What Am I Doing Here?

Posted by on November 28, 1999 under Sermons

I want you to think about something that is impossible as though it were possible. First, suppose that you had one chance to go back in your life. You literally could travel back in time in your own life. But, you could do this only in your own life. Second, suppose that when you went back, you knew everything that you know now. When you went back in your own life, you had all the understanding and wisdom that you have developed from study and experience. Third, when you went back in your life, you could change three things. You could change any decision that you made. You could change any failure to take action. You could change any action that you took.

BUT, you could do these three things only in your own life. You could not go back and change anything in anyone else’s life–not Mom’s, or Dad’s, or your husband’s, or your wife’s, or your children’s life, just in your life. You could change nothing they did, only what you did.

What would you change? I wish I could change some things. There are some things that I would not do. There are things that I would not say. There are people that I would not hurt. There are motives that I would change.

“Why would you make those changes?” I would make most of them because of the understanding I have now that I did not have then.

How about you? Would you change a decision, an act, or a failure to act?

“Who would not! But we cannot do that.” No, we cannot do that, but there is something that we can do. Again, this morning, I call your attention to the Jesus’ parable that we call the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

  1. You remember the parable.
    1. A younger brother, the youngest of two sons, wanted to leave home.
      1. The parable does not say why, but perhaps he had all he could stand of home, of Dad, and especially of older brother.
        1. In their society, older brother was in control when Dad died.
        2. In their society. older brother received two thirds of the inheritance.
        3. In their society, older brother would make the family decisions.
      2. Perhaps he left because he was sick of religion.
        1. The Jewish religion controlled every aspect of life.
        2. It controlled what you ate.
        3. It dictated what you could and could not do on Saturday.
        4. It controlled everything from your work to your food preparation.
        5. You went to the synagogue every Saturday to listen to scripture read and discussed, to hear rules and laws declared, and to pray.
        6. You went to the temple to offer sacrifices.
        7. You were expected to pray personal prayers three times a day.
        8. There was a rule for everything, and you were to know and keep all the rules.
      3. Perhaps he just wanted to experience life without religion, experience what the New Testament refers to as the “pleasures of sin.”
        1. Maybe he wanted to get drunk.
        2. Maybe he wanted to “run with the bar crowd.”
        3. Maybe he wanted to be sexually irresponsible.
        4. Maybe he wanted to gamble.
        5. Maybe he wanted the high of being the center of attention by blowing money.
    2. The parable does not say why he wanted to leave home; it simply tells us he did.
      1. So he demanded his one third of the inheritance, which meant he likely received it in cash, precious metals, and jewels.
      2. Soon after he got his hands on his inheritance he left home.
        1. Can you picture him leaving home?
        2. He did not need anybody! He certainly did not need his family!
        3. I bet he wore some fine clothes! I bet he was looking good!
      3. He went far away from home and all the influences of home.
        1. He planned to live like he wanted to live with no restraints, no restrictions.
        2. He did not want his family to bother him.
        3. He did not want religion to bother him.
        4. He did not want to be near anyone who knew his family.
        5. He was committed to doing his own thing–“get out of the way, here I come!”
    3. Living the life that he chose was expensive.
      1. As long as he could pay for the party, he had all kinds of friends and he got all kind of attention.
      2. And I have no doubt that he experienced pleasures that he never knew existed. He probably experienced some fantastic highs.
        1. Doing what is wicked and irresponsible can create incredible pleasures.
        2. The pleasures just have terrible consequences.
        3. And the worst consequences, the most painful consequences, the consequences that demand prices that you never dreamed existed are the consequences that occur inside you.
      3. He had neither the time nor the desire to work; he was too busy escaping, too busy having fun.
  2. One day he was broke, and at the same time this country he was in entered a severe economic depression.
    1. Immediately, perhaps overnight, his situation totally changed.
      1. Before he had lived in the finest places and was welcome everywhere; now he had no place to stay and was welcome nowhere.
      2. Before he had lots of friends who loved to party with him; now that he had no money and could not afford to party, he had no friends.
      3. Before he never wanted for food and alcohol; now he had nothing to eat and no alcohol to drink.
      4. Before he did not want work and did not need work; now he was desperate; he had to find a job at a time when there was no jobs.
      5. Everyone was struggling; nobody needed another party animal to feed.
    2. He left home to get away from every restraint and influence of home, and he did.
      1. He probably wanted to get away from Dad’s watchfulness, and he did.
      2. He probably wanted to get away from older brother, and he did.
      3. He probably wanted to get away from religion, and he did.
      4. But getting away did not create the result he expected.
        1. The only job he could find was feeding pigs.
        2. He would never feed pigs at home because pigs were forbidden the Jewish people.
        3. He was truly away from God’s influence because Jews could not eat pork.
        4. Necessity forced him to do the unthinkable–feed pigs.
          1. Have you ever been really lonely and really hungry?
          2. He was literally starving, and no one cared; in fact if he died, his death would solve their problem.
          3. Nobody cared enough about this starving man to give him anything.
            1. He wanted to eat what the pigs ate, but it would not keep him alive.
    3. Then, in one of the most insightful statements that Jesus ever made, the man took the first step toward a total change.
      1. Jesus was the master of stating the most profound, insightful understandings in very simple statements.
      2. Jesus said that one day as this starving man was feeding the pigs, that he came to himself (Luke 15:17).
        1. Many translations say, “He came to his senses.”
        2. What a horrible moment of realization!
        3. In that moment he actually understood what he had done.
        4. In that moment he actually understood where he was and why he was there.
        5. In that moment he realized it was not Dad’s fault, it was not older brother’s fault, it was not religion’s fault, but that it was his fault.
        6. He was where he was, he was doing what he was doing, he was starving to death because of his choices, because of his decisions.
      3. At that moment, he realized a lot of things.
        1. He realized he could not turn the clock back–what had happened was real.
        2. He realized that he did not have to be there.
          1. If he stayed there, it was because he decided to stay there instead of accepting responsibility for his decisions and his actions.
          2. If he starved, it was because he decided to starve instead of accepting responsibility for his decisions and actions.
          3. If he died far away from home feeding pigs, it was because he decided to die instead of accepting responsibility for his decisions and actions.
      4. In his heart of hearts he knew that he could never go back and be a son.
        1. He did not even want to go back and be a son.
        2. He was ashamed of himself.
        3. He was ashamed of what he had done.
        4. He was ashamed of the grief and pain that he caused.
        5. He was ashamed of the way that he wasted life.
        6. He just did not want to starve to death, and the only person who might care enough to let him work as a servant and have food was Dad.
  3. It is extremely important that you see this clearly: nothing good happened in this man’ s life until he came to himself.
    1. Horrible things are happening in our society because people do one of two things:
      1. Either they never come to themselves in their despair, loneliness, and pain.
      2. Or when they come to themselves they refuse to accept responsibility for their decisions and their actions.
    2. Horrible things are happening in the church because struggling, dying Christians are doing one of two things:
      1. Either they never come to themselves in their despair, loneliness, and pain.
      2. Or when they come to themselves they refuse to accept responsibility for their decisions and actions.
    3. Why don’t suffering people who endure the consequences of the life they live come to themselves?
      1. They prefer to deny the reality of their situation.
      2. Or, they prefer to blame someone else for what they allowed to happen.
      3. Or, they prefer to hold someone else responsible for their choices.
        1. “It is my parents fault.”
        2. “It is my husband or wife’s fault.”
        3. “It is my children’s fault.”
        4. “It is my boss’ fault.”
        5. “It is the fault of the person who deceived me or hurt me.”
      4. Did all these people contribute to your problem, to your situation? They surely did!
        1. We rarely experience a crippling problem or a devastating situation that is solely our fault.
        2. Other people always contribute to our problems.
        3. But when you come to yourself, you see what you contributed to your problems, and you accept responsibility.
      5. That is the heart and soul of repentance.
        1. The person who refuses to come to himself or herself cannot repent.
        2. The person who repents has choices.
  4. What happened to the prodigal son is very simple: one day he woke up, saw what was happening, saw where he was, and asked, “What am I doing here?”
    1. Has that ever happened in your life? If it has never happened, your life is in a mess.
    2. If it has never happened, that is very likely a major reason for your life being in a mess.
    3. Hasn’t the time come to wake up, to realize what is happening, to see where we really are, and to ask ourselves, “What am I doing here?”
      1. Before I will allow God to forgive me, I must accept responsibility for my life.
      2. Before I will allow God to forgive me, I must repent.

[Prayer: Father, bring us to our senses. Whatever needs to happen for us to come to ourselves, may it happen. Give us the courage to see how much we need You and Your forgiveness.]

If you could change any decision you made or any action you took, what would you change? You cannot go back and undo it. But you can repent and redirect your life.

It Depends. Who Did You Meet?

Posted by on November 21, 1999 under Sermons

I do not understand love. I never have. I am extremely grateful for love. My life is powerfully blessed by love. Love is the single most rewarding blessing in my life. I literally cannot image life without it. But I still do not understand it.

Do you understand love? If you are confident that you understand love, explain some things to me. How can a wonderful, gentle, kind, caring, unselfish woman fall in love with a godless, rough, rude, selfish, abusive man? How can a sensitive, generous, caring man full of kindness fall in love with a woman who does not respect him and treats him like dirt? How can a mother continue to love a daughter who fails her and hurts her in every possible way? How can a father continue to love a son who resents him and rebels against him in any way that he can? How can children deeply love parents who give them nothing but neglect and rejection? How can anyone genuinely, sincerely love when his or her love is neither appreciated nor returned?

This is the greatest love mystery of all. How can a holy, sinless, caring, unselfish God love any human being? Our love for each other is mystifying. God’s love for us is beyond comprehension.

  1. When I want to deepen my understanding of God’s love, I consider two things.
    1. First, I reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus.
      1. Jesus loved all of us collectively and individually enough to endure that horrible execution.
      2. God loved all of us collectively and individually enough to let Jesus be killed.
      3. The more I understand the crucifixion, the more I realize that I do not and cannot understand God’s love.
      4. Yet, the more I understand the crucifixion, the more clearly I see God’s love.
    2. Second, I reflect on a parable Jesus taught, the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
      1. This son was a failure, a disappointment, and a heartache to his father.
        1. He demanded his part of the inheritance, left home, and went far away to live what a godless society considers “the good life.”
        2. After he wasted all his money on pleasure and extravagance, the country fell into severe economic depression.
        3. When he found himself starving in impossible circumstances, he finally realized how stupid he had been.
        4. In a spirit and attitude of total unworthiness, he returned home to confess his unworthiness and to ask his father to let him be a servant.
        5. His father welcomed him with incredible love, and reinstated him as a son.
  2. I want you to consider a different scenario: what if the older brother had been the first one to meet this prodigal son when he returned home?
    1. You do remember the older brother, don’t you?
      1. This was the father’s older son, the son who stayed home and worked as the dependable, responsible one.
      2. This was the son who was infuriated by the good reception that the father gave his wayward brother.
      3. This was the son who refused to greet his brother or come to the welcome party.
      4. This was the son who vented his anger on his father by declaring, “I have always been faithful to you, and you never did anything like this for me!”
    2. What if this was the first person that the wayward son met when he returned?
      1. “You sorry good-for-nothing!”
        1. “How dare you show your face around here!”
        2. “I cannot believe that you had the gall to come back here!”
        3. “Do you think that just because you show up in your rags and your pathetic body that you will find some sympathy? Think again!”
        4. “Do you have any idea of how many tears Mom cried for you? I was always here, but she cried for you!”
        5. “Do you realize that you broke Dad’s heart? You did not care about Dad when you selfishly left home to do your own thing! You never thought about anybody but you!”
        6. “Dad grieves every day for you. Every day he looks down the road to see if you are coming back. No matter what I do or how hard I work, Dad grieves for you!”
      2. “You grew up in a godly home.”
        1. “You had an incredible Mom.”
        2. “You could not ask for a better Dad.”
        3. “You had all the opportunities a person could hope for.”
        4. “And just look at what you did to the family name!”
        5. “Do you have an idea of what you did to the respect people had for Dad?”
        6. “I listened to people talk–they think if Dad had been a decent father you would not be such a wicked son.”
      3. “You traveled to a heathen country to hide among people who do not even know God.”
        1. “I’ll bet you never looked for a synagogue. But I’ll bet you knew all the prostitutes and bar tenders!”
        2. “By choice you lived like a heathen–a genuine, godless party animal!”
      4. “Well, godless party animal, don’t think that just because you are hungry and skinny as a snake that you can just slip back like nothing happened!”
        1. “Don’t you realize how wasteful that you have been?”
        2. “Don’t you understand just how good-for-nothing you are?”
      5. “And don’t tell me that you are sorry for what you did and repent! What a laugh!”
        1. “Sure, you repent as soon as you were broke!”
        2. “Sure, you repent when your party friends deserted you!”
        3. “Sure, you repent when you found yourself slopping hogs in the pig pen!”
        4. “Sure, you repent when you were starving to death!”
        5. “How convenient! Now with nothing left, you come back to dear old Dad so that he can bail you out!”
        6. “I see through you like a clean window pane!”
        7. “Repent! How does that change all the money you wasted?”
          1. “How does that change all the prostitutes you slept with?”
          2. “How does that change what you did in the bars?”
          3. “How does that change all the pain and grief you caused?”
      6. “So now you want to be a servant!”
        1. “I will never let you be a servant around here, and don’t for one minute forget that all of this belongs to me! You had your inheritance and blew it!”
        2. “I almost wish I could make you a servant. I would teach you how to work!”
        3. “Get out of here and don’t come back!”
        4. “I won’t let you hurt Dad any more! He has suffered enough because of you!”
      7. “Because of your life I am miserable.”
        1. “I am sick of hearing Dad worry about you.”
        2. “I have to keep this place together and take care of Dad’s business.”
        3. “And I never get the respect and thanks I deserve because Dad never stops thinking about you.”
    3. If the prodigal son had talked to his older brother before he had a opportunity to see his father, what do you think would have happened?
  3. Our society already passed a crucial crossroads.
    1. Most of us in the church do not understand that crossroads is behind us.
      1. Many of us still think that this is a Christian nation.
      2. Many of us still think that the majority honor Christian values.
      3. Many of us still think that Christian morality is the basic morality of American.
    2. Do you understand that the crossroads is behind us?
      1. When was the last time that you watched TV and said, “This really is a Christian nation!”
      2. When was the last time that you read a newspaper, listened to a news broadcast, or watched a documentary on some aspect of American society and said, “This nation really lives by Christian values!”
      3. When was the last time that you looked at our community and our state and said, “Christian morality really motivates Americans to be kind and honest!”
    3. You do not have to look a thousand miles to see what has already happened.
      1. American homes and American families are crumbling.
        1. Did you notice in the recent report on the divorce rate in America that the states known in the past as the Bible belt are among those with the highest divorce rates?
        2. There is no time to be a husband and wife.
          1. Too many do not understand how to build a successful marriage.
          2. Because we are hurting and scared, we have become a sexually active, irresponsible, uncommitted people.
        3. There is no time to be parents, and many don’t know how to be parents.
        4. We don’t know how to nurture relationships.
        5. People are hurting; people are lonely; people are scared; and people have nowhere to turn.
    4. Such realities bring the church to a critical crossroads.
      1. Some congregations already have passed that crossroads; they chose their direction, some chose a wonderful direction, and some a sad direction.
      2. Some congregations are waking up to the fact that they are at the crossroads and must make a choice.
      3. Will the congregation be a spiritual hospital that brings people to the healing of a loving God who will receive them with grace and forgiveness?
      4. Will the congregation be a fortress that excludes some and punishes others for their mistakes?
      5. Will we bring people to meet the father of the prodigal son?
      6. Or will we be the older brother?
  4. I genuinely enjoyed both Will Ed Warren and Larry Henderson’s lessons last Sunday morning.
    1. Will Ed discussed a common mission tool used in several third world countries–drilling a well in a village to give them a pure water supply.
      1. Many places have existed for generations with inadequate and impure water.
      2. For generations people drank polluted water not knowing that their water was a source of disease that threatened life.
      3. Caring for this life and death physical need creates the opportunity to teach them about Jesus.
    2. Our society is killing itself by drinking dirty, polluted water.
      1. Jesus is the pure water of life.
      2. God dug the well when Jesus died for our sins.
      3. Our job is to help those in despair and pain find that well and drink its pure, healing water.
    3. It is much easier to show people in Ghana God and His love by drilling a water well than it is to show people in America God and His love by ministering to those who are in despair.
      1. I have a very close friend who was baptized when he was 15.
        1. The preaching and teaching he heard made it so hard to be saved, so hard to belong to God that by 16 he decided that he was going to hell.
        2. Since he was going to hell, he decided that he would “split hell wide open.”
        3. You would have to work hard to live a more ungodly life than he lived as a young adult.
        4. With his life shot, his home shot, and his future shot, he finally learned enough about God’s grace to believe that even he could be forgiven.
        5. But he learned about God’s grace too late to save his home.
        6. Still, he turned his life around, learned to trust God, and became a changed person.
        7. A few years later his wife agreed to remarry him.
        8. For several years he has been an active, serving deacon.
        9. He drinks from the water of life.
      2. “Why don’t people come to us and drink from the water of life?”
        1. Could it be that when they see and hear us, they commonly see and hear the older brother, and rarely see and hear the Father?
        2. Could it be that they never see us drinking from the water of life?

[Prayer: God, help us realize that we are the wayward who need to come to you. Help us bring those in despair to you. Give us the wisdom not to be the older brother.]

I grieve when I realize that we “don’t get it.” We often despair over the choices our children make. Yet, we never realize that many of our children do not want what we have. They don’t want our lives. They don’t want our God. They don’t want our church. They don’t want a life that is too busy for relationship, too hectic for love, too fragmented for loyalty, and too judgmental for forgiveness.

Often they are not rebelling against God. They are rebelling against our shallowness. The water of life does not flow from a shallow well. It does not produce shallow lives.

[Song: There’s a Fountain Free]

Difficult and Dangerous vs. Convenient

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Sunday was a wonderful day! The singing was superb. Will Ed Warren’s class and Larry Henderson’s lesson were excellent. Jim Wilson and Roy Dunavin’s report was encouraging and insightful. Over $100,000 was given or pledged to help fund our missions outreach in 2000.

The “whip cream and cherry” topping was our first fellowship meal in the Family Life Center. Though not completed, we were permitted to use the floor area. The visiting was wonderful! Many talked about the obvious needs our new facilities would meet.

One of our special guests was Stephan Phoumasone. Stephan speaks eight languages. His wife, Anne, a citizen of France, was arrested with Jerry and Meg Canfield in Laos. Together, Stephan and Anne decided that he would enroll in the Sunset School of Preaching. He would prepare to teach and preach in Southeast Asia. We support Stephan as he studies at Sunset.

A class requirement for Stephan is preparation of a relevant lesson for West-Ark. Given opportunity, he will share that lesson with us next year. He asked me, “What can I share that will be relevant to West Ark?” We discussed a basic difference between a lesson that provides information and a lesson the increases understanding of information.

I suggested that he share with us the reasons for his decision. It had to be a difficult decision that required him to (a) live in a foreign culture; (b) do in-depth study in a foreign language; (c) live away from his wife; and (d) commit himself (and his wife) to a dangerous, difficult work. Why would established, successful adults do that?

His eyes and his mouth smiled as ideas flooded into his awareness. Then he shared with me a difference he saw in Southeast Asia. “There it is difficult and dangerous. Here it is so convenient. But Christians here do not understand what they have.” He was in no way critical or judgmental. He is much too appreciative. That difference bewildered him. How could Christians here have such great opportunity and not realize what they had?

We do not realize what we have. We do not understand how desperately we need it. As (a) society promotes self-centered existence, (b) culture embraces values that attack moral responsibility, and (c) marriage and family relationships crumble, we are mystified. We thought it was enough to have correct information, to declare correct information, and to defend correct information. It is not. If you doubt the inadequacy of correct information, look at what is happening in our families and the families of our Christian friends.

In this society, Christ will change lives when Christians demonstrate the relevance of God. If God is not making an obvious difference in our lives and families, why should others think God will make a difference in their lives and families?

Brother, Thank the People Who Sent You!

Posted by on November 14, 1999 under Bulletin Articles

Joyce and I spent four years on a mission field in West Africa. Love for God, Jesus, and people took us there.

When it began, the work did not comply with an unwritten government ordinance. This requirement was essential. Upon learning of the ordinance, we earnestly tried to comply. Because of our ignorance and some influential opponents, our work was completely stopped. For six months we could not visit the Christians, and congregations were not to meet. Those were painful times.

When God resolved this matter, we immediately began a preacher/teacher training school. Administration, writing materials, teaching, and problems consumed my time.

Late in our stay, our house was robbed. Mission funds were stolen. The authorities commandeered me and my car. I drove authorities to the homes of friends and watched from the car as they interrogated them. That experience devastated me!

I left that mission field exhausted and overwhelmed by my mistakes. I wondered if God could use anything I did for a lasting blessing. I felt a deep sense of failure.

In the early years after returning, we heard that major changes occurred within the church. Four years after leaving, a friend (a fellow missionary) and I returned for a three-week visit. We searched for and visited with congregations that we had known.

After spending most of a day visiting with congregations, we arrived in a village just before dark. A few days prior we sent word that we would come for a visit. We arrived to find a bar standing where the church building had been. Disappointment grew!

A man we did not know approached our car, identified himself as a Christian, and asked us to follow him to the building. We walked among small farms along a path lined with palm fronds and white washed stones. The path ended at a small building filled with Christians. They had waited for more than an hour for us to arrive.

At the end of a joyful assembly, a converted “witch doctor” told about the things he renounced to be a Christian. He lost his prestige, his friends, his influence, his money, and his wife. He asked, “Please take this message to the people who sent you. If you had not come, the people you taught could not have taught me. I would not be a Christian. Please, please thank them for sending you.”

Sharing God: The Cycle

Posted by on November 7, 1999 under Sermons

Most of you have spent several years of your life in the work force. The majority of us have spent at least half of our lives working in numerous jobs. I want to ask you two questions.

  • Question one: what is the most exciting, fulfilling work that you have been part of?
  • Question two: what is the most difficult, demanding work that you have been a part of?

The most exciting, fulfilling work that I have been part of is missions work. The most difficult, demanding work that I have been a part of is that same missions work.

In good circumstances, sharing the good news about the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to people outside the United States is exciting, fulfilling work. At the same time, sharing the good news about the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to people outside the United States is difficult, demanding work.

How can that be? How can working in the same country among the same people both be exciting, fulfilling work and difficult, demanding work?

  1. Let me share with you what I refer to as the cycle in mission work.
    1. In this cycle, I am speaking about good circumstances in a good situation.
      1. These people have had little exposure to Jesus Christ and may have never owned a Bible.
      2. They are eager to learn.
      3. They do not hate Americans.
    2. Stage one of the cycle involves the difficulty of getting started.
      1. The list that illustrates the challenges of getting started is too long to give.
      2. It involves so many things that you would never think about unless you committed yourself to mission work.
        1. It includes everything involved in selecting a country and determining where in that country you will live.
        2. It includes all that is involved in finding support and oversight for your work.
        3. Then when you actually go, it involves many practical matters that are solved slowly.
          1. Finding a place to live.
          2. Having pure water.
          3. Having a source of good food.
          4. Learning more about the culture and language of the people.
          5. Making certain that you know, respect, and abide by existing regulations and laws.
          6. Establishing your credibility.
          7. Learning how to distinguish between the opportunist and those sincerely interested.
          8. Simply learning how to function every day in a different culture.
    3. Stage two of the cycle begins when you begin to contact people who sincerely hunger and thirst for righteousness.
      1. This is the time when mission work is incredibly enjoyable.
      2. No experience compares to teaching a person who knew little or nothing about Jesus Christ and watching that person place his or her faith in Christ.
      3. Your credibility soars and your message is popular.
      4. Jesus is appreciated.
      5. Constantly you encounter sincere people who genuinely want to learn and genuinely want to understand.
      6. They sincerely appreciate your willingness to be there, your willingness to teach them, and the fact that you expect nothing from them.
      7. In this stage you are welcome and respected almost anywhere you go.
        1. Those who will oppose you do not yet understand what is happening.
        2. They have not determined how they will respond to what is happening.
      8. It is common for this to be a time of multiple conversions.
        1. Almost all your energy and your time is consumed in evangelism.
        2. You are overwhelmed with the opportunity.
        3. Everyone enjoys being a part of missions in this phase of the cycle.
    4. Stage three of the cycle begins when many new congregations come into existence.
      1. Now you live among many new congregations filled with infant Christians.
      2. Often those congregations are isolated from each other.
      3. Every congregation wants the missionary to come teach them every week.
      4. When a congregation begins, you may find yourself with baptized believers who have never worshipped God.
      5. They know almost nothing about prayer, the Lord’s Supper, or Christian songs.
        1. Either they have never been in a worship assembly, or they have been taught they have no right to lead a worship assembly.
        2. They literally need to learn how to worship.
      6. In the beginning, that can also be exciting.
    5. Stage four of the cycle focuses on the spiritual growth and maturing of new the converts and their congregations.
      1. This is a difficult, demanding stage–the difficulty is hard to exaggerate.
        1. It is a complex, complicated stage.
        2. It is a time consuming stage, but if it is not addressed, Christians will leave faith in Jesus as fast as people convert to Jesus.
      2. No missionary can handle all the problems that occur in this stage.
        1. Main problem number one: you have almost no written materials available.
          1. Most people do not have a Bible.
          2. They know little or nothing about Bible history.
          3. The Bible has to be in their language for them to study it.
          4. There are no written materials for classes.
          5. The missionary basically has three options:
            1. He can try to teach all the classes, but that becomes impossible as the number of congregations grow.
            2. He can try to write the needed study material and have it translated and printed, but that is time consuming and expensive.
            3. He can train people to teach, which involves many challenges.
        2. Main problem two: when a believer is baptized into Christ, he or she does not culturally change.
          1. Therefore, problems that are common place in the culture become common in the church.
          2. For example, a moral problem that is acceptable in the culture will be acceptable in the church.
        3. Let me give you a specific example.
          1. The missionaries I worked with took a multiple approach.
            1. We coordinated visits to the churches so we could visit as many as possible, but six missionaries cannot visit over a hundred congregations very often.
            2. We began a preacher training school which created opportunities and new problems.
            3. I wrote and had printed lessons that dealt with common moral problems they faced.
            4. I also wrote a series of about fifty lessons designed for new congregations.
          2. Commonly on Sundays I would visit a congregation, teach, and pass out some written material to leave with them.
            1. One Sunday morning at the close of worship I distributed two or three lessons about moral problems and asked questions.
            2. A Christian man raised his hand and said, “Brother, this paper says that if you sleep with another man’s wife that it is wrong. I do that often. Is it really wrong?”
          3. That culture did not define marriage as we do, did not look upon adultery as we do, and considered polygamy as desirable.
          4. Those problems were not simple to address.
      3. The challenge of maturing the churches quickly taught you:
        1. The most influential men were not the most spiritual men, but they commonly controlled the local church.
        2. Commonly young men were the only men free to attend classes, and their respect and credibility problem was enormous.
        3. Christians who cannot read or who have nothing to read learn slowly.
        4. Changes occur slowly because growth and maturing occur slowly.
        5. Helping them understand how to live as Christians was far more difficult than helping them understand how to become Christians.
  2. The enjoyable stage is the rapid conversion stage: every missionary likes to be a part of that stage.
    1. However, the period of great receptivity is not an indefinite period.
      1. Satan is not stupid.
      2. The opponents of Christianity learn quickly.
    2. That certainly is not new.
      1. One of the most exciting times to be a part of the church in Jerusalem was the period between Acts 2 and Acts 4.
        1. Jewish people were converting to Christ by the thousands.
        2. Christians were filled with joy, spent a lot of time together, and took care of each other.
      2. Acts 6 was not such an exciting time.
        1. The congregation faced a major problem, and that problem was created by their diversity.
        2. The problem was created by neglect, money, food, and a lack of respect.
        3. The wisdom of the apostles resulted in a good resolution of the problem.
      3. Acts 11 was even less exciting.
        1. Peter was the most prominent leader in the Jerusalem church.
        2. By God’s instruction and direction, Peter went to a non-Jewish home, taught non-Jewish people, and baptized them. (That was exciting!)
        3. The leadership in the Jerusalem church were upset with Peter for entering a non-Jewish home and baptizing them, and confronted Peter when he returned.
      4. Acts 15 was even less exciting.
        1. A zealous group of Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem congregation went to a large non-Jewish congregation in another country and informed them that they were not saved because they had not submitted to Jewish circumcision.
        2. The argument was so intense that it was taken to the Jerusalem leadership for resolution.
        3. The leadership made a decision, but it did not end the problem.
      5. Acts 21 was even less exciting.
        1. Christians in the church of Jerusalem deeply resented Paul converting non-Jewish people.
        2. Jerusalem Christians were so upset at Paul that the elders were concerned for Paul. The end result was that Paul was almost killed.

The Christians in Jerusalem had a hard time understanding the same thing we have a hard time understanding. They could not understand that God loved all other people as much as God loved them. Be honest. Don’t we struggle as we try to understand that God loves every other people as much as He loves us?

[Prayer: God, help us understand how much you love all people. Help us understand that you and Jesus are not Americans.]

Everyone should have the opportunity to know how much God loves them. Everyone should have the opportunity to understand what Jesus did for them.

In every country, in every society, there are people who are starved to learn about the living God and His son Jesus. Let’s suppose that you never had access to a Bible, never met a Christian, and lived in a culture that had no Christian influence. What kind of person would you be? What kind of life would you live?

With your Christian understanding, if you were in that situation, would you want an opportunity to hear about God’s love and Jesus’ death? Please help share the news of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice.

The Loneliness of Need

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

We enjoy helping people. Hearts that belong to Jesus enjoy helping people. On a hot afternoon in a hospital parking lot I saw a nurse standing by her car. She just had finished her shift, and her car’s battery was dead. No problem. I enjoyed helping her start her car.

Last Friday morning my truck started grudgingly. That afternoon it almost did not start. In the hospital parking lot, it started quickly. When I left a store, it started quickly. Then it would not leave the gas station. Suddenly, I needed help. Helping is no problem. Asking for help is a problem. When you need the help of strangers, an incredible sense of loneliness surfaces.

In Jesus, God provided us the practical. Is that surprising? The God who made us in His image does not understand our needs? Have we forgotten that God addressed our needs in Jesus? Consider just one practical thing God did for us in Jesus. He destroyed the loneliness of need. You need forgiveness? understanding? compassion? mercy? grace? kindness? Are you overwhelmed by guilt? by the need to redirect life? Such needs produce a special loneliness.

We cannot remove theology from Christianity. Theology is the study about God. We cannot remove doctrine from Christianity. Biblically, doctrine is sound or healthy teaching. We cannot remove ritual and tradition from Christianity. Attempts to do so create new rituals and traditions. In time, new practices become different rituals and traditions. Religiously, the problem is not seen in the things we remove from Christianity. The problem is seen in our attempt to reduce Christianity to abstract theology, impersonal doctrines, rigid rituals, and legalistic traditions. Stated in simple terms: we take what God made incredibly practical and change it into the astoundingly impractical.

God addressed that loneliness in powerful, practical ways. His practical answer is based on His promises. His promises are empowered by Jesus’ death, blood, and resurrection. Forgiveness and newness of life is real. Sin is destroyed. In these God creates a daily existence enveloped in His compassion, mercy, and grace. God perfectly cares for all the needs that we cannot.

Then God gave us “one another.” Remember the New Testament’s “one another” statements? God’s practical solution for destroying the loneliness of need: He gave us His love to heal us. He gave us His son to save us. He gave us each other to sustain “one another.”

Many Christians fear the church’s rejection. Many Christians live in the loneliness of need. When Christians struggle with that fear and loneliness, the divine “practical” has become the human “impractical.” In Jesus, with one another, we must address fear and loneliness.