The Power of Our Joy

Posted by on January 28, 2001 under Sermons

We do not know nearly what we need to know about joy. In our culture, we confuse joy with pretense, or lust, or greed, or selfishness, or indulgence. Joy is a vacation trip that lets me pretend I have escaped reality. Joy is an incredible high, regardless of how it produced. Joy is having what I want. Joy is no one bugging me. Joy is doing exactly what I want to do.

The New Testament places considerable emphasis on joy. My understanding of a fundamental New Testament message is this: joy is discovered and experienced in healthy relationships. Joy begins by entering a healthy relationship with God. That joy embraces a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. There are three natural products of this joy. The first natural product is sharing that joy by establishing and nurturing healthy relationships with other Christians. The second natural product is sharing that joy with your physical family. The third natural product is sharing that joy with those who do not know God and Christ.

If our relationship with God reflects a life of distress and depression, we misrepresent God’s family, we penalize our physical families, and we sabotage our outreach. Everyone has more than enough distress in life. Too few are sustained in this evil world by God’s joys. We must realize that joy attracts people to God and His people like an outdoor light on an early June evening attracts flying insects.

  1. Let me share some scriptures with you. Surely you are encouraged to read with me in your Bibles. Listen and think.
    1. The first scripture is very familiar to most of us; it describes the conduct of the first Jews who became Christians in Acts 2:44-47.
      And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
    2. The second has to do with the persecution of the Jerusalem Christians: Act 8:1-4.
      And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
      1. Can you imagine fleeing your home to escape imprisonment?
      2. Can you imagine sharing the message that made it necessary to flee?
      3. Did their joy in Christ have anything to do with that?

    3. The third scripture I want to share was a reaction to the existence of the first sizable non-Jewish congregation: Acts 11:22-24.
      1. The Jerusalem congregation, a Jewish congregation, had many questions about the congregation in Antioch, Christians who were not Jews.
      2. To answer their questions, they send Barnabas as their representative to evaluate this congregation.
        Acts 11:22-24 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

    4. The fourth scripture was a plea and an encouragement Paul wrote from prison to Christians in Philippi: Philippians 2:1-4.
      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.
    5. The fifth scripture gives us a incredible insight into the mind and thinking of those who endured persecution: Hebrews 10:32-36.
      1. These words were written to Christians [my understanding is to Jewish Christians] who endured persecution for years and were about to decide to deliberately abandon Jesus Christ.
      2. The writer challenged them to remember and not to leave Jesus Christ.
        Hebrews 10:32-36 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

    6. Now let me share with you the emphasis in several additional scriptures.
      1. Paul’s writing to the churches in the Roman province of Galatia declared in Galatians 5:22 that joy was a component of the fruit of the Spirit.
      2. In Acts 8:8 the result of Philip preaching about Christ and performing miracles in the city of Samaria was this: there was much rejoicing in that city.
      3. Acts 13:52, as a result of the teaching of Paul and Barnabas to non-Jewish Christians, these Christians were continually filled with joy.
      4. Acts 15:3 states that Paul and Barnabas reported on their mission work to non-Jewish Christians in Phonecia and Samaria, and those reports brought great joy to all the brethren.
      5. In the conclusion to his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul wrote this:
        Romans 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Let me share some observations.
    1. Observation one: Christians must know each other if they are to share their joy meaningfully.
      1. Knowing each other requires more than “going to church building worship assembly” experiences.
      2. We cannot really know each other if all we do together is come to worship assemblies.
      3. That is one thing the churches I knew fifty years did really well–they shared their lives, and they knew each other.

    2. Observation two: Christians must respect and trust each other if they are to meaningfully share their joy.
      1. We do not trust and respect each other because “we are supposed to.”
      2. We trust and respect each other because we know each other.
      3. The joy produced by that trust and respect comes from the fact that we know each other.

    3. Observation three: Christians must associate in relaxed times to be joyful in distressed times.
      1. You never get to know me if the only time you spend with me is when I am stressed, “uptight,” or “on guard,” and I never get to know you if the only time I spend with you is when you are stressed, “uptight,” or “on guard.”
      2. We get to know each other when we are relaxed and laughing.
      3. We share more about ourselves and “open more windows” into our lives when we are relaxed and laughing than we ever share in other circumstances.

    4. Observation four: if we are to discover and share our joy, we must spend some “down time” together.
      1. We need to laugh together as godly people laugh.
      2. We need to have godly fun together.
      3. We need to relax together.
      4. We need to know each other to be able to care about each other.
      5. That takes association.

This congregation works to create “being together” opportunities. I appreciate each one of those opportunities and all those who make those opportunities possible. May we accept two challenges. The first challenge is to increase such opportunities. The second challenge is to do all we can to encourage friendships.

It is in our friendship with God, Christ, and each other that we will find our greatest, enduring joy. And Christian joy has great power. It has the power of eternal relationships.

Jesus Lived Here

Posted by on under Sermons

Jesus said this in a prayer the night before he was killed.

John 17:1-5 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

Paul wrote these statements years later when he urged Christians in the city of Philippi to stop rejecting and opposing each other.

Philippians 2:5-11 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. For centuries Christians have struggled to grasp the fullest meaning and significance of the fact that Jesus “emptied himself” when he was born.
    1. Many suggestions have been proposed through the centuries.
      1. Some suggested the “emptying himself” was just the fact that a preexistent divine being left heaven and became the human Jesus.
      2. Some suggested the “emptying himself” declared man Jesus was divine, but not fully human; the emptying focused on the fact that he lived on earth.
      3. Some suggested the “emptying himself” declared Jesus was fully divine and fully human; the emptying declared Jesus lived in a human body.
      4. Some suggested the “emptying himself” meant Jesus surrendered his divinity to experience the total human experience and depend on trusting God.
      5. My conclusion: no person in this world, bound by this world can comprehend fully Jesus’ experience of “emptying himself.”
        1. Every person will comprehend in the fullest sense.
        2. That comprehension will occur the moment we pass from our world to God’s world, and it may be our first comprehension.

    2. In that which concerns Jesus, we know this about the emptying:
      1. Jesus’ incarnation (the divine one being born into this world as a flesh and blood human) was the first of God’s two greatest interventions in history.
        1. The other great act was God’s act of raising Jesus from the dead.
        2. God intervened in human history a number of times, but the incarnation and the resurrection are God’s two greatest interventions.
      2. Jesus willingly, by choice, made sacrifices in becoming human that no one in any age can fully comprehend.
        1. He did not cling to his divine form.
        2. He willingly become human.
      3. He became human to humble himself in human existence.
        1. The greatest act of humility on earth is unselfishly surrendering life.
        2. Jesus humbly surrendered life.
        3. He died the most disgraceful, disgusting, debasing death possible in his day: he was executed on a cross as a criminal.
        4. He died in complete unselfishness.

    3. In that which concerns us, this is what we know about the emptying:
      1. As Christians we are to learn and be controlled by the same attitude that led Jesus to first empty and then humble himself.
      2. The man or woman who commits to a godly life in Jesus Christ empties himself or herself and then humbles himself or herself after the emptying.
      3. Emptying self in devotion to God cannot be separated from self-sacrifice.

  2. We live in a complex culture in a complex age among complex people.
    1. We struggle to deal with the complexities.
      1. Often we are shocked and dismayed by the fact that everything is now so complex.
      2. For a long time, American Christians thought everything was simple.
      3. The American restoration movement that produced us as an American religious body was a rural religious movement in an agricultural society.
        1. For many years, we as Christians were convinced everything was simple.
        2. For farming families, life was simple.
        3. For farming families, the world was simple.
        4. For Christians who lived on farms, God was simple.
        5. For Christians who lived on farms, the church was simple.
        6. For Christians who lived on farms, the understandable, natural, logical conclusion was this: if it is from God, it is simple.
        7. For Christians who lived on farms, understanding the Bible and determining God’s will was simple.
        8. Among us, in spiritual matters, simplicity and faithfulness were inseparable.
      4. We are no longer an agricultural society, and our urban society produces a far more complex culture.
        1. Whether we want it or not, all of us now have a complex existence.
        2. The complexity surrounding us every day causes enormous struggle.
          1. Are any of you in a business that does not struggle with complexity?
          2. Are any of you in a profession that does not struggle with complexity?
          3. Are any of you in a corporation that does not struggle with complexity?
          4. Are any of you on a management team that does not struggle with complexity?
          5. Are any of you in any form of leadership that does not struggle with complexity?
          6. Are any of you in any involved relationship that does not struggle with complexity?
          7. Do any of you have a personal life that does not battle complexity every day?
      5. All this complexity stresses us as the church.
        1. In the past everything was simple, but today everything is complicated.
          1. In the past we thought, “If, as a Christian, I just do X, Y, and Z nothing bad can happen in my family.”
          2. In the past we thought, “If, as a Christian, if I just do A, B, and C, I can eliminate all the ‘undesirables’ from my children’s futures.”
          3. “If everybody knew what I knew, our society would not have problems.”
          4. “If everybody would accept my understanding and look at things the way I do, Christians would not have problems.”
          5. “If everybody would just think my thoughts in the sequence I think them, everyone would be like me, and that would be wonderful.”
          6. “If everybody would hear what I hear when I listen to God’s word, then all Christians would be just like me, and that would be wonderful.”
          7. “If everybody would see what I see when I read God’s word, then everyone would emphasize exactly the same things I stress, and that would be wonderful.”
          8. “Everything would become so simple, because I have the answers; I have it figured out; and I know God thinks just like I think.”
          9. And anyone can think and reason that way as long as we do not have to deal constructively with what is happening in anyone else’s life.

    2. But inevitably something happens in my family, in my work, in my experiences, or in my world and shouts, “Things are not simple; things are complicated.”
      1. “I did X, Y, and Z, and bad things happened in my family.”
      2. “I used A, B, and C to rear my children, and they were not protected.”
      3. “Some Christians do know what I know, and come to different conclusions.”
      4. “Some Christians do understand me, and still do not agree with my understanding.”
      5. “When they read the Bible, they do not hear what I hear or see what I see.”
      6. “The people I know and love do not have simple problems.”
      7. “The people I know and love do not have simple options.”
      8. “The people I know the best have complex relationships.”
      9. “And that does not even consider all those people that I neither know nor understand.”

    3. Honesty demands that we realize life is not simple for anyone.
      1. The only way that I can share Christ in the middle of all this complexity is to empty myself.
      2. But emptying myself is not enough.
      3. After I empty myself, I must unselfishly humble myself.

  3. I do not know how long the war between good and evil has existed, but for people it began on earth in the garden of Eden.
    1. In the arena of this earth, Satan made human life a battle ground and began a hot war against God by perverting everything God made.
      1. Satan, the prince of darkness and wickedness, perverted everything God made by seducing the people God created.
      2. This is much too complex for me to wrap my mind around, but for a reason God needed to neutralize the injustice of evil produced by human ungodliness by letting His son die for our sins.
        1. I understand Jesus’ blood was to atone for our sins.
        2. I understand Jesus’ death is the foundation of our redemption, the way God bought us back from evil.
        3. I understand that Jesus’ death was substituted for our eternal death.
        4. I understand the Bible teachings on the essential nature of the crucifixion.
        5. But I do not understand all the whys.

    2. The combination of Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated Satan, but the war is not over.
      1. The war will not end until Satan is cast into the abyss and imprisoned forever (Revelation 20:10).
      2. An enormous conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan has been raging since our first act of rebellion against God, and now the only arena in which Satan can show his hatred for God is on earth.
        1. Satan convinced God’s people to ask for Jesus’ execution.
        2. According to traditional sources, Satan killed eleven of the twelve apostles.
        3. Herod executed the apostle James by the sword (Acts 12:1,2).
        4. Stephen was executed by the Jewish court (Acts 7:60).
        5. Before conversion, Paul ravaged the church in Jerusalem, dragged Christians out of their homes, and put men and woman in prison (Acts 8:3).
        6. After he became a Christian, Paul was severely abused and finally executed (2 Corinthians 11:23-33).
        7. If you have studied much in the New Testament, you know in some places Christians were physically persecuted.
        8. Revelation declared that the persecution was so severe in Asia Minor that many Christians concluded that Christianity would become extinct.
      3. “What is your point?”
        1. My point: something much bigger than us, something eternal is ongoing in the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.
        2. The war between good and evil will not allow life to be simple.
        3. Nothing would please Satan more than to steal you from God and take you to hell with him.

Each summer I audit a graduate course at Harding Graduate School of Religion. “Why do you do that? You have the job!” I do it for three reasons. Reason one: it is an incredible opportunity to learn. Reason two: it refreshes my understanding of a truth. Only the person who empties self walks with God. Reason three: it is an humbling experience. It reminds me of how much there is to know, and how little I know.

Is God greater than Satan? Absolutely! Is Jesus Christ more powerful than evil? Absolutely! Does that eliminate suffering, injustice, and death in the world? No. God and Jesus’ greatness guarantees our eternal victory over Satan and evil. Why? Because the incarnate, resurrected Son of God guarantees our personal victory over death. The resurrected one will resurrect us. In the war against Satan’s kingdom, God makes good use of our lives and our deaths, if we trust Him and we let Him.

The Strength of Relationship

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

We, as a congregation, are in shock. The ice storm devastated the area. Most of us were victimized by that natural tragedy. Some were without power or water for days. For months we have witnessed so much physical tragedy and sickness. While each incident caused us to grieve, Jonette Shirley’s situation devastates us. Jonette is not yet 50. She bubbles with the joy of faith and life. Paul served us faithfully as an elder. He is open and friendly to all. To learn that multiple tumors are attacking her body exceeds comprehension.

Both incidents emphasize the importance and power of Christian relationships. In natural disasters, we need the closeness and strength that are natural expressions of godly friendships. In times of distress and trial, we need the loving support and comfort produced by godly friendships.

People who belong to Christ have something special to share. But we cannot share that “something special” if (a) we do not know each other, and (b) we do not experience joy in being with each other. A new need has evolved in this twenty-first century. The new need is to understand and form a caring, loving community.

Our older generations well remember when that need did not exist. Community and togetherness were the common state of existence. They know the meaning of closeness, caring, and receiving care. Those times are past realities. Today’s culture emphasizes the individual, demands overcommitment, and imposes a hectic lifestyle. Many do not understand how to be family. Few understand how to be community. “No time” exists to know people. Consequently, we live as strangers in our own neighborhoods and perhaps in our own families.

This year we will experience several “target occasions” to encourage biblical but varied objectives. The first occurs this Sunday afternoon and evening. The objective is simple: strengthening and nurturing Christian friendship. We want you to discover or advance the joy of being with fellow believers. Come enjoy longstanding friendships and build some new ones.

Liberating Faith: Obedience

Posted by on January 21, 2001 under Sermons

This evening I want to continue my encouragement to you to expand your biblical understandings that allow your faith to grow. We will examine some simple concepts many of us have held since childhood. In accepting these simple concepts, most of us did one of two things. (a) We developed the simple concept when we were children (during one of our most impressionable ages) and we hold those concepts as an adults as though they were the full, complete truth. (b) We accept those simple concepts as an adult to fortify or defend adult religious convictions. We often associate loyalty to those simple concepts as faithfulness to the truth.

This evening I want us to think from a specific perspective. Most, if not all, of us are committed to full faith in God. Most, if not all, of us are committed to the Bible as God’s word. Most, if not all, of us are fully convicted that an accurate understanding of God’s will must be the foundation of our lives. Most, if not all, of us declare that we should be committed to the “whole counsel of God” which means we should be committed to a full understanding of all that God said.

Let’s use some simple focus questions. What is obedience? May I anticipate our most common answer: obedience is doing what an authority figure tells you to do. If you do what God tells you to do, but have little or no understanding of what you do, are God’s purposes and the objectives of obedience fulfilled? If you do what God says but have no desire to understand, are God’s purposes and the objectives of obedience accomplished in your life?

Is proper, spiritual obedience simply a matter of doing what God said do? What is the relationship between trust and obedience? For a Christian, is biblical obedience authority based or love based? Do we obey because “all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), or do we obey because “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)? Is obedience just a matter of unquestioningly refusing to rebel against God (“don’t talk back to Me!”), or a matter of being motivated by deep affection for God?

Those questions do not have simple answers. Too often some of our basic problems arise from the fact that we assign them simple answers. Most of them cannot be fully answered with a yes or no, or with the “correct” multiple choice selection.

We frequently do God a grave injustice that misrepresents Him by making simple things that are not simple.

  1. Let me illustrate from the Bible with Israel (between the Exodus and the initial entrance into Canaan) that not even the concept of obedience is simple.
    1. After the Exodus from Egypt, God began revealing Israel’s law by verbally declaring the ten commandments from Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-20:21; Deuteronomy 5:1-23).
      1. God’s spoken declaration of the ten commandments included these statements:
        Exodus 20:8-10 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
      2. Look at the content:
        1. Each week you will observe the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, our Saturday, as a holy day.
        2. You can work Sunday through Friday, but you must not work on Saturday.
        3. Saturday belongs to God, and you give it to God by not working.
        4. Adults will not work, children will not work, servants will not work, livestock will not work, and any visitor staying with you will not work.
      3. Is that clear and understandable?
        1. Is that authoritative?
        2. Can that be obeyed?
        3. Yes, as long as you understand the correct definition of work.

    2. Numbers 15:32-36 is our first encounter with a Sabbath violation.
      1. An Israelite man is arrested for gathering sticks (firewood?) on the Sabbath.
      2. He clearly was in violation of the Sabbath law.
      3. They did not know the proper punishment for his violation of the Sabbath.
      4. Moses took the situation to God.
      5. God said execute the man for violating the Sabbath command, and he was.
      6. Is that clear and understandable?

  2. Now go with me to one of your first children’s Bible stories, the fall of Jericho.
    1. Joshua 6 records the capture of that first city in the promised land.
      1. Joshua 6:1-5 records God’s instructions.
        Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors. You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”
      2. Examine God’s instructions.
        1. In preparation for the attack, God said, “I have given you Jericho.”
        2. God’s instructions for each day, Sunday through Friday:
          1. The entire Israelite army would march around the city’s walls one time.
          2. Seven priests and the ark of the covenant would march with the army.
            1. The seven priests carried seven trumpets made from ram’s horns.
            2. They were to blow the trumpets during the march.
            3. Verse ten declared these first six circuits were to be in total silence except for the trumpets.
        3. God’s instructions for the Sabbath day, the seventh day.
          1. On the Sabbath day the army, the seven priests, and the ark marched around Jericho seven times.
          2. The first six trips were to be in silence except for the trumpets (verses 15,16).
          3. After a long trumpet blast, Joshua would order everyone to shout.
          4. The walls would fall and the army, in unison, would close the circle.
      3. Joshua 6:17-21 records additional instructions from Joshua.
        1. The solders could take nothing from the city for their own possession.
        2. Only Rahab and the people in her house were to be allowed to live.
        3. All other people (men, women, and children) were to be killed regardless of their age, and all the livestock was to be killed.
        4. All silver, gold, bronze, and iron were the Lord’s and were to be given to His treasury.

    2. Many of you are quite familiar with the details of the fall of Jericho.
      1. What is your personal, private understanding of the fact that Jericho was attacked and captured on the Sabbath day?
      2. Is God’s Sabbath law clear to you in Exodus 20?
      3. Is God’s command to capture Jericho on the Sabbath clear to you?
      4. Should Israel have said to God, “We cannot attack Jericho on the Sabbath because You said not to work on the Sabbath.”
      5. Was obeying God justification for disobeying God?

    3. I do not see a great divine contradiction.
      1. Jericho was the first city to be defeated as Israel entered the land God promised Abraham that He would give to Abraham’s descendants.
        1. God did not capriciously and arbitrarily decide to take some land away from good, innocent people and give it to Israel.
        2. The nations that lived in Canaan were extremely wicked.
          1. Because of their wickedness, Deuteronomy 7:1-5 gave Israel specific instructions about their destruction to prevent Israel being exposed to their wickedness.
          2. Deuteronomy 9:5 made it very clear that God did not give them Canaan because they were righteous with upright hearts, but (a) because of the wickedness of the nations in Canaan and (b) His promise to Abraham.
      2. God gave Israel the land.
        1. The first city that they conquered (which was a powerful symbol) was given to them by an act of God.
        2. God’s act gave them Jericho just as God’s act released them from Egypt.
        3. He did it on His holy day in His way and everything taken belonged to Him.
        4. Jericho falling on the Sabbath was a powerful message from the living God that Israel was totally dependent on God, and that was a wonderful situation for Israel filled with blessing.

    4. Obedience is a complex response of a person to God.
      1. It involves the interaction of four things: respect for God, love for God, repentance of evil, and trust in God.
      2. Only God can look at a person’s heart and see the interaction of those four things.
      3. Only God knows:
        1. The degree to which the person really respects Him.
        2. The degree to which the person really loves Him.
        3. The degree to which the person nurtures a penitent heart.
        4. The degree to which the person trusts him.
      4. We humans know only what we see, and appearances can be deceptive.
      5. God reacts to what He sees with mercy and grace.
        1. It is not our nature to make mercy and grace primary responses.
        2. It is certainly alien to us to use mercy and grace in the manner God does and to the extent God does.

  3. Obeying God is not a matter of memorizing the correct lists of dos and don’ts and then doing what you are supposed to do.
    1. Obeying God is a matter of building a personal relationship with God.
      1. If I asked, “How do you build a personal relationship with God?” what would be your answer?
      2. May I anticipate our most common answer: “Obey him.”
      3. I disagree. If a young bride asked you how to build a great relationship with her husband, would you say, “Do whatever he tells you to do”?
        Matthew 7:21-24 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.
        1. These people did acts (prophesy, cast out demons, miracles) that Jesus himself did.
        2. They obeyed in the name of Jesus, but they did not do the will of God.
        3. Doing God’s will involves more than dos and don’ts.
        4. “But Jesus stressed ‘hearing these words and acting on them.'”
          1. What words?
          2. In context, the words of the sermon on the mount.
          3. They included: respecting other people, not lusting, being a person who is trustworthy; being kind to those who hurt you; loving enemies; having the right motives; trusting God; not judging; treating other people like you want to be treated.
          4. Are those simple dos and don’ts?

The obedience of a Christian is based on his or her loving relationship with God. Obedience focuses on God’s will. God’s will is complex, not simple. That of necessity means that obedience is complex, not simple. When we are committed to doing God’s will, we will never justify ourselves by pitting one statement of God’s against another.

How Low Will Jesus Stoop?

Posted by on under Sermons

What was the greatest cost you personally ever paid to help someone? I am not asking what was monetarily the most expensive benevolent act you ever performed. I am asking what was to you the most costly thing you have done to reach out to someone. What was the most humiliating thing you ever did to help someone? What was the most unselfish thing you ever did to help someone? What is the most prolonged sacrifice you ever made to help someone?

Is it true that it is natural and common for you to pay great personal prices to help other people? Does that just describe the kind of person you are?

  1. I cannot imagine leaving an existence in heaven with God to assume a life as a human on this earth.
    1. In the realm the son of God left, there are no physical needs–it is not a physical world.
      1. My specific understanding is this:
        1. Where God lives, there is never hunger, thirst, discomfort, fear, weakness, weariness, sadness, pain, grief, or death.
        2. The only realm that has hunger, thirst, discomfort, weakness, weariness, sadness, pain, grief, or death is in an earthly existence.
      2. I thought long and hard about a way to create insights into Jesus’ sacrifices, to present those sacrifices in a way that penetrated comprehension instead of being “church building preacher talk.”
        1. Consider your “right now” lifestyle. Would you consider completely leaving your “right now” lifestyle, taking nothing with you but your knowledge and the clothes you were wearing, and becoming a peasant in a remote area of China, India, or Africa?
        2. If you did that:
          1. You would live without electricity.
          2. You would never own a car.
          3. Your housing would be primitive by any standard, without plumbing.
          4. You would do most of your traveling by foot.
          5. All your work would be physical work done by man power with primitive tools.
          6. Your only water source for cooking, washing clothes, or cleaning your body, would be a stream or a drainage ditch.
          7. No medical treatment and no medicines would be available to you.
          8. You never, ever would have any discretionary money to spend, and the money you would have would never be enough to feed you and your family.
          9. You would not average one day a month having enough to eat.
          10. You would have no privacy, no freedom, and no hope of changing anything.
          11. Your life expectancy would be forty years, and if you lived forty years you would be considered an old person.
          12. There would be no creature comforts.
            1. Each day’s basic issue would be physical survival.
            2. Every morning you would wake up with no assurance that you would live through the day.
          13. No aid or assistance programs of any kind would be available.
          14. You would not have a choice of jobs; you likely would not have a job.
          15. The only power you had would be your knowledge, and people feared your knowledge.

    2. Can you imagine making that choice–deliberately, consciously, with total awareness?
      1. You probably cannot.
      2. Would you seriously consider making that choice?
        1. For a week?
        2. For a month?
        3. For six months?
        4. For a year?
        5. For the rest of your life?
      3. If you made that choice, and the sacrifices you made were compared to Jesus’ sacrifices when he came to this earth, in that comparison, your sacrifices as that peasant would not cover the point on a pin when compared to Jesus’ sacrifices.

  2. I struggled as I looked for illustrations of how low Jesus stooped to help people. I did not struggle because there were none; I struggled because there were so many.
    1. I decided to use three men and three women.
      1. The three men:
        1. My first is Matthew; Jesus selected Matthew to be one of twelve people to fill an unusual, unique role on earth.
          1. Matthew collected taxes for the Roman government.
          2. That tax system was extremely corrupt.
            1. A wealthy man bought from the Roman government the right to collect taxes in a region of the Roman empire. Anything he collected above the government’s assessment was his profit.
            2. The people he hired to do the collecting made their profit from the amount they collected above his assessment.
          3. Tax collectors commonly abused their position to make money. Everyone regarded tax collectors to be thieves. Israelites who worked as Roman tax collectors additionally were considered to be traitors to the nation of Israel.
          4. The apostle Matthew worked as a tax collector before Jesus invited him to be his disciple.
        2. My second man is the leper mentioned in Matthew 8:1-4.
          1. Have you personally seen a person with leprosy? Many with leprosy are grotesquely deformed because the nerves of infected areas die, and they cannot feel in that area.
          2. If you cannot feel, you are not aware when injuries occur. Neglected injuries produce the deformities.
          3. Israel had strict laws regarding leprosy:
            1. Those with leprosy could not be among the general population.
            2. You could not touch anything a leper touched.
            3. A leper had to warn anyone approaching them not to come closer.
          4. This leper came to Jesus, bowed before him, and said, “You can cleanse me if you want to.”
          5. And Jesus touched him…and Jesus said, “I’m willing”…and Jesus immediately destroyed the man’s leprosy.
          6. Wonder how long it had been since someone without leprosy had touched him?
        3. The third man is one of the two thieves who died beside Jesus at the crucifixion.
          1. Matthew 27:44 indicates that at some point in the crucifixion both thieves dying beside Jesus insulted him.
          2. Luke 23:39-43 gives some detail of what happened.
            1. At some point in the agony and pain of crucifixion, one thief said, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
            2. At that point, the other thief rebuked this man, asked him did he not fear God, and acknowledged that they deserved their execution, but Jesus had done nothing wrong.
            3. Then he made an incredible request of Jesus that reflected an understanding that few Jews had: “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” Do you have any understanding of why that request was so unusual?
            4. Jesus promised him that he would be with Jesus in Paradise that very day.
            5. Can you imagine Jesus making that promise to a thief who was being executed for his crimes?
      2. The three women:
        1. My first woman had hemorrhaged for twelve years (Luke 8:43-48).
          1. Jewish law said a person like her was “unclean” and should not be in physical contact with anyone (Leviticus 15:19-30).
          2. Though she was a woman and though she was forbidden to have physical contact with people, she knew if she fought through the crowd and touched Jesus’ clothing, her hemorrhage would stop.
          3. She did, and Jesus felt power leave him.
          4. In the middle of a “pushing, shoving” crowd, he asked, “Who touched me?” and she was terrified.
          5. In terror, she explained why she touched him, and Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
        2. My second woman is the immoral woman in Luke 7:36-50.
          1. Jesus was invited for a meal in a Pharisee’s home.
          2. This immoral woman, likely a prostitute, came uninvited into the house to the place the meal was served and touched Jesus.
          3. Everything she did was strictly forbidden: she touched Jesus, washed [with her tears] his feet, anointed his feet, kissed his feet; let her hair down to dry his feet.
          4. The Pharisee said, “If Jesus knew who she was and what she did, he would not allow her to touch him.”
          5. Jesus knew what he was thinking, and proved to him that he knew exactly who and what she was, and that what she did was superior to what the Pharisee did.
          6. Jesus told this immoral woman, “Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
        3. My third woman is the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4.
          1. Jesus was alone with this woman when the conversation occurred.
          2. He did several things that simply were not done, were not proper.
            1. He initiated a conversation; Jewish men were not to have conversations with Samaritan women, and men were not to speak publicly to women.
            2. Jesus asked her for a drink, and his request astounded her; she responded by asking what was happening.
          3. Jesus offered her living water that produced eternal life.
          4. Before that conversation, before he offered her living water, Jesus knew she was five times divorced and was living with a man to whom she was not married.
          5. Incredibly, she did something that perhaps only the apostle Peter did–she recognized Jesus as the Christ.

    2. If you consider Jesus’ interaction with those six people, how low does Jesus stoop?
      1. May we allow Jesus to answer our question? Consider Matthew 9:10-13.
        1. The Pharisees said Jesus associated with people God obviously condemned, and he went way too far in stooping to help people.
        2. He absolutely should not reach out to tax collectors and sinners.
        3. Their condemnation of Jesus was very judgmental and very critical.
      2. Jesus gave three statements in answer.
        1. The people who need a doctor are the sick people.
        2. The Pharisees needed to understand the prophet Hosea’s point when he said to the Israelites God considered compassion to be more important than worship (Hosea 6:6).
        3. Jesus’ mission was to call sinners.

    3. Jesus’ answer reminds me of Paul’s statement.
      1 Timothy 1:15,16 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.
      1. Before he was a Christian, Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an aggressively violent man (1 Timothy 1:13).
      2. Jesus stooped, forgave this enemy, and made him the greatest cross cultural missionary this world has ever known.

I want to ask a question and make an observation. My question: is this what the community of Christians at West-Ark is all about? Is our commitment the same as Jesus’ commitment? What opportunity exists here for thieves, men and women who are social outcasts, and prostitutes who turn to Jesus?

My observation: no matter where you are or what is happening in your life, Jesus can help you.


Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

When the freed Israelite slaves stood on the eastern shore of the Red Sea, they celebrated (Exodus 15:1-21). Egypt and its army was behind them, beyond the western shore. Through incredible, unimaginable blessings, God released these captives from their captors. Slavery was behind them, and a new destiny in their promised country was ahead of them. They had reason to celebrate!

When the first Christians understood the new forgiveness, they celebrated (Acts 2:41-47). Guilt for Jesus’ crucifixion was on the other side of baptism. Through incredible, unimaginable blessings, God released these captives from evil. With joy they embraced God’s liberation. Their former slavery to sin was behind them, and a new destiny in Christ was ahead of them. They had reason to be filled with joy!

God’s community of Christians at West-Ark has special reason to celebrate. In February, this congregation becomes twenty years old. Our twenty year journey has traveled through trials, dark moments, and incredible blessings. If God had withheld His gracious, patient help, Satan could have used some of those trials and dark moments to destroy us. But our patient, merciful God is greater than Satan. When we looked to Him in faith, He blessed us. Our reasons for joy and celebration are incredible!

February 11 is our “20th Anniversary Celebration Sunday.” Over twenty years ago, the decision was made to merge Windsor Drive and College Terrace. New facilities were constructed on the site that is now West-Ark [formerly College Terrace]. During construction, the merged congregations met in the Windsor Drive facilities.

Jack Harriman was the minister of the College Terrace congregation prior to the merger. He continued as West-Ark’s first minister. Jack will speak in our a.m. worship assembly February 11. Dub Chism [a former minister of West-Ark] was also invited, but his health does not permit him to travel.

Roy Dunavin was a minister of evangelism in the College Terrace congregation. He continued in that role in the West-Ark congregation. Roy and Joyce have been a part of this congregation since its first day of existence. Brad Pistole grew up in the West-Ark congregation. He also attended Metro Christian School that was housed in these facilities when West-Ark began. Earl Flood was the Administrator of Metro, and several current members worked as teachers in Metro. Myra Flippo served as secretary for College Terrace. She began her work as West-Ark’s secretary shortly after the merger.

February 11’s schedule: 9:30 a.m. –a combined teen/adult auditorium assembly. Roy Dunavin, Brad Pistole, Ted Edwards, and David Chadwell will each share thoughts. 10:30 a.m. –worship, Jack Harriman will be the speaker. Noon –we will share a fellowship meal and visit. 1:30 p.m. –Will Ed Warren will speak in an early afternoon assembly. Will Ed brought special blessings to this congregation during two extended periods of transition.

On February 11 this community of Christians gratefully acknowledges its past blessings and joyfully looks to its future. Do you know someone who would like to enjoy the day? Invite them!

Liberating Faith: God’s Grace

Posted by on January 14, 2001 under Sermons

I love to teach people how to find life and hope in Jesus. This is my understanding of God’s purpose in liberating people through forgiveness: the discovery of life and hope in Jesus Christ. That is my understanding of God’s work and business in the New Testament.

I love to help struggling people. My understanding of the foundation responsibility of spiritual leadership: people building. What is the primary focus of people building? Relationships.

This is my understanding. (1) The better people understand God, the better people will understand God’s purpose for life. (3) The better people understand God’s purpose for life, the better their attitudes, priorities, hearts, and values become. (3) Better attitudes, priorities, hearts, and values enable people to love like God loves. (4) That love teaches them how to produce and nurture godly relationships.

I am confident I can assure you of two things after death. Each of us will die, each of us will have a conversation with God, and each of us will explain to God why we used life as we did. When that happens, I am confident one thing will not happen and another thing will happen. (1) God will not measure your life by using prevailing Church of Christ positions. None of your explanations will begin with this phrase: “I did this because the Church of Christ said…” (2) God will measure your life by your understanding of His work in Jesus Christ. Your responses will be based on your understanding of Jesus.

I want to devote the next few Sunday evenings to encouraging and challenging us to let our faith in God make some major growth steps. This evening I want us to examine God’s grace by considering some of the early Genesis stories.

  1. May I begin by asking a simple question: “What do you think about grace?”
    1. I would be shocked if one person present did not have some form of reaction to grace.
      1. Some Christians genuinely do not like the concept of grace.
        1. When Paul did mission work among people who were not Jews, many Jews (both Christians and those who were not) deeply resented teachings about God’s grace.
        2. There still exist Christians who resent the concept of grace; I heard a mature member of the church declare, “I wish the church had never heard anything about grace.”
        3. Christians who resent grace commonly consider grace and obedience as natural enemies.
      2. Some Christians think grace is God’s only expression of love.
        1. To them, the existence of grace gives us the right to be irresponsible.
        2. To them, God’s grace is such a dominant reality that nothing else matters.
      3. Most Christians experience struggle as they try to understand God’s balance between God’s grace and our personal responsibility.
        1. Very few Christians locate that balance at identical places.
        2. We struggle to trust the interaction of God’s goodness with our sense of responsibility.
        3. Any honest Christian acknowledges God’s grace is not a simple concept.
      4. God’s grace is something that is to be more accepted than understood.
        1. We need to leave God’s decisions in God’s hands.
        2. We need to be very careful about limiting God.

  2. In your understanding, what basic lessons should be learned from Adam and Eve’s garden of Eden experience, Cain’s murder of Abel, and the situation when Noah built the ark?
    1. Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden:
      1. God created Adam and Eve to be husband and wife as they shared a unique form of companionship.
      2. God placed them in a special garden home that perfectly provided for every physical need.
      3. They were instructed not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they plainly understood if they ate they would die.
      4. Evil deceived them.
      5. The consequence of disobedience was the loss of their garden home, the loss of ideal relationships, and specific consequences to each individually.

    2. The Cain and Abel conflict:
      1. Both offered sacrifices to God.
      2. God was honored by Abel’s sacrifice, but not by Cain’s sacrifice.
      3. Cain was a very self-centered, vain, selfish, angry man.
      4. He vented the anger he felt for God by killing his brother.
      5. After Abel’s death, God interacted verbally with Cain in one of the most unusual, fascinating interactions recorded between God and a human.

    3. Noah’s pre-flood world:
      1. Humanity degenerated into such complete evil that God regretted making people.
      2. Only one person was receptive to God–Noah.
      3. With an incredible level of trust, Noah began to build an enormous boat to prepare for an event that had never occurred in history.

    4. In those three stories, what are the obvious, simple lessons to be learned?
      1. Adam and Eve:
        1. How long did they live in the garden before they sinned?
        2. Were children born prior to their sin?
        3. How do you explain all the flesh eating animals that did not eat flesh?
        4. Were dinosaurs living then?
        5. Were Adam and Eve physically like us? Did they have belly buttons?
        6. What fruit did they eat when they disobeyed God?
        7. Did God lie? They did not die.
        8. Are those the obvious, simple questions we should ask to learn the obvious, simple lessons?
      2. Cain and Abel:
        1. Did Cain know what kind of sacrifice he was supposed to offer?
        2. Did he deliberately offer the wrong sacrifice?
        3. Did Cain knowingly disobey God?
        4. What was the mark God placed on Cain?
        5. Are those the simple, obvious questions we should ask to learn the simple, obvious lessons?
      3. Noah:
        1. Had Noah ever seen rain before?
        2. Was Noah a super godly man in a totally evil world?
        3. What was gopher wood? Would the boat sink if Noah used some other kind of wood?
        4. Where did the flood occur? Did all people at that time live in that area?
        5. Did the flood cover the surface of the earth in that region killing all people, or did the flood cover the entire world?
        6. Are those the simple, obvious questions that reveal the obvious, simple lessons we should learn?

  3. “David, what do you see as obvious, simple lessons that are basic to our faith in God?”
    1. I see three obvious, simple lessons that are fundamental to a correct view of God.
      1. Simple, obvious lesson # 1: the destructiveness of evil.
        1. Evil is the most destructive force in human existence.
        2. Nothing a human will ever encounter is as destructive as the power of evil.
        3. With Adam and Eve:
          1. Evil perverted God’s entire creation.
          2. It destroyed the ability of anything to serve its intended purpose or to be truly good.
          3. It destroyed human relationship with God as He designed it.
          4. It destroyed human relationship between man and woman as God designed and intended it.
        4. With Cain and Abel the power of evil escalated its destructiveness.
          1. It destroyed a human life.
          2. It produced a human being who was totally selfish (to the point of murder) and who desired absolutely no association with God.
        5. In Noah’s pre-flood day, the power of evil controlled the minds of people.
          1. They had no good motives.
          2. They had no good intentions.
          3. They made the world intolerable to God.
      2. Simple, obvious lesson # 2: every person is accountable for his or her thoughts, decisions, and actions.
        1. Eve was.
        2. Adam was.
        3. Cain was.
        4. The people of Noah’s day were.
        5. Noah was.
      3. Simple, obvious lesson # 3: God is a God of grace.
        1. While Adam and Eve endured incredible consequences for their thoughts, decisions, and actions, God’s grace permitted them to live.
        2. While Cain endured incredible consequences for his thoughts, decisions, and actions, God’s grace protected Cain from a death at the hands of other people.
        3. While the people of Noah’s day endured incredible consequences for their thoughts, decisions, and actions, God’s grace did not eradicate humanity.

    2. Those three simple, obvious lessons are the foundation of the fundamental struggle humanity has today.
      1. We are not afraid of evil because we do not regard every in any form or expression to be destructive.
        1. The knowledge of good and evil destroyed God’s creation.
        2. Jealousy and selfishness destroyed a human life.
        3. Corrupt motives and ungodly intentions destroyed the world.
      2. We do not believe that we individually are accountable for our thoughts, decisions, and actions.
        1. We are convinced that we will find a way to blame someone else or to “slide it by.”
        2. We are convinced that other people’s failures will make our failures trivial, explainable, and unimportant.
      3. We do not trust God to be a God of grace.
        1. We understand there are limits to human goodness and kindness.
        2. We conclude that God’s goodness cannot surpass human goodness.
        3. We tend to reject a goodness that we do not understand.

My conclusion is very simple. The person who does not understand (a) the destructiveness of evil, (b) the accountability of the person, and (c) God’s grace will fail to do one of two things. He or she will not come to God because he or she feels no need for God. Or, he or she will not trust God.

If we do not understand those three lessons, faith will not be liberated.

How Low Will God Stoop?

Posted by on under Sermons

We are capable of incredibly compassionate acts. This congregation tends to be a compassionate people. It is easy to touch our hearts. We are quickly moved by tragedy and injustice. To many of you, suffering is a magnet–you are drawn to help those who suffer.

We are moved to help struggling people if those people do not expect us to stoop. BUT … there is one thing that can quickly “turn off” our sense of compassion: expect us to stoop. We do not like to stoop. Demand we stoop, and we are turned off. We are called to help, not to stoop.

What does that mean? What is stooping? In this use of the word, stooping implies a downward reach to assist someone unworthy of our effort. To stoop is to do something that is beneath us. It is an act that lies below our dignity. We naturally associate stooping with being debased or degraded.

“I am glad to be of help, but never ask me to stoop.”

The more important we consider self, the harder we find it to stoop.

  1. There are people we will not stoop to help.
    1. Examples exist everywhere.
      1. People controlled by their prejudices will not stoop to help the objects of their prejudice.
        1. Such prejudice is and has been the foundation of wars from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. Hate will not stoop.
        2. Such prejudice is and has been the foundation of tribalism on continents such as Africa for centuries. One tribe refuses to stoop to help people they classify as inferior in another tribe.
        3. Such prejudice is and has been the foundation of racial prejudice in this nation. People of one complexion and facial contour will not stoop to help a person of a rejected complexion and facial contour.
        4. Such prejudice is and has been the basis of attitudes of sexism world wide. Too many men see too many women as inferior objects, and too many women look at men in the same manner.
        5. Such prejudice is and has been the foundation of economic snobbery in all cultures. “My economic status makes me important and gives me significance over you because you are economically inferior.”
      2. Everyone refuses to stoop to help someone.

    2. All of us are guilty.
      1. What kind of person would you regard to be so far beneath you that you would not help them?
      2. Let’s look at some typical situations.
        1. Typically we will not stoop to help anyone who causes us to suffer. “If you want my help, don’t cause me any pain.”
        2. Typically we will not stoop to help anyone who seriously disappoints us. “If I am ashamed of you and what you do, do not expect me to help you.”
        3. Typically we will not stoop to help anyone who made us a victim of serious injustice. “If you hurt me without cause and were mean to me, do not expect me to help you.”
        4. Typically we will not stoop to help anyone who used humiliation to embarrass or devastate us. “If you caused me public embarrassment and ridicule, do not look to me for help.”
        5. Typically we will not stoop to help anyone who disgusts us. We all know a kind of people with a kind of problem whom we feel are too disgusting to help.

  2. Because of attitudes about stooping, we have redesigned the church.
    1. “No, we have not!”
      1. Yes, we have.
      2. “No we have not! The deliberate, conscious commitment of the Church of Christ for two hundred years has been to restore the church of the first century in the world of today!”

    2. What are we trying to restore?
      1. James 2:1-4 Brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
        1. Is that an important focus in our restoration efforts?
      2. Romans 14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
        1. Is that an important focus in our restoration efforts?
      3. 1 John 3:10-18 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
        1. Is that an important focus in our restoration efforts?

    3. “Get back to the point! You said we redesign the church. That is ridiculous!”
      1. May I explain what I mean by that statement?
      2. Too often “our” issue before “our” church is staunchly cemented to “our” conviction that the church does not stoop to help people.
        1. Our basic conviction: the church is to hold people accountable for evil, not to stoop to help people who do evil.
        2. Our issue is about us.
        3. Our question is, “Who will we stoop to help?”
        4. If we decide God’s will in Christ is that we not stoop, then we will not stoop.
      3. We devise all kinds of questions to eliminate stooping.
        1. Is it wise to stoop?
        2. What will the precedent of stooping cause?
        3. Where will stooping lead the church?
        4. If we have to stoop to reach a person, can God use that person?
        5. If you have to stoop to help a person, how could that person possible help get God’s work done?
        6. Is it good stewardship to stoop?
        7. Our conclusion: stooping is against the will and purposes of God.
      4. But we ask the wrong questions.
        1. The question is not, “What do we think about stooping?”
        2. The question is, “Does God stoop?”

  3. If you and I are genuinely Christians, then we belong to the God who stoops.
    1. God started stooping when Adam and Eve sinned, and He never stopped.
      1. When the world became so evil that no one thought a single decent thought or had a single good motive, God stooped, and began again by saving Noah and his family.
      2. When God called Abraham to follow Him, He stooped.
      3. When He made a promise to Jacob as this thief fled from Esau, God stooped.
      4. When Joseph became a slave in Egypt, God stooped.
      5. When He delivered the Israelite slaves from Egypt, God stooped–a lot!.
      6. When those freed slaves built a golden calf gave that idol credit for delivering them from Egypt, God stooped.
      7. God stooped continually in the age of Israel known as the judges.
      8. He stooped when David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba.
      9. He stooped when Nehemiah cried to him in Babylonian captivity.
      10. He stooped very low when Jesus was born.
      11. He stooped even lower when Jesus was crucified.
      12. He stooped all the way to the world of the dead when Jesus was resurrected.
      13. He stoops His lowest a sinful person is resurrected from burial in baptism to begin a new life.
      14. He stoops every single day as He forgives every single Christian.

    2. Do you really question that God stoops? Listen.
      1. Romans 5:7-11 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
      2. Ephesians 2:1-7 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

During Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, he repeatedly emphasized a truth the religious leaders of Israel did not like. The truth was simple. People who refuse to stoop to help sinful people cannot belong to the God who saves sinners.

Whom did we say we typically refuse to stoop to help? We typically refuse to help those who are the source of suffering, disappointment, injustice, humiliation, or disgust.

Have you ever caused God suffering, disappointment, injustice, humiliation, or disgust? Are you not glad that God is not to arrogant to stoop to help you?

“How far will God stoop to help a person?” If that person trust what God did in Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection, if that person wants to direct his life away from evil, God will stoop as low as necessary to catch the hand of faith.

No matter where you are in your life, God can reach you…and wants to.

Can God Love Someone Really Different?

Posted by on January 7, 2001 under Sermons

Paul’s evangelistic outreach policy: your first Christian responsibility is to understand the radically different people with whom you seek to share Christ.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

Observation: Paul did not expect the peoples of a diverse world or groups of diversity within society to first make the necessary adjustments that allowed them to understand him and his message of a strange Savior who was executed to bring salvation. Paul accepted full responsibility to understand them first before he expected them to listen to him seriously

Paul’s personal Christian behavior policy when he succeeded in encouraging people of radically different backgrounds to accept Christ: the godly conscience of the new convert is the most important consideration. Theological correctness does not take precedent over a conscientious heart response of faith. Faith moves toward facts; facts should never destroy faith. The work of God is found in the heart of faith, not theological facts.

Romans 14:20-23 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

The Jerusalem congregation’s policy for checking out Christians who were converted from a radically different background: send a man who will not react to the differences and will encourage the people. Christians do not approach those newly converted to Christ to be reactionary, critical, or condescending. Christians approach those newly converted to Christ to encourage them and to behold God’s grace at work.

Acts 11:22-24 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

Observation: most Christians and most congregations today need a major realignment of their evangelistic concepts. As we use our twenty-first century scales of evangelistic evaluation, reaction and criticism are seen as important spiritual priorities. Encouragement and witnessing the grace of God at work are seen as low priorities.

  1. I want to take you some mission trips this evening.
    1. Rules for our trips:
      1. First, we are going only to other countries.
      2. The congregations we visit must meet the following criteria.
        1. They do not have an American missionary working for them.
        2. The worship is conducted in every aspect by their own people: the singing, the preaching, the praying, the communion, and the classes.
        3. In their respect for your visit, they have an interpreter so you can understand.
      3. We make only one trip to one country every six months; we do not visit one country after another on one long visit.

    2. Let’s travel.
      1. First, we visit China.
        1. Because any congregation of believers whose practices and assemblies are not approved by the state is illegal, you must meet with this congregation in secret.
        2. They do not do anything the way we would do it; your religious experience among these Christians is different to any experience you ever had.
        3. Their songs are different, they style of praying is different; the ways they express reverence are different, their lessons and emphasis are different, but their reverence and spirituality astound you.
        4. Are you impressed? Yes.
          1. At home you share your impressions with your class and congregation.
          2. You have a lot of compliments and few criticisms.
        5. Do you unquestioningly believe that God can relate to and accept those people? Yes.
      2. Six months later we visit Russia.
        1. A few years ago all religion was repressed in Russia.
        2. These Christians have virtually no religious background and have had Bibles only a few years; a few years ago they lived in a totally atheistic society.
        3. They do nothing as we would do it; again, the experience is completely different.
        4. The songs are different, the prayers are different, communion is done differently, reverence is expressed differently, their lessons have different emphases, and, again, you are moved by their reverence and spirituality.
        5. Are you impressed? Yes.
          1. At home you share your impressions with your class and congregation.
          2. You have a lot of compliments and few criticisms of those Christians.
        6. Do you unquestionably believe that God can relate to and accept those people? Yes.
      3. Six months later we visit rural congregations in a poverty stricken region of Africa.
        1. These people have so little, exist in such poverty, you literally cannot imagine how they survive.
          1. Half their children die before they are five years old.
          2. All of them have malaria and parasites.
          3. They are clean; they are just incredibly poor as they live among horrible diseases. They have no power to change their physical circumstances.
        2. Few have any education, and very few read.
        3. They do nothing as we do it, and, still again, you have never experienced a worship like this.
        4. The singing is rhythmic with hands clapping, the prayers are to papa God, there is a sermon to explain communion, with great effort they found horrible wine and cheap crackers, they are so poor they serve the wine in one cup (a matter of poverty, not theology), the preaching lasts over an hour as everyone sits in the heat on hard boards fighting insects as chickens and goats run through, and the worship ends with questions and answers. Just the worship took four hours, and today was short.
        5. When we come home you report to your class and congregation, share lots of encouraging compliments and few criticisms of the people.
        6. Do you unquestioningly believe that God can relate to and accept those people? Yes.
      4. Six months later we visit Central America.
        1. The religious background of these people is a combination of superstition and Roman Catholic perspectives.
        2. They view the world and life differently than anyone you ever met.
        3. They do nothing as we do it, and, still again, you have never worshipped like this before–any after three other visits, you did not believe that was possible.
        4. You are amazed that yet again the singing, praying, communion, and lessons are different.
        5. When you come home you report to your class and friends, and share a lot of encouraging comments and few criticisms of those people.
        6. Do you unquestioningly believe that God can relate to and accept those people? Yes.

  2. After two years of travel, we now do something different.
    1. We make a careful, well prepared, planned effort to reach out to certain out to segments of the Fort Smith community.
      1. We have outreach to the truly poor, and help some turn to Christ. And we do have a group of truly poor people in this community who are powerless to change their physical circumstances.
      2. We have an outreach to the truly nonreligious who have no religious background, and help some turn to Christ. These are adults who actually have no religious experience in life–Mom and Dad were not religious, never worshipped, and they have never read a Bible.
      3. We have an outreach to those who have not worshipped anywhere in years, and we help some turn to Christ. When they were children, they had some religious exposure, but little since they were teens.
      4. We have an outreach to those who have very unusual religious views, and we help some turn to Christ. These are people who are powerfully moved internally to rely on Christ, but who do not share our views and priorities.
      5. All four groups of these people are very different to us. We as a congregation have very little in common with them. Yet, we are successful in attracting some from each group to Christ and fellowship in this congregation.

    2. Question: what do we believe about these new converts?
      1. Do we unquestioningly believe that God can relate to and accept these new converts?
      2. Will we be more likely criticize or personally encourage these people?
      3. Do we expect them to come “hang around” until they become exactly like us and convince us that they “are serious?” Do we expect them not to be involved until they are exactly like us?

    3. If they stay with us six months, this is what must happen.
      1. They must quickly make some friends who are real friends. If they don’t (just like you), they will be gone.
      2. They must conclude within themselves that they can “fit in” in this congregation and will know that they “belong” as a part of this family.
      3. They first six months they will constantly ask themselves, “Does this group need me?”

    4. If they stay longer than six months, this is what must happen.
      1. Their new friends must become a more meaningful influence in their lives than their old friends. We must create that real opportunity.
      2. They came to Christ in the expectation that real internal needs in their lives would be meet in a new relationship with Christ and his people. Are those needs being met?
      3. He or she will constantly ask the question, “Is what I have to give this congregation valued by the congregation?”

Question: why is it that radically different people who are Christians in other countries are praised and touch our hearts, and radically different people who become Christians in our community make us very nervous?

Do I really believe that someone must be just like me and do things just like I want them done before God can love them, forgive them, and accept them?

We Get Used To the Smell

Posted by on under Sermons

Smells are among the most powerful forces in human experience. Smells are so powerful they can instantly change one of life’s best moments into one of life’s worst moments. Or, they can change one of life’s worst moments into one of life’s cherished moments.

Consider two illustrations. Illustration one: your whole life your dream vacation has been a leisurely visit to a tropical paradise. After planning and saving for years, you arrive in the place of your dreams filled with anticipation. Flowers are blooming. The sky is deep blue. The sun is brilliant. The sights and sounds are mystical. The breeze is gentle, warm, relaxing. The ocean has a hypnotic color and clarity you have never seen. The whole experience is so wonderful you feel like you are in another world. Every sensory experience exceeds every expectation.

But the first night there, the whole town experiences the worst sewage catastrophe possible. Sewage in a tropical climate is stifling! That night the overwhelming smell of sewage penetrates your room. The next day when you go to eat, the smell of sewage is everywhere. You step outside, the smell of sewage “knocks you down.” No matter where you are or what you do, the smell of sewage is everywhere.

How long will you stay? Will you ever forget that odor? Can you ever disassociate that odor from that place? Does the odor destroy your dream?

Illustration two: inescapable necessity forces you to make a trip you literally hate to take. Everything goes wrong. You are stuck in a strange, dreary airport for six hours while a flight is delayed. When that flight finally leaves, it flies through horrible weather. Your rental car breaks down on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere ten miles from a house. You decide to walk for help. A mile from the car a sudden, intense rain storm soaks you with cold rain. You decide to go back to the car. When you turn around, you see a truck speeding away from the car. Someone broke a window and took everything.

The rain finally stops, and you walk for help. You are angrier and more disgusted than you ever remember being. Miles from the car, you approach a house and smell the most wonderful food aromas you ever smelled. The people invite you in and feed you. The food tastes as wonderful as it smelled.

Will you ever forget that aroma? Will you always remember how wonderful the food was? Will that aroma always be of one of life’s wonderful moments?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?

  1. Smells played a very critical role in Old Testament acts of worship before the nation of Israel existed and after the nation of Israel existed.
    1. Before Israel existed, God “smelled” the smoke of animal sacrifices as an “odor of sweet smell.”
      1. For example, one the first things Noah did when he left the ark was to offer many animal sacrifices to God (Genesis 8:20,21).
      2. The smoke and aroma of those burning sacrifices was “smelled” by God as a “soothing aroma.”
      3. After Israel existed, incense played a key, important role in Jewish worship.
      1. There was an altar of incense used to burn incense in the tabernacle and later the temple (Exodus 30).
      2. On the second most important day of worship each year (the day of atonement), if the most holy place was not filled with the smoke and aroma of incense before the high priest entered, he died (Leviticus 16:13).
      3. Some “smell” had to mask the stench of sin when God’s people approached Him.
    2. Throughout the entire Old Testament, smells and aromas were an extremely important part of worship.
      1. To honor God, you had to approach Him with sweet, soothing aromas.
      2. Only the right aroma could remove the stench of evil in sinful people.
      3. It has always been true that the natural stench of evil is the smell of death.

  2. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, those who trust Christ are the soothing, sweet smelling aroma that God “smells.”
    1. In the 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 reading, Paul used a known experience to teach a powerful point.
      1. In the time of crisis a Roman general took several Roman legions and attacked the enemy.
      2. When the war ended, the victorious Roman general and his troops would return to the city of Rome.
      3. To honor the general and to celebrate the victory, Rome would have what they called the triumphal march.
        1. The whole city would line the parade route.
        2. The streets were lined with burners that produced clouds of incense.
        3. All the defeated, condemned captives were paraded through the streets with the general and his troops.
        4. To those captives, the clouds of incense were the horrible smell of death.
        5. To the victorious Romans, the clouds of incense was the wonderful smell of victory.
    2. In Paul’s illustration:
      1. God organizes the triumphal march.
      2. Christ is the conquering general.
      3. To all people who accept Christ’s liberation and salvation, the incense is the aroma of freedom from sin and death.
        1. They have been freed.
        2. The smell is the sweet smell of holiness and purity produced by liberation from the power of evil.
        3. To them, Jesus Christ is the aroma of life.
      4. But to all people who love ungodliness, evil, and the unholy, the incense is the aroma of certain death.
        1. They are the soldiers of evil marching to their eternal deaths.
        2. They hate holiness, and purity, and Christ, and God.
        3. To them, Jesus Christ is the aroma of death.

  3. We sinful people get used to the smell of evil, but the holy God never does.
    1. We humans get so accustomed to the smell of common evils that we do not “smell” them.
      1. The ungodliness that we classify as horrible has an awful odor.
      2. The ungodliness that is common place all around us has less odor all the time.
      3. The ungodliness that is acceptable does not even have an odor.
      4. The ungodliness that we find pleasurable actually smells good to us.
    2. Consider some illustrations.
      1. To many Christians, homosexual acts, prostitution, rape, forced human bondage, incest, abortion, murder, and violent crime have a horrible odor that really turns most Christians off.
        1. Many can’t stand to be around “those kinds of people.”
        2. Many believe the gospel cannot help “those kinds of people.”
      2. To many Christians, adultery, “living together” arrangements, “one night” stands, white collar crime, recreational drugs, and gambling have some odor–but the odor is not that bad.
        1. It would be bad to do those things openly.
        2. But if we can do those things secretly and quietly with “the right people,” its okay–“no big deal.”
      3. To many Christians, deceit, greed, jealousy, selfish ambition, and hate do not have an odor, but those who wrote the New Testament, who understood Jesus and his teachings said:
        1. Deceiving a person insults God (Matthew 5:33-37).
        2. Greed is idolatry, an actual act of worship to a false god (Colossians 3:5).
        3. Jealousy and selfish ambition are ungodly arrogance (James 4:14).
        4. Hate nourishes murder and destroys eternal life (1 John 3:15).
      4. To many Christians, “getting high” on alcohol, “getting high” on recreational drugs, entertainment that is sexually stimulating, unholy experiences that give pleasure, vulgar language, and immoral jokes actually smell good.
        1. “Those things are just a part of life.”
        2. “If they don’t smell bad to me, they cannot possibly smell bad to God.”

  4. In the Judaism of the New Testament and the early centuries beyond, a man could divorce his wife but a woman could not divorce her husband.
    1. A few exceptions were allowed.
      1. In the exceptions, the woman could not actually divorce her husband, but she could demand that her husband divorce her.
      2. If my memory is correct, there were five circumstances in which a wife could force her husband to divorce her.
    2. I remember one clearly.
      1. If her husband’s occupation was tanning animal hides, she could demand a divorce.
        1. Tanning animal hides was a process that involved horrible odors.
        2. The stench was so penetrating that the odor actually permeated his skin.
        3. Literally, the odor could not be washed off–no matter how much he cleaned himself, even when he could not smell the odor, he still stunk.
      2. If his wife could not tolerate the odor, she could demand a divorce.
    3. We lived in West Africa for four years.
      1. After three years, some of our African friends felt close enough to us to be quite honest instead of kindly polite.
      2. Once we asked them what was the most difficult thing they did with the missionaries.
      3. They said the hardest thing they had to do was visit us in our homes.
        1. Shocked, we asked why.
        2. Respectfully, they replied, “You people smell so bad. The odor is almost more than we can take.”
        3. How ironic! We bathed every day, used deodorant every day, we used lotions, and we put on clean clothes every day.
        4. We had showers; they did not. We could afford deodorant and lotions; they could not; we could afford to buy enough clothes to change frequently; they could not.
        5. Yet, we were the ones who smelled so bad they had trouble coming into our homes.
      4. We did not stink to us–we smelled good to us. Yet, we smelled awful to them.
        1. Why? Because of our diet.
        2. Missionaries ate a lot of meat; we could afford to.
        3. They could not afford meat very often.
        4. When you eat a lot of meat, your body secretes offensive odors in societies where most people do not eat meat.

The spiritual truth: every human stinks to God. Sin makes us stink. There is enough evil ingrained in all of us to make each of us give off a horrible odor to God. Our diet included evil every day of our lives, and the evil makes us stink to God.

Only one thing can remove the odor: God’s forgiveness administered through Jesus’ cleansing blood. When a person trusts God’s acts in Jesus’ death, the blood of Jesus removes the odor. God will remove the odor from any person who enters Jesus and lives in Jesus.

“Preacher, do you know what is wrong among Christians? I’ll tell you what is wrong. We have a huge behavior problem in the church.”

I certainly agree that Christians have a huge behavior problem, but that is not the foundation of our problems. The foundation is this: too many Christians do not trust God. They were not baptized because they trusted God. Trust had little to do with their baptism. They did not want a holy or a pure life. They still do not want a holy or a pure life. They love some forms of evil. They want the smell of evil, not the smell of purity and holiness. To them, the greatest option in all life is to smell like evil and stay out of hell.

When you look at your personal holiness and purity, are they more important to you today than a year ago? Is your purpose to “get used” to the smell of evil in your life? Or, is the purpose to let God cleanse you every day of your life so that you have the smell of holiness and purity?