Shared Responsibility

Posted by on July 30, 2000 under Sermons

Acts 15 records what I personally consider to be the greatest crisis that confronted the young community of Christians in the first century. You and I think of the church as being something “very old” that has existed “forever.” When this crisis occurred, the church was quite young. What happened in this crisis would forever affect the nature and the future of the church.

  1. In this young religious movement, Christians primarily were converted Jews and the church was primarily a Jewish religious movement.
    1. From the first day that Christianity began in Acts 2, the church included people who were not Jews.
      1. These non-Jewish converts were known as proselytes.
      2. They were not Jews by birth, but they had converted to Judaism.

    2. Something different happened in this young Jewish religious movement, and it began to happen just a few years before the events of Acts 15.
      1. People who were not Jews were taught about Christ and permitted to be baptized without first converting to Judaism.
      2. Paul, Barnabas, and likely others taught non-Jews about Jesus, baptize believers, and accepted them into the Christian community without requiring them to learn anything Jewish.

    3. That created a major crisis that has enormous significance to you and me.
      1. Jewish people had no problem accepting non-Jewish people into Judaism or the church if, first, the non-Jewish people surrendered to Jewish practices and indoctrination.
      2. Typically, people who were not Jews had little in common with Jewish people.
        1. Non-Jewish people worshipped many gods; Jewish people worshipped one God.
        2. Non-Jewish people accepted people religiously without discrimination (you could worship as many gods as you wanted to worship); Jewish people accepted only the people who worshipped their God exclusively.
        3. Non-Jewish people knew little or nothing about the God the Jews worshipped.
        4. They did not know Jewish scripture.
        5. They did not know Jewish ceremony and rituals.
        6. They did not live like the Jewish people lived.
        7. Their code of morality and value system was often different.
        8. By Palestinian Jewish standards, most people who were not Jews were considered sexually immoral, untrustworthy, liars who ate the wrong food and insulted God by the way they lived.

    4. But none of this troubled devout Jews when people who were not Jews submitted to Jewish religious indoctrination.
      1. The Jews had devised a system to change and control non-Jewish converts.
      2. They circumcised them.
      3. They taught them the law.
      4. They indoctrinated them in Jewish ceremony, ritual, and practices.
      5. They taught them what to eat and what not to eat.
      6. Their system controlled the non-Jews lifestyle and behavior.

  2. This was the problem: Paul taught non-Jews that they could be Christians without going through the Jewish system.
    1. Paul, who was a Jew with a very conservative Jewish background, taught non-Jews that they did not have to adopt Jewish practices to be Christians.
      1. All they needed was an obedient faith in Christ and dependence on God’s grace to become a part of God’s community of Christians.
      2. They did not need Jewish indoctrination to change; they needed Jesus Christ to change.

    2. That is what caused the crisis: the Jewish Christians said, “No way! It will not work! They cannot leave the worship of idols and become the children of God without the proper indoctrination!”
      1. Paul said a genuine faith in Jesus Christ and an honest dependence on God’s grace would restructure their lives.
      2. Many Jewish Christians said that faith and grace could never restructure them; only their indoctrination would do the job.
      3. It did not take long for that crisis to create a head-on collision between those who preached faith in Christ and God’s grace and those who preached salvation by indoctrination.

Acts 15:1,2 Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Representatives went to Jerusalem to settle the issue created when Jewish Christians told a congregation of people who were not Jews that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised and accepted the customs of Moses.

Everyone met in Jerusalem to discuss this issue.

Acts 15:5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

At the meeting some converted Jewish Pharisees took the inflexible position that non-Jews who became Christians had to be circumcised and had to observe the Law of Moses.

After a lot of discussion this was the decision: Christians who were not Jews did not have to follow Jewish practices and customs from the Law of Moses. To you and me, that is one of the most important spiritual decisions ever made in the church. If that had not been the understanding and decision, there would be no congregations of Christians in Fort Smith.

I point out something for you to think about that is clearly in the text.

1. This was not a private discussion that excluded the congregation. Acts 15:12 clearly states the multitude listened to the debate and discussion silently.

2. After the decision was made, the whole church participated in a decision to spread the news.

Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas–Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren

  1. Did the congregation in Jerusalem have some of the twelve apostles in its leadership? Yes. Did the apostles dictate to the church what to do? No.
  2. Did the congregation in Jerusalem have elders in its leadership? Yes. Did the elders dictate to the church was to do? No.
  3. Did the congregation participate in the decision about what action to take to inform non-Jewish congregations? Yes. The action decision included the apostles, and the elders, and the whole church.

Every baptized member of the West-Ark congregation has a role in making an extremely important decision. This morning the elders ask members to participate in selecting men to be added to your elders. It is biblical that you participate in this decision. You share the opportunity. You share the responsibility.

Listen to concluding remarks {7 minutes, 13 seconds (selected)}

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Christ Is Real! Change Your Focus!

Posted by on July 23, 2000 under Sermons

How we interpret what we see determines our feelings and our actions. Consider an example: from your yard you can see two people, and one person is obviously struggling. If you interpret what you see as a crime in process, you rush into the house and call 911. If you interpret what you see as a person being rescued from an accident, you hurry down the street to help. What you feel if you think you are witnessing a crime and what you feel if you think you are witnessing a rescue attempt will not be the same feelings.

How we interpret God’s actions and how we interpret our struggle with evil determines our feelings and our actions. Consider an example: if our personal view of God is He controls everything including Satan and evil, then we regard every undesirable happening as God’s fault. God is either toying with us, or using us for amusement, or is unfeeling and unconcerned about our distress and suffering, or is just plain mean. Why? God is in control. God can do anything. God is doing nothing but ignoring us as we struggle and suffer.

Does God fight us, or does God sustain us? Is He our opponent who destroys us or our rescuer who delivers us?

Our view of God is the foundation of many of our struggles. People’s view of God always has been the foundation of their struggles. For the Christians at Colossae, their view of God was a major problem.

Read with me Colossians 3:1-11.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him– a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

  1. We must not rip this passage out of the context of the situation at Colossae.
    1. I said it before, I will say it again many times: never forget that people divided the writings into chapters and verses long after the writings were produced.
      1. The typical way that we read the Bible is chapter by chapter.
      2. The certainly is not wrong, but it can create a huge problem.
      3. If we read a chapter as though it is information isolated from the letter and isolated from the chapters before and after it, we are very likely to misunderstand that chapter.
      4. If we read this chapter as though Paul wrote to us in the twenty-first century instead of to the Colossian Christians in the first century, we will change Paul’s emphasis and message.

    2. It is extremely important to remember Paul’s point in chapter two: the Colossian Christians did not need Christ plus something else to be spiritual.
      1. Jewish Christians did not need Christ plus Jewish ritual to be spiritual.
        1. What their Jewish critics said about spiritual standards was meaningless.
        2. Christ was 100% sufficient to be spiritual before God.
      2. Former pagans who were now Christians did not need Christ plus pagan religious experiences to be spiritual.
        1. What pagan religious leaders said about spiritual standards was meaningless.
        2. Christ was 100% sufficient to be spiritual before God.

  2. They must trust what God did for them in Christ (that is the essence of faith–trusting what God did for us in Christ.)
    1. “God did it! Trust it!”
      1. “In God’s presence, your body is dead to sin.”
        1. “It is not dead to sin because you are no longer temptable.”
        2. “It is not dead to sin because you no longer do any evil.”
        3. “It is not dead to sin because you no longer are caught in the struggle between good and evil.”
        4. “Your body is dead to sin because God made it dead to sin through His forgiveness and sanctification in Jesus Christ.”
        5. “It remains dead to sin because God’s forgiveness and sanctification in Christ is a constant, continual, ongoing process.”
      2. “In God’s presence, you, as a person, have been raised with Christ.”
        1. “Being raised with Christ is not based on your perfection; you are not perfect.”
        2. “Being raised with Christ is not based on your goodness; you are not good.”
        3. “Being raised with Christ is not based on Jewish religious ceremonies or pagan religious experiences.”
        4. “God raised you with Christ; it was an act of God.”

    2. “Because God made you dead to sin, because God raised you with Christ, trust what God did for you in Christ and change your focus.
      1. Since God used Christ to make you dead to sin, seek Christ.
      2. Since God resurrected you with Christ, seek Christ.
      3. Since Christ is seated beside God, seek Christ.

    3. “Set your mind on a spiritual focus by focusing your mind on Christ.”
      1. “God’s spiritual focus is not produced through Jewish ritual.”
      2. “God’s spiritual focus is not produced through pagan religious experiences.”
      3. “God’s spiritual focus is produced by seeking Christ, by focusing your earthly life on Christ instead of earthly religious concerns.”

    4. “When your body died, God hid your life in Christ.”
      1. “You will be presented alive in Christ when Christ returns.”
      2. “It is then you will share in Christ’s full glory.”

  3. “If you are genuinely concerned about being spiritual (as you should be!), then stop using your physical body to insult God.”
    1. “To allow your body to be used for evil purposes insults the God who made your body dead, who resurrected you in Christ, who hid you in Christ.”
      1. “When you allow your physical body to involve you in sexual immorality, impurity, ungodly passion, evil desires, and greed, you insult God.”
      2. “That is the way your body controlled you before you became a Christian.”
      3. “Before you became a Christian, your physical body determined how you lived.”
      4. “Understand that anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying do not seek Christ.”

    2. “God made you a new person. God recreated you.”
      1. “God made your body dead.”
      2. “God resurrected you in Christ.”
      3. “God recreated you in Christ.”
      4. “You wanted God to do that; you surrendered to God for that to happen.”
      5. “Now accept the responsibility of being that new person.”
      6. “Do not use your body to live and act as the dead person acted.”
      7. “God recreated you in Christ; commit yourself to being the person God recreated you to be.”

    3. “God recreates everyone who enters Christ.”
      1. “The educated, sophisticated Greek.”
      2. “The religious, ritualistic, moral Jew.”
      3. “The person who entered a covenant with God through physical circumcision.”
      4. “The person whose uncircumcision kept him out of that covenant.”
      5. “The barbarian who is not civilized.”
      6. “The Scythian who is the barbarian’s barbarian.”
      7. “The slave.”
      8. “The person who is free.”

    4. God uses Christ to create a new kind of humanity.
      1. In this new creation, this new humanity, God recognizes no social distinctions.
        1. To God, there is no educated and uneducated.
        2. To God, there is no cultured and uncultured.
        3. To God, there is no religiously privileged and excluded.
        4. To God, there is no civilized and uncivilized.
        5. To God, there is no slave and free.
      2. In every circumstance:
        1. God can make the physical body dead in Christ.
        2. God can resurrect the person in Christ.
        3. God can sustain the person in Christ.
      3. No barrier can keep God from doing that. He has the desire and the power.
      4. But, when God does that, the person must accept the responsibility to be, to live like, to act like the person God recreated.
      5. It is impossible to be the new creation and at the same time to willingly allow (without resistance) the dead physical body to dictate your thinking and behavior.
      6. It is impossible to be spiritual by allowing the dead standards of spirituality to dictate how you live and what you do.

We have far too much in common with the Colossian Christians. Some of us, like the Jewish Christians, want to prove that we are spiritual by our religious habits. “I do not drink, gamble, smoke, commit adultery, steal, rob people, or commit violence. I go to church every Sunday, take communion, contribute, and have godly habits.” That is the approach Jewish Christians at Colossae used.

Some of us are like the converted pagans at Colossae. “If you are truly spiritual you have to have incredible spiritual experiences. You show your commitment to God by abusing the body. God just takes over your mind, and you rise above physical concerns. You are possessed with these strong feelings and emotions. God overwhelms you.” That is the approach that appealed to the converted pagans.

Paul said both were incorrect approaches. A Christian who is truly spiritual treats people with kindness, respect, and goodness. That includes his or her family. He or she is moral, pure, kind, forgiving, considerate, has the ambition to live as a godly person, and uses words and attitudes to bless people. The truly spiritual person does not lie and is not greedy.

The truly spiritual person understands that God recreated him or her. The truly spiritual person accepts the responsibility to live and act like the new person God created. He or she does this by constantly keeping his or her eyes on Christ.

Being spiritual means keeping your eyes on Christ. Being spiritual means building your existence around Jesus Christ.

Practical Thinking For Right Now

Posted by on under Sermons

There are many fascinating aspects about what I do. Just one is the selection of the sermon material I share with you on Sunday mornings. In a typical year I will speak to you about forty-five times in the Sunday morning’s worship assembly. Despite your impressions, most Sunday morning lessons are about thirty minutes long.

Part of that thirty minutes is spent challenging you to focus with me. It is my responsibility is to get your attention. I learned long ago that nothing is accomplished if I share but you do not listen.

Part of that thirty minutes is spent in what the Church of Christ calls “offering the invitation.” Each lesson ends with the same emphasis. That is an interesting challenge. We genuinely want to pray with those who are struggling and to baptize those who wish to surrender their lives to Christ.

Roughly that leaves me eighteen to twenty minutes to share content intended to challenge your thinking, change your hearts, or deepen your commitment. I have only twenty minutes forty-five times a year to discuss over 4000 years of God’s interaction with people; to talk about current spiritual needs in today’s world; to discuss what is happening in families; to discuss what is happening the lives of individuals; to address relationship problems; and to focus on what is happening in today’s society.

Constantly I am impressed with how little time that is. In one year, if you are here every Sunday, never miss a lesson, and really listen to everything I share, I have 900 minutes to challenge you to move closer to God.

  1. The decision to discuss something that I have discussed is difficult.
    1. This morning that is exactly what I want to do.
      1. In October of 1997, I shared with you a series of lessons concerning elders.
      2. We noted that what we typically call lists of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 were actually profiles.
        1. The two lists are similar but not identical.
        2. 1 Timothy 3 was written by Paul to Timothy as a profile of the kind of godly man Ephesus needed to be an effective elder.
          1. These men would be added to an existing eldership in Ephesus.
          2. They would shepherd the church in an urban setting of a major city.
      3. Titus 1 was written by Paul to Titus who was to appoint elders in every city on the island of Crete.
        1. We examined the ungodliness of typical society on Crete.
        2. The profile depicts a man who could shepherd the church in those circumstances.

    2. In both profiles there are obvious common denominators.
      1. Both stress that the man is to be spiritually mature and spiritually stable.
      2. Both stress that he is an example of godliness.
      3. Both stress that he is a person of godly character.
      4. Both stress that he is a person of godly integrity.

    3. Notice something else that is true but seldom discussed.
      1. With the exceptions of gender, marriage, and children, nothing is expected of an elder that is not expected of a mature Christian.
      2. He is not a person of superhuman spirituality; he is a mature Christian who is genuinely godly.

  2. We are in the critical stage of selecting elders to add to our existing elders.
    1. I have already stressed to you that we are not electing officers of a civic club, and I will not repeat that lesson.
    2. I want to think with you very practically, very biblically.
      1. In the New Testament, the basic emphasis on an elder’s work is this: an elder is a shepherd.
        1. He spiritually leads and guides the men and women who belong to God.
        2. The primary, God-given objective of the elders is to move every person in God’s family closer to God.
      2. Who is to be an elder’s example?
        1. 1 Peter 5:4 makes it quite clear that elders, the shepherds of the congregation, are under a Chief Shepherd.
        2. The Chief Shepherd is Jesus Christ who will return and give the unfading crown of glory.
      3. If the Chief Shepherd is their example, what does that mean?
        1. That means an elder is a man of compassion, just as Jesus was.
        2. That means an elder is kind as he seeks to help those who are weak and make mistakes, just as Jesus was.
        3. That means an elder has a heart filled with love for struggling people, just as Jesus had.
      4. An elder serves the God who gave us Jesus.
        1. A godly elder never wants to “turn a person off” in his or her feelings for God.
        2. A godly elder wants to “turn every person on” in his or her feelings for God.
          1. He wants every Christian to find more hope in the promises, not less.
          2. He wants every Christian to believe in Jesus more, not less.
          3. He wants every Christian to trust God more, not less.
          4. He wants every Christian to live daily life with greater confidence, not less.

    3. These are some specifics that everyone of us needs to understand.
      1. Number one: there are no perfect men. Appearances of perfection are quite deceiving.
      2. Number two: there are godly men that we can respect.
      3. Number three: there are godly men who are spiritually mature.
      4. Number four: there are godly men whom we can trust.
      5. Number five: there are godly men of integrity and character.

  3. Leading God’s people is an enormous challenge and an enormous responsibility.
    1. Leadership exists on different levels, and one of those levels includes me.
      1. I understand James 3:1 with great soberness:
        “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
        1. I am asked, “Do you worry about what people say about your teaching and preaching?”
        2. The answer a few years ago was, “Yes.”
        3. The answer today is, “No.”
        4. I am much more concerned about what Jesus and God have to say about my teaching and preaching than what people have to say.”
      2. Elders, and everyone in a leadership role, understand Hebrews 13:17 with great soberness:
        “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
        1. “Did you go looking for that lost sheep and carry him home on your shoulders?”
        2. “Did you help the weak, the struggling, the outcasts as they searched for life in Christ?”
        3. “Were you a source of love, a reason for hope, a steadying influence for the spiritually immature, the blind, and the lame?”
        4. “Because of you, did people see Me as good news or bad news?”

    2. Please read with me 1 Peter 5:1-4.
      Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

[Prayer: God, bless and guide Bill Dickey, Earl Flood, Mat Griffin, and Bob Null as they work as our shepherds. Bless Roy Dunavin, Michael Cole, Ron Lenderman, Joe Pistole, and Larry Roper as they present themselves to You and to the congregation for consideration as shepherds. Bless us as a congregation as we make our choices. Help us look at Jesus as we choose.]

May I address two questions. Question one: “Does anything concern you as we select additional elders?” Yes. Three things. (1) It concerns me that the voice of the spiritually uninformed is equal to the spiritually informed. (2) It concerns me that some might regard the selection as a matter of church politics. (3) It concerns me that some might regard the selection as a popularity contest.

Question two: “If the congregation selects all five men to be added to the existing four elders, would that concern you?” No. (1) The work exists to be done. (2) A good, effective eldership is a team. A good, effective eldership is not experienced men supported by men who are to agree with them. The challenge will be to form an effective team. (3) Regardless of the number added, it will be an adjustment. If five are added, it will be an adjustment for everyone. If just one is added, it will still be an adjustment for everyone. But, with the right hearts and the mind of Christ, God will use every person added–whether one, or two, or three, or four, or all five.

It is your choice. Some of you asked these men to consider serving. These men said they would if the congregation wanted them to serve. The elders talked to the men you nominated. Now the elders present to you the men who agreed to be presented. Now it is your choice.

Pray earnestly. Choose for God’s purposes. Choose shepherds to work under the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Participatory Leadership

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The elders requested this statement from the four of them be placed on the front page of this week’s bulletin.

From The Elders To The Congregation
“We are only four men. We want you to decide whether any, or all, or some of these Christian men should be made elders at this time. Your collective wisdom is superior to the four of us.”
Bill Dickey, Earl Flood, Mat Griffin, and Bob Null

The existing eldership sincerely believes it is appropriate and scriptural to practice “participatory leadership.” What is “participatory leadership?” It is the leadership seen in Acts 6. The apostles asked the Jerusalem congregation to “select from among you … seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task” (Acts 6:3). The apostles asked the congregation to select the men that they would appoint to care for a need. It is the leadership seen in Acts 15. After the apostles and elders reached a controversial doctrinal conclusion, it seemed proper “to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church” to send two men to report this decision to some Gentile congregations. The congregation participated in the decision to select and send the men.

The selection is your decision. You approached and nominated the men. You will select the men to add to our existing elders to serve as our shepherds. In no way do the existing elders want you to function as their “rubber stamp.” They want you to select men who have your confidence; who you will follow; who you trust to guide you closer to God and His will. The elders want each member to understand this is the congregation’s decision. Your participation will determine the decision.

We also want to thank these men and their wives for their willingness to be considered and to serve you. The decision to allow your name to be submitted for consideration is not easily made. Each of the men and their wives made that decision prayerfully with much reflection. The willingness to assume the service and commitment of an elder is not simple. Many good, godly men do not want that responsibility.

Allow your prayers and hearts to lead you as you make your decisions. But, whatever your decision, let these men and their wives know they are loved, appreciated, and respected. Regardless of the decision, each man and his wife has been honored.

False Standards of Faithfulness

Posted by on July 16, 2000 under Sermons

If I asked, “Do you consider yourself a religious person?” how would you prove that you were? Typically a person would use things like these:

  • I own a Bible.
  • I believe in God.
  • I go to church regularly.
  • I watch religious television programs.
  • I do not drink, smoke, gamble, or approve of “ungodly habits.”

If I asked, “Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?” how would you prove that you were? Typically a person would use things like these.

  • I pray every day.
  • I read the Bible every day.
  • I use at least 10% of my income to support these religious activities.
  • I am pro-life.
  • I oppose ungodly lifestyles.

If I asked, “Do you consider yourself a Christian?” how would you prove that you were? Typically we would use these things.

  • I was baptized at “Y” age.
  • I am a “faithful” member of the church.
  • I take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.
  • I participate in church ministries.
  • I endorse lives and activities approved by the church.
  • I oppose lives and activities condemned by the church.

What would it demonstrate, what would it declare, what would it prove if a person said,

  • I believe that Jesus is Lord and Christ.
  • I believe his death on the cross atoned for my sins.
  • I trust the power of his resurrection to raise me from the dead.
  • I believe that the forgiveness of all sin is made possible by Jesus’ blood.
  • I believe that God used Jesus to redeem me from Satan and my sin.
  • I believe God made me a part of His family when I placed my life in Christ.
  • My faith in Jesus determines the way I treat God, the way I treat people, and the way I live my life every day.

Read Colossians 2:6-23.

  1. When people who are not Christians become Christians, they always bring religious baggage with them into their new relationship with God.
    1. Before most men and women are converted:
      1. They have a system to determine right and wrong.
      2. They have a concept of integrity.
      3. They have a list of “innocent” sins and a list of “horrible” sins.
      4. They have convictions about good and evil, about wise and foolish, about spiritually destructive and what is harmless.

    2. When most men and women are converted:
      1. The religious systems and convictions they had before conversion are superimposed on Christianity.
      2. What was religious before conversion becomes Christian after conversion.
      3. What was spiritual before conversion becomes Christian after conversion.
      4. What were “things that concern God” before conversion become Christian focus after conversion.
      5. This is the baggage we bring with us at conversion.

    3. The baggage we bring with us becomes the unquestioned truth of our children and grandchildren.
      1. “Where did you get that idea?”
      2. “I did not ‘get’ that idea anywhere–it’s the truth!”
      3. “Where did you get those standards?”
      4. “I did not ‘get’ these standards anywhere–it’s the truth!”
      5. “Where did you learn that concept?”
      6. “I did not ‘learn’ that concept anywhere–it’s the truth!”
      7. It is amazing to discover how many of our convictions came from someone else’s baggage, not from Jesus Christ.

  2. In Colossians 2:16-23 Paul addressed the problem of baggage in the church at Colossae.
    1. “Jewish Christians, you accepted Christ when you understood Christ fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham; pagan Christians, you accepted Christ when you understood the need to turn from pagan gods to the living God; now trust Christ to be 100% sufficient.”
      1. If Jesus Christ is Lord, then let him exist as your Lord in your life.
      2. Let Christ guide your life every day because he is Lord.
      3. Sink your roots deep in Christ, make your faith solid in Christ, be grateful for Christ.
      4. All you need is Christ; he is everything.
        1. He is the fullness of deity who lived in a human body.
        2. He makes you spiritually complete.
        3. He is the ultimate power, the highest form of authority.
        4. He cut away from you all evil when you were baptized.
        5. He destroyed every form of ceremonial ordinances that opposed us.
      5. You do not need Christ and something else; you only need Christ.

    2. The Jewish Christians at Colossae thought a Christian needed Christ and Jewish ordinances.
      1. “You need Christ and kosher foods.”
      2. “You need Christ and the Jewish religious calendar.”
      3. “You need Christ and the Sabbath rituals.”

    3. The Christians who had been pagans at Colossae thought a Christian needed Christ and pagan rites.
      1. “You need Christ and self-denial.”
      2. “You need Christ and abuse of the physical body.”
      3. “You need Christ and the worship of angels.”
      4. “You need Christ and pagan visions.”
      5. Or, if you look at them as a unit, “You need Christ plus pagan religious experiences.”

  3. Why did they think that way?
    1. Jewish Christians thought that way because Jewish critics in Colossae said, “If you were truly spiritual people, you would:
      1. “Eat and drink a kosher diet.”
      2. “Follow the Jewish religious lunar calendar.”
      3. “Keep the Sabbath day rituals.”
      4. “That is what people who are truly spiritual do.”

    2. Christians converted from paganism thought that way because pagan religious leaders in Colossae said, “If you were really spiritual people, you would:
      1. “Be practicing physical self-denial.”
      2. “Be abusing your physical body.”
      3. “Be worshipping the angels.”
      4. “Be having visionary experiences.”

    3. All of this was what Paul was talking about when he spoke of those who took them captive through philosophy and empty deceit according to men’s tradition and the world’s elementary principles.
      1. People outside of Christianity said, “Truly spiritual people do these things.”
      2. Since that is the way converts demonstrated spirituality before conversion to Christ, they were easily deceived by these false standards of spirituality.
      3. These former standards were their baggage.
      4. Paul said do not let any one judge your spirituality by these standards.
      5. It is not faith in Christ plus these practices that make you spiritual.
      6. All you need to be spiritual is faith in Christ; that is 100% of everything you need to be God’s person.
        1. Faith in Christ determines how you live.
        2. Faith in Christ determines what you do.
        3. Faith in Christ makes you acceptable to God.

  4. It is very easy to react by saying, “They were so ridiculous! How could they not know better than that!”
    1. And as we condemn their foolishness, we are just as foolish as we do the same thing.
      1. “Is he a deeply spiritual Christian?”
      2. “Oh, yes!”
        1. “He insists that the church use only one song leader at a time.”
        2. “He insists that the Lord’s Supper use unfermented grape juice.”
        3. “He would not dream of ‘waiting on the table’ without a suit and tie.”
        4. “He demanded that the elders offer an invitation song at every assembly.”
        5. “He teaches that faithful Christians use the King James Version.”
        6. “He refuses to listen to any religious song that uses instrumental music.”
        7. “He does not drink, smoke, gamble, go places where people drink, shop in stores that sell beer, go to the movies, or allow a televison in his home.”
      3. “What does he say about:
        1. “Jesus’ atoning death?”
        2. “Jesus’ redemption?”
        3. “Jesus’ forgiveness?”
        4. “Jesus’ blood?”
        5. “Jesus’ resurrection?”
        6. “Newness of life in Jesus?”
        7. “Jesus’ sanctification?”
      4. “I never heard him discuss any of those things. He is just interested in spiritual things.”

How many times do we use standards to measure spirituality that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ? How many times do we declare ourselves spiritual without any consideration of Jesus Christ?

No one needs Jesus plus anything else to be spiritual. The kind of faith in Jesus that trusts his forgiveness and changes your life makes you God’s child.

God’s Agreement With Abraham – And Us!

Posted by on under Sermons

I want to share a statement with you, and I want you to react to the statement.

Here is the statement: “When we refuse to learn from the past, we condemn the present and destroy the future.”

What is your reaction? A typical teenage reaction: “Boring! Lame! Lame! Lame!” Typical young adult reaction: “Forget the past. History is a waste of time! This is a new world, a new age. The world never has experienced anything like today!” Typical middle aged reaction: “The past does not make a lot of sense; the present makes no sense at all. Confusion is all I get when I try to put the past and the present together.” Typical post-retirement reaction: “There is a lot to be said for the past. The present scares me to death. I do not even want to think about the future.”

Do people exist in every age group who realize that understanding the past powerfully contributes to understanding the present? Certainly! But they are the minority. But, those are the people who understand that the failure to learn from the past condemns the present and destroys the future.

  1. The Old Testament prophets could not interest Israel in learning lessons from their past, and that disinterest destroyed them.
    1. Israel and Judah absolutely refused to consider any lessons from the past as being relevant to their world or their lives.
      1. “This is a different world and a different age!”
      2. “We have never been slaves! We did not live in the wilderness! We have had a good life for generations!”
        1. “We have nothing to learn from Abraham! We are not a bunch of nomads!”
        2. “Moses has nothing to say to us! We are not a bunch of slaves wandering in the dessert!”
        3. “Joshua has nothing to teach us! This land is ours and has been for several hundred years!”
        4. “The only thing we need to learn from our ancestors’ mistakes is, ‘Do not be a bunch of losers!'”
        5. “We do not need to learn anything about their relationship with God–we figured God out; we have religion down pat.”

    2. So God commissioned the prophets to take His message to people who refused to listen.
      1. Isaiah was eager to take God’s message (Isaiah 6).
        1. God asked, “Who will I send?”
        2. Isaiah said, “I am here; send me!”
        3. God said, “Okay, go to Judah and speak for Me.”
        4. Isaiah said, “For how long do you want me to go, Lord?”
        5. God said, “Until the cities are destroyed and no one lives in them; until farm houses are empty and no one lives in them; until the land is so empty that there is nothing but the wind blowing.”
        6. “Did those things happen?” Yes. “Why?” No one listened to the lessons from the past, and nothing changed.
      2. Jeremiah was not eager to take God’s message (Jeremiah 1).
        1. God said, “Jeremiah, I am appointing you a prophet to the nations.”
        2. Jeremiah said, “No thank you, Lord, I don’t want that job.”
        3. God said, “You will go unafraid wherever I tell you to go.”
        4. God said, “Tell Judah something horrible that will soon happen to them.”
        5. God said, “I will use you to condemn the wickedness of Jerusalem.”
        6. God said, “They will fight you, but they won’t win.”
        7. Jeremiah took God’s message; Jeremiah changed nobody’s heart or mind; it seemed such a useless effort that Jeremiah even tried to quit.
        8. Why was it such a useless effort? No one listened to the lessons from the past, and nothing changed.

  2. When one generation learns lessons the hard way from a life altering experience, their lessons become meaningless advice to future generations.
    1. “Oh, David, you are exaggerating!” Am I?
      1. Teens, let’s say that you are a passenger in a car with a drinking, teen driver (entirely possible–some of you have already been there).
        1. The car wrecks, kills the drinking driver, and you barely escape with your life after a long hospital stay.
        2. When you are a grandparent (and you probably will be), will your grandkids listen when you talk about the dangers of drinking and driving?
        3. What do you let your grandparents teach you?
      2. Grandparents, think of the worst experience in your life.
        1. Think of the most important lesson you learned from that experience.
        2. Can you teach that lesson to your grandkids?
        3. Is it just meaningless advice from some older person who does not understand today’s world?

  3. There is something basic, something fundamental you must understand about God’s work with people.
    1. God always has worked with people through the agreement of a covenant.
      1. Let me give you some specific examples.
      2. In Genesis 17 God established a covenant with Abraham.
      3. In Exodus 19 God established a covenant with the nation of Israel.

    2. If your reaction is “so what” let me share with you how important God’s covenant with Abraham is so you will understand “so what.”
      1. If you are a Christian, you exist as God’s child specifically because of God’s covenant with Abraham.
      2. If you are not a Christian, you can exist as God’s child specifically because of the covenant God established with Abraham.
      3. The first time God promised to bring a blessing to all people is when He made the promise to Abraham.
        1. The Bible says that Jesus was born in order for God to keep His promise to Abraham.
        2. The Bible says that Jesus surrendered to the cross in order that God could keep his promise to Abraham.
        3. The Bible says that forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ can be preached to all people on earth because God’s promise to Abraham.
        4. The Bible says that you and I can be forgiven of our sins because of the promise that God made to Abraham.
        5. The Bible says that God made perfect atonement for every evil a Christian commits because of God’s promise to Abraham.
      4. That promise was part of the covenant, and the God who cannot lie made that covenant with Abraham–the promise had to be kept.
        1. Abraham entered that covenant agreement with God.
        2. Abraham accepted the responsibility of that covenant agreement.
        3. Abraham had a basic understanding of the covenant, and the covenant determined how Abraham used his life.

    3. Let me try to put this together in a way that you can put it in your understanding and take it home.
      1. God offered Abraham a covenant agreement, and Abraham accepted it.
        1. The symbol that verified the covenant existed between God and Abraham was physical circumcision.
        2. That covenant agreement included all of Abraham’s descendants through Isaac who would be circumcised and keep the covenant.
        3. Hundreds of years later God ended Israel’s slavery in Egypt to keep and honor the covenant with Abraham.
        4. Every year, throughout their generations, Israel remembered God’s act of covenant through keeping the Passover.
        5. Then God made an additional covenant with the nation of Israel at Sinai.
          1. He gave them the ten commandments.
          2. They accepted the ten commandments.
          3. Those commandments stressed two things:
            1. “This is how you treat God.”
            2. “This is how you treat people.”
      2. The New Testament emphasizes that all Christians are included in the covenant God made with Abraham.
        1. The symbol of the covenant is the circumcised heart which occurs when we are baptized (Colossians 2:11,12).
        2. When you and I accept that covenant agreement with God, God ends our slavery to sin.
        3. Every week we remember that God ended our slavery by Jesus’ death through observing the Lord’s Supper.
        4. God makes every Christian a part of his spiritual kingdom or nation.
          1. In this spiritual nation, Jesus’ teachings tell us how to live.
          2. “This is how you are to treat God.”
          3. “This is how you are to treat people.”
      3. That is what happened in Acts 2 when the first people became Christians.
        1. In Acts 2, Jewish believers understood God was keeping His promise to Abraham, therefore his promise to the nation of Israel.
        2. They understood that God made Jesus Lord and Christ, and they believed and repented.
        3. They were baptized to allow God to use His forgiveness to circumcise the heart.
        4. They immediately began treating God differently–every day they went to the temple with new hearts; every day they praised God.
        5. They immediately began to treat people differently–they even sold property to help those in need.

  4. Is your response, “boring!” or indifference (“why couldn’t you talk about something interesting this morning?”) or rejection (“David, I don’t need to understand that stuff!”)?
    1. In very direct, simple terms, this is why you need to understand “this stuff.”
      1. I am just talking facts; I am not trying to be morbid.
      2. Everyone of us will die; none of us will live in this physical body indefinitely.
      3. Everyone of us will stand in front of Jesus Christ–without exception, we all will keep that appointment.

    2. When that moment comes, understanding God’s covenant will be the most important thing you ever learned, and living in that covenant will be the most important thing you ever did.

[Prayer: God, help us understand how wonderful Your covenant promises are, and help us understand how certain your covenant promises are. Teach us to trust Your promises. Help us find the desire to live in Your covenant.]

“David, I figured out this religion thing a long time ago. All that is necessary is to do three things.” (1) “Get” baptized. (2) Show up “at church” with some regularity. (3) Just do not do any of “the bad stuff.”

That was Israel’s approach, and they were 100% wrong. That is why Israel would not listen to Isaiah and Jeremiah. That is what brought catastrophe.

Let me talk just to church members for a moment. Do you think it is important for a person to be baptized? “Oh, yes!!!” It is just as important to understand baptism as it is to be baptized. Baptism has meaning and significance when a person understands the meaning and significance of his or her baptism.

Let me tell you a simple way to tell if you understand your baptism. Look at what you love. Look at how you behave. What you love and how you behave tells you if you understand your baptism.

The Idea and the Actuality

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

To each person who participated in the twenty-four hours of prayer, thank you! I realize some of you physically could not come to the building, but I have no doubt that you prayed for us as a congregation. “How many did come and pray?” I have no idea. “Was it successful?” Very! “How can you say that if you have no idea how many came?”

First, the purpose was to invite God to assume the key role as we select additional elders. That happened. Men and women poured their hearts out to God asking for His guidance and help. Second, it is important to understand what was not the purpose. The purpose was not to statistically impress ourselves. I fear that we too often use statistics to commend ourselves for our efforts rather to honor God in what we do. Never do we want to be like some of the Pharisees who prayed to impress others.

Circumstances brought me to the building before 6 a.m. Friday. Before 6 a.m. an elder arrived to open the building and begin the day of prayer. Joyce and I volunteered for one of the early morning periods Saturday morning. An elder was at the building praying when we arrived. When we left, a former elder was at the building praying. Some of you came more than once. This congregation probably spent more time in focused prayer those twenty-four hours than it has in a long time.

It is simple to listen to sermons or Bible classes about prayer. It is easy to discuss the need for prayer, the power of prayer, the purpose of prayer, the need to express dependence on God, the need to invite God into our lives and work, and God’s ability to help. The idea of prayer does not trouble us. Discussing the need for prayer is not intimidating or distressful to most of us. The idea of praying sounds very spiritual.

Actually, when it comes to God’s affairs, we tend to invite God’s active involvement if we think we cannot handle it by ourselves. “We don’t need God to help us select elders. We can handle that just fine. We know what He wants. We can take care of that for Him. If we just pray for God’s help in one of the assembly ‘prayer slots,’ that is enough.” Actually, prayer can be considered more of a formality than a dependent plea.

Isn’t the difference amazing? “What difference?” The difference between the idea (“everyone needs to pray about ‘this!'”) and the actual (actually coming to the building and spending some time in prayer about “this”).

Does the building possess a “magic” that makes prayer more effective? No. As in all relationships, it is doing the “unnecessary but thoughtful” that allows a person to reveal his or her heart. Deep love seeks special ways to reveal and express itself.

Keep on praying. Reveal your heart to God. Let God guide your heart in your decision.

The Heart — It Is Always the Heart

Posted by on July 9, 2000 under Sermons

I want to begin this morning by creating situations and asking you to search within yourself to see how you would react. Do you understand what we are doing? I will give you the situation, and you will tell yourself how you would react.

First, I want to talk to all single ladies. If you are a single female who is a teen or older, how would you reaction to this situation? You dated a man for a long time. All your experiences and observations tell you that he is a nice person. One night, as you were expecting, he asks you to marry him. He says. “I need a wife. I want you to be my wife. I promise to take care of you; to provide for your financial and physical needs; to work with you in every area of life. I will never refuse to do something for you. But you must understand this: I will never give you my heart.” How would you react?

Now I want to talk to all the single men who are teens or older. The situation is the same. You dated a beautiful lady for a long time and decide that you really love her. You ask her to marry you, promise her your heart and your life, and she says yes. But she adds a condition to her yes. “I need to get married, and I am willing to marry you. However, you must understand that you will never have my heart.” How would you react?

To the married, regardless of your age, I ask a question. How difficult would it be to live as the husband or the wife of a person who never gave you his or her heart?

To all parents, regardless of your age, I ask you a question. How difficult would it be to be the loving parent of a child who does not love you?

This is basic to the existence of all meaningful, interpersonal relationships: the hearts of those in the relationship must belong to the relationship. If the hearts are not involved, the relationship will die.

This is basic to the existence of a relationship between any person and God: the heart must belong to the relationship. If your heart is not involved in your relationship with God, either the relationship never existed, or the relationship is dead.

  1. The fact that we must give our hearts to God if we are to be in relationship with God always has been true, and always will be true.
    1. Almost forty years had passed since the Israelites left Egypt and slavery.
      1. It had been almost forty years because the adults who left Egypt did not trust God.
      2. Because of their faithlessness, this people lived in the dessert for forty years.
      3. Because of their faithlessness, all but a very few of the adults who left Egypt were dead.

    2. Moses gave his last instructions to the second generation who left Egypt as teenagers and children.
      1. His last instructions to this second generation is called Deuteronomy.
      2. In Deuteronomy Moses does three things in combination.
        1. He reemphasized God’s teachings.
        2. He asked them to remember the incidents of the past forty years.
        3. He challenged them to do something their parents failed to do: preserve relationship with God.

    3. Please pay careful attention to a powerful emphasis in Deuteronomy.
      1. This emphasis began very early in Deuteronomy.
      2. Deuteronomy 4:9 Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.
        1. Only if what your eyes have seen lives in your hearts will you be blessed.
        2. Only if it lives in your hearts can you pass it on to your children and grandchildren.
      3. Deuteronomy 4:39 Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.
        1. Knowing the true identity of God depended on them taking it to heart.
        2. Belonging to God began with their hearts.
      4. Deuteronomy 5:8-10 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
        1. “Do not make or worship idols.”
        2. “I will not share you.”
        3. “For generations I will not forget the evil of those who hate me.”
        4. “But I will be loving and kind to thousands who love me and express their love through obedience.”
      5. Deuteronomy 5:29 Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!
        1. God knew that the nation would not always follow Him.
        2. God knew that they would block His blessings.
        3. God knew this would happen because God knew their hearts.
      6. Deuteronomy 6:4,5 Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
        1. Israel understood that this was God’s greatest commandment.
        2. Jesus declared this was God’s greatest commandment.
        3. Notice that God’s greatest commandment began with loving God with all your heart.
      7. Deuteronomy 10:12 Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
        1. In some ways Israel had a lot in common with the Church of Christ: they spent an awful lot of time debating what was really important to God.
        2. God said, “Let me explain it to you very simply and clearly.”
        3. “This is what I require: profound respect; behavior that is in step with Me; love for Me; and service that comes from your heart and your life.”
      8. Deuteronomy 10:16 So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.
        1. In Genesis 17 God made circumcision the symbol of His covenant with Abraham.
        2. Every male who was a descendant of Abraham was to be physically circumcised eight days after the boy child’s birth.
        3. Hundreds of years later the nation of Israel thought they figured out what was important.
          1. You have to have Jewish parents.
          2. You have to be circumcised.
          3. You have to keep the Sabbath day holy.
          4. You have to offer the correct sacrifices in the correct way.
          5. You have to eat kosher food.
          6. That is what is really important!
        4. God said, “If you don’t love Me, none of that means anything.”
        5. Moses speaking for God said, “The critical circumcision that is important to God is the circumcision of the heart.”
        6. “Cut away everything from your heart that keeps you from loving God.”
      9. But God knew that Israel would fail to do that.
        1. God knew that Israel again would become so evil that they would be made slaves again in a foreign country.
        2. God knew that they would remain the victims of their own evil until their hearts changed.
      10. Listen to what Moses said God will do at the end of that captivity:
        Deuteronomy 30:6 Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.
        1. The people who returned from captivity were the people who would allow God to circumcise their hearts.
        2. Life as slaves in a foreign country taught them the importance of loving God.

    (Transition: “Well, David, that is mildly interesting. But that was Israel and the Old Testament and has nothing to do with us.” Be very, very careful. That has everything to do with us.)

  2. We do not have two Gods, one God of the Old Testament and one God of the New Testament.
    1. We do not have a God who wanted to be loved from the heart and a God who does not care if we love Him or not.
    2. Listen very carefully:
      1. From Romans 6, the chapter we use to illustrate the nature and purpose of baptism, Paul wrote:
        Romans 6:17,18 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
        1. “Oh, we did the right acts!”
        2. What did your heart have to do with your acts?
        3. What does your heart have to do with your behavior now?
      2. Notice something very obvious and extremely important:
        1. Obedience that begins in the heart destroys slavery to sin.
        2. Obedience that begins in the heart surrenders to God’s teachings in Jesus Christ.
        3. Obedience that begins in the heart makes it possible to end slavery to evil (which destroys me) and joyfully to accept slavery to righteousness (which gives me life by showing me how to walk with God.)
      3. To the Colossians Paul wrote, (Colossians 2:9-12) For in Him (Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
        1. God circumcises the heart when you are baptized.
        2. God cuts away all the evil so that you are free to love Him and serve Him.
        3. But God only circumcises the heart of the person who believes in Christ from the heart and who repents from the heart.
        4. This has always been true: God accepts the repentance and obedience of the person who gives God his or her heart.

[Prayer: God, help our bodies belong to You and to You only because our hearts belong to You and to You only.]

Physically obeying the commandments of God without giving God the heart did not work for Israel. It did not work for early Christians. It will not work for us.

Teens, doing God’s things means something to God when your heart belongs to God. Singles, doing God’s things means something to God when you heart belongs to God. Marrieds, doing God’s things means something to God when your heart belongs to God. Parents, doing God’s things means something to God when your heart belongs to God. Divorced people, doing God’s things means something to God when your heart belongs to God. Regardless of your age or your situation, obedience means something to God when it comes from the heart.

Has God circumcised your heart?

How God Would Change Us

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Have you ever been astounded? Have you been so shocked that you were speechless? Has something happened so unanticipated, so unimaginable that your mind spun in silence as you tried to grasp the happening?

If God changed us as a congregation in any way He wished, every one of us would be astounded and shocked speechless. As God announced His desired changes, the unexpected and unimaginable would fill His announcement. Christians would whisper among themselves. “God does not even like that! I know God!” “God condemned that! I know God!” “That deeply offends God! I know God.” As God announced His desires, we would shake our heads in shocked silence.

Every member [man or woman] and every age group [young, middle aged, or elderly] would be astounded. No one would say, “I told you!” The more certain we are about God’s preferences, the more astounding we would find His desires.

Our priorities tend to stress organization, structure, money, buildings, aesthetics, personal preferences, local concerns, area priorities, or regional issues. We tend to measure faithfulness by acceptance of our conclusions and convictions. Our logical conclusions and necessary inferences receive the status of clear Bible principles.

God’s priority is people–people who need compassion, mercy, grace, forgiveness, saving, atonement, redemption, justification, sanctification, and such like. Jesus was impressed by a wealthy tax collector, a Roman military officer, a prostitute, a divorcee, and a dying thief who trusted him. He was not impressed by experts in the technicalities of the law, rich rulers who kept the law, financial successes who built bigger barns, or people who tried to commit without counting the costs.

God wanted basic changes in congregations at Rome, at Corinth, in Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica, and in Asia Minor. God’s priorities: (1) total trust in Christ; (2) personal behavior consistent with godliness; and (3) respectful, loving treatment of people. Be assured that He wants changes in us. Be certain that His priorities have not changed.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the judgment in Matthew 25:31-46? Those who heard, “Come … inherit the kingdom,” were astounded. So were those who heard, “Depart from me, accursed ones …” The Lord’s priority? Respect for and treatment of the least of people. Astounding! Shocking! Unimaginable!

Adult Studies for the Summer Quarter

Ignorance cannot and does not lead to God’s mind and heart. Apathy quickly becomes ignorance. An hour of worship cannot prepare us to walk with God for a week.

Our adult studies build faith in Jesus, open lives to God’s Spirit, build relationship with God, and encourage behavior based on God’s moral teachings. All adult class teachers received this message: this quarter’s lessons require class members to study.

To assist students, each lesson is posted on our Web site with access to the teacher’s guide. Suggestions for the busy:

  • read the lesson Monday;
  • read the texts Tuesday;
  • think Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday;
  • review the lesson Saturday;
  • participate in class Sunday; and
  • record your impressions in lesson 13 on Sunday after class.

Learn, and allow God to help you with life.

Seeking God’s Help In Elder Selection

Posted by on July 2, 2000 under Sermons

[This lesson was presented extemporaneously by David Chadwell. Special thanks is given to
Helen Pratt for transcribing the tape. The transcription was edited by David Chadwell.]

    I was a member of the Rotary Club in Oxford, Mississippi. Here is the way the club selected their officers (which is probably characteristic of selecting officers in many civic clubs). First, you find somebody who was willing to be an officer. That’s always the first criteria. When you find someone willing to be an officer, there are certain criteria that individual must meet. You examine your candidates to see who meets the criteria. Then you actively pursue that person as you encourage him to accept the responsibility. With our club, it was a graduated approach. The person served in the lowest office position for one year. Each year that person was “bumped up until you worked up” to a higher office — until he was the president of the club.

    I think it is too easy for us to look upon people who function as elders as being like the officers who serve in a civic club. Find somebody willing to accept the responsibility. When you find several persons, consider the possibilities. Select from those possibilities. Eventually, through the process, put the men in position to be officers of a civic club. Unfortunately, too often we consider what occurs within the church as being a civic activity with spiritual implications.

    If that’s the view you have of selecting men to work among us as shepherds, I beg you to consider what scripture has to say. Let scripture change your perspective. Selecting men to be elders is not a matter of finding men to function as officers in a civic club. To that end, I call your attention to Ephesians 4. The verses I wish you to consider are verses 11 through 13. [Christ] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service and to the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man to a measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

    You would not claim that a person who decided he wanted to be an apostle could become such if he went through the right election process. You would not declare a person became one of the twelve by seeking the proper human acceptance. You wouldn’t do that. Please understand the function of an apostle in the New Testament was not limited to the twelve. Many functioned as apostles, but they did not receive the commission or charge the twelve received.

    I don’t think we would suggest that a person just decided that he wanted to be a prophet (a significant, active role in the first century church) and said, “Okay, I am going to go through the election process necessary. Then you just recognize me as being a prophet.” If a person didn’t have the word of the Lord, how could he be a prophet? If the Lord didn’t give him that word, how’s he going to be a prophet? It was not merely a human decision.

    Three places in the New Testament denote that God’s work among His people was done on the basis of gifts. God selected those who had gifts. Because they had gifts, they served a special role of ministry or service within His body or His kingdom. The interesting thing in Ephesians 4 is this is one of those three lists of gifts. Some of the lists, like those that are found in First Corinthians 12, we look upon as being special acts of the Holy Spirit. Our discussion automatically focuses on the spiritual aspects of the gifts. But two of those listings of gifts, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, do not focus on what we classify as spiritual gifts. They do not list things we regard as being miraculous. In fact, some of those gifts are very operative today–evangelists, pastors and teachers. Such gifts are so familiar, have such a “ring of familiarity” about them, that we acknowledge their existence without thought.

    I think if you reflect a little, you are quite aware of the fact that not everybody has the ability (the gift) to be an effective evangelist. To be an effective evangelist, much more is involved than having correct information. If you reflect a little, you wouldn’t say that everybody that knows the information automatically has the gift of teaching.

    I was privileged this last week to study under a man who has an exceptional ability to teach which I truly. I appreciate his extensive information. However, I would never have grasped his information if he did not have the astounding ability to share that information, to make it understandable to me.

    I think that we need a great awareness as we approach asking men to work among as additional shepherds. We need to have a great awareness that we are doing something far beyond electing officers in the civic club, something far beyond saying “Would you like to do this?” We are looking for men who have the gift. This goes far beyond just meeting the qualifications.

    I have worked with a lot of elders in my years. I have worked with elders who were abundantly blessed with the gift. They were a real asset and a real blessing to the body that they served. They served God’s purposes admirably in working with people. I also have worked with elders who did not have the gift. Quite often, because they did not have the gift, they created problems. Sometimes they created problems intentionally. Sometimes they created problems unintentionally. Unintentional problems occurred because their perspective of what needed to be done (and how) didn’t coincide with the emphasis and the purposes of God.

    Note in this passage Paul acknowledged that people had different gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some as pastors, some as teachers. Note the purpose. The overall purpose (this may not stand out in the English text) was for the equipping of the saints. The equipping of the saints fell under two categories, two objectives. Both objectives occurred in the process of equipping the saints, equipping Christians.

    Many times we don’t think of leadership as an equipping responsibility. One of the reasons for the high burnout rate among the elders is this: we expect of them things scripture never expected. We expect them to do virtually everything. Nobody can do everything. No group can take care of all of it. I hope that you will give our current elders and the new elders your encouragement to continue in the direction of finding people who will care for areas of responsibility. Our elders are trying to take care of far too many things. Their task is equipping, not taking care of everything–EQUIPPING.

    What are they to equip Christians to do? They equip Christians to serve, to immerse themselves in the work of service, to immerse themselves in building up the body of Christ. They are to shepherd us in ways which will result in the fact that the West-Ark congregation serves wonderfully in seeking to accomplish God’s purposes.

    At the same time, we are not merely developing an effective way to get people to enter. The elders guide us in ways that help us work with each other so that we stay. It has been said that we have an excellent theology of “getting in,” but we don’t have a good theology about “staying in.” Unfortunately, I think that is pretty accurate. We pride ourselves on knowing very well what to tell a person to “get in,” but the truth is, we haven’t grown much in developing an understanding of how to help people stay in. If you don’t think that is a problem, go home and thumb through your old directory. Look through it.

    How long were roles of giftedness to continue? How long were these first century roles of giftedness to continue? Paul said to a Gentile congregation in Ephesus these roles would continue “until we all attain to the unity of the faith.”

    We need to be very careful about what we define “the faith” to be. ” The faith” is not what we decide the faith to be. “The faith” is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to these Gentile Christians. “The faith” was understanding that the eternal living God was at work in Jesus Christ to bring into existence His people, His body, His kingdom.

    “The faith” was not talking about whether you do or do not have a kitchen in the church building. This is not talking about how you do or do not use the auditorium (heaven forbid we call it the sanctuary). This is not about what does or does not happen in the Family Life Center. Paul wrote to people who had been thoroughly pagan. These people had been converted to Christ.

    It was very difficult to leave your baggage behind. It still is. Many of our problems in today’s church are the result of people bringing their baggage with them. This baggage existed in previous commitments prior to conversion. These Gentile converts had a lot of baggage they brought with them. Look at the first three chapters. Go home and read them. Look at the way Paul tried to get them to understand this: “It is not your pagan past that defines spiritual reality. It is Jesus Christ that defines spiritual reality. Stop looking at your pagan past. Look at what God did in Jesus Christ. That’s the only way you are going to define spiritual reality in God.”

    If they did that, he wanted them to understand “you fix your faith on what God did in Jesus Christ, not on what you thought the pagan gods did.” We have taken “the faith” and applied a thousand different ways to address whatever irritates us or whatever we don’t like. Paul is not talking about such matters. He said to people that came from a very paganistic background, “You no longer define what is happening in the world on the basis of your pagan experiences. You no longer define what is happening politically or in any thing else on the basis of pagan experiences. You see God actively working in our world through Jesus Christ, and you believe it. You believe it!!”

    Further, Paul said to them, “We want to grow to a knowledge of the Son of God. We’re seeking a commonalty in our knowledge of God’s Son.” They knew all about the pagan gods. They had known about the pagan gods for generations. They worshipped the pagan gods in the past. They didn’t have the knowledge of Jesus Christ that they had of the pagan gods. He is telling them, “Knowledge of God’s Son is the objective of men who provide leadership and teaching for us, who seek to equip us to serve, who seek to equip us to build up Christ’s body (not to divide or fracture it). They will lead us in building up Christ’s body so it will become stronger and healthier. This is the way they will do this: they will move us to a faith that focuses totally in Jesus Christ. We will grow to a common understanding of who this Jesus Christ is.”

    It saddens me to see how many Christians have a much better grasp of positions of the Church of Christ than a grasp of the positions of Jesus Christ. That really saddens me. It saddens me because they are not the same thing. They’re not!! There are times that we take a very strong stance on something that represents the Church of Christ. Often that stance depends on our background and our heritage. That stance may not have a thing in the world to do with Jesus Christ.

    Yet, we sometimes affirm that we have come to unity of knowledge. (Often that means the people in agreement with us declare that we have taken “the proper stance.” However, it is NOT the claim that we had reached a common understanding of Jesus Christ.) Coming to unity of knowledge is presumed to be the common agreement about what is important.

    What is important is Jesus, and the commonalty of knowledge that Paul wanted the church at Ephesus to attain was the knowledge of the Son of God. And what would be the result of that knowledge? Maturity. Knowledge of God’s Son would not produce abundant evidence of spiritual immaturity. Knowledge of the God’s Son would produce maturity. How would that maturity be evident? They would begin measuring themselves, Christ’s body, Christ’s community, by the fullness of Christ. The standard of measure would not be how many people thought they should follow a teaching of Christ, how many people were happy about what was taking place, or how many people were happy about the direction. They could look at Christ, and when we saw Christ, they could see themselves increasingly reflect Christ.

    Fundamentally in this text, Paul said this would not happen by their wisdom. They would not become such good people, such marvelous folks, that they (of your own human wisdom and human devices) would become the body of Christ filled with the fullness of Christ.

    The church has not become Christ’s body filled with Christ’s fullness (in human wisdom and behavior) in 2000 years. Do you want to talk about division in the church? You want to talk about personality conflict in the church? You want to talk about issues in the church? How many of those things are focused on issues of the 20th and 21st centuries, not on first century messages from Jesus Christ? It hasn’t happened in 2000 years.

    We are not a people who drink deeply from the spirit of Jesus Christ. We have become very humanistic in our perspective and focus. We have become convinced (even certain) that we can achieve God’s purposes without inviting God to be a part of what we do. Oh, no we can’t!!! If you disagree, look at our approach. It’s our knowledge, it’s our planning, it’s our consideration, it’s what we think is best, it is what we think will work, it is our methodology, it is our system. “No, it’s not.” Yes it is. Only when we really struggle do we say, “God, would You help us out here?” When God helps us out, too often we say, “Thank You, God; we can take it from here.”

    We cannot permit that to happen. We are in partnership with God through Jesus Christ. Unless God is an active partner, God’s purposes will not be accomplished in us. It must not happen. How do we include God in this partnership? First, we put the focus where the focus should be–on Jesus Christ. That’s where it needs to be; that’s where it must always be; that’s where it must remain– ON JESUS CHRIST. Our commitment is to understand Him.

    When you understand Christ, you understand God. If I understand Jesus’ message correctly during his mission, if I understand his message in the gospel of John, this is his emphasis: “If you understand me, you understand God. I can’t say anything except what I see and hear from the Father. So everything you see happening in me came from God. When you see me, you see God.” We don’t want to be like Thomas, “Show us the Father.” We want to understand “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Jesus was not saying that he and God were the same “being.” Jesus said, “If you want to see what God would be like in flesh and blood, look at me. If God the Father were flesh and blood, nothing any differently would happen. He would live like I live; He would emphasize what I emphasize.”

    The emphasis would be the same; the priorities would be the same; the focus would be same. So, if God came down and looked us in the eye and said, “This is what I am about”, there would not be one iota of difference in what He said and in what occurred in Jesus’ life. We need to get back to that faith. We really need to get back to “the faith” in the fact that God was at work in Christ. God will work in us as we focus on Christ.

    The second thing that needs to happen is this: we need to understand that God must be an active partner in what happens. He must be. What we do cannot rest upon human wisdom. It must rest upon divine wisdom. We can’t merely read and claim because we read that our conclusions (reached primarily by our own wisdom) are God’s conclusions. Thus, we are involving God. NO!!!

    “I don’t understand how that works.” I don’t either. Paul didn’t either. Paul said God is beyond our comprehension. Who is it that can search Him out? Who can know His ways? Jewish Christians were told that God accepted Gentile Christians as God’s true children. Paul said (believe it or not) that Gentile Christians were a part of Israel. Talk about short-circuiting the entire Jewish religious system! When Paul told Jewish Christians that the Gentile Christians were Israel, they couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t grasp it. “You must be kidding!” Paul said, “No, I am not kidding. It is time that you realize that you do not possess the ability to understand all the ways of God. You can’t fathom all the things of God. God does things that are beyond your comprehension.”

    I am here to tell you that in the business of us being a community of God’s people, that God will do things in partnership with us that exceed our comprehension. If we are going to limit God by our comprehension, we will not be walking with God. Limiting God to our comprehension takes faith all out of it. “The faith” cannot be focused in us. “The faith” must be focused in God.

    How will we to do that? Let me share with you how people did that from the Old Testament forward. They invited God to be in partnership with them. In this week’s bulletin article, we cited Hosea’s statement (8:4). That was just one reference; there are many references in the Prophets where the prophets say, “One of your big problems is you don’t ask God for help.”

    Illustration: Your child is really struggling with a problem. He or she comes to you and says, “I expected you to help me with this.” You say, “I would have (in fact I wanted to), but you never asked for my help.” To those of us with grown children, do you just go and inject yourself in any problem that occurs? Aren’t you pappa? Aren’t you momma? You see your grown child making a very foolish decision which will absolutely, predictably lead to consequences that are very undesirable. Do you go get your adult child by both shoulders and shake a little sense into his or her head? Do you say, “Look! You are doing it all wrong.” Well, I guarantee you if you do that, it won’t work. If you do that once, he or she will never invite you to help with his or her struggles.

    Sometimes about all we can do is let people make their mistakes. When they make their mistakes and say, “Why did you let me do that?” you tell them the truth: “You didn’t ask me for help. You didn’t invite me to work with you.” We can say, “God, why did You let us do that?” God too often can answer, “You didn’t ask Me to be involved.”

    “God, why weren’t You involved?” “You didn’t invite me. You didn’t want me to be a part of the process.” I think I can predict what all of us would like in our new elders. All of us would like men who have a special kind of heart to be elders, would we not? All of us would like men who would lead in the direction that would encourage us to become more spiritual than we are now, wouldn’t we? We would like men who would help us understand how that we could reflect the light of Jesus Christ. We would like men who would lead us in ways that heal and help within the body and light of Jesus Christ, and lead us in ways to help in attracting people out of the darkness to Jesus’ light. We would like that. We would like to have men in whom we have confidence. We would like men to whom we could go and discuss our problems knowing that they would keep confidentiality. We would like men who didn’t pretend they had all the answers. They won’t, nobody does.

    We would like men who would say, “Yes, I see what is really weighing on your heart; let’s pray about it.” We would like men who would look you in the eye and tell you, “I am grieved that is troubling your life. I want you to know that I am praying about it.” You know they mean it. Every day you had the assurance “They think about me; I am in their prayers.” We would like men who provide spiritual help when they can be of help.

    Isn’t that what we would like? Of course, it is. Do you think that you are gifted enough that you can discern who those men are without God’s help? How many of you can read hearts? How many of you can see what is going on inside a person? Does God read hearts? Yes, He does! Is that not the emphasis from Old Testament to New, that God is the God who reads hearts? Is it not the heart that determines God’s receptivity to the individual? Isn’t that the continuing evidence in the Old and New Testament?

    If we want that kind of man with that kind of heart to be an elder, what do we need to do? The FIRST thing we need to do (not the LAST) is say “God, we want you in this partnership from A to Z. We want to invite You into a continuing partnership in everything we do.”

    Let me share with you what we will do to invite God into the partnership as we select elders. As I stated this morning, as you saw in the bulletin, we set aside 24 hours in which we as the community of Christians ask God to work with our hearts and the hearts of the men who will consider this service. We wish God to work with the whole process because the ultimate is God’s purposes be done, not ours. That is what we want. For twenty-four hours we declare to God that it important to us for God’s purposes to be done. We will ask Him to be active. We, as a congregation, will make a special appeal for God to be involved.

    On the bulletin board are several sheets broken into 30 minute segments. Let me explain carefully what we will do. Number one, if you want, sign the list. Anybody can come and pray at any time. That is the bottom line. Anybody can come and pray at any time. Whatever is convenient for you, do it. It is come and go. If you can come 15 minutes, fine. If you can come 45 minutes, fine. Anybody at any time during the day or night in that 24 hours is invited to come to the building and pray.

    We are designating two rooms (room 100 and room 106) as places for prayer. Room 100 will be for men and women who wish to assemble together with men audibly leading the prayers (if audible prayers are offered). You can choose any method of prayer you wish. Room 106 is set aside for women. If there are groups of women who wish to come and pray as a group, you are encouraged to do so. We have some deeply spiritual women who are quite active in this congregation with WINGS and other such programs. There may be a group of women who just want to get together and pray. Room 106 is for you women who wish to pray together in intercessory prayer on behalf of the congregation.

    What’s the list about on the board? The list on the board just states that someone will be here, physically present and praying. I’ve already signed it for 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning. I wanted one of the difficult times. All the list says is somebody has committed to be at the building at that time. If you sign the list, you are not responsible for all the prayers at that time. You are not the coordinator. You are not responsible for anything. You are only saying, “I will be here.” Anybody who wishes to come will know someone is here. We would like to have somebody here and present all twenty-four hours. The building will be open. The foyer will be open. I hope before this evening, before we go home, a lot of names will be on that list.

    Remember, if you sign the list you are not saying you will lead all the prayers. You are not saying that you are in charge of anything. You are just saying that you will be here at that time. If you want to come 30 minutes, that’s fine. If you want to come an hour, that’s fine. What we are hoping, what I am hoping, is that many of you who are retired can take the daylight hours that are not filled with conflicts such a jobs. Many work and can’t come in the daytime. I am hoping that many who are retired will say, “I will be here.”

    Anybody can come at any time and join the persons here. I hope those of us who have fixed schedules will be present when our schedules permit us to come. I hope by Wednesday night that the list will be full.

    Please remember, anybody can come pray at anytime.

    Somebody asks, “Why do it at the church building? Why not just let’s stay home?” We could. I want this to say something special to us as well as to God. I want it to say to us that we are willing to be inconvenienced because we believe partnership with God is that essential. We want to do something that we wouldn’t ordinarily do. We want our prayers to make an additional statement to God about the fact that this is a serious invitation. We are not about business as usual. We don’t want a future that focuses on business as usual. We want to be more God-centered and Christ-centered as a congregation. We need men to be our shepherds who will help us go in that direction. We need men who will care about us.

    I am asking you to take one of the thirty minute slots and say, “Yes, I’ll be here that thirty minutes.” Sign it. Even if you do not sign the sheets, find a time in that twenty-four hours to come to the building and pray.

    Separate the two things. If you can accept responsibility to commit for one of those 30 minutes, great, we need you. We want to know somebody will be here. If you can’t accept that responsibility, find some time in that twenty-four hours to come and pray. Ask God to be very involved in our process. Use any method of prayer you wish–silent prayers, chain prayers, any kind of prayers you wish to pray; that’s up to you. Just come in quietly, sit down, and be a part of the petition to God.

    With God, we will succeed. Without God, we cannot succeed. I hope you believe that. I hope you believe that enough to be a part of this special day to invite God to be a part of what we do.

    We need men who will be shepherds. Sheep are hard to take care of. Ask any elder. Sheep are hard to take care of. We are hard to take care of. We need men with the gift who care about hearts and who care about eternity to help us. We ask you to help by praying.

    God loved each of us so much that He did something none of us would ever consider doing to create opportunity. He literally let His Son die. He literally let His Son pay the price for every sin we committed. He did that for those in His body, and He did that for those not in His body. We want you to know that He did that for you. If you need to do what Winston and David did this morning, (place God more at the core of your existence, your being) and you want us to pray with you, we would love to pray with you. If you reached the point in your life that you need to form a covenant with God by being baptized into Christ because you have repented, if the core of your being wishes to redirect itself to God’s purposes, we would love to do that. If in any way we can encourage you, if in any way you need Christ, we invite you to him as we stand and sing.

Addendum to sermon after song:

    There is something I want you to pray about. I want you to think about this. There wasn’t enough time to say everything I wanted to say. But I want you to take this home with you. We don’t think about this often, and we need to think about it seriously. In your personal prayers, please pray that God guides us not to hurt anyone. The people that you will recommend for consideration will be among the finest people in this congregation. They are already active in serving. We don’t want their wives hurt, we don’t want the men hurt. It has occurred. It commonly occurs.

    Somebody asks, “Can I submit your name?” The person prays and agonizes over that request, and says, “Yes, you can submit my name.” Your name is submitted, and nothing happens. How can that occur and the person not feel rejected? How can that occur and it not hurt his wife? Whatever happens, we want to do everything within our power to let these people know we love you. We love what you do for this congregation. We want God to give us the insight and the wisdom to show love, not to inflict hurt.

    Sometimes people say to me, “I don’t know how your wife does what she does.” I don’t either; I never have. It takes a special person to do what she does. Something does occur in her life that is extremely difficult, and it is very applicable to this situation. It really distresses her when somebody hurts me. Why? She has no recourse. She can’t even say anything. But she knows when I am hurt. She knows when I am wounded, and it is extremely difficult for her to witness that.

    It will be extremely difficult for any wife whose husband is under consideration. Let there be no wounds – let there be no wounds. Let there be a lot of love. And pray, earnestly pray, not only in those twenty-four hours, but also in your personal prayers. Earnestly pray that not only will we make wise decisions, but that we will make them with such love and with such respect that nobody is hurt.