Does Your “Ideal” Fill The Void?

Posted by on February 27, 2000 under Sermons

People want the “ideal.” We all want the “ideal.” We want the ideal husband, the ideal wife, the ideal family, the ideal house, the ideal job, and the ideal congregation as we live in the ideal community.

Why? Why all our fascination with the ideal? Simple: we believe that if we experience the ideal, the ideal will eliminate our problems. We are deceived into believing that problems disappear when the ideal exists. We are deceived into believing that the answer to every type of problem is producing the ideal: the ideal person, the ideal situation, or the ideal circumstance.

Teens, are you an ideal child? Would you be the ideal child if you had ideal parents? Married ladies, are you the ideal wife? Would you be the ideal wife if you had the ideal husband? Married men, are you the ideal husband? Would you be the ideal husband if you had the ideal wife? All of you who work for paid, are you the ideal employee or the ideal boss? Would you be the ideal employee or the ideal boss if you had the ideal job?

Consider an irony. “I” never expect to be an ideal person, but “I” expect “you” to be an ideal person. The solution to my problems will exist when you are the ideal person. The fact that I am not the ideal person is irrelevant.

Are you the ideal Christian? Does God look at you and say, “You are just exactly what I want in a Christian man or woman!” No? Would any of us say that the reason we are not an ideal Christian is because God is not the ideal God or Jesus is not the ideal Savior?

  1. What type of person would be the ideal convert, become the ideal Christian?
    1. Let’s describe the ideal convert, the ideal Christian.
      1. The ideal convert, the ideal Christian, is a person who has the right attitude toward Jesus.
        1. This person knows that Jesus is the source of eternal life.
        2. He or she is not ashamed to come to Jesus for eternal life.
        3. He or she humbles himself or herself before Jesus Christ.
        4. He or she wants to obey Jesus Christ.
      2. The ideal convert, the ideal Christian, has been a good moral person.
        1. He or she never killed anyone.
        2. He or she was never involved in sexual sin.
        3. He or she was never a thief.
        4. He or she was always an honest person.
        5. He or she always treated his or her family with respect.
      3. Does that sound like the ideal person to convert? Does it sound as if this man or woman has the potential for becoming the ideal Christian?
    2. Once, when Jesus was on a journey, a man ran to him, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17-22)?
      1. Jesus said, “You know the commandments. ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”
      2. The man answered, “I have always kept these commandments, even when I was a teenager.”
      3. When Jesus looked at him, Jesus felt love for him.
      4. Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
      5. When the man heard Jesus’ instruction, gloom settled over him–you could see the gloom in his face.
        1. Jesus’ instruction genuinely grieved him because he sincerely wanted eternal life.
        2. And he left; he did not follow Jesus.
        3. He owned a lot of property, and he valued his property more than he valued eternal life.
    3. If this person presented himself or herself to us, we would be elated that this committed, believing, upstanding person wanted to be a Christian.
      1. What a great attitude toward Jesus!
      2. What a person–he or she has great moral integrity!
      3. What a person–he or she wants to obey, who wants to be active!
      4. What a person–he or she has knowledge of and commitment to the will of God!
      5. What a person–he or she is genuine and sincere!
      6. And he or she has money–that is a powerful asset!
    4. Have you considered all the responses that Jesus could have given to this rich young man? From our perspective, Jesus could have handled the situation differently.
      1. He could have said, “You have so many right values–with time everything will work itself out.”
      2. He could have said, “There are thirteen of us working full time in this ministry, and we surely could use your financial help.”
      3. He could have said, “You have the basic attitudes that you need, and the mature attitudes will come later.”
      4. He could have said, “It would be a real asset to my ministry if you were my disciple. You would bring a lot of credibility to my work.”
      5. But Jesus didn’t; he said, “You have a problem that you need to address.”
    5. This man could not have eternal life unless he addressed the central issue in his life.
      1. He could not be Jesus’ disciple if he did not address a basic heart problem.
      2. What problem? Jesus specifically addressed this heart problem in the sermon on the mount.
        Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
        1. The principle is simple: two powerful forces cannot control the same life.
        2. Does that mean a person must perfectly obey God every minute of every hour of every day? No, that is impossible. Perfect obedience is never an option.
        3. It means that we must settle the issue of who or what controls our lives.
        4. We decide who or what is in control of our life before we are locked into major conflict with evil or a major struggle with temptation.
        5. When we face a crisis, we decide before the crisis that God is in control.
      3. Jesus understood this simple truth: the person who truly follows him decides who is in control before he or she is in the middle of a struggle or crisis.
        1. The man genuinely wanted eternal life.
        2. The man honestly accepted the fact that Jesus could tell him how to obtain it.
        3. But the man was not willing to change masters.
          1. His life was controlled by his possessions.
          2. He was not willing to change from the controlling influence of his possessions to the controlling influence of Jesus.
      4. Jesus made him confront the real issue in his life: if you want eternal life, you must do what is necessary to change the master who controls you.
  2. Is your life empty? Do you feel like you have a great big hole right in the middle of you?
    1. Listen to me carefully.
      1. I did not ask you:
        1. If you feel too busy.
        2. If you feel stressed.
        3. If you feel over-committed.
        4. If you feel underappreciated.
        5. If you feel like you are chained to a treadmill.
      2. I asked you if your life feels empty?
        1. Regardless of what others see in you or say about you, do you feel empty?
        2. Regardless of the awards hanging on your wall, do you feel empty?
        3. Regardless of what your high school or college transcript says, do you feel empty?
        4. Regardless of the amount of money or possessions you have, do you feel empty?
      3. What does your emptiness do to you?
        1. When no one is watching you, does your emptiness break your heart?
        2. When you are alone, is your emptiness heavier than life?
        3. Does your emptiness depress you?
        4. Does your emptiness make you feel all alone?
        5. Does your emptiness make you feel like no one really cares?
        6. Does your emptiness cause you pain and suffering?
    2. If you struggle with emptiness, who or what controls your life?
      1. Money?
      2. Fear?
      3. Work?
      4. Ambition?
      5. Other people’s expectations?
      6. The past?
  3. When God controls your life, God destroys your emptiness.
    1. Someone says, “Wait a minute, David! Not true, not true, not true! I have been a Christian for years, and I feel empty!”
      1. What do you mean when you say, “I have been a Christian for years?”
      2. Are you like the young man who ran to Jesus?
        1. You say Jesus is the source of eternal life.
        2. You keep all the commands.
        3. You live by the system and do all the right things according to the system.
      3. BUT, you have never put God in control of your life.
        1. God is not THE controlling force in your life.
        2. And, if right now, Jesus demanded that you make a decision about what you allow to control your life, God would lose.
        3. BUT, you are a Christian, an empty Christian, a Christian dissatisfied with the church, a Christian dissatisfied with other Christians. Why? Because you expect everything but you to be ideal.
    2. How do I know when God controls my life?
      1. I treat other people like I want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
      2. I refuse to stop loving other people (Romans 13:8).
      3. My words are a source of strength, encouragement, and grace to others–they joyfully listen to me because I build them up (Ephesians 4:29).
      4. I am committed to kindness, and I express kindness by forgiving others as Christ has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).
      5. I strengthen weak hands and feeble knees and make straight paths for the lame so the weak find healing (Hebrews 12:12,13).
      6. And by serving God through helping others, my emptiness is destroyed.

Question: do you have a religion that you follow through all the “right motions,” or does God control your life?

[Prayer: God, help us destroy the emptiness by placing You in control.]

Many good things happen every week in this congregation, and I am grateful for each one of them. But there are members who have been in this congregation for years that feel like they are locked out and cannot get on the inside. I have heard their cry. There are members whose pain is bigger than life, people who grieve in silence because they are lonely and think no one cares. I have heard their cry. There are members who are crushed under their burdens and are convinced no one wants to help. I have heard their cry. May not one good thing die! But, may we touch the life of every person who feels locked out, abandoned, or insignificant. May we all hear each other’s cry, and may we help each other.

May we let God destroy the emptiness. May we put God in control.

Frustrating The Hungry Lion

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

A hunting lion roars. Hungry and eager to eat, it prowls looking for prey. Only by killing prey can it satisfy its appetite. Peter compared the devil to a lion (1 Peter 5:8). People are the devil’s prey. He eats us! The man or woman who is convinced that the devil wants “to help me” is totally deceived. The devil “helps them” become his meal!

This image declared the devil is dangerously aggressive. He is also known as the prince (or ruler) of demons (Matthew 9:34; 12:24). He rules the kingdom of darkness just as Jesus Christ rules the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 6:12). When a person places himself or herself in Christ and makes the resurrected Jesus his or her Lord, that person removes himself or herself from the devil’s rule.

He despises that! The devil hates God! The devil hates Jesus Christ! God through Jesus’ resurrection destroyed the devil’s controlling power (Hebrews 2:14,15). The devil has only one means of hurting God and Jesus Christ. He cannot hurt them, but he can hurt those who belong to God. The man or woman who chooses to leave the devil’s rule and places himself or herself under God’s rule infuriates the devil. The decision to become a Christian or to recommit oneself as a Christian stirs the devil’s anger. His anger springs from his hatred. Enraged, he strikes back in every available way.

February 6 Ada Roose was baptized into Christ. This lady in her mid-80s came to the church building on her own initiative. Ada is Enid Means’ sister. Long ago she learned the meaning and significance of baptism. She came on an unusual evening. We were worshipping in the Family Life Center. She waited patiently until she met someone and explained why she came. With gentle assistance she made it up the stairs to the baptistry to enter Christ’s death and become a part of his resurrection.

Sunday morning Travis McDonald asked for our prayers. He wants to increase his godly influence in his new home. Naomi Greene recommitted herself to God’s rule and the Christian life. David Gates brought his weariness, looking for help and strength in his decision to redirect his life.

The devil was infuriated! The angels in heaven rejoiced! The infuriated prince of darkness is acting as the roaring lion. He will exploit every weakness and utilize every opportunity to oppose and hurt us in every way that he can.

In his hatred of God, he opposes us. The staff shares a common conviction. When the devil is extremely active, God’s work through us is hurting his kingdom. He creates problems for us when we hurt his purposes. God through us is hurting his purposes!

Commit and remember. Commit: help each other. The devil needs no help to cause problems. Remember: greater is Christ in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Life Without Struggle: A Blessing?

Posted by on February 20, 2000 under Sermons

If you could live your vision of the ideal life right now, how would you live? Let me guess. Remember, I am asking you about your concept of the ideal life. I am talking about your dreams becoming your reality.

If our dreams came true, for most of us, it would involve these things. (1) It would involve a house. (2) It would involve how that house was furnished. (3) It would involve the location of that house. (4) It would involve a car. (5) It would involve money. (6) It would involve a job. (7) It would involve how much time that you had to do what you wanted to do. (8) It would involve eliminating the things and people who create stress in your life. (9) It would involve your concept of peace and happiness.

Bottom line: if we lived the ideal life, if our dreams became reality, our lives would be free from struggle. We could not have our dream life if there was struggle. The key to having the best possible life is eliminating difficulty. That would be a blessing.

  1. The gospels of Matthew (4:1-11), Mark (Mark 1:12,13), and Luke (4:1-13) inform us that Jesus’ earthly ministry began with a wilderness experience.
    1. The first thing that happened after Jesus’ baptism was this: the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
      1. God through the Holy Spirit guided Jesus into the wilderness.
      2. The purpose of sending Jesus to the wilderness was to face Satan.
      3. Jesus’ ministry began with a major confrontation between Jesus and Satan.
    2. Jesus was in the wilderness fasting for forty days before Satan confronted him.
      1. During the forty days his focus was exclusively on God and his mission.
      2. He fasted.
        1. For forty days he did not eat anything.
        2. For forty days he focused on who he was, why God sent him, and what the purpose of his life was.
        3. For forty day he focused his mind and his heart as he committed himself to God’s objective.
        4. For forty days he gave 100% of his thinking to spiritual understanding, and 0% of his thinking to the physical.
    3. At the end of his forty day fast, the tempter [Satan, the devil] came to him.
      1. Who had the advantage?
      2. Did Jesus have the advantage because he spent forty days considering nothing but his spiritual reason for existing?
      3. Did Satan have the advantage because Jesus had been alone for over a month and was in severe physical need?
      4. The advantage was not determined by Jesus’ state of mind or physical needs.
      5. The determining factor was Jesus’ ability to trust God.
    4. If you want to gain a powerful insight into the way that Satan tempts Christians, look at the way Satan treated Jesus.
      1. Satan did not use power in an attempt to overwhelm a physically weak man.
      2. Satan used deceit in the attempt to get Jesus to place himself in opposition to God.
      3. The first two temptations are ingenious attempts to deceive.
        1. “If you are the son of God…” which can also be translated “Since you are the son of God.”
          1. “Jesus, you have spent a month concentrating on who you are and why God sent you.”
          2. “You think that you have a unique relationship with God, a relationship that no human has ever had with God.”
          3. “You say to yourself that you are God’s son…not God’s prophet, but God’s son.”
          4. “Prove your faith in your unique identity and relationship with God.”
        2. This was the ingenious approach of the first two temptations.
          1. “If you are God’s son, turn these stones to bread.”
            1. “You are hungry.”
            2. “You are in the wilderness to preparing to begin God’s work.”
            3. “If you are too weak to get back to civilization and food, you will starve to death.”
            4. “If that happens you will do nothing for God.”
            5. “If you really believe you are who you think you are, make some bread and eat” (not a banquet; just some bread).
          2. “If you are God’s son, jump from this temple high place.”
            1. Satan surrounded Jesus with God’s presence: he took him to Jerusalem, the holy city, and to the temple, where God’s presence existed as no where else on earth.”
            2. He quoted scripture to Jesus: Psalms 91 says that God will protect the son of God with His angels.
            3. “You say to yourself that you are God’s son; let God confirm that you are right; jump.”
      4. The third temptation is a simple, straightforward attempt to bargain with Jesus on a high mountain.
        1. “You are right. You are God’s Son. You have nothing to prove.”
        2. “But you are going about your mission the wrong way.”
          1. “You came to be king.”
          2. “You came to rule the world.”
          3. “You came to change the world because you would be king of a world wide kingdom.”
          4. “All this struggle you now face is unnecessary.”
          5. Satan enabled Jesus to see the kingdoms of the world.
          6. “I control them–all of them. I will make you king of the world right now and you can change anything you want to change.”
          7. “Just fall down before me and worship me, and it will happen.”
    5. If you want a powerful insight into the way a Christian defeats temptation, understand Jesus’ responses.
      1. Jesus did not quote a proof text to give Satan a pat religious answer.
      2. If you see Jesus just quoting a verse from memory, you miss the point.
        1. All my life I have listened to people quote random Bible verses to prove what they want to prove or to defend what they want to defend.
          1. Every false teaching that exists quotes Bible and uses proof texts.
          2. People justify adultery, abortion, murder, division, evil attacks on Christians, and all kinds of unbiblical restrictions by using “proof texts.”
          3. A person can use “proof texts” to justify anything he or she wants to justify.
        2. Jesus did not succeed in rejecting Satan’s temptations by quoting random verses from the Bible.
          1. The scriptures Jesus quoted dealt with the temptation and the situation.
          2. Jesus understood what God wanted.
          3. The context of each of those scriptures powerfully addressed the deceit.
          4. Jesus was not deceived because Jesus saw the deceit.
          5. Jesus saw the deceit because he understood God.
      3. Satan deceives Christians right and left today because they do not understand God.
        1. They worship when they were told they were supposed to worship.
        2. They do the things in worship they were told they were supposed to do.
        3. They take the doctrinal stands they were told they were supposed to take.
        4. But everything they do has little to do with God.
        5. They do not do these things because they understand God.
        6. They do them because that is what the church has told them that they should do.
        7. It is a matter of accepting instruction, not a matter of understanding God.
  2. I call your attention to an essential question: why did God send Jesus to the wilderness?
    1. First, I want you to see that God has always used the wilderness experience to prepare and mature His servants.
      1. Abraham had a wilderness experience; he wandered as a nomad in a land that never belonged to him, and that experience matured his faith in God.
      2. Moses had a wilderness experience; he spent forty years in Sinai wilderness before he became God’s leader of Israel.
      3. David had a wilderness experience; he spent years in the wilderness before he became Israel’s great king.
      4. Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, had a wilderness experience; God used that experience to teach Elijah a lesson that he needed to learn.
      5. Jesus had a wilderness experience; that experience inaugurated his ministry.
      6. Evidence suggests that even the apostle Paul had a wilderness experience; he said in Galatians 1:17 that he spend time in Arabia before his work recorded in Acts began.
    2. Second, I want you to understand the answer to the question, “Why?”
      1. Look at these facts:
        1. Abraham was in the wilderness because he was following God’s instruction.
        2. Moses was in the wilderness because he failed and ran for his life.
        3. David was in the wilderness because Saul was trying to kill him.
        4. Elijah was in the wilderness because he wanted to die; he wanted to die because he failed to accomplish his expectations.
        5. Jesus was in the wilderness to prepare for his ministry.
        6. We are not told why Paul was in Arabia.
        7. That list is the Bible’s elite list: Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul.
      2. Why did all of them have wilderness experiences?
        1. Certainly, different experiences placed them in the wilderness.
        2. But they all were in the wilderness for the same basic reasons.
          1. Reason one: so that they would decide in their deepest being to place God in exclusive control of their lives.
          2. Reason two: so that they would decide on the deepest level of life to trust God, no matter what they faced.
          3. Reason three: so they would understand the reason for their lives.
          4. Reason four: so that God could equip them for greater service and usefulness.
    3. One of the great problems in the lives of American Christians is that they want to do wonderful things for God without any struggle.
      1. Satan has powerfully, successfully deceived the American Christian about God.
        1. He has made us believe that God promises us a life without struggle.
        2. He has made us believe that God protects the true Christian from struggle.
        3. He has made us believe that Christian peace produces no struggle.
        4. He has made us believe that the Christian hope is fulfilled by a struggle free physical existence on this earth.
        5. And, he has made us believe if these things do not happen, God is the one who has deceived us.
      2. Satan has powerfully, successfully deceived the American Christian about the purpose of life. According to Satan,
        1. The purpose of life is found in the physical.
        2. The fulfillment of life is found in pleasure.
        3. The meaning of life is found in selfishness.
        4. The security of life is found in money.

Satan does not care how religious you are as long as you do not place your faith in God. Satan does not want you to go the wilderness with God. It is in the wilderness that you decide what life is really about. It is in the wilderness that you learn to listen to God. It is in the wilderness that you find faith. God can powerfully use the man or woman who leaves the wilderness with a deeper faith in God.

[Prayer: God, help us learn that wilderness experiences equip us to serve Your purposes.]

The truth: you and I live in the wilderness. Just like Israel, we will reach the place God has built for us by surviving the wilderness. God cannot help you survive the wilderness if you don’t trust Him. But, God can bless and use you beyond imagination if you place God in control of your life.

The God Who Renews

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

We belong to the God who renews. All of God’s interaction with humanity has the goal of renewal. Evil invaded God’s perfect creation. It received a place in this physical world by human invitation. The humans issued that invitation because they were deceived. The deceit caused them to regard God as their enemy and evil as their friend.

Satan’s deception destroyed the open, life-sustaining relationship between God and humanity. It also destroyed the relationship that blessed and nurtured marriage.

The moment that evil destroyed God-designed relationships, God committed Himself to renewal. It was humanity’s mistake, not God’s. Humanity was deceived, not God. It was humanity that doubted God, but it was God who committed Himself to renewal. God wanted the relationship between Him and people renewed. God wanted the relationships between people renewed.

God refused to abandon His commitment to renewal. As He struggled with deceived humanity, He traveled a long, twisting, frustrating road. God’s intent was frequently challenged and rejected by the human wills of faithless people. If people had trusted God, His power could have produced renewal in a brief time. However, it took God a long time to make renewal a reality. Distrustful people opposed God as He pursued the restoration of relationship. Deceived people were suspicious of the purposes and desires of God. Suspicious people saw God (not evil) as the problem.

God’s investment was enormous. The final payment of that investment was the blood of His own son. When two goals were accomplished fact, the renewal of the God/human relationship became reality. The two goals: (1) the perfect atonement for all human evil and (2) the defeat of death through resurrection. The reality: anyone who wanted relationship with God could enter that relationship. Relationship with God is a continuing state for the person (1) who accepts Jesus’ atonement and (2) who trusts resurrection.

From Jesus’ resurrection to the end of this world, one type of person gladly accepts this opportunity for relationship with God. Who? The person who wants God to create in him or her a clean heart, who wants God to renew in him or her a steadfast spirit.

I sense the spirit of renewal at West-Ark! May we renew our relationship with God and each other! May we hunger for clean hearts and renewed spirits!

What Did You Expect?

Posted by on February 13, 2000 under Sermons

When I was five years old, my brother, Jack, was born. My mother prepared me for his birth by talking to me. I had been an only child for five years. She knew that I needed to be prepared for a baby in the family. She clearly understood that it would not be good for the new baby to come as a surprise to me. So long before his birth, she talked to me about how nice it would be to have a playmate.

It does not require an imagination to understand what a five year old expected. We were living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. World War II was raging. Dad was moved to a brand new city to work at a brand new, enormous facility. Everything existed to assist the development of the atomic bomb.

I did not have a playmate. We moved into the first completed house in our subdivision. The thought of having a playmate was absolutely thrilling.

Though I was only five years old, this picture is still clear in my mind. I knew when my brother was born. I knew when Mom was bringing him home. I can see our car, our side walk, and our front yard. I can see me running down the side walk to the car to met my new playmate. And I can remember Mom lifting the blanket off of newborn Jack’s face, and telling me that this was my brother.

And I know my immediate reaction. I took one look at newborn Jack, said inside myself, “I can’t play with that!” and walked away. My expectations were completely destroyed. I expected a five year old playmate. I did not expect a newborn. I was totally disappointed because I did not get what I expected. What I expected was based on what I wanted. What I wanted had nothing to do with reality.

  1. One huge source of spiritual failure in the individual and in the church occurs through failed expectations.
    1. We can see the power of failed expectations in Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery.
      1. God promised Abraham that he would make a nation from Abraham’s descendants when Abraham did not even have one child.
      2. God gave Abraham twelve great grandsons through his grandson, Jacob.
      3. From those twelve great grandsons God produced the twelve tribes of Israel.
      4. During a severe famine, God placed the families of those twelve sons in Egypt.
      5. Those families became an enormous people whom the Egyptians enslaved.
    2. God convinced a reluctant Moses to return to Egypt, become the leader of these slaves, request their release, and lead them to the country God promised them.
      1. Moses tried to help his people earlier, failed, and fled to the wilderness to save his life.
      2. He never intended to see Egypt again.
      3. God appeared to Moses, declared that the suffering of Israel must end, and said,
        Exodus 3:8 “So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…”
        Exodus 3:10 “Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”
      4. Moses expected to go Egypt, to win the instant acceptance of Israel as their leader, to ask Pharaoh to let Israel go, and lead the people out of slavery to their country.
      5. It did not happen.
        1. Moses went to Pharaoh, made his request, and Pharaoh rejected his request.
        2. In fact, Pharaoh decided there was only one reason that Moses made such a stupid request: the Israelite slaves had too much time on their hands.
        3. So Pharaoh issued a work order that greatly increased the burdens of the slaves to the point that he made their lives impossible.
        4. And this is what the Jewish leaders said to Moses:
          Exodus 5:21 “May the Lord look upon you and judge you, for you have made us odious in Pharaoh’s sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
        5. And this is what Moses said to God:
          Exodus 5:22,23 “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.”
        6. Failed expectations.
    3. For the next forty years every failure in Israel included failed expectations.
      1. When they left Egypt after God performed the tenth powerful miracle against Egypt, everything was wonderful!
        1. God could do anything!
        2. Soon they would be in their new land!
        3. But as soon as the Egyptian army trapped them at the Red Sea, they turned on Moses and asked him why he brought them out there to die (Exodus 14:11,12).
      2. When God delivered Israel by providing an escape across the Red Sea on dry land, everything was wonderful!
        1. God could do anything!
        2. Soon they would be in their new land!
        3. But as soon as they got thirsty and hungry in the wilderness. they turned on Moses saying, “I wish God had killed us in Egypt!” (Exodus 16:2,3)
      3. The reason God took them through the wilderness instead of on the highway by the sea was to keep them from getting discouraged.
        Exodus 13:17,18 Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.
        1. I want you to see something very important to us today.
        2. God used miraculous power to help Israel every step of the way.
        3. And we say, “Oh, if God would just use miracles to help us we would believe and we would serve.”
        4. What makes us think that we are so different?
        5. We, just like Israel, are blind to much of God’s activity.
        6. We, just like Israel, trust God with the past but do not believe God can do anything about now or tomorrow.
        7. Miracles never produced faith in people who did not trust God.
      4. You need to read the book of Exodus and note how Israel failed again and again because they placed faithless expectations on God.
      5. You need to read the book and note how many times they turned on Moses or on God because their faithless expectations were not met.
  2. Just as surely as failed expectations brought pain and failure in the Old Testament, failed expectations brought pain and failure in the New Testament.
    1. Jesus was working in the wilderness area where John baptized in the Jordan River.
      1. The political and religious leaders of Israel wanted to kill Jesus, and his twelve disciples knew it.
      2. They knew it was dangerous for Jesus to return to the Jerusalem area (John 11:8).
      3. But he did return to resurrect Lazarus from the dead (John 11).
      4. Jesus immediately became wildly popular.
        1. They welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem as Israel welcomed its king shouting the words and phrases that Israel used when they welcomed a new king.
        2. For a week Jesus was the most popular man in Jerusalem, and no one could slow or stop his “band wagon.”
        3. When the Pharisees confronted him, they lost ground.
        4. When the Saduccees confronted him, they lost ground.
        5. When the Herodians confronted him, they lost ground.
        6. They not only could not kill him; they could not stop him.
      5. The expectations of the twelve disciples skyrocketed.
        1. They had been afraid that Jesus might be killed, and now it was obvious that he was going to be king.
        2. He would become king, they would become the king’s administration.
        3. So Peter told him that he would be loyal to him to death (Matthew 26:31-35).
        4. All the disciples were filled with such a sense of self-importance that none of them would wash the others’ feet (John 13:1-20).
      6. Then everything fell apart, and their expectations were killed.
        1. Jesus was arrested, and they fled into the darkness of the night.
        2. Jesus was tried and condemned, and they could not understand it.
        3. They watched him die hanging from a cross in total rejection and disgrace as though he were an evil man and a terrible criminal.
        4. And nothing made sense. None of their expectations came true.
      7. When their wrong expectations died, they hid in fear in an upper room in Jerusalem behind closed doors.
      8. Nothing changed until they understood what God did: God made Jesus Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).
  3. Failed expectations still bring pain and failure in individual lives and in the church.
    1. Failed expectations are a major source of the kind of disappointment that produces failure.
      1. “You are not what I expected in a wife.”
      2. “You are not what I expected in a husband.”
      3. “You are not what I expected in a child.”
      4. “You are not what I expected in a boss.”
      5. “You are not what I expected in an employee.”
      6. “Your are not what I expected in Christian friend.”
      7. What did you expect? Where did you get your expectations?
    2. One of the greatest sources of pain in our families and in our congregations come from frustrated expectations.
      1. Too many adult sons struggle with the pain of feeling like a worthless failure.
        1. They are certain that they never met their father’s expectations, so they are filled with a sense of failure.
        2. This pain spills over into their role as a husband.
        3. This pain spills over into their role as a parent.
        4. This pain spills over into their relationship with their Christian family.
      2. Many adult daughters struggle with the pain of feeling like a worthless failure.
        1. They are certain that they never met their mother’s expectations, so they are filled with a sense of failure.
        2. This pain spills over into their role as a wife.
        3. This pain spills over into their role as a parent.
        4. This pain spills over into their relationship with their Christian family.
      3. Many adult Christians struggle with what they have been told are God, or Christ, or the church’s expectations.
        1. God goes into a rage when you do not meet His expectations.
        2. Christ will not forgive you when you do not meet His expectations.
        3. The church exists to punish you for your mistakes, not to help you with your struggles.
        4. This pain makes war against the person being spiritual.

May I ask you a question? Do your expectations crush people? Or do they challenge and encourage people? God’s expectations nurture people by building relationships. The relationship between God and Jesus show the blessings of God’s expectations.

[Prayer: God, help us turn to you as our greatest Helper. Help us understand that You did not send Jesus to devastate us. Help us discover the love in Your expectations.]

Is it easier for the people who associate with you and live with you to walk with God because of you? Do you use expectation like God does: to challenge, encourage, and nurture. Or do you use expectation like Satan does: to discourage and crush?

The Dream Becomes Reality

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

On Sunday, February 13, we will dedicate our new Family Life Center. We are grateful to have it. We are thankful that it will meet needs as it serves God’s purposes. As repeatedly emphasized, the Family Life Center is a tool. To the degree that we use it wisely to advance God’s work and purposes, it is a good tool.

What are the overall objectives in our use of the Family Life Center?

Family focuses on one objective. (1) We want to build closeness among the sons and daughters of God. (2) We want to encourage and strengthen family units in the congregation. (3) We want to strengthen our bonds with sister congregations in the extended family of God.

Life focuses on a second objective. We want to strengthen the spiritual bond between (a) the individual and God and (b) the congregation and God. We want Christians to relate all aspects of their lives to God. Hopefully, as we bring friends and neighbors to the Center they will be touched by our “whole life” relationship with God. We want to be people who belong to God, and we want to behave like people who belong to God.

Center focuses on a third objective. Some say Christians are very wasteful in building buildings. Typically, Christians spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct buildings to be used four to six hours a week. Often fifty percent of the members use it less than two hours a week. No business or organization can be that extravagant.

We use our building constantly. We should! In the New Testament, the Jewish synagogue was the center for Jewish life in a community. It was a place for prayer, for study, for learning the news, for association, for building ties, for maintaining the sense of community. Jewish travelers were welcomed and helped. In the Jewish community, it was “the place” to go.

We want the Center to become a place that strengthens us as God’s community. May it attract friends, neighbors, and strangers because it overflows with Jesus’ abundant life!

    The plans for dedication Sunday:

    1. An open house will begin at 4 p.m. We want you to tour the Center and the Annex to see both the new construction and the renovations.
    2. A fellowship meal in the new facilities will begin at 4:45 p.m.
    3. Just before 6 p.m. we will place the tables in storage and arrange the chairs together. At 6 p.m. the evening assembly will be held in the Center. We will dedicate it to God’s purposes with singing and prayer.

Make your plans to be part of a special moment in the life, fellowship, and worship of this congregation!

Opportunity Versus Response

Posted by on February 6, 2000 under Sermons

Success in the business world depends on a number of variables. One of those variables is the ability to determine your market. To be successful in business, you must honestly, correctly identify your real market.

It is very easy to get psyched up, hyped up, and heart-and-soul excited about what appears to be an excellent business opportunity. It is very easy to tell yourself these four things. (1) “I have a wonderful product.” (2) “There is a real need for my product.” (3) “Eighty per cent of the people in Fort Smith have an actual, existing need for my product.” (4) “Therefore if I go in business and sell my product, the business cannot fail!”

It is real easy to believe that situation is a “sure thing.” On the basis of my enthusiasm and confidence created by the situation, I begin my “cannot miss” business. However, in the face of all my enthusiasm, three sobering facts still stand. (1) Not everyone understands that he or she needs my product. (2) An undetermined number of people understand that they need my product, but they do not want my product. (3) An undetermined number of people understand that they need my product, and they want my product, but will never consider buying my product from me.

Many businesses with an excellent product fail. They do not fail because the product is bad. They do not fail because there is not sufficient need for the product. They fail because people refuse to buy the product.

  1. One of Jesus’ best known parables is a kingdom parable we commonly call the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:3-23; Luke 8:4-15).
    1. The parable was based on a real life occurrence that happened every year.
      1. It was the time of the year to plant your wheat or barley crop.
        1. Bread was their basic, daily food that sustained their lives.
        2. They made much of the bread they ate from the grain that they grew.
        3. As an agricultural society, planting wheat or barley was critical to survival.
      2. They did not have horses, mules, or tractors to cultivate the ground or to plant the crop.
        1. They planted their wheat or barley in a way that we would call primitive today–they sowed it by hand.
        2. When I grew up on the farm, we referred to this kind of planting as broadcasting (has that word every changed meanings!).
        3. They carried their seed in a bag.
        4. They sowed the seed by taking a handful of it and scattering it as they walked through the field.
        5. When you sow seed, If you want a crop, two things are true:
          1. You have to be very generous in scattering seed.
          2. You have little control over where the seed lands.
      3. This sower was scattering his seed.
        1. Some of the seed landed on the pathway that separated the fields.
        2. Some of the seed landed on ground that was so full of rock that there was too little soil for the plants to mature–in days ahead when the sun was hot and the rain stopped, the hot rocks would cook the roots.
        3. Some of the seed fell on ground that had thorns growing on it, and the young plants that came up could not compete with the thorns.
        4. Some of the seed fell on fertile ground, came up, and produced a harvest.
    2. This is one of the few parables that Jesus explained to the disciples.
      1. The seed is the word of God.
      2. The four kinds of soil are the hearts of men and women.
      3. The hard pathway represents the person who hears God’s word, the message about God’s kingdom, and does not understand.
        1. The seed that fell on the hard path was exposed.
        2. The birds saw it and ate it.
        3. Because this person’s heart is hard, Satan snatches away the seed.
      4. The rocky soil is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy.
        1. But he does not let an understanding of the message take root in his heart.
        2. When what he learned caused suffering and pain in his life, he fell away.
      5. The thorn patch is the person who hears the word, but he allows the worries of the age and the deceitfulness of riches to choke the word so it does not produce any fruit.
      6. The good soil represented the person who heard, understood, and produced grain.
    3. This parable contains three extremely important, powerful lessons.
      1. The first lesson is that you and I have one of those hearts.
        1. Everyone of us has a hard heart, a rocky heart, a thorny heart, or good a heart.
        2. The basic challenge of the parable is not for you to determine what kind of heart everyone else has.
        3. The basic challenge of the parable is to challenge you to look at your own heart and see what kind of heart you have.
        4. How does your heart react to the word of God?
      2. The second lesson: the seed was sown everywhere–hard hearts, rocky hearts, thorny hearts, good hearts.
        1. Though the seed was scattered over the entire field, the entire field did not contribute to the harvest.
        2. Not everyone will receive and understand God’s word.
        3. Not everyone wants to be a citizen of God’s kingdom.
        4. The problem is not in the sower; the problem is not in the seed; the problem is in the fact that many people do not want God.
      3. The third lesson: three of the four kinds of hearts produced no harvest for God’s word, bore no fruit for God.
        1. Before we start discussing how sad that it is that so many in the world reject Christ, look very carefully at the parable.
        2. The hard hearts never received the word of God, never were a part of God’s kingdom.
        3. But two of the hearts did receive the word, did begin life in God’s kingdom, but did not accomplish God’s purpose.
          1. The rocky heart looked wonderful as the seed sprang to life–the rocky heart felt real joy
            1. But there was not root system to sustain this heart when life got difficult.
            2. The seed came to life temporarily.
            3. When living for God became difficult, they quit.
          2. The thorny heart gave life to the seed.
            1. The problem was not that the seed did not come to life.
            2. The problem was that the new plant could not compete with worry and materialism.
            3. Jesus did not say that the plant was choked to death, but the plant was choked to the point that it produced no harvest.
      4. One of the bad soils never responded to God, but two of the bad soils did respond to God.
        1. Let’s put it another way.
        2. One of the bad soils was never in the kingdom of God.
        3. Two of the bad soils were in the kingdom of God.
  2. When I was a college student and a young preacher, evangelizing the world was stressed in many ways.
    1. A lot of emphasis was placed on bringing the lost of the world to Christ.
      1. The need for missionaries was stressed.
      2. The importance of evangelizing our nation was stressed.
    2. One of the models used to promote the power and the success of evangelism was a specific one-on-one model.
      1. The model: if every Christian converted one person to Christ every year, then every person in the world would become a Christian in “X” number of years.
        1. This model has a basic flaw seen in its basic assumption.
        2. That assumption was that every person could be converted to Christ.
        3. According to Jesus, that assumption is not correct.
      2. Not even Jesus could convert everyone in the nation of Israel, a nation that believed in the living God.
        1. Multitudes wanted the benefit of Jesus’ power.
        2. Few wanted the benefit of Jesus’ teachings.
        3. The majority of people in first century Israel did not respond positively to Jesus’ resurrection.
        4. The majority of the first century world did not respond positively to the gospel.
      3. In those days there were hard hearts, rocky hearts, and thorny hearts.
      4. Today there continue to be hard hearts, rocky hearts, and thorny hearts.
      5. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, he explained reality in this way:
        John 3:19-21 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
        1. There always has been and there always will be evil people who love the darkness of evil and hate the light that Jesus brings.
        2. People who practice evil hate Jesus’ light.
        3. People who practice evil refuse to come to the light because they are afraid that their deeds will be exposed.
        4. Only those who practice the truth come closer and closer to the light.
        5. They want to see and understand who they are and what they do.
        6. They know that they cannot fight the evil in their lives if they love the evil or if they are blind to the evil.
        7. A person can be blind to the evil by living in the darkness and refusing to come close to the light.
  3. Let’s ask some essential questions.
    1. Does God love all people, the entire world?
      1. Jesus said God did in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world…”
      2. Paul said so in Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,”
      3. Peter said so in 2 Peter 3:9, God does not want any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.
    2. Did Jesus die for sins of all people?
      1. Jesus said so in John 12:32, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.”
      2. Paul said so in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
      3. Peter said so in Acts 10:43, “Through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”
    3. Will all repent as God wishes or accept the forgiveness that Jesus wishes to give them? No.
      1. The opportunity exists.
      2. Not everyone sees it as an opportunity.
      3. Not everyone will accept the opportunity.

Do you remember Jesus’ statement to the disciples, “Look at the fields! They are ripe and ready for harvest” (John 4:35). Do you know who Jesus was watching when he said that? Samaritans. The Jews regarded Samaritans as outcasts, as non-people. Jews would not have looked at any Samaritans as a harvest for God. Jesus did. He saw their hearts, and their hearts were good soil.

[Prayer: Help us sow and trust You for the increase.]

Someone says, “What we need to do is convince people that they need to be baptized.” I disagree. What we need to do is to convert people to Christ. People who are baptized, but are not converted are rocky soil or thorny soil. People who are baptized because they are converted to Christ are good soil. What kind of soil would Jesus call you? Look at your heart. Are you converted to Christ? Or, have you just been baptized?

Something Only God Can Do

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

God makes a promise to the person whose trust in the resurrected Jesus expresses itself in two ways. (1) His or her faith in Jesus produces repentance, a redirection of life. (2) His or her faith and redirection of life results in baptism. The combination of faith, repentance, and baptism enables a person to participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-7).

What promise does God make? God gives these people newness of life. The person who was dead is now alive. The person who was captured by the darkness of evil is now liberated by the light of Jesus Christ. The person who was dead in the evil that he or she committed is resurrected to life in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-6).

How is that possible? God’s grace. His goodness makes it possible. Can the goodness of the person make it happen? No. Can the worthiness of the person make it happen? No. Can a person “obligate” God through correct human deeds? No. Can a person through human deeds and acts manipulate God? No. Is God “in debt” to this person? No. The person trusts God’s promise in Jesus Christ. God who cannot lie honors His promise. The person receives newness of life as a gift, as God’s gift.

No person can give another person newness of life. Christians collectively as the church cannot. Christians as individuals cannot. Elders cannot. Deacons cannot. Preachers cannot. Ministry leaders cannot. Missionaries cannot. Only God can give newness of life.

Newness of life does not exist in a person by “collective human consensus.” A person does not have newness of life because we agree he or she has it. Newness of life is not absent in a person because we declare it is absent. Newness of life is in the person who is in Christ. That person has newness of life because God gave it to him or her.

Can God give it to anyone who enters Jesus Christ? Yes. A drug addict? Yes. An alcoholic? Yes. A prostitute? Yes. A thief? Yes. An adulterer? Yes. A divorced person? Yes. A rejected person? Yes. A greedy person? Yes. A liar? Yes. A materialist? Yes. Someone addicted to pleasure? Yes. A selfish person? Yes.

God gives newness of life to every man or woman who trusts what God did in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, who chooses to redirect life, and who participates in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not given to those who “deserve” it. No one deserves it. It is a gift. Only God can give it. Only those who trust God can receive it.