The Illusion

Posted by on August 29, 1999 under Sermons

What is an illusion? An illusion is a false perception of reality that deceives us. It exists in our mind, our desires, and our dreams. It is something that we believe can happen. It is something that we want to happen. It is something we dream about happening. It may be something that we are certain will happen. But it cannot happen and will not happen. No matter how earnestly we pursue an illusion, no matter how much energy we invest in an illusion, no matter how much passion we devote to an illusion, no matter what sacrifices we make for an illusion, the illusion cannot be reality and will never become reality.

Let me cite two common illusions. Our dream of producing the ideal American society is an illusion. The illusion is seen in our conviction that if the “right” things are done in the “right” way, our society will become the ideal society for everyone. Everyone will be content. Every person will have what he or she needs. Every person will have the real opportunity to be happy. Everyone will enjoy life. Everyone will feel loved, respected, and appreciated. Everyone will experience the benefits of having a good family and a great home. Everyone will know peace.

So, if our society just makes the “right” decisions and does the “right” things, it will become a society that experiences no struggle, no conflict, no crime, no hate, no abuse, no exploitation, no depression, no anxiety, no sorrow, and no regrets. That will never be reality. It cannot happen.

Our dream of producing the ideal congregation is an illusion. The illusion is the conviction that if we make all the “right once-and-for-all” decisions, if we chose all the “right” options, if we do all the “right” things, we will become the ideal congregation. Everything will be ideal. We will do the things every member appreciates. We will have the ideal building arrangement. We will have the ideal staff. We will have ideal leaders. We will have the ideal ministries. We will have all the help we need. Marriage problems cannot exist. Divorce will never happen. Sexual evil will never occur in any form. Division and ill will cannot exist. All of us will bond in the ideal spirit, with ideal assemblies, with ideal sermons, with ideal classes, and with ideal fellowship. We will be one happy, growing, contented spiritual family that has no spiritual problems, that meets everyone’s needs, and that brings everyone true contentment. That will never be reality. That cannot happen.

If a Christian is convinced as a matter of faith that “my concept of the ideal congregation will someday become reality,” he or she is the victim of a deception that likely will become a destructive illusion.

  1. What would it take to produce God’s spiritual ideal on earth?
    1. The way we state our convictions and concerns, we make it appear that God’s ideal could exist if God directly intervened in the affairs of this world.
      1. If God would come to this world, if He would set things up the way He wants them to be (which would be the way that is best for us), the ideal would exist.
      2. If God would just “set it up,” tell us, “This is what I want, the way I want you to do things, and the way I want you to act,” then the ideal would exist.
      3. All it would take is the direct intervention of God.
    2. Do you agree? Do you agree that God’s direct intervention would establish and sustain the ideal?
      1. If God would just:
        1. Get directly involved.
        2. Set things up in the way that was best for us.
        3. Set things up just like He wants them to be.
        4. Then the ideal congregation would exist.
      2. We would not have any decisions to make about how things should be done or what needed to be done.
      3. Would that work? All God would have to do is get directly involved.
    3. If you think God’s direct involvement would create the ideal and eliminate all problems, I have a question.
      1. Is that not exactly what God did when He sent Jesus?
      2. Did not God directly intervene in the affairs of this world when He sent His Son to live as a human?
      3. Do you remember John 1:1-5?
        In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
    4. Did God’s direct intervention in the affairs of this world bring the ideal into existence? Did it establish and sustain the ideal?
      1. That depends on what you mean by those questions.
      2. God’s direct intervention revealed the ideal to the world.
        1. It revealed the ideal Savior.
        2. It revealed the ideal solution for sin and guilt.
        3. It revealed ideal forgiveness.
        4. It revealed the goodness of God in its ideal form called grace.
        5. It revealed ideal mercy.
        6. It revealed the ideal relationship with God.
        7. It revealed the ideals God wanted His people to pursue as His church and His kingdom.
      3. But did it establish and sustain those ideals in concrete, visible forms?
        1. Did people see Jesus and say, “God is directly intervening in our world through Jesus; let’s listen to him and be exactly what he teaches us to be?”
        2. We have the advantage of 2000 years of “hindsight,” and we have the written scriptures, so we can see what God did in Jesus.
        3. With all of our advantages, do we say, “When God sent Jesus, God directly intervened in our world; let’s listen to Jesus and be exactly what he teaches us to be?”
    5. What happened when God directly intervened in our world by sending Jesus?
      1. John 1:10, 11 says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”
      2. God intervened directly in the affairs of our world, and very few people realized that God was working in a special way.
      3. God sent Jesus and the people who should have recognized Jesus did not even understand who Jesus was.
      4. The only religious people on earth who had a long history of knowing and interacting with the living God fought everything Jesus taught and did.
      5. He was betrayed by one of his best friends.
      6. He was denied by one of his best friends.
      7. He was abandoned by all his best friends.
      8. He was killed because of a decision made by the people who knew more about God than anyone else on earth.
      9. God sent His Son to intervene in the affairs of earth in a manner that would completely redirect the course of this world, and we humans killed him.
      10. God raised that Son from the dead, and we humans ignore him.
      11. Jesus who is the Christ teaches us how to be the people of God, and we pay very little attention to what he teaches.
      12. God has never intervened in the affairs of this world as powerfully, as meaningfully, or as significantly as when He sent His Son Jesus.
        1. Sadly, when we are challenged to focus on Jesus, to understand God better by understanding God’s Son who lived a human life, we act as if Jesus is of secondary importance.
        2. Commonly, when we stress the “important” things that we think will produce God’s ideal in our world today, those “important things” have little to do with understanding Jesus.
    6. God directly intervened in our world through Jesus Christ, and what is the result?
      1. Does the ideal society exist?
      2. Do ideal righteous men and women exist?
      3. Does the ideal congregation exist?
      4. No, they do not exist and never have existed.
        1. Consider the congregations in the New Testament.
        2. Which of those congregations was the ideal congregation?
        3. The ideal congregation did not exist.
        4. The ideal existed in God’s revelation of His concepts and principles.
        5. But the ideal never existed as a physical reality or a human reality.
  2. Why? Why could not all the “right” decisions be made just one time, all the “right” choices be made just one time, and the ideal be produced and sustained?
    1. God is not limited, and Satan is not stupid.
      1. God with eternal wisdom opposes Satan constantly.
      2. Satan with undying craftiness opposes God constantly.
      3. God in His wisdom sustains every Christian who places his or her trust in Jesus.
      4. Satan in his crafty deceitfulness attempts to counter every act of God by deceiving Christians.
      5. God constantly adjusts to Satan’s changing tactics.
      6. Satan constantly adjusts to God’s works.
    2. In this never ending war between good and evil, between God and Satan, a tension exists that will not end until God calls all things into judgment.
      1. And you and I are caught in that tension between God and Satan.
      2. You and I will be in the center of that tension until Christ returns or we die.
      3. Because of this tension and our position in this tension, the ideal has never existed, and the ideal will never exist in this world.
  3. “David, what is this ‘tension’ you are talking about?” Let me show it to you.
    1. In 1 Peter 5:8 Peter urged Christians,
      “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
      1. Satan never gives up.
      2. Satan is determined to deceive us and destroy us.
      3. On earth, there is no final battle, no “once-and-for-all” decision.
      4. As long as we can think, as long as our hearts can be touched, Satan will search for a way to tempt us, to deceive us.
    2. In Romans 8:28 Paul declared,
      “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
      1. In context, Paul discussed Christians’ struggles and suffering.
      2. Satan causes the struggles and suffering, and God makes everything Satan does against the Christian to work for the salvation of the Christian.
    3. In that conflict between God and Satan over us is the tension.
      1. There is a never ending war being waged between God and Satan.
      2. You and I not only live in the war zone, but part of the battle actually occurs in each one of our lives.
      3. God’s ideal will never exist on this earth for two reasons:
        1. As long as this world continues, that war will never end.
        2. As long as we live in this world, we will never be free from all evil.

[Prayer: help us be wise to Satan’s deceits and cooperate with Your deliverance.]

God can use anything Satan does to you in your life for your good in your eternal salvation. Will you let God do that? In your every day life, are you clinging to God or encouraging Satan?

A Family Meets For Many Reasons

Posted by on August 22, 1999 under Bulletin Articles

The erosion of family values and family relationships is a source of deep concern. Two basic beliefs characterize Christians. (1) God is the origin of the family. (2) Godly relationships are the foundation of a successful family.

Too many men marrying do not know how to be a husband. They did not witness Dad successfully interacting with Mom on a year-by-year basis. Too many women marrying do not know how to be a wife. They did not witness Mom successfully interacting with Dad on a year-by-year basis.

Family interaction is rare. In a typical week, hectic individual schedules mean that the whole family is seldom together. Years ago the national average for an entire family eating a meal together was once a week. Car travel used to be a “natural” for family interaction. Seldom does a family travel in one car today. When it does, often head phones replace talking. In many families, disagreements replaced communication, and verbal abusiveness replaced disagreements.

Those are not intended to be “doom and gloom” statements. I intend them as evidence for a single point: too many families do not know how to function as a family.

A congregation is to function as God’s family. Commonly, our sense of family is lost as we exist in “the real world.” To the degree we suffer that loss, we face major struggles as we attempt to be God’s family. We can function as God’s family. But, that will happen through determined godly relationships, not by accidental occurrence.

One of our commendable practices is “the family meeting.” The elders seek to have a “family meeting” at least once a quarter. In this meeting, the elders seek discussion and input. Men and women may ask questions and share insights.

Much of this Sunday evening will be devoted to a “family meeting.” One discussion will focus on the development of a ministry to be a companion to our care groups. This ministry’s objective is to nurture and develop members spiritually. The need exists. Do we wish to address it? Your input will assist in evaluating a possible role for this ministry in our West-Ark family.

As a healthy family of God, we must function together for the good of the individual and the whole. The family needs you. The elders want your input. Please come!

My Christian Existence: The Understanding

Posted by on August 15, 1999 under Sermons

To focus us on a basic understanding of Christian existence, I want us to begin with an incident that happened in Israel’s early history. This incident occurred before Israel completed its journey from Egypt to Palestine. It begins in Numbers 22.

  1. This massive migration of Israelites was camped on the plains of Moab.
    1. The city of Jericho was nearby on the opposite side of the Jordan River.
      1. Balak, the Moabite king, saw this huge mass of people camped in the plains.
      2. He and all his people knew that the Amorites could not stop Israel.
        1. The Moabites were terrified.
        2. They feared that Israel had come to conquer them, and they knew that they could not defeat them.
    2. So Balak the king sent a delegation to a man named Balaam, a seer, who lived near the Euphrates River
      1. Balaam was known for his spiritual power.
      2. Balak’s message: “An enormous people has come out of Egypt and are camped opposite us.”
      3. “Since it is impossible for us militarily to defeat them, I request that you come place a curse on them.”
      4. “If you curse them, perhaps we can militarily drive them away.”
      5. “This I know: whom you bless is blessed and whom you curse is cursed.”
    3. Balak sent this message with an impressive delegation who took an impressive gift to entice Balaam to come and use his power of divination.
      1. The delegation brought the message to Balaam.
      2. Balaam said that he would have to ask God what he should do.
      3. God told Balaam, “Don’t go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.”
      4. Balaam told the delegation to return to Moab without him because the Lord told him not to return with them.
    4. When the messengers reported to King Balak, the king sent a larger, more prestigious delegation to Balaam promising greater honor with greater riches.
      1. “I beg you, Balaam, do not allow anything to keep you from coming.”
      2. “You must come curse this people.”
      3. Balaam told the delegation, “I can do nothing contrary to God’s commandment.”
        1. “But spend the night here.”
        2. “I will find out what else the Lord will say to me.”
        3. God said, “If they want you to go, go, but only speak what I tell you to speak.”
    5. Balaam got up early the next morning and went, and God was extremely angry that Balaam went.
      1. Were it not for Balaam’s faithful donkey, an angel would have killed Balaam.
      2. When Balaam’s eyes were opened so he could see the danger, he said, “I have sinned. If this displeases you, I will go back.”
      3. The angel replied, “Go with them, but only speak the words that I tell you to speak.”
  2. Our reaction: “Wait a minute. I don’t understand what is happening here. Why was God angry?”
    1. God’s anger challenges our basic model for determining correct behavior.
      1. Our basic model:
        1. The most important question is the question of authority.
        2. Make certain God authorizes what you do.
        3. As long as you have God’s authority, you are free to proceed.
      2. At first glance, it appears that Balaam followed our model.
        1. The first time he took the matter to God.
        2. When God said, “Do not go,” he did not go.
        3. The second time he said that he could not do anything more than God commanded, and he approached God again.
        4. The second time God told him he could go but to speak only what he was told.
        5. Balaam went, but he obtained permission to go.
      3. Then why was God angry? God’s anger does not fit our model.
        1. Some suggest, “God was angry because Balaam went to God a second time to see ‘what else’ God would say.”
          1. That is an important clue to the problem.
          2. But I doubt that was the problem.
          3. It is common to make repeated requests of God concerning the same matter, problem, or desire.
        2. When we are committed to God’s will, there is something besides divine authority that is as important as divine authority.
          1. Divine purpose is as important in the will of God as is divine authority.
          2. I can distort divine authority to support my desires and conclusions.
          3. If I surrender to divine purposes as well, I am concerned about God’s desires.
    2. Let me challenge you to see this.
      1. God’s entire first answer was this: “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people (divine authority); for they are blessed (divine purpose).”
      2. Do not bless the Moabites and curse Israel because Israel is blessed.
      3. Blessed by whom? By God.
      4. “Balaam, you need to understand this: I have a purpose for Israel; Israel is blessed.”
    3. Consider carefully what happened.
      1. Three times at three different sites Balaam offered sacrifices and pronounced a blessing on Israel.
      2. King Balak was irate.
      3. He brought Balaam to curse Israel, not bless them.
        1. Why did Balaam bless Israel?
        2. Immediate answer: because this is the word God put in his mouth.
        3. Primary answer: because God’s purposes were to be achieved through Israel.
    4. Then why was God angry when Balaam decided to return with Balak’s delegation?
      1. Balaam was deaf to God’s declaration of purpose in Israel.
      2. Balaam was not focused on God’s purposes; he was focused on his desire.
      3. Balaam was sensitive to divine authority, but not to divine purpose.
  3. “David, what does this have to do with my Christian existence?”
    1. It states something fundamental to your serving God’s will.
      1. God will let you do whatever you want and decide to do.
      2. When you are only concerned about divine authority, you often will find yourself opposing divine purpose in the name of authority.
      3. This is an essential question every Christian must answer:
        1. Am I only concerned about God’s authority in my life and behavior?
        2. Or, am I concerned about both God’s authority and God’s purposes?
      4. If you decide that you are only concerned about God’s authority, if you decide you can do anything you choose to do if it is covered by God’s authority, you make the same mistake Balaam made.
      5. If you want to seek spiritual maturity in your life, you must be as concerned about God’s purposes as you are about God’s authority.
    2. To grasp the importance of understanding God’s purposes, consider this.
      1. Look around you and listen.
        1. Hate groups appeal to God’s authority to justify hating.
        2. Racists groups appeal to God’s authority to justify racism.
        3. Violent groups appeal to God’s authority to justify violence.
        4. Some political groups appeal to God’s authority to justify their perspectives.
        5. Some economic groups appeal to God’s authority to justify their economics.
        6. Somewhere in our society a group or an individual appeals to God’s authority to justify any form of human conduct that you can imagine.
      2. Look in the church:
        1. There are Christians who appeal to God’s authority to justify destroying reputations of other Christians, making false accusations against other Christians, and misrepresenting other Christians.
          1. “He or she is a false teacher.”
          2. “God authorizes us to oppose false teachers.”
          3. “We must destroy their evil influence.”
          4. “Therefore we are justified in taking any course of action necessary to destroy their evil influence.”
          5. Or, if we appeal to authority, the end justifies the means.
          6. Such actions give little consideration to God’s purposes in Christ.
        2. There are Christians who use God’s authority to create division.
          1. “We must separate ourselves from the unfaithful.”
          2. “By our definitions and criteria, these baptized believers are unfaithful.”
          3. “We must keep the church pure.”
          4. “So in this situation creating division is the godly thing to do.”
          5. This reasoning is blind to God’s purposes in unity.
          6. It is blind to the fact that the passages urging unity and oneness were written to the congregations.
        3. Too many things illustrate our use of divine authority to oppose divine purpose. Just consider our confrontations in the church about:
          1. Congregational cooperation.
          2. The use of church buildings.
          3. Positions on how the world will end.
          4. The use of Bible classes.
          5. The way we serve communion.
  4. In your personal life, God will allow you to do what you choose to do.
    1. If we refuse to be sensitive to God’s purposes, God will allow us to use some concept of divine authority to justify anything we want to justify.
      1. God will not to stop us.
      2. God will not force us to seek His purposes.
    2. If our minds, hearts, and lives are to be open to God’s will and work, we must keep our hearts soft, our minds open, and study the Bible to understand.
      1. We must be focused on Jesus Christ to understand the purposes of God.
      2. We must never stop learning.
      3. We must never be afraid for a better understanding to bring us closer to God and Christ.

God originally created us in His image. Before sin, God created us with the ability to be a reflection of God. After the death of Jesus, God recreates us in Christ when we place our lives in Christ. We are recreated with the ability to reflect God by reflecting Jesus.

In Christ God gives us this potential. But we must want to reflect God and Christ. That desire must be the driving ambition of a Christian’s life. We become that reflection when we our understanding of God’s authority and God’s purposes is constantly maturing.

My Awakening: When Will It Happen?

Posted by on under Sermons

This morning I want to talk to you about a murderer. This violent man was a brilliant scholar. But he was also a fanatic who was extremely intolerant. He was literally controlled by his powerful convictions. He held his beliefs with such intensity that he violently defended his views. He was absolutely convinced that his views were God’s views. He was absolutely certain that his conclusions were God’s thoughts. To disagree with him was to disagree with God. And God wanted him to destroy people who should know better than to disagree with him.

In his brilliance he understood how he could legalize his violent behavior. He found a “legal route” to destroy people who disagreed with him.

Years after he turned away from violence, he confessed. He confessed that he had been a dangerous, violent man who was convinced that God wanted him to destroy people.

  1. This murderer turned his life around 180 degrees.
    1. Years after redirecting his life, he wrote these two statements about his violence.
      1. Galatians 1:13,14 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. I used to persecute God’s church with extreme actions that cannot be measured.
        2. I committed myself to destroying the church and gave that goal my best effort.
        3. My violence was motivated by my commitment to God and tradition.
      2. 1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 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. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. In spite of all my violent acts against him, Christ allowed me to serve him.
        2. Without realizing it, I blasphemed God; I was a persecutor and violent aggressor.
        3. I received mercy for three reasons.
          1. I acted in ignorance.
          2. God sent Jesus to save sinners, and that included me, even though I was a horrible man.
          3. By saving me, Christ demonstrated that his patience and grace were great enough to save anyone.
    2. It is extremely important that you see some obvious truths in Paul’s awakening.
      1. Paul the violent scholar recognized his ignorance for what it was when he recognized Jesus for who he is.
        1. The violent Paul, the fanatical Paul, the religious Paul who was blinded by his own convictions, was incapable of seeing his ignorance until he understood that Jesus was the Christ.
        2. Paul the violent man was a brilliant Bible scholar who was totally convinced that he understood the will of God.
        3. But Paul the violent man, the brilliant Bible scholar committed himself to destroy what God took centuries to bring into existence.
      2. Why did God not simply destroy Paul the violent man?
        1. Paul was arresting Christians, was he not? Yes.
        2. Paul was searching for Christians to put them in prison, was he not? Yes.
        3. Paul voted for their execution when they were tried, did he not? Yes.
        4. Then why did not God just destroy Paul and end the problem?
      3. Why did God not do that? Let me give you a three part answer.
        1. First, God is sovereign: He does what He chooses to do in the way He chooses to do it to accomplish His own purposes.
        2. Second, God spared Paul’s life because Paul acted in ignorance, not in knowledgeably defiance.
          1. Paul had lots of knowledge; he was terribly lacking in understanding.
          2. He thought he was serving God, not opposing God.
          3. His ignorance created a faithless faith; his faith was in Israel, not in the God of Israel.
        3. Third, as God explained to Ananias in Acts 9:15,16 when Ananias asked basically the same question, “I have some special work for Paul to do for Me.”
  2. In Paul’s awakening, there is a special message for us.
    1. If our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preached here this morning, if this morning Jesus explained to us what his purposes were when he died on the cross, what his purposes were in Acts 2 when he was presented as Lord and Christ, and what his purposes are right now right here, that would be the most shocking sermon any of us ever heard.
      1. If that could occur, five things would be guaranteed to happen.
        1. First, each of us would be astounded by our misunderstandings and ignorance.
        2. Second, we would be dumbfounded at the ways that our emphasis miss God’s purposes.
        3. Third, our mouths would drop open when Jesus listed the religious concerns that are terribly important to us that were never important to Him.
        4. Fourth, we would see self as we have never seen self before.
        5. Fifth, we would look at the world as we have never seen the world before.
      2. If Jesus could preach right here to us this morning, none of us can begin to imagine the awakening we would experience.
      3. I am personally convinced that our discovery would be as dramatic as Paul’s discovery when Jesus spoke to him on the Damascus road.
    2. But that will not happen; Jesus will not be speaking from this pulpit.
      1. Yet, our awakening must happen.
      2. There must come a point in our lives when we see our ignorance, and the discovery of our ignorance turns our lives around.
      3. “David, you talking about people who are not Christians, aren’t you?” No.
        1. That certainly must happen in the hearts and minds of people who do not believe in Jesus Christ.
        2. But I am specifically stating that this must also happen in the hearts and minds of Christians.
        3. “But we are religious.” So was Paul.
        4. “But we follow the scriptures.” So did Paul.
        5. “But we accept the responsibility to be obedient.” So did Paul.
        6. “But we are trying to do what we were taught God wanted us to do.” So was Paul.
        7. “But we are a part of the people God called to be His own.” So was Paul.
  3. Opportunities to awaken occur in everyone’s life.
    1. Let me state again what I mean by an awakening.
      1. An awakening occurs when a combination of two things happen.
      2. Something happens to force me to stare my own ignorance in its face.
      3. When I see my ignorance, I am shaken to the point that I accept the responsibility to redirect my life.
    2. Commonly, life presents us with several opportunities to awaken.
      1. When I am forced to realize that I justify a lifestyle that opposes my conscience and denies my faith, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      2. When I find myself in the misery of painful marriage struggles, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      3. When my children turn my value system upside down, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      4. When my grown children are locked in a war with evil, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      5. When my spiritual commitment is a powerful negative force in my life, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      6. When my mistakes consume me, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
      7. When my ungodliness fails me and devastates my life, the opportunity to awaken knocks.
    3. In one way, life is far more predictable than we want it to be.
      1. In all of life, our teenage years are unlike any other years.
        1. In our teen years, everything is black and white.
        2. When we are teenagers, we see so clearly with such good judgment and such marvelous insights.
        3. Never in your life will you consider yourself as wise or as certain as teenagers typically consider themselves.
      2. Typically, the twenties are very idealistic years.
        1. People in their twenties can see with such vision.
        2. They feel so sorry for people who are older and who do not have vision.
      3. Typically the thirties are the “we can do it” years.
        1. These are our crusader years when we are certain that we can change the world.
        2. We have the energy, and we have the drive.
      4. Generally it is in the forties that life begins to get very complicated, and we discover that we don’t have all the answers.
      5. In the fifties, we begin to shake our heads–at ourselves, at the past, and at those who are so sure they know what life is about.
      6. And somewhere in the journey and experience called living, every person must experience a major awakening.
        1. Only those who awaken meaningfully use life in God.
        2. Regardless of what they think, those who do not experience awakening waste life in meaningless living.

[Song of reflection: Grace Greater Than Our Sin, # 111]

What if for one week, you had this unexpected power? What if for one week, every time you saw a child, you immediately saw what was going to happen in that child’s adult life? It was not a power that you could chose to use. It just happened, and for one week you could not keep it from happening.

Would you enjoy that experience? No?

Would you say to yourself, “If that child could see what I see, he or she would do anything possible to keep that from happening”?

The wonderful news is this: that cannot happen. Every person has within himself or herself the potential to change and the opportunity to redirect life. The redirection of your life is dependent on three things. Your awakening. Your decision to use your will. You willingness to place your faith in the power and mercy of God by surrendering your life to Christ.

A Sense Of Privilege

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Motivation is a key issue in life. Self-motivation is essential to the person. Spousal motivation is essential to the marriage. Parental motivation is essential to the family. Employee motivation is essential to the job. Owner motivation is essential to success.

Good things happen when people act on good motives. Good depends on excellent motives and effective motivation. Godliness is no exception. Godliness is the highest form of good. Godliness depends on Christlike motives and Godlike motivation.

Spirituality involves motivation. Spiritual motivation is a “double emphasis” challenge. (1) It teaches people that godly motives are understood only by understanding Jesus. Examples? Love your enemies. Be kind to those who mistreat you. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Forgive without limits. Show mercy. Humility is the path to God’s acceptance. Honor God by serving people.

(2) It teaches people that the motivation is as important to God as the act. Jesus powerfully stressed that truth (Matthew 6:1-18). When the motivation for religious acts does not focus on honoring God, God does not acknowledge or reward the act.

Many motivations lead people to surrender to God. Some feel a sense of fear. The awareness of sin terrifies them. Some feel a sense of responsibility. Serving the Creator God is something that “ought to be done.” Some feel a sense of duty. Because God is “greater than me and my concerns, I should do my duty.” Some feel a sense of obligation. He or she understands his or her indebtedness to God.

Are these “bad” motives? No. Can they provide effective motivation? Yes. Are some of them less effective? Yes. In today’s world, fear, responsibility, and duty tend to be short-term and spiritually immature. They easily produce a “control” mentality rather than a “surrender” mentality. Control mentality declares, “I exist to comply.” Surrender mentality declares, “I exist to serve.”

A spiritually mature motive exists. Its godly motivation results in total surrender. It is the sense of privilege. The highest privilege of existence: allowing the eternal God to work through “me” as He achieves His eternal purposes. In the motivation of privilege, we find our highest sense of honor and the greatest sense of destiny. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Jesus, Peter, and Paul understood the motivation of privilege. Have you discovered it?

My Christian Existence: The Reality

Posted by on August 8, 1999 under Sermons

I do not think that you can exaggerate the importance of the inside person and the outside person being the same person. The agony we experience when considerate actions do not come from inward kindness is extremely painful.

A husband is married to a wife who does all the right things. She grocery shops, prepares food, keeps an orderly house, and discharges her management responsibilities faithfully. She respects schedules and schedule requirements. She does her full share of the work. Publicly, her actions look like the actions of a responsible, caring wife. She does all the right things.

And she does. She is very conscientious about doing the right things. But she has no respect or appreciation for her husband. She has no positive feelings for her husband. The wife on the outside does not match the wife on the inside.

A wife is married to a husband who acts in thoughtful, considerate ways. He acts in those ways because that is who he is on the inside. What he does reflects what he truly feels for his wife. The inward husband matches the outward husband.

Virtually every adult understands that reality. To me, this is the amazing thing: we understand that reality in human relationships, but we do not understand that reality in our relationship with God.

  1. Look carefully with me at Romans 12:l, 2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    1. Consider a common approach that we take to spiritual life and spiritual responsibility.
      1. First, we create an artificial separation between the spiritual and the physical.
        1. The separation of the spiritual and the physical did not exist in Israel.
          1. Read Deuteronomy and note that the physicals and the spiritual are discussed side by side without pigeon hole categories.
          2. Israel knew that God was the God of the physical and the spiritual.
        2. The spiritual and the physical are interlinked in the New Testament.
          1. Being a martyr was both a physical act and a spiritual act.
          2. In the judgment scene of Matthew 25:31-46, people were separated on the basis of their treatment of the hungry, the thirsty, those without a place to stay, those without clothing, those who were sick, and those who were in prison–very physical situations.
            1. Those rewarded received God’s inheritance–very spiritual.
            2. Those who were rejected were sent to be with the devil and his angels–very spiritual.
          3. In Matthew 10:42 Jesus said that even a kindness as small as giving a cup of cold water to one of the little ones would be rewarded by God.
          4. The whole concept of stewardship is using the physical to benefit the spiritual.
      2. Second, if we regard something to be undesirable, we label it as being “worldly.”
      3. Third, we create lists of “worldly things” and condemned them.
        1. If I do what is condemned, I prove that I am “worldly.”
        2. If I physically conform, I am spiritual.
      4. That was the typical spiritual mandate when I was growing up, and that was the typical spiritual mandate that I stressed in my early years of preaching.
    2. I want you to look carefully at Romans 12:1, 2.
      1. This is a primary proof text for demanding that Christians conform.
        1. You are to present your bodies (the physical) to God.
        2. You are not to conform to the world.
        3. You are to be transformed, and transformation is typically focused on the physical.
      2. I want you to look carefully at this scripture.
      3. We are to present our bodies to God by climbing up on the altar.
        1. Does the presentation of our bodies focus on the physical or the spiritual, on the internal or the external?
        2. It focuses on the physicals, the external.
      4. We are not to conform to the world, but be transformed.
        1. Is transformation an emphasis on the physical or the spiritual, on the external or the internal?
        2. Before you answer those questions, look at all Paul’s emphasis.
      5. How is this transformation to occur?
        1. We are to renew the mind.
        2. Is that physical or spiritual, external or internal?
      6. What will the renewing the mind do as it produces transformation?
        1. It will enable me to prove what God’s will is.
          1. Since I am the sacrifice, since I am not to conform, since I am to be transformed, since I renew my mind, the focus on the “proving” is not what I tell other people but the focus is on me.
          2. I prove to me what God’s will is.
        2. The result of understanding God’s will is a new comprehension of what is good, what is acceptable, and what is perfect.
        3. Is this a physical process or a spiritual process, an external process or an internal process?
    3. This is what I want you to see for yourself.
      1. In Romans 12:1,2, becoming a living sacrifice is both a physical and spiritual process, both an external and internal process.
      2. Paul does not separate the physical from the spiritual in the process of not conforming and becoming a transformed person.
      3. Paul does not separate the external deeds from the internal renewing of the mind.
      4. A Christian becomes a living sacrifice through what occurs in his or her life both externally and internally.
        1. We cannot claim to be the Lord’s internally when we externally commit our lives to the ungodly.
        2. We cannot claim to be the Lord’s by doing “the right things” externally when internally we refuse to belong to God.
    4. In Galatians 5 Paul concludes his discussion of Christian freedom by contrasting the desire of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit.
      1. He stated plainly in 5:17 that the flesh and the Spirit oppose each other.
      2. After characterizing the desire of the flesh, Paul declared the fruit of the Spirit in 5:22,23.
        But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Is love physical or spiritual? External or internal? Both.
        2. Is joy physical or spiritual? External or internal? Both.
        3. Is peace physical or spiritual? External or internal? Both.
        4. Is patience physical or spiritual? External or internal? Both.
        5. What about kindness? Both.
        6. Or faithfulness? Both.
        7. Or gentleness? Both (the gentle spirit that produces gentle deeds).
        8. Or self-control? Both.
      3. If the Sprit lives in you internally, you must produce its fruit externally.
      4. The fruit of the Spirit cannot be expressed in your actions when the Spirit does not live in your heart.
  2. If I were to make my personal list of the ten most tragic mistakes that we make, this mistake would be high on the list: we try to create personal spirituality by using a system of physical control instead of a process of inward transformation.
    1. We create the impression that we become spiritual by doing the right acts and rejecting the wrong acts.
      1. We create a control system.
      2. We create a list of definitions and a list of deeds.
        1. We define purity in physical terms, and we make a list of things that are and are not pure.
        2. We define faithfulness in physical terms, and we make a list of the things that the faithful do and do not do.
        3. We define godliness in physical terms, and we make a list of what is and is not godly.
        4. We define holiness in physical terms, and we make a list of what is and is not holy.
      3. Then we demand that Christians conform to our lists.
        1. Those who conform are faithful, spiritual people.
        2. Those who do not conform are worldly.
    2. I am not trying to ridicule or discourage.
      1. Listen to me very closely: I am not talking about the Christian man or woman who struggles against a problem, who wages a personal war against Satan, whose conscience is tender and heart is open.
      2. But I do want to give you some general examples when there is no struggle, no conscience problem.
      3. Why will a person come to the church building without fail on Sundays, but rarely be in the assembly?
      4. Why will a leader in a congregation quietly have an affair or quietly indulge his fantasies in pornography?
      5. Why will a Christian say and do all the right things when with friends from church, but say and do all the wrong things when with friends who do not go to church?
      6. Why have too many of young people concluded that religion is a matter of conforming to certain practices, but those practices have nothing to do with what you do or how you live?
      7. Why can we get so shook up about worship methods that are different but do not violate any teaching of scripture?
    3. Why?
      1. Yes, I understand that there is more than one reason that this happens.
      2. But I also know that one major reason is this:
        1. We convinced ourselves to determine right and wrong by externals.
        2. We convinced ourselves to define spirituality by externals.
        3. We convinced ourselves to measure faithfulness by lists that stress externals.
      3. So we have a large number of Christians who have concluded that being a faithful member of the church is just like being a faithful member of a business organization or civic club.
        1. You do the church thing.
        2. You pay your dues and satisfy basic requirements.
        3. You are physically present to go through the motions.

The bad news: the church is “eating” the crop it planted for decades. We have created too many Christians who place their spiritual security in external acts, but have never developed internally. They are literally afraid of the fruit of the Spirit.

The good news: there is a growing, fresh, renewed awareness of the need for internal transformation in a selfish, indulgent, evil society. More and more Christians are learning that life is found by letting God transform us internally.

To you, what is the good news, and what is the bad news?

“Re”creation Occurs From the Inside Out

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Recently I heard Vernon Ray share some thoughts. He used an illustration that I want to expand and share.

If you are familiar with the caterpillar that loves to eat tomato vines, hold up your hand. I doubt there is a caterpillar actually named, “tomato caterpillar,” but that is what we called it when I was a boy because it loved to eat tomato plants. And it had an enormous appetite. When you went to the tomato row and saw a tomato vine with a lot of its leaves eaten off, you immediately looked for the caterpillar. He was hard to find because he was the same color green of the tomato vine.

tomato hornworm

This caterpillar is about as big around as my little finger. He is soft and flexible on the outside, and very gooey on the inside. Vernon said that if you do it just right, that you can step on a caterpillar and slide your foot and stretch the goo for about four feet.

This is the amazing fact. That ugly, soft, gooey caterpillar will turn into a butterfly. Have you ever stepped on a butterfly? If you do, all you will leave is a splotch of color. Inside, the butterfly is very different to the caterpillar.

The incredible change from caterpillar to butterfly is strikingly obvious from outward appearances. By outward appearance, never would you think that a caterpillar and a butterfly have anything in common.

Never forget this: the striking outward change that produces the beauty of a butterfly happens because there was a more incredible change on the inside.

  1. Our God is the creator God who brought all things into existence.
    1. Everything had its origin in God, and everything was good when God created it.
      1. Evil totally corrupted everything God made.
        1. By corrupting it, evil distorted everything God made, including us.
        2. Because of evil, the physical world that God created was no longer good.
      2. If you have not considered how totally evil corrupted everything God made, focus on an illustration you will easily comprehend.
        1. Before sin, Adam and Eve lived naked.
        2. Until they rebelled against God, they wore no clothing.
        3. And that was not vulgar.
        4. And that was not lurid.
        5. And that was not crude.
        6. And that was not dirty.
        7. And that was not impure.
        8. And it produced no shame, no guilt, and no embarrassment.
      3. Be honest. In that single consideration, can you grasp that?
        1. Can you imagine public nakedness as the common reality without evil?
        2. No vulgar words, or thoughts, or actions.
        3. No lurid words, or thoughts, or actions.
        4. No crude words, or thoughts, or actions.
        5. No dirty words, or thoughts, or actions.
        6. No impure words, or thoughts, or actions.
        7. No shame, no guilt, no embarrassment, no danger.
        8. Does that give you just a hint of what evil did to us?
      4. God created, evil destroyed, and in Christ God recreates.
        1. What God does in the act of recreating is just as real as what God did when He created.
        2. What God does in the act of recreating is just as much the work and power of God, is just as much a miracle as God’s original creation.
    2. “David, is it really important that a Christian understand this?”
      1. No, it goes beyond being “really important.”
      2. It is essential that a Christian understand this.
      3. It is essential that you understand this.
    3. Paul stressed the importance of this understanding in two letters to Christians.
      1. He stressed it to the Ephesians when he wrote Ephesians 4:17-24.
        So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Because you are Christians, you do not live and act like people who do not know the living God.
        2. They do not understand; they do not know; and their hearts are hard.
        3. The calluses on their hearts allow physical appetites and greed to control their lives.
        4. That is not what you learned when you were taught Christ.
        5. You learned the you were to no longer live like people who do not believe in the living God.
        6. You learned an entirely new way to see the world, and an entirely new way to think.
        7. You learned that you must put off the old existence and put on the new existence.
        8. This new existence was created by God Himself in the righteousness and holiness of truth.
      2. Paul emphasized the same understanding to the congregation at Colossae in Colossians 3:5-10.
        Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him– (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Do not use your bodies for immoral sexual purposes, or evil desires, or greed.
        2. You responded to God’s love; these things invite God’s wrath.
        3. That is the kind of life you used to live, but you don’t live that life anymore.
        4. Nor do you let anger, wrath, malice, abusive talking, or lying be a part of your new existence.
        5. Those things were part of the old self that died.
        6. You put on the new self fashioned in the image of Christ who has created you again.
    4. I want you to notice something plainly emphasized in each of these scriptures.
      1. We do not use our bodies for ungodly purposes, and we do not live our lives in ungodly ways because we have been recreated on the inside.
      2. Both scriptures stress the fact that Christians are a spiritual creation of God.
      3. This creation makes us a new self.
      4. We behave differently and live a different life because we changed on the inside.
      5. God recreated the inside, and the outside makes that new creation obvious.
  2. As Christians, we have long stressed the way things look.
    1. We place an enormous emphasis on what we do with our bodies.
      1. We stressed restrictions on how we dress.
      2. We stressed restrictions on where we go.
      3. We stressed activities that Christians should avoid.
      4. One of our big questions is, “How will this look to other people?”
    2. It is legitimate to emphasize that a Christian must be concerned about how he or she uses the body.
      1. Both the Ephesians’ scripture and the Colossians’ scripture stressed that our bodies and our lives are not to be used for evil purposes.
      2. Paul urged Christians to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
      3. Paul also urged Christians to realize that their bodies must not be used for sexual sin because the Christian’s body is God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
    3. But our outward appearance is meaningless if the outside does not reflect the inside.
      1. When we brought our sins to God for forgiveness and allowed God to place us in Christ, we allowed God to use His creative power in us.
      2. God created us all over again on the inside.
      3. We will spend the rest of our lives learning how to let our outside reflect what God did inside.
    4. What happens when God recreates me on the inside?
      1. A lot of things!
      2. One thing that it brings into existence is a godly conscience.
      3. My conscience constantly monitors my outside to see if it matches my inside.
      4. Will my conscience be your conscience and your conscience be my conscience? No, each conscience reflects that Christian’s heart.
      5. Romans 14 deals powerfully with the truth that each conscience is the voice of a Christian heart that belongs to God.
        1. The converted idol worshipper is convinced that he must be a vegetarian (14:2).
        2. The converted Jew is convinced that he must continue to observe Jewish holy days (14:5,6).
        3. Paul said don’t judge each other or hold each other in contempt (14:3).
        4. Paul said don’t judge the Lord’s servant (14:4)
        5. Christ sees the heart and conscience behind every Christian action done to honor God.
    5. Last Sunday morning I shared with you from Ephesians that God destroyed the wall that separated people.
      1. Last Sunday evening at the close of worship Lloyd Summers invited everyone to come stand as a group in this area and sing the last two songs together.
      2. A large group came to stand together, and a large group remained in the pews.
        1. Did God see the hearts and consciences of those who came and stood as a group? Yes.
        2. Did God see the hearts and consciences of those who stayed at the pews? Yes.
        3. Those who sang from the heart to honor God in the group praised God, and those who sang from the heart to honor God at the pew praised God.
        4. Could a godly heart and conscience be in the group and honor God? Yes.
        5. Could a godly heart and conscience stay in the pew and honor God? Yes.
        6. Would a godly heart and conscience pass judgment on “those who did not do what I did?” No.
    6. May I ask a question: when Christians do things to show and express their love for God that are different from the way I do them, do I build walls, or do I reflect God’s new creation?

[Prayer: God, help us not resist your inner recreation of us. Help us be new inside out. Help us be yours inside out.]

Caterpillars give me the creeps. Butterflies are beautiful. The primary difference between a caterpillar and butterfly is not what you see, but what you can’t see. The incredible change that you see on the outside is the result of the incredible change on the inside.

Carolina Sphinx Moth

Christ died for us to change us on the inside. When God recreates us on the inside, the outside must change.

Just How Big Is the God Who Sent Us Jesus?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor (Isaiah 40:13ff)? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again (Job 41:11)? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

Human wisdom cannot comprehend the depths of God’s wisdom; not even a Christian can do that. Human knowledge cannot penetrate the depths of God’s knowledge; not even a Christian can do that. Humans can trust God’s judgments, but they cannot comprehend them. Humans can depend on God’s ways, but they cannot understand them. The human who declares that he or she comprehends God deceives himself or herself. In this self deceit, he or she likely will deceive others.

The Pharisees were convinced that they understood God. They were experts in the scriptures (Matthew 23:2,3). They had enormous confidence in their knowledge and understanding. They had enormous confidence in their interpretation of scripture and religious emphasis. They had enormous confidence in their religious systems and traditions. They were so certain that they comprehended God’s will and intentions that they dared contradict, chastise, oppose, ridicule, and conspire against Jesus.

Jesus was God in the flesh (John 1:1-5). If they had expert knowledge about God, how could they fail to recognize God in the flesh? If they were such experts in the scripture, how could they fail to recognize the Creator in the flesh? If they accurately knew how God would do things, how could they fail to see God’s work in Jesus’ deeds and teachings?

Amazingly, they encouraged the death of God’s Son because they were confident that they knew God. I find that frightening. Do you?

Just how big is the God Who sent us Jesus? Big enough to save us through His mercy. Big enough to sustain us in His grace. Big enough to use Jesus’ blood to redeem us from our sins. Big enough to sanctify us in Jesus’ death. Big enough to justify us in Jesus’ sacrifice. Big enough to turn a deaf ear to Satan’s accusations against us. Big enough to destroy our guilt. Big enough to give us peace in Christ.

Because we comprehend His wisdom and knowledge? No. Because we trust Him.

My Christian Existence: The Decision

Posted by on August 1, 1999 under Sermons

If someone asked you, “What decisions must I make to become a Christian?” I hope that you could answer that question clearly. First, you must decide to place your active trust in the resurrected Jesus. We refer to that as having faith. Second, you must decide to redirect your life. You decide that you will not continue to live as you have been living. We refer to that as repentance. Third, you must decide to be baptized. This is the visible act, the visible declaration that states that you are placing your life in Christ in order that you might be alive in Christ and that Christ might be alive in you.

If the same person asked you, “What decisions must I make to exist as a Christian?” how would you answer that question? Would you say, “If you want to exist as a Christian, you must decide to go to church, to pray, and to study your Bible.” Are questions such as these the foundation questions of Christian existence?

  1. I want you to follow me as we do a rapid survey of Paul’s first message in the letter we call Romans.
    1. This morning I asked you to be certain that you brought your Bible tonight.
      1. Turn to Romans chapter one.
      2. I want you to see these thoughts as I call them to your attention.
    2. Look at Romans 1:18: “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against ungodly, unrighteous people who suppress the truth.”
      1. The rest of chapter one shows why these people are ungodly and unrighteous.
      2. It also shows why it is just for God to use His wrath against them.
    3. Look at Romans 2:1-5: “You religious people who exist to pass judgment on other people will also receive God’s wrath.”
      1. Why?
      2. Your condemnation of others is inexcusable.
      3. You make the same kinds of mistakes that you condemn.
      4. You expect others to live it, but you fail to live it.
    4. Look at Romans 2:14-16: “Those who never had God’s law (the law that God gave to Israel) but who respond to God from the heart and the conscience will receive good treatment from God.”
    5. Look at Romans 2:24: “You who always had God’s law live in ways that cause other people to blaspheme God.”
    6. Look at Romans 2:28,29: “The real Israelite is not the person who has Jewish parents and was circumcised; the real Israelite is the person whose heart belongs to God.”
    7. Paul in Romans 3:1 anticipates the Jewish reaction to these thoughts: “That is not fair! We have been God’s people for centuries. What you are saying totally destroys the benefits of being God’s people all this time.”
    8. Now consider Paul’s response to their reaction:
      1. Romans 3:5,6: “It is not possible for God to be unfair!”
      2. Romans 3:9 following: “Are Jews better than Gentiles? No. Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God. Everyone is a sinner before God.”
      3. Then in Romans 3:21-26 Paul gave the most specific, concise statement found in the New Testament that states how God makes a righteous person out of a sinner.
    9. Then Paul emphasized some basic awarenesses.
      1. Romans 4: “God has justified the person who placed his trust in God’s promises since the time of Abraham.”
        1. Justification is produced by trusting God.
        2. Justification is something God gives, not something the person deserves.
      2. Romans 5: “It is trusting God’s work and promises in Jesus Christ that produces justification, and it is God’s justification that gives the person peace.”
      3. Romans 6: “The purpose of your baptism was to place you in relationship with Christ and end the rule of sin in your life.”
      4. Romans 7: “The law that God gave the Jewish people does not give and cannot sustain a relationship with God.”
      5. Romans 8: “God’s Spirit that God gives to those who are in Christ sustains relationship with God.”
      6. Romans 9: “I am in deep grief because my Jewish brothers reject Jesus.”
        1. “More than anyone else, they should understand that the sovereign God does not base His acts or His decisions on human understanding.”
        2. “Remember Jacob and Esau: God decided to work through Jacob, the younger, before the two were born.”
      7. Romans 10: “I fervently wish that physical Israel would come to God through Christ.”
      8. Romans 11: A serious warning from Paul: “You Gentiles who have been accepted and welcomed by God, do not get arrogant because God is working in you.”
  2. Bottom line, Paul, what does this mean about Christian existence?
    1. In everyday, understood concepts, what are you saying, Paul?
      1. You are writing to Christians.
      2. What does all this have to do with Christian existence?
    2. Bottom line, in understood concepts, what it said about Christian existence is stated in Romans 12:1.
      1. “Christian, put yourself on God’s altar.”
        1. “Jewish Christian, put yourself on God’s altar.”
        2. “Non-Jewish Christian, put yourself on God’s altar.”
        3. That is THE decision of Christian existence.”
      2. Paul, do we have to understand fully all these technical, historical matters you shared? No. But you must decide to put yourself on the altar.
      3. Paul, do we have to follow fully all your theological reasoning? No. But you must decide to put yourself on the altar.
      4. Paul, do we have to come to all the conclusions you reached so we understand exactly what you understand? No. But you must decide to put yourself on the altar.
      5. Paul, must we be able to dissect and analyze all your arguments? No. But you must decide to put yourself on the altar.
      6. Paul, do you mean that because we place our trust in Christ and belong to God through Christ that every Christian must climb up on the altar to be a daily, living offering to God? Yes! Yes! Yes!
    3. You and I have a problem here that the Christians who heard this letter did not have.
      1. All of them were very familiar with sacrificial worship; you and I are not.
      2. They knew what a sacrificial altar was and its purpose in worship; most of us have never seen a sacrificial altar.
      3. They knew that worship and sacrificial altars were powerfully connected; we never think of a sacrificial altar in connection with worship.
      4. When Paul challenged them to place themselves on the altar as a living sacrifice, they instantly knew what he meant and what he was saying; all of us have to be educated in altars and sacrifices before we can understand what Paul said.
    4. Think just a minute about sacrificial altars.
      1. First, you had the priest to place on the altar an animal that you owned.
      2. Second, that sacrificial animal had no part in the decision to be the sacrifice.
      3. Third, the animal was dead when it was placed on the altar, or it died on the altar.
      4. The purpose of altars was to receive dead sacrifices. Death and the altar were inseparable linked.
      5. I seriously doubt that any of us can imagine worshipping through an animal sacrifice and blood.
  3. The sacrifice that Paul called for Christians to make stands in basic contrast to animal sacrifices.
    1. First, we place ourselves on the altar instead of a priest placing something we own on the altar.
    2. Second, it is our decision to be on the altar. We are the sacrifice and we make the decision.
    3. Third, we climb on the altar to give our lives to God by living, not by dying.
    4. There is an inherent problem when we put a living sacrifice on the altar, a problem that does not exist when we put a dead sacrifice on the altar.
      1. A living sacrifice that climbs on the altar can also climb off the altar.
      2. If we are to exist as Christians, we must decide to place ourselves on the altar, and we must decide to stay on the altar.
    5. Most of us have a problem deciding to climb on the altar.
      1. We had rather reduce Christian existence to:
        1. Deciding to attend worship assemblies.
        2. Deciding to attend Bible classes.
        3. Deciding to develop a prayer life.
        4. Deciding to study the Bible.
        5. Deciding to assume some type of responsibility.
      2. Deciding to climb on the altar is more essential than these things.
        1. Certainly, if you place yourself on the altar you will do all these things.
        2. But what happens when we put our hearts, emotions, attitudes, and motives on the altar goes far beyond attending church, praying, and Bible study.
    6. All of us have a problem deciding to stay on the altar.
      1. When things are not going well in the family, we want to climb off the altar.
      2. When things are not going well on the job, we want to climb off the altar.
      3. When we are in conflict with another person, we want to climb off the altar.
      4. When we want to indulge ourselves in pleasure, we want to climb off the altar.
      5. When we struggle with a temptation that powerfully appeals to us, we want to climb off the altar.
      6. Virtually every day, we are tempted to climb off the altar.
      7. When we climb off the altar, we never intend to stay off the altar.
      8. We intend to be on the altar when it is important; we do not realize it is always important to be on the altar.

Remember: altars were not made to create wonderful, pleasant experiences. Altars were made for sacrifice.

A very real part of Christian existence is the peace, contentment, joy, and fulfillment found in Christ. Those are real. They are God’s promises.

But it is equally truth that a very real part of Christian existence involves surrender, sacrifice, and struggle. That is why Christian existence involves decision. It is impossible to be a Christian without making decisions.

And the key decision is to climb on the altar and stay there.

The Ancient Challenge and the Now Challenge Are the Same

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Woodstock ’99 was held last weekend. The slogan of the original Woodstock thirty years ago was “Three days of peace and music.” At Woodstock ’99, about 200,000 people attended the last night. It ended with about 50,000 of those people starting a bonfire, then torching the concession stands, then torching the equipment trailers, and finally setting fire to some of the set.

  1. I want to use this event and its ending as an illustration.
    1. Some of us sitting here literally cannot grasp that event or its fiery end.
      1. We could not be tempted to attend a rock concert, and certainly not that one.
      2. We are repulsed by the attitudes and words in the song lyrics.
      3. We will never grasp why anyone would burn the entertainment they attend.
    2. Some of us sitting here can understand the appeal of the event and the emotions of the people who started the fires.
      1. You have no personal interest in that kind of concert.
      2. You understand the song lyrics are destructive.
      3. But you have accurate insights into the mind set that would set the fires.
    3. Some of us sitting here know exactly why people attended and exactly why people set the fires.
      1. You frequently are around people who think as they thought.
      2. You clearly know the appeal of the concert, and you fully understand how it could turn violent.
    4. In this assembly there are at least three reactions to what I just said.
      1. Some of you are saying, “How could anyone sitting here understand anyone who thinks and behaves like that.”
      2. Some of you are saying, “If we refuse to try to understand people who are so different to us, a lot of people will never listen to us.”
      3. Some of you are saying, “The church does not understand the world around it, and I doubt that the church will ever understand me.”
  2. Our God specializes in doing the impossible.
    1. God always has specialized in doing the impossible.
      1. Building a nation from one child born to a ninety-year-old woman and a one hundred-year-old man was truly impossible, but God did it.
      2. Creating a special people for Himself from the enslaved descendants of this elderly couple was impossible, but God did it.
      3. Creating His unique kingdom, the church, from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” was impossible, but God did it (Revelation 5:9).
    2. We spend a lot of time studying and talking about the church that God built through Jesus Christ.
      1. Too often the focus we have on the church is an injustice to God’s work through Jesus Christ.
      2. To make a nation out of the slave descendants of ninety- and one hundred-year-olds seems to us a huge impossibility.
      3. To begin with that nation and make a global kingdom comprised of people of all languages and cultures is, in comparison, an incredible impossibility.
    3. People who declare themselves to be God’s people always have struggled with the same problem.
      1. Ancient Israel never trusted God or what God did.
        1. They believed that God made them a nation.
        2. They just never understood God’s purpose in making them a nation.
        3. As a consequence they always thought of themselves as special, but rarely thought of God’s purpose as special.
      2. We have never truly trusted God or what God did.
        1. We believe that God made us to be His church.
        2. We just do not understand God’s purpose in making us the church.
        3. As a consequence we think of ourselves as being special, but rarely think that God’s purpose is special.
      3. We make the same mistake that Old Testament Israel made: we fail to grasp how special God and His purposes are.
      4. We have much greater faith in our concepts than our God; we trust our concepts more than we trust God’s purposes.
  3. Consider the magnitude of the impossible thing God did when He created the church through the redemption of Christ’s blood.
    1. God took people who believed in Christ from:
      1. Jewish people who had lived their lives in religious isolation for centuries.
      2. Proselytes, converts to Judaism from peoples who worshipped idols.
      3. God-fearers, people who had believed in many gods but who had become believers in Israel’s God, but had not become converts.
      4. People who were disillusioned with all gods.
      5. People who worshipped the Roman gods.
      6. People who worshipped the Greek gods.
      7. People who worshipped the mystery religions from the East.
      8. And God made one spiritual kingdom out of all of those people who placed their trust in God’s redemption through Jesus Christ.
    2. Precisely what was it that all these people had in common?
      1. Did they all speak the same primary language? No.
      2. Did they all share a common culture? No.
      3. Did they all know the Jewish scriptures? No.
      4. Did they all have similar social positions in life? No.
      5. Did they all have a similar way of looking at God? No.
      6. Did they all have the same customs? No.
      7. Did they eat similar foods? No.
      8. Then what did they have in common? Only one thing: faith in Jesus Christ and the God who sent him.
    3. “David, that is impossible!”
      1. For people, yes, that is impossible.
      2. For God, no, that is not impossible.
    4. Consider Ephesians 2:11-16.
      Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands–remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Before Christ, there was the wall of impossibility separating Israel from people of other nations.
      2. The people of other nations had one of two choices: either stay on the other side of that wall, or convert to Judaism.
      3. In Christ and through Christ God destroyed that wall–it was a done deed!
        1. It is not that God will destroy it at some future time.
        2. When Christ was resurrected from the dead, God destroyed the wall.
        3. Now any person from any background in any nation can approach God.
        4. Now God has established peace in Christ for any person in any nation.
        5. God made (past tense) both groups into one.
        6. God broke down (past tense) the wall of separation.
        7. That did not and does not depend on everyone thinking alike, or looking at the world alike, or approaching problems alike; it depends on what God did in Christ.
      4. Did these Christians to whom Paul wrote understand that God had destroyed the wall of separation? No.
        1. Did they believe and trust as fact that God destroyed the wall? No.
        2. They behaved like the wall still existed.
        3. Paul said, “God did it! God reconciles! Believe it! Trust it!”
        4. “Stop building walls in the church! Accept and trust God’s peace in Christ!”
  4. We are a loving, caring, involved congregation, but we face an enormous challenge.
    1. The “right now” times we live in are called the postmodern or postchristian age.
      1. I want you to consider four terms.
        1. The modern age: that time when people believed that absolute truth answered all questions and solved all problems.
        2. The Christian age: that time when Christian principles governed society.
        3. The postmodern age: the time when people reject the existence of absolute truth.
        4. The postchristian age: the time when society is not governed by Christian principles.
      2. Many of us lived in what was called the Christian age or the modern age.
        1. That was the time when society was regulated by Christian principles.
        2. The modern age, basically the same age, was when people believed absolute truth solved all problems. It was the key in all concerns.
      3. Some of us were born too late to live in the Christian age or modern age.
        1. You have not lived in an American society that accepted Christian standards.
        2. You have not lived in an American society that believed absolute truth solved all problems.
        3. Your whole life you have lived in what is referred to as the postmodern or postchristian age.
      4. Because of that, in the church, among Christians, all of us do not look at the world in the same way; we do not see problems in the same way; we do not look for solutions in the same way; we do not seek answers in the same way.
      5. That creates a very real, all-the-time problem among Christians.
        1. Those who come from the age of absolute truth tend to make every question, every issue, every concern a question of truth.
        2. And we discredit ourselves because every issue is not a truth issue.
        3. Those who live in the age of no absolute truth tend to reject all absolutes.
        4. And we discredit ourselves because absolutes definitely do exist.
        5. Both groups of Christians believe that God sent Jesus to allow us to be a part of God’s kingdom and to be forgiven of our sins.
        6. However, much too often, each group of Christians seriously damages their credibility.
      6. We do not have to look at the world alike, or solve problems in the same way, or find solutions in the same way, or seek answers in the same way.
      7. But we all must see God’s full work in Jesus Christ, God’s full purposes in Christ’s death and resurrection, and God’s true purposes in His people.

[Prayer for us to trust the God who does the impossible.]

Converts from Judaism who worshipped at the Jerusalem temple and converts from idolatry who worshipped many gods did not see the world alike or see divinity alike or see much of anything else alike. But all of them saw Jesus Christ for who he was and what he did, and all of them saw the work of God in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. And God did the impossible. God made them one. God destroyed the wall.

God is not about building walls in the church. God is about tearing walls down so that we all, in Christ Jesus, can be the church. The ancient challenge continues. Will we busy ourselves building walls? Is that what we are about? Or we will be about learning to be God’s new creation in Christ Jesus?