What Is the Purpose of Life?

Posted by on November 26, 2000 under Sermons

Some questions always have the potential of starting a challenging, thought provoking discussion. Always have that potential? Yes, always. How can any question always have the potential of producing a challenging, thought provoking discussion?

First, the question is relevant to every person’s life. Any person who asks the question must answer the question. A person can choose to ignore the question, but no one can say the question does not concern his or her life

Second, everybody has an answer to the question. Everyone has a viewpoint, and their viewpoint is the foundation of their answer. That viewpoint might be specific, or it might be general, but every person has one.

Third, each person considers his or her answer to be important. He or she holds his or her viewpoint for a reason. That reason is personally important.

“Can you give us an example of that kind of question?” I am glad you asked! I surely can. My example: what is the purpose of life? You might want to qualify your answer, but I guarantee you that you have an opinion, a viewpoint, an answer. I would be surprised if one older teenager or one adult present could honestly say, “I have never thought about that question.” If you thought about it, you have an opinion.

  1. I want you to consider three New Testament situations and ask yourself what all three had in common.
    1. The first situation involved Mary, Jesus’ mother, when she learned about her conception (Luke 1:29-38).
      1. God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, Galilee to inform an engaged virgin named Mary that she would conceive a child while a virgin, before she married.
        1. Gabriel greeted her: “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
        2. That greeting deeply disturbed Mary; she did not understand it.
        3. Gabriel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”
          1. “You will conceive a son and name him Jesus when he is born.”
          2. “This son will be a great person; he will be called the son of the Most High; and God will place him on David’s throne where he will rule over Jacob’s descendants forever in an endless kingdom.”
          3. Mary answered, “I don’t see how that is possible. I am a virgin.”
          4. Gabriel answered, “It is possible because the Holy Spirit and God will cause it to happen, and the son born will be called God’s Son.”
          5. As an evidence, Gabriel informed Mary that Elizabeth, an older relative, was pregnant (for the first time). He said, “Nothing will be impossible for God.”
      2. Mary’s response: “I am God’s servant. Be it done to me according to your word.”
      3. What an incredible response! “I am God’s servant. If God wants me to be an unmarried, pregnant virgin and have a special son, let it happen to me.”

    2. The second situation involved the son Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:8-25).
      1. This time Gabriel appeared to the elderly priest, Zachariah.
        1. He was offering incense in the temple when an Gabriel appeared.
        2. Fear gripped Zachariah when he saw Gabriel.
        3. Gabriel said, “Don’t be afraid; your petition to God has been heard, and your wife will have a son whom you are to name John.”
        4. “You and many others will rejoice when he is born.”
        5. “He will be an unusual child; before birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit; he will never drink an alcoholic drink; and he will cause many people in Israel to return to God.”
        6. “He will prepare Israel to receive someone special.”
      2. Zachariah said, “My wife and I are old. How do I know this will happen?”
        1. Gabriel responded, “God send me to bring you this good news.”
        2. “Since you do not trust this news, you will not speak until John is born.”
      3. John was born and became an unusual preacher.
        1. He lived in the wilderness; he wore crude clothes; and he ate crude food; he never used alcohol; he never cut his hair–we would see nothing physically appealing about John.
        2. But he perhaps was the most powerful, convicting preacher Israel ever knew.
        3. Thousands came to the wilderness to hear him; thousands repented; and thousands were baptized.
        4. Jesus once said that no one ever physically born was greater than John (Matthew 11:11).
      4. In today’s terminology, John was weird and lived a very basic, difficult life.

    3. The third situation had to do with the Christian Paul.
      1. Prior to his conversion to Jesus Christ, Paul was a violent, dedicated enemy of Christians.
      2. He organized the persecution and arrest of Christians.
      3. He did everything in his power to destroy the church.
      4. As he was on his way to another country (Syria) to arrest Jewish Christians in Damascus and return them as prisoners to Jerusalem, he met the resurrected Jesus Christ (Acts 9).
        1. Years later Paul explained what happened that day when he discovered Jesus really was the Christ.
        2. This is what he remembered Jesus saying to him:
          (Acts 26:16-18) “But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
        3. From that moment Paul’s life was never the same: the persecutor of Christians became the persecuted Christian.
        4. He endured incredible suffering for Jesus and for Christians.

    4. What do those three situations have in common?
      1. All three incidents provide a powerful answer to our question, “What is the purpose of life?”
        1. Why was a virgin willing to be pregnant when she knew how people would react to her pregnancy?
        2. Why was a preacher willing to live a strange life in the wilderness when God gave him an enormously important people mission?
        3. Why was the persecutor of Christians willing to become a persecuted Christian?
      2. The answer is to be found in their common understanding of life’s purpose.

  2. So I ask you, what is the purpose of life?
    1. There are many, many different answers to that question, but you have one of them.
      1. Some say life has no purpose: you live and die, and that is all there is to life.
      2. Some say life’s purpose is to survive: whatever you need to do in your situation to survive, do it.
      3. Some say life’s purpose is centered in “me:” my happiness, my pleasure, my success, my desires, my future.
      4. Some say the purpose of life is your family: whatever you need to do for the good of your family, do it.
      5. Some say the purpose of life is seen in your heirs: the purpose of everything you do is found in what you pass on to your family when you die.

    2. Genesis informs us that human life began perfectly connected to God.
      1. At some point, evil [through deception] was invited into human existence, and, at that moment, Satan disconnected people from God.
      2. Not only did evil break our prefect connection will God, but it also totally perverted our world.
        1. Our relationship with God was perverted.
        2. Our human relationships were perverted.
        3. Our marriage relationships were perverted.
        4. The home was perverted.
        5. Sex was perverted.
      3. In that perversion:
        1. Innocence become fear.
        2. Love became injustice.
        3. Purity became guilt.
        4. Trust became cynical doubt.
        5. Openness became deceit.
      4. Do you want to see the perversion?
        1. When God presented Eve to Adam for the first time, Adam said, (Genesis 2:23) “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Awe, appreciation, gratitude, acceptance! Adam knew Eve was a unique gift from God!
        2. Do you remember the first statement Adam made about Eve after they both surrendered to the deception of evil?
          (Genesis 3:12) The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” The woman, blame, rejection, disclaimer! What a change in perspective!

    3. From the moment evil became a part of the human condition forward, God has had a single objective in people: reconciliation; reconnect people to God.
      1. Mary understood the purpose of life was to serve the purpose of God.
      2. John understood the purpose of life was to serve the purpose of God.
      3. Paul understood the purpose of life was to serve the purpose of God.
      4. They each understood that God’s purposes are bigger than the convenience and the physical existence of the person.
        1. They understood a reality was at stake that was much bigger than they were.
        2. If God could use them to advance His eternal purpose in reconciling people to Himself, may God be glorified in the use of their lives.

    4. What would I give my children?
      1. If I give my children a great education but do not open their eyes to God’s eternal purposes, I give them nothing.
      2. If I give my children a wonderful standard of living but do not open their eyes to God’s eternal purposes, I give them nothing.
      3. If I give my children a bright future on earth but do not open their eyes to God’s eternal purposes, I give them nothing.
      4. If I give my children wealth but do not open their eyes to God’s eternal purposes, I give them nothing.
      5. If I give my children great opportunity for success but do not open their eyes to God’s eternal purposes, I give them nothing.
      6. No matter what I do, if I fail to open my eyes to God’s eternal purposes, I am nothing.
      7. God’s eternal purposes are enormous when compared to anything in physical existence, and that will be beyond dispute the moment you and I die.

[Prayer: God, help us escape the deceit of this physical existence. Help us understand that Your eternal purposes are bigger than physical life. Help us understand that the greatest thing that could ever happen to us or for us is eternal reconciliation with You.]

I am afraid that we are too much like Lot when God sent angels to help Lot escape the certain destruction of Sodom. The influences of Sodom destroyed Lot’s wife and daughters. They perhaps destroyed Lot also. Nothing in Sodom that was good for Lot. But he thought Sodom was good for him. Lot did not want to leave. Because Lot refused to see the dangers, he lost everything.

Outside God’s purposes, we are the victims of evil and its deceit. Evil tells us the physical is all that matters. We like the physical. We like the indulgence of now. The eternal is an unimportant hypothetical. The physical is real. We are tempted to take our chances with the physical. We don’t see the dangers. And, like Lot, if we live for the physical, we will lose everything.

If you serve God’s purposes, God’s purposes must be bigger than you are, more important than you are. God’s purposes moved Mary to accept pregnancy as a virgin. God’s purposes moved John to live a very strange lifestyle. God’s purposes moved Paul to rejoice in persecution.

What do God’s purposes move you to do? In you, what do God’s purposes have to do with your real purpose in life?

“It’s the Heart” (part 1)

Posted by on November 19, 2000 under Sermons

Tonight we head into the most peculiar, difficult time of the year for a preacher. From the week before Thanksgiving until the week after New Year nothing is normal in a congregation’s work. First, we have no idea about who will be here for the next six or seven weeks. Second, in this period there is little continuity. As hopefully is evident to you, I prefer for continuity to occupy a significant role in my preaching. I prefer for lessons to build on each other. This may be more obvious on Sunday evenings.

For the remainder of November and much of December, on Sunday evenings I would like for David, the Old Testament King of Israel, to be the basis of that continuity. The central question that will serve as continuity’s foundation is this: “Why did God have such a special appreciation for David?”

  1. That question is not as easily answered as you might think.
    1. I suspect the typical answer of most Bible students is rather simple: “God deeply appreciated David because he was a man after God’s own heart.”
      1. That is a good answer if we understand it.
      2. If we understand the answer, we can answer another question: “Why was David a man after God’s own heart?”

    2. From our Christian perspective in our American society, David is a truly strange person to be called a man after God’s own heart.
      1. He was a young shepherd when he was anointed to be Israel’s next king.
        1. That means he spent most of his time alone in the wilderness area with animals.
        2. That means he was not surrounded by people developing people skills, and good kings needed people skills.
        3. He probably was the family shepherd because he was the youngest son in the family–it was not a prized responsibility.
      2. He did not live among the scholars.
        1. He was not called because he was what you and I would consider an Old Testament scholar.
        2. He was not the student of some notable Bible scholar.
        3. He was just a plain, ordinary, little brother shepherd.
      3. Many of us would find his actions distasteful.
        1. When he killed Goliath, the first thing he did was take Goliath’s sword and cut Goliath’s head off (1 Samuel 17:50, 51).
        2. He carried Goliath’s head with him from the battlefield back to the city of Jerusalem as a trophy (1 Samuel 17:54).
        3. He paid the bride price for his first marriage with body parts from two hundred Philistine men that he and his soldiers killed (1 Samuel 18:27).
        4. He had several wives (1 Samuel 18:27; 25:40-43).
        5. One of his sons temporarily drove him from his throne and tried to kill him (2 Samuel 14 and 15).
        6. The ungodly antics of his adult children, which included rape and murder, would have made a great television daytime drama.
        7. He had a man killed in the attempt to cover an act of adultery with the man’s wife (2 Samuel 11).
        8. On at least one occasion he allowed personal pride to control his decision (2 Samuel 24).
      4. How could a man who did such things and had such a family be a man after God’s own heart?
        1. Maybe that designation is a mistake.
        2. Maybe David was a man after God’s own heart as a young man, but not as a king.
        3. Maybe we have glamorized David’s faith and closed our eyes to David’s mistakes.

  2. We do not make a mistake when we call David a man after God’s own heart.
    1. For the modern Christian, probably the book of Acts popularized the understanding that David was a man after God’s own heart.
      1. Acts 13:22 After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’
        1. Paul was speaking to an audience in Antioch of Pisidia on his first missionary journey.
        2. He was recalling some of the high points of Israel’s history.
        3. He noted that God removed Saul from being king and placed David as king because David was a man after God’s own heart, a man who would do God’s will.
        4. Paul went on to say that Jesus Christ was a descendant of David.
      2. When Stephen preached his sermon in the Jewish court, he laid the foundation for the point of his sermon by using Israel’s history.
        1. Acts 7:46 David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.
          1. Stephen referred to David as a person who “found favor in God’s sight.”
          2. God permitted David to plan for the construction of the temple because of his special relationship with God.
      3. While the book of Acts popularized David being the man after God’s own heart for the modern Christian, that was the common understanding and perception of godly Jews who lived after David.
        1. Paul reflected an accepted understanding among the Jews who lived outside of Palestine.
        2. Stephen reflected an accepted understanding among the Jews who lived in Jerusalem.

    2. From the beginning of God’s special relationship with David, the emphasis was on the fact that David’s heart belonged to God.
      1. When King Saul became such a grave disappointment to God, God took the rule of Israel from the lineage of Saul’s descendants. His sons would not inherit his throne.
        1. 1 Samuel 13:14 “But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
      2. When Samuel was sent to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the next king of Israel, as he looked at Jesse’s sons, God reminded Samuel that God looks at the heart.
        1. 1 Samuel 16:6,7 When they entered, he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
      3. David’s heart relationship with God became the high standard for the kings of Judah.
        1. 1 Kings 8:17,18 Now it was in the heart of my father David to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, ‘Because it was in your heart to build a house for My name, you did well that it was in your heart.
          1. King Solomon made this statement about his father, King David.
          2. It was in David’s heart to build the temple.
          3. Because it was in David’s heart, God was honored by David’s heart desire.
        2. 1 Kings 9:1-5 Now it came about when Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and all that Solomon desired to do, that the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as He had appeared to him at Gibeon. The Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'”
          1. Solomon’s future as Israel’s successful king depended on living before God in “integrity of heart and uprightness” as did his father David.
          2. If Solomon did that, his sons would rule Israel.
        3. 1 Kings 11:4 For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.
          1. Solomon failed as King in his old age.
          2. His wives turned his heart away from God to idols.
          3. His heart was not wholly devoted to God as was David’s heart.
        4. 1 Kings 15:1-5 Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. He walked in all the sins of his father which he had committed before him; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, like the heart of his father David. But for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, to raise up his son after him and to establish Jerusalem; because David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.
          1. Abijam failed as Judah’s king because his heart was not wholly devoted to God as was David’s.
          2. David did what was right in God’s sight his whole life except in the incident of Uriah.
          3. David’s obedience came from his heart.
        5. For the kings of Judah, the standard for devotion to God and obedience was David’s heart.

  3. What was it about David that made his relationship with God a special heart relationship?
    1. That is the question that we will examine the next few weeks.
    2. I want to begin with a lesson that I hope is obvious in what we examined tonight.
      1. Being a person after God’s own heart does not depend on perfection.
      2. David was not a perfect man.
      3. No person is perfect before God.
      4. Obviously, imperfect people can be people who have a special heart relationship with God.
      5. Two things will be true of anyone who has that special heart relationship with God.
        1. They are wholly committed to God’s will as a person.
        2. Their heart is revealed through their commitment and their obedience.
          1. A person can obey God without giving God his or her heart.
          2. But no person can give his or her heart to God and refuse to obey God.

Tonight the issue is not, “Are we perfect.” No one is, and no one can be. The issue is, “Does your heart belong to God?” Is that your desire? Is that your choice? If God was on a mission to select a man or woman after his own heart for a special use, would God select you because of your heart?

Our Dream Society

Posted by on under Sermons

I want to begin by reading from a New Testament translation called The Message, a modern English translation. My purpose is simple: I want you to hear Paul’s thoughts in familiar words. The reading begins in Colossians 2:6. [Certainly, you may read from your translation. But I encourage you to listen and to read from the screen.]

“My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

“Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spiritual beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.”

  1. Can you picture your concept of the ideal society?
    1. Describe the ideal society that you would like for your family.
      1. There would be no divorce, no broken homes, no single parent homes, no hostile marriage relationships.
      2. Husbands would genuinely love and respect their wives, and wives would genuinely love and respect their husbands.
        1. Men and woman would come from loving homes and understand how husbands and wives should treat each other.
        2. Men and woman would possess good relationship skills and learn to build relationships of trust.
        3. Men and women would know how to be open and honest in their marriages; their relationships would use good communication.
      3. No alienated children, abused children, rejected children, lonely children, or unloved children would exist.
      4. Every child would know that he or she was loved, wanted, appreciated, and valued for who he or she was.
        1. Parents would be friends as well as parents.
        2. Every child would know that both Mom and Dad were there for them, and that Mom and Dad would love them even when they made mistakes.
      5. People in general would know how to love, how to be compassionate, how to show mercy, and how to be understanding.
        1. No hate, violence, or dangers created by society would exist.
        2. Because crime and injustice did not exist, no one would be afraid.
      6. You would not have to worry about protecting your property.
        1. You could be a good neighbor without hesitation.
        2. You could help a stranger without being nervous.
        3. No one would take advantage of anyone.
        4. Everyone honored honesty, integrity, and character.
        5. You could trust what you heard and never be hurt.

    2. We could continue, but is that enough to describe your dream society?
      1. While we understand such societies will never exist (and never have), I think all of us would agree that would be a dream society.
      2. Would you like to live in such a society?
        1. I would!
        2. Wherever that place existed, that would be a great place to live, to work, to be married, and to raise children.

  2. Now I want to ask the hard question: if all those conditions existed, would those situations make it a Christian society?
    1. No.
      1. It takes more than successful marriages to make a society Christian.
      2. It takes more than stable homes and good parent-child relationships to make a society Christian.
      3. It takes more than people knowing how to treat each other with respect, compassion, and mercy to make a society Christian.
      4. It takes more than destroying hate, violence, prejudice, crime, and fear to make a society Christian.
      5. It takes more than good neighbors and kindness to strangers to make a society Christian.
      6. If you doubt what I am saying, let me illustrate its truth.
        1. From the 1940s to the 60s in this society people knew nothing about the dangers of tobacco.
        2. Nothing was known about the links between tobacco use and cancer, heart trouble, or emphysema.
        3. Commonly, when people gathered, there was a cloud of tobacco smoke.
          1. If you went to a high school basketball game, the cloud of tobacco smoke filled the gym–so heavily it burned nonsmokers’ lungs.
          2. In restaurants, nonsmoking sections did not exist, and the cloud of tobacco smoke could hang heavy.
          3. No smoking facilities and no smoking zones did not exist.
          4. One of the difficult experiences of airplane travel was enduring the tobacco smoke.
        4. People smoked on television, people smoked in the movies, people smoked everywhere.
        5. Cigarette ads were everywhere, and tobacco companies had broad sponsorships. [Do you older folks remember, “Call for Philip Morris” and the Lucky Strike ads?
        6. If the people living then heard about today’s restrictions on tobacco use, no one would have believed it.
        7. What did Jesus Christ have to do with the change? Nothing.
          1. I am well aware of the stance the church took against smoking.
          2. I am also well aware that the men used the break between Bible classes and worship to go smoke.
          3. The enormous opposition against tobacco products in our society has nothing to do with faith in Jesus Christ; it is based on health concerns.
      7. The great sexual revolution in America began in the 1960s.
        1. That complex evolutionary process included opposition to the Vietnam war, rejection of religion, and the rejection of past marriage customs.
        2. It accelerated at an incredible pace.
        3. Moral warnings and cautions were not a serious issue in society at large.
        4. Then AIDS exploded on the scene of homosexuality and promiscuous sexual activity.
          1. And things changed when the AIDS crisis exploded on the American scene from 1979 to 1981.
          2. Did sexual morality have anything to do with putting the brakes on? No
          3. Did faith in Christ have anything to do with putting the brakes on? No.
          4. The fear of a disease that ended in almost certain death put the brakes on for a while, and reshaped sexual behavior.
          5. It has nothing to do with faith in Christ, but with physical health concerns.
        5. You doubt it? What do you think would happen if a proven vaccine protecting against AIDS was released within the next twelve months?

  3. I want to share a thought with you for you to consider. I do not ask you to agree with me; I just ask you to think.
    The thought: the church is more concerned about its desire to control society than it is about building faith in Jesus Christ.
    1. Christians are very concerned about social issues and laws.
      1. We want to control the behavior of people in society who are not Christians.
        1. We believe Christian behavior is good for society.
        2. So we want to control society “for its own good.”
        3. Our desire is basically selfish–we want our children to grow up in a good social climate.
          1. Is that wrong? No.
          2. My point is not that it is wrong to want a good moral environment.
          3. My point is that our desires often have little to do with faith in Christ or God’s eternal purposes.
      2. Will proper faith in Christ have a positive impact on society? Absolutely!
        1. Will it influence people to be more compassionate, kind, merciful, and forgiving? Absolutely!
        2. Will it improve marriages? Absolutely!
        3. Will it stabilize homes? Absolutely!
        4. Will it improve situations and conditions for children? Absolutely!
        5. Will it improve the way people treat people? Absolutely!

    2. However, there is an enormous difference between placing our faith in Christ to pursue God’s eternal purposes and seeking to control society to accomplish our own purposes.
      1. When we create the impression that God does not care why people do the “right thing,” we misrepresent God and trash Jesus Christ.
      2. When we reduce the Christian life to nothing more than doing the “right thing,” we misrepresent God and trash Jesus Christ.
      3. God did not send Jesus because He thought Jesus would provide the “right touch” of completion; He sent Jesus because the Christ is essential.
        1. We dare not think it is possible to produce the results of Christian existence without faith in Jesus Christ.
        2. It is impossible to produce godly existence without faith in Christ.

[Prayer: God help us see and understand what we must know and understand in Jesus Christ.]

How much of your life is the result of your faith in Christ? Whose purposes does your life target–yours or God’s?

God Is At Work In Our Midst!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Sunday concluded “Missions Weekend,” an annual November event to focus us on our foreign missions outreach for the coming year.

Goal: $140,000
(That amount is the budget for our numerous involvements.)
Our special contribution for missions:
(A second contribution taken after our weekly contribution)

Cash: $2,152.23
Checks: $63,215.00
Pledged: $78,780.00
Total: $144,147.23

On November 1, 1996, Joyce and I arrived in Fort Smith to work with this congregation. Our introduction to your work was Missions Sunday. The contribution was well over $100,000. For most of our lives, we worked with small to middle-sized congregations and some in West Africa. We were astounded to be part of a congregation capable and willing to commit so much in a single Sunday to its missions plans. It was a new experience for us.

Consider three things. Saturday morning several attended an informal prayer breakfast. Missionaries or involved contacts shared happenings in specific areas. One reported about an embassy for a formerly atheistic society. This embassy recently invited our mission team to relocate their residence and work in an unused section of its facilities. They are impressed with an outreach that shows mercy and compassion. Another reported on invitations to our teachers and preachers [on a regular basis] who are invited to teach congregations of a worldwide religion. In unlikely circumstances, a restoration movement is coming to life. The third told of the gift of land worth $500,000 in a major city of a third world country. The land was given to be the site of a new congregation. A national gave the land, and nationals are building a building and supporting a preacher.

Three principles we must remember. (1) All God asks us to do is sow the seed. Help people learn about Jesus Christ. Trust God to bring the seed to life and produce His crop. Do not waste time worrying about God’s part. Trust God and sow the seed. (2) If we want God to entrust us with more ability and opportunity, we must use the ability and opportunity we have. Why should God entrust us with more if we fail to use what we have for His purposes? (3) God is sovereign. He does things His way [not ours!]. He does not need for us to tell Him how to do His work. Trust Him enough to sow the seed. Leave results to Him. Just teach Jesus Christ.

You doubt those things? Then, you need to read again the three things I shared, think, and ask God to increase your ability to trust Him to care for His work.

One of West-Ark’s Big Weekends

Posted by on November 12, 2000 under Bulletin Articles

This weekend is dedicated to our foreign missions involvements. The goal of Sunday morning’s missions collection: $140,000 in contributions and pledges. Prior to last Sunday morning’s worship assembly, the missions committee distributed an explanation of the goal’s “financial breakdown.” The funds provide the core financial support for our missions commitments for the year 2001.

Bill Smith, an elder from the Whites Ferry Road congregation in West Monroe, Louisiana, will be our guest speaker. Adults, remember to assemble in the auditorium for Bible class.

The American mindset is fixed on permanent solutions. We want to “meet needs and solve problems” once for all time. When approaches are not “permanent fixes,” Americans often consider such approaches a waste of time. American Christians are not immune to such thinking. Perhaps nowhere (among Christians) is this perspective’s reasoning more evident than in foreign missions planning and work.

Care to guess how many thousand people Jesus taught? How many thousand people he healed? How many hours he spent serving others? The total number of miracles he performed? After years of unselfish service, after teaching thousands, after healing thousands, only one hundred twenty people were committed to Jesus after his resurrection (Acts 1:15). Peter first presented the resurrected Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Three thousand people responded. To us, that is an enormous response. However, it is a small group to start a worldwide movement.

Jesus was God’s Son. He committed exclusively to God’s will–even in death. Only he did exactly what God wanted in exactly the way God wanted it. Yes, he permanently solved evil’s problems through perfect, continuing forgiveness. Yes, he made reconciliation to God a permanent option. Yes, he permanently created a people possessed exclusively by God. No, he did not end Satan’s influence. No, he did not destroy temptation. No, he did not destroy evil’s deceptiveness.

Through Jesus the solutions to evil are permanent. No change to the physical state of people was permanent. God’s forgiveness solves the problem of evil one person at a time. Each generation decides its own response to God’s love. The fact that one generation responds wholeheartedly to God’s love does not guarantee the next generation will make the same choices.

Why do Christians commit ourselves to godly character? Why are we people of integrity? Why do we treat other people properly? Why do we respond to evil by doing good? Why do we show compassion instead of justice? Why do we share Jesus’ good news with people who neither realize they need it nor want it? Because we seek permanent solutions? No. Because we know God. Because we love God for giving us Jesus. Because it is good, just as God is good.

Deuteronomy in the New Testament

Posted by on November 5, 2000 under Sermons

A thinking, reflecting member recently asked me a perceptive question. “What did people in the early church study when they assembled? We study the Bible in our classes and worship. What did they study?”

Early Christians frequently studied the scriptures we call the Old Testament scriptures. For Jewish Christians, this always was God’s word. Israelites respected and learned from this living word of God, this divine authority, this holy scripture for hundreds of years. For Christians who were not born Jews but attended Jewish synagogues prior to conversion to Christ, the Old Testament was the living word of God, the divine authority, and the holy scripture. They were taught the value and authority of God’s word by learning the value and authority of those scriptures. For Christians who were not born Jews and never attended the Jewish synagogue, they needed to learn God’s concept of holiness, righteousness, and godliness. These scriptures were used to teach them these concepts.

In addition to Old Testament scripture, they heard, read, or studied the writings of early Christian apostles and missionaries. Some of these writings became what we call the New Testament. But before they could hear and study these writings, they had to be written and shared. That took time. By our standards, it took a lot of time.

  1. Let me ask you to think about some things.
    1. Consider 2 Timothy 3:14,15.
      You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
      1. This was Paul’s personal instruction to Timothy, the young preacher and missionary that Paul guided, taught, and mentored.
      2. Timothy was to continue following the things that he was taught.
      3. His godly mother and grandmother taught him these things from his childhood (2 Timothy 1:5).
      4. Paul wanted him to remember and follow the lessons of the “sacred writings.”
        1. His understanding of these “sacred writings” gave him wisdom that would lead him to salvation.
        2. Wisdom produced by the “sacred writings” produced faith in Jesus Christ.
      5. What were the “sacred writings?” We call them the Old Testament scriptures.

    2. Consider Romans 4:19-25.
      Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God hd promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
      1. Paul is reminding Christians in Rome of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises.
        1. God promised Abraham a son, an heir, and years passed without that son being born.
        2. In Genesis 15 a discouraged Abraham asked God to allow Eliezer, his servant, be the promised heir.
        3. God said no; He would keep His promise; the son would be born to him.
        4. Genesis 15:6 states Abraham believed the Lord, and God “reckoned” (credited, regarded, considered) Abraham to be a righteous person.
      2. Carefully note Paul’s point.
        1. Paul said this occurred for their benefit as well as for Abraham’s benefit.
        2. If Christians place their confidence in the God who resurrected Jesus in the same way that Abraham placed his confidence in God, God will regard us to be righteous just as He regarded Abraham righteous.
        3. God had written what happened to Abraham for the benefit of Christians.

    3. Consider Romans 15:4.
      For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
      1. The Old Testament scriptures were written for Christians’ instruction.
      2. Those scriptures exist to give the Christian hope.
      3. Those scriptures challenge us to persevere and be encouraged.

  2. Those understandings serve as a background for this truth: the book of Deuteronomy served an important role in the lives of early Christians.
    1. Deuteronomy played an important role in Jesus’ life and teachings.
      1. One of the critical moments in Jesus’ life occurred when Jesus faced Satan in the early wilderness temptations (Matthew 4:1-11).
        1. Jesus rejected the temptation found in turning stones into bread by both understanding and quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.
        2. Jesus rejected the temptation to jump from the temple area by both understanding and quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
        3. Jesus rejected the temptation to worship Satan by both understanding and quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 (or 10:20).
        4. An understanding of those scriptures will just as surely help us fight those kinds of temptation just as they helped Jesus fight those temptations.
      2. Jesus often used statements found in Deuteronomy in his teachings.
        1. An excellent illustration is Jesus’ use of Deuteronomy 6:4 to declare that the greatest commandment God ever gave was to love God with all the heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37).
        2. Jesus stressed an eternal truth: the only proper foundation for obeying God is loving God.
        3. I assume we agree that for the Christian there still is no greater commandment than loving God with all the heart, mind, and soul.

    2. Perhaps this is your reaction: we should expect to hear Jesus use Deuteronomy in his teachings since Jesus was a godly Israelite who lived before the Christian age.
      1. If that assumption is correct, we would not expect the see New Testament writers using Deuteronomy for scriptural authority after Jesus’ resurrection.
        1. If the reasoning is that Jesus used Deuteronomy because he taught prior to the Christian age,
        2. Then the reasoning would follow that you would not find the writers of the epistles citing Deuteronomy’s concepts as divine authority.
        3. May I state clearly that I do not agree with that reasoning.
        4. For me, to dismiss any emphasis in the teachings of our own Lord and Savior with that kind of reasoning is a rejection of the word of the divine Son of God.
        5. I do not believe the eternal God abandons His word and its concepts.
      2. Allow me to read scriptures from Deuteronomy and then read scriptures from New Testament epistles.

    3. Examples of Deuteronomy’s statements and concepts found in New Testament epistles.
      1. Deuteronomy 4:6 So keep and do them [the commands], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’
        1. 2 Timothy 3:15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
      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. Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
      3. Deuteronomy 4:16,17 so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky
        1. Romans 1:18,23 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness . . . and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
      4. Deuteronomy 4:20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today.
        1. Titus 2:14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
        2. 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light
        3. Deuteronomy 7:6 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.
      5. Deuteronomy 5:33 You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.
        1. Ephesians 6:1-3 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
      6. Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
        1. Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
      7. Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!
        1. 1 Corinthians 8:4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.
        2. Ephesians 4:6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

  3. At times we get so caught up in the worship differences, the differences in forms of purity, and in ceremonial differences that we fail to see fundamental parallels.
    1. Many things never change in God’s people of faith who follow Him in any age.
      1. The basic qualities of godly character never change–God’s people always trust Him.
      2. The basic qualities of godly integrity never change–God’s people always are honest and trustworthy.
      3. The basic qualities of reverencing God never change–God’s people always humble themselves before Him.
      4. The basic quality of treating people properly never changes–God’s people always treat other people like they want to be treated.

    2. The eternal God has not changed, and He has not changed His will.
      1. He always wants the same kind of godly character and integrity in His people.
      2. What changed was the way people can come to God and belong to Him.
        1. Jesus Christ is the perfect means of coming to and belonging to God.
        2. Jesus does for us perfectly what all the Jewish ceremonies and rituals did imperfectly for Old Testament Israel.
      3. God has not changed.
      4. His eternal, living word has not changed.
      5. What changed is the way we can come to and relate to God.
        1. That changed because it no longer depended on imperfect human deeds.
        2. That changed because it now depends on the perfect Savior.

When you study from the Old Testament, study to learn and study to understand. It can strengthen your bond with Jesus Christ. It will make you wise as it brings you to salvation.

Behavior Modification or Conversion?

Posted by on under Sermons

If you had a child, or a husband, or a wife, or a father, or a mother who was addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or anything else that devastated life, which of these two things would you choose? Would you choose behavioral modification to immediately bring the person’s conduct under control? Or, would you choose for the person to change internally in ways that weakened or destroyed the addiction?

The stress of the immediate situation can be so great, so destructive, so devastating that we grasp for change. We desperately can hunger for the “quick fix” of behavioral modification. If we do that, we face a real problem. Behavioral modification does not address the internal demons that cause and sustain the addiction. If those demons are not addressed, the “quick fix” has a short life. As long as those demons are alive and well, the demons constantly threaten to break their chains and again consume your child, husband, wife, mom, or dad.

A lasting solution either severely damages or kills the demons that cause the addiction. But to damage or kill the demons, the person must address the problems that surrendered to the demons. When a real, lasting solution occurs, the person changes who he or she is.

  1. Perhaps the most devastating transition in Christianity came when behavioral modification was swapped for conversion.
    1. How do Christians swap behavioral modification for conversion?
      1. Behavioral modification is the foundation of “you must not do that!” preaching and “that is wrong!” teaching.
        1. I certainly do not suggest that we refuse to oppose evil or accept evil acts.
        2. I do suggest when we attempt to control human behavior without answering the question “why,” without helping a person understand God’s love, without helping a person understand Jesus Christ, we are not trying to convert the person.
      2. Conversion is a response of a man or woman who is willing to change his or her person.
        1. It is based on the conviction that Jesus has the power to change us.
        2. It is based on the realization of our need for forgiveness.
        3. It is based on our desire to be forgiven.
        4. It is based on our willingness to use God’s power to redirect life.
        5. The converted person understands what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        6. The converted person wants to be a different person who is alive in Christ.

  2. The most extensively documented conversion in the New Testament is the conversion of the Paul who arrested and imprisoned Christians to the Paul who served Jesus Christ.
    1. Paul’s conversion is one of the few events that is repeated several times in the New Testament.
      1. The book of Acts records the conversion events in Acts 9.
      2. Paul presented his account of his conversion in Acts 22:6-21 and 26:9-18.
      3. A number of times in the letters he wrote [which are preserved as books of the New Testament], Paul referred to the profound result of his conversion.
        1. Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
        2. 1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
        3. Ephesians 4:20-24 But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
        4. Colossians 3:9-11 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.

    2. Paul powerfully illustrates the distinction between behavioral modification and conversion.
      1. Consider Paul prior to conversion to Jesus Christ:
        1. He took charge of the robes of Stephen’s executioners and was in complete agreement with the execution (Acts 7:58; 8:1).
        2. He directed a house-to-house search for Christians in the city of Jerusalem, dragged them out of their homes, and imprisoned them (Acts 8:3).
        3. He did many things hostile to Jesus’ name, and he physically abused Jewish Christians found in synagogues in an attempt to make them blaspheme (Acts 26:9-11).
      2. Consider Paul immediately after conversion:
        1. Do you think that he would have held the clothes of those who executed a Christian? No.
        2. Do you think that he would have led a house-to-house search to arrest Christians? No.
        3. Do you think he would have been hostile to the name of Jesus? No.
        4. Do you think he would have physically abused Jewish Christians in synagogues? No.
        5. Do you think that he would arrest Christians in the Damascus synagogue and bring them to Jerusalem as prisoners? No.
      3. This is the critical, important question: why would the converted Paul not do such things?
        1. If your answer is behavioral modification, you need to understand Paul’s message.
          1. The “why” was not “God will get me if I do those things.”
          2. The “why” was not “I will go to hell if I do those things.”
          3. That is behavior modification.
        2. In Paul’s letters he frequently dealt with the “why” of his change.
          1. This was the “why”: “I am not the same man.”
          2. “When I understood who Jesus Christ was, it totally changed me as a person on the inside.
      4. One primary objective in many of Paul’s letters was to help Christians realize when a Christian understood Jesus Christ, it changed him or her on the inside.
        1. Understanding Jesus Christ changes the person.
        2. Does that change the person’s behavior? Absolutely!
        3. Why? Because he or she is not the same person. Outside actions change because the inside person changed.
      5. That is what happened to Paul.
        1. Conversion changed him inside.
        2. That is what becoming a new creature is all about: a new person comes into existence inside.
        3. Conversion is about much more than changing what I do; it is about changing who I am.
      6. Paul’s message was not “change religions.”
        1. “Jews, change religions.”
        2. “Idol worshippers, change religions.”
      7. Paul’s message was “know Jesus Christ and let him change who you are.”

  3. Let me clearly illustrate the difference in a very understandable way.
    1. Suppose you had one of these opportunities.
      1. I understand what I am saying is impossible, but pretend for a moment it is possible.
      2. You are guaranteed that God will never know.
      3. You are guaranteed not one single person will ever know what you did.
      4. You are guaranteed no consequences will occur.

    2. These are the opportunities:
      1. You can take $1,000,000 that does not belong to you, and no one would every know.
      2. You can spend four of the most romantic days you can imagine in a private place of your dreams with the best looking man or woman you can imagine (who is not a husband or wife).
      3. You can spend four days in total privacy and wonderful surroundings drinking the alcohol of your choice and taking the drugs of your choice.
      4. Would you do one of those things?
        1. If you would choose to do something evil if guaranteed you would never get caught or pay consequences, you do not understand conversion.
        2. If you would refuse to do something evil because that is not who you are in your love for God, you understand conversion.

    3. The foundation of Paul’s approach to people was not the basis of the need to change religions to escape eternal consequences; Paul asked people to change who they were because they understood Jesus Christ and the God who sent him.
      1. Paul knew that change.
      2. Paul understood that blessing.
      3. He knew and understood because that is precisely what happened to him.

  4. That is the essence of mission work anywhere in the world: Fort Smith, America, Southeast Asia, Africa, or eastern Europe.
    1. The message is not:
      1. If you are in dire poverty and horrible social conditions, become a Christian and all that will change.
      2. If you are in a communistic society and environment, become a Christian and all that will change.
      3. If you live in an area of severe unrest and disease, become a Christian and you will be physically protected.
      4. If you live in an area of starvation, become a Christian and you will never be hungry again.

    2. The message is:
      1. Jesus Christ can change the person you are on the inside.
      2. Your external realities will not determine who you are; God will determine who you are.
      3. And when God determines who you are, you live in hope, peace, and eternal love.

[Prayer: God, create in our hearts the hunger for conversion. Help us use Your power and Your Son to let You change who we are.]

The goal in the West-Ark congregation, the goal in Fort Smith, the goal all over the world is the same: let every person understand he or she has a choice about who he or she is. The love of God and forgiveness of Jesus Christ gives every person that choice.

Growing Toward Spiritual Maturity

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The most challenging, demanding growth is growth toward spiritual maturity. Why? (1) It demands we acknowledge and accept a real need to be more mature. (2) It demands we accept as fact the need to grow. (3) It demands we confess that changes founded on good reasons and godly purposes are good changes. (4) It demands we grow in faith in God and understanding of Jesus. (5) It challenges us to allow God to be maturity’s standard. (6) It challenges us to allow Jesus to be maturity’s example. (7) It challenges us to accept this truth: we always need to increase our spiritual maturity.

These challenges and demands are quite similar in the individual Christian’s life and in the life of the Christian community [church]. God’s promised life in Christ is experienced through our willingness to mature. That is true in an individual, in a family, in a child, in a parent, in Christian fellowship, and in the congregation’s life and work.

Among the things shared by the elders in Sunday’s “family meeting” was the formation of an administrative committee. The basic function of these deacons is to care for the congregation’s finances and facilities. Committee members are Dave Cogswell, Bob Davidson, Paul Shirley, Larry Todd, and Jay Trotter. Paul Shirley and Dave Cogswell were presented for your approval as deacons. Paul is a former elder, and Dave has long served as an active ministry leader. [The committee will select two additional deacons to assist them.]

The objective: free the elders to spend more time shepherding the congregation. They are spending more time in prayer for you, more time in visitation with you, and want to increase the time they spend in addressing your spiritual needs.

Elders in the New Testament were mature, spiritual men who addressed the needs of Christians in the local Christian community. This congregation wants to be a Christian community. Our elders want to lovingly care for us. Thank them, encourage them, and help them. May we devote ourselves to God’s dreams and purposes.

We also sincerely thank the men willing to work as our administrative committee for the wonderful service they will render to this congregation’s life and future.

Each of us as an individual and all of us collectively as a congregation need to mature. No one has reached a level of spiritual maturity that makes spiritual growth undesirable or unnecessary. Each of us need humbly to allow God to guide and strengthen our lives. Each of us need to encourage everyone by example to pursue Christ’s mind, God’s heart, and the diligence of God’s Spirit. Help us grow by growing!