The God Who Creates

Posted by on July 25, 1999 under Bulletin Articles

The Bible opens with a simple, straightforward statement: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). To some believers this is interesting but meaningless. To some its significance is to be found in discussing “how He did it” or “when He did it.” The significance is found in the fact that He did it.

Some read Genesis 1 occasionally to be reminded of God’s incredible power. They feel it deserves brief emphasis. Then they feel the need to move on to “the important stuff.” The God who creates is “the important stuff.” The God who creates is a central Bible theme. The significance of the fact that God creates is beyond exaggeration.

In a beautiful, powerful presentation of Jesus, Isaiah introduced Israel to God’s Servant (Isaiah 42). In Him God’s soul delights. He will not break a bruised reed or extinguish the ember in a wick. He will establish justice on earth.

Then the God who creates challenged Israel to recognize His concerns. He challenged them to see the incredible promises the Servant would fulfill. He challenged them to react in understanding’s appreciation. Note that God would achieve His purposes through His Servant because the God Who creates would make it happen.

Centuries later Paul addressed the elite minds of Athens. They were among the world’s best educated philosophers. Paul discussed God with them. His beginning point? God is the God who creates. If they could not understand the significance of God being Creator, they could not understand Jesus’ resurrection.

What does God do for those who trust His Servant, the Christ? The Creator God recreates. God takes us creatures created in His image but ruined by evil and recreates us. He takes us who were hopelessly ruined and makes us new.

Read Ephesians 4:20-24. Christians must grasp what the Creator God does for us in Christ. If we do not, we will continue the existence we lived before we knew Christ. We must realize the work of the Creator God in us is renewal. Two things must happen. We must be renewed in the spirit of our minds. We must be renewed by becoming the new self the Creator God recreated us to be.

Is being created again in Christ important? The Creator God’s certain objective: banish Satan, destroy all evil, and renew His whole creation in a new heaven and a new earth. Only the renewed can live with God. Only being created again in Christ will prepare us to exist with God.

Does the Compass or the Clock Control Your Life?

Posted by on July 18, 1999 under Sermons

In the early 1960s Benton Harnage, Gordon Teffeteller, and I went catfishing in a north Florida swamp. We used a boat ramp deep in a north Florida wilderness area and traveled about two miles into a river swamp. Our plan was to fish late Friday afternoon and all night, get home about noon on Saturday.

We made camp a couple of hours before dark. Gordon had a brand new shotgun, and he wanted to squirrel hunt until dark. It was the last weekend of squirrel hunting season, and he wanted to try his new gun out. Then Benton and I were going to fish until dark.

Dark came, the wind started blowing, and we started supper. Gordon did not return to camp. Do you have any idea how dark it gets in a swamp when the sun sets? Do you have any idea of how little you can hear when the wind blows in a swamp?

Benton left me in camp to go look for Gordon in pitch dark. And I am wondering what will I ever do if he does not come back. He was gone almost an hour. He came back without Gordon. He went again for about an hour. He returned without Gordon. He went a third time for about an hour. He returned without Gordon.

I was anxious the first time he went out. I was extremely nervous the second time he went out. I was just plain afraid the third time he went out. Gordon was lost. For all I knew, Benton was lost. And I had no idea of how to get back to the boat ramp.

That night I gained a new understanding of being lost. We finally found Gordon and got out just fine. But I never forgot the feeling of being lost.

In a recent interview I conducted with Jackie Hamilton, she stated that people needed to check their personal lives to see if they were living life by the clock or by the compass.

  1. The clock and the compass are two incredible instruments.
    1. The clock is a complex instrument that measures the passing of time.
      1. A clock tells us what time it is.
        1. It tells us the immediate present, but basically that is all it tells us.
        2. It does not predict how much time we have left.
        3. It does not give us time and cannot create time.
        4. It just measures time.
      2. In our society, the clock is an instrument of stress.
        1. It reminds us of how much time has passed, time that we no longer have.
        2. It cannot predict how much time we have left because it cannot predict interruptions yet to occur.
        3. In our society, the clock controls when we get up, how fast we live our lives, how hard we push, how long our day is, how fast we drive, and dictates our schedule as it alters our priorities.
        4. “What time is it?” is far more likely to be an anxiety question than a curiosity question.
    2. A compass is a very simple instrument that points north.
      1. Its only purpose is to provide direction.
      2. Not matter how expensive or inexpensive , no matter how complex or how simple compasses are, they have the same simple purpose–point north.
      3. By always pointing north, the compass enables us to establish a sense of direction.
        1. The compass is an invaluable instrument when we need direction.
        2. It can always help us establish a course, a direction that we can trust even if we don’t know where we are.
      4. Because the compass provides a certainty in times of uncertainty, the compass is an instrument of reassurance and comfort.
  2. The Bible is a compass, not a clock.
    1. Why should we regard the Bible to be a compass?
      1. Its basic purpose is to always point you in the direction of God.
      2. Jesus Christ is the compass needle that always, without fail, points a person in God’s direction.
      3. When we have no sense of direction in our life, when we are confused and disoriented, when we are not sure where we are or where we are going, the Bible focuses us on Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ points us to God.
    2. Throughout the Bible, one essential, basic responsibility of all people in all ages has been the same: find God and move toward Him.
      1. For an example, consider the nation of Israel.
        1. What was a primary purpose of the plagues when Israel was enslaved in Egypt? To direct them toward the living God whom they did not know.
          1. Exodus 6:6,7 Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’ (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          2. “Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God…”
        2. What was a primary purpose of Israel’s experience at Mount Sinai when the presence of God descended on the mountain and He spoke the ten commandments to them?
          1. To establish the identify to God in their minds and hearts.
          2. To give them a sense of direction that would lead them to God.
        3. What a primary purpose in Joshua’s statement to the nation of Israel when he challenged them to forsake idols and serve God?
          1. Joshua 24:15 “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          2. A primary purpose was to give them a sense of direction toward God and challenge them to take it.
        4. What was a primary purpose in David’s Psalms or the Prophets’ writings?
          1. To establish the identity of God in their hearts and minds.
          2. To give them a sense of direction that would lead them to God.
      2. For a second example, consider the Christians in the New Testament.
        1. What was a primary purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross?
          1. To establish the identity of the living God who loved sinful people so much that He would sacrifice His own Son for their forgiveness.
          2. To provide a sense of direction that could lead all people to God.
        2. What was a primary purpose of the resurrection of Jesus?
          1. To establish the identity of the living God who not only would redeem us but raise us from the dead.
          2. To provide us a sense of direction that would lead us to God as we live in a world that denies God.
        3. What was a primary purpose of the evangelism and world wide teachings in the book of Acts?
          1. To establish the identity of the living God not only among Israelites but also among all people anywhere in the world.
          2. To provide all people a sense of direction that could lead them to God.
        4. What was a primary purpose of the New Testament letters written to churches and to individuals?
          1. To nurture believers as they fixed their focus on the living God.
          2. To provide believers a sense of direction that would lead them to the living God as they lived in an evil world.
  3. Jesus became the needle of our spiritual compass by never losing his sense of direct, by always facing and following God.
    1. Nothing ever deceived Jesus; nothing ever led Jesus off God’s course for him.
      1. When Satan tempted him person-to-person, Jesus stayed on course.
      2. When the Pharisees challenged and attacked him, Jesus stayed on course.
      3. When his disciples argued and fussed in ignorance and misunderstanding, Jesus stayed on course.
      4. When one of his best friends betrayed him, Jesus stayed on course.
      5. When his disciples deserted him at his arrest, Jesus stayed on course.
      6. When he was tried, falsely condemned, ridiculed, and abused, Jesus stayed on course.
      7. When he died hanging from a cross, Jesus stayed on course.
      8. Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    2. He is the needle in our spiritual compass.
      1. As you live life, if you want to identify God, you start with Jesus.
      2. As you struggle in life, if you want direction that will point you to God, you start with Jesus.
      3. As Jesus declared to Philip, (John 14:10) Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
  4. Is your personal life ruled by the clock or guided by the compass?
    1. If you are honest with yourself as you examine the major segments of your life, is the clock or the compass in control?
      1. Is what is happening in your family relationships and interaction controlled by the clock or the compass?
      2. Is what is happening in your personal behavior controlled by the clock or the compass?
      3. Is what is happening in your work controlled by the clock or the compass?
      4. Is what is happening in your mind and heart right now controlled by the clock or the compass?
    2. Beware!
      1. Clocks run down and time runs out.
      2. The compass is always there, always steady.
      3. When we meet God, and we will, there will be no clock.
        1. Time will be no more.
        2. But the compass will be there, still pointing to God.

[Song of reflection: 613–Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand]

If your life follows the same course it is on right now, where are you going? If your attitudes of right now never change, where are you going? If the feeling of your heart that you have right now never change, where are you going? If things continue to happen in your family as they are happening right now, where is your family going? If your pleasures of right now never change, where are you going? If your priorities of right now continue to be your priorities, where are you going?

Does your life have a course of direction that points to God every day in every circumstance? Are you following the compass?

Authority: The Difference Between God and Man

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

What is your immediate thought when you hear the word “authority”? Being human, you likely think “control.” Humans equate authority with control. Human possession of authority equals control. One controls because he or she has authority. Humans give the right to control by granting authority. Simply consider human authority figures: the military officer, the law enforcement officer, the C.E.O., the university chancellor, etc. To humans, authority equals the right of control.

Among humans, how one acquires authority is secondary to possessing authority. Regardless of how authority was acquired, it still conveys the right to control. You may seize it. You may be given it. You may win it. You may inherit it. You may acquire it by deceit. Regardless of how it is acquired, authority equals control: in the political world, in the business world, in world of education, in the church.

Thus we are accustomed to humans in authority who are less than honorable, less than honest, less than ethical, less than moral, and less than upright. We are accustomed to character “not mattering.” Even if he or she is not honorable, the person still possesses the authority, still exercises the control. Authority equals control. Authority has little to do with who or what you are as a person.

Not so with God. Is God the ultimate authority? The ultimate authority is the sovereign God. Is everything under the sovereign God’s control? Without question. Evil says differently, but evil asks you to consider only immediate circumstances and the short-term future, never the eternal. In terms we relate to, “Victory is not achieved by half-time scores, or scores after nine holes, or scores at the top of the ninth.”

We assume that God is in control because God has the authority. We assume that authority gives God control. Why? Because that is the reality of the human world. Our assumptions are false. God’s authority is based on His character. And so is His control. God is worthy to have all authority. God is worthy to be in control. He is the true One who keeps every promise. He is the righteous One filled with mercy. He is the just One who forgives. He is absolute purity and holiness. He is worthy.

Those who see God upon His throne fall before Him in awe. Because of His authority? His control? NO!!! Because of His worthiness!!! Read Isaiah 6:1-7 and Revelation 4. Heaven is filled with His glory because He is worthy.

How Do You Look At the World?

Posted by on July 11, 1999 under Sermons

Revelation 1:4-6 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood– and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father–to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

In the early 1900’s, members of the Churches of Christ looked at the world from a common perspective. Most of the members and most of the congregations were rural. In fact, in America, Churches of Christ began and spread as a rural movement. The church basically looked at the world through the eyes of a farmer. This world view was simple. It was close to nature. It incorporated hard, honest, physical work. Existence was a family endeavor. Families lived on the same land generation after generation. That was the way the world was intended to be. That was God’s way.

This view became the church’s accepted view of the world. What we taught and the way we approached life appealed to people who saw the world like we did. We had little contact with and little influence on people who looked at the world differently.

But that was not a problem then. Rural churches existed in rural isolation where little ever changed. Families lived in the same area for generations. In rural isolation, It was an effective approach to life.

When agriculture declined, family farms began to disappear. Grown children looked for work in towns and cities. Then their adult children went to college. Then their adult children pursued opportunity any place any where.

At first, careers had some basic things in common. You did on the job training. You learned the skills you needed. And you were basically set for life because many jobs were lifetime jobs. You bought a house, settled down, reared a family, and eventually retired. It was stable, predictable, and routine. And we did not need to change our view of the world.

  1. Many of us sitting here do not remember those times; many of us do.
    1. Help me illustrate the change. (All you need to do is raise your hand. Don’t hold your hand up until I ask, but hold it up long enough for others to see).
      1. I’ll ask just three questions.
        1. How many of your expect Fort Smith to be your home for the rest of your life? Hold you hand up, and look around. Thank you!
        2. How many of you expect to retire in your current job? Hold you hand up, and look around. Thank you!
        3. How many of you expect Fort Smith to be just one of the stops you make on the journey of life? Hold your hand up, and look around. Thank you!
      2. Most of you do not expect to retire in your current job, and most of you do not expect to live in Fort Smith the rest of your life.
        1. How do you think members of a rural congregation would have answered those questions fifty years ago?
        2. The transition from rural life to urban life changed the way we look at the world.
    2. Consider just jobs.
      1. The typical person in today’s work force will change careers (not jobs) four times in his or her work life.
      2. The growing reality is this: a job can take you anywhere.
        1. Recently a company paid one of my sons to come to California to convince workers in a plant that was closing to move to another company plant in Camden, Arkansas.
        2. In this era of downsizing, reorganizing, consolidating, and disappearing markets, jobs take people everywhere.
        3. One of our members commutes by plane within the country every week, and another member commutes by plane overseas frequently.
      3. What is this reality doing to us?
        1. It produces a different kind of needs.
        2. It produces a different kind of problems.
        3. It produces many different ways to look at the world.
  2. I want to share with you some of the different ways that we, within this congregation, look at the world. (I am talking about us, in this assembly, right this moment.)
    1. Some of us look at the world with some form of the “God is in control” view.
      1. There are several, but consider just two forms of the “God is in control” view.
      2. View one: the world chooses to be extremely wicked.
        1. God is angry and deeply offended by all this wickedness.
        2. God is primarily a God of wrath and justice.
        3. God will take vengeance; He will punish the world for its wickedness.
        4. The world should live in terror of God.
      3. View two: the world has been deceived and enslaved by Satan.
        1. God wants to rescue everyone who has been deceived and enslaved.
        2. God uses Jesus’ grace and mercy to rescue the deceived and enslaved.
        3. The purpose of salvation is to rescue people.
        4. The world should find hope in Jesus Christ.
    2. Some of us look at the world with the “God wants me to be happy” view.
      1. God wants me to be happy.
      2. God is for anything that makes me happy.
      3. When I know what will make me happy, God wants me to do it or to have it.
      4. God’s purpose for me on earth is to be happy.
    3. Some of us look at the world with the “God exists, but God is not in control” view.
      1. Evil controls this world, and obviously evil is defeating righteousness.
      2. God cannot change things; and He certainly cannot change them in my life.
      3. Church talk, church rules, and church principles do not work in the real world.
      4. I worship to put me in a more favorable position with God when I die–God rules that world, but He cannot do anything about this world.
    4. Some of us have the “God is not the origin of life or people” view.
      1. Life is an accident, people are the result of pure chance, and human life has no purpose beyond earth.
      2. Life is at the mercy of turmoil and suffering.
      3. We need to find ways to escape distress and suffering, and we should experience pleasure every way possible.
      4. Life is depressing; it is full of rejection, betrayal, and disappointment.
      5. There is nothing after death.
    5. Each of those views is held right now by someone sitting here.
      1. And I am supposed to preach sermons that are relevant and life-changing to each one of you regardless of your view of life.
      2. And I am supposed to do it in a way that lets many of you continue to think that everyone here sees the world just like you do.
      3. And every sermon ideally should be only twenty-five minutes long.
      4. And no matter how you look at God, or life, or the world, every sermon should have obvious meaning and value to you.
  3. Too much of the time what we do in our assemblies is not designed to “connect” the real, every day lives of people with God.
    1. We do not know what to do when people do not look at the world alike.
      1. Preachers do not.
      2. Leaders do not.
      3. Teachers do not.
      4. Opinion leaders do not.
      5. The core group does not.
      6. Increasingly, we struggle because we all do not look at the world alike.
    2. A typical congregation rarely makes a significant “connection” with the lives of people who attend.
      1. Every typical congregation has many struggling Christians.
        1. Lost jobs, terrible debt, troubled marriages, sickness, death, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, pornography, abusive relationships, unmarried pregnancy, abortion, anger, violence, drug addictions, alcoholism, and a long list of similar things constantly torment struggling Christians.
        2. So they find the motivation to “attend church” one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours on Sunday morning, mostly sit and listen, and then go away to struggle alone for six days and twenty-one hours.
      2. To me it is obvious that the design and intention of the New Testament letters was to connect the every day lives of Christians to God and teach them how to look at the world.
        1. For example, read the letters that Paul or Peter or John wrote.
        2. Look at how frequently they wrote about the common, every day problems of Christians: sexual sins, anger, jealousy, envy, greed, lying, idolatry, drunkenness, and such like things.
        3. Notice how rarely they stomped on Christians for their behavior.
        4. Notice how they consistently challenged them to let God, Christ, and the Spirit teach them how to look at themselves and the world differently.
        5. When God taught them how to look at the world, they became kind, gentle, patient, forbearing, forgiving, merciful, honest, truthful, and helpful.
  4. “David, where ever did you get that idea?” From the New Testament.
    1. See it for yourself.
      1. Paul visited Athens and spoke to the elite leaders of Greek idolatry and philosophy
      2. He tried to connect their view of the world with the living God.
    2. Acts 17:24-31 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

[Prayer: God, open our eyes, and help us see the world as you do.]

“David, how a person looks at the world does not matter!” Really? I wonder how Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris looked at the world before they walked in Columbine High School. I wonder how Benjamin Smith looked at the world before he began shooting people last weekend.”

How YOU look at the world matters. If you are serious about changing your life, if you are serious about letting God help you with your struggles, you must change the way that you look at the world. You must allow God, Christ, and the Spirit to teach you how to see life and the world from the eyes of heaven.

Our God Of Transition

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

First century congregation. Converted idol worshipper: I will never be part of a congregation that has Jewish Christians! They think they are so smart, and we are so stupid! They are know-it-all control freaks! Everything is their way or no way!

Converted Jew: I will never be part of a congregation that has converted idol worshippers! Their concept of God is ‘weird’! Their ignorance of scripture is unbelievable! You see it in their lives, in their marriages, and in their families! Their concepts of right and wrong are ridiculous!

Neither realized that God wants every kind of people in His church. They thought the church existed to please them and make them spiritually “comfortable.”

At the close of the 20th century. I hate change! Everything is in transition! All I want is to be with people who are like me! If I could find people like me, we would bond together and ignore transition and change. All God wants are people like me!

The church should be composed of people like me. If people thought like I think, did things my way, had my values, had my priorities, saw life like I see it, defined good and bad as I do, defined right and wrong as I do, everything would be simple. And comfortable. And easy. And if anyone wanted to be a part of the church, they would have to change to be like us. After all, God doesn’t love people with problems! God doesn’t want troubled, unstable people in the church!

And with whom would you cry when an unmarried granddaughter was pregnant? And with whom would you pray with when your son left his family? And who would comfort you when your wife died? And who would quietly put an arm on your shoulder and pray when your five-year-old had leukemia? And who would listen as you grieved over your husband’s alcoholism? And where would you go for support when you discovered your son’s sexual addictions? And who would help you fight your anger? And where would you go when you were the struggling person?

God-directed thinking for the 21st century. Because transitions alarm us, fears and reactions easily control us. Our simplest response to transition is: “I will not …” From Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to Samuel, to David, to the prophets, to Jesus, to Peter, to Paul, to you, God achieves His purposes through transition. God cannot use people who react to transition with, “I will not … ” From Noah to you, God uses those who say, “I will do anything that allows God to use me to accomplish His purposes now.”

Getting It Together

Posted by on July 4, 1999 under Sermons

Please help me introduce our thoughts this evening. The help I need is painless. All I need is for you to answer a few questions by raising your hand. The questions are so simple that your initial response will be that they are stupid. Trust me. The importance of the questions will become obvious.

Question one: how many of you know your name? Excellent! That is 100%!

Question two: how many of your know where you live? Great!

Question three: how many of you who have a telephone know your telephone number? Wonderful!

The last two are a little more difficult, but not hard.

Question four: how many of you know your abilities, your talents?

Question five: how many of you know ways you want to serve as a Christian?

  1. Consider some scriptures from Acts that talk about the very first Christian congregation to exist, the church in Jerusalem.
    1. The scriptures in Acts:
      1. Acts 2:40,41, And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Note that this congregation began with 3000 new converts.
        2. They had 3000 new converts the very first day of their existence!
      2. Acts 2:47, … praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Every day God increased the number of Christians in that congregation.
        2. Every single day it was growing numerically.
      3. Acts 4:4, But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. This interest was produced when the lame man was healed at the temple and Peter and John were arrested.
        2. The number of men in the congregation were now 5000.
      4. Acts 5:12-14, At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Ananias and Saphira died sudden deaths because Satan filled their hearts and motivated them to lie to the Holy Spirit.
        2. As a result converts increased, not decreased.
        3. Multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.
      5. Acts 6:7, The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. This statement is made after the congregation faced its first major crisis that could have produced a major split.
        2. The way the crisis was handled produced the opposite affect.
        3. Not only did the number of disciples greatly increase, but many of the priests were obedient to Christ.
    2. How big was this first congregation? I have no idea. After we passed 5000 men converts, terms like “multitudes” and “great numbers” are used.
      1. I do not care whose standards you use, this congregation was enormous.
      2. Now I want you to note what this enormous congregation did when they faced their first major crisis.
        Acts 6:1,2, Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. In this enormous congregation, the widows who were not native to Palestine did not receive the food they needed.
        2. Can you imagine establishing and overseeing an internal benevolent program in a congregation of this size with their needs?
        3. To deal with this serious crisis, the twelve apostles summoned the congregation.
      3. Note what happened when this huge congregation faced a second major crisis.
        Acts 15:4,12,22, When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.
        12 All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
        22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas–Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. The crisis: should non-Jewish converts be required to be circumcised before they were baptized? Did they have to comply with Jewish law before they became Christians?
        2. When Paul and Barnabas traveled to the Jerusalem church to discuss this urgent question, the congregation, and the apostles, and the elders received them.
        3. The congregation listened to the discussion of the apostles, elders, and principle opinion leaders .
        4. The whole church agreed with the apostles and elders that it was a good idea to send personal representatives from the Jerusalem congregation to verify their controversial decision.
      4. Years later, after the Jerusalem persecution, this congregation was still huge.
        Acts 21:20, And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Its membership still numbered in the thousands.
    3. How did a huge congregation at that time function so effectively?
      1. I have no idea; I just know that they did, and they did very successfully.
      2. And they did without:
        1. A church building.
        2. Mail.
        3. A telephone.
        4. A fax machine.
        5. Computer.
        6. E-mail.
        7. Typewriters.
        8. Paper.
        9. Bibles.
        10. Bulletins.
        11. Printed information.
        12. Or automobiles.
      3. I cannot imagine addressing their needs, nurturing new converts, evangelizing, and caring for essential matters in a congregation that size without those things.
      4. I have no idea about how they functioned, interacted, maintained themselves, assimilated new converts, or coordinated serving.
      5. I do not even comprehend how leadership functioned in those circumstances.
  2. With a huge church building, mail, telephones, fax, computers, e-mail, typewriters, offset printing press, paper, bulletin, printed information, Bibles, and automobiles, we could not do what they did.
    1. We could not assimilate into this congregation, nurture, and coordinate the essentials if twenty-five new converts a week were added to West-Ark.
      1. We could open the doors and preach, but we could not take care of them.
      2. Our current methods and forms of leadership could not handle it.
      3. Our current methods and forms of fellowship could not handle it.
      4. Our current methods and forms of teaching could not handle it.
      5. Our current methods and forms of nurturing could not handle it.
      6. Our current methods and forms of serving could not handle it.
      7. Do you doubt me?
        1. If twenty-five new members became a part of this congregation each week, we would double in number in less than 6 months.
        2. In one year we would have almost 1500 members not counting children and visitors.
        3. Do you have any idea of what that would mean?
    2. “Yes, we would have trouble seating people in worship.”
      1. Our assembly challenges would be minor compared the challenges we faced in being a living, interactive, serving community of Christians.
      2. There is not one thing we currently have in place that would be adequate for such growth.
      3. There is not one fellowship method, teaching method, interacting method, nurturing method, or serving method that would be adequate for such growth.
      4. Yet, the very first congregation was adequate for that kind of growth.
  3. We do not know all of our inadequacies, but we do know several of them.
    1. In the immediate future we will begin building a better data base and better methods of communicating and coordinating.
      1. That begins with very simple things.
      2. It begins with names, addresses, telephone numbers, abilities, interests, and desires to serve.
      3. It begins with your name, address, telephone number, and interests.
    2. We will urgently need your help; please help us become a growing, serving, interacting congregation.

Question: why should the Lord entrust us with more believers if we are not prepared to take care of them? Acts 2:47 And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

“Answers” That Produce No “Solutions”

Posted by on under Sermons

In 1953 Joseph Stalin died. Shortly after Stalin’s death, Nikita Krushchev became the Premier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That was before many of you were born. Some of us remember those times well.

Nikita Krushchev was the Premier of the Soviet Union for 11 years. When he became premier, the Cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States began. A number of significant things happened as Krushchev controlled the Soviet Union. Within the Soviet Union, he began the process of removing the memories of Stalin and his influence. He also began promoting the development of technology and the Soviet Union’s global military presence.

These are among Krushchev’s notable world accomplishments. (1) He ordered the building of the Berlin Wall to control defections to the West. I still remember the pictures of the wall being built.

(2) He crushed a revolt in Hungary by sending in Soviet tanks and troops. I still remember the pictures of Hungarians attacking tanks with rocks.

(3) In 1959 he visited the United States. It was a strained visit. In a United Nations assembly, while sitting at a desk and making a speech he took a shoe off and beat on the desk. He said, “We will bury you.” Later, in a visit to Los Angeles, his anger almost caused a major incident. He was angry at a statement the Mayor made, and he was angry because he was refused a visit to Disneyland.

(4) Also in 1959 he and Richard Nixon had a confrontation in Moscow at the American National Exhibit. He declared Russian technology would soon pass American technology. He said, “When we pass you, we will wave to you.” At the exposition, Ampex was demonstrating the first video recorder and captured their argument on video tape.

(5) In 1962 he placed missiles with atomic warheads in Cuba. His actions literally brought the world within minutes of an atomic war between the Soviet Union and the United States. I remember those days very well. I was living in Tallahassee, Florida.

  1. In 1964 Nikita Krushchev was deposed as Premier, and he became the first premier of the Soviet Union who did not die in office.
    1. He immediately became a “non-person” in the Soviet Union; it was a crime to even mention his name.
    2. In the thirty-five years that have followed:
      1. The Berlin wall has been torn down and Germany has been reunited.
      2. The Soviet Union has collapsed and no longer exists.
      3. Most of the satellite countries that were under the absolute control of the Soviet Union are now independent.
      4. Soviet technology did not surpass American technology, and today Russian technology is severely distressed by a lack of funds.
    3. To me, the most astounding develop of all is this: his 64-year-old son, Sergei Krushchev, lives in the United States and is applying for American citizenship.
  2. When the Soviet Union collapsed, many of us who lived through the time of the Cold War could not believe the Soviet Union no longer existed.
    1. The greatest, constant, serious dangers we faced in our teens and early adult life were the dangers generated by the Cold War.
      1. When the Soviet Union collapsed, some of us thought, “This is the beginning of a new world.”
        1. “The major threat of nuclear war is over.”
        2. “The arms race cannot be resurrected as a global concern.”
        3. “The threat of the world being controlled by communism is over.”
        4. “The world will be a much more peaceful place.”
      2. Some of us assumed that the introduction of democracy and Western style economics in Russia would transform Russia as we watched.
    2. Russian was not transformed before our eyes. Instead:
      1. Worsening poverty engulfed the population, poverty worse than anything we have known.
      2. An immense personal struggle began for the majority of the Russian people: no hope, nowhere to turn, no opportunity, nothing to believe in.
      3. An enormous escalation of crime; when the authoritarian control of the police ceased, the crime rate soared
      4. Immediately they became a society without direction or anchors.
      5. Immediately they experienced deep disillusionment.
        1. The people were consistently told that as bad as things were in the Soviet Union, things were worse in the Western world.
        2. The people were told that the only real answer to all their problems was communism.
        3. They placed their trust in those statements.
        4. When both proved to be false what were they to trust?
  3. Atheistic communism systematically removed religious influence from Soviet society.
    1. Church buildings were devoted to nonreligious purposes.
    2. A concerted effort was made to remove all religious words from their vocabulary.
      1. In the early 1990s I had opportunity to lecture to an Institute in Kaliningrad.
      2. The English department invited me to lecture on religious subjects, but I had to lecture in English.
      3. Each day for three days I was allowed to speak once or twice in their largest lecture hall.
      4. I taught about Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Matthew 5,6,7 to illustrate how that Jesus’ teachings would benefit any society.
      5. The head of the English department was my translator.
        1. It was not unusual for her to stop and explain that they had no word to translate what I was saying.
        2. For example, the word “heart” had only one meaning, the physical organ that pumps blood.
        3. They had never heard the English word “divine.”
  4. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, conditions are worse for the Russian people.
    1. Conditions are worse in almost every context.
      1. Society is less stable.
      2. The state provided everything from a job to a home, to energy in a home to retirement; it is very difficult to relearn how to live in a society where the state does not provide for your needs.
      3. Their money has almost no value.
      4. The pensions of the elderly are not enough to sustain life.
      5. The crime rate and the nature of the crimes is unbelievable.
      6. Greed and graft rule and control.
    2. Why? How could a people move from a system of atheistic communism to democracy and things get worse?
      1. Many significant reasons produced that result.
      2. May I cite one significant reason that most Americans never think about.
      3. When a society moves from atheistic communism to godless democracy, there is no progress.
    3. We Americans are deceived about the freedoms provided by our democratic existence.
      1. We think that the primary answer to the world’s problems are the rights and freedoms provided by a democratic society.
      2. But again and again we watch as democracy fails to work in other nations that leave a dictator’s control or a communistic philosophy.
      3. We watch as such transitions often create new problems and instability.
      4. We watch as situations get worse and the suffering of the people increases.
    4. No matter how often this happens, we fail to see the obvious.
      1. Democracy works to the benefit and blessing of a society only when the people have unselfish values and moral principles that:
        1. Respect the dignity of the person.
        2. Value human life.
        3. Accept the worth and significance of the individual.
        4. Believe “I exist for purposes that go beyond self-interest and selfishness.”
        5. Believe honesty and integrity are the responsibilities of every individual.
      2. What will transform a people into that kind of society?
        1. Religion?
          1. No!
          2. Some of the most horrible acts our world has experienced were committed in devotion to religion.
        2. Faith in the living God who loved us enough to give us a Savior will transform any people into that kind of society.
          1. The living God teaches us the value of the person.
          2. The living God teaches us mercy and forgiveness.
          3. The living God teaches us unselfishness.
          4. The living God teaches us to be servants.
          5. The teachings of the living God empower the principles of democracy.
        3. Systematically remove the influence and teachings of the living God from a people, and democracy will not work in that society.
          1. People will sell recreational drugs to people to make money with no concern about what this does to persons, to families, or to society.
          2. People use people for selfish, sexual gratification with no concern about what it does to the persons, to families, or to society.
          3. People in their greed to exploit people for the love of money with no concern about what happens to the persons, to families or to society.
          4. People make victims out of people through crimes of every kind with no concern about what it does to persons, to families, or to society.
        4. Democracy works only in societies where responsible people of integrity value people.
        5. Democracy cannot work in societies where irresponsible people exploit others to achieve their own selfish objectives.
        6. Remove God from society, and you destroy society’s ability to be a successful democracy.

Ephesians 4:25-32 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

People who trust the living God and give their lives to the Savior He sent seek to become that kind of people. That transforms the society because it transforms the people.

[Prayer to become increasingly godly people.]

Is the godliness of our society increased because of you?

The “Information” Challenge

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

What is required to be “successful” as a congregation? That is an unanswerable question. It is much too broad. Before an answer can be attempted, two other questions must be asked and answered.

What is the definition of “success?” Favorable attendance statistics? Baptisms? People placing membership? Ministries functioning? Activities occurring at the building? Activities occurring in the home? Facilities available? Utilization of facilities? Utilization of congregational resources? Utilization of member resources? Transformation of individual lives? Biblical positions assumed? Struggling people helped? Marriages saved? Marriages strengthened? Families equipped and strengthened? Families preserved? Teens helped? Divorced persons helped and guided? Single parent families sustained? Single adults helped and utilized? Benevolent work in the congregation? Benevolent work in the community? Benevolent work in the world? Interaction within the congregation? Interaction within the community? Internal image of the congregation? External image of the congregation? Equipping people to serve? Quality of the preaching? Quality of the classes? Quality of the leadership? Percentage of the membership serving and involved? Preparation for the future?

What is the congregation’s basic objective? In what specific ways is that objective God centered? Christ centered? Spirit centered? mercy centered? forgiveness centered? service centered? people centered? freedom centered? eternity centered?

Considering only these matters, the essential link between being an informed and being a successful congregation is obvious. An informed congregation is composed of informed individuals. That means an informed “us” depends on an informed “me.”

Raising the awareness level of its members is an enormous challenge in any active congregation. For the staff and leaders, the challenge is (a) providing the information and (b) getting your attention. For members, the challenge is (a) caring and (b) staying informed.

Sunday evenings in July will be devoted to increasing awareness. The 4th: “Getting it Together.” The 11th: the Guyana report. The 18th: VBS 1999, which begins the next day. The 25th: C.U.R.E. presents a fifteen minute overview of 1999 projects.