The Way

Posted by on March 25, 2001 under Sermons

Have you ever been lost? I do not mean “turned around” or temporarily disoriented. I mean totally, completely lost. All alone. No one to ask for help. Nothing that looked familiar in any direction. No clue as to which way to go. No idea of how to even retrace your steps. Lost!

Let me share some feelings produced by being lost. The moment you realize you are lost, you lose all confidence. The instant you realize you are lost, you feel panic. Any confidence you generate is false confidence. You can keep your emotions under control and stop your panic. Yet, even if you stop the panic, you are still lost. Your chance of surviving the experience is much greater if you control panic. But you are still lost.

When you are lost, you feel extremely vulnerable. The feeling of being at risk rapidly rises. You realize in ways words cannot describe that you could be seriously hurt or die. If you control the panic, if you use every skill you possess to cope with the situation, you are still lost.

What happens if you are lost and you prove to yourself that it is not a temporary situation? What if you are so lost that all you can do is try to survive? If you cannot guide yourself out of “being lost,” you hope to survive until someone finds you and shows you the way.

  1. To understand my thoughts, first you must understand my perspective.
    1. I do not regard human existence to be the result of chance and accident.
      1. I fully believe that the physical body and the person inside the body was produced by a Being Who is much greater than any human.
        1. I am the specific result of intelligence that designed an incredible body.
        2. I am the specific result of power that gave that incredible human body life.
        3. The more I understand about life, the more in awe I am.
      2. I unquestioningly believe human life began with an existence and design that far exceeds today’s human life.
        1. I believe that human life began at its highest level of potential.
        2. I believe that human life began in full relationship with the superior intelligence that designed us and gave us life.
        3. I believe that we lost that existence and relationship because our first ancestors were deceived by evil.
        4. I believe once the deception began, all humanity was victimized by the deception and suffered the consequences.

    2. To state this in simple terms, I believe that evil separated our first ancestors from God, and humanity got “lost.”
      1. The longer we existed, the more “lost” we became.
      2. The longer we existed, the further we separated ourselves from God.
      3. People used human judgment and reasoning to search for the way back, but they failed.
        1. When we convince ourselves that humanity can find the way, one of two things are true.
        2. Either, we are convinced we can stop “being lost” by looking to and trusting humanity; “we” are the way.
        3. Or, we conclude we are not lost and never have been lost.

  2. To me, one of the clear messages of the Bible is the God who created us specializes in guiding people who realize they are lost.
    1. After only eleven chapters, the first book of the Bible introduces us to Abraham.
      1. God began His promises to Abraham by saying,
        Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you.”
      2. God intentionally placed Abraham in circumstances that made Abraham realize he was lost.
        1. Abraham was totally dependent on God’s guidance, and he knew it.
        2. Every time Abraham depended on himself for guidance, he suffered major consequences.
        3. He spent a major portion of his adult life depending on God for direction.
      3. God was pointing to the way back to Him.
        1. Basically, that is what God’s interaction with Abraham was all about.
        2. Abraham is a road sign showing the way back to God.

    2. It was not just Abraham.
      1. God rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery and placed them in the desert wilderness.
        1. There was a very good highway called the King’s highway connecting Egypt to Syria. [It was the obvious way to go to Canaan.]
        2. God did not take them by that highway for a reason.
          Exodus 13:17 Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”
        3. In the wilderness they were totally dependent on God for guidance (Exodus 13:21,22).
        4. God was pointing to the way back to Him.
        5. Israel’s wilderness experience was a road sign pointing to the way back to God.
      2. God gave Canaan to Israel.
        1. God guided them in the conquest of the land.
        2. Every time they attempted things without God, they suffered major consequences.
        3. God was pointing to the way back to Him.
        4. Israel’s experiences in Canaan was a road sign pointing to the way back to God.
      3. When Israel settled in Canaan, they often thought they did not need God, that they could manage just fine without God.
        1. Too often, God did not address their needs in the way they wanted.
        2. Too often, God “cramped their style.”
        3. Too often, God “got in the way.”
        4. Too often, God “did not deal with the real world.”
        5. God tried earnestly to help them understand that only He could show them the way back, but commonly they simply would not listen.
        6. Israel’s experiences in Canaan were road signs pointing to false detours and to the true way back to God.
      4. The Babylonian captivity was necessary if God was to focus the remaining Israelites on the way back to Him.
        1. They had forgotten they needed to find the way back to Him.
        2. They became obsessed with evil and did not realize it.
        3. They needed to turn their lives around and did not know it.
        4. They refused to understand they were lost.
        5. The seventy years they spent as exiles in Babylon was a road sign at a critical intersection to point to the way back to God.

    3. In Babylon, they were so lost that they gave up hope.
      1. God did not want the Babylonian experience to destroy hope; that was not its purpose.
      2. They forced God to use Babylon as a “wake up call” to make them realize they were lost.
      3. When they woke up, God needed to encourage them and give them hope.
        Isaiah 40:3-8 A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.
        1. Often when a king traveled, a level road was made for him.
        2. God the King will travel through the wilderness; make a road for him.
        3. Prepare yourself to follow His glory; prepare yourself to follow Him.
        4. You cannot count on people; they are here one day, gone the next.
        5. You can count on God; He is always here and never gone.

  3. Do you know the earliest name for the church?
    1. The book of Acts tells us even the Jewish enemies of Christians used this name for the church.
      1. When Paul asked the high priest for a letter of authority to go to Damascus, Syria to arrest Christians in the synagogue there, he asked for permission to go arrest anyone who belonged to “the Way” (Acts 9:2).
      2. People in the synagogue at Ephesus spoke evil of “the Way” (Acts 19:9).
      3. “The Way” was the reason for a huge disturbance among the worshippers of the idol Artemis in Ephesus (Acts 19:23).
      4. Paul defended himself in court by declaring that he used to persecute “the Way” to death and by arresting men and women (Acts 22:4).
      5. At another court appearance, Paul said he belonged to “the Way” (Acts 24:14).
      6. Acts 24:22 states the Roman governor Felix had knowledge about “the Way.”

    2. We can use some other terms to define “the Way,” but I am personally convinced in our thinking those terms do not do the meaning of “the Way” justice.
      1. We can point to a verse like Act 16:17 and talk about the way of salvation.
      2. Or, we can point to a verse like Acts 18:26 and talk about the way of God.
      3. But those have become such religious phrases many people do not find meaning and understanding in them.

    3. To get to the meaning in a manner that properly increases our understanding, we need to do some remembering.
      1. We need to remember that Abraham was a sign pointing to the way, but that is all he was.
      2. We need to remember that Israel’s experiences in the wilderness, in Canaan, and in Babylon were signs pointing to the way, but that is all they were.
      3. In Jesus’ lifetime, the Jewish people needed to understand the law was not the way, the priests were not the way, animal sacrifices were not the way, and the temple was not the way. All of them were signs pointing to the way, but they were not the way.

    4. “Then what was ‘the Way’ back to God?”
      1. “The Way” was not a what; “the Way” was a who.
        John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
      2. Only Jesus can take us back to God.
      3. Only Jesus is the Way.

    5. “But I am not lost! I do not need anyone to show me the way!”
      1. Really? You have life’s purpose all figured out. You know exactly how to get back to the One who made you.
        1. No funeral of anyone you know causes you to question anything.
        2. You have an answer for every injustice in life.
        3. You have all evil figured out.
        4. You know exactly how you need to travel through greed, selfishness, hate, self-centeredness, jealousy, conflict, envy, dishonesty, deceit, love of money, and love of pleasure. No problem, right?
      2. You look at your marriage, and you know exactly the right direction, right?
      3. You look at your children, and you have your bearings, right?
      4. You look at your lifestyle, and you know exactly how to live, right?

Perhaps this is the greatest injustice we do to Jesus: we make him a religion instead of allowing him to be what he is–the way back to God. Perhaps this is the greatest injustice we do to the church: we made it a religious institution instead of allowing it to be what it is–people following Jesus back to God. Perhaps this is the greatest injustice we do to ourselves: we add some religion to our lives instead of allowing Jesus to do what he died to do–lead us back to God. “No one comes to the Father, but through me.”

The “Comfort” Factor

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

I love being “comfortable.” Comfort gets priority! My recliner, my bed, my whole house, and my car are comfortable. When guests visit, I want them to be comfortable.

This country makes priorities on comfort possible. Americans easily decide life is about comfort. When something makes us uncomfortable, we tend to avoid it or get rid of it. The uncomfortable is replaced with the more comfortable!

Our lifestyles seek comfort. Our society emphasizes comfort. “Discomfort cannot be in our best interest!” Yet, often it is. Some good things are uncomfortable: healthy diets; exercise; sacrifices made to build good relationships; surgery; many medical treatments; discipline of every kind; altering lifestyles; etc. Such things can be unquestionably good, but unquestionably uncomfortable.

Salvation contains elements of great comfort: the destruction of guilt; forgiveness; mercy; compassion; kindness; grace; redemption; atonement; and reconciliation. Nothing equals the comfort these gifts provide.

Salvation also contains elements of great discomfort. Repentance, when understood, is uncomfortable. So is acknowledging personal flaws and weakness. So is confession. So is learning humility, unselfishness, forgiveness, mercifulness, kindness, and compassion.

Perhaps our greatest discomfort is experienced by learning to be God’s church. No, not the “rules and regulations,” but the godlike spirituality. Learning to care about others as God cares about us. Learning to forgive those who have sinned against us as God forgives us. Learning to respect those who are very unlike us. Learning to care about others’ real needs when we never felt those needs. Being God’s church is difficult!

We easily define everything the church does from worship to work in terms of our comfort. Doing things “comfortable to me” just makes sense–to me. That is not new. We are not the first to feel that way.

Many first century Jewish Christians were extremely uncomfortable with Christians who were not Jews. How could God love people who, in the past, worshipped idols; did not know God; and needed to learn God’s morals and ethics? They had to learn right from wrong! They did not know scripture! They had not obeyed and practiced God’s ways! They were ignorant of godly diets, proper sacrifices, and holy days! Their worship assemblies were completely undesirable!

Yet, God did love those people. In Jesus, God stressed an eternal truth. Unity is not about comfort. Unity is about belonging to each other because we belong to Jesus.

Liberating Faith: Letting the Church Be the Church

Posted by on March 18, 2001 under Sermons

Among the many experiences I find uncomfortable, a few are on a special list. This special list exists because some experiences cause me extreme discomfort. These are two of the things on that list: (1) I am extremely uncomfortable when I am not allowed to be myself, and (2) I am extremely uncomfortable when I am expected to accomplish things, and I am not permitted to do the necessary things to produce the accomplishments.

I am deeply grateful that God is patient. Human patience cannot begin to duplicate God’s patience. For us, the greatest acts of patience are acts that take a lifetime to achieve results. For adults, planting a tree is an act of patience. Being a tree farmer is truly an act of patience.

God is far more patient than a tree farmer. Just one example. God told Abraham that through Abraham’s descendants He would bless all people (Genesis 12:3). It took several hundred years for God to keep that promise. In that entire period, God moved and worked toward Jesus Christ.

I wonder if God looks at us in frustration. He patiently worked for several hundred years to give the world Jesus, to make Jesus the Christ, to make Jesus the Lord, and to make Jesus the Savior. Two thousand years later, in Jesus’ name, we too often refuse to let God do what He planned to do. We refuse to let God be Himself. We expect God to accomplish things when we will not permit Him to do the necessary things that will produce the accomplishments.

  1. Allow me to begin with a biblical illustration.
    1. In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the death.
      1. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (brother and sisters) were Jesus’ close friends.
      2. Lazarus was sick, and Jesus delayed his arrival until Lazarus died.
        1. The sisters sent word to Jesus while Lazarus was sick expecting Jesus to come heal Lazarus.
        2. He did not come, and Lazarus died.

    2. When Jesus arrived, the sisters and friends were in mourning.
      1. Lazarus had been dead four days.
      2. Mary said, “Had you been here, he would not have died” (John 11:32).
      3. Jesus, deeply troubled, went to the grave and resurrected Lazarus.

    3. Pay close attention to what happened.
      1. They removed the stone from the entrance to the cave where Lazarus was buried (John 11:41).
      2. With a loud voice, Jesus called Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43).
      3. Lazarus managed to make his way out of the cave (John 11:44).
      4. Jesus told the witnesses to unbind Lazarus [he was wrapped from head to foot in burial wrappings] (John 11:44).
      5. Surely a man who had the power to resurrect the dead had power to command a stone to move, to command the resurrected person to be lifted out of the tomb, and to command the grave clothes to fall off the man.
      6. But they could move the stone, Lazarus could get out of the tomb, and they could remove the burial cloths.
      7. Jesus did what they could not do–give a dead body life.

  2. God through Jesus made us the church, the people of God, those who have been resurrected from the death of evil into the life of the Christ.
    1. God did what we could not do.
      1. He freed us from slavery to Satan.
      2. He rescued us from the condemnation of our evil.
      3. He forgave our sins.
      4. He placed us in His family.
      5. He made us His people.

    2. As the church, we have the responsibility of spiritually maturing.
      1. God allows us to be His children, God encourages us as His children, but God will not make us do anything.
      2. As the church, we do what we decide to do.
      3. We can focus on existing, or we can focus on accomplishing God’s purposes that He designed the church to accomplish.

  3. Faith will not be liberated until we let the church be the church.
    1. The church will become what God intended it to become when we start letting our faith in God be more important than our fears.
      1. My years as a preacher and teacher are dwindling; the sand in the hourglass is about gone.
      2. I have no plan to retire, but neither am I a fool.
        1. With my sixty-first birthday fast approaching, I know my years in front of me as a preacher are far fewer than the years behind me as a preacher.
        2. Having worked all my life for the church, I have learned a few things about many Christians, and I include myself.
        3. First, I have learned we refuse to do more out of fear than we do in faith.
        4. Second, I have learned this kind of fear and faith do not mix.
      3. The spirit of fearfulness destroys the spirit of faith.

    2. When and why did we decide that God is more likely to be thrilled by our doing nothing than He is to be thrilled by our trying to do something?
      1. How can we possibly read Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 and reach that conclusion?
      2. When and why did we decide that the spiritually safe course is to do as little as possible to influence people and proudly claim to be biblical? Have you noticed that we stake our spiritual claim to fame on what we do not do?
      3. Why did we decide it is biblical to prevent the church from being the church?

  4. I want to briefly do two things.
    1. First, I want you to read with me several statements in Acts about the church.
      1. Acts 2:46,47 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. [The KJV uses the words “the church” in place of “their number.”]
      2. Acts 5:11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.
      3. Acts 8:1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. 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.
      4. Acts 8:3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

    2. In Acts, what is the “church”?
      1. It is that group of forgiven people who are alive in Christ to whom the Lord adds the saved.
      2. The church can be afraid of danger.
      3. The church can be persecuted and scattered.
      4. The church can be ravaged by abusing and arresting men and women.
      5. Christians are the church; the forgiven people who belong to, follow, and serve Jesus Christ are the church.
      6. The church is not some mysterious concept; you and I are the church.

  5. Then how do we let the church be the church?
    1. As the church, the highest commitment that we have is accomplishing God’s purposes in people’s lives.
      1. The church is not about our purposes; it is about God’s purposes.
      2. The church is not about our priorities; it is about God’s priorities.
        1. Therein lies the problem.
        2. We are not well informed about God’s priorities.
        3. We know our preferences, and it is very easy to consider our preferences God’s priorities.

    2. The second thing I want to do is take a brief look at the church in Ephesians. If you have your Bibles, follow me in Ephesians.
      1. Ephesians 1 writes about the marvelous things God accomplished for Christians in Jesus Christ.
        1. Verse 4: God has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ.
        2. Verse 5: God has chosen us in Christ.
        3. Verse 7: In Christ we have redemption.
        4. Verse 9: In Christ God revealed the mystery of His will for us.
        5. Verse 11: Because of Christ, God made it possible for us to have an inheritance.
        6. After offering a prayer for them, Paul ends the prayer with this statement:
          Ephesians 1:19-23 These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
          1. While Paul mentioned the church, the focus is on Jesus Christ.
          2. Christ rules above every form of earthy government.
          3. God made Christ head over everything in the church.
          4. The church is Christ’s body.
          5. The church should be the fullness of Christ.
      2. In Ephesians 2:11-22 the church needed to recognize and accept the unity God made possible in Jesus’ death.
        1. This unity exists between people who always were enemies.
        2. These people never wanted unity.
        3. But Christ broke down the barrier that caused them to be enemies, and he became the peace that bound them together.
        4. Christ reconciles people to God and each other.
          Ephesians 2:13-16 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
      3. In Ephesians 3:8-12 the church helps the world understand the mystery of Jesus Christ and the wisdom of God.
        1. Not even authorities in “heavenly places” understood what God was doing before Jesus came and died.
        2. God’s objective and promises were understood after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        3. The church (we collectively) should cause people to say, “How wise God was!”
        4. What we are and do should cause people to realize how wise God was.
          Ephesians 3:8-11 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.
      4. In Ephesians 4:1-16, the church should be filled with people who are committed to unity and who understand that God gave them an ability.
        1. We function together as a whole to equip Christians to serve and to build up the body of Christ [and this is not talking about numbers].
        2. We help everyone achieve maturity, and we use Christ as the standard of being spiritually full.
        3. We want the body to match the head; the church is to match Christ.
        4. We want to build ourselves up in love.
          Ephesians 4:14-16 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
      5. In Ephesians 5:22-33, our experience as the church should build respect and love in our marriages.

We let the church be the church when what we are in Christ has practical impact on our lives and relationships every single day. Then, we, as the church, impact others.

Connecting the Umbilical Cord

Posted by on under Sermons

You have it made. You live in the perfect situation. Your physical circumstances are ideal. Every minute of your life is lived in the perfect temperature. It is never to hot. It is never too cold. Twenty-four hours a day, seven day a week the temperature is perfect. If you had a thermostat, you would never touch it.

You have zero stress. No one ever distresses you, or pressures you, or places demands on you. You have no decisions to make. You are never hungry, and you always like what you have to eat. You would not change one thing about your diet.

You can rest and relax all you want. Those are the top priorities in your life–rest and relaxation. You exercise the way you want when you decide. Everything happens on your schedule.

Then you are born. The first thing you do is cry. Abruptly, the perfect environment is destroyed. In what to you seems an instant, you are introduced to stress as you enter a hostile environment. The temperature is NOT perfect. You must use your lungs to get your own oxygen, and you never did that before. In fact, you will spend the next eighty years breathing! And you do not have a choice! If you do not breathe, you die! You did not ask for that responsibility!

And conditions are horrible! Several times a day you feel wet, and you never felt wet before. Several times a day you feel dirty, and you never felt dirty before. Then you discover pain. Wet or dirty creates pain. Later you learn the pain was called diaper rash, but all you knew at the time was that you hurt.

You are often hungry, and you never felt hungry before. What is so awful about hunger is you cannot do a thing about it but loudly protest. With hunger, you begin the long journey of learning what foods you like, what foods you do not like, and what foods you like but cannot have. At first your rest is pretty good, but not as good as before birth.

Suppose we could get a baby’s first impression of this world five minutes after birth. I know that is not possible. But suppose it was. What do you think a baby’s first impression of this world is the first five minutes after birth? Let me suggest what I think likely would be the first impression: “I do not belong here! I want to go back!”

  1. Jesus did not “fit” in this world.
    1. “What do you mean that Jesus did not ‘fit’ in this world?”
      1. I mean Jesus did not belong here.
      2. I mean it was obvious that Jesus did not belong here.
      3. I mean a lot of people knew Jesus did not belong here, and they did not want him here.

    2. “Why would you think that? Jesus was the best thing that ever happened to this world.”
      1. Why would you say that Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to this world?
        1. For the last two thousand years, the “Jesus factor” has been the number one reason for war.
        2. The “Jesus factor” has been the number one factor in violent persecutions.
        3. It is entirely possible in the last 2000 years more people have been killed in the name of Jesus than have died because of faith in Jesus.
      2. I agree that Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to this world.
        1. But I totally disagree that you prove it by fighting wars in his name.
        2. I totally disagree that you prove it by killing people in his name.
        3. We do not prove Jesus’ value to our world by using Jesus to cause death and pain.

    3. “Why would you say that Jesus did not ‘fit’ or ‘belong’ in this world?
      1. Jesus was born in the equivalent of a “poor man’s barn.”
        1. God’s son, the Savior of the world, born in a barn?
        2. That did not “fit” in his world; animals, not people, were born in barns.
      2. Jesus was conceived before his mother was married.
        1. That may be common place today, but it was not in Jesus’ time.
        2. God’s son, the Savior of the world, conceived outside of marriage?
        3. That did not “fit” in his world; that is not the way religiously acceptable people began life in first century Jewish society.
      3. When he was twelve, when he had the choice, he would rather discuss God’s will than do anything else (Luke 2:48,48).
        1. A twelve-year-old that had rather listen to a religious discussion than do anything else?
        2. What a nerd! A twelve-year-old who uses his time to think about God’s purposes in the world is weird!
        3. That did not “fit” in his world; twelve-year-olds had better things to do.
      4. Jesus never married.
        1. That may be okay today, but it was not okay in Jewish society then.
        2. In first century Jewish society, marrying and having children was the godly, responsible thing for a man to do.
        3. Some even declared it was just plain ungodly not to marry.
        4. That did not “fit” in that world; because Jesus was a single in a married society, he did not “fit.”
      5. Jesus did not own anything (Matthew 8:19,20).
        1. He did not even have a place to sleep.
        2. That is down right irresponsible.
        3. Not only that; he did not try to own things.
        4. That did not “fit” that world; you ought to at least try to make enough and own enough to survive.
      6. Jesus accepted people the religious leaders rejected, and rejected the people the religious leaders said should be accepted (Matthew 9:10-13).
        1. This is what he was told: “Refuse to associate with the spiritually troubled and evil; associate with the religiously prominent.”
        2. This is what he did: he associated with the spiritually troubled and evil, and he challenged the religiously prominent to look at their own spiritual flaws.
        3. In no way did that “fit” in that world; in fact, acceptable religious society regarded Jesus as dangerous.

    4. If you just read the gospels, it is very obvious that Jesus did not belong in this world, and he knew it.
      1. John said of Jesus in John 1:10,11:
        He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him.
      2. The night before his execution, Jesus said,
        John 17:4,5 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.
      3. From the beginning to the end of his life on earth, Jesus did not “fit.” He was human, but he simply did not fit.

  2. Regardless of your age, I want you to do some serious thinking.
    1. What opinion do you have of yourself?
      1. “What do you mean?”
      2. Do you regard yourself to be reasonably intelligent, possessing understanding?
      3. Do you regard yourself to be a Christian with a reasonable amount of faith in God?
      4. Do you regard yourself to have a reasonable degree of understanding of Jesus’ life and work on earth?
      5. It would amaze me if the majority of you failed to say, “Yes!”

    2. If your answer is “Yes,” let me ask you another question.
      1. With your intelligence and understanding, do these two conclusions fit together: Jesus did not “fit” in this world, but his greatest goal is to make us “fit” in this world?
      2. Was Jesus’ goal to make you and me belong to this world?
        1. Is the Christian’s “everyday life” spiritual goal to “fit” in this world?
        2. Is “fitting” what our lives are about as Christians?

    3. I am not trying to put you on a “guilt trip,” but I am trying to get you to do some meaningful soul searching.
      1. Do you think about our diligent efforts and planning to make ourselves and our children “fit” in the part of our world that has no concern for God?
      2. Teens, do you think about how hard you try to “fit” among teens who have little or no feeling for God?
      3. Spring break is over; this week the “routine” begins again; here comes summer.
        1. This week I challenge you to think about last week.
        2. This week I challenge you to think about your routine.
        3. How much did you do last week and will you do this week that (1) were about “fitting” but (2) had little or no concern for God in your life?
        4. How much of your focus was on “fitting” without any thought of God?
      4. What place did doing God’s will have in Jesus’ everyday life?
      5. What place does doing God’s will have in your everyday life?

  3. I call your attention to a statement made in Hebrews 11:13-16.
    All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
    1. To a very distressed, burdened, struggling group of Christians, this writer said total faith in Jesus Christ is everything.
      1. The writer gave these struggling Christians a long list of people who made great sacrifices to live for God.
      2. He explained why they made a conscious decision to live by faith in God.
        1. Everyone on the long list died before Jesus came.
        2. They knew God would do something unique, but not in their lifetimes.
        3. But that was okay; living by faith in God was better.
        4. It was better because they knew they did not belong to this godless world.
        5. So they lived on earth as pilgrims, as exiles.
        6. And God was not ashamed when they said He was their God.

    2. Every week I am reminded that I do no belong to this world, and every week I am tempted to belong to this world.
      1. When I contact the grief, the misery, the mixed up lives, the devastated lives, the empty lives, the loneliness, the hopelessness, I have no desire to belong to this world.
      2. I do not say that in any sense of accomplishment or goodness.
      3. I say it because I personally know how devastating and empty it is to stop being a pilgrim and live in the deception that we can have heaven on this earth.

    3. If the only differences people see are in our worship, we don’t have anything.
      1. If our marriages are like all other marriages,
      2. If our homes are like all other homes,
      3. If our families are like all other families,
      4. If our priorities are like everyone else’s priorities,
      5. If our values are like everyone else’s values,
      6. If our pleasures are like everyone else’s pleasures,
      7. If six days a week we live like godless people, if the only time there is a visible difference is in two hours of worship, we are not pilgrims looking for a better country, a place to belong, a heavenly existence.

    4. Listen to a prayer Jesus gave for his twelve disciples the night before he died.
      John 17:14-16 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

One of the greatest challenges a Christian faces is understanding how to be in the world but not of the world.

“So what are Christians seeking?” Through the grace and mercy of God, we are attaching our umbilical cords to God. We do not belong to this world. We belong to Him.

Heaven On Earth

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

This week someone commented his life had been lived in the best of all ages. As an American who has spent most of sixty years in the United States, I agree. I am unaware of another time or place offering greater privileges and opportunities. I feel blessed and fortunate to live in this country the last six decades.

I also am aware of the powerful deception the past fifty years produced. This deception expresses itself in many ways. The deception: we have the power to produce ideal lives. We think we have the power and intelligence to do anything. We can and will make it happen. Our dream of ideal existence will become reality.

Need a new liver? lungs? heart? Right now you can have a transplant. In the future we can grow transplants. Knee or hip worn out? We can replace them. Need an arm? a leg? a hand? They can be replaced; they may even function as your mind directs.

We can cure many of the incurables of forty years ago. With time, that list will grow. Severe respiratory problems? We can help you breathe. Heart out of rhythm? We can make it beat properly and a pacemaker will keep it in rhythm. Blood pressure up? We can control it. Blood too thick or thin? No problem!

We envision the day when computers can do anything. Cars will drive themselves. Lawn mowers will run themselves. Energy efficient houses will create ideal living environments. And life will become the ultimate in joy!

What is “the ultimate in joy”? Will everyone experience it? Can everyone afford it? How do you know that “joy” exists? by divorced marriages? neglected spouses? children who feel abandoned? earnings that cannot feed families? grief experiences? loneliness? emptiness? being an “outsider”? living lives of “have nots”?

I have experienced both expectations and realities. I know the expectations of labor-saving devices and the realities of their stress. I know the expectations of “wonder” machines and the frustrations of their malfunctions. I know the expectations of higher incomes and the realities of prices.

Because of the nature of what I do, I frequently see the “wonderful life” facade only to know the despair behind the facade. I know people who have everything but have nothing. I know people who have nothing but have everything. Commonly, expectation becomes cruel deceit. Commonly, the possession owns the owner. Commonly, people confuse pleasures with values. [Values fulfill; pleasures produce selfish people.] Commonly, people invest the precious in matters that grow increasing insignificant.

We parents sacrifice for twenty years so our children “can have it better than we did.” Sorrowfully, often in thirty years we learn what our children have is not “heaven on earth.” And “heaven on earth” becomes “hell on earth.”

The Burden of Grief – How Can We Help?

Posted by on March 11, 2001 under Articles

My mother died from an automobile accident 12 years ago this month. There were no resources to help me understand the painful process of grief. When my dad died 3 weeks after being diagnosed with lymphoma, I joined a grief support group. Most of us are ill prepared to deal with grief. We have been through high school and college learning how to gain in our society, but have had few, if any, lessons on loss. We have heard many misconceptions and myths about grief.

Batsell Barrett Baxter has said, “It seems strange, but an almost universal misconception is that one should avoid mentioning to the bereaved their recently deceased child or parent, husband or wife, because it might make them sorrowful. Deep satisfaction often comes from talking about those whom we have loved so deeply with sympathetic, interested friends.” In our recent support meeting, the question was asked, “How do you feel about others mentioning your deceased loved one?” Every person in that meeting wanted to talk about their husband or dad. Amanda Washburn shared our sentiment when she answered, “I love it when people talk about things my dad has done. I have learned a lot of things about him after he died that I never knew.”

It is important that a bereaved person is able to express his feelings from his loss in a safe place with people who understand. He needs to share his memories of when the family circle was whole. We need to only listen for him to tell his story. Silence from the listener and sometimes a hug can be more precious than words.

Dr. M. Norvel Young of Pepperdine University in Los Angeles has suggested six ways to overcome grief.

  1. Accept the sympathy of others graciously.
  2. Recognize that the pain will grow more bearable.
  3. Turn to the Bible with renewed thirst.
  4. Utilize the power of prayer.
  5. Be even more faithful in worship.
  6. Look out and see others who need your help.

On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, in the garden of Gethsemane, he felt deep grief as he prayed to his Father. Jesus’ death that followed has given us eternal life when we are obedient to Him. God is grieved when man willfully rejects Him.

Life in our physical body is a short span of our total existence. When I was feeling sad from the death of my husband, Lorene Turner said, “What if you didn’t have Christ?” As Christians, death will come to us like a warm embrace. Roy Dunavin describes death as a birth into a new state. Death for the Christian is not to be feared anymore than is birth. When the body ceases to be, the spirit emerges.

For questions or more information on a support group please call the church office. People who have known suffering and loss have a sensitivity and understanding of life that gives them compassion and concern for others. We are concerned for you and we love you.

Liberating Faith: Seeing Jesus For Who He Is

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We, as a people and as individuals, understand life and life’s realities in terms of freedom. We are free to think. We are free to chose. We are free to act. We are free to travel. We are free to use life in any way we wish. It is impossible for any of us to consider life and not assume freedom.

Far more than half of the world’s population is not free. Few in the world are as free as we are. They are told what to think. They are told what decisions to make. They are told how to act. They are restricted in their travel. They are told how to use life. They assume nothing. Every day of their lives they basically live as they are told to live.

We regard such existence as terrible, but this is the truth: people in our society have been free so long that none of us can imagine that existence.

One of our greatest freedoms is the freedom of religion. We are free to believe anything we chose to believe. We are free to allow our faith to impact our lives and our behavior in any way we chose.

My question: is your faith free to grow and mature?

How much do you study the Bible? Do you read, or do you study? Do you study to understand? When you understand something new, are you free to believe your new understanding? Do more mature understandings liberate your faith?

  1. For example, are we free to believe anything the Bible teaches us about Jesus Christ?
    1. Before you say, “Of course!” think.
      1. As we think, the foundation for our thinking is this: what I believe must come from a serious study of the Bible and be based on an accurate understanding of its message. [Both are demanding!]
      2. As I grow in my faith, what may I believe?
        1. May I believe only what the church says I can believe?
        2. May I believe only what my congregation says I can believe?
        3. May I believe only what the elders say I can believe?
        4. May I believe only what the preacher says I can believe?
        5. May I believe only what my extended family says I can believe?
        6. May I believe only what my spouse says I can believe?
      3. Or, as a serious Bible student, may my faith grow and change as my knowledge and understanding of the Bible grows and changes?
        1. Knowledge is cumulative; the more I study, the more I know.
        2. Understanding is cumulative; the more I know, the more I understand.
        3. Thinking is cumulative; the more I know and understand, the deeper I think.
        4. Because those are cumulative, faith is cumulative; the more I know, understand, and think, the deeper my faith becomes.

    2. Saving faith begins with a very simple level of knowledge, understanding, and thinking.
      1. If I know God sent Jesus to be my Savior,
      2. If I understand Jesus’ death and resurrection makes it possible for me to be forgiven,
      3. If in my thinking I realize my guilt, my need for forgiveness, and my need for Jesus Christ,
      4. I can accept Jesus and enter the salvation God provides.
        1. In faith and understanding, I can trust Jesus.
        2. In faith and understanding, I can repent [redirect my life].
        3. In faith and understanding, I can accept God’s grace and enter Jesus through baptism.
      5. Once a person enters Jesus Christ, it is never a matter of “finding salvation;” it is a matter of spiritual maturing.

    3. As that maturing occurs, is my faith free to trust God and Jesus in the direction the Bible leads me?
      1. “David, what are you asking?”
      2. I am asking a crucial question that Christians in every congregation must face and must answer.
      3. There are many responses to that question, and two of those responses are spiritually destructive.
        1. Destructive response one: “You must believe only what you are told to believe in the congregation by the elders and the preacher.”
          1. “No matter how much you study the Bible,”
          2. “No matter how much more you understand than the elders and the preachers,”
          3. “No matter how spiritually mature you are,”
          4. “You can only believe what you are told to believe.”
          5. “The church is everything, and without the church you are nothing.”
        2. Destructive response two: “Nobody can tell me what to believe.”
          1. “Nobody has the right to influence my understanding and my faith.”
          2. “I owe no one an explanation of what I believe.”
          3. “What I believe is my business and no one else’s business.”
          4. “Spiritually, I can do without the congregation just fine.”
        3. Both convictions, both attitudes are quite destructive.
          1. Both convictions and attitudes oppose God’s purposes in Jesus Christ.
          2. Neither of those attitudes can accomplish God’s will.
      4. To give perspective to the significance of those statements, if I publicly made those comments [perhaps even privately] in the early 1300’s, I could anticipate execution.

  2. Perhaps an illustration is helpful.
    1. Years ago a person was quite upset with me for asking people to think and understand.
      1. He strongly objected to this approach to understanding God’s will.
      2. In his past, the church throughout his home region established the “correct beliefs” of the Church of Christ.
        1. Faithfulness was determined by a Christian’s agreement with those “correct beliefs.”
        2. He invested a lot of time and effort in learning the “correct beliefs.”
        3. He invested a lot of time and effort in learning the proper stands on the issues.
        4. He invested a lot of time and effort in learning how to defend the positions.
        5. He knew much more about the use of proof texts to defend “correct positions” than he understood about the message of the Bible.
        6. It took him years to learn that information.
        7. When anyone did anything that questioned any of his positions, he not only was distressed, but he became obviously angry.
      3. Faithful Christians were free to think, understand, and endorse what he thought, understood, and endorsed.
      4. To disagree with any position he held was to deny the faith.

    2. That raises a critical, essential question: by God’s revelation and definition, what is the foundation of Christian faithfulness?
      1. In my understanding, in the New Testament there is one foundation for Christian faithfulness.
      2. The foundation of faithfulness is Jesus Christ.

  3. “David, I think you are putting too much emphasis on Jesus; the emphasis should be on the church.”
    1. “Both surely should be emphasized, but the primary emphasis should be on the church.”
      1. Let’s ask some questions and note their answers.
      2. When we talk about the church, are we talking about a “who” or a “what?”
        1. In its earthly existence, we are talking about a “who.”
        2. Then “who” is the church? Christians. Those people who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus as the Christ and who were forgiven of their sins are the church.
        3. On earth, the church is composed of people.
      3. When we talk about Jesus Christ are we talking about a “who” or a “what?”
        1. We are talking about a “who.”
        2. Then “who” is Jesus Christ? God’s Son. God’s sacrifice. Our Savior. The Lord. The resurrected one.
      4. What is the relationship between the church [people who are spiritually alive in Jesus] and Jesus Christ [God’s Son]?
        1. The church is the body (Ephesians 1:23).
          1. Who is the head of the body (Ephesians 1:22)?
          2. Jesus Christ is the head of the body.
          3. To whom does the body belong? Jesus.
          4. The church is designed by God to be the fullness of Jesus Christ.
        2. The church is the bride (Revelation 21:2).
          1. Who is the husband of the bride?
          2. Revelation 21:9 says the bride is the wife of the Lamb.
          3. Who is the Lamb?
          4. Jesus is the Lamb of God.
        3. In both scriptures, the focus is on Jesus and his significance, and the church is clearly secondary.
        4. “Oh, but the church is the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
          1. Who is the truth?
          2. Jesus (John 14:6).

  4. I want to read to you from the gospel of John. Please read with me if you can. As you read or listen, ask, “How important is Jesus?” John records each of these statements as Jesus’ own words.
    1. The passages of scripture to be read:
      1. John 5:19 Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”
      2. John 5:30 “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
      3. John 6:38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
      4. John 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
      5. John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
      6. John 12:49,50 “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”
      7. John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
      8. John 14:10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.”

    2. In these readings, this is my understanding about Jesus:
      1. He did nothing without a clear directive from God.
      2. He did nothing on his own initiative.
      3. All he did was at the direction of and in full compliance with God’s will.
      4. Everything he did was dedicated to God’s will.
      5. He said only the things God taught him.
      6. The power of resurrection and the power of life is found in him.
      7. God reveals eternal life through him.
      8. He is the way, the truth, and the life, the only available access to God.
      9. He did God’s will so perfectly that you can see God by looking at him.

    3. Since that is true:
      1. If I want to understand God’s will, I start with Jesus.
      2. If I want to understand God’s priorities, I start with Jesus.
      3. If I want to understand God’s teachings, I start with Jesus.
      4. If I want to know how a human being lives perfectly for God’s purposes, I start with Jesus.

We as the church are the body and bride of Jesus only if we reflect Jesus. If our faith is free to be everything God wants faith to be, we must see Jesus for who he is.

People Relationships: The Jesus Rule

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If you know someone important, what difference does it make? That depends on the situation. When we have a problem, it usually makes a big difference if we know someone important. The important person can either help me, or refer me to someone who can help me, or tell me what I should do.

If your air conditioner stops working in the middle of a heat wave, does it make a difference “to know someone?” If your heater stops working in the middle of a cold wave, does it make a difference “to know someone?” If you have a serious problem with any of your utilities, does it help “to know someone?” If you are having a serious problem of any kind, it makes a significance difference “to know someone.” Knowing someone important does two things: (1) it changes what you do, and (2) it provides you helpful information you would not have otherwise.

If you know God, what difference does it make? I find it fascinating to realize how few people regard knowing God as knowing someone important. God is hypothetical. The matters that concern God are hypothetical. The world I live in is real. The physical is real. Only when the hypothetical God can do something about my real world is God important. If God can make a difference in what I call “real,” then God is someone I should know.

Many of you may respond by saying, “David, I do not agree with that at all!” May I ask a question? If God is important to you, what difference does God make in the way you treat people?

God has said in many ways, “If I am important, an essential way that you show my importance is seen in the way you treat people.”

  1. It is possible for people to treat people in many different ways.
    1. People who understand God’s importance treat people differently from people who do not know God.
      1. Regardless of the claims a person makes about knowing God, people who know God are recognized by the way they treat people.
      2. Regardless of what a person says about God’s importance, you can recognize people who understand God’s importance by the way they treat people.

    2. Understanding God’s importance is critically linked to the way we treat others.
      1. There are lots of ways to treat people.
      2. God’s way to treat people is learned only through Jesus Christ.

  2. The common rule most people live by says, “Life is about me.”
    1. We can call this the self-centered rule.
      1. The self-centered rule says:
        1. “I am the center of my universe.”
        2. “What makes me happy is important.”
        3. “What I want is important.”
        4. “What I prefer is important.”
        5. “What pleases me is important.”
      2. The self-centered rule says, “Other people are important only to the degree that they benefit me.”
        1. “If they make me happy, if they help me get what I want, if they serve my preference, if they please me, they are important.”
        2. “But, if they do not benefit me, they are unimportant. In fact, they may be a problem.”

    2. To me, Cain is the classic example of the self-centered rule (Genesis 4:1-15).
      1. Everything about Cain was self-centered.
        1. His worship was about Cain, not about God.
        2. When God was not pleased with his worship, Cain was angry with God.
        3. When being angry with God did not produce results, Cain was angry at his brother.
        4. Cain was so angry that he killed his brother.
        5. When God confronted Cain, all Cain thought about was himself and what would happen to him.
        6. Cain was a person who functioned exclusively by the self-centered rule.
      2. “David, we do not live by that rule today.”
        1. We do not?
        2. Do you know what really irritates the rest of the world about American newscasts on television?
          1. Americans are far less that ten per cent of the world’s population.
          2. Yet, unless American security or interests are directly involved, over 90% of our news discusses only what is happening to us.
          3. When people from other countries visit us, our local news insults them; only Americans can report what is happening in 90% of the world’s population in 60 seconds.
          4. Our national newscasts often give little consideration to the rest of the world.
          5. Our local newscasts claim to go “Around the World” in 60 seconds.
      3. The self-centered rule says:
        1. “I do not care what is happening in the rest of the world; I care about what is happening here.”
        2. “I do not care what is happening in other parts of the country; I care about what is happening here.”
        3. “I do not care what is happening in other parts of Fort Smith; I care about what is happening in my neighborhood.”
        4. “I do not care what is happening in your life; I am concerned about what is happening in my life.”
      4. The self-centered rule says:
        1. “What I do to you is based on what I imagine you will do to me.”
        2. “If something bad is happening in my life, it is your fault.”

  3. When God rescued the spiritually out-of-control Israelite slaves from Egypt, God introduced them to a new rule for treating others.
    1. This was the rule of limitation.
      1. That rule is called “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.”
      2. When God introduced first generation Israel to this rule, it was a control rule.
        1. It said, “You cannot hurt someone more than they have hurt you.”
        2. It was the rule of justice in an unjust world.

    2. “If you leave me alone, I will leave you alone.”
      1. “But if you hurt me, I will hurt you as much as you hurt me.”
      2. “It does not matter why you hurt me; it does not matter if it was an accident; your motives are not important; just be sure you do not hurt me.”

  4. During his earthly ministry, Jesus taught the Jewish people of his day the correct understanding of the rule of proper treatment.
    1. Jesus said you must understand God’s intent and purpose in the law.
      1. The foundation of God’s law is love.
      2. You love God with your whole self.
      3. You love your neighbor as yourself.

    2. We are more likely to understand this rule by these words: “Treat other people like you want to be treated.”
      1. That principle is clearly seen in the ten commandments.
        1. “I want my children to respect and care for me when I am old, so I will respect and care for my parents when they are old.”
        2. “I do not want you to commit adultery with my spouse, so I will not commit adultery with your spouse.”
        3. “I do not want you to steal my things, so I will not steal your things.”
        4. “I do not want you to murder me, so I will not murder you.”
        5. “I do not want you to lie about me, so I will not lie about you.”
      2. I will not treat you in ways I do not want to be treated.
      3. I will treat you in ways I do want to be treated.

  5. The last night of Jesus’ earthly life, he introduced his disciples to the Jesus rule.
    1. Jesus used a strange way to introduce this new form of behavior.
      1. An obvious thread ran through the message Jesus shared with his disciples that night. That thread began with a strange statement in John 13:34, 35.
        “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
        1. This “new commandment” sounds strange because it sounds familiar.
        2. We look at what Jesus said and nothing strikes us as new.
        3. Jesus talked about love before.
        4. But this time he said it was loving each other that would set them apart as his disciples.
      2. After stressing the importance of showing love for him by keeping his commandments, Jesus said,
        John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
      3. Then Jesus said again,
        John 15:17 “This I command you, that you love one another.”
      4. What is so new about this command? What is so different?
        1. Is it behavior based on the self-centered rule? No, it rejects that behavior.
        2. Is it conduct based on the rule of limitation? No, it is much more than that.
        3. Is it conduct based on the rule of fair treatment? No, it goes far beyond that.
      5. Then what is this new way of treating people?
        1. You are not selfish in determining the way you treat others.
        2. You do not treat others like they have treated you.
        3. You do not even treat others like you want to be treated.
        4. Than what do we do? We treat others with love in the same way Jesus loves us.
        5. “I do not understand that rule of behavior. How is it different?”

    2. Let Jesus illustrate the rule.
      1. That very night, Peter, one of the twelve, one of Jesus’ best friends on earth, denied that he even knew Jesus.
        1. When Jesus was arrested, all the disciples ran and hid in the darkness.
        2. Peter slipped back to the courtyard where Jesus was being tried.
        3. Three times he was recognized, and three times he denied knowing Jesus.
      2. In less than a day, Jesus was executed.
        1. But Jesus never stopped loving the disciples.
        2. And Jesus never stopped loving Peter.
        3. Jesus not only forgave them, and claimed them, and encouraged them, but he also had use and purpose for them.
      3. That is the way Jesus wants the people who follow him to love other people.
        1. Love each other enough to forgive.
        2. Love each other enough to be compassionate.
        3. Love each other enough to show mercy.
        4. “Love others like I love you.”
      4. This is the greatest love of all, to lay your life down for others (John 15:13).

Jesus’ love for us brings our “best” out. If Jesus teaches us how to love, our love for others will bring their “best” out.

There is only one way we can love others with that kind of love. Let Jesus teach us how to love others. When we treat others with that kind of love, it will make us very different. Our marriages will be different. Our homes will be different. Our friendships will be different. We will be different in every context of life.

And people will realize they can explain the difference in only one way: Jesus taught these people to love.

May we have the courage to be different. May we show the world the difference it makes to know God.

Thank You, Mat and Jo

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

A basic understanding of many Christians: Christians pay their debts. However, some debts cannot be paid. Two thousand years ago, Paul wrote of a debt that could not be paid: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…” (Romans 13:8). We never “love enough” to pay our indebtedness to God’s love and Jesus’ love.

In the summer of 1996, four people traveled from Fort Smith to Oxford, Mississippi, to meet the Chadwells. The Chadwells did not know they were coming. The visit was brief. They drove many hours to talk to us perhaps ten minutes. The four were Mat and Jo Griffin, and Paul and Jonette Shirley.

In November, 1996, Joyce and I came to Fort Smith to work with you. It is no exaggeration to say that we came because we were touched by the elders. Mat contributed significantly to that positive impression.

Mat and Jo Griffin The congregation cannot possibly grasp its debt to Mat and Jo. [Each time an elder unselfishly honors his commitment, his wife makes a sacrifice.] Fifteen years is not a long time, unless you serve unselfishly, lovingly as a shepherd. Then, fifteen years is an incredibly long time.

To serve as an elder with a heart filled with love is a difficult challenge. Elders deal with so many needs, problems, crises, and hard decisions that are unknown to most. It is hard to care, be compassionate, feel concern for people, as need after need, problem after problem, crisis after crisis, challenge after challenge arises. It is easy to “burn out,” to diminish concern for people, and to become pragmatic and “matter of fact” as weariness, needs, and demands increase. Caring hurts!

In the four years I have known and worked with Mat, I watched his love and his sense of caring grow. I watched him learn from the past so that he could be a greater blessing to the present. I often wondered how a man could care so much.

Great caring can easily become passion. A passionate person easily can become confrontational. Passionate, confrontational people can be difficult “team players.” If any of our elders said, “Working with Mat was difficult,” I would be amazed. Mat cares deeply, but his spirit is quiet.

As Bob Null said with great appreciation Sunday, Mat has a big heart. Big hearts bring helpful perspectives to a congregation and its leadership.

Mat is not “retiring” from an active, involved role in West-Ark’s life and work. He will pursue his heart’s passion among us. He loves to encourage and strengthen family units. Leading “His Needs/Her Needs” is a work of joy and love.

Thank you, Mat, for blessing us with your faith and love.

Liberating Faith: Obedience, Part 3

Posted by on March 4, 2001 under Sermons

In the summer of 1972, my family and I returned from Africa for “leave time.” Our two basic responsibilities were (a) reporting to supporting congregations and (b) raising support for our next work tour.

The congregation providing our salary and oversight was located in Sheffield, Alabama, across a river from Florence, Alabama. On return, we flew from Europe to Sheffield. We had not seen our parents for two years. We planned to leave Sheffield in a couple of days after arrival and visit families. But there was a problem. While we were in Africa, Joyce and my driver’s licenses expired.

At that time, the Sheffield Highway Patrol Office did not issue driver’s licenses every day of the week. The Florence office did, but they did not issue a license unless you lived in that county. Sheffield was not in that county. The river was a county line.

Our elders encouraged us to go to the Florence office, explain our situation, and ask that office to make an exception. We did. We were told, “I am sorry. We understand your situation, but we cannot help you.” In other words, “No exceptions.”

I asked if anyone could help us. The officer said, “Only the director of the highway patrol in Montgomery, Alabama.” I thanked him, and promptly called the head of the highway patrol. He was very kind, understood the situation, and asked us to wait in the Florence office. He called the Florence office, and we received our licenses.

The officer in the Florence office was following the law. The law said, “No exceptions.” Only the head of the Alabama Highway Patrol could authorize an exception.

A driver’s license was a driver’s license. It did not read, “Given as an exception.” The difference was not in the license. The difference did not destroy the law. The difference affected only how a valid driver’s license was received.

  1. In my perspective, we have oversimplified the concept of obedience.
    1. Commonly many Christians think any law, command, or teaching from God must be accepted in this way: “This is what God expects; no exceptions!”
      1. When that conclusion is a primary part of our definition of obedience, it is too easy to change the basic focus of spiritual commitment.
        1. The shift: “faithfulness” is expressed by passing “blanket judgment” on people who fail to keep the law, the command, or the teaching.
        2. The result: “faithfulness” moves further and further away from sharing the “good news” of God’s accomplishments in Jesus Christ.
      2. It is easy to put so much emphasis on the necessity of obedience that we lose awareness of the purpose of obedience.
        1. God’s objective in Christian obedience is not proving “who is in control.”
        2. Apart from love, God’s purpose in Christian obedience cannot be achieved.

    2. If we are not careful, we use obedience to attack God’s sovereignty.
      1. Typically, as individuals, we do not make much effort to increase our understanding about God.
      2. We realize that God is far beyond our ability to comprehend.
        1. We do not spend much time thinking about things beyond our comprehension.
        2. It is easier to live by our assumptions.
      3. In our assumptions, it is easy to limit God.
      4. When we limit God, we attack God’s sovereignty.
      5. God’s sovereignty means God is free to do what He chooses to do.

  2. This evening I call your attention to an incident during the rule of King Hezekiah over Judah (2 Chronicles 30).
    1. Hezekiah was the 14th king of Judah.
      1. He made serious efforts to restore devotion to and worship of the God of Israel who rescued them from Egypt.
        1. He made a serious effort to reduce significantly the idolatrous practices of Judah by destroying many of the sites of idolatrous worship.
        2. He made a serious effort to restore the God of Israel as the God to worship.
      2. Hezekiah’s positive initiatives included:
        1. The purification and renovation of the Temple.
        2. The reaffirmation of Israel’s covenant with God.
        3. Reinstitution of the national observance of the Passover.

    2. I ask you to particularly consider the reinstitution of the Passover as a national occasion for worship.
      1. Hezekiah sent a message to all Israelites in all twelve tribes inviting all men to return to Jerusalem and observe the Passover.
        1. Remember that the ten tribes known as Israel had not been to Jerusalem, worshipped at the temple, or observed a national day of Passover since Jereboam led them into idolatry two hundred years earlier.
        2. Passover could not be observed on the fourteenth day of the first month as commanded in Exodus 12:14,18 and Leviticus 23:4,5 because too many priests were not pure and the people were not assembled in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:3).
        3. King Hezekiah and the princes decided to hold the national observance of the Passover on the 14th day in the second month as Numbers 9:6-11 permitted (30:2).
        4. In his message, Hezekiah urged the ten northern tribes known as Israel not to be unfaithful like their ancestors; if they came, God would surely accept them (30:5-9).
        5. Most of the men of the ten northern tribes laughed at, ridiculed, and mocked the couriers who brought Hezekiah’s invitation (30:10).
        6. Some men from the tribes of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came (30:11).
      2. 2 Chronicles 30:12 states God’s hand was on Judah in giving the people one heart to do what Hezekiah and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.
      3. 2 Chronicles 30:18,19 makes this interesting statement:
        For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.”
        1. Whatever these verses mean, it is clear to me that many people ate the Passover meal when they were not qualified by law to do so.
        2. Their act did not offend God; Hezekiah prayed for God to accept everyone who had prepared his heart to seek God.

    3. Lest you be tempted to conclude that it was not important to observe the Passover in the correct manner, may I call your attention to some things.
      1. The feast of the Passover was the most important day of worship in Israel.
        1. It was the annual remembrance that God Himself delivered them from slavery and made them a nation.
        2. It was to forever remind Israel that “we owe our existence to God.”
      2. God stressed the importance of the Passover feast when God released Israel from Egyptian slavery.
        Exodus 12:14 Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
      3. How was the Passover to be correctly observed? Listen.
        Exodus 12:43-49 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this. But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.”
        1. No male who is uncircumcised may eat the Passover.
        2. The Passover is a memorial to the fact that God did not kill first born Israelites in Egypt.

    4. Some people who ate the Passover on that occasion had not observed the Passover in their families for over 200 years.
      1. Since their families had not worshipped God or visited the temple in 200 years, were they circumcised? I do not know; it does not say.
      2. It just says that they were not properly purified to eat the Passover.
      3. Yet, they ate it, and God accepted their worship because their heart sought the Lord.
      4. Not only could God do that; God did it.

  3. Let me try to be clear in the point I want you to see.
    1. “In your understanding, is it important to obey God?”
      1. Absolutely!
      2. There cannot be any question about the importance of obedience.

    2. “Should obedience be concerned about doing exactly what God wants us to do?”
      1. Absolutely!
      2. The soul of obedience is concern about God’s wishes and directions.

    3. “Is obedience only an issue of physical behavior, of physically doing the act of obedience?”
      1. No, obedience involves more than physical acts.
      2. If the act is correct and the heart is not involved, what occurs is not obedience.
      3. The act cannot set aside the importance of the heart.

    4. Can the heart make the physical act unnecessary?
      1. No.
      2. When a person’s heart belongs to God, that person wants his or her behavior to reflect his or her heart.

    5. If my acts are less than perfect, and my heart is sincerely directed toward God, can God accept me?
      1. First, how can acts be less than perfect?
        1. Acts can be less than perfect because I rebel; I consciously refuse to yield to God.
        2. Acts can be less than perfect because my knowledge is limited; I do what I know to do, but I do not have perfect knowledge and understanding.
        3. Acts can be less than perfect because I am mistaken; my understanding and conclusions are flawed.
        4. Acts can be less than perfect because I am weak; I sincerely want to do the correct thing, but there are times that the combination of my weakness and Satan’s temptation defeat my resolve.
      2. My understandings:
        1. The person who knowingly defies God excludes himself or herself from God.
        2. We all are limited in knowledge. We all “obey” in good conscience, but have inadequate understanding. Every person who lives in God’s grace is in that situation.
        3. We all have flawed understandings and conclusions. Every person who lives in God’s grace is in that situation.
        4. We all have weakness and fall to temptation. Every person who lives in God’s grace is in that situation.
      3. In Christ, God accepts imperfect people whose hearts seek God.

    6. Then what are my responsibilities in obeying God?
      1. Responsibility # 1: do not defy God.
      2. Responsibility # 2: grow in knowledge and be guided to better understandings and to better obedience.
      3. Responsibility # 3: grow in awareness of flaws and misunderstandings; never justify them; be guided to better obedience.
      4. Responsibility # 4: refuse to allow weakness and temptation to defeat you; always allow Christ to help you up; always accept God’s forgiveness; always depend on God for strength.
      5. But always understand that God accepts imperfection, or none of us could belong to God.

Our greatest challenges in understanding obedience: (1) include your heart; (2) leave the “accepting and rejecting” to our sovereign God; (3) learn God’s priorities instead of using our own.