Surviving My Future

Posted by on December 27, 1998 under Sermons

The single, most common concern that cuts across all generational lines is concern for the future. Those who are adolescents plus every adult age group have a common concern for the future. The focus of their concern will differ. The specific areas of concern will differ. But concern for the future is common to every age group.

When you think about “surviving your future,” what do you consider? What naturally comes to your thoughts when you think about you surviving your future?

  1. The obvious question to ask is, “What area of the future are we considering?”
    1. Let me use a couple of simple illustrations.
      1. If a person is financially secure, regardless of his or her age, he or she is not likely to be concerned about caring for basic physical needs in the future.
      2. If a person is not able to care for all of his or her basic physical needs right now, he or she likely has a major concern about caring for those needs in the future.
      3. If a person has excellent physical health and comes from a family that, for three generations, has lived active lives to at least 90 years of age, likely he or she is not concerned about physical survival.
      4. If a person has had a history of poor health and comes from a family which, for three generations, has had several early deaths because of cancer, he or she likely does have some concerns about physical survival.
    2. The question, “What future are we considering?” is a good question.
      1. Are we considering surviving the future in terms of time?
      2. Are we considering surviving the future in terms of economics?
        1. Are we talking about surviving the cost of the college education of our children?
        2. Are we talking about surviving the purchase of a home?
        3. Are we talking about having a retirement that will allow us to survive?
        4. Are we talking about financially survival right now?
      3. Are we considering surviving relationships?
        1. Are we talking about surviving in our marriage?
        2. Are we taking about surviving in our family as a parent?
        3. Are we talking about surviving in our family as a child?
        4. Are we talking about surviving a friendship association?
        5. Are we talking about surviving a business partnership?
        6. Are we talking about surviving career relationships?
      4. There are significant groups of people who powerfully relate to surviving in any one of those areas.
  2. Given the nature of our materialistic society, given the enormous financial stress created by the American life style, it is likely that the largest, single concern that we share about the future is financial survival.
    1. I think it is likely that the greater majority of us would say that the single, most important key to surviving the future is economic security.
      1. I really don’t like to say this, but the distinct impression that I have from many sources is that we think that economic survival is the essential survival.
      2. If we deal with reality and the future, the greater majority are convinced that:
        1. Money is more important than being a good spouse; in fact, the key to survival in marriage is money.
        2. Money is more important than parenting; in fact, the key to being a good parent is money.
        3. Money is more important than friendships; in fact, the key to having good friendships is money.
        4. Money is more important than the actual business partnership; in fact, there will be no partnership troubles if there is good money.
        5. Money is the key to surviving career relationships; if the money is right, you can survive anything the career throws at you.
    2. I want to read a statement that Jesus made and then make some observations.
      Matthew 6:19-34 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    3. Observations:
      1. Jesus said that the key to surviving the future is not economics, is not a matter of money.
      2. Jesus said that the key to surviving the future is your heart.
      3. Placing your priority on economics will destroy your heart.
        1. It will deceive you by making you think that you “are seeing” when you are actually filling your life with darkness.
        2. It will take control of your life out of God’s hands.
        3. When that happens, anxiety will become your dictator.
      4. Jesus said that life involves considerations that are much more essential than caring for your physical needs.
        1. God Himself is superior to physical necessities.
        2. The God who physically created you and spiritually recreated you in Christ is your future.
        3. Godless people are controlled by the anxiety produced by physical need.
        4. Since God is our creator physically and spiritually, since God is our future, faith (trusting God) gives us this understanding: we must not allow physical need to produce godless anxiety.
        5. Worry and anxiety solve nothing.
        6. Trusting God gives our lives a successful future.
  3. What is absolutely essential to surviving the future?
    1. Monday, I received an e-mail from a friend who was the avenue for God’s enormous blessing at a very critical moment in my life.
      1. Her name was Suzanne Spurrier; she was the library director at Harding University.
      2. About four years ago I spent a three-month writing sabbatical at Harding.
        1. I was exhausted, burned out, emotionally spent, and really beginning to think that my usefulness as a preacher was fast coming to an end.
        2. She quickly became a friend who provided personal encouragement and created an excellent writing situation for me in the library.
      3. About two years ago Suzanne discovered she had cancer.
        1. She began a faith filled, courageous war against her cancer.
        2. She extended her life even further in reaching out to others.
        3. She called on her many, many friends to pray with her for healing as she struggled against this disease.
    2. This week she sent this e-mail to her many friends. I want to share it with you.

      Dear Christian friends who mean so much,

      Just as you supported me in prayer for my healing, I think the time has come to urge the Father in my behalf to take me home to heaven. My strength is worn. Today is my physical birthday and my spiritual birthday (I was baptized on my 11th birthday.) Wouldn’t it be a great day for my heavenly birthday? I’m waiting to go and be with the Lord and those that are already waiting.

      You’ll never know how grateful I have been for all your prayers and compassion. We still serve the all powerful, omniscient God.

      Best wishes for your happiness and peace. May God bless you always.

      My love in Him,


    3. Suzanne died Wednesday.
    4. I ask you again, what is absolutely essential to surviving your future?
      1. To survive the future, I must survive my past.
      2. To survive the future, I must survive my present.
      3. To survive the future, I must survive my death.

To survive my future I must have a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And I must trust that relationship. Why? Because it is only God through Christ that can enable me to survive my death. And physical death ultimately is my future.

Darkness Provides Light Opportunity

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This week brings a strange year to an end. In many ways it has been a good year with many blessings. For those of us who lived when every day was difficult and there seemed to be no future, this year’s prosperity is nothing short of incredible.

Yet, even with all the good things, it has been a uncertain year. Those uncertainties are so powerful that the year ends in uncertainty.

  1. As this year ends, we have many questions and few answers.
    1. Where is the world’s economy headed?
      1. Because we buy and sell to a world market, what happens in economies of the rest of the world powerfully affects what happens in our economy.
      2. If serious problems continue in major world markets in 1999, how will that affect our country? How will it affect our personal lives?
    2. What world consequences will be produced by national hatreds?
      1. When some nation’s hatred becomes violent, that inevitably involves us.
      2. The hatreds in eastern Europe involve us. We have troops stationed there to keep the peace.
      3. The hatreds in the Middle East involve us. We have troops there ready for military action.
      4. The hatreds in Korea involve us. We have troops stationed there both to keep the peace and be on military alert.
      5. How will national hatreds in our 1999 world impact us?
    3. What will we experience because of the political crisis in Washington?
    4. Will we experience the year 2000 problem?
      1. Will it create chaos right here in our own country?
      2. Will we experience problems because the year 2000 problem creates major crises in other countries?
      3. Will there be no significant problem anywhere?
    5. Will the new millennium bring new problems, or will it just begin another decade?
  2. There are many ways to react to the possibilities.
    1. There is the “chicken little” reaction.
      1. We can run around screaming that the sky is falling.
      2. We can scare people to the point that we create unnecessary problems, or we can generate apathy.
    2. There is the “doom’s day” reaction.
      1. We can become convinced that nothing can keep the worst from happening.
      2. We can believe that no matter what we do it will be awful.
    3. There is the “woe is me” reaction.
      1. “I don’t know what will happen, but whatever it is, it will be bad.”
      2. “And it will be worse for me than it will be for anyone else.”
    4. There is the “quit exaggerating” reaction.
      1. “There are no real problems, only imaginary problems.”
      2. “The worriers are using scare tactics.”
      3. “Nothing really bad is going to happen.”
    5. There is the “we will fix it and survive” reaction.
      1. “As a nation, we survived the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.”
      2. “We survived the great depression, the decline of the industrial age, and the onslaught of the technology.”
      3. “With every major crisis, with every major change, we have people who see nothing but the worst happening.”
      4. “But we always fixed it, and we always will fix it.”

    I want to share some thoughts with you that are not intended to reflect a political view, or make a political statement, or teach a political lesson.

  3. For much of this year we watched an unfolding drama in Washington, D.C.
    1. It seems that “what happened” astounded everyone, regardless of his or her interpretation of the situation.
      1. How it was handled astounded a lot of people.
        1. How the President handled the situation astounded a lot of people.
        2. How it was investigated astounded a lot of people.
        3. How the House of Representatives handled the situation astounded a lot of people.
      2. Many are astounded and perplexed by the way the American public has reacted to the situation.
        1. Many of those who disapprove of what the President did more strongly disapprove of the investigation of the President.
        2. Though a majority think the President was dishonest, he is quite popular.
        3. Though at least fifty per cent of our citizens think that the President violated the law, a much higher percentage of our society approve of the job that he is doing.
      3. And, for America, this majority is behaving in an unusual manner.
        1. It is an aloof, unemotional majority that merely observes what happens and states an opinion.
        2. In the last half of this century, Americans have not reacted with unemotional apathy in times of crisis.
  4. Speaking to us as Christians, what do you think Christians ought to do?
    1. I realize that is a “loaded question.”
      1. Even among us right here right now, there would be a strong difference of opinion about what Christians should do.
      2. Many of our suggestions would be reactionary and emotional.
    2. I call your attention to two statements written by Paul in the New Testament.
      Romans 13:1-7 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Paul gave these instructions to Christians who lived in the capital city of the Roman empire during the rule of Nero.
      2. Nero’s mother married Claudius and convinced him to adopt her son Nero, which positioned Nero to be the next emperor.
        1. Nero’s mother is thought to have poisoned Claudius so that she and Nero could rule the empire.
        2. Later, Nero had his mother murdered so that he would have sole power.
      3. He wanted to use a part of Rome for a spectacular building project, so it is thought that he set fire to that section of the city creating an enormous fire that burned in the city for several days.
        1. To deflect suspicion from himself, he blamed Christians for the fire; Christians were unpopular because they would not worship idols.
        2. The result was a severe local persecution of Christians that resulted in torture and execution.
      4. Tradition says that before Nero’s reign ended, both Peter and Paul were killed.
      5. Nero was also extraordinarily immoral.
      6. Even with this ruler and his government, Paul wrote that Christians should be in subjection.
        1. Even of this man, Paul said that his position and power came from God.
        2. Even of this government, Paul said render to all what is due them.
    3. Later Paul wrote this statement to fellow Christian Timothy about what he was to teach the Christians in Ephesus.
      1 Timothy 2:1,2 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Communities were expected to approach the gods on behalf of the emperor.
      2. In Ephesus, there were three temples dedicated to the Roman emperor.
      3. Good citizenship involved going to those temples and approaching the gods on behalf of the emperor.
        1. Christians could not do that.
        2. So they had a terrible image problem; believing in Christ was interpreted to mean that you were an enemy of the government.
      4. Paul said the Christian men in Ephesus needed to correct that impression.
        1. They needed to be seen and heard praying in public for the emperor.
        2. When Paul wrote this, the emperor was Nero.
  5. I call your attention to something you may have noticed.
    1. Regardless of your opinion about the happenings in Washington, polls identify a majority that does not think like many of us think.
      1. In fact, the thoughts of this majority is so unlike our thinking that we may be tempted to think that these people do not exist.
        1. But they do.
        2. And they do not look at things as many of us see them.
      2. That awareness is hard to accept–more people in this nation do not view life from a Christian perspective than do view life from a Christian perspective.
    2. Someone says, “That is unbelievably awful!”
      1. I guess that depends on how you look at the situation.
      2. In my early life, people who did not pretend to be Christians declared Christian values were the right values.
      3. Often the most obvious difference between the persons who were and were not Christians was this: the Christian went to church.
    3. Often today there is a distinct contrast between a genuine Christian life and a non-Christian life.
      1. That contrast provides us an enormous opportunity.
      2. Jesus said,
        Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 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. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. The greater the darkness, the more distinct the light.
      4. In our lifetimes, there has never been greater opportunity to be the light that “gives light to all who are in the house.”
      5. We have never had greater opportunity to cause people to glorify our heavenly Father by devoting ourselves to good works.
      6. But if we are to seize the opportunity, it will cost us; we must be committed to reflecting Christ instead of behaving like the darkness.


Are you a Christian in claim or in reality? How do you plan on using life in 1999? Will your life give light in the darkness, light that moves people to glorify God? Or, will you be content to curse the darkness?

Surviving My Present (part 2)

Posted by on December 20, 1998 under Sermons

Last Sunday evening we discussed the importance of surviving our present. I suggested that if we were honest and open about our personal struggles, it would be evident that the present threatens to drown most of us. And we likely represent a group within our society that is the most likely to survive the present. If we struggle to survive the present, can you imagine how distressed people are who have not turned to God, who do not have the encouragement of those who love God?

  1. If we as individuals are to survive our present, two things that we individually must do is survive temptation and survive deceit.
    1. Two specific temptations that we must survive are:
      1. The temptation to take short cuts that ignore God’s morality.
      2. The temptation to abandon God’s values.
    2. Two specific deceits that we must survive are:
      1. The deceit that declares the central issue of life is “my rights.”
      2. The deceit that declares that the way to build is to destroy.
  2. The scripture we read as we began our thinking was James 1:12-18.
    1. The blessed person is not the person who has no trials, but the person who perseveres under trial.
      1. Why is it a blessing to persevere under trial?
        1. The process of surviving trials is the process that gains God’s approval.
        2. This process will result in the Christian receiving the crown of life.
        3. God promises that crown to persevering Christians because those who persevere endure (through loving God).
      2. When temptation envelops the Christian, he must not think that God is enticing him to do evil.
        1. Evil cannot tempt God.
        2. God does not use evil to tempt anyone.
      3. This is the anatomy of temptation:
        1. A person is tempted to do evil because an evil desire within him or her is enticed.
        2. The person is captured by his or her own evil desire as this desire develops or stimulates an appetite for gratification.
        3. By creating a hunger for evil, the desire gets pregnant and gives birth to sin.
        4. When that sin achieves its purpose, it spiritually kills the person.
        5. Do not be deceived: do not think that God is responsible for our evil desires and appetites.
    2. While God is not the source of evil or evil desires, God is the source of every good thing.
      1. Every good thing, every perfect gift has its origin in God.
      2. God is the Father of lights, not the father of darkness.
      3. This is the unchanging God who provides us a steady light that cast no shadows, unlike the sun that always moves, always cast shadows.
      4. God exercised His will to create us spiritually so that we could be the best and most beneficial part of his creation.

    Transition: This evening I want to suggest two additional understandings that are critical to surviving our present.

  3. If each of us is to survive the present, we must survive injustice.
    1. In this world, little is fair; little is just; and fairness and justice have little to do with what happens in life.
      1. I did not say that God is not fair and just.
        1. God exceeds fairness and justice beyond our ability to comprehend.
        2. God’s grace makes fairness look like neglect.
        3. God’s mercy makes justice look like indifference.
      2. I said existence in this world has little concern for what is fair or just.
        1. Every aspect of existence in this world is touched by evil, either directly or indirectly.
        2. Evil has no concern for fairness or justice; evil pursues its dreams and ambitions through exploitation, abuse, and manipulation.
    2. Existence in this world, life on this earth, is not fair.
      1. The overwhelming majority of this earth’s population live in poverty stricken nations or in undeveloped nations.
      2. When a nation’s internal conditions are produced by a lack of development, poverty, and overpopulation, it is unlikely that nation will produce a developed, secure, prosperous people.
        1. Early death is always a reality, and it likely will continue to be.
        2. Devastating disease is always a reality, and it likely will continue to be.
        3. Malnutrition and starvation is always a reality, and it likely will continue to be.
        4. It is highly unlikely that an individual will escape those circumstances; a few do, but comparatively very few do.
      3. Joyce and I have good friends, very capable people, who succeeded in coming to this country to acquire a Ph.D. degree in a scientific area and in a medical specialty degree.
        1. Both of them (a married couple) had great potential for blessing their nation and people.
        2. Their dream was to return home and address conditions of desperate need.
        3. They returned home to work in a university and its community.
        4. On a consistent basis, they encountered danger, opposition, and exploitation.
        5. What they dreamed of doing was impossible.
        6. Conditions became so unsafe and unproductive that they were convinced that they had to leave the people they most wanted to help.
      4. The world is not fair, and even when good people want to produce good changes, they have limited success. Evil challenges every improvement.
      5. When you compare the population of developed countries to the populations of undeveloped countries, about ten per cent of the world’s population controls perhaps as much as ninety per cent of the world’s available goods.
        1. People in undeveloped nations tell you quickly that this is not fair.
        2. If you lived in their circumstances, you would declare it is not fair.
    3. Our society is not fair.
      1. These are the facts of life in our society:
        1. Society gives unfair opportunity to the connected (it is a matter of whom you know).
        2. Society gives unfair consideration to the elite (it is a matter of what family you came from).
        3. Society gives unfair advantages to the powerful (it is a matter of how much clout you carry).
        4. Society gives unfair favoritism to the prestigious (status does matter).
        5. Society gives unfair “red carpet” considerations to the gifted (it is a matter of you being superior to others).
        6. Society unfairly rewards those who are physically handsome or beautiful (feeding the fantasies of others brings special rewards).
      2. The “haves” have incredible advantages over the “have nots.”
        1. While there are exceptions, that is the common reality.
        2. Those advantages have nothing to do with fairness or justice.
    4. Life is not fair.
      1. Some have more than their fair share of hardships and struggles.
      2. Some suffer more than others and endure more than their fair share of pain.
      3. Some deal with significant disadvantages because of mistakes made by their families; they must make more than their fair share of hard adjustments.
      4. Some endure more tragedy than others, and they cope with more than their fair share of sorrow.
      5. Some endure more reverses than others; it is not fair that they have to begin life again so many times.
      6. There is not a single adult in this audience who could not use your life and your family to prove that life is not fair.
    5. So, regarding the reality of injustice, what is the question we each must answer?
      1. The question is not: “how do I eliminate injustice in my life?”
      2. The question is: “how do I react to injustice in my life?”
      3. You can dedicate yourself to escaping or eliminating injustice, but that decision is more likely to “consume” your life instead of “rescuing” your life.
        1. Will I allow injustice destroy the person I am capable of being?
        2. Will I allow the injustice to become my obsession?
        3. Will I allow the injustice to shape me and make me vindictive and hurtful?
        4. Will I allow God to work in me and help me develop the heart and attitudes that rise above injustice?
    6. Again, Jesus is incredibly relevant as we address the issue of personal injustice.
      1. None of us will ever endure the injustices he did, and it is highly unlikely that the injustices we experience will approximate the injustices he experienced.
      2. Injustice did not change him; he was compassionate and merciful even to the unjust, not vengeful and cold.
      3. Injustice did not change his objective; he came to extend help and forgiveness to all the victims of evil.
      4. Injustice did not distract him from his goal; he did what he came to do.
      5. In Jesus’ life, ministry, service, and sacrifice, injustice changed nothing.
    7. “How did Jesus do that? I cannot understand how that was possible.”
      1. Any scripture that helps us better understand Jesus’ actions brings a special blessing.
      2. A scripture that gives me that special blessing is 1 Peter 2:23, “…and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;”
        1. Peter discussed Jesus’ conduct as Jesus was executed.
        2. For a long time I could not understand how Jesus the human controlled himself in the face of such enormous, constant injustice.
        3. Peter told us how Jesus did it; as each injustice occurred, with complete trust, he gave the injustice to God who judges righteously.
        4. He placed God in charge of injustice while he focused exclusively on being the person God wanted him to be who did what God wanted done.
      3. As a Christian deals with injustice, he or she cannot divide his or her energy.
        1. We cannot seek justice and to behave as God wants us to behave.
        2. We will never have the energy and strength to do both.
        3. If you are to become the person God wants you to be, you have to entrust injustice to God.
    8. We Christians will survive injustice only if we trust God enough to turn it loose and give it to God.
  4. That brings us to James’ final point regarding temptation: if we survive the present, we must believe that God is the origin of all good, and trust that truth.
    1. We will not find good outside of God.
    2. We must know that to the degree we leave God we leave good.
    3. God is not the source of evil; God is not the source of temptation; God is not the source of suffering; God is the source of good.
      1. We cannot always understand that truth.
      2. We cannot always explain that truth.
      3. But, if we are to survive the present, we must always trust that truth.

Do you survive the present by placing injustices in God’s hands as you focus your life and energy on being the person God wants you to be? As you do that, do you trust this truth: God is the source of all good?

Find Waldo: What Do You See?

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Several years ago Martin Handford developed an incredibly simple idea that became a series of popular books entitled, “Where In The World Is Waldo?” On each page of each book is a scene. In that scene are hundreds of small figures. Among those figures is Waldo. The object is super simple. Find Waldo.

Parents discover that children can be quicker than adults. It is not unusual for preschool children to find Waldo faster than adults can. Children focus on what they are looking for and see it.

I confess from personal experience that it is much too easy to make the Bible a spiritual Waldo book. Before we begin to study, we are trained to look for specific things. Then, when we read and study, we see what we have been trained to look for.

One of the fundamental purposes of the Bible is to reveal the nature of God. Revelation of God’s nature is the only means that we have to discover God’s nature. Too often we assume God’s nature before we allow scripture to reveal God’s nature. When that happens, we see what we look for, and, too often, only what we look for.

  1. If I ask which of these best reveal God’s nature, what would you say? Wrath, punishment, or mercy?
    1. Which of those three is the primary characteristic in God’s nature?
      1. In your understanding, how would you rank the three?
      2. Is God more likely to be a God of wrath, a God of punishment, or a God of mercy?
    2. In your personal life, typically when you consider God, is the first thing you consider wrath, punishment, or mercy?
  2. Let’s look at the Bible to “see” what it reveals.
    1. Hundreds of years after the death of Abraham, God led Abraham’s descendants out of Egyptian slavery to Mount Sinai in the desert wilderness.
      1. For the four hundred years that they were in Egypt, these Israelites were better acquainted with Egyptian idolatry than with Abraham’s living God.
      2. They were freed by an act of the God of Abraham, and only by an act of God.
      3. At Sinai, God commanded them not to worship idols.
        Speaking of idols, Moses wrote in Exodus 20:5,6 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. You belong to Me and to Me only.
        2. I rescued you; idols did not rescue you.
        3. So you worship only Me; you never worship them.
        4. I bring the consequences of iniquity on those who hate me.
        5. I also am the God who shows lovingkindness (mercy) to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
      4. Years later, Moses made this statement to Israel:
        Deuteronomy 7:6-10 For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. You belong exclusively to God because God chose you and you alone to be His people.
        2. God did not love you or choose you because you are the biggest nation; the truth is that you are a tiny nation.
        3. God rescued you because He promised Abraham that He would make you a nation.
        4. Your God is the faithful God, the God who keeps His promises, the God who shows mercy to those who love Him and keep His commandments.
        5. He is the God who repays those who hate Him to their face.
      5. When God called Moses up into the mountain to give him the ten commandments on tablets of stone, God said this of Himself:
        Exodus 34:6,7 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. The Lord God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in mercy and truth.
        2. He shows mercy and forgives all forms of evil.
        3. However, his mercy does not allow the guilty to go unpunished.
      6. When the Israelites stood on the border of Canaan the first time and refused to trust God enough to enter that land, God was extremely angry with them.
        1. He was so angry that He wished to destroy the entire nation.
        2. Moses begged God not to destroy them, not for Israel’s sake, but for the sake of God’s reputation among idolatrous nations.
        3. Listen to Moses’ plea in Numbers 14:15-18:
          Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        4. If You destroy Israel, idolatrous nations will say it happened because You were not able to keep Your promise.
        5. It is not Your nature to destroy Israel.
        6. You are slow to anger, full of mercy, and forgiving of every type of evil.
        7. It is true that You do not clear the guilty; but it is also true that You are the God who is full of mercy.
      7. When Solomon dedicated the temple that he built for God, he said:
        1 Kings 8:23, “O Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart,” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. There is no God like You.
        2. You keep Your promises and show mercy to Your servants who serve You with all their heart.
      8. When Nehemiah heard about the horrible conditions in Jerusalem, he began his prayer to God with these words:
        Nehemiah 1:5, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. I beg the God of heaven.
        2. You are the great, awesome God Who preserves His promises and His mercy for those who love Him and keep His commands.
      9. When Daniel, in captivity, prayed for the exiled Israelites, he began his prayer with this statement:
        Daniel 9:4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Great, awesome God, please hear me.
        2. I approach You because I know that You are the God who keeps His promises and shows mercy to those who love Him and keep His commandments.
  3. Throughout the Old Testament, even in the worst of circumstances, God is understood to be the God who keeps His promises and shows mercy.
    1. Those two characteristics distinguished God from all other gods worshipped in all other nations.
      1. Even when God was His angriest, mercy was a part of God’s response.
      2. There was never a circumstance when a Moses, or a Nehemiah, or a Daniel could not approach God through God’s mercy.
    2. When you look for Waldo, you must recognize Waldo when you see him; when you look for God, you must recognize God when you see Him.
      1. For many years I saw only what I was trained to see when I looked for God.
        1. I saw anger.
        2. I saw wrath.
        3. I saw vengeance.
        4. I saw the fear of terror.
        5. I saw demand and obligation.
        6. I saw a burdensome, crushing form of obedience.
        7. I did not see mercy clearly; I thought mercy should be minimized.
      2. In mercy, God allowed the time to come when I let the Bible show me God.
        1. And I saw the mercy and love that sent Jesus.
        2. And I saw mercy that produces the obedience of joy.
        3. And I saw the mercy that comes from God’s compassion.
        4. And I saw the mercy that grants forgiveness and salvation.
        5. And I saw that mercy had existed from the time of the first sin.
      3. Now when I look at:
        1. Adam and Eve’s failure in the garden of Eden, I see God’s mercy.
        2. Cain the murderer, I see God’s mercy.
        3. The flood, I see God’s mercy.
        4. The messed up family of Abraham, I see God’s mercy.
        5. The nation of Israel, I see God’s mercy.
        6. Jesus’ birth, ministry, and death, I see God’s mercy.
        7. The church in the New Testament, I see God’s mercy.
        8. Me, I see God’s mercy.
      4. Someone says, “Oh, David, you are just getting old and soft.”
        1. No.
        2. I am learning to allow the Bible to reveal God to me.

[Song of reflection: The Steadfast Love of the Lord]

God’s mercy is not designed or intended to remove our responsibility. Mercy never gives us the license to be irresponsible. But God’s mercy is the substance of our hope, the assurance of our salvation.

Awareness and Appreciation

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Two of this season’s precious blessings are awareness and appreciation. December’s mindset elevates people’s awareness of people. The awareness of human conditions dramatically increases. Caring for and about people becomes a primary concern.

Our awareness of the important roles that others serve in our lives rises. We realize how blessed we are because others touch our lives. Feelings of appreciation crumble the “crust” on our hearts, and the kindness of consideration rules.

This happens because our society focuses on God’s blessing to us. The elevated awareness of God’s gift to us deepens our appreciation of God. Rising appreciation for God deepens our appreciation for each other.

From our hearts, the staff at West-Ark wants the entire congregation to know that we appreciate you! Thank you for all the ways that you touch and bless us!

Surviving My Present (part 1)

Posted by on December 13, 1998 under Sermons

In most societies there is an appropriate, accepted way to greet people. Societies need such greetings. They allow people to show respect and extend kindness.

When we lived in a West African country, the appropriate, accepted greeting was, “How for your skin?” That meant, “Are you healthy?” Death and sickness were extensive, daily realities. It was respectful and kind to greet a person by inquiring about his or her health. There were three appropriate responses. The typical response was, “I am well.” If you felt wonderful, which was rarely the case, you responded, “I am well fine.” Only if you were seriously distressed would you respond, “I am not well.”

In our society we have a number of appropriate, accepted greetings. One of the most common is, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” The common appropriate response is, “I am fine.”

In our system of greetings, much of the time, “How are you?” is not intended as an inquiry about how you are actually doing. The response, “I am fine,” is not intended to a declaration about your actual condition.

What if this happened when we assembled? What if “How are you?” was a serious inquiry we made of each other? What if each of us honestly revealed how we were?

I think that could be good, not bad. It would produce an openness that lowered our masks and destroyed our facades. That would be a shock, but it would be a good shock. I think it would also make a startling revelation: many of us are not surviving the present. Many of us are locked in desperate struggles trying to keep the present from drowning us.

This evening as we consider how to survive our present, I want to begin by reading James 1:12-18.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

I could easily focus an entire lesson to each of the thoughts I share with you, but I want to introduce two things that are critical to surviving the present. I hope to introduce two more next Sunday night.

  1. First, to survive the present, each of us must survive temptation.
    1. We could focus on the need to survive daily temptations that we typically view as being matters of life, not matters of evil. Such as:
      1. The temptation to live in ways that we cannot afford.
      2. The temptation to abuse credit.
      3. The temptation to let occupations cause us to neglect our spouses and children.
      4. The temptation to find the “perfect escape” from stress and pressure.
      5. The temptation to compete with other people’s standard of living.
      6. The temptation to pursue personal prominence at any cost.
    2. I call your attention to two common temptations that often devastate our lives and scuttle our spirituality.
      1. The first is the temptation to use short cuts that ignore God’s morality.
        1. Our society places a high premium on pragmatism.
          1. “We have to be practical about this.”
          2. “We must face reality.”
          3. “Let’s get real about this.”
        2. Pragmatism is valuable, useful, and rightfully a part of serious evaluation and serious decision making.
          1. But, pragmatism that rejects God’s morality is destructive.
          2. Pragmatism that rejects God’s morality always will result in destructiveness in society and to the individual.
        3. Anytime that we are encouraged to choose a course of life, a direction in our occupation, or an alternative in any area of life that has no concern for God, we are tempted to take a short cut that ignores God’s morality.
          1. When those moments occur, the present seeks to destroy us.
          2. If we yield to that temptation, the present will destroy us.
      2. The second temptation is to ignore God’s values as we seek success.
        1. This temptation is powerful when we do two things.
          1. We do not ask, “Is this true to the values Jesus died to establish?”
          2. Instead, we do ask, “Will this get me where I want to go?”
        2. Life’s core realities are based on value systems.
          1. The entire Christian existence is based on Jesus’ value system.
          2. When we declare that God’s values are not relevant to the way we live life and make decisions, we attack self at the core of our being.
        3. When we are tempted to reject God’s values the present seeks to destroy us.
        4. If we yield to that temptation, the present will destroy us.
    3. God knows that we are incapable of surviving every temptation.
      1. It is critical that we learn how to recover from failure; that is as critical as learning how to defeat temptation.
      2. We recover from falling to temptation by honestly repenting of our failure.
      3. We restore life by making the corrections that redirect life.
  2. Second, to survive the present, each of us must survive deceit.
    1. It would be impossible to identify everything that attempts to deceive us.
      1. We are a very skeptical society because deceit is prevalent in our society in every direction we look, in every sector of life, in every ongoing activity.
      2. We accept as fact that forces beyond number try to exploit us.
        1. How do you successfully exploit people?
        2. To exploit people you must deceive people.
      3. Deceit is a simple thing: deceit occurs when we accept something that is false as being something that is true.
    2. The list of deceits that the present uses to destroy us is a long list, but I focus your attention on two powerful deceits that wreck our personal lives, our families, our businesses, our industries, and our government by cutting the threads that weave the fabric of our society.
      1. The first deceit is accepted by the majority as a fundamental truth: “the central issue in life is my rights as an individual.”
        1. We Americans are obsessed with the concept of individual rights.
          1. “You should know my rights.”
          2. “Respect my rights.”
          3. “Give me my rights.”
          4. “Stop abusing my rights.”
          5. “Stop denying me my rights.”
          6. “I demand my rights.”
          7. “You have violated my rights!”
        2. As a people, we are preoccupied with the concept of individual rights.
          1. That preoccupation often becomes an obsession.
          2. It makes us selfish and self-centered.
          3. It justifies the mistreatment of other people to acquire “my rights.”
          4. It convinces us that evading and rejecting responsibility is good.
          5. It declares that we are entitled to what we want; it is our “right” to have our desires fulfilled.
      2. The social and personal consequences of selfish, irresponsible devotion to individual rights are terrifying.
        1. That obsession threatens the stability of every institution in our society by placing them in the constant risk of attack that can destroy them.
        2. The destructive impact on family relationships in marriage, in homes, and in parent-child relationships is prevalent right now.
        3. The way it molds the perceptions and thinking of both adults and adolescents is frightening.
      3. Far too many people are convinced that “my greatest responsibility is to me.”
        1. The present will successfully destroy the life of any irresponsible person who believes in and practices that deceit.
        2. The present will successfully destroy any irresponsible marriage or family made of persons who believe in and practice that deceit.
        3. The future will successfully destroy any irresponsible society built by people who believe in and practice that deceit.
      4. If you think that is an exaggeration, consider the number of people who believe, “I have the right to violate the law,” and consider what that is doing to our society.
      5. The person who believes that the central issue of life is “my individual rights” will not survive the present.
    3. The second deceit is the conviction that “I must save society from itself.”
      1. If you think about it, this is the extreme opposite of the concept of individual rights.
        1. The individual exists for the good of the cause.
        2. When an individual threatens the cause, that individual is insignificant.
        3. The individual has no rights; only the cause has rights.
        4. The cause is good; any individual who opposes the cause is bad.
      2. This deceit creates “crusading missionaries” who believe “anyone or anything can be sacrificed for the good cause.”
        1. I see a fundamental deceit in the thought process that declares that “you build by destroying.”
        2. I see a fundamental deceit when someone murders an abortion doctor because abortion doctor is declared a murder.
        3. I see a fundamental deceit when someone believes that the key to preserving life in the environment is attacking the people who are a part of the environment.
        4. I see a fundamental deceit when someone believes that the way to preserve society is to enable those who hurt society.
      3. Virtually every cause involves complex issues.
        1. Virtually every cause has at its heart a just, vital concern.
        2. But causes commonly are frustrated by the complexities of life.
        3. Because of “tunnel vision,” causes frequently champion oversimplified solutions to address complex realities.
        4. This combination builds doors of opportunity for deceit.
      4. The person who believes that he or she saves by being destructive will not survive the present.

It amazes me to see the relevance of Jesus’ example as we learn to survive the present. It amazes me because he continues to be relevant 2000 years after he died. We often fail to be relevant to the next generation.

Jesus’ world was as complex as ours. His Jewish society was in greater turmoil than our American society. The truth is that we have more to work with in our society than he had to work with in his society.

Yet, he never took short cuts that ignored God’s morality. He never sought success by abandoning God’s values. He clarified God’s morality. He lived by God’s values. And he showed us how to be servants. He never demanded his rights. He saved by doing good and sacrificing. And neither you nor I will ever equal his success. He was so successful that God magnified his success through death.

Some Assembly Required

Posted by on under Sermons

The big search for gifts is on in earnest! You gracious ladies are doing most of the searching. One of my sons once told a friend, “One of the great things about being married is that your wife does the Christmas shopping.” I must confess that he learned that from his father.

But the serious search for gifts is underway. This search proceeds in stages. It is now in the “we have got to get serious” stage. In a week it will move into the “high stress” stage. On December 24th it will plunge into the “panic attack” stage.

As you shop for the perfect gift, you will see two ‘evil ‘ statements on some boxes. The first ‘evil’ statement is, “Some assembly required.” If that does not totally frighten you away and you read further, it will say something cruel and deceitful like, “Assembly time: approximately one hour.” Sure! If you have a Ph.D. in engineering! Nothing makes me feel quite so stupid as being confused by “simple instructions.”

The second ‘evil’ statement is, “No tools required.” We need a law that demands those statements be replaced with “Tools not mandatory but extremely helpful.”

Have you noticed that everything significant requires some assembly. Good marriages do not happen; they require some assembly. Good parents do not happen; they require some assembly. Good friends do not happen; they require some assembly. Godliness does not happen; it requires some assembly.

  1. What about God? Does God require some assembly?
    1. Someone says, “David, don’t be ridiculous! No one assembles God! You don’t have to put God together! Nobody puts God together!”
      1. Some people assemble God; maybe most people do.
        1. In fact, some Christians assemble God; maybe most Christians do.
        2. The truth is most of us not only assemble God, we customize God to fit our own wants and desires.
      2. So you respond, “David, do not insult me! I have never built God, and I certainly have never customized God! God is God, regardless of what I want or desire.”
      3. Would you complete this sentence for me: “God wants me to have…”
        1. I am quite serious; complete the sentence: “God wants me to have…”
        2. “God want me to have…”
          1. Money. (He knows that I would use it wisely and be a good steward.)
          2. Security. (He doesn’t want me to experience fear and anxiety.)
          3. The family of my dreams. (He created us to have that family.)
          4. Contentment. (He does not want me to be unhappy with my life.)
          5. An occupation that fulfills me. (He does not want me to waste my life working at something that I hate to do.)
          6. The “good life.” (He knows better than I do how short this life is.)
          7. Fun or happiness. (He did not make life for sadness and regret.)
    2. May I ask a question: how do you know what God wants you to have?
      1. How did you discover that is what God wanted for you?
        1. It has to be a discovery; nowhere does scripture say, “I want David Chadwell to have…”
        2. If I look at Noah floating with a boat load of animals; Abraham wandering around in a strange land; Moses leading a nation of disgruntled people in a dessert; David fleeing from the rage of King Saul; Elijah living in hiding as he is fed by the birds; Jeremiah preaching to people that God said would not listen; the deaths of Stephen and the apostle John; the hardships of Paul; and the death of Jesus on the cross, it is hard for me to see that God’s consuming divine priority is for me is to enjoy life.
        3. Does God reveal what He wants for me by divine revelation?
        4. Just how do I make this discovery?
      2. Someone says, “Oh, it is simple.”
        1. “God wants me to have what I want.”
        2. If I understand that concept, then what I want determines what God wants me to have.
        3. If that is the concept, then each one of us assembles God to be the God of our desires.
    3. “No, no, no, that is not what we mean–you twisting and misrepresenting the situation.”
      1. “We know God, and we understand God.”
      2. “Because we know and understand God, we know and understand what God wants for us individually.”
      3. “We know what God wants us to have because we understand God.”
  2. All of the written and spoken prophets in the Old Testament told Israel God’s will for them–all but one.
    1. That prophet asked God to explain Himself.
      1. That prophet was Habakkuk.
        1. Habakkuk did not understand what God was doing.
        2. He told God that he did not understand what He was doing.
        3. He specifically directed God to answer him and explain His actions.
      2. In Habakkuk 1:2-11, Habakkuk asked God a question and, he received an answer that created a personal crisis for him.
        1. Habakkuk 1:2-4.
          1. Habakkuk’s question:
            1. “Lord, how long are you going to let me continue to cry for help and refuse to listen to my cries?”
            2. “Everywhere I look in Judah I see violence, and You are doing absolutely nothing.”
            3. “Why did You open my eyes to all the evil and make me look at all the wickedness in Judah?”
            4. “There is strife and contention; people ignore Your law; justice is always perverted; and the wicked surround the righteous.”
        2. Habakkuk 1:5-11.
          1. God’s answer:
            1. “I will do something soon about the wickedness, and what I do will be so incredible that you will not believe Me when I tell you.”
            2. “I am going to send the fierce Babylonian army to destroy Judah.”
            3. “Every nation stands in dread and fear of this army.”
            4. “It is violent and unstoppable; no king can withstand it.”
        3. Habakkuk 1:12-2:20.
          1. God’s answer dumbfounded Habakkuk; in fact, God’s answer created a much more urgent question.
          2. Habukukk’s second question:
            1. “God I know You; You are the eternal, holy God.”
            2. “As the eternal, holy God, how can You possibly let that happen?”
            3. “How can You allow the Babylonians who are much more wicked than Judah destroy Judah for its wickedness?”
            4. “Will You just sit there while the wicked swallow the righteous?”
            5. “The Babylonians are like fisherman and the nations are like fish.”
            6. “They don’t just hook an occasional fish; they use nets so that no fish (nation) escapes.”
            7. “They will destroy all the nations, and they will worship their net while they do it.”
            8. “I cannot comprehend how the just God will allow that to happen.”

            9. “And I am going to sit right here until You explain Yourself.”
          3. God’s answer.
            1. “Babylon’s soul is proud, evil, and never satisfied.”
            2. “Babylon is like a man who has made himself wealthy by taking advantage of the poor by making them loans and charging interest.”
            3. “The day will come when the creditors revolt and steal everything the lender has.”
            4. “Because of all their violence and bloodshed, the Babylonians will be destroyed.”
            5. “Their lifeless idols will not deliver them.”
        4. In Habakkuk 3, Habakkuk responded to God’s revelation.
          1. He asked God to remember mercy in His wrath.
          2. He praised God for His greatness and His power.
          3. Then he gave this very personal response in 3:16-19.
            1. “All I can do is to tremble and wait for the Babylonians to invade.”
            2. “But, God, I want you to know when that day comes, if there is no food, if all the livestock are killed, I will still exalt You and rejoice in my salvation.”
            3. “You are my strength; You let me walk with You.”
    2. Habakkuk was God’s prophet who received direct revelations from God, but Habakkuk did not understand God.
      1. He knew God would do what He said, but Habakkuk could not comprehend.
      2. God certainly was not giving Judah what they wanted.
  3. The inability to understand or predict God is just as obvious in the New Testament.
    1. There are a number of obvious examples.
      1. Ananias could not understand why God wanted him to baptize Saul the persecutor (Acts 9:10-18).
      2. The leadership of the church in Jerusalem strongly rejected the idea that God wanted Peter to teach and baptize non-Jews (Acts 11).
      3. The Christian Pharisees strongly rejected the idea that God would allow non-Jews to be Christians without obeying the law of Moses (Acts 15:5).
      4. Everyone of these people were certain that they knew exactly what God wanted, and everyone of them were totally mistaken.
    2. What about you right now?
      1. Where do you get your concept of God? How do you know what God wants?
        1. Does your view of the human condition determine your concept of God, or does God focus your understanding of human condition?
        2. Does your concept of the church determine your concept of God, or does God build your concept of the church?
        3. Does your concept of evil determine your concept of God, or does God define your concept of evil?
        4. Does your concept of what is good, and just, and right determine your concept of God, or does God define what is good, and just, and right?
        5. Does your personal view of the purpose of life determine your concept of God, or does God define your understanding of life’s purpose?
  4. So, I ask you again to complete this sentence: “God wants me to have…”
    1. May I suggest a biblical answer?
      1. “God wants me to have eternal life.”
      2. God’s number one concern for each of us is what we have in heaven, not what we have on earth.
    2. When each of us became God’s child by entering Jesus Christ, we literally became God’s son or a daughter.
      1. There are things that we want for our sons and daughters to become and be.
      2. There are things that God wants His sons and daughters to become and to be.
      3. God’s purpose in Christ is to make you His child.
      4. As His children, God wants you and me to be godly.

If you are a Christian, as long as you live, your understanding of God will grow. As it grows, you always will be assembling your concept of God. As long as you live, you will grow spiritually. As you grow, you always will be assembling yourself as a Christian. If you are to be God’s son or daughter, some assembly is required. God will provide the tools if you will do the assembling.

If you are a Christian, as long as you live, your understanding of God will grow. As it grows, you always will be assembling your concept of God. As long as you live, you will grow spiritually. As you grow, you always will be assembling yourself as a Christian. If you are to be God’s son or daughter, some assembly is required. God will provide the tools if you will do the assembling.

[Someone read Isaiah 55:6-11]

    Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (KJV)

Which is most important to you? God giving you what you want, or your faith allowing God to make you who He wants you to be?

God does not exist to please us. We exist to please Him.

Will I make God, or will I let God make me?

Let God give you what He wants you to have–

Life and Newness of Life.

Great Opportunities Equal Great Responsibilities

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Recently I received a letter from a market place “head hunter.” “Head hunters” look for a person with specific qualifications for a specific job. The letter did not “stroke my ego.” It was a “fill in the blank” letter that misspelled my name.

It contained a “hook” designed to grab my attention and motivate me to act. The “hook” was the unbelievable monthly salary said to be possible in this position.

Years ago I accepted a reality, and I do not remember an exception. The greater the opportunity, the greater the responsibilities. If the letter revealed the truth about the salary, what were the costs of earning it? I have no doubt that the costs would be my life–twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Often we think, “I would love that job!” “I would love that position!” “I would love that opportunity!” And we would. But, we would love the benefits, not the responsibilities. We would love the benefits without surrendering our life.

There are two exceptions to the reality. First, if the opportunity creates the fulfillment of personal significance, some allow it to become their life. Many do that. Apart from their work, they do not exist. They are measured and defined in detail by their careers’ responsibilities. As their occupation defines them, the price of their sacrifices become obvious.

Second, many consider the spiritual to be an exception. God’s opportunities? Grace, mercy, atonement, forgiveness, destruction of mistakes, strength in times of trial, comfort in times of distress, hope in times of failure, and eternal life after death. Our responsibilities? Worship when it is convenient. Study when it is convenient. Prayer when it is convenient. As little involvement as one desires. Financial generosity as we define appropriate. And the spiritual cannot define “self.”

In this view, God provides existence’s priceless treasures, but expects us to make no difficult choices or endure any inconvenience. To believe this is to misunderstand God. True, all His gifts are gifts of love. Also true, He expects us to accept a basic responsibility: the responsibility of loving God. Nothing provides greater gifts. Nothing confers greater responsibilities.

Surviving My Past

Posted by on December 6, 1998 under Sermons

One of my aunts who died a few years ago had a very difficult life. My childhood memories of visiting her are memories of visiting the dairy farm that she and her husband operated. She had no children. There were times when she had to manage and operate the dairy by herself.

When her husband was in his forties, he committed suicide. In time her health failed. She had little family and few options. She actually chose a nursing home for herself, made all the arrangements and preparations to move into the home, and spent the last years of her life living there.

The circumstances of her early marriage were unusual and difficult. Once I had opportunity to listen to my mother and my aunt talk about those unusual, difficult times. In those early days they shared a close bond. As they talked about those days, my aunt would smile and her eyes would brighten. I clearly remember her saying, “I would live every one of those days all over again!” Mom asked, “Without changing anything?” And she replied without hesitation, “Yes! Without changing one thing!”

She is one of the few people that I have ever known who truly had a hard life and would live it all over again without changing a thing. I do not have the slightest doubt that she would have.

  1. How about you? If you had the power to change your past, what would you change?
    1. Most people would like to alter their past in some way.
      1. Some would eliminate a tragedy or hardships.
      2. Some would add some opportunities.
      3. Some would change decisions and make different choices.
      4. Some would remove a disease, or suffering, or eliminate a death.
      5. Some would make basic changes in his or her family.
      6. The list of ways that people would alter the past go on and on.
    2. What about you? What would you alter?
      1. Personally, I am glad that is not an option for me.
      2. “Was everything about your past wonderful?”
        1. No.
        2. I don’t think I ever met someone whose past was nothing but wonderful.
        3. I have noticed that people who tend to think that every moment of their lives was wonderful usually have “selective memory.”
      3. “If everything was not wonderful, why are you glad it is not an option?”
        1. I am not wise enough to know what changes to make.
        2. Let me illustrate that fact: when I was 5 and 6 years old, I was a very sick kid, a severe asthmatic.
        3. Because I was in such poor health, Dad moved our family to the mountains when I was seven.
        4. That fall I met Joyce in the second grade.
        5. Because we moved to the mountains, I had opportunity to begin preaching at an early age.
        6. Joyce is the greatest earthly blessing God has given me.
          1. We have known each other all but six and a half years of our lives.
          2. I cannot imagine what my life would be without her as my wife.
        7. One of the greater spiritual blessings God has given me is the joy and fulfillment of teaching and preaching.
        8. If I had not been such a sick kid, I doubt that I would have met Joyce, and I am skeptical that I would be a preacher.
        9. If we altered our pasts, we would change who we are as well as our lives.
  2. May I suggest that none of us need to change our pasts, but most of us need to survive our pasts.
    1. Be very careful to understand what I say.
      1. I said that most of us (perhaps all of us) need to survive our pasts.
      2. Not run from our pasts.
      3. Not hide from our pasts.
      4. Not fantasize about our pasts.
      5. Not deny our pasts.
      6. But survive our pasts.
    2. “I don’t know what you mean. Why would you think that most people, perhaps all people, need to survive their past?”
      1. The person who was pampered needs to survive his or her past.
        1. When we are pampered, the message of the pampering is this: “You are so special that you deserve special treatment.”
        2. “You should get good treatment before others receive consideration.”
        3. “It is right for you to be first, to receive special treatment, and to receive consideration that others do not receive.”
        4. Why does anyone need to survive pampering?
          1. Pampering equips a person to be selfish, self-centered, and to consider and think of self first.
          2. Being conditioned to be selfish is a curse, not a blessing.
      2. The person who was taught to be materialistic needs to survive his or her past.
        1. This person was taught to look at people and life in terms of monetary value.
        2. The most important measurement for everything is money or financial value.
          1. How does a materialist determine value?
          2. How does a materialist measure success?
          3. How does a materialist define prosperity?
          4. How does a materialist determine worth?
        3. Being conditioned to value things above God or people is a curse, not a blessing.
      3. The person who has been taught to indulge himself or herself needs to survive his or her past.
        1. The foundation philosophy of indulgence is this: “the purpose of life is to experience the joy and satisfaction of pleasure.”
        2. “Life is for having fun.”
        3. “Life is about doing what feels good and gives you pleasure.”
        4. “If something does not give you gratification, don’t do it.”
        5. “If something interferes with your gratification, don’t do it.”
        6. “Your primary responsibility in life is to you; you owe it to yourself to have fun.”
        7. Being conditioned to surrender life and self to pleasure is a curse, not a blessing.
      4. The person whose life has been touched by the agony, the loss, and the grief of tragedy needs to survive his or her past.
        1. A horrible disease devastated him or her or someone he or she loved.
        2. Death robbed him or her.
        3. An accident changed the course of his or her life.
        4. A crime robbed him or her of far more than what he or she possessed.
        5. Whatever the form of the tragedy, whatever loss the tragedy inflicted, the tragedy created situations to be survived, not blessings to be enjoyed.
      5. The person who had a troubled past needs to survive his or her past.
        1. Troubled pasts take an unbelievable toll on life and relationships.
        2. “What do you mean by troubled pasts?”
          1. The agony, grief, destructiveness, and rejection that produces divorce.
          2. The agony, grief, destructiveness, and rejection produced by divorce.
          3. The fears and insecurity of a broken home.
          4. The devastation of abuse, no matter what caused it: alcohol, drugs, sexual exploitation, or rage.
          5. The devastation of abuse, no matter what kind it is: physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological.
          6. Abandonment.
          7. Anything that denies us the opportunity to know and experience healthy love produces a troubled past.
          8. Anything that reduces us to a object to be used instead of a person to be loved and appreciated produces a troubled pass.
          9. Each person who experienced those kinds of troubles needs to survive his or her past.
  3. To survive the past, three things must happen.
    1. First, the person must destroy his or her burden.
      1. You cannot do that by yourself.
        1. You cannot do that even with someone else’s help.
        2. You would be hard pressed to find someone who believes in the value of good counseling more that I do.
        3. But as beneficial as counseling is, counseling cannot destroy burdens.
      2. To destroy your burdens, you have to give your burdens to someone bigger than an human being.
      3. You have to give them to the burden bearer, the only one who can carry your burdens: Jesus who is the Christ.
        Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:6,7 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    2. Second, the person must accept and trust forgiveness.
      1. It is impossible to survive your past if you live in the slavery of guilt.
      2. As long as you are chained by guilt you have no hope of surviving your past.
      3. The fascinating thing about forgiveness is that you will not forgive yourself until you accept and trust God’s forgiveness.
      4. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God through the prophet Jeremiah declared a special forgiveness that God would send. The writer of the book of Hebrews quoted that promise to declare that this was the special forgiveness that God has given us in God’s special priest, Jesus the Christ.
        Hebrews 8:12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        In 2 Corinthians 5:20,21 Paul explained how God made it possible to destroy our sins. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    3. Third, we must be liberated from the person created by the past.
      1. The horrible thing about being enslaved to the past is we keep living and acting like the person of the past.
      2. God saved us to give us the opportunity to escape the “same old me.”
        1. That is the existence he wants us to escape.
        2. One of the purposes of salvation is to change us.
          As Paul emphasized the changes that should occur in a Christian’s life, he told the Colossian Christians, (Colossians 3:9,10) “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–“ (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          Paul urged the Christians in Rome, (Romans 12:2) “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.)
        3. This liberation is not a magical occurrence.
        4. It is the opportunity and power to choose created by God’s forgiveness.

The power of the past is based on a very convincing deceit. “You cannot change the past. Because of the past, you are who you are. Because of the past, you will always be who you are. You are wasting your time if you try to be a different person.”

God says, “I am the God of your past, the God of your present, and the God of your future. If you allow me to be your God, I can recreate you. I can make you a new person with a new life and a new future.”

God can do it. That is not the issue. The issue is this: do you believe that God can do it?

The Moods of Worship

Posted by on under Sermons

How do you personally define worship? I am asking you a serious question that I want you to answer. What is your personal definition of worship? Think about your concept of worship. In your personal understanding, what is worship? Use a simple statement to silently define worship. Do you have your definition?

Take your definition and answer this question. “In my definition, is worship defined by what I do, or is worship defined by what happens in my heart?”

Is worship always the same experience? Is “true worship” confined to a single type of expression? Or is worship expressed in many different moods?

  1. The basic expression of worship is sincere praise.
    1. The soul of sincere praise is appreciation.
      1. You have little difficulty distinguishing between people who appreciate you and people who do not.
      2. God has no difficulty distinguishing between people who appreciate Him and people who do not.
      3. Pretended appreciation is flattery, and the purpose of flattery is to deceive.
      4. God is honored by appreciation; God is repulsed by flattery.
    2. I worship only if I appreciate.
      1. Worship occurs when I appreciate.
      2. It is impossible for resentment, or distrust, or contempt, or hate to produce worship.
      3. Why? Worship is sincere praise built on the solid foundation of appreciation.
    3. Let Revelation illustrate that truth.
      1. Revelation contains a number of expressions of worship that praise either God or Christ.
      2. God is worshipped by heavenly beings in 4:8,11.
        Revelation 4:8,11 “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” . . . “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. God is praised because of His worthiness.
        2. God is worthy of praise because God is the creator.
      3. In Revelation 5:9,10, 12, 13, Christ is worshipped by so many angels they could not be counted and by the heavenly beings.
        Revelation 5:9,10, 12, 13, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” . . .”Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Christ is praised because of his worthiness.
        2. Christ is worthy of praise because he used his blood to purchase a people who became God’s kingdom and God’s priests.
      4. This illustrates the truth that worship is praise that comes from appreciation.
  2. When we consider human worship of God, I personally doubt that many Christians ever surpass David’s praise of God in the Old Testament.
    1. Nothing in the entire Bible surpasses the worship found in the psalms.
      1. The psalms exist to praise God.
      2. That praise arose from genuine appreciation.
      3. Christians need to let the psalms teach them how to worship.
      4. One of the worship lessons the psalms teach is that worship has many different moods.
    2. The young David was astounded that the Philistine army defied the God of Israel.
      1. With total dependence on God, David faced and killed Goliath.
      2. Quickly he became the most popular person in Israel.
      3. Quickly he became the most successful military leader in Israel’s army.
      4. As a result, Saul became insanely jealous of David and was determined33 to kill him.
      5. It became necessary for David to flee from Saul, and he fled to the Philistines (1 Samuel 21).
        1. The only way that David could keep the Philistines from killing him was to pretend that he was insane.
        2. Each day he went to the gates of the city of Gath and scribbled on them.
        3. He let his saliva run out of his mouth and drool run through his beard.
      6. Think about how humiliating, frightening, and lonely this time was for David simply because he delivered Israel from the Philistines and was loyal to Saul.
      7. Listen to his praise of God and appreciation for God found in Psalm 34 that was written at this time.
        Psalm 34:1-3,19-22 I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the Lord; The humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous will be held guilty. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who take refuge in Him will be held guilty. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. David was reduced to acting insane.
        2. But David praised the God he appreciated.
    3. Years later David became the king of Israel.
      1. After years of success as the righteous king of Israel, David sinned horribly (2 Samuel 11,12).
      2. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, and the result was pregnancy.
        1. To cover his sin, he had her husband killed and married her.
        2. For almost a year, David thought his sin was hidden.
      3. Then Nathan the prophet confronted David, and David confessed his failure.
      4. David had been a person who had lived by his faith in God from the time that he was a teenager.
        1. In horrible and unjust circumstances he placed his trust in God time after time.
        2. Now, at the time of his greatest material blessing, he sinned in ways that he would not have considered in years past.
      5. Think about the devastation David felt as he honestly confronted his guilt and accepted responsibility for what he had done.
      6. Then listen to his praise of God found in Psalm 51 written at that time.
        Psalm 51:1-4,10-13 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Even in the guilt of failure, David profoundly appreciated God.
        2. In his respect and appreciation, he praised God even as he asked for forgiveness.
    4. David had a son named Absalom that he deeply loved (2 Samuel 13-16).
      1. Absalom was a handsome, charismatic leader, a skillful politician, and a treacherous, cunning man.
      2. He literally stole the hearts of the nation of Israel and had himself declared king in the place of his father.
      3. Because Absalom had already murdered his half brother, David knew that he, his family, and his friends must flee Jerusalem.
      4. To publicly declare his contempt for his father and to declare his firm hold on the throne, Absalom publicly raped ten of his father’s wives.
      5. Think about the things David felt as he fled Jerusalem knowing that the son he deeply loved was doing this.
      6. Listen to the praise and appreciation of Psalm 3 that David wrote after he fled from Absalom.
        Psalm 3:1-6 O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. David fled, and David praised and appreciated God.
  3. Worship wears many faces, praises with many voices, and expresses appreciation in many ways.
    1. Think about David’s worship for just a moment.
      1. What mood do you think David was in when he worshipped God while acting like an insane man in Gath?
      2. What mood do you think David was in when he worshipped God as he accepted his guilt for the sins against Bathsheba and Uriah?
      3. What mood do you think David was in when he worshipped God while he was fleeing from Absalom?
    2. To me the contrast is most obvious when David worshipped God when he celebrated.
      1. In 1 Samuel 6 David brought the ark of the covenant into his new royal city, the city of Jerusalem.
        1. From the time of Mount Sinai, hundreds of years earlier, the ark of the covenant was Israel’s most sacred object.
        2. It literally declared God’s presence in the nation of Israel.
      2. David accompanied the ark with gladness as he brought it to Jerusalem (verse 12).
      3. Every six steps of the journey, an ox and a fatling were sacrificed (verse 13).
      4. And David took off his royal clothing and danced before the Lord with all his might as he accompanied the ark (verse 14).
      5. When the ark reached its new home, more sacrifices were offered (verse 17).
      6. David praised God and showed his appreciation for God in what we consider unusual and unacceptable ways.
        1. But look carefully at what David did.
        2. He was not the powerful, victorious king who brought the ark to Jerusalem.
        3. He humbled himself before God and before all Israel; God was the dignitary, not David.
      7. What David did offended his wife Michal because she thought it was disgraceful behavior unworthy of a king.
      8. But it did not offend God; it honored God in joy and humility.

Worship always honors God by praising him because we appreciate him. God always knows when the appreciation comes from the heart and the praise is genuine. Our challenge is to let appreciation for God live in our hearts and express itself in sincere praise.

[Prayer by elder.]

We are more likely to think that God is the source of our problems than to understand that God is the foundation for our solutions. To appreciate God we must know Him. To praise Him, we must appreciate Him. Do you appreciate God?