The “I Don’t Want To Hear It” Sermon

Posted by on August 27, 2000 under Sermons

Recently someone made a request. He said, “A person in my family wants to hear a sermon on hell.” I am not asked very often to challenge you to think about hell. Speaking strictly from the past, in my experience this infrequent request comes in two situations. (1) The person is convinced that other people need to think about hell. Or, (2) the person feels the need for a sobering dose of fear. Certainly, those are not the only two reasons for wanting to study about hell.

How many of you already have “turned” me “off?” How many of you are saying, “David, please share something that will help us. Don’t talk about hell.”

What to you know about hell? “Everybody knows about hell.” So, what can you tell me about hell? (1) “I do not want to go there.” (2) “It is hot there with flames constantly burning.” (3) “It is extremely painful there, and you cannot die to escape the suffering.” (4) It is a place of absolute darkness.” That is the common understanding of hell. We take everything said about hell in the New Testament, draw a composite picture, and accept details without thought.

You ask, “What is there to think about?” Two of the common images of hell drawn from horrible experiences in the first century world: (1) hell is a place of endless flames and (2) hell is a place of the blackest kind of darkness. In earthly experience, flames produce light. In our physical world, flames and absolute darkness do not mix.

  1. The Old Testament says very little if anything at all about heaven or hell as presented in the New Testament.
    1. Old Testament scripture says little about what happened to an Israelite after he or she died (remember that the Old Testament was written to Israelites).
      1. Life after death is not a prominent theme in the Old Testament.
      2. One prominent theme in the Old Testament declares serving God produces a desirable, materially rewarding physical existence.
        1. When God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), God’s promises were:
          1. “I will make you a great nation.”
          2. “I will bless you.”
          3. “I will give you a name that is associated with greatness.”
          4. “I will bless your friends and curse your enemies.”
        2. Later God promised Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8):
          1. A multitude of nations will come from your descendants.
          2. Kings will be among your descendants.
      3. A few hundred years later Moses told Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6-8):
        For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
        1. It was very easy for Israel to decide, “God says we are special.”
        2. “We are God’s chosen people.”
        3. “God picked us over every other people.”
        4. “By God’s own selection, we belong to God.”
        5. “We are so important to God that God rescued us from slavery and destroyed our enslavers.”
        6. “God loves us.”
        7. The fact that all this happened because of God’s love for and promise to Abraham did not seem to register in their thinking and understanding.
      4. In Deuteronomy 27 and 28, Moses enumerated all the ways God would bless or curse them depending on the way they obeyed or disobeyed God.
        1. Moses gave a long list of blessings, and all of them are physical.
        2. Moses gave a long list of curses, and all of them are physical.
        3. In both lists, there is not even one statement about heaven.
        4. In both lists, there is not even one statement about hell.

    2. These were the basic understandings of Israel in the Old Testament:
      1. As God’s chosen people, they must obey the commandments, statutes, and ordinances of God.
      2. If they are an obedient people, God will bless them physically by giving them a good life of peace and prosperity.
      3. If they are a disobedient people, God will afflict them physically by giving them a horrible life of poverty, sickness, and hunger.

  2. The Israelite people of the New Testament felt special.
    1. “We are special because of who we are and who our forefathers were.”
      1. “We are the descendants that God promised Abraham.”
      2. “We are God’s chosen people.”
      3. “Our ancestors make us special because God gave them His promises.”

    2. John the baptizer made a biting declaration to the religious leaders who came out into the wilderness to hear his teachings and to be baptized (Matthew 3:7-9).
      1. To have the nation’s religious leaders make the difficult trip to wilderness just to hear you preach would be a huge ego trip for many preachers.
      2. Not for John.
      3. John called them a bunch of snakes who were running from God’s wrath.
      4. If they were truly repenting, they needed to demonstrate their repentance in the way they lived.
      5. He said that they should not depend on false confidence.
        1. To say that they were special before God because they were the descendants of Abraham was false confidence.
        2. John said God had the power to make rocks the descendants of Abraham.
        3. It was not who they were that mattered.
        4. It was how they lived life for God that mattered.

    3. John 8 records a debate Jesus had with the Pharisees.
      1. Three times in that debate, the Pharisees defense was this, “We are the descendants of Abraham” (verses 33, 39, 53).
      2. Contextual implication: “We are special. We have a special relationship with God. Look who we are.”
      3. Their confidence was so rooted in their identity that they refused to think about how they lived.

  3. A specific problem existed in Israel, and an understanding of hell addressed that problem.
    1. The problem: Israel’s religious leaders believed that national identity could remove individual accountability.
      1. “What really matters is your ancestry.”
      2. “If your mother and father are Israelites, if you were circumcised, if you offer the right sacrifices, if you followed the right rituals, that is what really counts.”
      3. Jesus said, “No. Those things are important. But, what really counts is how you live your life. What really counts is your relationship with God.”

    2. When you seek to understand hell, certain things are very important to remember.
      1. You must remember that Jesus taught the Jewish people, his own people.
      2. You must remember to understand Jesus’ point to them.
      3. You must remember that Jesus’ descriptions and symbols had specific meaning to those people, and we need to understand that meaning.
      4. If we reduce hell to pain, suffering, flames, and darkness, we miss much of the substance of Jesus’ statements.

  4. What message did Jesus declare to Israel in his teachings about hell?
    (I am briefly sharing with you what requires a whole quarter of study and research.)
    1. Message # 1 about hell: the reality of hell declared that accountability is personal not national.
      1. There is an existence after death, and we will live with God or with Satan.
      2. Whom you live with on earth will determine whom you live with then.
      3. When you die, merely being an Israelite would not be the determining factor.
      4. Being a godly Israelite who obediently served God was the determining factor because life [not nationality] allowed you to receive God’s mercy and grace.

    2. Message # 2 about hell: hell is a place of total uncleanness.
      1. To most of us, that message does not even compute in our understanding.
      2. It certainly does not mean to us what it meant to first century Israelites.
      3. The code of cleanliness was the code of purity; if you were unclean, you could not worship and you could not appear before God at the temple.
      4. Israelites understood there were five basic areas of uncleanness.
        1. The food you ate had to be approved, clean food (Leviticus 11).
        2. Giving birth made a woman unclean (Leviticus 12 and 15:19-33).
        3. Any discharge from a man’s body made him unclean (Leviticus 15:1-18)
        4. Touching a person who was diseased with leprosy or touching something he or she touched made you unclean (Leviticus 14).
        5. Touching a dead body made you unclean (Numbers 19:11-22).
      5. An Israelite corrected uncleanness by following ceremonies for purification.
      6. The word for hell was Jerusalem’s garbage dump.
        1. The garbage dump was the symbol of gross uncleanness.
        2. The worm was always working; the dump was always smoldering.
      7. In early Israelite history the emphasis was on ceremonial purity.
        1. In the age of the prophets, the emphasis shifted to moral and ethical purity.
        2. Jesus stressed moral and ethical purity.

    3. Message # 3 about hell: that existence occurs in the total absence of God and His influence.
      1. Israel had never known such a place, not even in slavery or captivity.
      2. You have never known a place where there is no influence from God.
      3. That means no good in any form exists there because good comes from God.
      4. Hell is a place of no mercy, no forgiveness, no compassion, and no kindness.
      5. Only Satan’s influence exists there.

    4. Message # 4 concerning hell: hell is a place of remembering.
      1. Every person there knows he or she was deceived, and he or she knows when, how, and why.
      2. Every person there exists in the memory of every mistake he or she made.
      3. It is a place of intense grief and no joy.
      4. It is a place of utter selfishness; no one will be concerned for or about you.
      5. There will not even be the pretense of love; remember God is love.

[Prayer: God, thank you for giving us a choice. Help us understand that Jesus died to create that choice. Thank you for helping us understand what love is.]

What is hell’s specific message to today? # 1: “I am accountable. Being listed in the church directory proves nothing. Living for God places me in His mercy and forgiveness. #2: If I am purified by the blood of Jesus, I must be committed to moral, ethical living. #3: Living in hell is existing totally outside the presence of God. #4: If I live with God, I will remember His mercy and forgiveness in Christ. If I live with Satan, I will remember Satan’s deceit and my failures.

The popular, comical notion today is that hell is a P-A-R-T-Y. Everyone who loves to party gets together. Those in hell know the party was on earth. There is no party in hell.

The basic reason God went to the enormous effort to give us a Savior and to make available His mercy and grace was to give us a choice. Freedom is in Christ. In Satan, there is only deception.

Helping The Helpers

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

God blesses me with many joys as I work for and with you. One significant joy is the pleasure of working with the West-Ark staff. I have enjoyed every team with whom I served. Being a part of this team provides me special joys.

Few people know (1) how unselfish this staff is; (2) how sacrificial this staff is; (3) how concerned for the good of the congregation this staff is; (4) how committed this staff is to the “personal touch”; (5) and how noncompetitive this staff is. None of us consider our work as an “occupation” or a “job.” Each of us see our role as a commitment to the stewardship of God’s call. We are a team, and we work together as a team.

Consider Brad Pistole. Brad was a child in one of the congregations that merged to produce West-Ark. He was a student in the Metro Christian School housed in this building. He is one of “your kids.” As one of “your kids,” he cares for you deeply. The fact that he grew up here too often results in taking him for granted. It also leads us to say, “Brad will do it.” He always has–even to his own hurt. He is, with difficulty, learning to love and say “no.” For people who work for the church, that is a hard lesson.

We have one of the finest, most talented youth ministers in the region (and likely the nation!). Brad is recognized far and wide for his ability, his love for people, and his love for God. Sizable congregations have asked him to work with them. Some situations were quite appealing. In specific ways, change offered simplification. He stayed because he loves you and believes in this congregation’s opportunities.

When the Family Life Center was completed, the elders asked Brad and Ted to be in temporary charge of coordination and scheduling. That is a ministry in itself! Recently those responsibilities were given to Patti Anderson and Debbie Belote. (They need assistance–are you looking for a ministry?) When you need to schedule use of the Family Life Center, contact Patti. All details, including entrance and keys, are arranged and coordinated through the office. Please schedule in advance.

Wednesday, August 23rd, Brad had his sixteen-month check up following his brain surgery. One of his national ministries is to share with those who face the same type of surgery. He invests the same concern and interest in them that he invests in you. He is quite aware that once you have a tumor, the possibility of a tumor reoccurring is real.

Include Brad in your prayers. Drop him a note of encouragement and appreciation. Never forget Yvonne and her sacrifices. Brad does things for our families most will not know until Judgment. He wants no praise. He just wants your children to learn to use Christ to defeat evil and be a part of God’s kingdom.

Celebrating God’s Many Dimensions

Posted by on August 20, 2000 under Sermons

When you forget who you are as a person, terrible things happen. When you forget who you are as a family, family members lose their sense of family. When you forget who you are as a people, as a people you lose you sense of purpose.

God’s people must never forget who they are. God’s people can have a sense of healthy identity only if they remember who they are. For that sense of healthy identity to exist, our history as God’s people must connect us to God. That connection must be genuine and powerful.

The psalmist in Psalm 105 wanted Israel to maintain a healthy sense of identity. He was much aware that their healthy sense of identity depended on their awareness of their historical connection to God.

  1. Psalm 105:1-7 Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad. Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually. Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth, O seed of Abraham, His servant, O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones! He is the Lord our God; His judgments are in all the earth.
    1. The psalmist issued a call to gratitude to Israel.
      1. A proper remembrance of the acts of God would produce gratitude for what God had done for them.
      2. He challenged them to stimulate their memory and gratitude by reflecting on their past.

    2. “Israel, when you realize what God has done for us:”
      1. You will find it natural to call upon God and express your gratitude.
      2. You will want to praise Him for what He has done.
      3. You will glory in His name.
        1. It will give you the kind of boldness that rejoices.
        2. You will see yourself differently because you see God at work.
      4. You will be glad.
        1. Remembering is a good experience.
        2. Without hesitation you will turn to Him for your strength.
        3. Without hesitation you will declare, “He is our Lord.”

  2. Why should remembering their past cause Israel to have deep, genuine feelings for God?
    1. First, it should give them deep, genuine feelings of gratitude for God because God always remembers His agreements.
      Psalm 105:8-15 He has remembered His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations, The covenant which He made with Abraham, And His oath to Isaac. Then He confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, To Israel as an everlasting covenant, Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan As the portion of your inheritance,” When they were only a few men in number, Very few, and strangers in it. And they wandered about from nation to nation, From one kingdom to another people. He permitted no man to oppress them, And He reproved kings for their sakes: “Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm.”
      1. That is why they existed.
        1. God made an agreement with Abraham.
        2. God refused to forget that agreement.
        3. In spite of all that happened, God remembered and kept His agreement.
      2. He entered the agreement with Abraham.
        1. He renewed it with Abraham’s son, Isaac.
        2. He renewed it again with Isaac’s son, Jacob.
      3. That is why they had Canaan as their homeland; their living in Canaan was not an accident of time.
      4. That is why He had protected them.

    2. Second, they should have deep genuine feelings of gratitude for God because God rescued their family of origin from starvation.
      Psalm 105:16-24 And He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, He himself was laid in irons; Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him. The king sent and released him, The ruler of peoples, and set him free. He made him lord of his house And ruler over all his possessions, To imprison his princes at will, That he might teach his elders wisdom. Israel also came into Egypt; Thus Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And He caused His people to be very fruitful, And made them stronger than their adversaries.
      1. God used the famine for His purposes to give them their future.
      2. God used the slavery of Joseph as the means of keeping His promise.
      3. Joseph endured some horrible experiences, but God was at work in every experience.
      4. In the end, God gave Joseph a powerful, prominent position in Egypt, and the result was that the whole family moved to Egypt and became a huge people.

    3. Third, they should have deep, genuine feelings of gratitude for God because God physically rescued them from slavery.
      Psalm 105:25-36 He turned their heart to hate His people, To deal craftily with His servants. He sent Moses His servant, And Aaron, whom He had chosen. They performed His wondrous acts among them, And miracles in the land of Ham. He sent darkness and made it dark; And they did not rebel against His words. He turned their waters into blood And caused their fish to die. Their land swarmed with frogs Even in the chambers of their kings. He spoke, and there came a swarm of flies And gnats in all their territory. He gave them hail for rain, And flaming fire in their land. He struck down their vines also and their fig trees, And shattered the trees of their territory. He spoke, and locusts came, And young locusts, even without number, And ate up all vegetation in their land, And ate up the fruit of their ground. He also struck down all the firstborn in their land, The first fruits of all their vigor.
      1. The future generations of those people who welcomed that family into their country hated their descendants.
      2. They were deceitful and dealt craftily with Abraham’s descendants.
      3. So God sent Moses and Aaron to lead them out of an impossible slavery.
      4. It was God’s acts that convinced the Egyptians to free them.

    4. Fourth, they should have deep, genuine feelings of gratitude for God because He not only did the incredible, but He did it in unbelievable ways.
      Psalm 105:37-45 Then He brought them out with silver and gold, And among His tribes there was not one who stumbled. Egypt was glad when they departed, For the dread of them had fallen upon them. He spread a cloud for a covering, And fire to illumine by night. They asked, and He brought quail, And satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock and water flowed out; It ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy word With Abraham His servant; And He brought forth His people with joy, His chosen ones with a joyful shout. He gave them also the lands of the nations, That they might take possession of the fruit of the peoples’ labor, So that they might keep His statutes And observe His laws, Praise the Lord!
      1. Though they were oppressed slaves, they left Egypt with incredible wealth.
      2. God used a bright cloud in the day and a fiery cloud at night to give them physical guidance in the wilderness.
      3. He fed them in a wilderness that had no food.
      4. He gave them water in a dry desert.
      5. Though conditions were harsh, He gave them every reason to have joy.

    5. He deserves to be obeyed, and He deserves to be praised.

  3. Among the significant problems that we face as Christians is this: we have lost our sense of identity as God’s people.
    1. Why would I say that?
      1. Too many of us have lost any personal sense of God rescuing us.
      2. Too many of us have lost conscious awareness of how long and how hard God planned and worked to send Jesus to our world.
      3. Too many of us have lost conscious awareness of the cost to God and Jesus for Jesus to be human.
      4. Too many of us have lost conscious awareness of the agony of the cross to God and Jesus.
      5. Too many of us have lost conscious awareness of the power of the resurrection.
      6. Too many of us place much too little value on the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness, the redemption, the atonement, and the sanctification that every man and woman in Christ receives.

    2. Because we lost these things, we lost our sense of gratitude and our desire to praise.

We need to remember. We need to reflect. We need to appreciate what God has done and is doing for us.

What Is Needed: Prohibitions or Values?

Posted by on under Sermons

Recently one evening about 9 p.m. I was checking on someone who had been admitted to an emergency room in Fort Smith. As I waited to talk to a nurse, I noticed how full the emergency waiting room was. Someone was seated in every chair, and people were standing. It was a collection of people who were obviously sick or very concerned about someone who was sick.

This emergency room is fairly large. A young mother hurried by me. She was carrying an infant, and a three or four year old trailed her, running to keep up. As she passed to the middle of the waiting room, I noticed the remains of a potato chip on the floor. This chip obviously had been stepped on repeatedly so it was nothing but a collection of crumbs.

The mother, only as mothers can, sensed her three year old was not trailing her. She quickly stopped and spun around. The three year old already had stopped dead still from his run. In one quick, smooth motion, he stooped down, picked up some of the potato chip crumbs, and put them in his mouth.

Mom turned just in time to see what he did. Distraught, she immediately called his name and told him not to do that.

How would you feel if you watched your child eat potato chip crumbs off of an emergency room floor?

Obviously, the child, like all children, needed to learn something about what he put in his mouth. What did he need to learn? Would he understand everything he needed to know if all he learned was, “You don’t do that!”

  1. A major priority in Jesus’ teachings and in the epistles was helping people learn God’s value system.
    1. I want to illustrate that truth by using Jesus’ lesson we call the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. He taught this lesson to a Jewish audience whose primary religious influences came from Pharisees and Saduccees and whose country was occupied by Roman soldiers.
      1. Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
        1. God’s value system.
        2. That was a difficult value in a society who had the Pharisees as religious watch dogs.
      2. Matthew 5:28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
        1. God’s value system.
        2. That was difficult for a Jew in a society in which prostitution was open.
      3. Matthew 5:39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
        1. God’s value system.
        2. That was difficult in a society policed by Roman soldiers.
      4. Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
        1. God’s value system.
        2. That was difficult when major religious influences stressed human praise and honor.
      5. Matthew 6:15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
        1. God’s value system .
        2. That was difficult when some religious leaders declared vengeance was godly.
      6. Matthew 6:19-21 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
        1. God’s value system.
        2. That was difficult when religious influences in your society believed God’s primary avenue of blessing was material things.
      7. Matthew 6:34 So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
        1. God’s value system.
        2. That value is difficult for anyone living in any society.
      8. Matthew 7:12 In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
        1. God’s value system.
        2. That also is difficult for anyone living in any society.

    2. I want you to recognize the emphasis on seeing, understanding, and adopting God’s value system was routinely stressed to first century Christians.
      1. Consider Romans 12:17-21 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
        1. In the church at Rome, Paul wanted them to understand that God was in charge of vengeance; they were not.
        2. A part of God’s value system for Christians is to put God in charge of mercy and vengeance.
      2. Consider 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
        1. These Christians lived in sin city–the port city of Corinth was especially known for its sexual lifestyle.
        2. A part of God’s value system for Christians is for us to separate ourselves from sexually immoral activity.
      3. Consider Galatians 6:1,2 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
        1. The Christians in Galatia needed to understand the importance of helping each other instead of rejecting each other.
        2. A part of God’s value system for Christians is helping troubled people just as Jesus did.
      4. Consider Ephesians 4:25-32 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
        1. The Christians at Ephesus needed to understand that life had changed; they were not the same old pagans they used to be.
        2. A part of God’s value system for Christians is to learn to live a different existence based on different motives.

    3. Trust me, I could illustrate this again and again from New Testament writings.
      1. People converted to Christ, who belong to God, learn a value system that is completely new.
      2. Their everyday life is motivated and guided by this new value system.

  2. Warning: I am going to meddle for minute.
    1. Please understand.
      1. I am meddling because I am concerned about a serious problem.
      2. I am not meddling because I have it all figured out.
      3. I am not meddling because I consider myself the expert who should tell you what to do.

    2. First, I want to identify with you and with the problem.
      1. We live in a stressful society that constantly keeps all of us under extreme pressure.
      2. The time demands placed on our lives are outrageous.
      3. The lifestyle that many of us try to live ruins us.
      4. The primary reason that we adults endure the stress, the time demands, and the lifestyle demands is simple: we want our families to live better than we did.
        1. We are scared to death something will place serious handicaps on our children.
        2. Many of us are paranoid about our families.

    3. My question: what value system are we teaching our families?
      1. Summer is over and many of our children start back to school next week.
        1. This summer, how many weekends did your family devote to “having fun”?
        2. On those weekends did your worship consist of sitting in an assembly once on Sunday morning?
        3. This summer, did you create this impression: if you sit in a church building for an hour on Sunday morning, if you arrive late and leave early, if you can say that you took the Lord’s Supper, you fulfilled your religious obligation.
        4. Is that the spiritual value system you taught this summer?
      2. This is the reality of school life: our children’s lives will be filled with more activities than we can possibly care for as parents.
        1. The financial demands will be enormous.
        2. The time demands will be unreal.
        3. The scheduling demands will be utterly ridiculous.
        4. In the list of school year things that must be done, will the spiritual be last?
        5. If something has to be bumped, will it be the spiritual?
        6. If something has to be neglected, will it be the spiritual?
        7. If something has to be compromised, will it be the spiritual?
      3. What do our families learn just by watching us?
        1. How often does your family hear you make a last minute call saying you cannot do something you committed to do for the congregation?
        2. How often do they see you arrive late for Bible class or skip it all together?
        3. How often do they see you actually studying the Bible, actually praying, or actually preparing for your Bible class?
        4. From weekly observations, where in your list of priorities does the spiritual fit?

[Prayer: Father, forgive us for reducing your values to a system of obligations. Help us open our hearts to your values, for in your values is the key to life and the meaning of existence.]

As we rush through life’s emergency room, our families run behind us. Sometimes we sense they are not following. In alarm, we stop and turn around. And we see them indulging an addiction. Or we see them sexually active outside of marriage. Or we see them having an abortion. Or we see them living a lifestyle that has nothing to do with God. We see them unaware of the danger. And we watch as they eat the crumbs of stepped on potato chips off the emergency room floor. And we shout, “STOP! Don’t you realize that can make you sick? Don’t you understand that could kill you? Surely, you know better than that!”

And they look at us bewildered. And silently they say, “Our priorities are not that different from yours. What’s the big deal?”

When your children become adults, if they live by the values you practice, will they be a spiritual person?

Our families need more than prohibitions to avoid. They need God’s system of values to live by.

The Ignored Verses

Posted by on August 13, 2000 under Sermons

We must study scriptures to discover the individual messages of the books before we decide the collective message of the Bible. Preaching, teaching, and study must focus on understanding the message of scripture. Much too often we do not study to understand the message. Much too often we study to “support” our convictions.

When we read a scripture that does not seem to “fit” our perspectives or our conclusions, we typically respond to that scripture in one of these ways. # 1: we decide what that scripture says is not important, and we give its message no consideration. # 2: we do not want to think about it or try to understand it because that would require too much effort. # 3: we feel a sense of fear because the scripture threatens an important conclusion we hold, so we put it out of our mind. # 4: we “explain it away” by forcing it to say something the writer never intended it to say. # 5: we accept the responsibility to consider the message.

This is a Bible. [Hold a Bible up.] We look at it as a one volume book in the same way we look at any other single volume book. We declare it has two major sections: an Old Testament or covenant and a New Testament or covenant. Most Christians pay token tribute to the Old Testament because we decided it is not that important. Typically in the Church of Christ we make no intensive effort to understand the Old Testament. The greater percentage of our efforts in studying the Old Testament are spent on what I would call narrative books: Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Kings. We take stories from Daniel, Jonah, Nehemiah, Job, and Esther. Typically, much of this material is taught in our children’s classes. Perhaps the fact that shocks us as we consider how little emphasis we place on the Old Testament is this: the Church of Christ has never produced a series of commentaries on the Old Testament. An attempt was made, but not completed. Publishers cannot print what members will not buy.

As adults we typically concentrate our concern and study on the New Testament because we conclude it is essential.

We not only look at the Bible as a single volume book, we study it as if it were written by a single author as we study any other single author book. We rarely discuss the fact that its writings were produced over a period of about 1400 years and were written in different parts of the world. We freely, easily interchange verses from books as if they were all written by the same person in the same period under the same circumstances and situations at the same place.

If we just consider the New Testament, we are looking at a collection of letters written by different people to different people in different areas of the world. Look at a map and notice the distance between Rome (Italy), Corinth (Greece), and Antioch (Syria) are. Even today, do Italians, Greeks, and Syrians think alike and have the same culture?

First century Christians did not have a book called the New Testament. Concern for identifying the writings that should be accepted as scripture did not begin earnestly until the second century. From what I have read, it was the late fourth century before the twenty-seven books of our New Testament were widely accepted as the twenty-seven books of scripture.

Look at the obvious: there were Christians who died in the first century that never heard, never read, never knew about many of the books you and I read in the New Testament.

You and I would study the New Testament differently if we realized they were independent letters that were placed together. If we seriously consider the ignored verses in many of those letters, these verses would contribute powerfully to correcting our understanding. The ignored verses are the statements that end the letter.

  1. We need an improved awareness of long distance communication in the first century.
    1. Basically, the goal or objective of communication has not changed.
      1. The goal of communication is to share information, concepts, and understandings from those who have the information, concepts, and understandings with those who do not.
      2. Through the ages, communication needs and objectives have changed little: accurately share and inform to make aware and create understanding.
      3. The means of long distance communication have changed radically.
        1. In the first century, few of our means of mass communication existed: no printing, no radio, no television, no faxes, no copiers, no Internet, no telecommunication system of any kind.
        2. In the first century, the basic methods we use in personal communication did not exist: no postal service, no telephone, no e-mail.
        3. Can you imagine what our world would be like if we had no printing, radio, television, faxes, copiers, Internet, telecommunication systems, postal service, telephone, or e-mail?
        4. They used two primary means for long distance and personal communication: the hand-delivered letters and the spoken word.
          Colossians 4:7-9 As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information. For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts; and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.

    2. If a person was sending a hand-delivered letter any distance, he or she would commonly send it by friend or acquaintance.
      1. You did not write a letter and send it any day you wished.
      2. You sent a letter when someone you knew was traveling to the area where the recipient lived.
      3. Tychicus was to make the long journey from Rome where Paul was in prison back to Asia Minor.
        1. It is possible that Tychicus delivered four letters for Paul: one to Ephesus (Ephesians 6:21,22), one to the Laodicea (Colossians 4:16), one to Philemon, and this one to Colossae.
        2. We do not know why Tychicus was in Rome with Paul and Timothy.
        3. He was a native of the region of Colossae (Acts 20:4) who was in the group with Paul when Paul made his last trip to Jerusalem.
        4. Perhaps on that trip he was one of the delegates from the churches who sent a gift from Christians who were not Jews to Christians who were Jews (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:19-24).
        5. On other occasions, Paul also sent Tychicus with a personal message to Titus (Titus 3:12), and with another message to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12).
      4. As Tychicus came back to his home area with these letters, Onesimus came back with him.
        1. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave who ran away from Philemon in Colossae and eventually found and was converted by Paul in Rome (Philemon).
        2. Paul thought it only proper for Onesimus to return to Philemon, so Onesimus traveled back to Colossae with Tychicus.
        3. Paul presented Onesimus to the Christian community at Colossae as a faithful and beloved brother who was one of their number.
      5. Tychicus and Onesimus would verbally inform the Christians all about Paul and what was happening to him in Rome; they would share the word of mouth message with the Christians.

    3. It was and still is common to send “hello” greetings from people who are with you.
      Colossians 4:10-14 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’ cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.
      1. There were three Jewish Christians with Paul in Rome who send “hellos:” Aristarchus, Mark (Barnabas’ cousin); and Jesus who was called Justus.
        1. These three men were Paul’s encouragers; many Jewish Christians were Paul’s enemy.
        2. Aristarchus also sent a “hello” in the letter to Philemon (verse 24).
          1. He was with Paul at that very dangerous time when there was a riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:29).
          2. He was with Paul when Paul made his last trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).
          3. Perhaps he was one of the delegates from Thessalonica who accompanied Paul as he took the gift to Jewish Christians.
          4. He also traveled with Paul when Paul was transferred from the prison in Caesarea to the prison in Rome (Acts 27:2).
        3. Only here are we told that Mark and Barnabas were cousins.
          1. That provides a valuable insight into why Barnabas and Paul had such a confrontation about Mark going on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41).
          2. It also gives another valuable insight: Paul refused to take Mark on his second missionary journey, but years later Mark is with Paul when Paul is in prison at Rome.
          3. We do not know any other information about Jesus who was called Justus.
      2. There were three Christians with Paul in Rome who were not Jews that said “hello” to the church in Colossae.
        1. Epaphras, who came from Colossae, was with Paul.
          1. He was deeply committed to and concerned about the Christians in that area.
          2. He was constantly praying for them–note he “labored” for them by praying for them.
          3. Paul said he was a witness to the fact that Epaphras was concerned for them, the Christians in Laodicea, and the Christians in Hierapolis (Laodicea was just ten miles away).
        2. Luke was with Paul, and it is here that we learn Luke was a doctor.
        3. Demas was with Paul.
          1. He was one of Paul’s mission companions.
          2. But, when Paul faced execution, Demas deserted Paul and returned to Thessalonica because “he loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).

    4. Paul sent personal greetings to the Christians in Laodicea.
      Colossians 4:15-18 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.
      1. He mentioned Nympha and the church that met in her house.
      2. After the church at Colossae read this letter, Paul asked them to swap letters with the church at Laodicea, and each congregation read the other’s letter from Paul.
      3. Paul asked them to encourage Archippus.
        1. Archippus’ name is in the address of the short letter to Philemon–the letter is actually addressed to Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus.
        2. It is possible that Archippus was a member of Philemon’s family.

  2. Paul wrote the last statement with his own handwriting and signed the letter.
    1. It was not unusual for a letter to be dictated.
    2. Paul closed the letter in his own handwriting with his own signature.
      1. This was a way of authenticating a letter.
      2. It was Paul’s way of saying, “You know this letter truly is from me by looking at my handwriting and signature at the end of the letter.”

When you study the “ignored verses,” (1) you see this is a letter, (2) you see that it is from a real person, and (3) you see that it was written to real people.

The New Testament did not just fall out of the sky as a book. It is a collection of letters written by people who lived in the real world written to people who lived in the real world. Surely, they were guided by God’s Spirit as they wrote. But just as certainly, they wrote.

We need to understand that God’s word is for real people in the real world. We need to understand its message is for real people in the real world.

“Lord, Use the Chains”

Posted by on under Sermons

I wish it was easy to figure out what is happening in life. Don’t you? Do you ever wonder, “Is everything trying to kill me? At every curve in life’s highway it seems some force wants me to wreck. Something always is trying to turn my life upside down. I try to make good decisions. I try to use good judgment. I try to make wise choices. But I look up, and life is out of control. I am just dragged along.

Is that how you feel? Do you feel like something is always dragging you around, always trying to turn your life upside down? It is your parents’ divorce. It is your critical wife. It is your selfish husband. It is your impossible children. It is your deceitful boss. It is your dishonest competition. It is corrupt officials. It is your addiction. It is the death of someone you love dearly. Something constantly tries to turn your life upside down. It happens so consistently that we get nervous when things are going too well.

Then we face the most difficult question of all: is God behind what is happening, or is Satan behind what is happening? Is God trying to rescue us, or is Satan trying to destroy us? That is one of life’s most complicated questions.

Hebrews 12:7-10 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.

  1. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about a visit she made to an outer bank island.
    1. She made this visit when loggerhead turtles were laying their eggs.
      1. She watched one evening as a huge female crept out of the ocean and struggled up to the edge of the sand dunes.
        1. With an exhausting effort, this huge turtle dug a deep hole and laid her eggs.
        2. Barbara was afraid that she would disturb the turtle, so she did not stay to watch the turtle fill the large hole with sand and return to the ocean.
      2. The next morning she went to see if she could see the nest.
        1. She could not locate the nest, but strangely the trail of the turtle headed into the dune.
        2. Curious, she followed the turtle’s trail into the dunes until she found the huge turtle almost dead.
        3. It was caked in sand, the sun was getting hotter by the minute, and she knew the turtle would be dead soon.
        4. She carried water from the ocean to moisten the turtle, then she hurriedly found a park ranger and told him the situation.

    2. The ranger sped to the turtle in a jeep, turned the turtle on its back, attached chains to its front flippers, hooked the chains to a trailer hitch, and sped away dragging the turtle upside down through the sand dunes to the shore.
      1. She watched in horror as she saw the turtle’s mouth fill with sand and its neck extend and flop under its shell.
        1. At the water’s edge, the ranger unhooked the chains and turned the turtle right side up in the shallow surf.
        2. The turtle looked dead.
        3. Gradually the water renewed its color, gradually the water revived it, and with a large wave, the turtle pushed out into the ocean.
      2. As she witnessed these events, this is what she thought: “Watching her swim slowly away and remembering her nightmare ride through the dunes, I reflected that it is sometimes hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.”

  2. To save people from themselves, God at times turns people’s lives upside down and drags them with chains.
    1. Jonah was determined not to do what God wanted done (the book of Jonah).
      1. God told him to go to Ninevah, the Assyrian capitol, and tell them that they would be destroyed for their great wickedness (1:2).
      2. Jonah wanted God to destroy them; they were Israel’s enemy.
      3. Jonah was afraid if he went to Ninevah that they would repent and God would forgive them (4:2).
      4. So Jonah tried to run away from God (1:3).
        1. God turned his life upside down and brought out the chains.
        2. A huge fish swallowed him (1:4-17).
        3. Jonah cried to God for help (21-9).
        4. The big fish vomited him out on land (2:10).
      5. Jonah went to Ninevah unwillingly as the worst missionary that ever worked for God; he warned them; they repented; and God forgave them (3).
      6. And Jonah was so angry at God that he asked God to let him die (4:1-3).
        1. I do not know what happened to Jonah.
        2. He certainly did not want to assist God’s purposes.
        3. Turning his life upside down did not change his attitude or his heart.

    2. Elijah genuinely wanted to turn the ten tribes of northern Israel back to God (1 Kings 18,19).
      1. From the time that these people became an independent nation, they worshipped idols (1 Kings 12:25-33).
      2. Elijah, one of God’s greatest prophets, lived among them.
      3. On one occasion Elijah knew that he proved that God was the living God and that idols were nothing.
        1. He and the prophets of Baal had a contest on Mount Carmel that was witnessed by many of the nation.
        2. Elijah won the contest; four hundred fifty prophets of Baal were executed by the witnesses; and Elijah knew that the nation would turn back to God (18:19,40).
        3. But in less than twenty-four hours Elijah knew that the nation would not turn back to God (19:1-3).
      4. He fled into the wilderness asking God to let him die, and God directed Elijah to a cave where God had a talk with Elijah (19:4,10).
        1. God said, “Elijah, you are not the only man who serves me in this nation.”
        2. “There are 7,000 prophets here who have never worshipped Baal” (19:18).
        3. “Go back; be controlled by my purposes” (19:15-17).
        4. “It is not all up to you; stop acting like it is.”

    3. Peter believed he was the strongest, most loyal disciple Jesus had.
      1. When Jesus told him that he would deny Jesus three times before the night was over, Peter thought that was preposterous.
        1. “If I need to, I will die with you.”
        2. But Peter never believed that Jesus would be arrested and tried.
        3. After Jesus was captured, Peter ran fearfully into the night.
        4. Later he slipped into the courtyard where Jesus was being questioned by Jewish authorities.
        5. Three times he was recognized; three times someone said, “You are one of his disciples; three times he denied knowing Jesus.”
        6. The third time he cursed and swore that he did not know Jesus; Jesus looked at him; and he fled into the night weeping.
      2. That night his life was turned upside down, and in John 20, Jesus fastened the chains.
        1. Three times Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me?”
        2. Three times Jesus told him to take care of his sheep.

    4. Paul experienced having his life turned upside down and the chain experience (Acts 9; 22:6-21; 26:2-18).
      1. He was on his way to Damascus, Syria, to arrest any Jews at the synagogue who had become Christians.
        1. A light brighter than the noon sun drove him to the ground (26:13,14).
        2. The Jesus whom he said was a fake, an impostor, a grave threat to the will of God spoke to him.
        3. Jesus: “Why are you persecuting me? All you are doing is hurting yourself” (26:14).
        4. Paul: “Who are you?” (9:5)
        5. Jesus: “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. I am making you a minister and a witness, and I am sending you to open people’s eyes so they will turn from darkness to light in order that they may receive forgiveness and the inheritance of those who are sanctified by faith in me” (26:15-18).
      2. For three days Paul was blind, and for those three days he prayed and fasted (9:9).
        1. Then Jesus sent Ananias to him (9:10-12).
        2. Jesus told Ananias, “He is my chosen instrument. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake” (9:15-16).
        3. Among the things that Ananias told Paul was this: “Get up, and be baptized, calling on his name” (Acts 22:15).
      3. And the great Christian persecutor became the great Christian servant.
        1. But not before God turned his life upside down.
        2. But not before God dragged him to Christ.

[Prayer: God, do anything necessary to bring us to you.]

I do not pretend to think like a turtle. But a couple of things are obvious. When that exhausted turtle crawled deep into the sand dunes, it was convinced that it knew what it was doing and where it was going. Had someone tried to turn the turtle toward the ocean, the turtle would have resisted.

We are like the turtle. We are so sure that we know what we are doing. We are so sure that we know where we are going. If anyone dares try to help us understand that we do not, we resist him or her. Oh, how we resist him or her!

So, exhausted, we wind up deep in the dunes far from life and close to death. The sun in the hot sand is sucking the life out of us. “Sometimes it is hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.”

Question: do you want God to rescue you? “I do not need rescuing!” You answered the question. “Yes, I want God to rescue me, but I do not want Him to turn my life upside down doing it.” You answered the question. “Yes, I want God to rescue me, but there has never been an emergency.” You answered the question.

If God sees you dying in the hot sand dunes of life, what do you want God to do? If God just knows the direction you are going will kill you, what do you want God to do? Do you want God to do anything necessary to rescue you–even if it means turning your life upside down, and dragging you with chains to where you need to be.

I am not talking about God taking any person’s will or power of decision from him or her. I am talking about God placing us in circumstances that let us choose life instead of death. Do you want God to do anything necessary to place you in those circumstances?

[Quote source: Tales of Terror, Times of Wonder, Barbara Brown Taylor,]

“I Would Not Do It That Way”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

All Christians agree “people are not God.” We often disagree about the meaning of that truth. While most of us agree people are not God, most of us believe God does things the way we would do them. “God does things the way we want them done.”

Isaiah began his prophecy (chapter 1) declaring Judah had forgotten God. Their temple worship made Him sick. Jerusalem was an unjust prostitute. He would forsake them.

God was now their adversary. Judah and Jerusalem would experience extreme difficulties (chapters 2, 3). They depended on idols. They abused the poor. They were wicked. As a consequence, God’s vengeance was unavoidable (chapter 5).

In chapter 55, Isaiah pleaded with chastised Judah to trust their compassionate God. If they listened to the Lord, every need would be met. God would make an eternal covenant of mercy with them. God’s compassion was theirs if “you seek the Lord while He can be found and turn from evil.”

That was hard for Judah to accept, and harder to trust. God was so sick of them He rejected them, and they suffered. Yet, later, God promised mercy and compassion if they turned from evil and sought Him.

We do not do things that way. It does not “work” that way in human/human relationships. People who are that guilty of evil, who are forced to accept the consequences, are not offered mercy and compassion to heal the relationship.

“Explain yourself, God! People do not do things that way!”

“You are right. People do not act like I act or reason like I reason. People do not show compassion to those who inflict horrible wounds and injustice. People do not forgive years of abuse. People do not heal the guilty with mercy. But my thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways. My actions are far above yours. You cannot think as I do. You cannot relate to my actions. I forgive when you would not. ”

God never did things “our way.” We would not begin an evangelistic outreach by teaching a divorcee who was living with a man (John 4). God would. We would not allow a man who denied knowing Jesus to become the principal Christian teacher to an ethnic group (Matthew 26:69-75). God would. We would not allow a man who destroyed Christians to become a lead missionary and a New Testament writer (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-43). God would.

When we impose our judgment, logic, reasoning, and concepts on God, we trust ourselves, not God. When we allow God to impose His purposes on us; when we yield to God’s will when His will defies human logic; when God’s values defy human rationales and we embrace them, then we trust God instead of ourselves.

Okay. I Hear You. So What?

Posted by on August 6, 2000 under Sermons

One of life’s frustrations occurs when we sincerely try to share a needed understanding with someone who hears but does not listen. It is frustrating because we care. It is frustrating because the person’s refusal to understand will produce significant consequences. It is frustrating because all the pain and all the regret the person will experience is literally unnecessary. It is frustrating because we are unable to make the importance of what we share register in the person’s mind.

Have you helped a young child draw in a dot-to-dot book? A completed dot-to-dot drawing gives a child a “big picture.” When the dots are properly connected, the child has no difficulty seeing the picture. But it is a very simple picture. It has almost no detail.

How do dot-to-dot pictures work? Each dot is numbered. If you correctly connect lines between the dots in proper numerical order, you draw a picture. The picture is easily recognized when all the dots are connected in proper sequence.

For a dot-to-dot drawing to work, two things must happen. First, each dot must be connected in the right sequence. Second: dots must not be skipped, ignored, or treated as if they did not exist.

When we try to share an important understanding with a person who hears but refuses to understand, we want that person to see the “big picture.” To help the person bring the “big picture” into focus, we want them to see the dots and connect the dots in proper sequence.

Perhaps the greatest frustration comes if the person connects the dots, sees the picture, and reacts by saying, “So what?”

  1. In the letter we call Colossians, Paul emphasized these truths to the Colossian Christians:
    1. Jesus Christ is spiritually unique and all sufficient.
      1. Jesus Christ makes it possible to leave the kingdom of darkness and become a part of the God’s kingdom.
      2. Jesus Christ makes it possible to be redeemed and forgiven.
      3. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.
      4. Jesus Christ is the agent of creation.
      5. Jesus Christ is the head of the church.
      6. The fullness of God lives in Jesus Christ.
      7. Through Jesus Christ, God produced perfect reconciliation.
      8. The hope of glory for both the Jew and people who are not Jews is Christ in you.

    2. Because Jesus Christ is the all sufficient son of God, the Colossian Christians did not need Jesus plus something else to be spiritual.
      1. Jewish Christians did not need Jesus plus Jewish customs and rites to be spiritual.
      2. People who were not Jews did not need Jesus plus pagan religious experiences to be spiritual.
      3. So do not combine Christianity and Judaism or Christianity and paganism to create your own form and brand of spirituality.

    3. All they needed to do was to seek Christ.
      1. They needed to trust what God did for them in Jesus.
      2. They needed to trust what Jesus did for them in death.
      3. The key to becoming God’s new humanity was trusting what God did and trusting what Jesus did.

    4. I fully understand that the message of Colossians goes much deeper than that, but I see that as the “big picture” Paul wanted the Colossian Christians to see.
      1. If you please, these truths were the primary dots that needed to be connected.
      2. I want you to see something extremely important.
        1. What Paul did went far beyond correcting their information.
        2. It went far beyond giving them correct knowledge.
        3. It went far beyond declaring that Christianity was superior to Judaism or paganism.
        4. Paul wanted them to understand what it meant to be God’s new humanity.

  2. If they understood the meaning of becoming God’s new humanity in Christ, what difference would it make?
    1. Read with me from Colossians 3:12-4:6.
      So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
    2. Consider the differences produced by understanding the “big picture.”
      1. Difference # 1: Paul said, “If you see ‘the big picture’ of God’s new humanity in Jesus Christ, It will change you as a person.”
        1. It will change your heart.
        2. You will be and act like God’s chosen people, a holy and beloved people.
        3. It will change your heart by making you compassionate, kind, gentle, and patient.
        4. You will be tolerant and forgiving of each other in the same manner that Jesus was tolerant and forgiving.
      2. Difference #2: Paul said, “If you as a congregation see ‘the big picture’ of God’s new humanity in Jesus Christ, it will change you as a group.”
        1. You will develop the love for each other that produces unity.
        2. Peace will rule the hearts of your Christian community.
        3. You will be a grateful people.
        4. The word of Jesus Christ (remember that he is the all sufficient one) will rule your hearts.
          1. That word of Jesus Christ will make you wise.
          2. That word of Jesus Christ will move you to share your understandings.
          3. That word of Jesus Christ will move you to sing in heart felt gratitude.
        5. You will be a people who sing songs of gratitude to God instead of gripe; spiritually you will be guided by gratitude instead of discontent.
        6. Gratitude for Jesus Christ will touch everything you do and say.
      3. Difference # 3: Paul said, “If you see ‘the big picture’ of God’s new humanity in Jesus Christ, it will change your relationships.”
        1. Christian wives will treated their husbands appropriately.
        2. Christian husbands will love their wives and reject being bitter.
        3. Christian children will obey their parents.
        4. Christian fathers will encourage their children rather than exasperating them.
        5. Christians slaves will put their hearts as well as their bodies into their work.
        6. Christian masters will be just and fair to their slaves.
      4. Difference # 4: Paul said, “If you see ‘the big picture’ of God’s new humanity in Jesus Christ, wisdom will determine the way you treat people who are not in the Christian community.”
        1. You will make the most of every opportunity.
        2. You will be very thoughtful in what you say.

  3. I want to make some specific applications of what Paul said to Colossian Christians to Christians today.
    1. Our knowledge of the Bible and our knowledge of Jesus Christ has little meaning or significance unless three things happen.
      1. Our knowledge must change us as a persons.
      2. Our knowledge must change the way we treat people.
      3. Our knowledge must change our behavior in our relationships.

    2. In my lifetime as a Christian I have known men and women who were very informed, very knowledgeable about the Bible.
      1. If the criteria for determining expertise is information, we could call these persons experts.
      2. However, I would never encourage anyone to allow this man or this woman to be his or her spiritual example.
        1. These people were very knowledgeable, but were hard, judgmental, unkind, unmerciful, and had little compassion.
        2. To them, scripture was not to give people life and hope.
        3. To them, scripture was to be used to attack people.
      3. Nor would I encourage anyone to model his or her relationships after these people’s relationships.
        1. They were not an example of how to love your family.
        2. They were not an example of how to love people.
        3. In fact, they did not get along with people well.
      4. Nor would I encourage anyone to behave as they behaved.
      5. These men and women could debate biblical technicalities with the best of them, and hold their own.
      6. But they knew little about being God’s new humanity who lived for Jesus.

    3. To me, an obvious fact leaps out of Paul’s message to the Colossian Christians:
      1. If you really understand who Jesus Christ is,
      2. If you really understand what God did through Jesus Christ,
      3. If you really understand the spiritual sufficiency of Jesus Christ,
      4. It will change your heart; it will change the way you treat people; it will change the way you behave.
      5. If you really understand, you want to be a part of God’s new humanity.

In the context of tonight’s discussion, there are religious people and there are spiritual people. Religious people are determined to do what they want to do. The Bible is just a book of information. Jesus Christ is no more important than any other religious consideration.

Spiritual people, with all their hearts, want to be God’s new humanity. To them, the Bible reveals life. The source of that life is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the focal point of all history, and of eternity.

Remember Who We Are

Posted by on under Sermons

What do you think is the most important thing that could happen in the West-Ark congregation? In your mind, in the privacy of your thoughts, in your hearts of hearts, if one thing could happen that would make the greatest single difference in this congregation, what would it be? Do you have that “big thing” in your mind? Keep it in your mind, and read with me from Philippians 2:2:1-11.

Philippians 2:1-11 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

  1. If God chose one thing that could happen in the West-Ark congregation, that would make the greatest difference to His purposes in us, this would be His choice.
    1. He would choose for this congregation to be filled with teens, with young men and women, with middle aged men and women, with mature men and women who had the attitude and the mind of Jesus Christ.
      1. These would be people who emptied themselves before God.
      2. These would be people who sacrificed for God’s purposes.
      3. These would be people who humbly served God in any way God led them.

    2. Why would God choose that?
      1. Because they would be people who shared one mind, the mind of Jesus.
      2. Because they would be a people who took care of their love.
      3. Because they would be a people who based their unity on a single purpose for existing–God’s purpose in Jesus.
      4. Because they would be people who refused to be selfish or conceited.
      5. Because they would be people who valued other people with genuine interest in those people.
      6. In short, because they would be people who humbled surrendered life to God just as Jesus did, with the same heart and mind Jesus had.

Everything God wants to happen in Fort Smith could happen if God had a congregation of people who thought from Jesus’ perspectives and based their actions on Jesus’ motives.

Is that the way you think? Are those the motives for your actions?

Assets and Obstacles

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Christians are tools in God’s hand. One of our primary “this world” purposes is to allow God to use us individually and collectively to accomplish His objectives. A good tool “fits the hand well,” functions well, works well, and serves its purpose.

Nothing is quite so helpful as having the right tool for the job. Nothing is quite so frustrating as addressing the necessary with the wrong tool. Did you ever use a fingernail file for a screw driver? a sauce pan for a skillet? a rock for a hammer? a piece of wire for a screw? a pry bar for a key?

A fingernail file may loosen a screw, but a screw driver will not file your nails. A sauce pan may function as a skillet, but it makes the task more difficult. A rock may drive a nail in some situations, but it is more likely to bend the nail and mash your finger. The wire may hold something together temporarily, but only the screw produces a “permanent fix.” The pry bar can open the door, but you immediately need a new door.

The first thing I do when I begin a job: look for the right tool. One positive and one negative truth always prevail when I build something or repair something. The positive truth: the right tool for the job produces enormous satisfaction. The negative truth: the wrong tool (or no tool!) results in indescribable frustration.

Each Christian is a tool in God’s tool box. In three ways we determine our usefulness as a tool. (1) Does my heart belong to God? (2) Is my attitude in step with God’s heart? (3) Will I joyfully surrender my abilities to God’s purposes?

I avoid using some of my tools unless it is absolutely necessary. Those tools never work well. They make the job difficult and cause enormous frustration. I have other tools I use every time possible. They work easily and well. As a result, they give me enormous satisfaction.

You and I are tools in God’s tool box. When God needs a necessary job done, are we an asset or an obstacle? Does God dread using us because (1) we serve Him poorly and (2) we cause more frustration than satisfaction? Or, is God delighted that we are available? We are versatile. We are cooperative. We are confident God knows what He is doing and knows how to use us well. And we love to serve His purposes–even when it is hard on us.

Does God look at you and say, “How can this be done?” Or, does God look at you and approach His purposes with joy. He knows you are the right tool for the job. He knows you will help accomplish His purposes.