Letting God Teach Me How To Love

Posted by on April 28, 1999 under Sermons

We Christians commonly experience problems when we think about God. If we listen to us collectively as a church, we don’t talk much about God. We think and talk about God occasionally. We think and talk about Jesus Christ much more often. We think and talk about the church a lot.

Why do we do that? There are a lot of reasons. But consider just one reason. We find the church easy to think and talk about. We find Jesus Christ more complex to think and talk about. We find God extremely complicated to think and talk about.

Like people throughout the ages, we tend to make God a human being–an extraordinary human being, but a human being none the less. Intellectually, we say God is not a human. Yet, when we try to understand God, we tend to think of God as the best and highest of all humans. For example when we think of God’s goodness or God’s love, we tend to limit God’s goodness and love to the goodness and love that we would expect in the ideal person.

But the truth is that God is not human. God’s goodness and love exceed human goodness and love in every consideration.

  1. In His goodness, God never stops loving.
    1. God gave Adam and Eve the ideal human existence (Genesis 2).
      1. They abused His kindness and rebelled against His instructions.
      2. But God still loved them.
    2. Generations later, people were so wicked that they never thought one good thought (Genesis 6,7,8).
      1. Their wickedness was so absolute that God could not tolerate their evil.
      2. Yet, God still loved people and began again with Noah and his family.
    3. God made the key promise of human history to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).
      1. Abraham made a lot of mistakes.
        1. He had moments of deep doubt.
        2. He lied about Sarah being his wife.
        3. He had a son by Hagar because Sarah insisted that he do so.
      2. But God still loved him.
    4. We could make a long list of the mistakes made by Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, but God still loved them.
    5. After God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they were miserable failures in the wilderness.
      1. Their acts of faithlessness far outnumbered their acts of faith.
      2. But God still loved them.
    6. The period of the Israelite judges was one of the lowest points in Jewish history (Judges).
      1. It was a time filled with lawlessness, idolatry, and violence.
      2. But God still loved them.
    7. Conditions became so wicked in the period of the Jewish kings, that once again God could not tolerate the wickedness.
      1. He begged the people to repent and return to Him, and they would not.
      2. He told them the consequences that they would suffer, and still they refused to listen.
      3. He even told them when they passed the critical point of no return; the captivity and exile were inevitable and unavoidable.
      4. And still God loved them.
    8. To me, in a unique manner, the prophet Hosea gives voice to God’s love.
      1. Hosea in stark, honest terms declared Israel’s wickedness and evil.
        1. There was no faithfulness, kindness, or knowledge of God (4:1).
        2. They were liars, murderers, and thieves who committed adultery (4:2).
        3. Their priests did nothing to teach the people about God (4:4-6)
        4. They chased idols and let their daughters practice cultic prostitution (4:11-14).
      2. Listen to the agony that they caused God because He loved (Hosea 11:1-4).
        Hosea 11:1-4 When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. The more they called them, The more they went from them; They kept sacrificing to the Baals And burning incense to idols. Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; But they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; And I bent down and fed them. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. With all they did to grieve God, God still loved them.
  2. God’s love is so astounding that it simply refuses to give up.
    1. John 3:16,17 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    2. Romans 5:6-8 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    3. 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
  3. We have a problem: we struggle to accept the truth that divine love cannot be confined by the limits of our comprehension.
    1. We either say in words or in our thoughts, “No one can be that loving!”
      1. “No one can be that good, that compassionate, that forgiving, that merciful, that kind, or that generous.”
      2. Our reasoning says that if it cannot exist in a human it simply cannot exist.
      3. No human can be that loving, but God can be and God is.
    2. The greatest single manifestation of God’s love is Jesus Christ.
      1. He fed the people that he knew would turn against him (John 6).
      2. He cleansed people who were the outcasts of society because of their leprosy (Matthew 8:1-4).
      3. He brought the good news about the Savior and God’s kingdom to Sychar by interacting with a Samaritan divorcee who was living in adultery (John 4).
      4. He forgave an immoral woman who washed his feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50).
      5. He brought salvation to the Zachaeus who was a chief tax collector, a position of greed and dishonesty (Luke 19:1-10).
      6. As he was dying on the cross, he asked God not to hold the people who were responsible for his death accountable (Luke 23:34).
      7. As Jesus died, he forgave a thief who was dying for crimes the thief committed (Luke 23:39-43).
    3. In Matthew 12 Jesus had a major confrontation with the Pharisees, and the end result was that the Pharisees were infuriated.
      1. Jesus left the area.
        1. An enormous group of people followed him, and he healed all of them.
        2. He asked them not to reveal his identity as the Christ.
        3. Matthew wrote Jesus asked this so that a statement made about him by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years earlier might be fulfilled.
      2. Listen to that statement in Isaiah 42:1-4.
        Isaiah 42:1-4 “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Focus on verse 3: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not extinguish.”
        2. Measuring rods were made from the reeds that grew along the river banks.
          1. They cost nothing.
          2. Pull one, cut it to the right length, and use it; but if you bend it, break it and throw it away.
        3. When you blew the lamp flame out, a wick would have one small ember that glowed from which a wisp of smoke arose.
          1. You could easily put it out by pinching it between your fingers.
          2. That glow was very delicate and did not last long.
        4. God’s love shown in Jesus will not throw away a broken nobody who is worth nothing.
        5. God’s love shown in Jesus will not kill a glowing ember that is almost out.
      3. That is how much God loves.
        1. God’s love is not in question.
        2. The question is, have we let God teach us how to love like He does?
  4. God saves broken people, and God uses broken people to accomplish His purposes.
    1. “Why would God do that?”
      1. That is an excellent question! We must understand the answer.
      2. God works through broken people who believe on Him to make it clear that the power lies in God, not in people.
    2. That focuses our attention on a problem that Christians need to address.
      1. Too few Christians have experienced brokenness.
      2. Because too few have experienced brokenness, too few have repented.
      3. We extol the value of what we define to be goodness.
        1. That definition of goodness excludes the possibility of brokenness.
        2. If we are broken, we are broken by evil.
        3. So we feel the need to deny our problems so that we can demonstrate our goodness.
        4. Why? Because we think that God loves good people.
        5. We convinced ourselves that we are saved because we are good.
      4. We need an understanding of Jesus’ statement, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
    3. Christians who do not experience brokenness do not discover gratitude for their salvation.
      1. Salvation becomes an intellectual understanding instead of an actual deliverance.
      2. Salvation is a product of human knowledge, reasoning, and intelligence, not the action of a compassionate, loving God who by His power cleansed us in the innocent blood of His Son.
      3. Salvation becomes a human achievement, not a resurrection to life by the power of God.

Until we experience God’s love, until we let God to teach us how to love, we will never serve the eternal purposes of the eternal God who John says is love (1 John 4:8).

What Are Our Greatest Fears?

Posted by on April 25, 1999 under Sermons

This evening, we will approach our lesson in a different manner. As I told you in the welcome, I want you to think about the greatest fears that exist in our society. I want us to focus on the major, real fears, not the abstract concept of fear.

For just a few minutes, I want you to share with me and the assembly great fears that are common in our society. Hold up your hand, and for just a few minutes I will bring the microphone around and let people acknowledge fears that are in our society.

(Spend about ten minutes letting people in the audience identify common fears.)

Thank you! (Briefly summarize or make a statement about the kinds of fears shared.)

  1. The first thing we must understand about the fears that terrorize humanity is the immediate, direct bond that exists between fear and evil.
    1. The fear that terrorizes us exists because evil exists in our world and society.
      1. If it were possible to eliminate all evil, all influence of Satan in our world, the fear that terrorizes would cease to exist.
      2. Because it is not possible to eliminate all evil, all influence of Satan, the fear that terrorizes always exists.
    2. It is no accident that the Bible reveals that fear became a part of human existence at the same time that evil became a part of human existence.
      1. When Adam and Eve were seduced by Satan’s temptation and rebelled against God, an immediate result was fear.
      2. Genesis 3:8-10 make this evident:
        1. Because of their surrender to evil, they experienced shame (a new experience!).
        2. In shame they tried to hide from God.
        3. With the shame came fear; they also tried to hide because they were afraid.
      3. Humanity can so completely surrender to evil that they destroy their ability to be ashamed; but they never destroy their fears.
  2. One of the benefits of building a close relationship with God is the destruction of the fear of terror.
    1. One of God’s objectives in His people is to destroy the fear of terror.
      1. After Abraham rescued Lot from his captors, God spoke to Abraham to reassure him.
        1. God began with the words, “Abram, fear not” (Genesis 15:1).
        2. Though he lived as a nomad in a strange land filled with enemies, God did not want him to be afraid.
      2. When Isaac was struggling with the men of Gerar over water wells, God spoke to Isaac and said, “Do not fear for I am with you” (Genesis 26:24).
      3. When Daniel saw a terrifying vision that caused him to turn pale and tremble, God said, “Fear not, Daniel” (Daniel 10:12).
        1. God said that He had come to Daniel because of Daniel’s desire to understand and because of his humility.
        2. Though Daniel was a captive with many enemies, God did not want him to be afraid.
      4. Though God revealed through Isaiah the terrible consequences that Israel would pay for their long history of evil, God also gave promises and reassurances to Israel.
        1. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10; 43:5).
        2. “Fear not, I will help” (Isaiah 41:13).
        3. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 43:1).
      5. When Paul was on a doomed ship caught in a terrible storm, the Lord spoke to Paul and said, “Fear not, Paul” (Acts 27:24).
    2. I hope that you will do some reading, studying, and thinking about the great servants of God revealed to us in scripture.
      1. They were great servants dedicated to God’s purposes because of their faith in God, their love for God, and their awe and reverence of God.
      2. In the truest sense, they trusted God and depended on God.
      3. While they all had great reverence for God, they were not afraid of God, nor did they let circumstances cause them to live their lives in terror continually.
    3. To me one of the most insightful lessons about the fear of terror is found in one of Jesus’ parables, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.
      1. The servant who was entrusted with one silver talent, an enormous amount of money at that time, hid the silver because he was afraid.
      2. He returned to his master exactly what the master gave him with this explanation (Matthew 25:24,25):
        1. “I knew you were a hard man.”
        2. “I knew you harvested what you did not plant.”
        3. “I hid the silver because I was afraid.”
        4. He was afraid because he did not know his master.
        5. In this parable, God is the master.
        6. Are we the servant who misunderstands God and are afraid?
    4. Let me share some summary thoughts.
      1. The poorer our relationship with God, the greater our fear.
      2. The better our relationship to God, the less fear we have.
      3. The greater the distance between us and God, the greater our fear.
      4. The closer we are to God, the less fear we have.
      5. Faith and love work together to destroy fear.
        1. That is true in human relationships.
        2. It is true in our relationship with God.

To each of His sons and daughters, God says, “Don’t be afraid; I am with you.”

The “Light Bulb” Experience

Posted by on under Sermons

This morning I want to begin by asking two questions. They are easy questions. They will not make you feel uncomfortable or embarrass you. I want you to answer each question by holding up your hand.

If you have ever taught a class of any kind, you have been a teacher. Question number one: how many of you have ever been a teacher? All of you who have taught a class, please hold up your hand. (Pause for response.) Thank you!

If you have been a teacher, you taught at least one student “who just did not get it.” This student was not stupid, or dumb, or lacking in basic intelligence. He or she simply did not understand what you were trying to teach. Having been that student too many times, I have great empathy for students “who just do not get it.”

Everyone of us has been a student. Everyone of us has been taught by a teacher. Question number two: when I ask who was your favorite teacher, how many of you can remember a specific person who was a favorite teacher? If you can remember a favorite teacher, hold up you hand. (Pause for response.) Thank you!

A teacher becomes a favorite teacher for many reasons. Commonly, all those reasons are connected to one basic truth. A favorite teacher is a teacher who helped you understand things that you had difficulty understanding.

lightbulb graphic Both those questions involve the “light bulb experience.” The “light bulb experience” is that moment when I see things that I never saw before. Because I see, I understand.

When you are a Christian, you allow God to lead you from one “light bulb experience” to another. As long as a person follows God, he continues to have “light bulb” experiences.

Isaiah 42:6-9 “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison. “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images. “Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things; Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

  1. “David, can you show me a specific example of a real person for whom God ‘turned the light bulbs on’?” I surely can.
    1. There once was a man who was a major Bible scholar, who was one of the most devout, conscientious people to follow God (Galatians 1:14).
      1. This man’s Bible teacher was the greatest scholar of his day (Acts 22:3).
      2. This man was a member of a religious group known for its devotion to the authority of Bible (Acts 26:5; 23:6).
      3. To use our terminology, this man could quote book, chapter, and verse with the best of them–his knowledge of scripture was astounding.
    2. BUT, while he had an incredible knowledge of scripture, he did not correctly understand what he knew.
      1. He believed that Israel and only Israel was God’s people.
      2. He believed that Jesus was a fraud, a false prophet, and a terrible threat to God’s true purposes; he certainly did not believe that Jesus was the Christ.
      3. In his knowledge of scripture this man was so certain that Christians were God’s enemies that he arrested and voted to kill Christians in the absolute confidence that he was accomplishing God’s purposes (Acts 26:9-11).
    3. In fact, this man was traveling to another country to arrest Jews who believed in Christ and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial when he had his “light bulb experience (Acts 9:1-9).
      1. That literally is when Paul was struck to the ground by a light that was more brilliant than the noon sun.
      2. The resurrected Jesus spoke directly, personally to Paul.
      3. After three days of praying and fasting, this enemy of Christians was baptized to be a Christian (Acts 22:14-16).
    4. From that moment, his understanding of his knowledge changed 180 degrees.
      1. He did not receive new knowledge; he was the same scholar after the experience that he was before the experience.
      2. It was not new knowledge that totally turned Paul’s life around; it was a new understanding of what he knew.
      3. When Paul had his “light bulb experience,” do you know what Jesus told him?
        1. Acts 26:16-18 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        2. Before this experience, Paul would never teach that Jesus was the Christ.
        3. Before this experience, Paul would never go to Gentiles, non-Jews, to teach them.
        4. And what did Jesus send him to do?
          1. To open their eyes so that they could turn from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to God.
          2. To open their eyes so that they could receive forgiveness of sins and the inheritance of those sanctified by faith in Jesus.
      4. Is it surprising when Paul the Christian wrote a prayer to the Ephesian Christians, he prayed, [Ephesians 1:18] “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
  2. Did Paul really come to a new understanding of his knowledge?
    1. Allow the book of Romans to illustrate the “light bulb experience.”
      1. In Romans 1:16,17 Paul the Christian wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Before Paul had his eyes opened, he declared that the law was the power of God to save.
        2. After Paul’s eyes were opened he declared that the gospel was God’s power to save.
        3. Before Paul had his eyes opened, he declared that salvation is found among the Jews.
        4. After his eyes were opened, he declared that God extends salvation to people who are not Jews.
        5. Before his eyes were opened, Paul would not have used Habakkuk 2:4 to prove that a righteous man lives by faith.
      2. In Romans 4:3 Paul wrote, “For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Before Paul had his eyes opened, Paul declared that God made a person righteous through Jewish ritual circumcision and obedience to the law.
        2. After Paul had his eyes opened, Paul declared that God always had looked on a person as being righteous because of the person’s faith.
        3. Before his eyes were opened, Paul would not have used Genesis 15:6 to prove that truth.
      3. In Romans 4:7,8 Paul wrote, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Before Paul had his eyes opened, he declared if you disobey the law you paid the consequences.
        2. After he had his eyes opened, Paul declared that a form of divine forgiveness not only forgave, but it covered sins because God would not take a person’s sins into account.
        3. Before his eyes were opened, Paul would not have used Psalms 32:1,2 to prove that truth.
      4. One major argument the Jewish people made against Christianity was that salvation by faith was unfair to God’s chosen people.
        1. In Romans 9:6-13 Paul explained that salvation by faith is an act of the sovereign God.
        2. As proof Paul cited the fact that God decided to work through Jacob instead of Esau before those twins were born.
        3. God is sovereign; He can do what He chooses to do.
        4. Before he had his eyes opened, Paul would not have used Jacob and Esau to prove God’s sovereignty.
  3. God is the God who sees–everything.
    1. For example, God knows everything about each one of us.
      1. Jesus said that He knows how many hairs we have on our heads.
      2. He knows every weakness, flaw, evil desire, wrong motive, failure, mistake, and undesirable fact about everyone of us.
      3. And knowing all that, He still loves each one of us, still has compassion for each one of us, and still extends mercy and forgiveness to each one of us.
    2. When we let God open our eyes, we begin to see people as God sees people.
      1. With all their flaws and failures? No.
      2. With love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.
    3. This world is filled with people who hate and in their hatred destroy people.
      1. Kosovo is just one example of people hating people.
      2. Often if you trace hatreds to their roots, the tap root is religion.
      3. Too often one religion that created and sustains hatred is Christianity.
      4. I understand that the present violence is a product of atheistic communism.
      5. However, in the Kosovo tragedy, guess who received Christian teachings? The Serbs.
      6. The hate began more than 600 years ago when those who worshipped Allah invaded those who worshipped Jesus.
    4. Tears come to my eyes.
      1. When I see the refuges flooding out of Kosovo, tears come to my eyes.
      2. When I hear from Christian brothers and sisters in Serbia living in terror of the bombs, tears come to my eyes.
      3. When hatred rules, we desperately need something beyond a military solution or a political solution; they don’t work; they never have worked.
      4. What we need are “opened eyes,” “light bulb experiences.”

Prayer: God open the eyes of our hearts. Help us see with Your eyes. Once we let You change our world in sixty years by opening eyes.

Have you had Paul’s “light bulb experience”? “Light bulb experiences” do more than change lives. They change families. They change communities. They change nations. They change the world.

Through “light bulb experiences,” we understand. We understand what we always knew. Knowledge changes your life just a little. Understanding turns your life upside down.

Addressing Spiritual Needs

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

I pray about numerous things regularly. One prayer focuses on my teaching and preaching. It is simple. “God, direct my growth in understanding Your purposes. Guide me as I seek to address the needs of Your people effectively.”

As years of teaching pass, my awe of God, the Christ, and the Spirit mushrooms. The effect of years of studying and teaching touches my heart and mind in countless ways. The more I learn, the more I see my ignorance. The more I understand, the more I know that the eternal God exceeds human comprehension. The deeper my insights grow, the more I realize how shallow they are.

Each time that I am privileged to teach or share a sermon, some realizations flood my heart and mind. The objective is not to bring people “to my level of knowledge” (whatever that means). That objective is unworthy of the eternal purposes of God. The objective is not to get people to agree with me. That objective is blind to the war between God and Satan. The objective is not to impress people. That deceitful objective embraces the evil of Matthew 6:1. The objective is not personal gratification and fulfillment. That objective accomplishes Satan’s purposes, not God’s.

I prayerfully remind myself that my objective is to bring people closer to God by better understanding Jesus Christ.

What do I see from the pulpit? I see: levels of knowledge that run from outright ignorance to well informed; an indescribable mixture of opinions and conclusions; a huge variety of spiritual (and not so spiritual) concepts; contradictory value systems with little in common; insights as different as night and day; and maturity levels that run from helpless infants to those who are wise in their understanding of God.

How can I begin to address the spiritual needs produced by these realities in a single lesson of 30 minutes? I cannot — not in a month, a year, or a decade of sermons.

In the near future we will use differing formats of worship and study on Sunday evenings. The objective will be to address many different spiritual needs in a variety of formats.

Hopefully, this week we can begin projecting the praise songs in the Sunday morning assembly. The numbers will be projected so that you may use the book or the screen.

The Bond Between Love and Obedience

Posted by on April 18, 1999 under Sermons

1 John 5 contains three things. First it contains powerful encouragement. Second, it contains some of the most difficult statements found in the New Testament. Third, it contains some key Christian concepts. There is no way we could address all three this evening.

  1. In 1 John 5:1,2, John emphasizes some key concepts found throughout the book.
    1. Key concept #1: Believing that Jesus is the Christ.
      1. Chapter 2:22 — The antichrists do not believe Jesus is the Christ.
      2. Chapter 3:23 — Believing Jesus is the Christ is a basic commandment, and this faith and obedience results in Christians loving each other.
      3. Chapter 4:2,3 — Believing that Jesus is the Christ is a basic proof that a spirit comes from God.
      4. Chapter 4:15 — Believing that Jesus is the Christ is key evidence that one continually lives in God.
      5. Chapter 5:1 — Believing that Jesus is the Christ is basic evidence that the person is born of God.
    2. Key concept #2: the born of God.
      1. Chapter 2:29 — The born of God practice righteousness.
      2. Chapter 3:9 — The born of God will not practice sin.
      3. Chapter 4:7 — The born of God love.
      4. Chapter 5:4 — The born of God overcome the world.
      5. Chapter 5:18 — The born of God are kept by God.
    3. Concept #3: Love the children of God (Christians love Christians).
      1. Chapter 2:10,11 — Christians loving Christians is essential to if a Christian is to continually live in the light.
      2. Chapter 3:11 — Christians loving Christians is the original message.
      3. Chapter 4:7 — Christians loving Christians is the proof that we belong to God.
      4. Chapter 4:11 — Christians ought to love each other because God loves all of us.
      5. Chapter 4:21 — Christians love Christians because God commanded us to love each other.
    4. Concept #4: Keeping the commandments.
      1. Chapter 2:3 — We know that we know God if we keep the commandments.
      2. Chapter 3:22 — God responds to us because we keep the commandments.
      3. Chapter 3:24 — Keeping the commandments is necessary for there to be mutual indwelling.
      4. Chapter 5:3 — Keeping the commandments is the proof that we love God.
  2. Please focus on some of the basic understandings of Chapter 5.
    1. Understanding #1: “If you love the parent, you love the child” (5:1).
      1. This concept is basic to the meaning of obedience, loving Christians, and inseparable bond.
      2. Understanding obedience:
        1. Obedience is not a matter of making a list of commandments and doing them.
        2. Obedience is not making a deal with God that obligates God.
        3. Because I love my father I am devoted to pleasing him.
        4. Obedience is not a matter of making a deal with God; it’s a matter of being devoted to God.
      3. Christians loving Christians.
        1. We do not love Christians because we are easy to love.
        2. The truth is, none of us are that easy to love.
        3. We love Christians because we love the parent of Christians.
      4. The inseparable link exists between love and obedience.
        1. This is one of the basic truths of “love the parent, love the child.”
        2. Because we love the parent, we love his children.
        3. Because we love the parent, we obey the parent.
        4. It is impossible to love God and refuse to love Christians.
        5. It is impossible to love God and refuse to obey God.
    2. Understanding #2: Keeping God’s commandments is not burdensome (5:3).
      1. The Pharisees were the proof that humans can make obeying God very burdensome.
        1. They are also the proof that this distorts the purposes of God.
        2. They are also the proof that when we do this we deep displease God.
      2. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my load is light.”
        1. Obeying God by surrendering to Jesus destroys burdens.
        2. It rests the soul, not exhausts the soul.
      3. Obedience may not be easy, but it is not burdensome.
        1. The greater our love for God the easier obedience becomes.
        2. When Christianity is by nature burdensome, it is not what Christ gave us.
    3. Understanding #3: It is our faith that gives us victory over the world (5:4).
      1. By our faith, John means that we place our trust in Jesus who is the Christ.
      2. We need to see John’s picture clearly.
        1. His picture is not of a world under the immediate control of God with Satan invading it.
        2. His picture is of a world under the immediate control of evil being invaded by God through Christ.
      3. The person who overcomes the world is the Christian who places his absolute trust in Jesus as the Christ.
  3. Observation: Verses 6-8 are some of the most difficult verses in the New Testament to understand.
    1. John’s point and thought flow are not obvious.
    2. Many serious scholars have come to very different conclusions about the meaning of these verses.
    3. It is not my purpose tonight to examine those conclusions.
  4. Finally, I want you to focus on the assurances.
    1. Assurance #1: God has given Christians eternal life, and that life is found in Jesus Christ (5:11,12).
      1. Please note it does not say that God will give us eternal life.
      2. For every person in Christ, God has given him or her eternal life.
      3. We can chose to forfeit it, but it is ours if we chose to remain in Christ.
    2. Assurance #2: We place our confidence in eternal life (5:13).
      1. It is not a “maybe” proposition.
      2. It is a definite promise.
    3. Assurance #3: God hears our requests (5:15).
      1. The person who loves God and shows his love in devotion through obedience is committed to the will of God.
      2. Any request this person makes will be in full respect of God’s will.
      3. When in surrender to the will of God we make a request, God hears our request and responds to it.
    4. Assurance #4: When Christians pray for God to forgive Christians of mistakes that they have made, God will extend that forgiveness.
      1. There are some sins that produce spiritual death.
      2. There are some sins that do not result in spiritual death.
      3. For those sins, God will hear the prayer for forgiveness of one Christian prayed for another Christian .

Pay special attention to Chapter 5:19. John plainly said that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. The only way we can keep the evil one from touching us is to be born of God. God keeps those who are born of Him from being touched by the evil one. This happens because those born of God place their unquestioning trust in His son, Jesus Christ. God can invade the control of the evil one because He is the true God that has eternal life.

John cautioned them against idolatry. Idolatry replaced the true God with a false god. We need the same caution. We must not replace the true God with any worldly power. All worldly powers come from the evil one, not from God.

“Lord, Please Let the Operation Begin!”

Posted by on under Sermons

On April 19, 1995, four years ago tomorrow, there was an enormous explosion at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. As rescuers searched for survivors, they located Daina Bradley. She was lying in six inches of water. Her face was barely visible as she lay bleeding under a blanket of concrete dust.

There was a problem. Her leg was trapped under some debris that could not be moved. She had only one hope for survival. She would die if she were not removed from those circumstances quickly. Only by amputating her leg was there any chance that her life could be saved. Even that offered no guarantee.

James Sullivan, an orthopedic surgeon, crawled to Daina. There was so little space that he had to climb on top of her to work. He broke four scalpel blades attempting to remover her leg. He had to complete the amputation with a pocket knife.

There was no anesthesia. As he worked, he prayed that she would not die as a result of what he had to do.

Because James Sullivan removed her leg, Daina Bradley lived.

Matthew 18:7-14, Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

  1. Somewhere along the road to being religious, we lost sight of God’s greatest desire.
    1. God’s greatest desire is clearly obvious in Jesus.
      1. God’s greatest desire is to give all humanity life.
      2. John wrote John 3:16,17, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. When Mary conceived as a virgin by the will and power of God, an angel told Joseph not to be afraid to marry her. Matthew 1:21, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      4. It was Jesus who gave this invitation: 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.)
      5. It was Jesus who said in Matthew 20:28, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      6. Jesus declared in John 12:32, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      7. Paul wrote 1 Timothy 1:15, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      8. Peter wrote 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    2. Somewhere along the road to being religious we Christian individuals became blind to God’s greatest desire.
      1. We became blind to God’s greatest desire for us personally.
      2. We became blind to Jesus’ greatest desire for us individually.
      3. How would you complete this statement–honestly? “God’s greatest desire for me is … ”
      4. “God’s greatest desire for me is to:”
        1. “Judge me.”
          1. Wrong. He did not have to send me a Savior to judge me.
          2. Will God judge me? Yes.
          3. But His greatest desire is to forgive me, not to pronounce me guilty.
        2. “Condemn me.”
          1. Wrong. Were that His greatest desire, He did not have to subject His Son to the pain of death on the cross.
          2. Will He condemn me?
          3. Only if I force Him to–by refusing to enter Christ and live in His forgiveness.
        3. “Punish me.”
          1. Wrong. Were that His greatest desire, He could have done nothing. All He had to do was let us pay the consequence of our mistakes, and our punishment would be certain.
          2. Will He punish me?
          3. Only if I force Him to–by rejecting His love.
      5. “Then what is God’s greatest desire for me?”
        1. God’s greatest desire is to save my life.
        2. God wants to give me life right now, a life that not even death can end.
  2. “If God’s greatest desire is to save my life, that is fine with me. He certainly has my permission!”
    1. If God is to save my life, I must assist God as He performs surgery on me.
      1. If I refuse the surgery, I will die.
        1. God will not kill me.
        2. My condition will kill me.
      2. The evil in me will kill me.
        1. It is the evil within me that is eating my mind.
        2. It is the evil within me that is eating my heart.
        3. Evil invaded my reasoning.
        4. Evil distorted my judgment.
        5. Evil deceives me every day of my life.
      3. Evil places me in deep denial.
        1. I tell myself that there is nothing wrong with me.
        2. I tell God that there is nothing wrong with me.
        3. Anyone who seriously suggests there is something is wrong with me angers me.
    2. If God is to save my life, first I must allow God awaken me to the evil that is killing me.
      1. I must let God teach me how to identify the things that support the evil within me.
      2. I must learn how to stop trusting me and trust God more completely.
      3. My confidence must be in God’s promises even when I do see or understand.
      4. I must believe in my life the impossible becomes the possible through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and the love of God.
  3. Each of us as a Christian has a personal problem in allowing God to save his or her life–none of us are exempt from the problem.
    1. This is the truth: the more confidence I have in my own righteousness, the bigger my spiritual problem becomes.
      1. We do not see ourselves as needing help, but as giving help.
      2. Our great confidence in our own answers refuses to let God teach us.
      3. Our absolute certainty that we are right refuses to allow God to correct our concepts.
      4. It is probable that the most difficult lives to save are the persons who are certain that God already has completed His work in them.
    2. These are some identifiable Christians who fight God tooth and toenail as God earnestly seeks to save their lives.
      1. Christians who want God to save their lives while leaving all their ungodliness alone fight God fight God.
        1. “Save my life, but don’t change it.”
        2. “Let me stay who I am while I do all the things that I delight in doing.”
        3. “My sins are not bad for me; they won’t hurt me; leave them alone.”
        4. They don’t want surgery.
      2. Christians who want to be involved in Christ and to live unspiritual lives simultaneously fight God.
        1. When they are doing something for Christ, they want to do it 100%.
        2. When they are being unspiritual, they want to do it 100%.
        3. They partition their lives: they declare that Christ does not influence the unspiritual part of their lives and the unspiritual part of their lives does not influence Christ’s part.
        4. They don’t want surgery.
      3. Christians that regard spiritual defects to be spiritual assets fight God.
        1. Ungodly attitudes are an asset in defending the truth.
        2. Hard hearts are an asset when stressing obedience.
        3. Being without emotion is good because emotions produce error.
        4. Being a legalist is good because law keepers will not make the mistakes that are made by those who love, show compassion, and are merciful.
        5. Having deep feelings for God without knowledge about God is good; your feelings always will show you what is right.
        6. They don’t want surgery.
  4. Why does Jesus despise people who become stumbling blocks? Because stumbling blocks prevent God from saving lives.
    1. How can we become a stumbling block?
      1. A stumbling block person creates temptation.
      2. Jesus said that we live in a world filled with spiritual hazards that can destroy us.
      3. He gives a sober, serious warning to the person who allows evil to use him or her to create temptation.
    2. Notice that Jesus declared that we have two reasons for concern.
      1. We must be not be the reason that someone else stumbles.
      2. We must not cause ourselves to stumble.
        1. Even if it is something as basic to life as a hand, a foot, or an eye causes us to be tempted, remove it.
        2. Jesus was not talking about performing physical amputations.
        3. Jesus was saying that we will allow God to amputate anything, no matter how basic to life it seems, to escape the spiritual hazards that seek to kill us.
    3. Why will a Christian do that? Because the Christian understands that God wants to save our lives.
      1. God does not want to “least” person to die.
      2. God does not want the “lost” to die–even if the person is like the ignorant, none observant sheep that wanders off.
      3. It is not God’s will that even the most insignificant person perish.
      4. It is not God’s will that you die; God wants to save your life.

Prayer: Lord, open our eyes to the evil that wishes to kill us. Open our eyes and hearts to your deep desire to save our lives.

I wonder if Daina Bradley looked down at one leg and cursed James Sullivan for amputating the other leg. I wonder if Daina Bradley look down at one leg and thanked God that James Sullivan removed her leg to give her life.

God wants to give you life. But there is a difference. Anything that you allow God to amputate makes you spiritually whole. You lose nothing by turning from those things that seek to kill you.

Matthew 16:24,25, Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

Are you carrying the cross, or are you trying to save yourself?

Do We Need a God?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Arrogant, pride-filled, nearsighted humanity has a problem with “needing God.” True enough, humanity always has had “gods” in abundance. We have gods we feared; gods who served us; gods who were angry with us; gods who punished us; gods who used us for their own amusement. Paul once observed that the Greeks erected an altar to the “unknown god” in their fear of overlooking a god (Acts 17:23). Some suggest that gods are a human creation to fulfill a human need. That suggestion may reflect a degree of truth. Often gods were (are) created to explain the unknown.

Virtually all peoples worship and reverence something. (Rare exceptions exist.) While the god worshipped varies, at least one discernible thread is woven through the fabric of most concepts of deity. Humanity says that it fears, is dependent on, and can be punished by the gods. That is not the thread.

This is the discernible thread. In the final analysis, the gods owe their existence and survival to humanity. The gods exist only when humanity remembers them and chooses to serve them.

Repeatedly, Old Testament writings contrasted the living, creator God who chose Israel with gods worshipped by other peoples (and too often by Israel!). One contrast was fundamental. The living, creator God did not depend on humanity for existence. Israel did not feed Him, preserve Him, protect Him, or give Him life. When they forgot Him, He lived and acted. When they deserted Him, He lived and acted. When the temple was left to ruin, He lived and acted. And His actions proved that He was alive!

This living, creator God sent us Jesus. He saves us. Though humanity does its worst, our worst cannot destroy His love, exceed His mercy, “out need” His grace, or generate wickedness that is beyond His forgiveness. No matter what we do, He lives and acts.

We are powerless to destroy Him. He was before we were. He will be after we are not. Yet, we can do something horrible to the living, creator God. In our minds and hearts we can remake Him. We can make “a god” out of “The God.” Each time our concepts make God depend on us instead of our depending on God, we are guilty. That is when we made “a god” out of “The God.”

Too much of “our religion” exists to defend a god that we made. Too little of our Christianity surrenders to the living, creator God to allow Him to remake us.

What Is Happening?

Posted by on April 11, 1999 under Bulletin Articles

In recent months sad events and sad news have bombarded us. So many critical illnesses! So many deaths in families! So many deaths of members! So many were in intensive care that it seemed we could rent our own wing.

Last week the bombardment intensified. Wednesday Mary Burkett drove to Searcy for a doctor’s appointment to determine the source of headaches. Immediately there was emergency surgery for an aneurysm. Thursday night Brad Pistole suffered a seizure. Tests revealed a sizable brain tumor located behind his eye. Tuesday morning, Bill Flippo had a CAT scan which revealed three brain tumors.

We are in shock, but we also rejoice. John Fowler worshipped with us Sunday. His recovery from an extremely serious heart attack is progressing well. Stan Spainhour is able to worship with us again. His battle with a brain tumor is an inspiration. Mary Burkett returned home Monday. In over 95% of occurrences, the type of tumor Brad Pistole has is benign.

We tend to think of God’s purposes in terms of physical life. We tend to believe that physical needs are our most important needs. We tend to regard Christianity to be an “insurance policy” to protect us from the physically undesirable. We tend to think that God’s priority for us personally is centered in physical well being.

God and Satan are locked in a “war of no surrender.” When Jesus died, God defeated Satan. Though defeated, Satan is not yet imprisoned. He is enraged! He hates God! He hates those who belong to God! Satan is determined to cause God pain in the only way he can–by causing people pain and distress.

God uses the physical distress of His people to achieve His eternal purposes. God’s promises to us and plans for us far exceed physical well-being. It is incredible that GOD would call us His children! We cannot see what He plans for us (1 John 3:1, 2).

Our real struggle is not against the physical. It is against powers, the world forces of this darkness, and the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan can hurt us physically, but he cannot destroy us spiritually. That is not within his power. As we grieve and suffer, never forget that physical sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the eternal glory God has for us (Romans 8:18).

God’s Test

Posted by on April 4, 1999 under Sermons

Even the relationships that survive are too often frail and hollow. Too many are based on pretense instead of substance.

The greatest single power available to Christians in our society to attract people to give serious consideration to Jesus Christ are Christian relationships of love. The more successful we are at loving and building relationships of love, the more successful we will be in reaching people in our society.

  1. Before we examine 1 John 4, we need to remember something and be aware of something.
    1. First, we must remember that John did not divide his letter into chapters and verses.
      1. Yes, I know that I keep reminding you of that.
      2. Let me show you why it is so important to remember that fact.
        1. The emphasis in 4:1-6 is on “trying the spirits.”
        2. But notice that the “bookends” on each side of “trying the spirits” is an emphasis on the importance of love.
        3. Immediately before we read about “trying the spirits” we are told that it is love that verifies that we have passed out of death into life.
        4. Immediately after we read about “trying the spirits” we are told that love is the proof that we have been conceived by God and know God.
        5. Any spirit that tries to convince us that love is not of basic, spiritual importance is not God’s spirit.
    2. Second, notice that John’s emphasis is on relationship, not on knowledge.
      1. The antichrist, those who declared that Jesus was not the Christ, often claimed that God gave them a special revelation.
      2. Their “revelation” emphasized that knowledge was essential and declared love was not of primary importance.
      3. Knowing God’s “revelation” was more important than loving Christians.
      4. Note that John strongly rejected the idea that knowledge is more important than love.
      5. Note that John strongly emphasized that Christians loving Christians is essential.
  2. I John 4:1-6, the importance of “trying the spirits.”
    1. “Do not believe every spirit because there are many false prophets; test the spirits” (4:1).
      1. First notice that the voice of the spirits here are human voices, the voices of false prophets.
      2. In a world without Bibles, there was an enormous problem of determining what to believe.
      3. In a world with Bibles, there is an enormous problem in determining what to believe.
    2. The Spirit of God confesses that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and that he came from God (4:2).
      1. They struggled with a huge problem that never troubles most of us.
      2. If Jesus was divine, if he came from God, how could he be a fleshly man?
      3. We do not have an answer to that question; we accept it by faith.
        1. We just don’t consider the answer to that question to be important.
        2. They did.
        3. To them that was a huge faith question.
    3. The antichrist denied that Jesus came from God and lived in the flesh (4:3).
      1. These Christians had heard the antichrists were coming.
      2. I doubt that they expected the antichrists to come from the Christian community; they likely expected antichrists to be an “outside force.”
      3. Antichrists were already in existence.
      4. Even though they began as Christians, they taught a “Christless” way to belong to God.
    4. John said clearly (4:4):
      1. You are from God.
      2. You have overcome the antichrist.
      3. Why?
        1. The Holy Spirit is in you.
        2. This was a common understanding in the first century Christian community.
        3. Paul emphasized the same truth in Ephesians 3:16,17 “… that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        4. They had not overcome the antichrists because they had defeated them.
        5. They had overcome the antichrists because the Holy Spirit was in them.
      4. God defeated Satan in the world by letting Jesus die, and God defeated Satan in you by letting His Spirit live in you.
      5. God’s Spirit can live in you because you believe that God sent Jesus in the flesh, and in that faith you have been conceived by God.
    5. We need to take a moment to focus on what John was talking about when he wrote of “trying the spirits.”
      1. This is one of many misused and abused verses in the New Testament.
      2. In the context of the point John made, “trying the spirits” had nothing to do with:
        1. What translations Christians use.
        2. What use we make of church buildings.
        3. What style of worship that we use.
        4. What spiritual programs and ministries that we select.
        5. Or a thousand other applications that we have made.
      3. We do not of ourselves decide that something is evil and authorize our opposition on the basis that John said “to try the spirits.”
      4. Most of the world fought the idea that Jesus was the Christ.
        1. Judaism denied that Jesus was the Christ.
        2. Paganism denied that Jesus was the Son of God.
        3. The Roman government considered Jesus and all who followed him to be a dangerous heresy that was a threat to the government.
        4. Even the antichrists said Jesus was not the Christ; and they came from among the Christians.
      5. There were two tests that they were to apply to those who declared that they spoke for God.
        1. Do they declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?
        2. Do they emphasize the importance of Christians loving Christians?
        3. If they do not emphasize both essential truths, they are not from God.
    6. The antichrists are not from God; they oppose God (4:5).
    7. “We” (the apostolic voice) are from God (4:6).
      1. Those who know God listen to us.
      2. Recall how John began this letter (1:1-3)–we heard, saw, and touched him; we are actual witnesses of the life of the physical and resurrected Jesus.
  3. What does this mean? “It is urgent that you love each other” (4:7,8).
    1. Love is from God; God is into loving relationships.
      1. The closer people get to God the more loving they become;.
      2. Conversely, the further they get from God the less loving they become.
      3. What kind of love? Sacrificial, unselfish love. The love that God had when He sent His son to this world (John 3:16). The kind of love Jesus had when he died on the cross, the “Father forgive them” kind of love (Luke 23:34).
      4. Knowledge of God produces love and creates relationships.
      5. It is utter deceit to claim to know God and not love.
    2. God’s love revealed itself in them by giving them life in the Christ (4:9). [Instead of giving them an organ transplant God gave them a soul transplant.]
    3. Love is not revealed by what we do, but through what God did–He sent His son to be our substitute in paying for the consequences of the wrongs we do (4:10).
    4. If God loved every one of us that much, we ought to love each other (4:11).
    5. Loving each other does two things (4:12).
      1. It allows God to continually live in us.
      2. It allows God’s love to become complete in us.
      3. Love enables us to become 100% of what God wants us to be.
      4. We become what God wants us to be through relationship, not through doctrine.
      5. If it were possible for us to be 100% correct in doctrine, and in doing that not love, we would not be what God wants us to be.
      6. God living in us and our living in God is dependent on love.
      7. Doctrine is important because we pursue truth.
      8. Love is critical because we want God to live in us as we live in God.
    6. Possession of the Spirit verifies we live in God and God lives in us (4:13).
    7. The apostles witnessed the fact that God sent Jesus to be the world’s Savior (4:14).
    8. Confessing Jesus as the Christ is essential if God lives in you and you live in God [he is speaking of something much deeper than baptismal confession] (4:15).
    9. You must know and trust the love God has for us; mutually living in each other can happen only when you understand God is love (4:16).
    10. When love becomes complete in us, we will have confidence when the judgment arrives (4:17).
    11. Love destroys fear, and fear destroys love. Love can never be complete in the person who lives in fear of God’s punishment (4:18).
    12. If God had not first loved us, we would not know or understand love (4:19).
    13. It is impossible to love God and hate a Christian (4:20).
      1. Only liars claim they can do that.
      2. You cannot love the unseen God and hate the seen brother.
    14. This is God’s basic command that John emphasized: the Christian who loves God should love Christian brothers and sisters (4:21).

Loving relationships are the key to a successful congregation. The opportunity to form loving relationships are the key to a powerful outreach. When we let God show us how to love, we take the chains off of God. Powerful things happen.

God’s Called-Out People

Posted by on under Sermons

How long is three hundred years? If we talk in approximate terms, that is the difference between the year 1700 and the year 2000. What happened near the year 1700? The year 1692 was the year of the Salem witchcraft trials. In 1701 a man pulled his boat up on bank of the Detroit River to establish a fur trading outpost. That spot is now the location of the Civic Center in downtown Detroit.

What did not exist in 1700? Virtually nothing that you use in your everyday life. Nothing that directly impacts your daily life existed in 1700. This nation was not even a nation in 1700.

  1. The church that Jesus brought into existence was the most unusual world religion that existed for almost three hundred years.
    1. “What was so unusual about the first three hundred years of the church?”
      1. Christians existed all over the Mediterranean world [and beyond], but no other religious group anywhere in the world was like them.
      2. Christians:
        1. Did not own any buildings that were used for religious assemblies.
        2. Did not build temples like the other religions.
        3. Had no priesthood who served in temples.
        4. Had no holy places where they gathered.
        5. Offered no sacrifices.
      3. No matter how many thousand Christians lived in a city, no matter how huge the city was, they did not have or do those things.
      4. In the beginning they had leaders that they called elders, or bishops, or presbyters, but these were spiritually mature men whose primary work was to serve and care for Christians by providing spiritual leadership.
        1. They were not authoritarians who controlled the church.
        2. They were not gifted business men who cared for church business.
        3. By today’s standards, there was no business to take care of since there were no buildings and no properties.
      5. These Christians, who were the church, were not like us.
        1. If a group of them could visit with us this morning, everything we do would be very strange to them.
        2. They met in homes without Bibles or song books or literature; printing had not been invented, and the majority could not read.
        3. The songs we sing are not the songs they sung.
        4. Our music was not their music; four part harmony did not exist.
        5. I seriously doubt that we do anything as they did it, and I seriously doubt they did things in the same manner in the different parts of their world.
    2. Jesus Christ definitely build his church.
      1. He did not build it while he was alive, but his death did not prevent him from building it.
        Matthew 16:16-18 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Jesus built his church upon the truth that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
        2. By God’s guidance, Peter announced to the Jewish world and to the non-Jewish world that Jesus was the Christ.
        3. The church came into existence after Jesus’ resurrection, but not even crucifixion stopped him from building his church.
      2. The church belongs to Jesus, and only to Jesus.
        1. Paul told the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:28 that Jesus purchased it with his own blood.
        2. He told the Ephesian congregation in Ephesians 1:22,23 that Jesus Christ is the head over all things to the church, and the church is his body.
  2. When you hear the word church, what do you think?
    1. Most of us think of a building when we think of the church.
      1. We quickly explain that the church is the people and not the building.
      2. But the truth is that when we think of the West-Ark Church of Christ we think about a building where Christians gather at 900 North Waldron Road in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
        1. We think of ministries, activities, and assemblies that are associated with this building.
        2. How can you have a church if you don’t have a building? an address? assemblies and activities?
    2. Is it not obvious that when the Christians in the New Testament heard the word “church” that they did not think of a building, or programs, or assemblies?
      1. They did not have buildings.
      2. Their assemblies occurred in small groups in homes.
      3. But the word church obviously meant something when they thought about it.
        1. They thought about a family of people who belonged to Jesus Christ.
        2. They thought about a spiritual community of believers that Jesus the Christ sustained, guided, nurtured, and nourished.
      4. The church was not a nation like Israel was a nation.
      5. The church was not a religious institution like the pagan temples.
      6. The church was simply the “called out” people, the people who were called to belong to God by following Jesus Christ.
        1. That was the meaning of the word translated church: “the called out.”
        2. These were the people who trusted the Christ that God sent.
        3. These were the people who willingly gave their lives to the Christ because he died for their sins.
        4. These were the people who let Jesus Christ be Lord of their lives.
        5. They were called out from everything that opposed God.
        6. They were called into the forgiveness and the salvation of the Christ.
    3. “I don’t understand how that worked.”
      1. “There were thousands and thousands of Christians.”
      2. “But there were no buildings, no property, no printing, no Bibles, no collective assemblies, and no institution?”
      3. “I just don’t see how that worked.”
      4. But it did. There has never been a time in history when Christianity grew as fast, was as strong, or constructively influenced the world more.
    4. “What happened to change this?”
      1. For those first three hundred years Christianity was not a legal religion.
        1. There were times of persecution, but most of the time it was not widespread.
        2. Mostly those were times of intolerance because Christians believed in only one God, and the idolatrous world was deeply offended by that.
        3. But every form of persecution, opposition, and intolerance could not stop the spread of the people who placed their faith in and gave their lives to Jesus the Christ.
      2. Then in 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued an edict of toleration for Christians.
        1. He legalized Christianity.
        2. He also built the first building dedicated to Christian worship.
        3. Almost as soon as it became legal, Christianity began an amazing transformation.
        4. In time it became the ultimate institution dedicated to exercising authority and demanding control.
  3. “But none of those things have anything to do with us.” Are you sure?
    1. Which is the more important in your religious life?
      1. To be a person “called out” of a world that does not care about God, who is “called to” follow and serve Jesus Christ?
      2. Or, to be a person who loyally follows “Church of Christ practices?”
    2. I am scared. I am scared that gradually through this last one hundred years that we have convinced ourselves that our desires are God’s concerns.
      1. Gradually the focus of the church has shifted to what we want, what we like, what makes us comfortable as it shifted away from Jesus Christ’s purposes.
      2. May I meddle a minute? Let me illustrate this by talking about some things that do not matter to God but are of serious importance to us.
      3. As I ask about these things, ask yourself: does this concern our personal desires and comfort, or God’s purposes in Jesus?
        1. The time that we assemble? Is that important to you? Why?
        2. The songs that we sing? Is that important to you? Why?
        3. The length of our assembly? Is that important to you? Why
        4. Having anything but preaching when we assemble? Is that important to you? Why?
        5. And these do not even touch the “important things.”
      4. Perhaps someone says, “David, you just want what you want.”
        1. I have been preaching for 45 years.
        2. I have never worked with a congregation that was “what I wanted;” (that is probably good).
        3. I have worked with a lot of elders, and I have never known an elder who said the church was just what he wanted it to be.
        4. In fact, the elders that I have known that tried the hardest to control the church were the elders who were the unhappiest with the church.
  4. This is a good congregation, and I am honored to be a part of it.
    1. There are so many good things happening here.
      1. So many are involved, so many accept responsibility, so many do wonderful things for Christ privately and quietly.
      2. This is a loving, serving congregation!
      3. An example: your outpouring of love and concern in recent deaths so touched visiting members of families that many were deeply moved by your love, and one person returned home and was baptized.
    2. It is because we are an exceptional congregation; it is because there is so much love here for the Lord and each other; it is because our spiritual potential is enormous; that I want to issue some special challenges.
      1. I am asking you to pray more than you have ever prayed in your life.
      2. I am asking you to have more courage and faith than you have ever had.
      3. “What do you want all of us to do?”
      4. I want us to give the church back to Christ. I want us to be Christ’s called out people.
        1. I want us to restore Christianity as it has never been restored here.
        2. I want us to commit ourselves to Christ’s purposes in our personal lives.
        3. I want us to commit ourselves to Christ’s purposes in the congregation.
        4. I want us to stop letting fear influence our decisions and start letting God use us as only God can.
        5. I want us to stop trying to take care of God, and start trusting God to take care of us.
        6. I want us to stop trusting “us” and start trusting God more deeply than we ever have.
        7. I want us to know with all our hearts that nothing is as important as letting the Christ prepare us and others for eternity.

Prayer: God help us become the “called out.” Help us be what Christ died for us to become. Our congregation, our community, our country desperately need your family!

Will you do it? Will you pray as you never prayed before? Will you help give this congregation to Jesus Christ? Will you let God use you to help restore Christianity?