Our Selfish Faith and Our Unselfish God

Posted by on May 28, 2000 under Sermons

When I was in the first grade, everyone in my class made a present for their dad. Smoking was very popular then, so many of us made an ash tray for our fathers. The one I made might pass for modern art today. You would not know that it was an ash tray unless I told you it was an ash tray. It was an ugly brown, reasonably square, and extremely crude. Less than a year after I gave Dad his ash tray, he quit smoking.

A few years ago following my Dad’s death, I helped Mom go through Dad’s things. I saw the ash tray.

In Joyce’s sewing corner, there is a framed drawing of Joyce standing by her sewing machine. She has her signature bun atop her head and a cat on her arm. The picture was drawn by our daughter when she was quite young. It is no great work of art, but it is not for sale.

The value of the ash tray and the drawing are not found in the ash tray and the picture. Their value is found in what they represent. The adults who received the ash tray and the picture understand their meaning.

  1. Permit me to ask you some key questions about why you are a Christian.
    1. What are your basic motivations for being a Christian?
    2. What are your basic reasons for being a Christian?
    3. What do you expect God to do for you because you choose to be a Christian?
      1. Are your expectations material?
        1. Do you expect God to help you make money?
        2. Do you expect God to help you achieve your material ambitions?
        3. Do you expect God to help you be successful?
        4. Do you expect God to position you in life and relationships in a way that makes your earthly dreams come true?
      2. Are your expectations spiritual?
        1. Is it enough for God to forgive your sins?
        2. Is it enough for God to reconcile you to Himself?
        3. Is it enough for God to allow His Spirit to live in you?
        4. Is it enough for God to allow you to exist in His mercy and grace?
  2. The conflict between God and Satan began before this material world existed.
    1. We know nothing about why that conflict began or how that conflict began.
      1. Any comment on the how and why of that conflict involves a lot of speculation based on little information.
      2. Revelation 12:7,12 speaks of a war in heaven between God’s forces [Michael and his angels] and the devil and his angels.
        1. The devil and his angels lost the war in heaven.
        2. When they lost in heaven they were forced to come to earth.
      3. In Luke 10 Jesus sent seventy men out in pairs to all the cities and places that he planned to visit.
        1. They returned informing Jesus that even the demons obeyed them when they used Jesus’ name.
        2. Jesus responded by saying, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightening.”
    2. While there is no question that the conflict between God and Satan is by our consideration ancient, we must understand that the war is about far more than us.
      1. If we conclude that humanity is the reason for the war, we exaggerate our significance.
      2. The moment evil became a reality in human life, people became the battlefield for this war.
      3. The war is older than we are, but we are the present battlefield, not the reason.
    3. This war between good and evil has basic significance to each one of us.
      1. The truth: nothing is more important in your existence than this war.
        1. You are eternal.
        2. This war is not.
        3. When this war is completely over, you will still exist.
        4. As long as you live on earth you will be part of the battlefield.
        5. But when you die, you will join the force that used your life.
      2. Each of us can accept reconciliation with God by giving self to Jesus Christ.
        1. We can make peace with God.
        2. We can accept forgiveness.
        3. We can let God use our lives for His purposes.
        4. We can live and serve in God’s grace.
        5. If we oppose evil in our lives by serving God’s purposes, we will join the victorious God and Jesus Christ when we leave this life.
      3. Each of us can oppose God’s purposes by allowing evil to use us in this world.
        1. We can help evil be more deceptive by doing nothing.
        2. We can endorse and approve of evil’s objectives and agenda.
        3. We can refuse to think about it and do what gives us pleasure.
        4. We can become aggressively involved in promoting evil.
        5. If we allow evil to use us to encourage, strengthen, or serve its purposes, we will join the defeated Satan when we enter that other world.
      4. There are two things we must clearly understand.
        1. First, we are part of the battlefield.
          1. Just living in this world makes us a part of the battlefield.
          2. That is not a choice that we make.
          3. The conflict between good and evil will occur in our lives.
        2. Second, we will live in that world when we leave this world.
          1. We will join God’s victorious force, or we will join Satan’s defeated force.
          2. We will not choose which force we join then.
          3. Now we choose which force we will join by the way we use life–to assist the purposes of God or to assist the purposes of Satan.
  3. The turning point in this war came when Jesus lived and died.
    1. The turning point came when the kingdom of God became a spiritual reality in this world.
      1. When John the baptizer preached in the wilderness, this was the foundation of his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
      2. Immediately after Jesus’ wilderness temptations, Jesus began to preach saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
      3. Early in his ministry Jesus explained to his disciples, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
      4. When Jesus sent the twelve out to preach and teach only to Israelites, he said, “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7).
      5. When the seventy disciples went out in pairs, this was their message: “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9).
    2. The evidence from the gospel writings is clear: the foundation message of Jesus’ ministry was that God’s kingdom was coming into existence.
      1. What was meant by the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven? [The Jews regarded the word God as too sacred to pronounce, so writings to the Jews use the word “heaven” as a substitute for the word “God.”]
      2. To those who heard it, the message was simple: God’s rule is ready to become a reality on this earth.
        1. God would rule the hearts and minds of people as He had never ruled on earth before.
        2. To be prepared to accept God’s rule, they needed to repent.
  4. American Christians developed a very selfish faith in a very unselfish God.
    1. Often our message is this: “Be baptized into Jesus Christ because he will make your dreams come true.”
      1. “He will give you a better job.”
      2. “He will give you more money and possessions.”
      3. “He will give you a better family.”
      4. “He will help you be successful.”
      5. “He will give you a good retirement.”
      6. “He will protect you from all your fears.”
      7. “And, by the way, he will throw heaven in the deal, too.”
    2. So Christianity is about us, not about God’s war with evil, not about God’s rule in the hearts and minds of men.
      1. Everything spiritual is about us, not about God.
      2. So we blame God when we do not get what we want.
      3. So we justify doing wicked things when we must do evil to get what we want.
      4. We were told that God wants us to be happy, therefore God wants us to do whatever will make us happy. And, because of that perverted view, there is great spiritual sickness among Christians.

Do you refuse evil because God rules your life? Do you practice godliness because God rules your life? Have you educated your conscience to respond to God’s rule? Do you try to force God to serve your purposes, or do you exist to serve God’s purposes?

Even when we are ruled by God, our service to God is as crude as the ash tray I made Dad or the picture Anita drew for Joyce. But God understands. He understand our reasons and motives when we seek to honor His rule in our lives–and when we don’t.

The Fear of Finding Peace

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Peace is wonderful! The world wants it. Nations want it. Societies want it. Congregations want it. Families want it. Individuals want it. Only those enslaved to anger do not want it. (The truth: even anger’s weariness produces the denied yearning for peace!)

Ask a troubled world, nations at war, or societies struggling with hate, “Do you want peace?” Ask troubled families or torn individuals, “Do you want peace?” Ask, and all give the same answer: “YES!!!”

If peace is so wonderful, why does it not exist? If everyone wants it, why do we not have it? We do not have it! Finding a person or a family genuinely at peace is rare. We never expect to find a congregation, a society, a nation, or the world at peace.

Why? We fear peace! We do not trust people. “They could trust me, but I could never trust them.” We fear because we distrust. We have little confidence in faith. “They could believe in me, but I could never believe in them.” We fear because we disbelieve.

We consider evil’s power to be greater than good’s power. “I would embrace good, but they would pursue evil.” We fear because we consider good inferior to evil. We refuse to replace injustice with compassion. “I would bury my anger, hate, and contempt, but they would not.” We fear because we consider justice strong and compassion weak.

We do not want to change. “I would have to address my anger, hate, and contempt.” We fear our role in the problem. We cherish the convenience of “life as it is.” “I cannot change! I am who I am!” We fear any alteration of self.

Jesus’ coming made it possible for people “with whom God is pleased” to have peace (Luke 2:14). He gives peace by giving “soul rest” to those who bring him their burdens (Matthew 11:28-30). He gives rest by reconciling us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

The key to peace in “me” is accepting God’s reconciliation. The key to peace in families is peace in the persons. The key to congregational peace is peace in families. The key to peace in society is peace in people ruled by God. The key to peace in the nation is peace in society. The key to peace in the world is internal peace in the nations.

“You mean that world peace begins with me?” In reality, yes. But too many “me’s” fear peace. They will not face their burdens. They will not learn how to change self. They will not trust God. They will not commit to good’s power. So, troubled families, congregations, societies, and nations continue.

It is simple: “I cannot produce peace if I am not at peace.” It is terrifying: “I am not at peace because I fear.” Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Mature love of God creates peace because it destroys fear.

Wow! Who Is That?

Posted by on May 21, 2000 under Sermons

Who is the most impressive person that you have ever seen and heard? Let me define what I mean by an impressive person. You cannot be around this person without being encouraged. Just listening to and watching this person touches your life for good. You can name specific blessings in your life because of the focus and guidance of this person. He or she opened your eyes. He or she opened your understanding. He or she changed the way you look at the world and see life. And he or she did it just by being himself or herself.

Truly impressive people share some specific characteristics. One set of characteristics identify what is absent in impressive people. (1) They are not “full of themselves.” Impressive people are not self-centered, are not consumed by who they are and what they are doing. (2) They do not seek praise. Impressive people do not live by the affirmation of other people. (3) They are not hungry for the “spot light.” Impressive people do not need to be the center of attention.

A second set of characteristics identify what is present in impressive people. (1) Just being around them challenges you and stimulates you. Impressive people are positive people who see possibilities. (2) They are bigger than life’s demands and problems. Impressive people are not defined by life; they define life. (3) They see and understand realities that many people do not see or understand. Impressive people have the courage to see and accept the obvious.

One of this world’s great tragedies occurs when people are afraid of an impressive person and reject and misrepresent him or her.

The Christian who rises to his or her spiritual potential focuses life on a specific impressive person. Jesus Christ is the most impressive person they have ever known. Jesus encourages the person as no one else can. Jesus powerfully touches the life of this person as no one else can. Jesus blesses him or her as no one else can. Jesus opens his or her eyes as no one else can. Jesus opens his or her understanding as no one else can. Jesus changes the way we see the world by changing the way we see ourselves.

In all the influences that can touch your life, no influence can be as powerful in your life and in your death as can Jesus. Many who were touched by Jesus in his ministry said, “WOW! Who is this man?” We, too, will say, “Wow! Who is this man?”

  1. Please read with me Colossians 1:15-23.
    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach– if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
    1. The congregation at Colossae was a troubled congregation with some fundamental problems.
      1. The primary spiritual influence in their lives was not Jesus Christ (2:8-15).
      2. Their basic criteria for measuring spirituality was not Jesus’ teaching (2:16-23).
      3. The focus of their lives was not the godliness that Jesus revealed (3:1-4).
      4. They had not stopped practicing their pre-Christian behavior (3:5-11).
      5. They had not learned how to treat each other properly (3:12-17).
      6. Their basic relationships needed fundamental adjustment (3:18-4:1).
    2. If you dug to the foundation problem on which all their other problems were built, what one problem was the foundation of all their problems?
      1. The number one problem in the congregation was this: they did not know and understand Jesus Christ.
      2. If they knew Jesus Christ:
        1. He would be the primary spiritual influence in their lives.
        2. His teachings would be the primary criteria for measuring spirituality.
        3. The godliness he revealed would be the focus of their lives.
        4. They would replace pre-Christian behavior with godly behavior.
        5. They would treat each other properly.
        6. They would be godly people in their basic relationships.
    3. How had their ignorance of Jesus Christ affected them spiritually?
      1. Ignorance of Jesus Christ basically resulted in two things.
      2. First, it resulted in their being religious people who were ungodly.
        1. Being religious does not keep you from being ungodly.
        2. Godliness is demonstrated in the way you live and the way you maintain your relationships.
        3. Religion is demonstrated in the way that you follow sacred practices.
      3. Second, it resulted in their creating their own special brand of religion.
        1. They combined some pre-Christian religious beliefs with some Christian beliefs and produced a religion that was a spiritual hybrid of their old religion and their new religion.
        2. Some of their religious practices were based in the pre-Christian religious behavior.
        3. Some of the standards they used to measure spirituality were carry-overs from their pre-Christian religious standards.
        4. They created their own religion and called it Christianity.
    4. What had to occur to produce the fundamental changes that needed to happen in this congregation?
      1. They had to know who Jesus Christ was and is.
      2. They had to understand what Jesus Christ was and is.
      3. They had to place their faith in Jesus Christ.
  2. What did they need to know, understand, and believe about Jesus Christ?
    1. He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.
      1. If you want to see God in the flesh, you look at Jesus.
      2. If you want to know how God would act if He were human, you look at Jesus.
      3. You never say, “I know what Jesus said and did, but what would God say and do?” because Jesus said and did what God would say and do.
      4. The “first born of creation” probably refers to the fact that he was God’s agent of creation, an emphasis found in the next verse.
    2. Every “this world” reality and every “heavenly world” reality was created by him for him.
      1. He was God’s agent for creation.
      2. He is at the center of the creative purpose.
        1. Not only did he bring everything into being.
        2. But also creation finds its fulfillment, its objective, its completeness in him.
    3. He existed in his pre-human form before anything was created, and he is the force that holds the creation together.
      1. Jesus Christ is the cohesive force that sustains order and design in the total created realm.
      2. Creation was the act of bringing order out of chaos.
      3. Jesus Christ keeps all creation from returning to chaos.
      4. Is it not interesting that as you diminish the influence of Jesus in your life, your family, and your world, you at the same time increase the chaos?
    4. Just as he is the agent of creation, he is the head of the church. (Just as God used the preexistent Jesus as the agent of the universal creation, God used the resurrected Jesus as the agent for His spiritual creation.)
      1. Paul is not affirming the Jesus built an institution.
      2. Paul is declaring that Jesus is the creator and authoritative leader of the “called out” people of God.
      3. Just as the preexistent Jesus was God’s agent of creation who created by ending the rule of darkness and chaos, the resurrected Jesus was God’s agent of spiritual creation who brought the redeemed people of God into existence by rescuing us from the darkness and chaos of evil.
        1. He is the beginning of redemption, salvation, and resurrection.
        2. He is the first to be resurrected never to die again.
        3. In God’s kingdom, he has first place in everything–spiritual preeminence belongs to Jesus Christ alone.
    5. It pleased God for His fullness to exist in Jesus Christ.
      1. The completeness of God perfectly exists in Jesus Christ.
      2. The fullness of God resides in Jesus Christ.
      3. That declaration is so significant that it defies comprehension.
      4. No one this world has ever known is as significant as Jesus Christ.
      5. No one can represent us before God as can the one who is filled with the essence and power of God.
      6. No one can represent God to us as can the one who is filled with the essence and power of God.
      7. I want you to carefully note the emphasis on what God was pleased to do.
        1. God was pleased to let His fullness live in Jesus.
        2. God was pleased to reconcile everything to Himself through Jesus.
        3. God was pleased to make peace through Jesus’ blood at the cross.
  3. What did this mean to the Colossian Christians?
    1. Before they came to God through Christ, they were totally alienated from God and hostile towards God because they were ruled by evil through their godless behavior.
      1. But that changed, and it changed only by what Jesus Christ did.
      2. Because of Jesus Christ they were reconciled to God.
      3. Because of Jesus Christ they were enabled to stand before God as holy, blameless people who could not be condemned by anyone in God’s world or in this world.
    2. Jesus Christ made it possible for that to be their continual condition if certain things were true of them.
      1. Their faith must be firmly, steadfastly established in Jesus Christ.
      2. They must not leave the hope they received in the atoning death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
      3. This faith and this hope was declared throughout the creation.

In a way, the American restoration movement has made the same mistake the Colossian congregation made. At some point we assumed that everyone knew and believed in Jesus Christ. Concluding that, we assumed that we could restore Christianity by restoring the church. Concluding that, we focused our energies on building an institution instead of restoring the rule of God through Jesus Christ. And now we experience all kinds of spiritual problems because we have “loyal members of the organization” who live an ungodly existence. They are not ruled by Jesus Christ.

Christian materialists make the Colossian Christians’ mistake. They make their own religion by combining the objectives of materialism with some of the teachings of Christianity. They are not ruled by Jesus Christ.

Christian religionists make the Colossian Christians’ mistake. They measure spiritual things by standards that do not come from God. “Good religion” has little to do with Jesus Christ. “Good religion” exists if Christians meet their standards. “Good religion” has little to do with being ruled by Jesus Christ.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the creator of everything that exists? Do you believe that Jesus Christ brought into existence the redeemed people of God? Do you believe that Jesus Christ rules God’s redeemed people? Do you believe that God’s fullness lives in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that God produced reconciliation and peace in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that you will stand before Jesus Christ when you die?

No one is more important than Jesus Christ to this world. No one is more important than Jesus Christ to our congregation. No one is more important than Jesus Christ to our family. No one is more important than Jesus Christ to you and me.

“If I Can Do Anything …”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

How often have you said, “If I can do anything to help, let me know”? I seriously doubt two things. I seriously doubt any adult knows how many times he or she has said that. Is there even one of us who has never made that statement? All of us say that to a friend when he or she is in unusual need, circumstances, pain, or loss.

Would you say that to this congregation? Would you say to the elders, “If I can do anything to help, let me know”? Many have. Many do. Many would.

If they asked, “Can you give $1,000,000 to help the congregation address this situation?” many of us could not. If they asked, “Can you be a missionary in Southeast Asia?” many of us could not. If they asked, “Can you take full responsibility in coordinating Sunday morning’s children’s worship?” many of us could not. If they asked, “Can you assume full responsibility in a public teaching role?” many of us could not.

When we make that offer sincerely, we willingly will do anything within our ability. When asked to do something not within our ability, we sincerely regret that we cannot help. We want to help, but we literally are not able to respond to the request.

If you were able to do something significant that blessed the health and life of the congregation, would you do it? If the congregation or elders asked for something (1) easily within your ability, (2) of no personal cost to you, but (3) of immense value to this congregation, would you do it?

Two things are within everyone’s ability, of no personal cost, and of immense value to the health and life of this congregation.

You, or you and your family, can have your picture made for the directory. A new member or new convert wants and needs nothing more than a pictorial directory. We all need and want it. The more complete it is, the more useful it is. It cannot be complete without your picture in it.

We can all pray for God to guide us, our process, and our elders as we seek additional shepherds for the congregation. We can all pray for God’s Spirit to work freely in our hearts. We can all pray for God to guide us to the leaders that He wants.

“If there is anything I can do to help the congregation, let me know.” Have your picture made for the directory. Pray fervently for God’s guidance as we seek shepherds.

Finding Strength To Live

Posted by on May 14, 2000 under Sermons

Few commitments we make require that we totally change the way we live. The only commitments that require a total change of life are commitments that require us to change our person.

Joining a civic organization does not require us to change our person. We adjust schedules, rearrange our time, made some financial adjustments, assume new responsibilities, but we do not change persons. The truth: the civic organization did not accept us into membership to be a different person.

Following a career path in an organization or a corporation does not require us to change our person. We reorder priorities, we adjust commitments and relationships, we assume new responsibilities, we develop abilities, we even acquire new knowledge and understanding, but we do not change persons. The truth: the organization or corporation does not want us to change persons. It expects us to hone and develop strengths and abilities, but it wants us to be the person they hired.

Entering into a healthy marriage does not require us to change our person. We grow in our ability to be loving and kind. We develop relationship skills. We develop communication skills. We move in the direction of selflessness instead of the direction of selfishness. But if a person marries us expecting us to change persons after marriage, that marriage quickly enters serious jeopardy.

One of life’s most difficult challenges is changing your person. It is extremely difficult for an angry person to become a merciful person, for an inconsiderate person to become a kind person, for a jealous person to become a compassionate person, or for a person who lives for self to become a person who lives for others. For such changes to occur, there must be profound motivations and an incredible source of strength. The motivation and the strength must be bigger than the person.

Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ requires the commitment to change your person. That transition does not occur instantaneously or simply. It is a lifelong process that allows God to lead the way.

  1. From the beginning of Christianity, being a Christian required the desire to change the person.
    1. Consider people who were not Jews, who had little or no contact with Judaism, but who became Christians.
      1. Before the close of the first century, there were more Christians who were not Jewish than there were Jewish Christians.
      2. For those people to become Christians, that meant:
        1. They had to leave the gods they knew and worshipped.
        2. They had to accept and establish a relationship with a God they never knew.
        3. They had to accept and learn about a new Savior.
        4. They had to accept and learn about a new set of ethics (rights and wrongs).
        5. They had to accept and learn about a new system of values and priorities.
        6. They had to accept and respect scriptures they had never known.
        7. They had to learn an entirely new way to live which included a new way to treat people.
        8. They had to learn and understand entirely new reasons for living life.
    2. The Colossian Christians were primarily non-Jewish Christians who were not the ideal example of people who had changed the persons they were.
      1. The primary spiritual influence in their lives was not Jesus Christ (2:8-15).
      2. The basic criteria for measuring spirituality was not the teachings of Jesus Christ (2:16-23).
      3. The focus of their lives was not on the godly things revealed through Jesus Christ (3:1-4)
      4. They had not stopped living by their pre-Christian behavior (3:5-11).
      5. They had not learned how to treat each other properly (3:12-17).
      6. Their basic relationships needed some fundamental adjustments (3:18-4:1).
    3. Why would they do that? Why would they commit themselves to such enormous change?
    4. I would like for us to read together Colossians 1:3-12.
      We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bondservant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
    5. Let’s ask the question again: why would they commit to changing self as a person?
  2. I call your attention to two emphases in this segment of Paul’s letter.
    1. In beginning the letter Paul emphasized two things.
      1. First, he emphasized his gratitude for these Christians.
        1. He was specific.
          1. I heard about your faith in Jesus Christ, and I am grateful (1:4).
          2. I heard about your love for Christians, and I am grateful (1:4).
          3. I am thankful that you have claimed the hope of heaven that is rightfully yours (1:5)
        2. I realize that it was appropriate to begin a letter in that manner with statements of appreciation and gratitude.
          1. The impressive thing to me is not that Paul opened his letter in this way, but that he chose the focus he did.
          2. If elders or preachers wrote a letter to a congregation that was not the example they should be, that did not rely on Jesus Christ for their source of spirituality, that used to the wrong criteria for measuring what was spiritual, and that was behaving poorly,
            1. If we began that letter with compliments on their faith, love, and hope,
            2. We would be soundly criticized by many Christians “for not having the courage to deal with their situation.”
      2. Second, Paul focused them immediately on the gospel.
        1. Their understanding of “the gospel” was distinctly different from our common definition of the gospel in the church today.
        2. Our definition commonly incorporates a strong emphasis on the church, on an institutional concept, and on the benefits of that institution.
        3. Their understanding of the gospel did not focus on the church as a institution.
          1. The gospel produced Christians.
          2. Christians were the church.
          3. The gospel focused on what God did for people, not on God working through an institution.
        4. Their understanding of the gospel focused on these truths:
          1. God loved sinful people and sent His son to rescue them from evil.
          2. That Son loved sinful people so much that he died to atone for their evil.
          3. God raised that Son from death to prove that His power could raise Christians from the dead.
        5. The gospel produced hope.
          1. In the truth that God loved sinful people enough to send us His Son, there is hope.
          2. In the truth that this Son died to atone for our evil, there is hope.
          3. In the truth that God raised His Son from the dead, there is hope.
      3. That hope was the motivation for changing their person.
        1. The gospel came to them and brought them hope.
        2. Christianity was growing throughout the world because it brought hope.
        3. The gospel moved people to change themselves because the gospel revealed to them the grace of God.
          1. Deity was not an enemy that existed to bring you harm because “the gods are unhappy.”
          2. The true God is filled with grace, and He wants to help you.
  3. Paul’s second major emphasis was on the strength that was available to them.
    1. First, Paul said, “I am praying for you.”
      1. Paul’s connection with this God was obvious.
      2. For Paul who had a special connection with God to pray for them was extremely significant.
        1. The way to receive the favorable consideration from a person more significant than you was for a friend who knew that person to intercede for you.
        2. It still is–there is nothing as powerful as knowing someone who can “put in a good word for you” to “the right person.”
        3. For Paul to “put in a good word” for them to this God who was full of grace was most meaningful to them.
      3. And what was it that Paul asked God to do for them?
        1. He asked that they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will (an ignorance of or a misunderstanding about God’s will is spiritually devastating).
        2. But knowing God’s will was not enough–Paul asked God to give them knowledge of that will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
          1. To know God’s will means nothing if you do not understand His will.
          2. To understand God’s will means nothing if you do not have the wisdom to use His will in your life.
        3. He prayed their behavior would be worthy of the Lord.
          1. In a world filled with idolatry and evil, they were God’s representatives.
          2. People’s concept of this “new” God would be formed by the way Christians lived.
          3. There were a lot of ways to live that misrepresented God.
          4. Paul wanted their behavior to represent God in an accurate, worthy manner.
        4. He prayed that the way they lived would please God in every aspect of life by “bearing fruit” through doing good works and growing in knowledge of God (literally, “real knowledge”).
        5. He prayed that they would be strengthened with all power by the might of this God who forgave evil and raised from the dead.
          1. Strengthened by God’s power to do what?
          2. To be steadfast–“hang in there.”
          3. To be patient–to endure.
          4. To live joyously as the new person.
        6. He prayed that as they lived and behaved in these ways they would be filled with gratitude toward the God who qualified them to share in the eternal inheritance.
      4. He wanted them to clearly understand three things about God.
        1. God rescued them from the authority and control of darkness.
        2. God transferred them into the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
        3. God made it possible for them to be redeemed and forgiven by Jesus Christ.

I want to conclude by asking you these questions. Who looks at your life and feels moved to pray a “thank you, God” prayer for your faith in God, your love of Christians, and your hope of heaven? Who looks at the way you behave and better understands the God you serve? Who understands that the commitment to be a Christian is the commitment to change your person to look more and more like Jesus?

Prayers For Mothers

Posted by on under Sermons

In our society, special days typically are days without meaning. Perhaps we might more accurately say that special days are days that had one meaning, but the meaning has changed.

In the past most special days were days of commemoration. The special day was a day set aside for the nation collectively to remember with appreciation some specific blessing or the people who made that blessing possible.

  • Presidents’ Day was the day set aside to honor past great leaders of our nation.
  • Memorial Day was the day set aside to remember all the people who gave their lives to preserve the freedoms of this nation.
  • Independence Day was the day set aside to remember the birth of our nation.
  • Labor Day was the day set aside to remember the American worker.
  • Thanksgiving was the day set aside to remember the blessings the American people enjoy.

But how often do we as a nation actually remember? What are the criteria for a significant day of commemoration? Is it the memories? Is it the blessings given to us by our past? Or is the criteria a three day weekend with sales and unusual opportunities for fun?

Today is Mother’s Day. It is the day designated to focus on the sacrifices of our mothers and to say thank you. There are two general truths I want you to consider. Truth number one: in every age, in every generation the consistently most difficult responsibility in our world is the responsibility of a conscientious mother. Truth number two: in every age, in every generation the consistently most powerful influence in a person’s life is the influence of a conscientious mother.

  1. This morning we want to pray for mothers.

    1. We want to begin by praying for those who will become mothers. baby
      1. For a caring, godly woman who is unselfish and filled with love, there are few experiences that can equal the joy of bringing a new life into existence.
      2. The nine months before birth can be extremely demanding and most uncomfortable.
      3. Those months can be so demanding and uncomfortable that, if you only consider the difficulty, you could conclude no woman would ever choose to give birth twice.
      4. Yet, when a mother holds her newborn child in her arms for the first time and sees someone who is part of her but is also a true self, joy triumphs over difficulty.
      5. The woman who accepts the challenge of becoming a mother today needs to know the church prays for her.
        1. The challenges of motherhood have never been greater.
        2. Being a successful mother has never been more complex.

      [Dave Cogswell will lead us as we pray for mothers-to-be.]

    2. We also want to pray for the mothers of preschool children. preschool children
      1. From the moment a child is born, life dramatically changes for the caring, godly, unselfish mother.
      2. The change is so total, so dramatic, that her life will never be the same no matter how long she lives.
      3. Almost immediately, that change is evident; it is so evident that it may overwhelm her.
      4. Preschool children require an enormous amount of energy and stamina.
      5. Preschool children require an enormous amount of flexibility.
      6. Preschool children change the day-by-day schedule of your life and completely reorder your personal priorities as well as your priorities as a wife.
      7. Your preschool children bless your life in ways that you have never experienced, but your preschool children also complicate your life in ways you never experienced.

      [Steve Breedlove will lead us in prayer for the mothers of preschool children.]

    3. Now we want to pray for the mothers of preteen children. preteens
      1. When a mother’s child starts to school, her world changes.
        1. Someone who totally depended on her no longer is as dependent.
        2. Someone she would watch and speak to is no longer there to see or to hear her.
      2. Suddenly, her entire schedule changes.
      3. Suddenly, her concerns change.
      4. Immediately she thinks about things she never had to consider before.
      5. As the child advances through the grades and develops as a person, schedules get more complicated, needs get more demanding, and Mom watches as the first signs of independence emerge.
      6. Now Mom not only faces the challenges presented by her child; she begins to face new challenges within herself.

      [Larry Todd will lead us in a prayer for the mothers of preteens.]

    4. Consider the mother of a teenager. teens
      1. Before her child became a teenager, she knew what she had–a child.
        1. No child is perfect, but a child understands Mom has authority and understands, “Things go better when I at least acknowledge her authority.”
        2. A child knows peer pressure, but a child does not accept peer pressure as the governing authority of life.
      2. What I share with you is in no way a slam on teenagers.
        1. In the entire course of life, there is no age that is as difficult and uncertain as the teen years.
        2. The teenager is in that process that takes him or her from childhood to adulthood.
          1. In the teen years, Mom is not sure what her child is.
          2. Some days the teen wants the prerogatives of a child, some days the teen wants the privileges of an adult, and some days the teen does not know what he or she wants.
          3. A teenager’s life is very complicated: the teen may have more knowledge than his or her parents have, but the teen has less experience and wisdom than he or she will ever have in all of life.
          4. That is why we have a special name for this time of life, and that is why every adult knows exactly what we are discussing when we talk about teens.
        3. For Mom, being mother to a teen is more complicated, more complex, and more demanding than being a mother ever has been.
          1. You are no longer the mother of a child.
          2. Fears change, communication changes, and different parenting skills are needed.
          3. In the same day, you have the high of feeling incredibly successful as a parent and have the low of feeling like you totally failed as a mother.

      [Brad Pistole will lead us in prayer for the mothers of teenagers.]

    5. Then it happens. graduate
      1. For eighteen years you have been a mother with a child living at home.
        1. You took care of health needs.
        2. You established and maintained schedules.
        3. You provided guidance.
        4. You kissed, and you hugged, and you encouraged.
        5. You managed crisis; you were cheerleader; you woke them up; you remembered appointments; you helped them meet project deadlines.
      2. Then there is a graduation, an entrance into college, an entrance into a career path, an engagement, a marriage.
        1. And your world is unalterably changed.
        2. You are still a Mom; you will always be a Mom.
        3. He or she is still your child, but he or she will never live at home again as a child.
        4. What time that he or she spends at home now will be as an adult.
        5. So your role as a mother changes yet again.
        6. You spent eighteen years as a mother preparing your child to be a young adult, and the time has come.
        7. Though you spent eighteen years preparing your child to enter the world of the young adult, that just may be the most difficult moment for a mother.
        8. It is a wise mother that knows how to be mother and how to turn loose.

      [Buster Herren will lead us in a prayer for the mothers of young adults.]

    6. This is a very painful day for several people.
      1. It is a painful day for all those women who wish they were mothers.
        1. Some circumstance beyond their choices or actions has not made it possible for them to be a mother.
        2. While they rejoice that others know the joy of children, they also grieve that they have not had that opportunity.
      2. It is a painful day for those whose memories are painful.
      3. May we pray for them also.

      [David Chadwell will lead a prayer for those who find today to be a painful day.]

No one influences your life as much as your family of origin. The older you become, the more your thoughts and behavior force you to confess the powerful influence of your family or origin.

The most powerful, positive parent you will ever have is God. No one can change your life as God can. No one can influence your life as God can. Will you let Him?

Moving In God’s Direction

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Saturday morning, May 6, the elders and staff met with about thirty deacons and ministry leaders. After enjoying breakfast together, the group spent about two-and-a-half hours discussing the strengths and needs of this congregation.

Approximately half that time was spent in group meetings. Four small groups each met with an elder and a staff member to discuss three questions. “What are West-Ark’s four greatest strengths?” “What are West-Ark’s four greatest weaknesses?” “What four things can West-Ark do to stimulate spiritual and numerical growth?” The ideas and discussion came primarily from those who were not elders or on staff.

Each question was discussed independently. Each member in the group wrote each of his four answers on a “sticky” note. All answers were placed on a large sheet of paper. The group then collectively considered all the answers and formed a consensus on four suggestions. Many answers fell in common areas of thought.

Approximately half the time was spent in a general meeting of all the groups. A spokesman from each group presented his group’s consensus answers to the questions. (Amazingly, each group’s conclusions were quite similar.) Then collectively the whole gathering discussed the greatest strength, the greatest weakness, and the number one thing that needed to be done (with emphasis on the doing).

We closed the gathering by each man getting on his knees and praying as Cliff Casey led our prayer. It was an incredible, meaningful, encouraging morning of thinking, discussion, and prayer. The spirit was phenomenal. The love for God was powerful. The sense of mutual devotion to Christ and his kingdom was visible.

The group consensus was that the congregation needed to find more shepherds to help the four elders we have. This was not the mere suggestion that more men be added to the eldership. It was the desire for men to shepherd. It was the desire to see that more of the “business matters” be given to responsible deacons to free elders to spiritually shepherd the congregation. The group wants the congregation to pray that God will guide us in finding such men and freeing them to shepherd.

A companion consensus was the need for every Christian to pray more and to increase his or her faith. We need to be a people who depend on God in prayer and faith.

Please pray for God to guide us as we seek more shepherds. Please pray for God to guide us as we seek to free these men to be shepherds. Please pray for God to help us grow to a new level of faith as individuals and as a congregation.

Philemon: “Life’s Tough!”

Posted by on May 7, 2000 under Sermons

Never has it been more convenient to be a Christian than it has been the last few years in America. The key word is “convenient.” The word “easy” is not found in my statement. Listen again carefully: “Never has it been more convenient to be a Christian than it has been in the last few years in America.” “David, why would you say that?”

  1. It is legal to be a Christian.
  2. It is readily possible to be a Christian.
  3. Many Christians can and will encourage you.
  4. Christian ministries can develop and be nurtured without hostile opposition.
  5. We live in a neutral environment.
  6. We enjoy the benefits of a high literacy rate and multiple avenues of mass communication.
  7. Readable, understandable translations of the Bible are available everywhere. Everyone can own his or her copy of the Bible.
  8. We have the greatest abundance of Bible study aids to exist in the history of the world.

Contrast those circumstances with the first century world.

  1. Was Christianity a legal religion? No.
  2. Was it readily possible to be a Christian? Only in some places.
  3. Were there many Christians who could and would encourage you? Yes, that was likely the situation where Christians existed, perhaps more so than now.
  4. Could Christian ministries develop and be nurtured without hostility? No, in many places there was political, religious, and economic hostility.
  5. Did Christians exist in a neutral environment? No, they commonly existed in a negative environment. Idolatry controlled the political and economic climate.
  6. Did they enjoy the benefits of a high literacy rate and multiple avenues of mass communication? No.
  7. Were readable, understandable translations of the Bible in their own languages readily available? No. Could the average person own his own copy of scripture? No.
  8. Did they have an abundance of Bible study aids? No.

The same contrast could be made in the period we call the “dark ages” and the period we call the age of the reformation.

Let me show you in real life terms how tough it was to be a Christian in the first century by using Paul’s letter written to Philemon.

  1. Let’s begin by considering the circumstances that produced the letter.
    1. An overview of the situation:
      1. A prominent Christian named Philemon had a slave whose name was Onesimus.
        1. I refer to Philemon as prominent for two reasons:
          1. First, he owned a slave.
          2. Second, his home was large enough for the congregation to assemble there (verse 2)
        2. Paul referred to Onesimus as being a “useless” slave prior to his conversion to Christ (verse 11). Other translations use the word or phrase “unprofitable” [KJV]; “of no use” [TEV, JB], or “so little use” [NEB].
      2. Onesimus either ran away from Philemon, or deserted Philemon while he was on some mission for Philemon.
        1. By some set of circumstances, Onesimus traveled to the same city that had Paul in prison.
        2. It was not easy to desert your master and be a strange slave in an unfamiliar environment.
          1. You had no rights and no protection, so who did you trust?
          2. All kinds of dangers, both known and unknown, filled you with fear.
          3. Where would you live? What would you eat? What would you do?
          4. What would happen to you if someone found out that you were a slave who deserted your master or if you got caught?
        3. He knew Paul; he found Paul; and he went to prison to visit Paul.
          1. As a result of spending time with Paul, he was converted to Christ.
          2. He formed the ties of a loving relationship with Paul.
          3. He served Paul; he took care of Paul’s needs.
          4. Paul’s love for Onesimus and Onesimus’ helpfulness to Paul was such that Paul wanted to keep Onesimus (verse 13).
            1. But Paul knew that was not right.
            2. Onesimus belonged to Philemon, and Paul had no right to keep him.
            3. If Philemon wanted Onesimus to serve Paul, then Philemon should make that decision when Onesimus was under Philemon’s oversight and care.
        4. Paul sent the converted Onesimus back to Philemon with the letter that we call Philemon.
          1. Onesimus was truly a changed person–conversion changed him.
          2. “How could you possibly know that?”
          3. He went back, and there had to be a lot of uncertainty in returning.
          4. Accompanying him was likely another Christian who carried the letter.
        5. Basically, the letter’s message was this:
          1. “Philemon, take Onesimus back, and behave as a Christian should when you take him back.”
          2. “Please realize that Onesimus is more valuable to you now as a Christian than he was when he left you.”
          3. “I hope to be released soon and come visit you.”
    2. I want you to focus on the specific challenge in this brief letter.
      1. Philemon was expected to receive this slave who had deserted him as a Christian brother (verse 16).
      2. And you think you have some complicated situations! How would you do that? As a Christian owner, how would you receive a slave who deserted you as a Christian brother?
        1. However that was done, you did not say, “Religion is religion and business is business.”
        2. You did not say, “The Christian thing to do is to see that justice is served–he may be a Christian but he must pay the consequences.”
      3. How Philemon would handle that situation as a Christian was distinctly different from the way Philemon would handle that situation if he were not.
      4. Paul’s encouragement is clear: “Philemon, handle this as a Christian should.”
  2. Let me call your attention to some specific insights.
    1. Let’s begin with Onesimus.
      1. He was a useless slave of little or no value to Philemon, and he deserted Philemon.
      2. He visited Paul in prison and was converted.
      3. I do not believe that it was accidental that Onesimus found himself in the same city in which Paul was in prison.
        1. Speaking for myself, it would be wrong for me to refer to that as “luck,” “good fortune,” or “a wonderful accident.”
        2. That situation existed because it was a God-created opportunity.
        3. God created the opportunity.
        4. What Onesimus did with the opportunity was strictly his choice.
        5. Onesimus’ reactions to the opportunity were strictly Onesimus’.
      4. I do not believe that Brad, Ted, Roy, and I are here by accident.
        1. We are here because God created and presented us with the opportunity.
        2. What we each do with the opportunity is our personal choice and decision.
      5. I do not believe you are here by accident.
        1. I believe God created the opportunity for you to be here.
        2. What you do with the opportunity is your decision, but the opportunity can change your life as totally as it changed Onesimus’.
    2. Let’s look at Paul.
      1. Paul wanted to keep Onesimus because in practical ways Paul needed him.
      2. But Paul understood that keeping Onesimus was not his decision to make.
        1. He understood that is was not Onesimus’ decision to make.
        2. It was Philemon’s decision, and Philemon was the one person who should make it.
        3. Paul understood that it was not a real decision unless Onesimus was there with Philemon.
      3. In Paul’s’ thinking (and he wanted this to be in Philemon’s thinking) it was possible that Onesimus deserted Philemon as a “useless” slave to return to Philemon as a committed, valuable slave.
      4. No one understood this truth better than did Paul: God constantly uses evil, undesirable situations and conditions to create opportunity for good to occur.
        1. The issue is not, “Why does evil happen to me?” The answer to that question is fairly simple: evil happens to each of us because of Satan.
        2. The issue is: “Will I allow the evil that occurs in my life to become God’s door of opportunity for me?”
    3. Consider the enormous pressure that Paul placed on Philemon in challenging him as a Christian to use the situation to do good.
      1. Paul asked, “Is it not possible that God was at work” (verses 15,16)?
      2. Paul promised, “I personally will repay you anything that Onesimus owes you” (verse 19).
        1. It was quite possible that a slave who deserted his owner caused his owner losses in the act of desertion.
        2. It is also possible that Onesimus told Paul about his act of desertion and what it cost Philemon.
        3. What kind of pressure did it place on Philemon for a Christian friend in prison to promise, “I personally will pay you back?”
      3. Then Paul reminded Philemon, “You owe me. I converted you to Christ” (verse 19).
        1. Paul taught Philemon about Jesus Christ.
        2. Paul said that Philemon owed Paul his life.
      4. Paul made a request, “Refresh me in Christ.”
        1. Here was the man who taught you about Christ enduring the hardships of prison simply because he belonged to Christ.
        2. This man made this request: “Refresh me in Christ.”
      5. Paul expressed confidence in Philemon: “I know you will do what is right” (verse 21).
        1. “I know you will be obedient to my request.”
        2. “I know you, and you will do even more than I ask of you.”
      6. Paul made a promise: “I will come see you soon; get ready for my visit” (verse 22).
        1. Philemon would have to explain his actions to Paul in person.
        2. Onesimus would be there to confirm or deny the explanation.
  3. The typical view of Paul held by many Christians is that Paul was a hard-nosed confrontationalist.
    1. From a number of evidences, I am convinced that this view of Paul the Christian is inaccurate and incorrect.
      1. When Paul talked about his work with the Thessalonian Christians, he wrote about his encouragement, his gentleness, his affection, his example to them–they knew he worked with them as a nursing mother does her child (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
      2. He told Timothy that a Christian should correct people who are wrong with kindness and patience (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
      3. He told Galatian Christians that the spiritual person should restore the disobedient person in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
    2. When Paul wrote Philemon,
      1. He said that he had the right and the confidence to “order” Philemon to behave in the way Paul wished (verse 8).
      2. However, because they loved each other, Paul appealed in that love to Philemon (verse 9).
      3. He simply asked, “Take care of my child” (verse 10).

Faith in Christ does not make life easy. Faith in Christ does not simplify the world. Faith in Christ makes people God’s children. God’s children do not belong to or in this world. Belonging to God makes it possible for God to guide us through life’s complex situations.

Our Agony

Posted by on under Sermons

Many of us would not recognize the America of fifty years ago. We would not recognize the poverty, or the standard of living, or the economic conditions. People who died before 1955 never imagined the America of today could exist.

I challenge you to go home and pull out old family photographs from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Look at the people. But especially look at the background. When you do, you look at another world.

Many of you do not know that world existed. Many of you cannot accept my challenge. (Ask for a “painless” show of hands.) How many of you do not have a snap shot from the 1950s?

Those of us who were teens or adults in the 50s and 60s lived in a society that was confident that it could “fix” anything. In the annual State of the Union message to Congress delivered on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson officially declared war on poverty with these words:

Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope–some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

Included in the President’s proposals were an expansion of the food stamp program, modernization of unemployment insurance, an expansion of the minimum wage law, school aid funds, building hospitals and nursing homes, hospital insurance for the elderly who were covered by Social Security, and an urban renewal program.

This war was declared in the conviction that human genius, human vision, human resources, human ingenuity, human intelligence, and human organization could solve any problem. It was based on this thesis: “Given opportunity, every person will improve himself or herself.” This war would bring the Great Society into existence.

After forty years of war, poverty has not been defeated. However, the concept of personal responsibility is in intensive care. Blame is healthy. Accountability is dead.

  1. Please read with me Galatians 6:1-10.
    Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
    1. God’s commission to Christians is founded on the law of Christ.
      1. Help those who struggle carry their load.
      2. Do not exaggerate your own significance.
      3. If you examine those two statements closely, one is a challenging responsibility, and one is a serious warning.
        1. If you help the burdened, you will not exaggerate your own significance.
        2. If you exaggerate your own significance, you will not help the burdened.
    2. A devastating obstacle confronts Christians who accept God’s commission.
      1. The obstacle: deception.
      2. But the obstacle is a special form of deception: self-deception.
      3. No one can deceive me like I can deceive me.
  2. Paul focused on three forms of Christian self-deception.
    1. Form # 1 of self-deception: I exaggerate my sense of significance.
      1. “I am too important to help a person who was foolish and irresponsible enough to get caught in doing something wrong and suffering the consequences.
        1. “I am too spiritual to waste my time trying to help troubled people.
        2. “What troubled people need is a good heavy dose of reality and the pain of consequences–gentleness just encourages them to feel sorry for themselves and continue to live in their problems.”
      2. Paul’s response: the true nothing, the genuine nobody is the Christian who thinks he is something when he is nothing.
    2. Form # 2 of self-deception: “I can deceive God.”
      1. “God is gullible.
        1. “God has to be easily deceived.
        2. “If God is full of grace, mercy, and compassion, and if God is so willing to forgive, God can be deceived.”
      2. Paul’s response: if you believe you can deceive God, you deceive only yourself.
        1. Each day I live, I plant a crop by the way I live.
        2. When harvest comes, I will harvest what I planted by the way I lived.
        3. If I live my life for the physical, my harvest will be a dead, decaying body.
        4. If I allow God’s Spirit to direct me as I use life, God’s Spirit will give me eternal life as my harvest.
        5. But if I believe that I can use my life to indulge my physically self, I will not receive eternal life.
    3. Form # 3 of self-deception: doing good fails; all it accomplishes is self-destruction.
      1. All that doing good achieves is my own discouragement.
        1. People take advantage of me.
        2. Christians who should understand me and encourage me discourage me.
        3. There are more burdened people than I can help. Some of those people tear my heart out and walk all over it.
        4. “There simply is not enough strength to keep on doing good.”
      2. Paul’s response: this is God’s promise to the Christian who does good and helps struggling people: your harvest will be eternal life.
        1. That is God’s assurance that cannot fail.
        2. Do not lose heart; do not get too tired to do good.
        3. Do good simply because you understand that is what God wants you to do.
        4. God did not ask you to solve all problems.
        5. God did not ask you to change the world.
        6. God asked you to do good.
  3. When a person commits himself or herself to teach or to shepherd, there is a lot of agony involved.
    1. Some of that agony is needless; it exists through a total misunderstanding of the church’s purpose.
      1. Too many Christians believe that the purpose of the church is to “fix” the world, or “fix” the church, of “fix” the congregation, or “fix” people.
      2. We declare that our God-given purpose is to create solutions that produce incredible results.
        1. And we are deceived enough to think that we can do it and that we will do it–we will “fix” everybody and everything that is broken!
        2. So we will do something God could not do when evil entered our world.
        3. So we will do something that Jesus could not do in his ministry.
        4. So we will do something that Jesus could not do through his crucifixion and resurrection.
        5. So we will do something that the apostles could not do.
        6. We will create a situation that never existed in the first century church.
        7. But we can do it! We are American Christians! We are Christ’s church!
    2. But just like President Johnson’s war on poverty and commitment to the Great Society, our “fixes” often create more problems than they solve.
      1. The purpose of the church is not to fix the world, or society, or the universal church, or the congregation.
      2. The purpose of the church is to do good and to help the struggling.
  4. When you commit yourself to God’s purposes in this world, it is common for that commitment to produce a lot of personal agony.
    1. There are few days when your preachers and your elders do not feel pain.
      1. There are very few hours that Brad, Ted, Roy, and I do not feel the agony of many situations.
      2. There are very few hours that Bill Dickey, Earl Food, Mat Griffin, and Bob Null do not feel the agony of many situations.
      3. There are very few hours that a number of men and women in this congregation who care do not feel the agony of many situations.
    2. “David, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
      1. The agony of watching people live by priorities that are guaranteed to devastate their lives.
      2. The agony of watching people make decisions with no regard to godly values.
      3. The agony of watching people make “my” desires God’s will.
      4. The agony of watching people expect God to neutralize years of ungodly choices quickly, easily, and painlessly.
      5. The agony of watching people blame God for situations that God had nothing to do with.
      6. The agony of watching people who use knowledgeable ignorance to make their opinions God’s commands.
      7. The agony of watching people make unnecessary statements that discourage Christians who are committed to doing good.
      8. The agony of watching people impose impossible expectations on others while expecting nothing of themselves.
      9. The agony of watching people we love suffer because of bad choices they made years ago.
      10. The agony of watching people we love suffer because of bad choices someone else made.

[Prayer: God help us learn how to be Your people. Teach us how to do good and help the burdened. Teach us not to be the burden.]

At some point in life, no matter how we have been hurt, we must accept two responsibilities. Responsibility one: I must accept God’s forgiveness by choosing to give my sins and my life to Jesus Christ. Responsibility two: I must choose to cooperate with God as He rebuilds my life.

About a month ago, I heard Monte Cox make this statement: “I tell my students they will never be more saved than they are right now. From the moment God forgives you, you were 100% saved. But, you can always be more godly than you are right now.”

If you are in Jesus Christ, you are 100% saved. You live for Christ not to be more saved, but to be more godly.

But you must remember this fact: because you are saved does not mean that you will not hurt. In Christ there is peace even when there is suffering. The peace is experienced in reconciliation to God.

Life: “Do I Believe…?”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Would you like to begin a fascinating discussion? Ask this question: “What is life’s purpose?” Ask it in a nonreligious setting and situation. Ask it when you are unlikely to receive Bible class responses. Ask it to a group of Christians who are open and talkative. Then listen to the responses and the discussion that follows.

“Life’s purpose is to be successful.” “Life’s purpose is to create a secure future for yourself and your children.” “Life’s purpose is to survive.” “Life’s purpose is to improve your lifestyle.” “Life’s purpose is to acquire.” “Life’s purpose is to achieve significance.” “Life’s purpose is to build enduring relationships.” “Life’s purpose is to love and be loved.” “Life’s purpose is to be responsible.” “Life’s purpose is to live in joy.”

Aside from Bible class discussions, does God have a basic bearing on life’s purpose?

Do I believe that it is impossible to understand life’s purpose without growing in my understanding of God? Do I believe that the better I understand God, the better I understand my life? Do I believe that closeness to God increases the meaning of and the fulfillment in my life? Is it my relationship with God that makes it obvious that I believe these things?

Do I believe that physical existence is merely a stepping stone to eternal existence? Do I believe that physical joy and gratification are only a dim shadow of eternal joy and gratification? Do I believe that my death will only be a door that permits me to enter the better life that exists only in God’s presence? Is it my relationship with Christ that makes it obvious that I believe these things?

Do I believe that I grasp the significance of life only by understanding my insignificance? Do I believe that the holy, pure God patiently accepts me as His child because of His grace, not my accomplishments? Do I believe that God holds the man or woman who humbly serves the least significant people in His highest esteem? Does my relationship with God’s Spirit make it obvious that I believe these things?

Do I believe that the church is no more and no less than the men and women who are spiritually alive because of the atonement of Jesus Christ? Do I believe that the men and women who are in Christ exist to be Christ’s fullness on earth? Do I believe that a basic purpose of my life is to help build up Christ’s body by preparing Christians to serve? Do I believe that I become useful to God’s purposes through serving others? Does my relationship with God’s people make it obvious that I believe these things?

Is what I believe limited to what I say, or are my beliefs obvious because of the ways that I use life for God in my service to others?