For What Reason?

Posted by on April 29, 2001 under Sermons

All of us have asked for a favor. Every person here who is able to understand me has asked for a favor. Most of us asked someone for a favor this week. This week did you say to anyone, “Would you do me a favor?”

When someone asks you, “Would you do me a favor?” what do you say? It depends on who is asking for the favor. If it is a person you know and respect, your likely response is, “Sure!” You trust the person to ask something reasonable. You trust the person to ask something in your ability and power to do.

If the person asking for a favor is a stranger or a person you do not know well, you likely will say, “It depends on what you want,” or “If I can.” You are not certain the request will be reasonable or doable, so you will not give unqualified assurance you will grant the favor.

What would be your answer if a person you know and trust asked you to do something truly weird and unreasonable. If you knew the person well and trusted him or her a lot, you probably would ask, “Why?” If he or she could give you an important reason for the favor, you might consider it. But your response depends on the reason.

  1. John 1:35-51 provides us some interesting insights into the lives of some fascinating people.
    1. John the baptizer identified Jesus as the Lamb of God.
      1. The next day John was standing with two of his own disciples as Jesus walked by.
        1. One of those two men was Andrew.
        2. John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
        3. The two disciples immediately started following Jesus.
        4. He turned and asked, “What are you looking for?”
        5. They answered, “Teacher, where are you staying?”
        6. He invited them to come see, and they spent the rest of the day with him.
      2. Following his day with Jesus, Andrew went to his brother Peter.
        1. He told him, “We have found the Christ.”
        2. He then took Peter to Jesus.
      3. The next day Jesus went to Galilee.
        1. There he found a man named Philip and invited Philip to follow him.
        2. Philip lived in the hometown of Andrew and Peter.
        3. Philip searched for his brother Nathanael, found him, and told him, “We (probably meaning Philip, Andrew, and Peter) found the person Moses and the prophets spoke about; he comes from the town of Nazareth.
        4. Nathanael was not impressed: would Moses predict someone important would come from Nazareth? Would the prophets prophesy about someone who would come from Nazareth? Nazareth was religiously insignificant, spiritually unimportant.
          1. It was a small, out-of-the-way town away from any significant road.
          2. God’s Christ would certainly come from some place much more significant than Nazareth–maybe like the Holy City, Jerusalem.
          3. But Nazareth?
        5. Philip made no attempt to convince Nathanael.
        6. He just said, “Come and see.”
        7. Jesus, not Philip, convinced Nathanael.

    2. I want you to notice the reasons.
      1. The reason John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God was God revealed it to him (John 1:32-34).
      2. The reason two of John’s disciples followed Jesus and spent a day with him was John’s recognition of Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:35-37).
      3. The reason Andrew found Peter was his desire to share the news, “We have found the Christ (John 1:41).
      4. The reason Philip found Nathanael was to share that they had found the person Moses and the prophets wrote about (John 1:45).
      5. The reason Nathanael went to see Jesus was at his brother’s invitation (John 1:46).

  2. Next Sunday, we will experience the results of weeks of work to invite friends and neighbors to come visit us.
    1. We spent much of this month encouraging you to invite friends to worship with us next Sunday.
      1. Why? For what reason?
        1. Is it just a matter of statistics? Are we trying to impress ourselves or someone else with attendance numbers?
        2. Do you think that God will be more impressed with me or the elders or the deacons or you in the day of judgment if 1000 attend here instead of 750?
        3. Is it just a matter of “good business?” Is it just a matter of pointing to statistics to prove that we are growing instead of stagnating or dying?
      2. Is there any reason?
        1. Does a reason have to exist?
        2. Is the reason simply we are supposed to invite people?

    2. Which of these two things do you think impresses God?
      1. The number of people sitting in this room on a Sunday morning?
      2. Or the reason people are sitting in this room on Sunday morning?

    3. Suppose this situation happened.
      1. You invite a friend to worship with us next Sunday.
      2. The person asks your reason for your invitation. “Thanks for the invitation. But why do you want me to come?”
        1. Would your reason be this: “I am just doing what I am supposed to do. They said, ‘Invite,’ so I am inviting you.”
        2. Would your reason be this: “Going to church is a good habit to have, and I want to encourage you to develop a good habit.”
        3. Would your reason be this: “We are trying to set some recent attendance records, and I want you to help us set a record.”
      3. Would your reason be, “Being a part of that congregation encourages me every week.”
        1. “Every week I come closer and closer to God.”
        2. “Every week I appreciate Jesus more and more.”
        3. “Every week I see my blessings more clearly.”
        4. “Every week my understanding of Jesus my Lord grows deeper.”
        5. “Every single week my life is more spiritual because of my Bible study and worship.”
        6. “I want to share my blessing.”

  3. To you, how important is it for your friends to find and experience what you find and experience in Jesus Christ?
    1. When you invite someone into your home, what do you do to make them feel welcomed and appreciated?
      1. “Honey, our company should be here in fifteen minutes. It is time to get ready.”
        1. “Let me move the car in position to block the driveway so they can’t pull in.”
        2. “While I move the car, be sure all the doors are closed.”
        3. “Whatever you do, don’t straighten anything up. By the way, did you remember to make it hard to get to our front door?”
        4. “Remember, ask them to sit in the worst chairs we have.”
        5. “Whatever you do, don’t be friendly or make them feel welcome–they might get the idea we would like for them to come back.”
      2. Next Sunday, we need to keep some things clearly in mind.
        1. Be aware, be friendly, be helpful.
        2. We will have a visitors parking section; help us reserve it for visitors.
        3. Come in as few vehicles as possible–even car pool.
        4. If you have a friend come, please sit with them and help them feel welcome.
        5. If you do not have a visitor, sit in some of the special seating we have out.
        6. Sit close to the front.
        7. Make it obvious that we are happy for people to be here.

    2. Why? Because we want our friends and neighbors to come back. Why?
      1. So we can impress them with a preacher? No.
      2. So we can stand out statistically in the community? No.
      3. So we can feel good about how many people are coming? No.
      4. Because the most important thing that can happen in person’s life is to follow Jesus? Yes!
        1. Nothing brings the powerful blessings to life as does following Jesus.
        2. We want friends and neighbors to come because we want to encourage them and help them follow Jesus Christ.
        3. We want people to see the hope that exists in Jesus, and to come because they want to share the hope.

  4. Peter wrote the letter of 1 Peter to Christians who were suffering real pain because they followed Jesus.
    1. Even though they did good things and blessed people, those who hated Jesus Christ and Christianity caused them suffering.
      1. Peter said many things about a Christian’s attitude toward the suffering other people cause.
        1. He told them to remember that Jesus Christ suffered for them (1 Peter 4:1).
        2. He told them to rejoice when they suffered so that they would rejoice when Jesus returned (1 Peter 4:12,13).
        3. He challenged them to entrust their souls to God by suffering with the attitude God wanted them to have (1 Peter 4:13).
      2. The statement I want you to listen to closely is found in I Peter 3:13-16
        Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
        1. Peter said, “When you suffer, have the heart, the attitude, and the outlook that cause people to ask, ‘How can you do that?'”
        2. “How can you do good things for other people and suffer?”
        3. “Where do you find the hope to keep on doing good?”

    2. We rarely suffer because of our faith in Christ. At no time have Christians had it better than we do.
      1. Yet, I want the same thing Peter wanted.
      2. I want our hope in Jesus Christ to be such a force in our lives that people see our hope and ask about our hope.
      3. I want us to be able to explain our hope.

    3. If that happens, certain things must be true.
      1. We must be controlled by faith in Jesus, not by fear.
      2. We must not be intimidated or troubled by suffering.
      3. Jesus must sit on the throne of our hearts–he rules us every day.
      4. We must be gentle and reverent.
      5. We must keep a good conscience.
      6. We must have godly behavior.

    4. When people see us committed to being that kind of people, when they see us with that kind of hope, they will want to come; they will want to find in Jesus what we have found.

[Prayer: God, help our reason for worshipping You be found in Jesus Christ. Help us be hungry to share Jesus with others.]

Have the kind of faith and hope in Jesus Christ that make others want to find what you found in Jesus.

How Is “Growth” Measured?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

“Growth” is measured in many legitimate ways. An increase in size; or advancement toward maturity; or development in ability; or an increase in understanding; or an advancement in productivity; or an expansion are all measurements of growth.

A crop growing, a child growing, a business growing, or a marriage growing all share some common factors. However, growth in each is measured by different standards. The same criteria for measuring growth in a marriage and a business, or in a child and a field of corn cannot and must not be used.

My life is [and has been] spent working among, with, and for Christians in congregations. All congregations I have known wanted to grow. Regardless of happenings in the past or present, those in a congregation want present and future growth to exceed past growth. Every congregation expects to grow.

I do not grasp expectations in congregational growth. Is growth just statistical, a matter of numbers? Are three baptisms a week growth, but a Christian individual using faith to overcome a crisis not growth? Is genuine repentance growth? Does growth occur in an individual, in a group, or both? Is quality of faith, or degree of spiritual maturity, or involvement, or service, or increased commitment, or improved value systems, or improved relationships growth? Is increased love, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness growth? Is growth a matter of perception? Is a congregation growing when over 50% of its members say growth is occurring?

My conclusion: there are many legitimate standards for measuring congregational growth. Some are statistical measurements. Some are not. Different spiritual realities are measured by different standards.

Bottom line: when people become more like Jesus in heart, attitude, spirit, and surrender, growth is occurring. Whether this occurs because people are coming to Christ or people are developing in Christ, congregation growth is occurring. “Becoming like Christ” is God’s standard for measuring growth (Ephesians 4:13,15).

We want to grow in every aspect of our existence as Christ’s body. Consider some personal observations. (1) Growth and comfort are mutually exclusive. Growth commonly creates discomfort. Comfort commonly inhibits growth. (2) People will want us to teach them when they see the value of our faith in our personal lives, our marriages, our behavior, and our character. (3) People must feel wanted, valued, and loved–as visitors or as members. (4) God’s presence must obviously be with us, and worship must honor God. (5) Our spirituality must be as centered in our daily lives as it is in our assemblies and programs.

People will trust us to show them how to build a relationship with God when it is obvious to them that God teaches us how to build relationships with each other.

The Need and the Challenge

Posted by on April 25, 2001 under Sermons

It is very important for you to understand clearly my goal this evening. I want you to think. I am going to use this time and my ability to challenge you to think. I do not want you to react. Reaction basically is an emotional response. Reactions use feeling rather than thinking. I want you to think.

I do not ask for your agreement. I do not ask for your approval. I just want you to think. I do not want you to think just for the few minutes I share with you. I want you to begin thinking in ways that you cannot turn off.

  1. Recently some articles “jumped out” at me in our local newspaper, Southwest Times Record.
    1. Three of the articles appeared on the same weekend, and all of the articles were published in March and April.
    2. The first one I share with you had the title, “KB Toys Eyes Future.”
      1. KB has a 6% share of the $30 billion U.S. toy retail industry.
      2. A quote from the CEO, Michael Glazer: “We never get depressed around here because we can always come play with the toys.”
      3. The company was founded by two brothers in 1922 as a candy business.
        1. When World War II made sugar scarce, they switched from candy to toys.
        2. They have taken the company off the stock market and returned to being a privately controlled business.
      4. They are now trying to build their Internet presence to keep pace with the profound changes in the toy industry.
      5. They are now seriously trying to define their personality.
      6. How needs have changed in the toy industry!

    3. The second had this title: “Ousted College Coaches Learn The Hard Way.”
      1. About 25 head basketball coaches from division I colleges lost their jobs at the end of the season–in spite of the fact that most of them had contracts.
      2. Division I college basketball has become big money.
        1. In 1963 the television rights to telecast the NCAA tournament cost $140,000.
        2. In 1985 they cost $27,000,000.
        3. In 1995 they cost $149,000,000.
        4. In 2003 the price has already been established: $545,000,000 (which is part of a $6,000,000,000 eleven year contract already signed).
      3. So today when we attend a division I college basketball game, students are the smaller section of the crowd; the majority are the “gray hairs” who have money.
      4. Among the coaches who lost their jobs was Jerry Green of the University of Tennessee.
        1. In the last four years, his teams won 89 games, the same number the University of Florida won.
        2. He had guided his teams to four consecutive NCAA tournaments.
        3. Each of the four years his teams won at least 20 games.
      5. And he was forced to resign. Why?
        1. He did not “play the publicity game” correctly.
        2. He did not meet the expectations of the alumni.
        3. He did not please the alumni.
      6. How needs have changed in college basketball!

    4. The third had the title, “Refocus and Renew.”
      1. It talked about needs that must be met if a marriage survives.
      2. It said 75% of divorced people remarry, and 70% of those divorce again.
      3. Why? “Step-families have less time than regular families and regular families have no time.”
      4. Married couples must care for three levels of relationship: physical, emotional, and spiritual.
      5. How needs have changed in marriage!

    5. The fourth article had the title, “Compassion, Understanding Keys to Custody.”
      1. The article talked about the local problems created by unreliable child support in divorced families.
      2. On March 5, the Sebastian County Circuit Clerk’s Office handled $38,000 in child-support checks (for one month).
      3. For a year, that office handles an average of $5.7 million worth of checks.
      4. How needs have changed in caring for children!

    6. The last I share with you had this title: “Kmart Headquarters Employees Offered Early Retirement.”
      1. About 500 employees at Kmart’s headquarters in Troy, Michigan, were offered early retirement packages.
        1. The criteria for the buy out: 50 years old or older, worked for Kmart headquarters for at least 10 years.
        2. It was said that the nation’s number three retailer may be striving to attract a younger, more tech-savvy staff.
        3. They have been recruiting new executives who are forty years old or younger.
      2. The people offered the buyout “are probably very good people, but they were not brought up or schooled in the new ways of running a business in a tightly and intensely competitive environment.”
      3. How needs have changed in the business world!

  2. I would like for you to interact with me by raising your hand; I will not intentionally embarrass anyone.
    1. Would those of you who have children raise your hand?
      1. In your love for your children, how many of you would risk your life for them?
      2. How many of you would you do anything in your power to help them through any real danger or real crisis?
      3. Thank you!

    2. Would those of you who have grandchildren raise your hand?
      1. In your love for your grandkids, how many of you would risk your life for them?
      2. How many of you would do anything in your power to help them through any kind of real danger or real crisis?
      3. Thank you!

    3. I want to ask you some more questions. DO NOT RAISE YOU HANDS.
      1. Before I ask these questions, let me be as clear as I know how to be.
        1. I love God; I love Jesus Christ; I love God’s Spirit; I love the Bible; I love the church.
        2. I never knowingly encourage anyone to do anything that opposes God, Christ, and the Spirit; the authority and message of the Bible; or the church in the Bible.
        3. I do not knowingly do anything in my life that opposes God, Christ, and the Spirit; the authority and message of the Bible, or the church in the Bible.
        4. The questions are not asking you to consider doing anything unbiblical or contrary to God’s will.
      2. The questions: (remember, do not raise your hand. Remember many of you said you would risk your life for your children.)
        1. How many of you in your love for you children and grandchildren would change the songs you sing in worship?
        2. How many of you in your love for your children and your grandchildren would regularly change your order of worship or your focus in worship?
        3. How many of you who love your children and your grandchildren would reach out to their needs and their preferences in the church even when it meant your needs and preferences were not met all the time?
        4. How many of you who love your children and your grandchildren would regularly use your teens in significant ways in your worship assembly?
        5. As long as it is biblical, would you do whatever it takes to help your children become disciples of Jesus Christ who truly accept him as Lord?
      3. Nation wide in the Churches of Christ 50% of our young people stop associating with the Churches of Christ when they “get out on their own.” Is it okay with you if that continues?

  3. Another question: who will own your church property in 25 years?
    1. Do some figuring with me.
      1. First, add 25 years to your age right now. In 25 years, how old will you be?
      2. Second, look right now in your congregation at the people who are the age you will be in 25 years.
        1. How much support can they afford to maintain?
        2. How much are they able to be involved?
      3. Third, look at all the girls who will either be married or on their own in 25 years, and understand that most of them will live somewhere else with their family or their job or both.
      4. Fourth, look at all the boys who will either be married or on their own in 25 years, and understand a significant percentage of them will not live in your community.
      5. Fifth, look at how much your congregation has grown in dedicated, involved, sacrificial members in the last 25 years, and honestly estimate how much you expect to grow in the next 25 years.
      6. Then answer the question: who will own your church property in 25 years?
        1. Many of you have made an sacrificial investment in your church property.
        2. As a group, you probably have invested more in your facilities than in anything else.
        3. I know what we all want to happen, but will it?

  4. If it were possible for me to go back almost 2000 years and attend worship in a first century congregation, I would feel very “out of place.”
    1. The things I am most accustomed to would not be there.
      1. They did not own church buildings with air conditioning and insect control.
      2. Since printing had not been invented, songs books, pew Bibles, and visitor cards did not exist.
      3. Since the New Testament letters had not been compiled, New Testaments did not exist.
      4. There were no bulletin boards, printed announcements, or newsletters.

    2. Things that really distract me would be there. 1 Corinthians 14 gives us a small glimpse at some of the things that happened.
      1. The Holy Spirit was visibly active.
      2. Some would speak in tongues, and some would interpret.
      3. Some would receive a revelation and share it.
      4. Some would edify, and some would prophesy.
      5. A lot of people were verbally involved.
      6. I doubt many of us would be comfortable in that situation.
      7. Neither would they be comfortable right now with the way we do things.

    3. Christians who were Jews and Christians who were converted from idolatry did not do things in the same way when they assembled.

A real need and real challenge we all face as congregations is to understand that biblical things can be done in different ways to meet the spiritual needs of people as they mature in Christ. If we do not let Jesus teach us that biblical truth, we will die in our isolation, our children and grandchildren will increasingly leave, and someone else will own our facilities in 25 years.

Abraham and His Family

Posted by on April 22, 2001 under Sermons

Assume that God is forming an advisory committee. God wants to evaluate the entire process He used to bring salvation to our the world. He wants our reactions to His methods and means used to bring Jesus to be our Savior. That includes the way He used almost 1500 years to prepare this world for Jesus, the way He brought Jesus, the way He made Jesus the Christ, the way He brought the church into existence, and the way He informed the world about forgiveness.

God selects you to be on this advisory committee. He wants every member of the committee to be very open and very honest. He wants every member of the committee to critique anything in the entire process, and explain his or her critique.

  1. Let’s quietly listen to the first committee meeting. It is your turn to speak.
    1. “God, it has been my experience that if you want to accomplish truly good things you must use genuinely good people.”
      1. “The more important the accomplishment, the more important is it to use people who are exceptionally good people.”
      2. “Simply stated: if you want to change the thinking and emotions of the people of the world, you must use the best people in the world.”
      3. “It is essential that good people of great character be used so they can be an excellent, powerful influence.”
        1. “People in general are very skeptical, very critical.”
        2. “If you give people half a reason to criticize, they will criticize.”
        3. “If people have the choice between changing the way they think and live or criticizing the new ways, people will choose criticism almost every time.”
      4. “I think the biggest mistake in your plan to bring salvation to people was this: You used the wrong people when you began.”
        1. “I would never begin producing salvation by using Abraham and his family.”
        2. “That family simply had too many problems to criticize.”
        3. “They did not have the potential for being a powerful influence.”

    2. “Take an honest look at Abraham and his extended family.”
      1. “I would not begin with a man who used his wife to deceive other people as Abraham did.”
        1. “I would not begin with a man who lied about his wife being his wife.”
        2. “I would not begin with a man who allowed a king to take his wife with the intention of marrying her because the king thought the woman was unmarried.”
        3. “I would not begin with a man who had a son by a woman who was not his wife.”
        4. “I would not begin with a man who made his own son and that son’s mother permanently leave his family.”
        5. “I am sorry God, but that was a mistake.”
      2. “I would not use a man who showed enormous favoritism among his two sons as Isaac did.”
        1. “I would not use a man who dearly loved one son and disregarded the other son.”
        2. “I would not use a family in which the blind father’s wife plotted against and deceived him.”
        3. “I would not use a family in which both sons despised each other.”
        4. “I am sorry God, but that was a mistake.”
      3. “I would not use a man who lied and exploited others for his own benefit as Jacob did.”
        1. “He used his own brother’s hunger to take something precious from his brother.”
        2. “He intentionally lied to deceive his own blind father.”
        3. “He took advantage of his father-in-law.”
        4. “He had two wives, and he was partial to one wife and her children.”
        5. “His family interactions looked more like a war zone than a family.
        6. “He had horrible control of his wives and sons.”
        7. “I am sorry God, but that was a mistake.”
      4. “I would not use men who were guilty of despicable things such rape, hate, deceit, and murderous violence like the sons of Jacob were.”
        1. “Jacob’s sons made a covenant with the men of a city, sealed the agreement with those men’s circumcision, and then killed all of them when they could not defend themselves” (Genesis 34).
        2. “Judah used Tamar as if she were a prostitute” (Genesis 38).
        3. “Reuben raped one of his father’s concubines” (Genesis 35:22).
        4. “Nine brothers sold Joseph into slavery” (Genesis 37:18-28).
        5. “Those boys had enough jealousy and hatred in them to infect many generations.”

    3. “Perhaps I can best communicate my point by stating what I would do.”
      1. “I would start my plan for salvation with a man who was the ideal person, the ideal husband, and the ideal father.”
      2. “This man would be married to the ideal wife who would be the ideal mother.”
      3. “Their children would love and respect each other, and treat each other with great kindness and consideration.”
      4. “The children would become adults who were kind, who were great husbands and wives, and who were great parents.
      5. “Even through future generations, people would talk about what a great family and a wonderful example these people had been for generations.”
      6. “The church has enough problems trying to get people to be godly without tracing its roots through a family who obviously had so many flaws and faults.”

    4. Is that the way you would reason?

  2. Look at the kind of people often chosen to lead the church in spiritually maturing.
    1. I hope that we all are in agreement that we want a person who is genuinely devoted to God, who is genuinely converted to Jesus Christ.
      1. I hope that is a “given.”
      2. As a “given,” our discussion goes beyond that consideration.

    2. If we seek people to lead us in spiritual service and involvement, what kind of devoted, converted person do we want?
      1. What do we stress?
        1. Do we stress commitment and ability, or do we stress prominence?
        2. Do we stress a deep love for God, or do we stress material success?
        3. Do we stress having the attitude and spirit of Jesus, or do we stress business achievements?
        4. Do we stress great faith, or do we stress educational accomplishments?
      2. Are prominence, material success, business achievements, and educational accomplishments bad things?
        1. No, of themselves they are not bad things.
        2. But neither are they of themselves spiritual things.
        3. They are no substitute for spiritual commitment, ability, deep love for God, the attitude and spirit of Jesus, and faith.
      3. What is the basic difference between the two lists of characteristics and qualities?
        1. Prominence, material achievements, business success, and educational accomplishments focus on the human accomplishments of the individual.
        2. Spiritual commitment and ability, a deep love for God, the attitude and spirit of Jesus, and a great faith focus on the accomplishments of God in Christ.
        3. A common tendency among all of us is to depend on human achievement for spiritual success.
        4. God wants us our confidence to be placed in His achievement as being the key to spiritual success.

  3. Consider Paul’s statement to the Christians at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 4:7.
    1. Context:
      1. Paul had some powerful critics in the church at Corinth.
        1. His critics attempted to destroy his credibility by declaring how unimpressive Paul was in person.
          1. “He is a terrible speaker” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
          2. “In person his physical appearance is most unimpressive” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
        2. The implication was this: “God’s spokesman who delivers God’s glorious message surely would look and sound like someone other than Paul.”
      2. Paul said that his purpose was to impress them with Christ, not himself.
        1. The God who promised “Light shall shine out of darkness” is the One who shone in Paul and his company’s hearts to give the light of God’s glory in Jesus’ face.
        2. The precious good news he shared was about Jesus, not about Paul.

    2. The verse:
      2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.
      1. God placed this incredible treasure of the good news about Jesus Christ in the clay pots of Paul and his company.
      2. Clay pots had little value–they literally were “dirt cheap.”
      3. The treasure in those pots was too valuable to even estimate.
      4. For the sake of illustration, it would be like placing a billion dollars in an empty coffee can.
      5. “That is stupid! Why do that?”
        1. There is a very important reason.
        2. God did it that way so people would be impressed with God and what God did in Jesus, not the container that revealed the treasure.
        3. The container had just one purpose: to draw attention to the value of the treasure.

    3. “But I would not do it that way!”
      1. That is the point.
      2. We do not do things the way God does them.
      3. God’s ways powerfully declare what God had done and is doing, not what we have done and are doing.
      4. Our tendency is to try to impress people with us; if people are sufficiently impressed with us perhaps we can impress them with our God.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Isaiah said, speaking for God in Isaiah 55:8,9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Christian faith and existence are not based on demanding that God function and work in ways we would function and work. Christian faith and existence constantly seek to grow in understanding of God’s ways. We learn His ways. We do not demand He do things our ways.

Faith, Behavior, and Conviction

Posted by on under Sermons

Years ago I met a person who asked me for help. He began by saying, “I am an agnostic.” This was his request. “I really do not know if God exists. But, I read and study the Bible. It is clear that God expects people to be baptized. I do not know if God exists. If He does, He expects me to be baptized. If I die, and God exists, I dare not face God without being baptized. Will you baptize me?”

Here was a person who had no faith in God, but who was convinced if he did the right act, that act would content God, if God existed.

I refused to baptize him. If a person is baptized without faith in God and Jesus, and without personal repentance, his or her baptism is without spiritual meaning.

His request illustrates a religious problem that grows worse and worse in the church and in our society. Too often people do religious acts in wrong convictions. Too often people believe religious acts without faith have the power to make God happy. Too many people never understand religious acts lose their power and meaning if there is no faith.

  1. To me, the agnostic’s request for baptism powerfully illustrates a major problem in our society.
    1. When a person misses the point of an act, the act itself can become horribly destructive.
      1. Let me illustrate my point.
      2. Illustration #1: abuse misses the point of discipline.
        1. Abuse believes the point of discipline is control.
        2. The true point of discipline is loving guidance.
      3. Illustration # 2: anorexia misses the point of self-control.
        1. Anorexia believes the point of self-control is to destroy the body.
        2. The true point of self-control is to increase health.
      4. Illustration # 3: drug abusers miss the point of life.
        1. Many drug abusers think the point of life is evasion of responsibility.
        2. Life’s true point is to find highest level of responsibility and live there.

    2. As a driver, do you understand the point of a 4-way stop?
      1. 4-way stops illustrate freedom and responsibility working together.
        1. When drivers understand the point of a 4-way stop, that intersection can move a lot of traffic quickly and smoothly.
        2. But when drivers do not understand the point of 4-way stops, the same intersection becomes a disaster waiting to happen.
      2. At a 4-way stop, you are free to drive any way you choose to drive.
        1. You are free to be totally selfish and inconsiderate.
        2. You are free to ignore the law.
        3. You are free to cause accidents.
        4. You are free to wreck your own car.
        5. You are also free to stop and wait your turn.
      3. If you use your freedom irresponsibly, a 4-way stop quickly becomes a nerve-racking, disaster area.
        1. 4-way stops will not work when drivers use their freedom irresponsibly.
        2. If drivers at 4-way stops are irresponsible, they soon create gridlock, and no one goes anywhere.
      4. However, if all four lanes of drivers at the intersection choose to use their freedom responsibly, it is amazing how smoothly and quickly lots of traffic flows through the intersection.

  2. If I asked, “What is the point of being a Christian?” what would you say?
    1. Let me give you three words: faith, behavior, conviction.
      1. If I asked you to explain the point of being a Christian by using those words, which word or words would you choose?
      2. Some of us would choose the word “faith.”
        1. Many of us would use “faith” to emphasize the importance of trusting God.
        2. However, we might struggle to share how that trust expresses itself.
      3. Some of us would choose the word “behavior.”
        1. Many of us would use “behavior” to emphasize the importance of doing the right things the right way.
        2. However, when we make our lists of godly behavior, our lists might be based on “don’t dos” or “church things.”
      4. I would predict that the majority of us would choose the word “conviction.”
        1. To most of us the word “conviction” is the unshakable dedication to what we are convinced is true.
        2. However, it is common for Christians to place their faith in their convictions, and to regard convictions as more important than behavior.

    2. “Well, David, which word would you select?”
      1. I would select all three.
        1. We need to firmly trust God and Jesus by trusting what God does in Jesus.
        2. We need convictions that are founded in the Bible’s teachings, God’s priorities, and Jesus’ values.
        3. We need godly behavior that demonstrates the blessing and value of our faith and convictions.
      2. Would you notice something in your daily association with other people?
        1. When others are impressed and challenged by someone’s Christianity, what do they admire?
        2. Do they admire the fact the person has faith? Sometimes.
        3. Do they admire the fact the person has convictions? Sometimes.
        4. Do they admire the person’s behavior? Often.
      3. The value of our faith and convictions must be obvious in our every day behavior.
      4. It is our behavior that attracts people to our faith and convictions, or our behavior that repels people from our faith and convictions.

    3. Too often we create the impression that all that matters is convictions.
      1. “I abuse my wife, but I have the right convictions.”
      2. “I cheat on my husband, but I have the right convictions.”
      3. “I neglect my children, but I have the right convictions.”
      4. “I indulge in destructive pleasures, but I have the right convictions.”
      5. “I am miserable to deal with, but I have the right convictions.”
      6. “I have horrible attitudes that cause other Christians problems, but I have the right convictions.”
      7. “I take advantage of people in business, but I have the right convictions.”

    4. Too many Christians think “if my convictions are right,” I do not need to understand the point.
      1. “Miss worship on Sunday morning? My convictions will not allow that!” Why are you so committed to attending? “I know I am supposed to come, but I cannot explain to you why.”
      2. “Miss communion on Sunday? My convictions will not allow that!” Why do you take communion every week? “I am supposed to, but I could not explain to you why.”

  3. To me, the agnostic’s request to be baptized illustrates a major abuse of Christianity.
    1. “Why does that request illustrate an abuse of Christianity?”
      1. Some have forgotten the point of Christian existence, and through their forgetfulness they create the wrong impression.
      2. Some have never known the point of Christian existence, and through their ignorance they create the wrong impression.

    2. “What is the wrong impression?”
      1. Wrong impression # 1: the point of Christianity is procedure.
        1. “The whole point of Christianity is doing the right things the right way.”
        2. “As long as the right things are done the right way, God is happy.”
      2. Wrong impression # 2: the point of Christianity is current security.
        1. “The whole point of Christianity is obtaining spiritual insurance.”
        2. “If you do what God says, nothing bad can happen.”
      3. Wrong impression # 3: the point of Christianity is performing proper rituals.
        1. “The whole point of Christianity is practicing spiritual magic: if you perform the right rituals, God will do what you want Him to do.”
        2. “If you want God to do what you want, you have to learn the right rituals.”

    3. “What is the correct impression?”
      1. God knows what evil does to us; God knows the trouble that evil produces in our lives; and God loves us.
      2. God wants to use Jesus to change us inside out so we are free from the control of evil to live in the freedom of godliness.
      3. Does God want us to believe in Him, in Jesus, and in His Spirit? Absolutely! If we do not have faith, He cannot change us.
      4. Does God want us to build convictions that are based on His will? Absolutely! If we do not let Him teach us what is important, He cannot change us.
      5. Does God want our behavior to reflect our faith and convictions? Absolutely! If our faith and convictions are real, our everyday behavior is based on God’s values and priorities.

    4. Paul’s challenge to the Christians in Ephesus in Ephesians 4 is powerful and practical.
      1. He challenged them to understand God’s purpose among them collectively.
      2. He challenged them to understand God’s purpose in the church was the spiritual maturing of every Christian as they serve Christ as Christ’s body.
      3. He said that if they understood God’s message in the Christ, they understand that people who belong to God do not live and act like godless people.
      4. He said that if they understood the meaning of being a new person in Christ, they wanted God to spiritually recreate them in righteousness and holiness of truth.

For the sake of emphasis, for the sake of focusing on meaning, I want to read Ephesians 4:25-32 from a translation called The Message. Listen, think, and read with me.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry–but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. Did you used to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work. Watch out the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

[Prayer: God increase our faith. Deepen the convictions You want in our hearts and minds. And teach us how to live. Teach us how to behave every day. Teach us how to treat each other. Teach us how to treat all people.]

The agnostic who asked me to baptize him came to see me many months later. He returned as one who believed. He asked me to baptize him because he believed, and with joy I did.

Do you believe? Was your baptism a declaration of faith? Is your faith obvious in your behavior?

“My Ways Are Not Your Ways”

Posted by on April 15, 2001 under Sermons

Among the many spiritual understandings that cause Christians to struggle is the desire to relate to God. The primary purpose of being a Christian is to form a developing, maturing relationship with God. We seek to understand the information and message of the Bible, to understand Jesus Christ, to understand God’s concept of the church, and to understand salvation because we desire a developing, maturing relationship with God.

Understanding God is an enormous, never-ending challenge. Commonly the individual Christian bases his or her understanding of God on his or her understanding of humanity. Commonly, we assume many things about God. “If it makes sense to me, it makes sense to God.” “If I would do it that way, God would do it that way.” By humanizing God, we impose our priorities on God; we impose our values on God; we impose our perspectives on God; and we impose our stances on God.

It is much too easy for us to think of God as if He was a superhuman or the highest expression of “the best” of humanity. We often justify our conclusions about God or His will by emphasizing scriptures that agree with our conclusions and ignoring scriptures that disagree with our conclusions. We too easily conclude that God is far more concerned about our beliefs than our actions. We find it easy to blind ourselves to God’s balance between belief and action. We even conclude that we can justify horrible acts if those horrible acts support “good” beliefs.

When we reason in these ways, we duplicate the mistakes of the generations and ages before us.

  1. Think with me as we conduct an interview with a devout Israelite in the last years of the Old Testament period.
    1. “Do you know God?”
      1. “Of course I know God.”
        1. “I belong to the nation of Israel, and the nation of Israel exists because God formed it.”
        2. “I can trace my ancestors back all the way to Abraham who lived over a thousand years ago.”
        3. “I know which son of Jacob was my forefather.”
        4. “I live by God’s law.”
        5. “I know the prophets that God sent to us.”
      2. “Of course I know God!”

    2. “Of the many things I need to understand about God, what one thing would you recommend that I never forget about God.”
      1. “You must never forget that God is tough! If you do not do what He says, He will crush you!”
      2. “He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s wife.”
      3. “He killed every firstborn son of the Egyptians.”
      4. “In the forty years of the exodus, He killed every adult Israelite man who left Egypt with only two exceptions–Joshua and Caleb.”
      5. “He did not allow Moses to enter Canaan after all Moses endured.”
      6. “In the period of the Judges, he punished Israel with captivity after captivity.”
      7. “He withdrew His presence from King Saul, and King Saul and some of his sons were killed by the Philistines.”
      8. “As close as David was to God, there were times when God punished David.”
      9. “Solomon was severely punished by God.”
      10. “God destroyed ten of the twelve tribes of Israel in the Assyrian captivity, and those people never were a nation again.”
      11. “God placed the kingdom of Judah in Babylonian captivity and caused horrible suffering.”
      12. “Never, never forget this fact: God is tough!”

  2. Please take your Bibles and turn to Isaiah 1.
    1. Isaiah began his teaching before the kingdom of Judah was captured by the Babylonians and sent into exile.
      1. I want you to notice ways in which chapter one could be used to verify God’s “tough guy” image.
      2. “My own people do not know me” (verses 2, 3).
        1. “Farm animals know who their owner is, but my people do not know Me.”
        2. “They exist because of Me, but they neither know nor understand Me.”
      3. “You are a sinful nation, descendants of evil people, and sons who do wickedness” (verse 4)
        1. “You abandon me and despise Me.”
        2. “You turn away from Me.”
      4. “As a nation, you are like a sick body” (verses 5,6).
        1. “There is not one healthy place on you.”
        2. “You are like a sick person who is cut and raw all over who has received no medical care.”
      5. “You need to clean yourself up, completely turn your life around, treat people like they ought to be treated, and listen to me” (verses 16-20).
        1. “If you do that, I will bless you wonderfully.”
        2. “If you do not do that, I will destroy you with the sword.”
      6. “This is what will happen to you:”
        1. “Your land will be deserted, and strangers will live on it” (verses 7-9).
        2. “I will pay zero attention to your worship” (verses 10-15).
      7. “Jerusalem has become a prostitute filled with every kind of corruption (verses 21-23).
        1. “I will take my own vengeance and turn my hand against you” (verses 24-26).
        2. “I will crush the transgressors and the sinners” (verse 28).

    2. Judah and the city of Jerusalem refused to hear God’s call to repentance, and Babylon destroyed Judah.
      1. The temple was destroyed, reduced to rubble.
      2. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed and its walls pulled down.
      3. The people were forced by the Babylonians into exile for seventy years.

    3. In this [as well as all other acts of God], understanding God’s motives is extremely important.
      1. God was not being “mean” to Judah because He enjoys punishing people.
      2. God allowed Judah to endure the complete consequences of their evil because He wanted them to repent.

  3. After Judah finally “understood God’s message” in Babylonian captivity, God had the enormous job of making these people understand that He really cared about them. Turn with me to Isaiah 55.
    1. God had Isaiah to encourage Judah (verses 6, 7).
      1. To encourage them, Isaiah asked them to do two things.
        1. First, seek God while he can be found (remember in Isaiah 1 God paid no attention to their worship.)
        2. Second, turn away from wickedness and unrighteous thoughts, and turn to the Lord.
      2. If they did that, Isaiah promised God would do two things.
        1. God would have compassion on them.
        2. God would pardon them.

    2. The reaction of many when they heard this is predictable.
      1. “God, have compassion on us? Pardon us? God? No way!”
      2. “He did not have compassion on us or pardon us when Jerusalem fell, when the temple was destroyed, when we were forced into exile!”
      3. “He told us it was going to happen! He let it happen! And now we are supposed to think that he extends a compassionate pardon?”
      4. “God is tough! The tough God does not deal in compassion that pardons.”

    3. Isaiah answered for God in a totally unexpected way (verses 8, 9).
      1. “Do not think that God acts like you act or thinks like you think.”
      2. “God’s thoughts and ways are so far beyond yours that you cannot comprehend them.”
      3. “God’s thinking and actions are so far beyond yours that they are like the heavens being higher than the earth.”

  4. This is the problem people have in trying to understand God: they think God is like them (same use of emotions, same use of reasoning, same use of logic).
    1. If we could not or would not do something, we think God could not or would not do that.
      1. “If someone upset me so much that I let happen to them what God let happen to Judah in the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity, I would not have compassion or want to pardon their descendants.”
      2. For us there is a basic inconsistency between punishment and compassion, between consequences and pardon.
        1. You do not show compassion to people you punish–that is inconsistent!
        2. You do not pardon someone you make endure the consequences–that is inconsistent!
      3. God is not ruled by what we humans declare to be “consistent.”
        1. He can be compassionate toward those He punishes.
        2. He can pardon those He calls to consequence.
        3. He not only can; He does.

    2. “But I would not do it that way!”
      1. That was Isaiah’s point when he declared for God, “My ways are not your ways.”
      2. Every single Christian should be deeply grateful that God does not do things the way we would do them.
      3. If God did, none of us could be saved.

Thank you, God, for thinking and behaving in ways far beyond anything we can image. Thank you, God, for not being confined to our thoughts and our actions.

“They Do Not Know What They Are Doing”

Posted by on under Sermons

In 1859 Thomas Austin brought 24 wild rabbits from England and released them on his property in southern Victoria, Australia. He wanted to establish the English sport of rabbit hunting. Seven years later, 14,253 rabbits were shot on his property.

In l850 a man was fined ten pounds for shooting a rabbit on John Robertson’s property in Australia. A few years later, John Robertson’s son spent 5000 pounds in just one year trying to control the rabbit population. In 1869 it was estimated that 2,033,000 rabbits had been destroyed on the Robertson property, and the rabbits remained as thick as ever.

Through various means, the rabbit population in Australia covered the entire continent in 40 years. There were so many rabbits that they were called “the gray blanket.” Nowhere else on earth has any colonizing mammal spread so fast.

Thomas Austin did not know what he was doing when he released 24 wild rabbits on his property in southern Victoria, Australia.

When people do not know what they are doing, they often do devastating things.

  1. People throughout the world today consider God’s incredible power demonstrated in Jesus’ resurrection.
    1. Paul used Jesus’ resurrection to explain why he made a complete turnaround to be a Christian.
      Philippians 3:8-10 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.
    2. However, no one properly appreciates God’s power in the resurrection unless he or she also appreciates God’s power and Jesus’ heart in the crucifixion.
      1. Only because Jesus lived as the person he was could God elevate him to the position of Lord and Christ through resurrection.
      2. Had Jesus not been a sinless man of compassion, the resurrection would have been a “neat feat,” but nothing more.
      3. We can be blessed by Jesus’ resurrection when we accept the blessings of his compassion.

  2. Luke 23 draws a phenomenal contrast between those who saw what happened and those who were blind to what happened when Jesus died.
    1. After the Jewish leadership made determined efforts to convince Pilate to execute Jesus, Pilate called the priests who controlled the temple (chief priests) and the rulers of the Jews together.
      1. They had accused Jesus of offenses worthy of the worst form of the death penalty (verse 14).
      2. Pilate told them he had examined Jesus, and Jesus was not guilty of the accusations they made against him (verses 14, 15).
      3. Pilate attempted to appease their anger against Jesus by offering to punish him, and then release him (verse 16).
        1. Pilate found himself in a very difficult situation.
        2. He was responsible for keeping order among the Jewish people.
        3. The time of the Jewish Passover was the most difficult time to keep order in Palestine because so many Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the purpose of remembering the first time they were freed to become a nation.
        4. Jewish patriotism and emotions were so high that the smallest disturbance easily became a mass revolt that could be controlled only by the Roman soldiers stepping in and killing a lot of people.
        5. If that happened, Pilate was in major trouble in Rome.
      4. Pilate looked for a way out of a delicate, tense situation that would allow him to appease the Jewish leaders and let Jesus live.
        1. He offered to punish and release Jesus, and that did not work (verse 16).
        2. He offered to release Jesus or the criminal Barabbas, and that did not work (verses 17, 18).
        3. He again declared Jesus was innocent, but the situation just grew more tense, more emotional (verses 22, 23).
      5. Finally Pilate bowed to the pressure and condemned Jesus to crucifixion; it was the only expedient thing for Pilate to do (verses 24, 25).

    2. Luke focuses us on a very diverse group of people who witnessed Jesus’ execution.
      1. A group of women were mourning and lamenting as Jesus began his march to his execution (verses 27-31).
        1. Some probably genuinely grieved.
        2. Some likely were “doing the right thing;” it was considered to be a righteous act to mourn a death.
        3. Jesus told them to cry for themselves, not for him.
          1. Soon Jerusalem would experience horrible suffering (which happened when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans).
          2. When that time came, women would regard not having children to be a blessing (married women regarded not having children to be a disgrace).
      2. Two criminals were executed beside Jesus as he was executed (verse 32).
      3. Curiosity seekers came to see the spectacle of Jesus’ execution (verse 35).
      4. The rulers of the Jewish people sneered at Jesus saying, “If he is God’s Christ, let him save himself” (verse 35).
      5. The soldiers in charge of the execution mocked Jesus saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself (verses 36, 37)!”
      6. One of the criminals who was executed by him said, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us (verse 39)!”

    3. Please pay special attention to the contrast.
      1. The priests in charge of the temple, the rulers of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people themselves should have understood God’s presence in Jesus.
        1. You would expect them to look at Jesus’ life and works and see God at work.
        2. But they did not.
        3. They all cried, “Crucify him!” They all insisted that Pilate order Jesus’ execution.
      2. But consider the unexpected witnesses.
        1. When one criminal criticized Jesus for not doing something, the other criminal regarded his criticism as totally inappropriate.
          1. “You are dying, and you have no reverence for God?”
          2. “We deserve to be executed; he did nothing wrong.”
        2. When Jesus died, the officer in charge of the execution began to praise God (verse 47).
          1. He knew Jesus was innocent.
          2. He knew a great injustice had just occurred.
        3. As the crowd of spectators began to leave, their attitude had completely changed.
          1. They came as curiosity seekers.
          2. They left in grief aware that a great injustice had occurred.

  3. There is one specific statement Jesus made I want you to consider carefully: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
    1. The Jewish leaders were so full of anger, resentment, and hate, they were blind to what they did.
      1. They did not realize they were executing God’s own Son.
      2. They did not realize they were executing the Christ God promised Israel.
      3. The did not realize they were executing the world’s Savior.
      4. They simply did not know what they were doing.

    2. Jesus’ reaction was astounding.
      1. He did not say, “God, forgive them; they are not guilty.”
        1. They were guilty of horrible injustice.
        2. There was enormous evil in what they did.
      2. He did not say, “God, forgive them; their knowledge is better than their actions.”
        1. Their knowledge was as horrible as their actions.
        2. They had wrong expectations, and wrong expectations blinded them.
      3. Jesus said, “Forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.”
        1. “They are guilty, but forgive them.”
        2. “They are ignorant, but forgive them.”
      4. That is not how we would react or what we would say.
        1. We would say, “Father, make them pay!”
        2. “Honor justice, and make them pay!”

    3. The only one we have to plead for us before God is Jesus.
      1 Timothy 2:3-5 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
      1. God wants to save each one of us.
      2. But the question is do we want to be saved?
      3. Wonder how many times every day Jesus says to God on our behalf, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

[Sing a song of reflection.]

In the daily use of your life, do you know what you are doing? Will you let Jesus teach you what you should be doing?

God’s Family

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

God gives us major challenges. His calls to holiness, godly behavior, righteous lifestyles, purity, unselfishness, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ are major, continuing calls. These calls demand focus, commitment, and sacrifice from each of us.

Perhaps of all God’s calls, the call to be His family is among the most difficult. “Why? Those other calls seem much more demanding than His call to be family!” The call to be family is difficult because it seems easily attainable. We all see holiness, godly behavior, righteous lifestyles, purity, unselfishness, and surrender to Jesus’ Lordship as way beyond human ability. However, we consider being family as “very doable.”

We may not grasp God’s call to be family. It involves helping the weak, loving the unlovable, strengthening the burdened, rejoicing with the blessed, encouraging the strong, and forgiving each other. We are God’s family because He is full of mercy and grace. Therefore, we use lots of mercy and grace with each other.

God’s family at West-Ark grew this week. We had two births. Courtney Strong and Jeff Tucker were immersed into Christ to put on Christ. Courtney (Kevin and Deborah Strong’s daughter) has seriously considered baptism for a few years. Jeff Tucker (David Burn’s close friend) has worshipped with West-Ark for about three years. We are delighted both of them are part of this family! May we be God’s family to them!

Susan Tygart and Sean Doyle share a special feeling of closeness to West-Ark. They plan to be married May 19 in our building. Their wedding will be simple. Their desire is for the wedding to have a “sense of family” by including their West-Ark family. The music will be congregational singing. They will have no professional photographer because they want no distractions from “the family moment.”

The wedding is planned for 10 a.m. that morning. Since they are combining two households, the only “gift” they would like is the “gift” of a finger food fellowship in the Family Life Center. They would like for “their family” here to bring finger foods for an informal occasion of fellowship after the wedding. They do not wish to burden the congregation with showers, wedding gifts, and a fellowship. They just want us to share the moment with them.

Susan and Sean find great joy in their association with their spiritual family at West-Ark. They love us for the bond we share together in Christ. Nothing could make their moment of commitment more meaningful than sharing it with us as family.

May West-Ark be God’s family. May we do more than exist. May we accept God’s enormous challenge to be family. May we reflect Jesus’ light to the weak, the struggling, the burdened, the strong, and the joyful. May we rejoice together in Jesus’ Lordship.

Because God Cares …

Posted by on April 8, 2001 under Bulletin Articles

Being a citizen of a huge nation is difficult. Why? Regional concerns radically differ. A region commonly fails to grasp radically different regional realities. A single law cannot address all regional situations. Truly good things for one region can be truly horrible things for another region.

In a huge city, a .270 caliber scoped rifle is an unnecessary, deadly weapon of destruction. On a cattle ranch in Wyoming, a .270 caliber scoped rifle is a necessary tool in providing security for the herd. Cattle herds do not roam huge cities, and deadly people-to-people violence is not a reality on Wyoming cattle ranches.

California’s population, climate, and sensitive environment necessitates environmental concerns. Automobiles and equipment with gasoline engines sold in other states often must be modified for California. Emissions standards addressing Los Angeles’ smog problem are unnecessary and repressive in Kansas.

Commonly, one region’s problems do not reflect another region’s needs. From region to region, situations, needs, and people change.

People are poor at producing positive responses that respectfully understand differences. As long as “I am not affected,” we can be understanding (or indifferent). Typically, people regard radical differences to be “stupid” (if we are prejudiced) or to be “ridiculous” (if we consider ourselves “enlightened”).

In a horrible way, God’s people often misrepresent Him. Outside church circles, godliness is regarded to be bad. Why? Too often, we use prejudice, arrogance, judgmental behavior, unkind attitudes, and negative emotions in attempts to force the values of godliness on others.

We find it difficult to be concerned for those “significantly” different. We more easily care about those “just like us” or “far, far away.” Caring about the people among us who are different is hard.

This is God’s basic influence on men or women drawn by faith and understanding to Him: He who cares about people leads us to care about people.

Matthew 5:44-48, But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect (complete, mature), as your heavenly Father is perfect (complete, mature).

Getting What I Want

Posted by on April 1, 2001 under Sermons

People tend to be selfish and self-centered. We all have that tendency. People always have had that tendency. Individually and collectively, we want what we want. We do not care about consequences if consequences occur further down life’s road. We tend to focus on “right now,” and as far as “right now” is concerned, we want what we want.

Let me illustrate my point. Illustration # 1: does a 16-year old who begins smoking consider a heart attack or lung cancer when he or she is in his or her fifties? No. When smoking begins, does the risk of heart attack and lung cancer immediately increase? Dramatically. But the 16-year old only considers “right now” and what he or she wants “right now.” Have you ever heard a person in his or her 50s dying of lung cancer caused by smoking say, “I wish I had never picked up my first one!” Fifty-two is paying the consequences for the shortsighted decisions of sixteen.

Illustration # 2: The majority of the current marriages in our society either produced enormous misery or end in failure. Why? That simple question has many, many correct answers. One significant foundation cause is selfishness or self-centeredness. One or both of the spouses “wants what I want right now.” Too commonly, one or both spouses do not consider consequences that are years ahead. Too commonly, one or both spouses do not consider what is best for everyone. “I am not allowed to have what I want, and I want it right now.” “I am not allowed to do what I want, and I want to do it right now.” “My life is about me, and my marriage is not focused on me. If everything cannot be about me right now, I will find a situation where it can be about me.”

Illustration # 3: What common problems do governments everywhere face? There are many! One significant problem existing in government anywhere at any level is selfishness. Look at the biggest handicap to solving any problem situation. “My constituents will not like that.” Why? “That is not what they want right now.” Can you not do what is in their future best interest? “No. They are not concerned about the future. They are concerned about right now.” Every government decision on any level must deal with some form of selfish focus on “right now.”

  1. King Hezekiah was the 14th king of Judah.
    1. To understand his situation, you need to understand the context of his “right now.”
      1. Ten of the tribes of the nation of Israel separated themselves from Judah and formed a distinct, separate nation.
        1. 2 Kings 17 documents how evil, corrupt, and ungodly this nation was and had been for almost 200 years.
        2. They were so idolatrous, so ungodly, so evil that the nation collapsed.
        3. The Assyrians conquered them, captured their king, and exiled the citizens.
      2. Judah shared a common border with Israel; Israel was not only blood relatives to Judah, but next door neighbors.
      3. Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, had been heavily into idol worship.
      4. The overall picture:
        1. The most powerful military in their world destroyed their next door neighbor.
        2. Their next door neighbor had been evil and ungodly for about 200 years.
        3. Judah had been very ungodly, and Hezekiah’s father had lead them in ungodliness.

    2. Hezekiah was a true contrast to the situation all around him.
      1. He was a godly person who led a major reform and restoration movement in Judah.
        1. He did what was right in God’s sight just as did his ancestor David (2 Kings 18:3).
        2. In major ways he destroyed idolatry in Judah (2 Kings 18:4).
        3. He destroyed the bronze snake that Moses made in the wilderness because it had become an idolatrous object (2 Kings 18:4).
        4. He clung to the Lord and kept the commandments of the law (2 Kings 18:6)
        5. God was with him and prospered him (2 Kings 18:7).
        6. He refused to serve the king of Assyria and led Judah to some significant military successes against their local enemies (2 Kings 18:7,8)
        7. He repaired and purified the temple as he revived temple worship and renewed Judah’s covenant with God (2 Chronicles 29).
        8. He revived and renewed the observance of Passover in Judah (2 Chronicles 30).
      2. Hezekiah dared to be a godly ruler in a dangerous, ungodly world.
        1. He lived through some major, deadly crises.
        2. But crises never turned him away from God.

  2. Consider one major crisis that occurred. I am using the 2 Kings 18 and 19 account.
    1. The king of Assyria had defeated the nation of Israel next door and exiled them.
      1. That army was on the border.
      2. Hezekiah had refused to serve the king of Assyria, so the Assyrian army invaded Judah.
        1. The walled cities near the border were captured.
        2. Hezekiah tired to make peace with Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, by offering him a huge sum of silver and gold.
        3. As was commonly the case, the king of Assyria took the gift and proceeded with his plans to capture and destroy Judah.
      3. The king of Assyria sent two messengers to Jerusalem to ask everyone to surrender rather than pointlessly dying as they resisted the Assyrian army.
        1. The messengers spoke the language of Judah so everyone could understand what they said.
        2. Basically this was their message:
          1. “We will starve you until you surrender, and you know we can.”
          2. “Your God cannot save you; not one else’s god saved them.”
          3. “Your king cannot save you; if Hezekiah says he can, he deceives you.”
          4. “Surrender now and you will enjoy a very good life.”
      4. When Hezekiah heard the message, he sent his servants to tell Isaiah what was said.
        1. They asked Isaiah to pray to God about the situation.
        2. Isaiah said, “Tell the king not to be afraid; God will cause the king of Assyria to go home, and there he will be killed.”
      5. The messengers of the king of Assyria came back and said, “We will destroy you.”
        1. The king of Assyria returned home to address a rebellion.
        2. At home in Ninevah two assassins killed him.

  3. Hezekiah was truly a godly person, and his great crisis with Assyria passed.
    1. However, there are two lessons we need to learn from him in 2 Kings 20.
      1. Hezekiah became critically ill.
        1. Isaiah the prophet came to him and said, “Get ready to die; this sickness will kill you.”
        2. Hezekiah tearfully prayed that God would let him live.
        3. God was moved by his prayer, sent Isaiah back, and Isaiah told him that he would be well in three days and continue to reign for fifteen years.
      2. Hezekiah got what he wanted “right now.”

    2. Later some officials from the king of Babylon brought Hezekiah a gift because that king heard Hezekiah was sick.
      1. The visit really stroked Hezekiah’s ego; the fact that another king honored him made him feel important.
        1. As a result, Hezekiah showed these foreigners all his treasures.
        2. He wanted to impress them with his wealth and his kingdom.
      2. Later the prophet Isaiah came to him and asked some questions.
        1. “Who were those men?” They came from a far away country called Babylon.
        2. “What did they see?” I showed them all my treasures.
        3. “Hear the word of the Lord: the day is coming after your death that people from Babylon will come carry away every treasure to Babylon.”
        4. “They will also take some of your sons to work in the king of Babylon’s palace.”
      3. Hezekiah’s response should challenge us, move us to sober reflection.
        1. When he understood this would not happen in his lifetime, he said to Isaiah, “That is fine.”
        2. His reasoning: “If I have peace and truth in my lifetime, it is okay.” What happened to his sons after he died was not really important if he had peace in his lifetime.
      4. Hezekiah’s prayer resulted in fifteen years of additional life “right now,” but at what price?
        1. I am not trying to denounce Hezekiah: he demonstrated incredible faith and courage in extremely difficult times.
        2. I merely call your attention to the fact that godly people can be very short- sighted.

  4. We have far too much in common with Hezekiah.
    1. Truly godly people who direct others to God are a minority.
      1. We are surrounded by great wickedness.
      2. It takes a lot of courage and faith to be a godly man or woman today.

    2. Like Hezekiah, we want everything to be fine “right now;” we want peace and prosperity for ourselves in our lives “right now.”
      1. As godly people, we want the good life right now.
      2. As Christians, we want security right now.
      3. We want the most enjoyable life people have experienced in the history of the world.

    3. What about the future?
      1. Spiritually, what will our grandchildren have?
      2. Spiritually, what kind of world will our grandchildren live in?
      3. Spiritually, will the church be a powerful help and encouragement as our grandchildren deal with forms of temptation we have never known?
      4. Or, spiritually, will we say, “I do not care what happens in the future. As long as things are just the way we like them right now, as long as we have peace right now, I will be happy.”

Hezekiah was a very godly man in a very difficult time. Hezekiah was also a very shortsighted man. If everything was the way he wanted it “right now,” that is all he was concerned about.

As a Christian, is that all you are concerned about? Is everything “okay” if it is just like you like it “right now?”