In Appreciation

Posted by on November 29, 1998 under Sermons

Please take your Bible or a pew Bible and follow our thoughts from the text.

When Paul wrote a congregation, he often began his letter with an expression of sincere appreciation.

  1. He wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome.
    1. Those Christians had some serious problems.
      1. They seriously misunderstood the way God produces salvation in a person.
      2. They did not understand that God designed the gospel to be the perfect solution for spiritual or moral failure.
      3. They did not understand that God used people’s faith and His mercy to save people.
      4. They misunderstood the purpose of obedience.
        1. They did not understand that the purpose of obedience was to show gratitude for salvation.
        2. They were wrongly convinced that the purpose of obedience was to qualify a person for salvation.
    2. Those are basic, critical misunderstandings.
      1. They were serious misunderstandings.
      2. They produced serious problems.
    3. Yet, Paul clearly appreciated these Christians, and he wanted them to know it.
      Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Their knowledge was far from what it should be, but Paul appreciated their faith.
      2. The fact that these people who lived in the capital city of the Roman empire believed in Jesus Christ captured the attention of the world.
      3. And Paul was grateful.
  2. Paul wrote two letters to the Christians in Corinth.
    1. These people had been converted from very ungodly lives and circumstances.
      1. That congregation was filled with complicated problems that had roots in the ungodliness of their past.
      2. Their problems make us shudder.
        1. Division because different groups were in conflict.
        2. Individual Christians fighting each other in pagan courts.
        3. Sexual immorality.
        4. Marriage problems.
        5. Idolatry.
        6. Spiritual rivalries that perverted worship assemblies.
        7. A denial that people were resurrected from the dead.
    2. Even with those problems, Paul sincerely appreciated them, and he wanted them to know it.
      1 Corinthians 1:4-8 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. He was grateful for God’s grace which was given to them in Jesus Christ.
      2. He was grateful that God had enriched them.
      3. He was grateful that God had not withheld any spiritual gift from them.
      4. He was grateful that Christ could confirm them and make them blameless.
  3. Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Philippi.
    1. That congregation had some serious internal problems.
      1. The Christians were not treating each other properly, and some of them had a bad attitude toward each other.
      2. Selfishness was a real problem.
      3. Some of the most dedicated, devout Christians were seriously struggling against each other.
    2. Even with these problems, Paul genuinely appreciated them, and he wanted them to know it.
      Philippians 1:3-6 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. “I never pray without thanking God for you.”
      2. “It would be impossible for me to forget you.”
      3. “You are such a source of joy to me because you have always helped me as I shared the gospel.”
      4. “I know that God who began a good work in you will bring it to full maturity.”
  4. Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Colossae.
    1. That congregation had a number of problems, but it had a serious problem that would deeply trouble many of us.
      1. The technical name for that problem is syncretism.
      2. They took some of their pre-Christian beliefs and combined them with some Christian beliefs and created a religion that was part Christianity and part nonchristian philosophy.
      3. We would classify that as being an extremely serious problem.
    2. Paul had never visited this congregation, but there were things that he appreciated about them, and he wanted them to know it.
      Colossians 1:3,4 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. He thanked God for their faith in Christ and for their love for other Christians.
      2. He wanted them to know his gratitude included them in his prayers.
  5. Paul wrote two letters to the Christians at Thessalonica.
    1. The evidence in his letters indicates that they were an immature congregation.
      1. Sexual immorality was a problem, as it commonly was in most congregations.
      2. They believed if a Christian died before Jesus returned that he or she would not live with God in heaven.
      3. They were confused about several things regarding Jesus’ return.
    2. Again, Paul genuinely appreciated them, and he wanted them to know it.
      1 Thessalonians 1:2-8 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Paul especially appreciated three things.
        1. They had a faith that worked.
        2. They had a love that worked.
        3. They had a hope that would not be discouraged.
      2. When they became Christians, they committed themselves to imitating the Christians who converted them and imitating Jesus.
      3. When conversion resulted in physical suffering, they became an example to suffering Christians throughout that entire region.
      4. They were so widely known for their faith in Christ that it was unnecessary for Paul to tell other Christians about them.
      5. And Paul deeply appreciated that.
    3. In the second letter, Paul addressed their problems.
      1. They were still confused about the second coming of Jesus.
      2. Some were saying that Jesus would return in the immediate future.
      3. Those who believed that Jesus would come soon quit working, expected others to feed them, and became idle gossips.
      4. Paul still appreciated them and said so.
        2 Thessalonians 1:3,4 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. “It is fitting for me to be grateful for you.”
        2. “Your faith is growing, and your love is growing.”
        3. “I do not hesitate to tell other Christians how proud I am of your faith and your commitment as you endure persecutions and afflictions.”
  6. Paul’s gratitude for the good qualities in imperfect congregations emphasizes two things to me.
    1. First, there were no perfect situations.
    2. Second, we need to appreciate spiritual good where ever it exists.
  7. 1998 has challenged this congregation in a variety of ways.
    1. I want you to know that I love and appreciate this congregation, and I am grateful for many things.
      1. I am grateful for our willingness to think and learn, and grateful that we are growing in that willingness.
      2. I am grateful that so many people are willing to get involved, that so many people serve because they care.
      3. I am grateful for our growing commitment to renewal.
      4. I am grateful for the life that is found in our ministries.
      5. I am grateful for our diversity as we focus our concern on the world, on the community, and on the congregation.
    2. The decision that we made about the Family Life Center has created some special challenges.
      1. Some of you are weary of the congregation being in debt, and you should be.
      2. Some of you are concerned about stewardship issues, and that is a legitimate concern.
      3. Some of you have pragmatic concerns about costs, and those are legitimate.
      4. Different people have different priorities, and each priority is legitimate.
      5. We are concerned about a diversity of needs, and each need is legitimate.
    3. In all this, there are some things that I deeply appreciate.
      1. I appreciate all the earnest work the elders do to be open with you.
      2. I appreciate the congregation’s involvement in the process–it has never become a control issue.
      3. Even though we differ on perspectives that reflect deep concerns, our attitude has always been respectful.
      4. Because of this respect, our unity is not threatened.

Thank you! May we all pray that God will work through all of us, all of our hearts, and all of our concerns to accomplish His purposes.

Knowing the Purpose Improves Understanding

Posted by on under Sermons

Listen to some questions that people asked in a library at the reference desk.

  • “Do you have any books here?”
  • “Do you have a list of all the books I have ever read?”
  • “I am looking for a list of laws that I can break that would send me back to jail for a couple of months.”
  • “Which outlets in the library are appropriate for my hair dryer?”

Do some of those questions suggest that the person would have a better understanding of a library if he or she knew the purpose of a library?

Would you like to see God’s list of unbelievable questions that we ask about Christianity? If we saw that list, would it reveal that we do not understand the purpose of Christianity?

Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4. Paul wrote the letter we call Ephesians to the Christians in the city of Ephesus. This was an established congregation, not a new congregation composed of recent converts.

Chapter three ends (3:14-21) with a thought provoking, insightful, written prayer Paul prayed for these Christians.

  1. Chapter four begins with a “therefore” statement:
    Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    1. “Because of my spiritual desires for you expressed in my prayer, I plead with you to do this: conduct yourself in a manner that is befitting a person who has been called by God.”
      1. “Paul, what conduct is befitting a person who has been called by God?”
        1. The conduct of humility.
        2. The conduct of gentleness.
        3. The conduct of patience.
        4. The conduct of loving forbearance.
      2. Christian conduct that is befitting God commits itself to unity and peace in the congregation.
    2. “In order for you to live your daily lives in worthy conduct, you must understand God’s purpose for the church.”
      Ephesians 4:11-12 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Everything that God put in place, every work that He established–apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers–have two God-given objectives among Christians.
        1. The first objective of all of them is to equip Christians to serve.
        2. The second objective is to build up (spiritually mature) the body of Christ.
      2. How long are these objectives to be pursued?
        1. Until collectively the congregation’s faith reaches unity in accepting and understanding God’s work in Jesus Christ.
        2. Until collectively the congregation’s knowledge reaches unity in accepting and understanding what it means for Jesus to be God’s son.
        3. Until collectively they grow to the maturity that is measured by the stature and fullness of Jesus Christ.
      3. Why were they to pursue unity in faith in Jesus, unity of knowledge of Jesus, and spiritual development?
        Ephesians 4:14,15 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Why? To eliminate childishness among Christians, because when we are childish we are easily influenced by evil and easily deceived.
        2. Why? To allow the body of Christ to grow to the spiritual strength and love that God intended to exist in His people.
  2. Paul explained his reason for this emphasis in 4:17.
    Ephesians 4:17,18 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    1. “Because you are to conduct yourselves in a manner befitting a person called by God, do not live your lives or behave like people who do not know God.”
      1. How do people who do not know God live?
        1. Their behavior is determined by the futility of their minds (their reasoning is based on deceptive illusions).
        2. Their ignorance creates a “blackout” in their understanding.
        3. They are alienated from God’s life.
      2. What does this futility, ignorance, and alienation produce in their lives?
        1. They are callused (unfeeling) toward people and the human condition.
        2. They are controlled by their sensual desires.
        3. The “bottom line” in their lives is that every choice they make, every practice they engage in is ruled by their greed.
    2. When you learned about Jesus Christ, when you began understanding Jesus Christ, that is not the kind of existence that you were taught.
      1. The truth that Jesus teaches did not teach you to behave in those ways.
        1. There is a former life and former self that existed before Jesus taught you how to live and behave.
        2. That old life was corrupted by your deceitful desires.
        3. There is the new life and the new self.
        4. The new life and new self is created by God.
        5. God created your new life in the righteousness and holiness of truth.
      2. How will this new life behave?
        1. It will not deceive.
        2. It will not be a slave to anger.
        3. It will not give the devil opportunity.
        4. It will work and it won’t steal.
        5. It will help those who are in need.
        6. It will control the words that it speaks.
        7. It will not grieve the Holy Spirit.
        8. It will deliberately destroy negative emotions and the negative behavior that assault and attack other people.
        9. It will deliberately develop positive emotions and behavior that produce kindness and forgiveness.
  3. In the first verse of chapter five, Paul used still another “therefore”:
    Ephesians 5:1,2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    1. To see Paul’s emphasis, to understand his point, we must be certain that we follow the flow of his thinking.
      1. Because you understand my prayer for you, because you understand that you are to conduct yourself in a way that is befitting a person who has been called by God, because you understand that it is God’s purpose for you to seek unity and peace in the congregation, because you understand that God created you to be a new self who lives a different life, because you understand all of this, this is the purpose you accept for your existence.
        1. You will imitate God just like children who love their father.
        2. You will live your life in love just like Jesus Christ loved you.
      2. Because you understand that you are a new creation with a new life, there are things that you will not do.
        1. You will not be sexually immoral as are the people who do not know God.
        2. You will refuse to allow greed to rule you.
    2. Any person who tries to convince you that it is proper for a Christian to be sexually immoral or controlled by greed is using empty words to deceive you.
      1. In the past you lived in that darkness; now you live in the light.
      2. Don’t participate in the life and practices of darkness; instead, expose the darkness for what it is.
      3. “Wake up, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
    3. Paul continued to think with them by using still another “therefore” in 5:15.
  4. Let me contrast God’s approach to evil with our approach to evil.
    1. Two mammoth happenings occurred that many of us expected to totally change our world.
      1. In 1989 the Berlin wall was destroyed, a major failure for Communism.
      2. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, and Communism fell.
      3. Many younger adults say, “So what?”
      4. Many of us could not imagine a world without the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union.
        1. We lived through Stalin’s ruthless control of the Soviet Union.
        2. We lived through the Cuban missile crisis.
        3. We lived with all the fears of the Cold War.
        4. Those were the biggest, most impossible problems in our world.
        5. So many weapons were aimed at the United States and at the Soviet Union that a war might actually destroy life on earth.
      5. When Communism collapsed, many of us believed the world’s greatest dangers had passed.
    2. Why? Because we believed the same thing you believe.
      1. What? What do we all believe? We all “buy” the conviction that we can solve any problem if we can change the circumstances.
      2. When Communism collapsed, world circumstances changed in a major way.
      3. But, changing the circumstances did not eliminate worldwide dangers.
      4. That collapse created an enormous moral and ethical vacuum for millions of people who had known nothing but atheism.
      5. It threw millions of suffering people who knew nothing about God into chaos that offered no alternatives.
    3. Paul said very clearly in Ephesians that God’s objectives are not merely to change circumstances.
      1. God does not create moral and ethical vacuums.
      2. Jesus Christ teaches us life-building understandings of right and wrong.
      3. Jesus Christ teaches us life-building understandings that can distinguish between good and evil.

[Song of reflection]

As a Christian, are you trying to solve your problems by changing your circumstances or by understanding how to be God’s new creation?

God’s Will

Posted by on November 22, 1998 under Sermons

Paul urged Christians to commit themselves to understanding God’s will for the way they lived their personal lives. He gave this statement to the Christians in Ephesus.

Ephesians 5:15-17 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

  1. In our Family Meeting this evening we all will be concerned about accomplishing God’s will.
    1. It is certain that 100% of us will not agree on what God’s will is regarding the Family Life Center.
      1. Christians of devout faith may come to different conclusions.
      2. Christians of deep commitment may come to different conclusions.
      3. Christians with specific spiritual priorities may come to different conclusions.
      4. Christians who have been very prayerful may come to different conclusions.
    2. How can that happen if one of the basic things each of us holds in common is the desire to do God’s will?
      1. Each time a Christian makes specific application of God’s will to a specific situation, it is common for that application to be composed of “one part God” and “one or more parts me.”
      2. My perception of God’s will is partly determined by my knowledge and understanding of God and scripture.
      3. But my perception is also partly determined by:
        1. My personal religious history.
        2. My emotions.
        3. My priorities.
        4. My values.
        5. My concepts.
        6. My definitions.
      4. When specifically applying God’s will to a specific decision or situation, commonly our personal, sincere judgments become a part of God’s will.

This evening, collectively, we will use our judgment as, collectively, we pursue God’s will.

It is essential that 100% of us respect 100% of us even if we hold differing judgments.

I think it is appropriate for us to meditate on a statement Jesus made in the prayer that he used to teach his disciples how to pray.

Matthew 6:10 Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

May it be our sincere goal for God’s will to be done in this congregation as God’s will is done in heaven.

Nothing Good ‘Just Happens’

Posted by on under Sermons

I need your help to preach this sermon. First, listen to my request. Major renovations have occurred in the auditorium, in the foyer, and in the annex.

If you have assisted in these renovations in any way; if you helped paint, carpet, brought food to the workers, cleaned up, provided supplies or equipment, removed pews, hauled pews, helped in any way in the annex, helped with any phase of the planning or building, or did anything else, I need your help right now.

The congregation has no way of knowing how much work has been done by the members. It has no way to know the thousands of dollars saved because so many are willing to get involved.

This is what I want. When I ask, I want all who have helped in any way to stand. I want you to remain standing until I ask you to be seated. By standing, you can say something that I cannot say with words. Would all of you who have helped in any way please stand. [Let them stand about 15 seconds. As they are standing, thank them.] Please be seated.

  1. In this congregation, nothing just happens.
    1. This morning you came with definite expectations.
      1. As you came, you did not say, “This is my list of the things I expect today.”
      2. But in your mind you carry that list with you every time you come.
        1. You rarely use your list unless something fails to meet your expectation.
        2. For example, how often have you said, “The temperature in the building was perfect today!”
        3. How often have you said, “I burned up today,” or, “I froze to death today.”
        4. We say something only when the temperature fails to meet our expectation.
      3. Our list of expectations is long.
        1. We expect:
          1. The doors to be open.
          2. The lights to be on.
          3. The foyer to be clean and attractive.
          4. The class rooms to be clean with enough chairs (even if we don’t come to class).
          5. Teachers in the class rooms prepared to teach.
          6. Nursery attendants in the nursery prepared to care for the children.
          7. The pews to be clean and uncluttered with song books and Bibles.
          8. Communion to be prepared and on the table.
          9. Some one to preside over the communion service, and we have specific expectations about how that should be done.
          10. People to serve communion, and we have specific expectations about how that should be done.
          11. Someone to lead singing, and we have specific expectations about how that should be done.
          12. Songs to be sung that meet our approval, and we have specific expectations about that.
          13. Some one to preach a sermon, and we have specific expectations about how he should do that.
          14. A projection script that helps but does not distract.
          15. Prayers to be prayed, and we have specific expectations about how that should or should not be done.
          16. That is not the whole list of our expectations, but we do see that we all come with our lists of expectations.
    2. Do you think all of that “just happens”?
      1. Do you ever think about what it takes to “make it happen”?
      2. Do you ever think about how many people it takes to “make it happen”?
      3. Do you ever think about being a part of “making it happen”?
  2. I want to challenge you to think about the fact that “good things don’t just happen” in another area of consideration.
    1. Last Sunday’s Southwest Times Record contained an article entitled “Making Churches Family Friendly.”
      1. The article noted these things.
        1. Baby boomer parents grew up in homes that professed the slogan, “The family that prays together stays together.”
        2. Many baby boomer parents believe that it is good to take their children to church.
        3. But, taking the kids to church is not producing the results they expected.
        4. The studies produced by George Barna’s surveys reveal that there is little difference in the morals of young people who attend church and young people who are unchurched.
        5. In behaviors such as lying, cheating, and sexual intercourse, only a small percentage separates the “churched” from the “unchurched.”
      2. Paul Allen stated that parents have wrongly assumed that they could take care of their children’s spiritual training by taking them to church.
    2. What should the congregation expect of families, and what should families expect of the congregation?
      1. In spiritual training, can the congregation replace the family? Absolutely not.
      2. Can the family replace the congregation? Absolutely not.
      3. Can the congregation as God’s spiritual family help families? Absolutely.
      4. Can families help the congregation? Absolutely.
      5. There is a desperate need for a powerful partnership between God’s family and family units.
  3. In crucial ways, this congregation’s strength is dependent on the stability of its families.
    1. The greater the turmoil, strife, and failure in our families, the greater the instability of the congregation.
      1. That is true of turmoil and strife:
        1. In the husband-wife relationship.
        2. In the parent-child relationship.
        3. Between the family and its in-laws or its extended family.
      2. Can turmoil and conflict in the home become an avenue to the spiritual strength and maturity of individuals?
        1. Absolutely!
        2. When? When those problems cause us to rely on God instead of relying our ourselves, it produces strength and spiritual maturity.
        3. Troubles are frequently the incubator for a faith that depends on God.
        4. Trials commonly give birth to a faith that builds a relationship with God.
        5. Hardship often matures faith.
        6. That is not new; the Bible makes it clearly evident that this has always been true.
    2. In building a powerful partnership between the family and the congregation, we immediately confront a very serious problem.
      1. “What problem?”
      2. Many people do not know how to be a family.
      3. Because we do not know how to be a family, we don’t know how to be a spiritual family.
      4. Please understand that I am not trying to put anyone on a guilt trip; I am not trying to offend anyone or discourage anyone.
      5. But please also understand that we must examine reality if we are going to change reality.
      6. Too many of us grew up in a family where:
        1. Father or mother was a workaholic.
        2. Father or mother were materialists.
        3. Father or mother were dependent on alcohol or medication.
        4. Father or mother did not show emotion.
        5. Father or mother was an abuser.
        6. Father or mother never had time for the family.
        7. Father or mother either neglected or resented us.
    3. “There you go again; always putting the blame on someone else.”
      1. I am not putting the blame anywhere; I am not talking about blame.
      2. I am not giving any one of us a reason to reject personal responsibility.
      3. Every one of us is the product of our family of origin.
        1. Every one of us had our emotions, our expectations, our self-concept, and our relationship skills shaped by our family of origin.
        2. Every one of us are reproducing at least parts of our family of origin within the families that we establish.
    4. Relationship skills in our society are pitiful; relationship skills in our families are pitiful; relationship skills in the church are pitiful.
      1. In far too many instances, family relationships are public performances with little private substance.
      2. Both in our physical families and our spiritual family, our relationships are extremely shallow.
      3. We don’t know each other, and we don’t understand each other.
      4. Much too often we do not know how to be husbands, or fathers, or wives, or mothers, or brothers, or sisters, and we are scared to death to learn because learning means we must be vulnerable.
  4. Someone says, “The solution is obvious: we would solve all our family problems if we would just study the Bible.”
    1. At one time in the past, I worked a lot with people who had been abused.
      1. Much of that work was with Christians who were trying to build an adult life after surviving severe emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a child.
      2. Every person I worked with could trace abusiveness back at least two generations, and some could trace it back three generations.
      3. If just studying the Bible eliminates the problem, it would have been eliminated in the 1950’s when we were so well known for Bible study.
    2. We absolutely need to study the Bible, but if we do not understand how to apply the principles there will be little improvement in our lives or our families.
      1. A frustrated Christian recently said, “I understand the problem; I understand the need; I just don’t understand what to do.”
      2. Let there be no mistake: this is a spiritual matter. If you have a husband, wife, or child:
        1. Addicted to alcohol or drugs, you have a spiritual problem.
        2. Destructively depressed, you have a spiritual problem.
        3. Physically or emotionally abusive, you have a spiritual problem.
      3. If we, as a congregation, do not effectively help Christians deal with those problems, we will self-destruct.
        1. You doubt that?
        2. Consider just one obvious problem: where will we find leadership?
  5. Last Sunday we had an exceptional mission’s Sunday.
    1. I am deeply grateful for our missions program, and I pray that our greatest missions outreach is yet before us.
      1. An important key to greater mission work is the increasing health of this congregation.
      2. There is an umbilical cord tying missions to the health of this congregation.
    2. Having been a missionary living in a third world country, and having worked with the church in this society for decades, may I make these observations.
      1. It is easier to do mission work in a strange culture than it is to practice godliness in your own culture.
      2. It is easier to teach about Christianity in a strange culture than it is to demonstrate Christianity in your own culture.
      3. In a foreign culture you teach people what they should believe.
      4. In your own culture, you teach people how to live.
      5. It is always easier to teach what to believe than it is to teach how to live.

Romans 12:1,2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

[Have someone read Romans 12:9-21.]

    Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (KJV)

Do not do this. I just want you to think. If I asked everyone who has endured a significant family problem or who has been personally damaged by a serious family problem to stand, would you need to stand?

The first step to improving your relationships in your family is to improve your relationship with God.

We need greater faith in Jesus than we have in ourselves.
Become a Christian. Come to the Savior who can lead us to life in eternity and in this present life.

God Made . . . And God Gave

Posted by on November 15, 1998 under Bulletin Articles

We Christians often discuss God’s generosity. We theoretically talk about Him being the source of our blessings. We theologically talk about Him being the source of our salvation. We doctrinally talk about Him giving us an eternal home.

As children of the great Maker, we tend to be possessive with the things that presumably we make. What we make we tend to keep–at least the majority of it. What God made He gave to us.

God made the earth, and He gave people dominion.
God made people, and He gave us life.
God made Adam and Eve, and He gave them a companion.
God made a flood, and He gave humanity a new beginning.
God made Isaac, and He gave Abraham a nation.
God made Israel, and He gave the world a Savior.
God made His Son a man, and He gave us the Christ.
God made the resurrection, and He gave us hope.
God made forgiveness, and He gave us redemption.
God made the church, and He gave us a spiritual family.
God made the Holy Spirit the Comforter, and He gave us assurance.
God made heaven, and He has given us a reservation.

We made rebellion, and He gave us mercy.
We made defiance, and He gave us grace.
We made failure, and He gave us compassion.
We made sin, and He gave us atonement.
We make imperfect children, and He clothes us in Christ.

Do you know anything that God made which He did not give away? Do you know anything God gave away that did not benefit us? May we think about that as we place our sense of security in “what we made.” May we think about that when we reflect on Jesus’ statement: “It is more blessed to give than receive.” God knows that is so!

What Is My God-Given Challenge?

Posted by on November 8, 1998 under Sermons

When we forget our purpose, we change directions. That is true for us as individuals. That is true for us as families. That is true for us as a congregation.

As an individual, if I have no purpose, my life has no direction. If I have a poor purpose, my life goes in a destructive direction. I have a good purpose, but lose sight of that purpose, my life drifts from a good direction to a bad or destructive direction. If I have a good purpose and stay focused on that purpose, my life will continue in a good direction.

As a family, if we have no purpose, our family has no direction. If we have a poor purpose, our family goes in destructive directions. If we have a good purpose but lose sight of it, we drift from a good direction to a bad or destructive direction. If we have a good purpose and stay focused on that purpose, we, as a family, will continue in a good direction.

As a congregation, if we have no purpose, the congregation has no direction. If we have a poor purpose, the congregation drifts in a destructive direction. If we have a good purpose, but lose sight of that purpose, we drift from a good direction to a poor or destructive direction. If we have a good purpose and stay focused on that purpose, the congregation will continue in a good direction.

Having a good purpose is not as obvious, simple, or easy as any of us think it is. It is not as an individual. It is not as a family. It is not as a congregation.

I call your attention to an examination of Luke 3:1-14.

  1. Luke established the date of John’s ministry in a way that it could be verified by people in or out of Palestine.
    1. Since our calendar did not exist, Luke used their “calendar system.”
      1. Luke dated John’s ministry by using a system that was used for many centuries: he dated the event by the reigns of known rulers.
        1. First, he dated John’s ministry by the known ruler of their world, the 15th year of the rule of the Roman Caesar, Tiberias.
        2. Second, he dated it by the tenure of the Roman governor who was responsible for keeping order in Judea, the tenure of Pontius Pilate.
        3. Third, he dated it by the reigns of three regional rulers in that area:
          1. John’s ministry occurred when Herod Antipas was the tetrarch of Galilee.
          2. It occurred when Herod Antipas’ brother, Philip, was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis.
          3. It occurred when Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene.
        4. Fourth, he dated it in the region where John’s ministry occurred; it happened when Annas and Caiaphas served as high priests in Jerusalem.
        5. So Luke gave a Roman date, a regional date, and a Jewish date so that the events he shared could be verified.
      2. Luke also designated the person, the place, and the activity.
        1. The person was the prophet John, the son of Zechariah, who received the word of God.
        2. The place was in the wilderness area of the Jordan River.
        3. The activity was that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
      3. Luke also notes that these events happened in specific fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-5.
        1. This was a fact that would be of special significance to any Jewish reader.
        2. It was also the ultimate verification that this happening was planned, implemented, and directed by God.
  2. As Luke gives an abbreviated account of John’s ministry, I want you to pay careful attention to what did and did not constitute success to John.
    1. People came to John to listen to his message and respond.
      1. The greater majority of Israel’s population was not conveniently located with easy access to the Jordan wilderness.
        1. The greater majority of the population was located in the Jerusalem region, westward to the Mediterranean coast, the region north of Jerusalem known as Galilee, the region around the Sea of Galilee.
        2. The region of the Jordan wilderness was principally desert.
        3. To give you and idea of the inconvenience of the access to the wilderness area of the Jordan River, the elevation of Jerusalem is approximately 2000 feet above sea level.
          1. Almost the entire river bed from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is below sea level as the river flows through the deepest rift on earth.
          2. Jerusalem can have snow in the winter.
          3. The Jordan wilderness is semitropical; the area of Jericho grows oranges and grapefruit.
          4. The trip from Jerusalem to Jericho with over a 2000 foot drop in elevation occurs in 17 miles.
          5. The people who came to hear John made a difficult journey.
      2. If we were conducting an evangelistic effort in Fort Smith attempting to convince people to be baptized for the remission of their sins, and:
        1. People came to listen by the thousands.
        2. The same people came at great personal inconvenience.
        3. The same people urged us to baptize them.
        4. We would say that the effort was incredibly successful.
      3. To John, these facts did not constitute success.
        1. John’s greeting to these multitudes was what we would regard to be a rude and offensive.
        2. “You children of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”
        3. “You will not escape just because you have come to hear me and be baptized.”
        4. “You will not escape because you are physically the descendants of Abraham and physically a part of God’s chosen people.”
        5. “If all that God wanted was descendants of Abraham, God could turn all these rocks around you into Jewish people.”
        6. “God is ready to clear the spiritual wilderness. All the trees and bushes that have grown up in His vineyard that produce no fruit worth harvesting will be cut down and burned, and this will happen soon.”
        7. “Only trees that produce fruit worth harvesting will be spared.”
        8. “If you want to be one of the trees that is spared, repent. Demonstrate the reality of your repentance by producing the fruit of repentance.”
      4. To John:
        1. People coming to him was not the true measure of success for his ministry.
        2. People listening to him was not the true measure of success for his ministry.
        3. The baptism of these people was not the true measure of success for his ministry.
      5. To John, there was only one true measure of success: lives that had turned around, lives that were redirected because of repentance.
        1. The fruit of repentance was the changes in the person’s life.
        2. The purpose of their coming, listening, and being baptized was to change the way they lived their lives.
  3. His Jewish audience did not understand his point.
    1. To me, that is nothing less than astounding and incredible; and at the same time, to me, that is completely understandable and predictable.
      1. They had studied the scriptures in their synagogues weekly for generations.
      2. They listened to their rabbis analyze scripture, dissect scripture, interpret scripture, and apply scripture every week.
      3. They heard the theological and doctrinal rulings of the high priest and the Jerusalem Sanhedrin all their lives, rulings that had been given in Jerusalem for over 100 years.
      4. They received the heritage of the great restoration movement begun by the Maccabean revolt that liberated the Jews over 150 years prior to John’s ministry.
      5. They were one of the more religious generations of Israelites to exist.
      6. But they did not understand what John meant when he told them that they needed to produce the fruit of repentance.
      7. They literally did not understand that.
    2. To me, the parallel is sobering and frightening.
      1. We have been studying scriptures in our church buildings for 200 years.
      2. We have listened to our preachers and teachers analyze scripture, dissect scripture, interpret scripture, and apply scripture on a week basis for generations.
      3. We have heard the theological and doctrinal rulings of those that we hold in high esteem.
      4. Many of us regard ourselves to be a devoutly religious generation.
      5. Do we think success for the church is having people listen to us, accept what we say, and agree to be baptized?
      6. Do we know what it means to repent?
      7. Do we realize that we need to repent?
      8. Do we know what the fruit of repentance is?
      9. Scary, isn’t it?
    3. So the multitude who came asked John, “If it is not enough to come, if it is not enough to listen, if it is not enough to accept you as God’s spokesman, if it is not enough to be baptized for the remission of our sins, what are we supposed to do?”
      1. Then John defined the fruit of repentance for them in their situation.
      2. To the multitude, he said:
        1. Those of you who have more clothes than you need, share your clothes with those who have nothing to wear.
        2. Those of you who have more than enough to eat, share your food with those who have nothing to eat.
      3. This is what John said to the tax collectors who came to be baptized and asked what they should do to repent and produced the fruit of repentance.
        1. These were the men who collected the Roman taxes that the Jewish people despised, and they collected those taxes for their own personal profit.
        2. John said, “Collect no more than you have been ordered to collect.”
        3. Isn’t it interesting that he did not say, “Stop collecting taxes for the Romans!”
      4. This is what John said to soldiers who wanted to know what they should do.
        1. “Do not take money from anyone by force,” which the soldiers often did.
        2. “Do not make false accusations against anyone,” which was often done.
        3. “Be content with your wages,” which was not common.
    4. This striking emphasis on the importance of repentance was not merely found in John’s ministry, but it is clearly found in Jesus’ ministry and in the early church.

If personally we as Christians repented and produced the fruit of repentance in our personal lives, what do you think would happen to us, to this congregation, and in Fort Smith?

If in our marriages, we as Christian husbands and wives repented and produced the fruit of repentance, what do you think would happen to us, to this congregation, and in Fort Smith?

If in our homes, we as Christian parents and adolescent children repented and produced the fruit of repentance, what do you think would happen to us, to this congregation, and in Fort Smith?

If on our jobs, in our businesses, in our professions, or in our corporate world, if we repented and produced the fruit of repentance, what do you think would happen to us, to this congregation, and in Fort Smith?

If Christians repented and produced the fruit of repentance, what do you think God would do with us and our repentance in this nation and in our world?

May I suggest that promoting the Church of Christ is an unworthy goal for us to adopt. May I suggest that multiple baptisms in an unworthy goal for us to adopt. May I suggest that moving ourselves to repentance to produce the fruit of repentance and calling others to repentance to produce the fruit of repentance is a God given goal worthy of all of us.

Mission Work: Why Bother?

Posted by on under Sermons

In 1971 my family and I lived four degrees from the equator as we did mission work in a rural area of a West African country. At that time, we were in the safest situation that we will ever experience on earth. The people were kind, appreciative, and (in their poverty) generous.

In every consideration, it was a different world. These people had seen little technology. And many of the “new things” introduced to their society were dangerous.

For example, the car and truck were dangerous. Only the elite and foreigners owned and operated motor vehicles. In rural areas, people walked. Most roads were in extremely poor condition. Shoulders on roads or sidewalks were unknown in rural areas. From a hour before daylight to an hour after dark, multitudes were walking in the road. That made the road dangerous for pedestrians and drivers.

Under most circumstances, these people were calm, under control people. But if a car or truck hit a person or an animal, the people instantly were so emotional that they lost control. If a car killed a villager, it was not unusual for the village to burn the car. For that reason, if you hit a person, you were not to stop. You were to drive immediately to the nearest police station.

A mobile medical clinic was a part of our work. Deborah Wilson, who was then the unmarried Deborah Brown, worked as a nurse in that clinic. Ordinarily, five days a week, the clinic traveled in a large Land Rover to a village located in a population area. Most weeks they visited the same village on the same day of the week.

One day as they drove through a village on their way to a scheduled clinic, they met an enormous crowd of people who blocked the road. It was impossible to drive through them or around them. Immediately, the medical team decided, “We have a serious problem.” They quickly begin thinking together. “We have not hit a pedestrian. Did we run over a chicken? a pig? a goat?”

They had no choice but to stop. When they stopped, the crowd engulfed the Land Rover, and a very small man walked up to the driver and presented a piece of paper to the doctor. Then, immediately, the road cleared, and they drove through without incident.

The message on the piece of paper read,

Come over into
and help us.
–Acts 16:9

The small man’s name was Nseudo. In a short time he was converted, began teaching, and established a congregation in the village.

  1. Next Sunday is Missions Sunday at West-Ark.
    1. What is Missions Sunday?
      1. As a congregation, we are seriously committed to foreign mission work.
        1. Our missions commitment is diverse.
        2. Each year we take a medical and evangelistic team to Guyana to work for a week. Michael Cole, with lots of assistance, plans that work.
          1. The work is coordinated in Guyana by Steve DeLoach, a missionary.
          2. During that week our medical team treats people who have limited or no access to medical treatment.
          3. As people gather for treatment, another team studies with them.
          4. Each evening there are preaching and teaching assemblies.
        3. Primarily through the ongoing involvement of Jim and Deborah Wilson, we assist the work in Ethiopia.
          1. Jim and Deborah Wilson make visits twice a year to Ethiopia, visits that they personally finance.
          2. Christians and the church are doing an excellent work in that country; they recently began their own missions outreach to neighboring countries.
          3. The circumstances of Ethiopian Christians often are harsh and difficult, and poverty is a significant factor.
        4. Primarily through the personal efforts of Jerry and Meg Canfield, we have an ongoing involvement in Laos.
          1. Jerry and Meg financed much of their work there until the government made it necessary for them to leave the country.
          2. The Christians there exist under extremely difficult circumstances that include the continuing imprisonment of ten of them.
        5. Roy and Joyce Dunavin are involved in several mission works.
          1. They are a part of the Guyana team each year.
          2. They spent one month this year in New Zealand as Roy taught in a preacher training school, and they both worked with and encouraged established congregations.
          3. They both worked in Romania this year for about a month as they assisted the missionaries and congregations there.
        6. We also maintain a medical missions work through a ministry that we call C.U.R.E., The Compassionate Utilization of Resources.
          1. Bob Fisher coordinates this program, but Bob is assisted in a variety of ways by a number of capable people in this congregation.
          2. C.U.R.E. maintains a warehouse at Fort Chaffee primarily filled with medical supplies.
          3. These medical supplies are contributed from multiple sources.
          4. They ship large cartons of medical supplies to medical missions and outreaches in several different countries.
          5. They also serve as a rapid response system when a disaster occurs in this region.
          6. Honduras and northern Nicaragua suffered major disaster when the recent hurricane struck, and we will be quickly involved in the relief work there.
            1. Wednesday the estimates were that at least 7,000 were killed and as may as 11,000 were missing.
            2. Entire villages were buried by mud slides.
      2. On Missions Sunday, we take a special collection for missions.
        1. This contribution funds the larger part of our missions budget for 1999.
        2. Last year we contributed $140,000 to help finance missions for 1998.
        3. This year the missions committee is requesting a contribution of $109,000 to help fund missions for 1999.
  2. In my personal judgment, the poorest of all reasons for doing mission work is the demand and responsibility created by a commandment.
    1. We share our God and our Savior with other peoples and cultures because of our love for and devotion to our God and Savior.
      1. Let me give you an example: which missionary would you allow to teach you?
      2. First is the missionary sees the great commission as a commandment that he is obligated to fulfill.
        1. He is staunchly American, loves America, considers America the only good place on earth to live, and believes that Americans and the American culture and system are superior to every other people.
        2. As a Christian, for his own personal reasons, he accepted “the obligation” to do mission work.
        3. He arrives in the country with an attitude of superiority, and the longer he stays, the worse his attitude gets.
          1. “Dumb country!”
          2. “Ridiculous climate!”
          3. “Ignorant people!”
          4. “Stupid government!”
          5. “Foolish beliefs!”
          6. “Backward society!”
        4. It is impossible to hide this attitude from the people and the government; his arrogance and disrespect is evident in everything he is and does.
        5. Because of an attitude like this, the name of God is blasphemed and Jesus is rejected in many places.
      3. Second is the missionary who loves people because his God and Savior taught him how to love.
        1. He falls in love with the people because of his compassion and respect.
        2. Instead of criticizing them, he learns their culture and their ways.
        3. He tries to understand them in the same way that he wants them to understand him.
        4. He learns to think like they think, see as they see, and feel what they feel.
        5. He teaches because he cares.
      4. Which missionary would you listen to?
    2. God loves people.
      1. God does not prefer Americans.
      2. If there is any lesson that we need to learn from the Jewish people of the first century, we must learn this lesson.
      3. The more that I learn through study, age, and experience, the more convinced I am that this is true: God is more impressed with several other peoples than He is with us.
        1. Materially, we have so much.
        2. Spiritually, we are so little.
        3. Many who live in poverty are better stewards than we are.
  3. In my personal judgment, the apostle Paul was the best prepared and most effective missionary our world has ever known.
    1. If ever there was “the right man for the right time,” Paul was that man.
    2. There is a basic, essential lesson that we need to learn from Paul.
      1. Paul did not forfeit his Jewish heritage when he became a Christian.
      2. The events of Acts 21:17-26 occurred after the Christian Paul spent years in mission work.
      3. That scripture makes it evident that Paul did not forfeit his Jewish heritage because he was a Christian.
      4. But, Paul made it quite clear in Philippians 3:3-11 that his Jewish heritage was not the source of his salvation.
    3. Though Paul honored his Jewish heritage, Paul never made Judaism a condition of salvation for anyone.
      1. Other Jewish Christians insisted that people who were not Jews had to accept Jewish practices and customs to be Christians (Acts 15:1-5).
      2. Paul powerfully refuted that claim (Galatians 3, 4).
      3. He championed the truth that salvation comes 100% from Jesus Christ and 0% from Judaism.
    4. What does that mean to us? A person does not have to be an American to be a Christian; being an American is not a factor in anyone’s salvation.
      1. Even if a person does not live in a democracy, he or she can be a Christian.
      2. Even if a person has never known freedom, he or she can be a Christian.
      3. Regardless of the form of government a person lives under, he or she can be a Christian.
      4. Regardless of the culture a person lives in, he or she can be a Christian.
      5. A person does not have to speak and read English, sound like a middle class American, act like an American, or know the American way to be a Christian.
      6. All that is necessary to be a Christian is to belong to Jesus Christ.
    5. Listen to the missionary Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
      For though I am free from all men I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law so that I might win those who are under the Law to those who are without law, as without law though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ so that I might win those who are without law To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some I do all things for the sake of the gospel so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

Why do Christians share Jesus Christ with other peoples? Because we value God’s love. Because we cherish God’s forgiveness. Because we know the incredible encouragement of being a part of God’s universal family. Because the privilege of being a part of God’s eternal purposes awes us.

The most selfish thing Christians can do is share Jesus Christ with no one.

If you share with others what you have with Jesus spiritually, what would they have? We need to share our funds, our blessings, and our opportunities, but nothing we have needs to be shared more than our Savior.

Anyone who tries to share things from an empty heart, doesn’t really have anything worth sharing.

May your joy in salvation grow. May your heart be filled so that you may have something to share.

Does Christ live in your life? Let God do for you what He intends to do for you in Christ. Are you ready to be born again?

The Price for Spiritual Freedom

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

John 8 records a “day of hostility in the life of Jesus.” Jesus’ day began as he taught in the temple area. When an adulteress caught in the act was presented to him, he refused to condemn her. Instead, he convicted and humiliated her captors.

His lessons provoked one hostile reaction after another. Each reaction intensified the hostility. “You are lying and have no one to verify your statements!” “Your statements make sense only if you plan to kill yourself.” “Who are you?” (Which asked, in context, “Who do you think you are?”)

In the “give and take” of the hostility, many listeners believed in him. To them, the believers, Jesus said, “You are genuine disciples if you take life from my word. By taking life from my word, you shall know the truth, and that truth will liberate you.”

This statement offended the believers as well as his opponents. “We are Abraham’s descendants, the people of God! We have never been slaves! How dare you suggest otherwise!”

From that point forward, Jesus was increasingly insistent, and they were increasingly hostile.

The belief that results in acceptance and the belief that results in existence are radically different. The belief of acceptance agrees (as though personal approval validates truth). The belief of existence finds life in the revelations of the teachings.

Genuine disciples voluntarily submit to the teacher to learn. In recognition of his superiority, they surrender their minds and hearts to his teachings. They refuse to permit “my knowledge” to limit the teacher’s revelation. His revelations are not restricted by their perceptions.

Jesus said, “Genuine disciples continually draw life itself from my word. In doing so, they discover the truth. Truth discovered through my revelation liberates them.”

Jesus’ teachings do not exist to confirm “our knowledge.” He reveals what we need to understand. His objective is more than revealing the truth about God, Christ, the Spirit, God’s will, and Jesus’ purposes. It includes revealing to us the truth about ourselves (examine John 8). Discovering truth is frightening, but only truth liberates.

Truth has the power to liberate for two reasons. It reveals myself to me. It reveals life to me. Both revelations occur when I take life from Jesus’ word.

Fear Versus Guilt In My Child

Posted by on November 1, 1998 under Sermons

Typically, areas of specific concern create high anxiety levels in Christian adults. One of those specific areas is our children. The spiritual concern Christian parents have for their children commonly produces a high level of anxiety.

Commonly, a Christian husband and wife want a child. When the wanted child is conceived, their anticipation is enormous. When the wanted child is born, the joy is indescribable. When a few years pass, these parents come to a new depth of awareness. The child they love so much will become a responsible person.

That realization cannot be described. This person I brought into the world is an eternal soul. At some point in this child’s life, he or she will be responsible and accountable to God. That awareness begins a long period of sober concern.

When my children entered adolescence, there was nothing I wanted more for them than their salvation. I wanted them to enter Christ, but I also fervently wanted them to have a sustaining relationship with God. In those desires, I made several continuing investments in their spiritual development. Joyce shared those desires and made her own continuing investments in their spiritual development.

As Christians, we all fervently want our children’s salvation. The thought of our child not being saved is unthinkable. We don’t want a child of ours to ever experience the feeling of being lost. We want our child always to be either safe or saved.

Were it possible for us to believe for our children, or to repent for our children, or to be baptized for our children, we would. But our children must choose to become Christians just as we did.

That creates a major difficulty for us as parents. When should we allow our children to make that decision?

  1. The majority of the children in our society have traumatic, unhealthy experiences in the early years of their childhood.
    1. Some of those traumatic experiences are common knowledge to all of us.
      1. The national divorce rate for first marriages is 50%.
      2. The majority of first marriages that do not divorce are not successful marriages or homes.
      3. Children in single parent homes must wrestle with thoughts, adjustments, and situations that are unique to that situation.
      4. Children in blended homes also must wrestle with thoughts, adjustments, and situations that are unique to that situation.
      5. The physical abuse of children is very real.
      6. The sexual abuse of children is very real.
      7. The fears and stresses created by their peers are very real.
      8. A great variety of forces work to either attack or challenge the security of children.
    2. When a child’s sense of security is under attack, what can he or she do? Let me give you three examples of a child’s options. These are not their only three options.
      1. The child can react negatively.
        1. He or she can become angry, rebellious, or defiant.
        2. He or she can exhibit destructive behavior.
        3. Or he or she can just withdraw from life and from people.
        4. Typically, the child who spends childhood responding negatively becomes the adult who lives life negatively.
      2. Or, the child can assume the role of a “pleaser.”
        1. The pleaser child accepts the mission of making others happy.
        2. Commonly, he or she is committed to being a perfectionist; he or she must make people happy.
        3. The pleaser is typically a peacemaker (he or she tires to get others to end their conflict or tries to skirt conflicts).
        4. Thus, the most common characteristic of the pleaser child is to be the fixer; he or she is always trying to “fix” things.
        5. Typically, the pleaser child becomes the pleaser adult.
      3. Or, the child can seek a new source of security.
        1. For a child in a religious environment, he or she can turn to God for this new security.
        2. For this child, the concerns in seeking security are different from concerns in seeking forgiveness.
  2. What are we to do about children who want to be baptized for reasons that have little or nothing to do with salvation?
    1. There is no simple answer, no simple solution, and no magical course of action that will eliminate this situation promptly and easily.
    2. At the foundation of this situation is an education problem.
      1. Our salvation concept is oversimplified, and our oversimplification contains serious deficiencies.
      2. Our salvation concept: a person is either lost or saved.
      3. We commonly accept as fact that a person is saved in the early years of life.
        1. We would say that before birth a child is saved.
        2. We would say that at birth a child is saved.
        3. We would say the same for years one through five, and maybe six.
      4. At age seven some Christian adults enter what I would call “the doubt zone.”
        1. Commonly, the “doubt zone” does not exist when we talk about impersonal categories.
        2. Commonly, the “doubt zone” exists when we talk about a specific person.
        3. For many, the “doubt zone” covers ages seven to eleven.
      5. For many adults, we believe a child is either fast approaching or has entered the lost area from age twelve and beyond.
        1. Most would agree that a person beyond the age of twelve needs salvation.
        2. He or she needs to be baptized.
    3. From my understanding, this concept is too simple; it is inaccurate.
      1. Again, I am sharing my perspective; I am neither inspired nor the authority.
      2. I am asking you to think, study, and advance your understanding.
      3. The terminology we use in our salvation concept creates an incorrect impression.
        1. Only lost people can be saved. (To save is to rescue.)
        2. A person who is not lost does not need to be saved.
      4. I would like to suggest that it is a mistake to “label” a young child as saved.
        1. We need to understand that this child is innocent.
        2. Our children need to understand that they are innocent when they are young.
        3. Because of innocence, he or she is secure and under God’s protection.
      5. There is also a period in a child’s life when he or she is safe.
        1. In this period, the child is growing out of innocence.
        2. The child’s abstract thinking (that we discussed last week) is developing.
        3. As we discussed last week, the will is awakening.
        4. But rebellion against or rejection of God (rebellion that comprehends significance) has not occurred.
        5. In the safe period it is common for the child to experience fear, but not to grasp guilt.
      6. Certainly the time will come when the child knows, understands, and feels guilt.
        1. When that time comes, the child needs to turn to God for salvation.
        2. At the time, a believing, penitent person needs to be baptized.
    4. I want to suggest that we need to educate children and adults in a more accurate salvation concept.

    Time of

      1. There is a period of innocence.

      Time of Innocence
      Birth ? Years

      • No Sin
      • No Separation from God
      • Not Lost

        1. The child is incapable of abstract thought.
        2. His or her will has not developed.
        3. Rebellion against God that understands significance has not occurred.
      1. There is a period of safety. This is a transitional period.

      Time of Safety
      ? Years ? Years

      • Fear Moves to Guilt
      • Awareness Grows
      • Asks Permission

        1. Abstract thinking is developing and an understanding of concepts is growing.
        2. The will is beginning to emerge and express itself.
        3. A fear of God, of death, and of judgment begins.
        4. In this period the child is likely to ask permission to be baptized rather than to declare the need to be baptized: “Can I be baptized?” not, “I must be baptized!”
      1. There is the condition of being lost.

      Time of Guilt
      ? Years      

      • Responsible
      • Sinful
      • Needs Forgiveness
      • Urgency

        1. In this condition there is awareness and understanding of guilt, and often the reason for guilt can be identified.
        2. To this person, the need for forgiveness is an urgent matter.
  3. If a young child wants to talk to me about being baptized, what do I do?
    1. I compliment and encourage the child for his or her concern.
      1. I want the child to know that his or her concern is a good thing.
      2. I want him or her to know that he or she does not have to “pass a test” or please me.
    2. I do not ask the child to tell me what he or she knows about baptism.
      1. Virtually every child expects to be asked to do that and has memorized “the right answers.”
      2. If he or she gives the “right answers” and is not baptized, the child can feel rejected.
    3. I ask the child to explain “your inside reasons” for wanting to be baptized.
      1. I listen to understand.
      2. I do not challenge or reject answers.
      3. I gently try to get the child to elaborate on his or her reasons.
    4. If he or she does not mention fear, I ask, “Are you afraid?”
      1. If the answer is, “No,” we don’t discuss it.
      2. If the answer is, “Yes,” I ask him or her to tell me about the fear.
    5. If he or she does not mention guilt (and a young child rarely does), I ask if he or she feels guilt.
      1. If the child says, “No,” we don’t discuss guilt.
      2. If the child says, “Yes,” the concerns of the child will determine the direction of the conversation.
    6. We will end our conversation with a discussion about being safe, about fear being a part of growing, and about the fact he or she will know guilt when he or she has it.
    7. Most of the time this gives an basis that the child understands for suggesting that he or she wait a little longer and think with Mom or Dad more.

I would like to close with a question and an observation. First, the question. Spiritually, is all that you want for your child baptism? I doubt that any of us spiritually want only baptism for our children. When a your child asks you about baptism, spiritually there is far more to consider than just the act of baptism.

The observation. Being a parent while the children live in our home and depend on us for virtually everything is a vastly different experience than being a parent when they leave home. When they leave home, the only power we have in their lives is the power of example. They must see in us that Christianity produces the most desirable life and person possible, and realize that we have that life and are that person because of our relationship with Christ.

When our children leave home, that is the only power we have. While our children are at home, that is the most important power that we have.

A Complex God For Our Complex Life

Posted by on under Sermons

I have three children. Jon is two years older than Kevin, and Kevin is three years older than Anita. When Jon was a senior in high school, there were two adults and three teenagers living in the same house. Family transportation was tight. Jon was not the most systematic, scheduled teenager that you ever met. Jon’s use of the family car was pretty well restricted to in-town use.

When Kevin was a senior in high school, there were two teenagers and two adults living in the same house. Family transportation was tight, but not as tight as it had been. Kevin was one of the most systematic, scheduled teenagers you ever met. Of his own choice, he went to bed by or before ten p.m. He could use the car for an occasional out-of-town date.

When Anita was a senior in high school, there was one teenager and two adults in the same house. The family car Jon and Kevin used was worn out–it was so worn out it had almost no trade-in value. So Anita drove that car to school. To give you an idea of the car’s condition, she put a bumper sticker on it that read, “Do me a favor. Steal this car.”

When Anita began driving to school, Jon and Kevin, who no longer lived at home, cried, “Foul!” They were the only seniors who rode a school bus to school. Allowing Anita to drive to school was a gross injustice. She should have to ride the bus like they did.

This is an essential lesson that we understand as parents: we cannot treat our children identically.

This is an essential lesson that we must understand as Christians: God does not treat His children identically.

  1. God always treats people as individuals; He is not “the God of identical treatment.”
    1. When the nation of Israel was in the Sinai dessert, Moses met with God on the mountain to receive God’s laws and instructions for the nation.
      1. Several days later, the people said, “We don’t know what happened to Moses. Aaron, make us a god to lead us” (Exodus 32).
      2. Aaron made the image of a calf out of gold and declared that this was the god that led them out Egypt.
      3. This insulted God so deeply that God wanted to destroy all of them.
      4. But, only because of Moses’ petition, God did not destroy them.
    2. Aaron’s sons were appointed to assist Aaron as priests, and two of those sons were Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10).
      1. God gave specific instructions for worship in Judaism.
      2. God even specified the source of the fire that was used to burn the incense.
      3. Nadab and Abihu did not take fire from the source that God instructed, and, as a result, God caused each of them to be burned to death.
    3. King David committed adultery with a beautiful woman named Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11,12).
      1. When, as a result of David’s adultery, Bathsheba was pregnant, David made earnest attempts to hide his adultery.
      2. When his attempts failed, he had her husband killed and married Bathsheba.
      3. In all of this, David violated at least four of the ten commandments.
      4. God forgave him.
    4. The Assyrians were among the most violent, warring people that existed.
      1. God sent Jonah, a prophet, to the Assyrian city of Ninevah to declare that God would destroy them because of their intolerable wickedness (Jonah).
      2. When the Assyrians heard Jonah’s prophecy, the whole city repented and humbled themselves before God.
      3. Because they repented, God forgave them–even though they continued to be idolatrous.
    5. Obviously, God’s actions were not identical.
      1. In each case, God’s actions were determined by the situation, the reaction of the people, and the hearts of the people.
      2. In every age, God’s reactions to the failures and the evil of people is determined by the situation and the hearts of the people.
  2. A difficult challenge when preaching sermons is the challenge of addressing an assembly of people who are in diverse situations and have diverse needs.
    1. It has always been true that God works with each person as an individual.
      1. God knows each one of us as an individual, just like you do your children.
      2. God relates to and interacts with each one of us as an individual, just like you do with your children.
      3. God works in each of our lives on an individual basis, just as you do with your children.
      4. God uses compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and grace in each of our lives on a personal, individual basis.
    2. As children, we tend to view God’s individual interaction with people as unfair.
      1. I never see how much God does in my life.
      2. I am likely to say that God is unfair because He does something for others I do not think He does for me.
      3. As each of us examine God’s actions, it is easy for some of us to compound guilt, and easy for some of us to assume forgiveness.
    3. As God works with each of us, He knows our situation, and He knows our hearts.
      1. These situations are a spiritual universe apart:
        1. The Christian who is pursuing an evil and the Christian who is struggling against the same evil are in different spiritual universes.
        2. The Christian who is chasing pleasure and the Christians who is trying to break the control of pleasure are in different spiritual universes.
        3. The Christian without a specific weakness and the Christian with that weakness, but who struggles against it, are in different spiritual universes.
      2. In every person, God knows exactly what the situation is, exactly what the person’s motives are, and exactly where the person’s heart is.
  3. As Christians, each of us are at different places in our personal relationship with God.
    1. Some of us have never made the hard, honest decision that declares that Jesus is Lord in and of our lives.
      1. Peter wrote the letter of 1 Peter to Christians who genuinely suffered because they belonged to Jesus Christ.
        1. As they suffered pain because of their faith in Christ, Peter gave them guidance.
        2. First, he told them how to approach their suffering.
        3. Second, he reminded them that Christ suffered for them first.
      2. Listen to how they were to approach suffering.
        1 Peter 3:13-16 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. If we are devoted to doing good, we are less likely to be abused.
        2. But, if we suffer for being righteous, the suffering produces blessing.
        3. There is one thing a Christian must do to endure suffering caused by faith: he or she must place Christ as Lord in their hearts, and let Christ be Lord no matter what happens.
        4. When we do that, we will be gentle, reverent, and keep a good conscience even when we are abused and slandered.
        5. For those who cause the suffering, this will do two things:
          1. Ask, “What gives you the strength to endure this?”
          2. Put themselves to shame by the abuse they inflict on you.
      3. It begins with the firm decision to place control of my life in Christ’s hands.
      4. Some of us have never made Christ Lord in our lives, and we urgently need to put Jesus Christ in control of our lives at all times.
    2. Some of us have not repented, and do not understand the biblical concept of repentance.
      1. When Paul wrote a letter to the Christians at Ephesus, some of them had not repented, and they clearly needed to repent.
      2. Ephesians 4:25-32 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. The biblical concept of repentance is turning life around, redirecting life.
        1. Repentance is much more than being sorry.
        2. Repentance includes a decision, but it is more than a decision.
        3. Repentance is changing the way you live your life.
      4. Paul told them they needed to change the way they were living their lives.
        1. Start telling the truth.
        2. Stop letting your anger control you.
        3. Go to work and stop stealing.
        4. Use your mouth to work for God’s values and purposes.
        5. Stop giving the Holy Spirit grief in your life.
        6. Stop giving people negative, ungodly treatment and start being kind and forgiving, just like God through Christ has been to you.
      5. Some of us have never redirected our lives, and we need to get serious about doing that.
    3. Some of us are locked in horrible struggles, and we desperately need hope.
      1. Peter began his letter to those suffering Christians by assuring them that the hope of expectation was real.
      2. 1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. The Christian who is locked in a horrible struggle in spite of the fact that he or she has made Christ Lord, in spite of the fact that repentance is a constant reality of life, needs to know that hope is certain.
        1. The God who in His great mercy gave us life by the resurrection of Jesus will not abandon us.
        2. Satan cannot destroy or diminish our inheritance.
        3. Our heavenly inheritance is reserved for us.
        4. Through our faith, we and our salvation are protected by the power of God, the power that raised Jesus from the dead.

“Well, how can I know where other Christians are in their relationship with God?” We can’t. I never know the exact situation or struggles of another Christian. I can never read another Christian’s heart. But God knows, and, when the person is honest with himself or herself, he or she knows.

If you need to put Christ on the throne in your heart, do it. If you need to redirect your life, begin the process. If you need to be strengthened by hope, let it happened. And the grace of God will be at work in all our lives.


The grace of Jesus Christ is at work in us. Not a single one of us is not dependent on that grace. He is working in our lives. Be assured He will forgive your sins as He forgives others. Whatever your situation is, every one needs Christ and His goodness. We need to make Christ more effectively Lord in our lives. Let Him work more powerfully in your life. If you are not a Christian, let Him extend His grace to you. Be born of that living hope by being baptized into Christ.