’s spokesman opposing God’s purpose in Jesus.
      2. Second, when he spoke for Satan, he did not know it; he sincerely believed that he was speaking for God.
      3. Third, he was so certain that he had God’s plans for Jesus figured out that he dared rebuke the son of the living God.
      4. Fourth, he thought that he was 100% focused on God’s purposes and objectives when he actually was 100% focused on human purposes and objectives.
      5. Fifth, he was 100% confused and did not know it: he believed that he was devoted to God’s interests when the truth was that he was devoted to human interests.
    2. I don’t know about you, but that sobers me deeply.
      1. We can know facts and truths about God and fail to understand His purposes.
      2. Even though we understand facts and truths, even though we are devoted disciples, we can be religiously speaking for Satan when we think we are speaking for God.
      3. We can be so certain that we have God’s desires and purposes figured out that we can still take Jesus aside and tell him that what he said is not what God planned.
      4. We can think that we are 100% focused on God’s priorities, God’s plans, and God’s purposes when in actually we are focused on our concerns.
      5. We can be totally confused about God’s purposes and never realize it.
      6. I do not have the words to tell you how sobering that I find that–for myself, for you, and for the church.
      7. Think about it.

Understanding what God wants us to be is simpler than understanding what God wants to accomplish through us. Knowing what God wants me to be is simpler than understanding what God wants me to do. Know what God wants the church to be is simpler than understanding what God wants the church to do. It is easy to come to the conclusion that God’s greatest concern or God’s only concern is what God wants us to be. It is easy to conclude that it is not as important to serve God’s purposes as to it is to be what God wants us to be. It is easy to conclude that God’s purposes are obvious and simple.

But I don’t think you will draw that conclusion if you look at Jesus’ life, look at Jesus’ ministry, and look at the people Jesus helped and the way he helped them. If Jesus teaches us anything, he teaches us that you cannot divorce God’s will from God’s purposes.

Israel never really understood that. They thought God loved only them. Understanding God’s purposes is not simple–it never has been.

May we never forget the danger of knowing facts and truths about the will of God without understanding God’s purposes.

God may someday point out ways in which you were an obstacle to His purposes. We can hinder His purposes when we don’t understand His purposes.

We must study. We must grow.
A major purpose of God is to save your soul.

You Are To Be a Blessing

Posted by on under Sermons

In the summer that I was eighteen, I preached for the Mount Della Church of Christ, a small, rural congregation in the hills of east Tennessee. Among the families that were a part of that congregation was a family named Wallace. Load Wallace, the father, had served in the Second World War. He had been a part of the liberation force that occupied Paris, France.

Each summer on July a weekend, the congregation had a huge dinner-on-the- ground at a nearby wilderness area. It combined family reunions, church fellowship, and neighborly get-together into one occasion. Two, perhaps three times, more people attended this get-together than attended the congregation.

These were good hearted country people, so there would be all kinds of country food and country cooking. Even though there were virtually no prosperous people in that little country community or the congregation, there would be lots and lots of food.

The Wallace family did not come to the meal part of the gathering. They ate at home and afterward came to spend the afternoon with the group. Their not eating with the group had nothing to do with religious issues. Nor did they think that the people who prepared the meal and shared it were doing something wrong.

They didn’t come to the meal because of Lloyd’s experience in Paris, France. That experience created such a powerful, overwhelming memory that he never attended any gathering that served food. This was the memory: a soldier in Paris came out of the mess tent and scraped the food that he did not eat into garbage can. A long line of men, women, and children stood quietly, patiently at the garbage cans. These people had little to eat for months, and food was scarce. They stood in line waiting for the opportunity to get some of the food that the solders threw away.

When I met Lloyd, it had been over 13 years since he watched that line of men, women, and children in Paris. But he could not forget them. He simply could not eat anywhere there was a lot of food and a lot of waste.

We never know how blessed we are until we see the lives of people who do not have our blessings.

Is it enough to be grateful? Or is there purpose in our blessings?

  1. Several thousand years ago a man who would become famous lived in a city named Ur.
    1. The city of Ur had the most prosperous, advanced culture in his known world.
      1. In Acts 7:2,3 the preacher Stephen said that God asked this man to leave his extended family and the city of Ur.
      2. The man left Ur, but his extended family traveled with him to a place called Haran (Genesis 11:31).
      3. The man and his extended family settled in Haran until his father died.
      4. After his father died, God again asked this man to leave his extended family and to allow God to lead him to a country that God wanted to show him (Genesis 12:1-4).
    2. God promised him six extraordinary blessings if he would leave his relatives and allow God to lead him to this country God wanted him to see.
      1. God promised:
        1. I will cause your child to become a great nation of people.
        2. I will bless you personally.
        3. I will give you a name that will be famous and will be remembered.
        4. I will bless those who are gracious and kind to you.
        5. I will curse those who dare to be your enemies.
        6. What I will do through you will be so important that all humanity will be blessed because of you.
      2. Those are incredible promises! What if God made those promises to you?
        1. The descendants of your child would actually become a nation.
        2. God would bless you personally.
        3. You would have a name that will never be forgotten.
        4. I will bless your friends.
        5. I will curse your enemies.
        6. I will bring a blessing to all humanity through you.
      3. How do you think those promises would affect you?
        1. Do you think you might have a problem with arrogance?
        2. How do you think you would feel when you thought about the specific promises God made to you, personally?
      4. How we would feel probably would depend on our understanding of why God was doing this.
      5. God made why He was doing this quite clear to Abraham:
        1. “Abraham, I, God, promise you that I will do these six things for you.”
        2. “But, Abraham, there is something that you must understand.”
        3. “I will bless you in these ways, but I expect you to be a blessing.”
        4. “That is your responsibility: be a blessing.”
      6. Dr. John T. Willis of Abilene Christian University states that the original language of “be a blessing” is written in the form of a divine command, or, “I promise you that I will bless you, Abraham, and I command you to be a blessing.”
    3. God’s purpose and objective in blessing Abraham were not fulfilled by merely helping Abraham.
      1. God was giving Abraham the opportunity to become a person who lived by faith.
      2. God was giving Abraham an opportunity to use himself, his immediate family, and his life to help achieve God’s eternal purposes.
      3. Life would not be about the prosperity and physical joys of Abraham; life would be about the eternal purposes of God.
      4. God was not offering Abraham blessings for no greater purpose or reason than the physical well being and earthly happiness of Abraham.
      5. God was offering blessings to Abraham IF Abraham would develop the faith that allowed God to lead him and IF Abraham would accept the responsibility to be a blessing.
      6. Abraham’s blessings were not about Abraham’s earthly pleasures; Abraham’s blessings were about the eternal purposes of God.
      7. God made it clear to Abraham: “My blessings carry with them the responsibility to be a blessing.”
  2. Let’s take a giant leap forward in time.
    1. I don’t know the exact dates of Abraham’s life, but let’s say Abraham lived around two thousand B.C.
      1. So let’s leap ahead 2000 years.
      2. Jesus Christ is alive and working in his early ministry.
      3. Paul said in Galatians 3:8,16 that Jesus was the specific, literal fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all humanity through Abraham.
        1. All humanity is blessed in Jesus.
        2. According to Paul, all humanity is blessed in Jesus because God justifies any person who places his/her faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus.
      4. God kept all his promises to Abraham.
        1. The descendants of his son Isaac became the nation of Israel.
        2. He made Abraham a wealthy man.
        3. He gave Abraham a name that is still known 4000 years after he lived.
        4. He blessed Abraham’s friends.
        5. He cursed Abraham’s enemies.
        6. God’s son, Jesus, became the sacrifice for the sins of all humanity–when Jesus died on the cross, all humanity could be blessed through Jesus.
      5. God intended for His eternal purposes to be accomplished through Jesus’ life and death.
        1. Jesus came.
        2. Eternal salvation through Jesus Christ became an indestructible reality when Jesus was raised from the dead.
        3. When Jesus died and arose from the death, God accomplished His most important objective–the existence of the forgiveness of all sin for any person who entered Jesus Christ and allowed him to be his/her Savior.
    2. As the time drew close to Jesus’ death, Jesus knew it.
      1. Matthew records a teaching that Jesus gave late in the last week of his life (Matthew 25:14-30).
        1. A wealthy man was to take a long trip and did not know when he would return.
        2. Since there were no banks, no certificates of deposits, no stock markets, no investment shelters, the man called three capable, trustworthy slaves.
        3. He gave the first $500,000 dollars to care for while he was gone because this slave had the ability to care for $500,000.
        4. He gave the second $200,000 to care for while he was gone because this slave had the ability to care for $200,000.
        5. He gave the third $100,000 to care for while he was gone because this slave had the ability to care for $100,000.
        6. Then he left on his trip.
      2. The slave with $500,000 put the money to work and made another $500,00.
      3. The slave with $200,000 put the money to work and made another $200,000.
      4. The slave with $100,000 was afraid, hid the money, and gave back to his master exactly what the master had entrusted to him.
      5. The first two slaves were rewarded beyond their imagination, and the last was punished without mercy.
    3. Jesus’ teaching is not about money; it is a parable about the kingdom of heaven.
      1. The purpose of the parable is to teach us a lesson about people who are a part of the kingdom that belongs to Jesus Christ.
      2. In this story, certain things are to be understood.
        1. Jesus is the wealthy man who has gone on a long trip.
        2. We who are in the kingdom are the slaves who belong to him.
        3. He has intrusted us with his wealth while he is gone.
        4. His expectations of each one of us are based on our individual abilities.
        5. The lesson is simple: use the blessings Jesus gave you to serve his purposes.
        6. Do not be afraid to use what Jesus entrusted to you.
        7. In fact, the worst thing you can do is to do nothing because you are afraid.
        8. The parable declares that each of us is accountable to Jesus.
          1. It also declares that the boundaries of our accountability are determined by Jesus on the basis of our ability.
        9. There are two things that Jesus does not expect of those who serve him.
          1. He does not expect us to serve him in ways that are beyond our ability.
          2. He does not expect us to be afraid to use what he has entrusted to us; he does not want back exactly what he entrusted to us.
        10. There is one thing the Lord does expect of his slaves: whatever blessings Jesus places in your life, use them for good, multiply good.
        11. In Jesus’ words of Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

I hope this week that you had a heightened sense and awareness of your blessings. As you think about the incredible ways that you are blessed, as you think about your need to be grateful to Jesus and to God, would you ask yourself this question: “How should I thank God?” Learn your answer from God’s direction to Abraham: “You are blessed to help achieve my eternal purposes. You are blessed to be a blessing.” Use every blessing that God has given you to help achieve His purposes. Never forget that you are blessed to be a blessing.

We are incredibly blessed in America. Don’t feel guilty. Feel responsible. Be a blessing with what God has blessed you with.
God’s greatest blessing is the forgiveness available in Jesus Christ. Have you been baptized into Jesus because of your faith and commitment to Jesus? We invite you to Jesus Christ.

Followers: Why Do You Follow?

Posted by on November 23, 1997 under Sermons

When the topic of discussion is “follower,” how would you describe yourself as a follower? Do you know how to follow? What is your concept of following? To you is following “keep your mouth shut, try to stay out of the way, and don’t create a problem”? Is your concept of following “stand quietly on the side, occasionally offer your opinion, try not to criticize, and occasionally share a word of encouragement”?

Does your concept of following involve understanding the objective, learning the reasons for the objective, and helping make the objective a reality?

Do you consider yourself a good follower, an average follower, a poor follower, or an awful follower? Do you work well in a group because you are a cooperative team player who follows leadership well? Do you work poorly in a group because you rarely agree with the group’s leadership? Do you work well in a group only if you are leading the group? Do you enjoy following, but find it difficult to lead? Do you enjoy leading, but find it difficult to follow? Do you restrict following to leadership that does what you want done as it goes where you want to go?

Regardless of the kind of follower you are, will you follow anyone who wants to lead you? Every day in this country there are countless urgent calls for people who are willing to follow. Every type of cause is looking for followers: environmental issues, social injustice issues, political issues, union issues, physical and mental health issues, moral issues, and volunteerism of every type.

Every week you hear so many appeals for followers that most of those appeals do not even register in your awareness. “Become a part of us. Share our concerns. Share our purposes. Share our objectives. Serve our cause.”

With so many causes pleading for you to follow, when do you decide to be a follower? What causes you to decide to become a follower? Why do you follow? Those are significant, relevant questions.

  1. One of the original, basic concepts of belonging to Jesus was based on the concept of following.
    1. The people Jesus recognized as being his followers were called disciples.
      1. The word “disciple” is not a common word today; it is not used much in our everyday language.
      2. Though it is not a bad word today, neither is it a good word.
        1. Sometimes it is a condescending word: “Oh, he is a disciple of ____________;” meaning he follows a person or cause that you neither respect nor trust.
        2. Or, it can suggest that a person is a fanatic who is out of touch with reality: “Don’t take him seriously; he is a disciple of ________________.”
      3. Many people who are not a part of a religious group and who do not read the Bible do not know the meaning of the word.
    2. What does the word, disciple, mean?
      1. Our English word, disciple, comes from a Latin word that means pupil or student.
      2. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate with the word disciple means “to learn.”
      3. The words disciple or disciples occurs (in the American Standard Version):
        1. Seventy-three times in the gospel of Matthew.
        2. Forty-two times in the gospel of Mark.
        3. Thirty-six times in the gospel of Luke.
        4. Seventy-five times in the gospel of John.
        5. Thirty times in the book of Acts.
      4. During Jesus’ earthly lifetime, the people who followed him to learn were called disciplesdisciple was the most common word used to describe the people who choose to follow Jesus.
      5. The earliest word used, after Jesus’ resurrection, for the people who believed, repented, and were baptized still was disciples.
        1. Acts 6:1 states the disciples in the Jerusalem congregation were increasing in number.
        2. Acts 6:2 states the apostles summoned the congregation of the disciples.
        3. Acts 6:7 says, “The number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.”
        4. Acts 9:1 says that Saul “was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.”
        5. Acts 9:19 and 25 state that, after Saul became a Christian, the disciples in Damascus took care of him.
        6. Acts 9:26 says that the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid to associate with Saul when he tried to become a part of them.
        7. Acts 11:26 says the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
        8. Some 18 times after Acts 11:26, Acts still calls Christians as disciples.
    3. The disciples/teacher relationship was not invented by Jesus, and it was not unique to Jesus and the people who followed him to learn.
      1. Disciple was a common word in their language when Jesus lived.
      2. The disciple/teacher relationship was also a well understood relationship.
      3. John the baptizer had disciples (Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 7:18; John 3:25).
        1. They followed John for the same reason that Jesus’ disciples followed him–they wanted to learn.
        2. They became very concerned about the rising popularity of Jesus and expressed that concern to John (John 3:26).
        3. John stated something that they did not understand: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
      4. The Pharisees had disciples (Mark 2:18).
      5. The Pharisees declared that they were the disciples of Moses (John 9:28).
        1. Moses through the law led them.
        2. All their answers about life and God came from Moses.
        3. The law they followed determined who they were and what they did; it governed their entire existence.
    4. But Jesus raised the concept of discipleship to a new level.
      1. For example, in Luke 14:26,27 Jesus said that anyone who came to him and did not hate his family and his own life could not be his disciple, and whoever refused to carry his own cross and come after Jesus could not be his disciple.
        1. Discipleship meant accepting Jesus as life’s most important reality.
        2. It also meant the commitment to accept and endure shame and suffering.
        3. In verse 33 he said that if they did not give up all their possessions that they could not be his disciple.
      2. In John 6, some of the men in the Capernaum synagogue involved themselves in a discussion and confrontation between Jesus and some people that Jesus miraculously fed the day before.
        1. Jesus gave them a difficult teaching to understand.
        2. He said that, just as God had given the nation of Israel manna in the wilderness centuries before, God had sent him as the new manna.
        3. They must eat him and drink his blood if they expected to find life.
        4. This offended the men in the synagogue, the men that he fed the day before, and many of his disciples who were listening.
        5. Jesus refused to retract the teaching, and many of his disciples left him never to follow him again (John 6:66).
        6. When he asked his twelve disciples if they, too, were going to leave him, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
  2. By personal decision and choice, I am a Christian.
    1. That means many things, but basically it means this: by my decision and choice, I follow Jesus Christ to learn from Jesus Christ–He is my teacher; I am his pupil.
      1. In religion? No.
      2. In theology? No.
      3. In church doctrines? No.
      4. In spiritual matters? No.
      5. In the totality of life!
      6. Certainly, Jesus Christ is my teacher in religion, theology, church doctrines, and spiritual matters–but that is only a part of the things he teaches me.
    2. What do you mean that Jesus is the teacher and that you are the student and follower in all of life? What are you talking about?
      1. My objective is to allow Jesus to lead me in all of life, and for me to follow Jesus by learning and by redirecting my life–all the time, every year.
      2. It means that Jesus will always be my teacher and that I will always be his student.
        1. My understanding and knowledge will never equal Jesus’ teachings.
        2. I will always let him teach me from the way he lived and used life, from his word, from his death, and from this resurrection.
        3. I will never equal nor surpass him; I will never reach a level of knowledge or understanding when I do not need to learn.
        4. I will never be able to say to Jesus, “Jesus, I know what God wants better than you do. I understand the needs and the situation better than you do. I know what you said, but I know what God wants. I know what you said is important, but what God wants is more important.”
        5. Jesus explained our disciple relationship with him in these words:
          A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master (Matthew 10:24,25).
      3. Choosing to be Jesus’ disciple means that I let Jesus teach me:
        1. Who I am.
        2. What my life’s purpose is.
        3. How I am to live in this world.
        4. What my focus and perspective should be.
        5. How I am to treat other people.
        6. What it means to belong to and serve God.
        7. What my eternal destiny is.
      4. As I learn from Jesus, my thinking and understanding will always be changing and maturing.
    3. Why would any person give Jesus that role of leadership in his life?
      1. There are numerous reasons, and the reasons mature as the relationship matures.
      2. Let me illustrate what I am sharing in this way: in a good, healthy father/son relationship, why will the son allow his father to be a source of unique, powerful influence in his life?
        1. When the son is an infant, the father has that role because the son is totally dependent.
        2. When the son is a small child, the father has that role because the father is powerful.
        3. When the son is an older child, the father has that role because the son does not want to suffer the consequences of rebelling against him–at this time, he may even be afraid of him at times.
        4. The time likely will come when the son allows the father to continue in that role because the son needs him.
        5. But if it is a healthy relationship, the son willingly allows the father to occupy that role because he loves and respects his father.
      3. At different times, a person chooses to be a disciple of Jesus Christ for all those reasons.
        1. There will be a time he/she is a disciple because he/she is totally dependent.
        2. There will also be times when he/she is a disciple because of Jesus power, or because he/she realizes the consequences of not following Jesus, or because he/she has special needs only Jesus can address.
        3. But if the discipleship relationship with Jesus is allowed to mature, the time will come when the person chooses to be a disciple because of love and respect for Jesus.
        4. And it will be at that time that he/she will become the most mature, committed follower that he/she has ever been.
    4. David, why do you choose to be a disciple?
      1. Because I love and respect him, and in that love and respect it is my goal to allow him to teach me anything I need to learn and change my life in any way that he wants it to change.
      2. Why? Because I understand what Peter understood: he is the son of God, and only he has the words of eternal life.

How much does discipleship factor in what you believe? How important is Jesus Christ to your faith system? Is he the primary factor in your faith system, or is he no factor at all? Could you remove Jesus from all your thinking and all your motives and your faith system remain intact, unchanged, doing all the same things that you have always done? If that could happen, I ask you a very serious question: are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? Do you allow him to teach you?

A Common Cause of Great Joy and Great Suffering

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I want you to consider a powerful, common factor that dramatically affects every person’s life. No one escapes the impact of this common factor. Everyone is affected by it. The power and influence of this factor are astounding to the point of disbelief.

This specific factor causes more joy in the lives of the people of this congregation than any other single factor. It also causes more sorrow in the lives of the people in this congregation than any other single factor.

It creates more happiness than any other specific factor, and it generates more heartache than any other specific factor.

It brings more peace than any other specific factor, and it causes more anger than any other specific factor.

It nurtures spiritual development as nothing else does, and it opposes spiritual development as nothing else does.

By now you doubt me–seriously doubt me. You are thinking, “David, that is preposterous. It is ridiculous to think one factor can produce joy and sorrow, happiness and heartache, and peace and anger, while it both nurtures and opposes spiritual development in the same group of people.”

“Just name any single factor that could possibly do all those things in this congregation.”           M a r r i a g e.

Every person is powerfully impacted by marriage–either by their own marriage, by their parents’ marriage, by both marriages, or by the fact that their lives have never been touched by a marriage. Marriage causes joy or sorrow, causes happiness or heartache, brings peace or generates anger, and either nurtures or opposes spiritual development.

Add to those truths these insights. Every good marriage can be better than it is. Every bad marriage can be worse than it is. Every good marriage has the potential of becoming a nightmare. Every bad marriage has the potential of becoming a powerful blessing.

  1. Have you noticed that all the marriages that are discussed in the Bible are bad marriages?
    1. Only the Old Testament gives us details about specific marriages.
    2. The New Testament doesn’t give details about specific marriages.
    3. In past generations, it was common to refer to the marriage of Isaac and Rebekkah in marriage ceremonies: “May you love your wife as you enter your marriage like Isaac loved Rebekkah.”
      1. That statement was often included in wedding ceremonies for three reasons.
      2. Reason # 1: It is the first marriage that we read about from its formation.
      3. Reason # 2: It is the first marriage we are told about in detail when the husband had one wife and only one wife (there were previous marriages that had one wife and one husband, but detail about those marriages are not given).
      4. Reason # 3: It is the first time scripture states that the man loved the woman he married.
    4. But, when we investigate that marriage, neither you nor I would call it successful; that marriage produced a very sick family.
      1. Isaac entered adult life and entered marriage with problems that began with his mother, Sarah.
        1. At a specific moment in his childhood, Isaac’s mother insisted that his father force his half brother, Ishmael, and Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, out of the family; she also insisted that Abraham disinherit Ishmael (Genesis 21:8-10).
        2. What she demanded simply was not done in that day–what she demanded was disgraceful, unacceptable family behavior.
        3. Ishmael was born because of Sarah’s personal insistence–she urged Abraham to have a son by her servant, Hagar.
        4. This was acceptable in that time.
        5. If you had a childless couple who needed an heir, this was one of the approved ways to have an heir.
        6. She urged Abraham to do this so that Hagar’s son would be considered their heir.
        7. If Sarah had not urged Abraham to have a child by Hagar, Ishmael would never have been born.
        8. Because Sarah demanded that Abraham disinherit Ishmael, Abraham lost a son that he loved, a son who was just as much his son as was Isaac.
      2. Isaac also entered adult life and marriage with problems that began with his father (Genesis 22).
        1. We greatly admire Abraham’s faith in his willingness to offer Isaac in sacrifice to God on an altar.
        2. But we don’t think much about Isaac’s traumatic experience when he was bound and placed on the altar.
        3. I wonder if Isaac had nightmares about that day when he looked up into his father’s face as Abraham stood over him with the sacrificial knife.
      3. I certainly do not minimize Abraham’s faith nor the enormous importance of his willingness to sacrifice his son–later, God Himself did what He asked Abraham to do.
        1. God promised Abraham a son.
        2. Twenty-five years later God kept that promise.
        3. After Isaac was born, Abraham trusted God and that promise as never before.
        4. He trusted God to keep that promise even if God asked him to kill Isaac.
        5. That is a priceless insight into the true nature of faith, and it is an insight that I admire and cherish.
      4. But just as evil produces consequences, so does faith produce consequences.
        1. I genuinely wonder how that experience affected Isaac. I often wonder how some of my faith decisions have affected my children. Do you?
        2. Isaac knew that the intervention of an angel stopped the sacrifice, but he also knew that the father who loved him would have killed him had the angel not intervened.
        3. That is a heavy, heavy awareness for a boy to carry.
        4. And this question intrigues me most: how did this event affect Sarah after Abraham and Isaac returned home? Wonder how the family was affected when she learned that Abraham had taken Isaac with the intention of sacrificing him?
        5. To say the least, Isaac was affected by the tensions that existed in his home.
    5. Isaac loved Rebekkah when he married her, but, if you examined their marriage later, you would not have guessed that this marriage began with love.
      1. Once Isaac was afraid that some men would kill him in order to marry Rebekkah.
        1. So Isaac told the men that Rebekkah was his sister (Genesis 26:7).
        2. Isaac learned that ploy by hearing true stories about what his father had done (Genesis 12:11-13).
        3. But Sarah was Abraham’s half sister.
        4. And Abraham discussed the half-truth with Sarah before he said she was his sister.
        5. Rebekkah was not a part of Isaac’s immediate family, and there is no indication that he discussed with her before he did it.
        6. It is possible that Rebekkah learned of Isaac’s lie after the fact when the men came to get her to become a wife to the king.
        7. When the king found out that Isaac had lied about Rebekkah, he was extremely angry with Isaac.
      2. Still later in their marriage, Rebekkah had twins, Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:21-28).
        1. An intense rivalry developed between the twins who became very different men.
        2. That rivalry was intensified by the fact that Isaac loved Esau, and Rebekkah loved Jacob.
        3. The rivalry became so intense and deceitful that Rebekkah convinced Jacob to deceive his blind father in order to steal the family blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau.
        4. She not only urged Jacob to do it, but she devised the plan of how to do it, and she helped Jacob accomplish the deception.
      3. This was a deeply troubled marriage and a very sick family.
      4. To me the most incredible thing about this marriage is found in the fact that God worked in it and through it to make major progress toward bringing Christ into the world.
  2. How has marriage impacted your life?
    1. How has:
      1. Your father and mother’s marriage influenced you as a person?
        1. Whether good or bad, your experiences as a child in your home combined with your observations of your father and mother were the primary influence in forming your marriage concepts and your marriage expectations.
        2. It is very unwise to enter a marriage unaware of the ways that you are influenced by your parent’s marriage.
      2. Your marriage influenced your life?
        1. No one can encourage you more powerfully or hurt you more deeply than the person you marry.
        2. The person you marry can introduce you to joys and happiness that you did not know existed, and can introduce you to pain and agony that you never experienced before.
        3. It is extremely unwise to enter a marriage believing that your husband or wife will not significantly influence your life.
  3. Yet, it is a fact that every marriage will become what the husband and wife either (a) let it become or (b) cause it to become.
    1. Any wife can destroy a marriage, but no wife can build a marriage by herself.
    2. Any husband can destroy a marriage, but no husband can build a marriage by himself.
    3. There are many ways to destroy a marriage. You can destroy it by:
      1. Neglecting it.
      2. Abusing it.
      3. Exploiting it.
      4. Attacking it.
    4. No matter what the state of a marriage is, if the husband and wife accept mutual responsibility in dealing with their problems, face their problems with repentance, and learn together how to create and build relationship, they can reverse a destructive marriage.
    5. Good marriages don’t just happen; they are built.
      1. Stable marriages don’t just happen; they are built.
      2. Responsible marriages don’t just happen; they are built.
      3. Happy marriages don’t just happen; they are built.

Building good, stable, responsible, happy marriages requires earnest effort and genuine work. But that effort and work are one of the richest, most fulfilling experiences in life. It blesses your home, your children, and your life as nothing else can.

Soon you will have an unusual opportunity to enrich your marriage and have a lot of fun doing it. It will be a great opportunity to prepare for marriage, or to make a happy marriage happier, or to redirect a struggling marriage. I urge you to attend the Brecheen and Faulkner Marriage Enrichment Seminar December 5 and 6. What is happening in your marriage? What do you want to happen?

Someone says, “My home is good. Why should I want to improve it?”

Because Jesus is the Son of God.
“You just don’t know how tough things are in my house. Why should I deal with the pain necessary to improve things?”
Because Jesus is the Son of God.
“It is hard to deal with problems. To turn life around is an every day challenge. Why should I do that?”
Because God sent His Son because of what your life can become.

Every choice, every decision begins with the understanding that Jesus is the Son of God. Everything this world is about centers in Jesus as the Son of God.

The only bridge from here to eternity is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I challenge you to deal with family, marriage, parenting, and everything that must be dealt with in this world, because Jesus is the Son of God.

Neither God Nor Jesus Used Cookie Cutters

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Genesis 2:7 states that God formed Adam out of dust. It does not suggest that God used a cookie cutter to do it. Adam was hand-crafted by God. He was not made on a divine production line.

Adam’s first two sons were distinctive individuals. Abel and Cain were literally as different as light and darkness. No cookie cutter reproductions there.

The Israelite men through whom God worked were distinctly different. Moses was the man of meekness; David was an aggressive man of war; and Elijah such an eccentric we would have labeled him weird. No cookie cutter types here.

Neither did Jesus use a cookie cutter. His disciples were not spiritual reproductions formed on a divine assembly line.

When Jesus selected the twelve men to be his special disciples, he did not look for duplicates. He did not seek clones who talked, acted, and thought as people who were spiritually formed by a divine cookie cutter.

James and John had thundering personalities. They wanted to protect “the significance and integrity” of Jesus (Luke 9:51-56). They also sought prominent positions in the group (Mark 10:35-45). John ordered a man not to cast demons out of people in Jesus’ name because he was not part of “the group” (Luke 9:49-50).

Peter was the outspoken one who never failed to say something. Previously, Matthew collected taxes that probably helped support the Roman army. Simon came from a radical religious sect that used violence to pursue their purposes. Thomas could step forward with courage (John 11:16), or he could be filled with doubt (John 20:24,25). No cookie cutter used here.

Jesus reached out to Mary Magdalene (who had seven evil spirits), Nicodemus (a member of the Jewish supreme court), a Samaritan woman (who was an outcast in her own community), a weeping prostitute (whose penitent behavior was publicly unacceptable), and a dying thief (a skeptic who was convinced). No cookie cutter in evidence here.

Imagine a congregation with Moses, David, Elijah, James, John, Peter, Matthew, Simon, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the forgiven prostitute as members. Talk about diversity! Yet, God touched and used each of them–and uses them thousands of years after they died!

Why did we create the idea that God commissioned us to use a divinely patented cooker cutter? Why did we decide that every Christian must look alike, think alike, and behave alike spiritually? God loves individuals as individuals. God saves individuals as individuals. Thank you, God!

Decisions: A Whole Congregation Affair (Acts 15)

Posted by on November 16, 1997 under Sermons

In the past few weeks, I have shared four lessons on Sunday mornings:

A New Me in a New World

A New People

New People Leadership

Decisions: New People Ownership

In these four lessons, we have noted that Christ died to produce a new people, a people who are unlike any people who existed. Each person who chooses to let Jesus Christ possess his or her life becomes a new person. All persons belonging to Christ make God’s new people. We saw that these new people were given a new type of leadership. In Acts chapter one, the first of these new people participated in the leadership process in a way that had never occurred before. In Acts 6 these new people were given the responsibility of making a very difficult decision for the entire congregation. They were given the responsibility to resolve a very serious problem that threatened the whole congregation. The apostles themselves gave the congregation that responsibility.

This morning we will look at the most difficult, controversial decision made concerning the church in the first century. We learn about this decision in Acts 15. I ask you to follow me by looking at Acts 15 as I discuss what happened.

  1. Jews in Palestine basically refused to associate with people who were not Jews.
    1. That refusal had its roots in God’s commandments and their religious laws.
      1. To preserve their identity as God’s people, they had almost no association with non-Jewish people.
      2. This self-imposed isolation was used to help protect them from idolatry.
      3. It also was used to help them protect and preserve what they believed was God’s destiny for them.
    2. When many first century Jews in Jerusalem became Christians, these converted Jews soon were introduced to some understandings that were very difficult for them to accept.
      1. It was difficult for them to understand God’s destiny for them.
        1. God’s destiny for them in Jesus was extremely different from the destiny they had believed in for centuries.
        2. Their ultimate destiny was not to isolate themselves as God’s people.
        3. Their ultimate destiny was to share the good news of the resurrected Jesus with all non-Jews as well as all Jews.
      2. It was difficult for them to understand that God loved non-Jews as much as He loved Jews.
      3. It was difficult for them to understand that God would accept and save anyone who accepted the resurrected Jesus.
      4. Several converted Jews were convinced that non-Jews could be converted to Christ only if they first were converted to God; they were converted to God by converting to Judaism.
    3. In Acts 10 the Jewish apostle Peter went into the home of the non-Jewish Cornelius to teach him and his friends about Jesus.
      1. There was only one reason for Peter going to Cornelius: Jesus Christ directly, forcefully told him to go.
      2. Only after he arrived did he understand why Jesus told him to go: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34,35).
    4. Peter’s visiting in Cornelius’ home, teaching Cornelius and his friends, and baptizing them deeply troubled the church in Jerusalem; in Acts 11 they made it very plain to Peter that he had deeply disappointed them.
    5. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas are instructed by the Holy Spirit to begin a missions outreach to non-Jewish people, which Paul and Barnabas did.
  2. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas returned from the lengthy trip they took to preach Jesus to non-Jews.
    1. The trip began from the non-Jewish congregation in Antioch of Syria, and it ended in the same non-Jewish congregation in Antioch of Syria.
      1. Paul and Barnabas arrived to find some Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem area in Antioch.
        1. They were informing these non-Jewish Christians that it was not possible for them to be saved unless they agreed to the rite of Jewish circumcision.
        2. In other words, unless they were converted to God by the rite of Jewish circumcision, belonging to Jesus Christ would not save them.
        3. Can you see the spiritual disaster of that position?
      2. When Paul and Barnabas arrived, they had a serious confrontation and debate with these Jewish Christians (15:2).
        1. But nothing was resolved.
        2. It was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and the Jewish Christians would go to Jerusalem and place this issue before the apostles and elders.
      3. When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the Jerusalem church and its leadership.
      4. Paul and Barnabas gave this Jewish congregation a complete report on all that God had done when they taught non-Jews (15:4).
      5. Immediately, a group of Jewish Christians who were also Pharisees took the floor and declared that it was essential to instruct all non-Jewish converts to be circumcised and observe the law of Moses (15:5).
      6. The leadership (the apostles and elders) had a meeting to discuss and debate this suggested requirement, but their discussion and debate resolved nothing (15:6,7).
      7. After a lot of debating, Peter took the floor and reminded them that in the early days God sent him to teach the non-Jews, and that God, who knows the heart, gave those non-Jews the Holy Spirit just as God did them (15:7-11).
        1. God had cleansed their hearts by faith and saved them by grace.
        2. They had no right to expect something of these non-Jews that God had said nothing about.
      8. Then the multitude listened quietly as Paul and Barnabas reported on all the miracles that God performed as they taught the non-Jews (15:12).
      9. Then James took the floor and reminded everyone of what God told Peter, used the prophets to verify the correctness of Peter’s actions, and stated that it was his judgment that they should not make this requirement of non-Jews (15:13-21).
    2. I want to especially call your attention to 15:22.
      1. It was decided to send a letter to all the non-Jewish congregations to inform them of the decision: circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses was not necessary for a non-Jew to be saved.
      2. Who made this decision? The apostles, the elders, and the whole church.
      3. This could be the most serious doctrinal decision made in the first century.
        1. If they had made the opposite decision, it would have altered the course of Christianity forever.
        2. A decision to require circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses for salvation would have made Christianity a Jewish movement instead of a world movement.
        3. It was a controversial, emotional decision.
      4. For the whole church to participate in the controversial decision to send a letter to non-Jewish congregations, the whole church had to witness the discussion, the disagreement, and the reasons for reaching that conclusion.
        1. Verse 12 specifically states that all the multitude kept silent as they listened to Paul and Barnabas.
        2. The whole church heard this highly controversial doctrinal discussion among the apostles and the elders.
        3. The whole church endorsed sending the letter.
        4. The whole church helped select the Jewish Christians who were to take the letter to non-Jewish churches.
        5. The whole church had both opportunity and responsibility in this matter.
        6. The whole church helped make the decision, but the Christians who were Pharisees actively opposed that decision for many years.
  3. The number one requirement in Christianity is faith.
    1. Christianity stands on the foundation of faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus.
      1. The person who does not place his or her faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus cannot be a Christian.
        1. Without that faith, baptism will not make him or her a Christian.
        2. Without that faith, church membership will not make him or her a Christian.
        3. Without that faith, taking communion will not make him or her a Christian.
        4. Without that faith, being present in worship assemblies will not make him or her a Christian.
        5. Without that faith, practicing Christian morals will not make him or her a Christian.
      2. The congregation that does not place its faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus is not Christian.
        1. It can be biblically organized, but it is still not Christian.
        2. It can wear a biblical name, but it is still not Christian.
        3. It can have the biblical form of leadership, but it is still not Christian.
        4. It can study the Bible and only the Bible, but it is still not Christian.
      3. Without faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus, Christianity cannot exist.
    2. Too often congregations are more concerned about the members doing the “right things” than they are concerned about the members acting in faith.
      1. “We are not really concerned about your worshipping in faith; we just demand that you do the right things in worship.”
      2. “We are not really concerned about your living in faith; we just want you to do the right things in the approved way.”
    3. Today in many Churches of Christ there is greater concern in leadership for controlling the actions of the members than concern for developing the faith of the members.
      1. In too many congregations, leaders feel confident as long as the members are doing things they want to be done in the way they want them done.
      2. Their concern focuses much more on controlling congregational behavior than on developing congregational faith.
      3. In this concern, leaders often try to “protect” and “control” the congregation by making decisions in isolation for undisclosed reasons.
      4. That obviously did not happen in Acts 15.
      5. Your elders continue to make it clear that this is not how they choose to provide you leadership.

Allow me to close with some personal observations.

    • It is much easier to teach the system than to teach the Savior.

    • It is much easier to trust the system than to trust the Savior.
    • It is much easier to place your faith in the system than to place your faith in the Savior.
    • It is much easier to believe that the system saves instead of believing that the Savior saves.
    • While it is much easier to depend on the system instead of the Savior, it is not Christian.

…And I Know What I Am Talking About!

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Alan Smith in his e-mail, “Thought For The Day,” shared some fascinating quotes last week. In 1899, Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” In 1943, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” In 1949, Popular Mechanics wrote, “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall said in 1957, “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” An engineer in the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, discussing the microchip, asked, “But, what…is it good for?” Ken Olson, president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation said in 1977, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Obviously, they did not envisioned today’s role for computers. Computers start our cars. Computers enable the 911 system to respond to our emergencies. Computers price our purchases in checkout lanes. Computers help the pharmacists fill our prescriptions. Our life histories (from medical records to social security) are preserved by computer. Every facet of life is touched by the work of a computer. I am typing these thoughts on a computer. A computer makes it possible to produce this newsletter, and a computer will help mail it. And, in much less than one life time, such applications will be primitive.

We can be so confident, so definite, so certain about what is and is not needed in our congregation. Each opinion and conviction runs deep and strong. Each varies greatly from Christian to Christian. We see and access needs so differently. Why? Why do members hold such different view points and value systems? Each of us is powerfully influenced by each of these factors: personal background; concept of relationship; good and bad experiences; successes and failures; disappointments and disillusionment; and one’s personal definition of faith and conviction.

As I consider my lifetime of teaching, advocating, and position taking, I see that truth in me. In 2050, Christians will discuss the 1990s’ view of Christianity and the direction of the church. Someone will quote us personally to verify a point. Will the quote be humorously nearsighted?

Thank you, God, for giving us grace for our sins instead of rewards for our prophecies.

Good Reasons For Continued Earnest Prayer

Posted by on November 9, 1997 under Bulletin Articles

I want to express genuine, personal appreciation for our elders. What they continue to do in our congregational family meetings is a tremendous leadership investment in the health of this congregation. It is not easy to provide a forum for the congregation to express itself. It is not simple to invite everyone with a view or a preference to express it. No “short cuts” are created by listening to diverse perspectives among our members. But it is infinitely healthy for the congregation. It is spiritually constructive for our present and our future. Thank you, elders, for the heart, spirit, and attitude you display in these meetings.

In last Sunday evening’s family meeting, one impressive thing was clearly evident. Each person who spoke was interested in influencing lives for Christ, in having a greater spiritual impact on the Fort Smith area, and in serving Christ’s purposes. Everyone who presented a thought, a view, or asked a question spoke from that perspective. As expected, there were diverse views concerning how to best accomplish our common concern. Numerous approaches were suggested. Differing avenues were recommended.

Each concern expressed was legitimate. All perspectives voiced were valid. All needs declared exist. Each idea has merits and limitations. Each who endorsed an idea, acknowledged a need, or favored a specific course of action saw the merits of his or her interests or concerns. The needs that capture our attention impress us.

May we pray earnestly for ourselves and for the congregation as we continue our exploration of possibilities. Pray that God will help us grow into the greatest possible spiritual influence.

Remember missions weekend! Remember the banquet Friday night. Be present for Bible class and both worship assemblies Sunday. Pray about our missions works and our missions funding for the coming year. If your fixed income will not permit you to be financially involved, pray for the work. The power is in God, and your prayers appropriate that power. May those of us who are capable of giving give generously.

A Devotional On Wisdom

Posted by on November 2, 1997 under Sermons

Please turn to Daniel 2.

  1. King Nebuchadnezzer had a dream that he could not get off of his mind.
    1. He called together the men of wisdom and informed them that he demanded that they interpret his dream.
      1. The king: “I had this dream, and it gives me a major anxiety attack.”
      2. The men of wisdom: “Tell us the dream, and we will interpret it.”
      3. The king: “No, you will tell me both the dream and the interpretation. If you don’t, I will execute you and totally destroy your homes. If you do, I will reward you with great wealth.”
      4. The men of wisdom: “With all respect, you are making an impossible request. We cannot tell you both. Tell us the dream and we will give you the interpretation.”
      5. The king: “You are just stalling. You are already in a conspiracy to deceive me. You all have already agreed what the interpretation will be.”
      6. The men of wisdom: “No one can do what you ask. Only a god could tell you both, and gods do not live among humans.”
    2. Nebuchadnezzer became furious and ordered that all the men of wisdom in the kingdom be arrested and executed.
      1. An officer came to arrest Daniel.
      2. Daniel asked for an explanation, and the officer told Daniel what had happened.
      3. Daniel said, “Go tell that king that I will interpret his dream.”
      4. As the officer went to inform the king, Daniel went to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (or Shaddrack, Meshack, and Abednigo) to ask them to pray with him.
      5. They asked God to save their lives and the lives of the other men of wisdom.
      6. God responded to their prayers by revealing the dream and interpretation to Daniel.
  2. Listen to Daniel’s words to God (Daniel 2:20-23).
    Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, And light dwells with Him. I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and might, And have now made known to me what we asked of You, For You have made known to us the king’s demand.”
  3. Daniel was taken to the king.
    1. The king: “Can you interpret my dream?”
    2. Daniel: “Not even the men of wisdom can reveal the mystery as you request, but God in heaven can.”
    3. Listen carefully to what Daniel says in Daniel 2:30: “As for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.”
    4. Then Daniel revealed the dream and its interpretation to the king.
  4. May Daniel remind us of these things:
    1. Wisdom resides in God, not in us.
    2. Let’s seek God’s wisdom.
    3. When God reveals His wisdom to us, it is not to advance ourselves, but to advance his purposes.
    4. May we never forget, we are just people.

“. . . And Then They Died.”

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Recently I watched part of a news documentary that had a segment on kidney transplants. It specifically focused on a business in China that specializes in kidney transplants.

China has built a modern, well equipped hospital that utilizes western technology and is specifically designed for transplant surgery. The primary purpose of this hospital is to perform kidney transplants for foreign patients who purchase a kidney and the procedure. The principal recipients of this service are Americans.

I found what happens to be both believable and unbelievable at the same time.

The hospital is located near a prison. The prison schedules monthly executions. Quickly, after executions, the kidneys of the executed prisoners are removed by persons trained for that purpose. The kidneys are transported to the hospital and transplanted into waiting recipients.

This documentary showed a film of an execution. A number of men were lined up in a row side by side, on their knees, with their hands tied behind their backs. Each man was shot at point blank range with a pistol. Simultaneously, each was shot at the base of the skull. That specific method and manner of execution does not damage the kidneys.

Arrangements can be made here in American to purchase one of the kidneys and receive the transplant. A number of kidneys are available each month. An undercover applicant inquiring about the surgery was urged to make his decision quickly because the supply of kidneys does not meet the demand. Thus far, according to the documentary, ten thousand kidney transplants have been performed.

As I watched these men on their knees waiting to die, two thoughts quickly raced through my mind. The first thought: would what they did even be considered a crime in our country? I expect we would be horrified if we knew why some of those people were executed. Second thought: had these men ever even heard the words, Jesus Christ?

  1. I have not seen much of the world, but I have seen some of it.
    1. Among the peoples I have seen are:
      1. People living in conditions too primitive for many Americans to understand.
      2. People who did not live in primitive circumstances, but who live in overwhelming poverty.
      3. People who have had the hope that only God can give systematically removed from their society.
      4. Most of these people are powerless to alter their circumstances.
    2. Because of what I have seen, at times some realizations overwhelm me.
      1. When I consider the blessings, the privileges, and the opportunities that I have known in my life, I am overwhelmed.
      2. I benefit from a choice set of circumstances because I was born in America.
      3. I was not given the opportunity to choose the country of my birth.
      4. I had absolutely nothing to do with creating that circumstance.
      5. I have seen enough to know what my life would be if I had been born in many, many other countries of the world.
      6. Personally, that is very, very humbling.
    3. One of the problems that troubles me most about us Americans is our arrogance.
      1. It is not intentional, and much of the time we don’t realize that we are arrogant.
      2. We are so accustomed to possessing, to liberty, to rights, to choices, to opportunities that we think the rest of the world should be like us.
      3. Intellectually we understand that people in most other countries do not have the standard of living or opportunities that we do.
      4. But it is very difficult for us to realize that their world is totally different from our world.
      5. We wonder why other people do not improve things in ways that we think they should be improved.
      6. And, consciously or unconsciously, we tend to look down on them because they don’t measure up to our standards and expectations.
    4. The first time that Joyce and I returned from Africa for leave time, we were eager to show our pictures and share our experiences with our families.
      1. My dad looked in disbelief at the way the people lived.
      2. After we showed many of our slides, he basically had one comment: “I wouldn’t live that way. I would take my hammer and nails and improve on that.”
      3. I remember asking him, “Dad, what if you were so poor that you did not own and could not buy a hammer or nails?”
      4. Those circumstances were beyond his comprehension.
    5. We Americans are such a small part of this world, and yet we think as if the rest of the world is small and we are the larger part.
  2. Salvation in Jesus Christ is the great equalizer of all humanity.
    1. What impresses people and what impresses God are two entirely different matters.
      1. God is not impressed by our physical circumstances or with our intellectual development. People may be, but God is not.
        1. God never says, “Wow! Look where they live! Look at what they have!”
        2. He never says, “Look at his or her incredible educational background.”
      2. God is impressed with a person’s heart and with a person’s faith.
        1. Heart qualities impress God: love, mercy, compassion, humility, forgiveness, gentleness, kindness.
        2. God is impressed with the trust that is called faith: the willingness of a person to trust God’s promises, to place confidence in God’s assurance, to accept and trust God’s accomplishments in Christ.
      3. The heart qualities that impress God can exist in any person in any set of physical circumstances.
      4. The trust that impresses God is not dependent on the person’s education.
    2. Paul emphasized that point to both the Corinthian Christians and the Ephesian Christians.
      1. To the Corinthian Christians he wrote, For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world, and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that he might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God (NAS, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
      2. Listen to this same reading from the New Century Version: Brothers and sisters, look at what you were when God called you. Not many of you were wise in the way the world judges wisdom. Not many of you had great influence. Not many of you came from important families. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and he chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He choose what the world thinks is unimportant in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. God did this so that no one can brag in his presence (NCV, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
      3. To the Ephesian Christians, Paul wrote this: For by grace have you been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (NAS, Ephesians 2:8-10).
      4. Again, listen to the same statement in the New Century Version: I mean that you have been saved through grace by believing. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot brag about it. God made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing (NCV, Ephesians 2:8-10).
  3. Grasping the biblical concept of God’s love is the greatest single understanding the human mind can comprehend.
    1. Even when we grasp the concept of God’s love, we struggle to trust the meaning and significance of His love.
      1. God loves the person in the most primitive circumstances on earth as much as God loves me.
      2. God loves the person in the most poverty stricken circumstances on earth as much as God loves me.
      3. God loves the person in the most disadvantaged circumstances on earth as much as God loves me.
    2. That is why we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ to people everywhere.
      1. Our motivation must be much more than:
        1. Fulfilling a command.
        2. Meeting a spiritual obligation.
        3. Or trying to plant a church.
      2. This very minute, every person on earth has a Savior, and every person on earth needs to know about his or her Savior.
        1. Every person needs to learn about and understand the blessing and freedom of forgiveness.
        2. Every person needs to learn about and know of the hope that is available for him or her.
        3. Every person needs to hear about and understand the peace that he or she can have.
      3. The greatest personal reason each of us has for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is the desire “to share my Savior.”
        1. We have experienced forgiveness and know its meaning.
        2. We have experienced the hope and are sustained by it.
        3. We have experienced the peace and live in it.
      4. No one needs to die without the assurance of the hope Christ gave us when he died.
      5. Everyone needs to die in the peace that Jesus gives us.

As I see the picture of those men kneeling in the dirt with their hands tied behind them and think about the thousands of others who have been executed, I wonder. In the weeks that they awaited execution, what were their thoughts? Did they have any form of hope to sustain them, or was there only despair? Did they have any peace within to turn to, or was there only fatalistic acceptance? Did death have meaning, or were they only relieved to end the inevitable?

For the person whose heart trusts and depends on what God did in Jesus Christ, and for the person who never heard of Jesus Christ, those questions have very different answers.