“Close Calls” and Life

Posted by on June 24, 2001 under Sermons

The statement, “I had a close call,” is commonly associated with a near death experience. When we survive a traumatic event that could have killed us, we marvel that we survived the “close call.” It might be a car wreck. It might be a fire. It might be a disease. It might be a crime. It might be a natural disaster. Whatever it is, it almost killed us–and we know it! We know we could be dead–maybe even think we should be dead.

Many who experience a “close call” find life changes in profound ways because of the experience. Before our close call, we never truly understood, “I could die.” The experience made us fully aware of the fact, “I can die.” We were a “quarter of an inch” from death. We looked death “in the eye.” The experience forever changed the way we look at life and life’s purpose.

How does a “close call” experience change the way a person sees life? “Close call” experiences change our concept of life by introducing us to the reality of our own death. What was important becomes unimportant. What was unimportant becomes important. What was powerful becomes weak. What was weak becomes powerful. Our whole view of life changes.

Christian development and spiritual maturity truly depend on the person becoming aware of a “close call.”

  1. This is a difficult realization for people to understand.
    1. Most of us do not question “the friendly world” concept of life.
      1. All of us would say it is “a dangerous world out there.”
        1. Christian parents feel a deep, sharp desire to protect our children from the dangers “out there.”
          1. We want to protect them from drugs.
          2. We want to protect them from alcohol.
          3. We want to protect them from sexual activity.
          4. We want to protect them from evil influences.
        2. But all the things we want to protect them from are “out there.”
      2. If we can just keep our children and the people we love from the bad forces “out there,” then they will be all right.
      3. It is a “friendly world;” “out there” is just dangerous.
        1. Our world is controlled by good, not by powerful influences of evil.
        2. Evil exist, but it is a minor influence in “our world.”
        3. None of us are in any real danger because of evil.

    2. With our “friendly world” view, being religious actually can blind us to the dangers.
      1. “He is doing okay; he goes to church regularly.”
      2. “She is doing all right; she was baptized a couple of years ago.”
      3. “Oh, he is struggling with some personal problems right now, but he will work his way through it. He is at church every Sunday.”
      4. “Oh, she let some things get her down, but she will bounce back. She is at church every Sunday.”

    3. Experiencing a “close call” with evil has little to do with our conversion.
      1. Jesus’ crucifixion has little to do with our conversion; it is just a fact that we need to acknowledge.
      2. Jesus’ resurrection has little to do with our conversion; it is just a fact the we need to acknowledge.
      3. “I did not need to be rescued from anything; I just needed some correct religion in my life.”
      4. “I did not have an urgent need for forgiveness; I just needed some correct religion in my life.”
      5. “I did not need to be saved from anything; I just needed to be a member of the church.”
      6. “There were no real ‘dangers’ I needed to escape; I just needed to respond to God by doing the right things.”
      7. When our conversion motivations have no awareness of the “close call,” becoming a Christian has little to do with seeing the power of evil in our lives, little to do with the death evil causes.

  2. Most of us are familiar with Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19; 22:1-21).
    1. He was on his way to Damascus, Syria, to find and arrest Jewish Christians who might be worshipping in the Jewish synagogue in Damascus.
      1. His intention was to return these Jewish Christians to Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment.
      2. Before his trip, Paul viewed the dead Jesus as the greatest immediate danger facing Judaism.
      3. His goal was simple: destroy Christianity by destroying Jews who believed in Jesus; “nip it in the bud.”
      4. He was destroying Christians for God as a righteous act.

    2. On that trip the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and talked to him.
      1. He asked Paul why he was persecuting him.
      2. Paul knew immediately that he was 100% wrong.
      3. He knew immediately Jesus came from God.
      4. He knew immediately that he misunderstood the crucifixion.
      5. He knew immediately that the resurrection really happened.
      6. And Paul knew immediately that he was a dead man because his past acts violently opposed God.
      7. Paul was right about Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ crucifixion, and Jesus’ resurrection, but he was wrong about being a dead man.
        1. In Jesus there was and is forgiveness.
        2. Being forgiven of violent acts against Christians forever changed his life.
        3. Paul never forgot how close he was to death.
        4. Paul wanted everyone to know what he knew about Jesus, about Jesus’ crucifixion, about Jesus’ resurrection.

  3. Years later on a trip in the Roman province of Galatia he shared the reality of Jesus’ forgiveness with people in a number of towns.
    1. Most of the people who became Christians were not Jews.
      1. Some Jewish Christians did not like the fact that Paul converted these people.
      2. So they made a trip to the same places and told those Christians they were not forgiven, and could not be forgiven unless they first converted to Judaism.
      3. Many of these new Christians in Galatia were deceived.
      4. They believed salvation came through Judaism, not Jesus.

    2. When Paul heard about their change, he was extremely upset and wrote these people a letter. We call the letter Galatians.
      1. Paul said many things to them, but he made three points about Jesus’ crucifixion that I want you to see and understand.
      2. By his own choice, he shared crucifixion with Jesus.
        Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
      3. How could this violent man who worked so hard to destroy Christianity become one of the leading spokesman for Christianity?
      4. Paul explained how that happened: “When I met the crucified Christ, I stopped living.”
        1. “When I understood who Jesus was and what he did in his death, I choose to die with him.”
        2. “I choose to let Jesus take charge of my mind and my body.”
        3. “Faith in the person who loved me enough to die for me determines who I am and what I do.”
      5. Paul’s “close call” changed him completely.

    3. For the people in Galatia, being a Christian involved a radical redirection of life.
      1. Before they became Christians, it was perfectly acceptable to be sexually immoral, to do what felt good, to worship anything they wanted to worship, to hate people, to destroy their enemies, to be angry, to argue, to force people to do what they wanted them to do, to get drunk, and to live any way they wished to live doing anything they wanted to do (Galatians 5:19-21).
      2. Paul wanted them to understand that the world is not their friend (Galatians 5:16-24).
        1. That kind of living will destroy a person.
        2. That kind of living is at war with the kind of living Jesus wants for people.
        3. That kind of living makes the life Jesus wants for people impossible.
      3. What kind of life does Jesus want for Christians?
      4. Jesus wants us to live lives that experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
      5. Those two lives do not mix.
        1. The sexually immoral, feel good, do as I please, angry life that hates people, is jealous, gets angry, gets drunk, argues, and exists in rebellion cannot mix with a life based on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
        2. Those two lives are totally incompatible.
      6. Then how can you change from one life to another?
        1. If you try to make the change all by yourself, you cannot.
        2. The change can happen, but only if you let Jesus forgive you.
        3. Paul knew how the change happened; he experienced the change.
        4. Paul was not a sexually immoral drunkard who lived the “feel good life,” who did anything that physically pleased him.
        5. But he was an angry, violent man who tried to force people to agree with him. He hated, argued, fought people, and destroyed people.
        6. Because he experienced the change, Paul knew how it happened:
          Galatians 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
      7. It would happen in other people’s life in the same way it happened in Paul’s life.
      8. You want it so much that you choose to die with Jesus to crucify the old way you lived.
        1. “Why would anyone do that?”
        2. Because you understand the old way of living will kill you now and forever.
        3. You have a “close call” because you understand what evil is doing to you.

    4. The result is a total change of attitude, motives, and outlook.
      Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
      1. “I never want to place confidence in myself or take credit for anything that happens in my life.”
      2. “I am what I am because of the cross of Jesus Christ–and I know what I was before I understood Jesus’ cross.”
      3. “Through Jesus, the world has been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to the world.”
        1. “Because of the crucifixion of Jesus, and I are dead to each other.”
        2. “And that is precisely the way I want it.”
      4. “If my life honors anyone, may it honor the crucified Jesus.”

Our first common mistake today is that we try to reduce Christianity to a religion. Our second common mistake today is that we focus our concern on “having too much religion” in our lives.

Christianity is not a religion. It is an existence. It is not a matter of having the “right habits.” It is a matter of who and what you are.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Do you understand what Paul meant? Does a “close call” with evil have anything to do with your Christianity?

We “Make” God Too Simple

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

None of us do it intentionally, but we all do it. We “make” God too simple. American Christians easily “make” God simple. I have heard church movements springing from the American restoration movement are the only churches that historically began in America. All other church movements have roots in other nations and continents.

Historically, the Church of Christ as a church movement is distinctly American. We claim it is “our restoration movement.” The fundamental attitudes and principles of that movement are “our attitudes and principles.”

When we easily use the word “our” regarding God’s purposes and will, it is too easy to wrestle ownership from God. It is too easy to make the church about “us” instead of God. We do not mean to or intend to. In our minds, that is not our intent. In fact, we are so intent on not taking the church away from God and not trying to control God that we would declare we never, never do that.

Yet, each time we Americanize God that is what we do. We do it each time we Americanize God’s work, will, purposes, organization, goals, objectives, priorities, and interest. We say we seek God’s will. [Seeking God’s will is excellent!] Yet, often, we actually are making God conform to interests and ways that make sense in America.

Monday morning Stefann Phomasone stopped by to visit. He just has completed his studies at Sunset. He plans to live in Fort Smith for a few months before returning to teach and preach in southeast Asia. His level of commitment is astounding. He voices his faith in and love for Christ in six languages. He eagerly anticipates his return to that area of the world, but he will make excellent use of his time before going there.

Sunday night a group returned from their annual trip to Guyana to reach out to people in several towns medically and evangelistically. Late this week, another group will leave for Mexico to work with the City of Children in Ensenada.

Once again, I was reminded God is not an American. He cannot be Americanized. God through Jesus Christ is active throughout the world. God loves people of the world. Through His grace He relates to people regardless of culture, environment, level of education, daily opportunities, or level of prosperity–even in America.

While we want to relate to God intimately as our spiritual Father, while we want to come to Him in confidence in our most penitent moments (Hebrews 4:16), we must never cease holding God in awe. We always want to remember that God made us in His image. We do not make God in our image.

To think that God loves us more than any other people is conceit and arrogance. To think that God loves us less than anyone else is faithlessness and distrust.

Matters of Priority

Posted by on June 17, 2001 under Sermons

One of physical life’s most distressing daily demands is determining what is important. Our lives are so hectic! Every day’s demands require every ounce of energy we have and every minute of time we have. I do not know anyone of any age who lives life who has time and energy to waste. People of all ages declare they cannot possibly do “one more thing,” and then they fit “one more thing” into their schedules.

If you are a typical person, it is highly likely that you have reprioritized your life on numerous occasions. Someone you love dies unexpectedly, and you decide that you will focus your life on things of true importance. New Year’s Day comes, and you make resolutions that should help focus your life on things of true importance. A birthday or anniversary passes, and you are reminded that life is quickly passing by. With that reminder, you vow you will focus your life on things of true importance.

Our intentions are good. It is just that our intentions do not last long. A critical need arises. An emergency happens. Someone refuses to take “no” for an answer. Someone places expectations on you that you can either accept or feel guilty. Before you know it, the immediate crowds out the important. What we feel is “necessary at the moment” takes control of what we know to be “important in life.”

When we realize what is happening, how do we react? Most of us react in one of these three ways (or all three): (1) we stress out; (2) we worry; or (3) we are filled with a sense of anxiety.

Jesus said that happens to us because we forget life’s true priorities.

Matthew 6:31-34 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

  1. To me, this great deceit disguises itself as the ultimate dream (or excuse): “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live at a time when ‘life was so simple’?”
    1. There has never been an age when life was not demanding, uncertain, stressful, and filled with opportunities for anxiety.
      1. Commonly when we say that we wish that we could live when life was simple, this is what we mean: we wish we could live today’s lifestyle in time when today’s standards would permit us to live without that age’s common problems.
      2. If we lived the lifestyles of the majority in any age, the demands of “then” would equal the demands of “now,” the stresses of “then” just might surpass the stresses of “now,” and there would be more reasons for anxiety in those communities than there is in today’s American.

    2. For example, Christians can spend more effort “explaining away” Jesus’ statement than understanding Jesus’ statement by saying (and believing), “Life was so much simpler then.”
      1. Really?
      2. Day began at sunrise with no running water, no plumbing, no electricity, no form of mass communication, no coffee, no cereal, and no milk in a box or plastic container.
      3. Security as we know it did not exist.
        1. There were few ways to protect what you owned, and stealing it was easier.
        2. Since few ways existed to preserve food, survival was an ever present issue.
        3. Your whole way of life was at the mercy of those who controlled the power, and that could change very quickly.
        4. Whatever happened, the average person had little say and did not factor in changes.
        5. Life was constantly at risk, and life expectancy was not nearly what it is today.
      4. Death was the ever present reality.
        1. If you got sick, you died.
        2. If there was a major crop failure, you died.
        3. If there was an invasion of your village, you stood a good chance of dying.
        4. If it served the purposes of the person in power, you died.
        5. Your life simply did not mean much to society or the world.

    3. The common issue has changed.
      1. Basically our issue is this: how can we protect our lifestyle and improve it.
      2. Basically their issue was this: how can we survive? (That included having enough clothes to wear and enough food to eat.)

  2. The greatest common reality never changed: life involves more than physical existence.
    1. God exists–always has and always will.
      1. Physical existence is just one area of existence.
      2. Physical life will end, but life will continue.
      3. Physical life is concerned about existence in this world.
        1. But existence is this world is not permanent.
        2. Living in a manner that is physically considered to be “living well” is no assurance that you will “live well” in the existence that is not physical.
      4. Total life is concerned about existence in God’s world.
        1. That existence is permanent.
        2. “Living well” with God is not dependent on “living well” physically.

    2. You will continue to exist in God’s world after you die.
      1. Your level of existence in that world depends on your priorities in this world.
      2. Your priorities now will determine whether life then is miserable or joyful.

  3. Consider Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:31-34.
    1. What were the common questions of anxious people who did not live by placing their trust in God?
      1. Their questions were physical survival questions.
      2. “How can we prevent starvation?”
      3. “How can we prevent death by thirst?”
      4. “How can we prevent death by exposure?”
      5. Those were everyone’s pressing concerns–you would be stupid not to have those concerns.

    2. We need to clearly understand the question Jesus asked them.
      1. “If you trust God, why are these your priorities?”
      2. “These are the priorities of people who do not believe in God.”
        1. In context, that is who the Gentiles were.
        2. Jesus was not merely talking about people who were not Israelites.
        3. The people of Israel said they knew and trusted God–they existed because God delivered them and made them a nation.
        4. Jesus asked why their life priorities were the same as the priorities of people who did not even know God?
        5. Those things represent their life’s focus; they eagerly seek them.
        6. Why do you who trust God “eagerly seek” the same priorities?
        7. Why do you seek the priorities of the godless as though God is not aware of your needs?

    3. In what ways should the priorities of those who trusted God differ from those who did not know God?
      1. First, those who know and trust God seek to be under God’s rule as a matter of priority.
        1. While the kingdom of God would certainly include the people who are God’s church, to make a simple equation that declares “the kingdom of God equals our accepted concept of the church” does injustice to the kingdom of God.
        2. For generations these people were told to look for the coming rule of God.
          1. Many of them identified God’s rule with the national concerns of Israel as a nation.
          2. God’s rule would include the nations, not just Israel.
          3. God’s rule would deal with spiritual realities; it was never intended to be a political force on earth.
        3. In Jesus’ statement, those who are subjects in God’s kingdom welcome God’s rule in their lives.
          1. “Let God rule your existence.”
          2. “Let God’s rule in your life be your highest priority.”
      2. Second, those who know and trust God seek to be righteous people, not by their definition, but by God’s definition.
        1. Please remember that Jesus stressed the fact [early in this sermon] that their righteousness must surpass the righteous of the scribes and Pharisees in order for them to enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 5:20).
        2. The primary objective of the sermon (Matthew 5,6,7) is to contrast the scribes and Pharisees’ concept of righteousness with Jesus’ concept of righteousness.
        3. In Palestine’s first century Jewish society, the scribes and Pharisees were the standards and symbols of righteousness.
        4. Jesus stress was not on performance, but on priorities.
        5. He was not challenging them to “out do” the Scribes and Pharisees, but to follow different priorities.
      3. Jesus said if they would make their priorities (1) God’s rule in their lives and (2) God’s definitions and concepts of righteousness, God would address the issues that were the priorities of godless people.
        1. If they trusted God enough to make His rule and righteousness their first priority, God would see that they did not starve.
        2. If they trusted God enough to make His rule and righteousness their first priority, God would see they did not die of thirst.
        3. If they trusted God enough to make His rule and righteousness their first priority, God would see they had clothing to wear.
      4. Jesus said, “Do not waste life by letting your anxieties concerning the future control your life.”
        1. “Anxiety (worry) changes nothing.”
        2. “Anxiety about tomorrow will not eliminate the troubles of tomorrow.”
        3. “Every day has its own troubles, and no amount of worrying will make tomorrow trouble free.”
      5. Jesus is neither encouraging nor endorsing laziness and irresponsibility.
        1. He is not encouraging people to adopt a “happy-go-lucky” approach to life.
        2. He is saying the stresses and anxiety produced by worry are not the answer.
        3. As he asked in 6:27, which of your can add a single minute to your life by worrying?
        4. He is saying allowing God’s rule to control your life and seeking to be righteous by God’s definition is the answer.

  4. If you are a Christian, live your life well one day at a time.
    1. It is not the goal of the Christian to be more prosperous that godless people in order to prove that God is the key to physical prosperity.
    2. It is not the goal of the Christian to enjoy more physical pleasures than godless people enjoy in order to prove that God is the key to having the most fun in this life.
    3. It is not the goal of the Christian to live an irresponsible life in order to prove Christians can be irresponsible and God will take care of them.
    4. The Christian’s goal is to let God rule his or her life transforming him or her in His righteous person. In that way the Christian demonstrates the key to a full life is faith in God, not anxiety.

For the Christian, there is an issue that reflects concerns that are much deeper that “what I should do and should not do.” That issue is priorities. Godly priorities determine a Christian’s behavior. If the priorities belong to God, the behavior will belong to God. The first Christian priority is the rule of God in “my life.” If God’s rule is my first priority, two things will be true in my life. (1) He or she will live by trusting God. (2) He or she will not waste life worrying.

A Father’s Influence

Posted by on under Sermons

If I asked, “Commonly, what are people’s most powerful influences in life?” we would suggest many possibilities. Our suggestions would depend on two things: how we look at life and what we define as powerful influences.

For those who define life in terms of fun and pleasure, their suggestions for powerful influences focus on things they believe produce fun and pleasure. For those who define life in terms of success, their suggestions for powerful influences focus on their symbols of success. For those who define life in terms of security, their suggestions for powerful influences focus on what they believe provides security. For those who define life in terms of relationship, their suggestions for powerful influences focus on influential relationships.

A second question: “What should be people’s most powerful influences in life?” This is not the same question. What are the most powerful influences in a person’s life frequently are not what should be the most powerful influences in a person’s life.

Today is Father’s Day. Too often, it is the traditional time to fulfill an obligation. It may or may not be a time to express deeply felt love and appreciation. I would like to make an observation. A father should be one of the most powerful, positive influences in each person’s life. Unfortunately, in far too many situations, a father is one of the most powerful negative influences in many people’s lives.

This morning I encourage us men to understand the power of a father’s influence.

  1. For a foundation, I will use what I regard to be one of Jesus’ most powerful parables–a parable very relevant to today’s life circumstances.
    1. The parable is the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.
      1. Most of us are quite familiar with the story.
        1. A rebellious son demanded his inheritance and left home to get as far away from his family and their influence as possible.
        2. For a while, he lived it up, and as he did he attracted people who were more than happy to party with him.
        3. Then the economy collapsed, and he was broke in a place experiencing a severe depression.
        4. He soon was in desperate circumstances, and no one cared if he lived or died.
        5. He found himself doing a job he would never consider in the past, and the job did not pay him enough to eat.
        6. One day he realized his horrible mistakes, his stupidity, and decided to return home and ask his father to let him be a servant.
        7. In his own evaluation, being a servant was the only consideration he should expect.
        8. He returned, and his father, with love and rejoicing, welcomed him as a son.
      2. Most of the time when we consider this parable we focus on the rebellious son who repented.
        1. Sometimes we focus on the older brother who was not happy for his brother to return home.
        2. This morning I want you to consider the father.

    2. Obviously, we are talking about the father of a grown son.
      1. There are four things I want you to notice about this father.
      2. First, he knew when to turn loose.
        1. When the rebellious son turned loose of him, he let the son leave.
          1. I see no indication that he let the son leave because the father did not care or found relief in the fact the boy was gone.
            1. The fact that he did not stop looking for the boy to come back certainly is evidence that he cared deeply (Luke 15:20).
            2. The welcome he gave his returning son certainly is evidence of his love (Luke 15:20-24).
          2. He did not allow the son to leave because he did not care or did not love; he let the son leave because the son’s heart and love were already gone.
        2. It takes a great deal of wisdom to know how to care, how to love, and still turn loose.
          1. The temptation is to hold on to a child that you love “until he or she comes to his or her senses.”
          2. The temptation is to believe that your control is the solution to the problem.
            1. There certainly are ages when constructive control founded on love and concern is what our children need.
            2. There is also an age when constructive control accomplishes nothing.
          3. It takes great wisdom to know when that time comes, but it is that wisdom that helps the father be a powerful, positive influence.
        3. When the rebellious son left, the father knew a special sense of grief.
          1. When our children reach the age to knowingly rebel against us, it is natural to feel that we failed as a father.
          2. It must have been very difficult to watch that son leave knowing he might never see him again.
          3. It must have been horrible to endure day after day of not knowing where his son was or what his son’s situation was.
      3. Second, even though he turned loose of a rebellious son and that son left, he was a positive force in the son’s life.
        1. His son rejected him.
        2. His son deserted him.
        3. His son abandoned the way of life that the father knew was best.
        4. If we consider only those things, we would conclude the father was no influence at all in the son’s life, and certainly not a positive influence.
        5. Yet, there is one other factor we must see.
          1. When the consequences of his mistakes and foolish decisions caught up with him, the son thought of his father and home (Luke 15:17-19).
          2. When his own decisions and actions broke him, he remembered home.
          3. He remembered home because of his father.
          4. In all he did to disappoint and hurt his father, going home was an option.
            1. It was not a means of escaping responsibility for his decisions and actions.
            2. It was an option in accepting responsibility for his decisions and actions.
        6. The important thing I want you to see is this: it was an option because of his father’s positive influence in his life.
      4. The third thing I want you to see is this: the father’s love for his son never died.
        1. He hoped his son would someday come home.
          1. He hoped his son’s memories would bring him back.
          2. It was not a control issue; it was a love issue.
          3. It was not an “I told you do” issue; it was a loving relationship issue.
          4. It was not because he “wanted to be right”; it was because he loved his son.
        2. To me, the evidence of the father’s incredible love is seen in a simple statement: when he looked down the road and saw his son in the distance, he recognized his son.
          1. The ordeal the son experienced as a consequence of his own choices and behavior was severe.
          2. That severe ordeal had to impact that young man’s appearance in every way.
          3. Yet, the father recognized his son when he saw him.
      5. The fourth thing I want you to note about the father is this: he knew how to extend encouragement and welcome when his son had been defeated.
        1. There was no “come to me on my terms”; there was a joyful reunion.
        2. There was no lecture; there was a kiss.
        3. There was no desire to make him suffer; there was a desire for the boy to know the father wanted him as a son.
        4. There was no mourning for all that was wasted; there was immediate rejoicing.
        5. Repentance had changed his son.
        6. Coming home had changed his son.
        7. The rebellious son who left home was dead.
        8. The son he loved was alive.
      6. In my understanding, those four factors made the father a powerful influence.
        1. He knew when to turn loose.
        2. Even though he turned loose, he was a positive force in his son’s life.
        3. His love for his son never died.
        4. He knew how to encourage and welcome his son when he came home.

    3. In the parable, the father represents God.
      1. Fathers, we represent God in ways a mother never can.
        1. There are avenues of influence mothers have in their children’s lives that fathers do not have.
        2. However, we fathers are God’s representatives in a special way.
      2. “That does not make sense; a person is a person; a human influence is a human influence.”
      3. I share this from the experience of years of working with troubled people who struggle with life.
        1. Persons who struggle with their fathers, who feel rejected by their fathers, who feel abandoned and unloved by their fathers frequently struggle in their relationship with God.
        2. One of the common images of God in the Bible is God the Father.
        3. When a person has deep, negative feelings about his or her father, he or she often transfers those feelings to God.
      4. It is extremely important for Christian fathers to be a powerful, positive influence in the lives of their children.

  2. Now, I want to speak briefly to everyone, men and women.
    1. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father symbolizes God.
      1. Jesus gave the parable to teach some primary lessons about the power and effectiveness of repenting.
      2. A basic lesson concerning repentance is taught in the son’s “coming to himself” and returning to his father.

    2. Regardless of the kind of father you have or the negative influences that exist in your life because of your father, God loves you.
      1. God loves you enough to turn you loose and let you “do your own thing.”
        1. That is not what He wants, but he will turn loose and allow you to do as you wish and choose.
        2. If you belong to God, it will be because you return God’s love and you are in relationship with God by choice.
      2. God wants to be the most positive, beneficial force in your life.
        1. He seeks only your good.
        2. He knows what will destroy you.
        3. But He will not force you to do His will, even though it is best for you.
      3. Even if you rebel against and abandon God, God’s love for you will not die.
        1. He will not stop loving you.
        2. He will not stop hoping you by choice will turn to Him.
        3. As long as you live, he will not stop looking for you to return.
      4. When you come to him, not matter what has happened in your life, He knows how to welcome and encourage you.
        1. He wants you as part of His family.
        2. When you return to Him, He will never be ashamed of you.

One of the most difficult challenges in life is to accept love. The greater our struggles and the deeper our troubles, the harder it becomes to accept love.

God wants us to know His love is there. “Will God forgive me?” is never an issue. “Will God love me?” is never an issue. The only issues are these: will you accept the love? Will you accept the forgiveness?

Where Do You Run?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Children play “Hide and Seek.” It is a simple game with a simple objective. Ideally, several children play. One person is designated as “it.” “It” closes his or her eyes at “home base” and counts to a hundred. While “it” counts, everyone else hides. “It” finds the hiding children.

Often adults try to turn life into a game of “hide and seek.” In the adult game, “I” is never “it.” “I” am always seeking to hide. And “I” constantly change my hiding places.

The perfect adult hiding place (a) permanently hides me, and (b) allows me to pretend reality is what I wish reality to be. My hiding place allows me to escape from realities to pretense. Pretense allows me to become increasingly self-absorbed.

As my pretense grows, my neglect causes pain to those around me. My shrinking world focuses on “me and my desires,” and those in my life suffer the pain of neglect.

All types of hiding places claim to be the perfect place to hide. Some teens yearn to enter adult life because adult existence is the perfect place to hide. When they become adults, what do they discover? The demands and responsibilities of adult life exceed those of teen life.

Some singles consider marriage the ideal hiding place. Marriage offers escape from undesirable realities. When a person marries to escape, what does he or she discover? Marriage is filled with realities. When those realities are neglected, marriage becomes oppressive.

Some adults think unique job opportunities are ideal hiding places. They can “lose themselves” in their work. When a person works to hide, what does he or she discover? What seemed glamorous and fulfilling is actually full of realities that can (and do) produce enormous stress, incredible competition, and undesired vulnerability.

When escape is our dominant motivation, often “original” hiding places prove inadequate. When my hiding place does not permit complete escape, I need a better place to hide. Hiding’s importance increasingly stresses escape.

The desire to hide combined with the objective of escaping often produces an addiction. The addiction may be as simple as recreational pleasure (sports competitions, hunting, fishing, golf, travel, etc.) or as devastating as something destructive (drugs, alcohol, pornography, affairs, one-night stands, etc.). Whether simple or devastating, addiction’s objective is the same–escaping to the ideal hiding place.

Age destroys the ability to run. Death makes hiding useless. Let God teach you how to live instead of running. The person who hides life in God lives life fully–and never dies.

Do We Blind or Give Guidance?

Posted by on June 10, 2001 under Sermons

I do not like glaring lights. Glaring lights blind you. I had rather see than guess. Glaring lights force you to guess. A common example is meeting a car at night with its headlights on bright. I do not like that experience. Those glaring headlights blind me and make me guess where the road goes. They make me guess about “my side of the road.”

I love lights that help me see. As my age increases, my love for such lights grows. I do not mind meeting a car at night when its lights are dimmed and well adjusted. The car is coming toward me, but I can see the road. I can see my side of the road without guessing. Even on an unfamiliar road, I still can see where I am going.

I never want the other car lights to blind me, and I never want my lights to blind the other driver. When I was a teenager almost all roads were two lane roads. It made me angry when someone did not dim their car lights. In anger, I would turn my lights on bright to non-verbally say to the other driver he was rude. Of course, my act was not an act of rudeness. It was his fault. He was to blame, not me.

One day as I explained my practice, an older, much wiser person calmly said, “I do exactly the opposite. When someone approaches me with his lights on bright, I make certain mine are on dim. I want one of us to know where he is going.”

  1. For a while on Sunday evening, I want us to focus on some challenging statements Jesus made in the gospel of Matthew.
    1. I want to explain to you why.
      1. To explain why, I need to explain some personal, basic motivations.
      2. I also need to explain my personal understanding of Jesus Christ.

    2. Let me begin by sharing something about my personal motivations.
      1. I do not preach just to be employed.
      2. To me, teaching, preaching, and helping people is not a job–it’s a life.
      3. One of my more sobering decisions weekly is this: “What will I emphasize in my lessons?”
      4. I am keenly aware of some basic facts.
        1. First, I am keenly aware that my understanding is limited.
          1. There is so much more to be known about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God’s will than I know.
          2. As a result, I am constantly growing to new understandings.
          3. I often hear Christians speak and judge with such certainty when I know there are truths they don’t think about or consider.
          4. I have learned when we speak and judge with such certainty, such dogmatism, such inflexibility that one of two things are true about our certainty: either we have not learned some truths or we are afraid.
        2. Second, I am keenly aware that God knows everything I share, and I will answer to Him and to Him alone for the way I represent Him and His will.
          1. For a long time, I was convinced there were people “in the brotherhood” who could “ruin your reputation” and destroy your future.
          2. That conviction often caused me to “run scared.”
          3. I have begun to spiritually mature to the point that I realize what other people say about me is unimportant.
          4. What God says about me is all important.
          5. Sometimes I am asked, “Are you sure you should say that? ‘X’ people might misunderstand you and misrepresent you.”
          6. Increasingly this thought runs through my heart and mind: God says to me, “You understood something they did not yet understand.” Then He asks me, “Why didn’t you help them understand?”
          7. I am keenly aware of the fact that it is not people’s reactions that are important; it is God’s reactions that are important.
        3. Third, I am keenly aware that God wants to save people, to help people, to give people hope.
          1. That is why God sent Jesus Christ.
          2. Jesus did not die on the cross to condemn people, but to save people (people were already condemned).
          3. I think we all have a poor understanding of John 3:16-21:
            For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
          4. I think we all have a poor understanding of 2 Peter 3:8,9:
            But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
          5. I think we all have a poor understanding of 1 Timothy 2:3,4:
            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.
          6. I think we all have a poor understanding of Titus 2:11-14:
            For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
          7. I think we all have a poor understanding of 2 Timothy 2:23-26:
            But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
          8. None of us ever have wanted anything as much as God wants to save people.
          9. None of us ever have loved anyone as much as God loves sinners.
          10. Because we fail to understand the magnitude of God’s desire, we often fail to understand God’s priorities.

    3. Let me share with you my understanding of Jesus Christ.
      1. I understand Jesus to be God’s Son (Matthew 3:17).
      2. I understand that Jesus existed with God before he came as a human to this earth (John 1:1,2).
      3. I understand that the pre-existent Jesus, the being who was with God before he came to this world, was active in the creation of our world and existence (John 1:3, 10).
      4. I understand that Jesus, prior to coming to this world, was a part of divinity.
      5. Carefully follow me:
        1. When Paul wrote about God, he wrote because of revelation, not because of experience produced by “being in the beginning” with God the Father.
        2. When Peter wrote about God, he wrote because of revelation and association with Jesus, not because of being with God the Father “in the beginning.”
        3. When John wrote about God, he wrote because of revelation and association with Jesus, not because of being with God the Father “in the beginning.”
        4. When Jesus spoke about God’s priorities, God’s emphasis, God’s views, and God’s concerns, Jesus knew the Father; he was with Him “in the beginning.”
      6. This is my understanding: our understanding of God’s will, purposes, and priorities must begin by understanding Jesus.
        1. To the degree our understanding of Jesus is flawed, our understanding of Paul, Peter, John, and other New Testament writers is flawed.
        2. To the degree that our understanding of Jesus is flawed, our understanding of God is flawed.
        3. To the degree that our understanding of Jesus is flawed, our understanding of the church is flawed.
        4. To the degree that our understanding of Jesus is flawed, our understanding of the Christian life is flawed.

    4. For those reasons, for several Sunday nights I want to focus your attention on some things Jesus said.

  2. This evening for a moment I want to focus your attention on a familiar statement Jesus made about our purpose as followers of God.
    Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
    1. To gain insight and focus, we need to approach this statement with some basic understandings.
      1. The people Jesus addressed lived in a physical world very different from ours.
        1. After sunset, they had darkness as few of us have experienced darkness.
        2. There was no electricity, gasoline, diesel power, kerosene or candles.
        3. There were no street lights outside and no 100 watt light bulbs inside.
        4. Darkness was an enemy–the work of the thief, the drunkard, and the violent person.
        5. When darkness came, useful activity stopped; evil things, not good things happened after darkness.
        6. With darkness, you were at the mercy of military control and patrols–in most situations, the military were the police of that day.
      2. The people Jesus addressed lived in a spiritual world very different to ours.
        1. In the first century, giving helpful guidance was not a significant objective in much of Judaism.
        2. I am not implying there were no good people–certainly good people existed, but they were the minority.
        3. The overriding concern of Judaism’s influential elements was control, not guidance.
          1. The Pharisees were concerned about the control of law (according to their interpretation of the law).
          2. The Sadducees were concerned about the power of material control and the control of the temple.
          3. The Zealots were concerned about control of the homeland.
          4. The Essenes were concerned about controlling their communities as they lived in isolation from society.
        4. The common view seemed to be this: God issued edicts, and if you did not conform to God’s edicts, you suffered consequences.
          1. All the Israelite adults who left Egypt died in the wilderness.
          2. Rebellious Israelites in the period of the judges suffered domination.
          3. God took away most of the Israelite kingdom from Solomon’s descendants.
          4. God allowed the Assyrians to destroy northern Israel.
          5. God allowed Judah to experience the Babylonian captivity.
          6. Do what God says, or you will suffer the consequences; the issue was control.
          7. The Old Testament prophets wrote a lot about God’s love, mercy, and willingness to forgive, but first century Israel was deaf to those voices.
      3. Jesus said the people who belonged to God were like light in darkness.
        1. For a person caught on the road after darkness (remember, no flashlights), the lights of a city on hill were welcome relief.
        2. Light in darkness was welcome relief; that is why they placed one of their small lamps on a lamp stand at night.
        3. Even a dim light in darkness gave guidance, let you see where to move.
      4. When God’s light exists in you, you shine in the darkness of the world.
        1. People see your works are good; they are beneficial to life; they guide life.
        2. They realize the light in you is the result of God in you.
        3. They know you live as you do because God provides light for your life.
        4. They credit God because they know your light comes from God.

The purpose of living for God is to provide the guidance of beneficial light, to attract people to God, to make people realize good things can and will happen in their lives if they let God be their light. The purpose of living for God is not to turn your headlights on high in the darkness to blind everyone who looks at you. Our objective is not control. Exercising our control and producing faith in the light are not the same thing. Our object is to provide hope in darkness. We are to reveal hope, not compound despair.

Falling Through the Cracks

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Cracks are commonly considered bad things. In most situations cracks are undesirable. The kind of cracks I am referring to are breaks. A crack appears when something breaks but does not separate. Because the crack is visible, the break is obvious. The crack reveals the break even though there is little separation.

Again, we commonly consider cracks to be bad. “I can give you a real good price on this new truck. There is a crack in the front axial.” “The price on this house is a real steal. The reason the price is so low is the foundation is cracked.” “I will sell you this dozen of eggs for a quarter. Six of the eggs are cracked.”

Do you personally want any of these things? A cracked tooth? A cracked bone (called a fracture)? A cracked pair of eye glasses? A camera with a cracked lens? A cracked windshield? A cracked window? Cracked skin? Cracked fingernails?

Because this kind of crack is associated with the undesirable, we have developed a phrase everyone understands. The phrase is “falling through the cracks.” When a person, a thing, or a situation “falls through the cracks,” it is never good. To say something “fell through the cracks” never refers to a desirable situation. The ideal is for nothing to ever “fall through the cracks.”

  1. Each of the four gospels acknowledges that Jesus spent much of his ministry spiritually rescuing people “who fell through the cracks.”
    1. Jesus commonly ministered to people who “fell through the cracks”; the list is astonishing.
      1. “What do you mean by ‘people who fell through the cracks’?”
        1. I mean people who were rejected.
        2. I mean people who “did not fit” in their religious structure of that day.
        3. Jesus taught, cared for, and healed people for whom there was no help and no hope in Israel’s first century establishment.
      2. “What are some examples?”
        1. These lists are not comprehensive and do not note the many occasions when Jesus helped numbers of people. Several of the examples are included in the accounts of more than one gospel.
        2. Matthew:
          1. The man with leprosy (8:1)
          2. The centurion and his servant (8:5)
          3. The two men with demons (8:28)
          4. Matthew, the tax collector (9:9)
          5. A gathering of tax collectors and sinners (9:10)
          6. The woman who had a hemorrhage for 12 years (9:20)
          7. The blind man (9:27)
          8. The demon possessed man who could not speak (9:32)
          9. The demon possessed man who was blind and speechless (12:22)
          10. The Canaanite woman’s daughter (15:22)
          11. The demon possessed child (17:15)
        3. Mark:
          1. The man with an unclean spirit in 1:23, and another in 5:2
          2. The man with a withered hand (3:1)
          3. The blind man (10:46)
        4. Luke:
          1. The paralyzed man (5:18)
          2. The man from Nain who was raised from the dead (7:14,15)
          3. The sexually immoral woman (7:37)
          4. Mary Magdalene (8:2)
          5. The woman who was bent double (13:11)
          6. Zaccheus (19:2)
        5. John:
          1. The Samaritan woman (4)
          2. The man who had been sick for 38 years (5:5)
          3. The man born blind (9:1)

    2. Why did these people “fall through the cracks”?
      1. That is both an interesting question and a very worthwhile question.
      2. Jesus was God’s son.
        1. He perfectly understood God’s will and God’s purposes.
        2. Nothing Jesus said or did misrepresented God.
        3. Jesus said these people should not spiritually “fall through the cracks.”
        4. Jesus revealed that God cared as much about these people as God cared about anyone else.
      3. Yet, socially and spiritually, the entire religious system allowed these people to “fall through the cracks.”
        1. Israel’s religious system made the cracks.
        2. Not only did they not meet these people’s needs, but they also taught God willed for these people to be rejected.
        3. Religiously, there was no place for them in their system of religion.
      4. That was the basic problem: for a long time the religious leaders took all of God’s teachings and laws and produced a system.
        1. God did not create the “cracks”; their system created the “cracks.”
        2. Their system said God did not want certain kinds of people.
        3. Their system said God rejected certain kinds of people.
        4. Something was basically wrong with the system they created from God’s teachings and laws.
      5. Jesus, not the system, perfectly represented God.
        1. Jesus said God did not reject those people.
        2. Jesus in his actions and his teachings said God willed to unburden those people and give them hope.
        3. Jesus said those people were encouraged to come to God; God would welcome them.
        4. Jesus said Israel’s system misrepresented God’s priorities in His law.
        5. Jesus said God’s two greatest (most important) commandments were:
          Matthew 22:37-40 “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
        6. The system said, “Love had nothing to do with God’s law; it was basically a matter of obedience, not love.”
        7. Jesus said, “Love for God and your fellowman is the foundation of the entire law. God’s law depends on love.”

  2. They created the problem, and we reproduce the same problem when we replace love obedience with system loyalty.
    1. System loyalty measures everything with check lists.
      1. Consider a common check list in Jesus’ day in Israel:
        1. “Eat the right foods.” Check
        2. “Do the right things on the Sabbath day.” Check
        3. “Keep the religious ceremony of hand washing before you eat.” Check
        4. “Pray three times a day.” Check
        5. “Offer the right sacrifices.” Check
        6. “Keep the Passover.” Check
      2. A devout Jew could check everything on that list without any faith, without any love for God, and without any love for people.
      3. Consider one of our common check lists today:
        1. “Attend church on Sunday.” Check
        2. “Take communion.” Check
        3. “Sing a cappella.” Check
        4. “Give.” Check
        5. Then comes a long list of “don’ts”-drunkenness, adultery, lying, stealing, etc. Check
      4. A devout Christian can check everything on the list without faith, without love for God, and without love for people.

    2. When we use God’s teachings to create check lists, people “fall through the cracks.”
      1. When someone is troubled, tell him or her that he or she is not following the check list.
        1. Tell him or her, “Christians don’t have those kinds of troubles.”
        2. Tell him or her, “Get with the system and follow the check lists.”
        3. Result: troubled people “fall through the cracks.”
      2. When someone is burdened, tell him or her that he or she is not following the check list.
        1. Tell him or her, “Christians don’t have burdens like that.”
        2. Tell him or her, “Get with the system and follow the check list.”
        3. Result: burdened people “fall through the cracks.”
      3. When someone is struggling, tell him or her that he or she is not following the check list.
        1. Tell him or her, “Christians don’t struggle like that.”
        2. Tell him or her, “Get with the system and follow the check list.”
        3. Result: struggling people “fall through the cracks.”
      4. Systems that rely on check lists create cracks.
      5. God’s love and forgiveness have no cracks; for those who repent, there are not cracks to fall through.

    3. Godliness cannot be reduced to a system that uses check lists to measure spirituality.
      1. Why? Because godliness is based on a heart relationship with a Savior.
      2. Love cannot be reduced to a system with a check list.
      3. Repentance cannot be reduced to a system with a check list.
      4. Spiritual life cannot be reduced to a system with a check list.
      5. Spiritual integrity cannot be reduced to a system with a check list.
      6. The spiritual kingdom of God cannot be reduced to a system with a check list.
      7. Trusting God cannot be reduced to a system with a check list.
      8. God’s love that gave His son on a cross cannot be reduced to a system with a check list.
      9. Jesus’ love that let him die for each of us to be our Savior cannot be reduced to a system with a check list.

    4. We must not reduce loving God to nothing more than a responsibility.
      1. Loving God must produce a living relationship with God.
      2. Certainly relationships based on love are responsible relationships.
      3. But loving relationships go far beyond just being responsible.
      4. Obedience arising from love always will exceed obedience arising from necessity–every time in every way.

A couple has been married about three months. Every single day the wife becomes more and more exasperated. One evening about 7 p.m. she said, “Okay, big man, we have to talk. Sit down and listen to me, and hear me well! I thought you would catch on. But no-o-o-o-o! Nothing is changing around here. I am going to make you a check list, and, if you love me, you will follow that list every single day. You WILL take the garbage out. You WILL pick up your dirty clothes. You WILL take your shoes off when you come in the house. You WILL hang up your towels. You WILL lift the seat, and you WILL lower the seat. You WILL keep me informed concerning your whereabouts at all times. And you WILL do everything else on this list. If you do not, I WILL be out of here.”

When a marriage is reduced to a system of conduct and its check list, that marriage will die. The man and woman may continue to live in the same house under the same roof, but the marriage will die. Marriage must be responsible, but love must be the foundation of the relationship.

When spiritual existence is reduced to a system and its check list, Christianity will die in that person’s life. He or she may continue to come to church and go through what is regarded as the necessary motions, but relationship with God and Jesus Christ will die. Christian existence must be responsible, but love must be the foundation of the relationship.

When you love God, when in love you responsibly maintain a relationship through repentance, you will never “fall through the cracks”–there will be no cracks.

Faith’s Two Sides

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Only Jesus’ godly trust exceeded Abraham’s demonstration of godly faith. Commonly, writers in the Bible used Abraham when they explained God’s concept of faith. [As examples, consider Romans 4 and James 2:21-26.]

Abraham demonstrated both sides of faith. He both quietly and actively trusted God. Though he never touched a Bible, read a scripture, or knew about Jesus’ life, he trusted God in ways we hope to equal but can never surpass.

Abraham learned one side of faith is quiet, trusting God’s promise in silent confidence. He did not learn that side of faith easily. God’s promises to him in Genesis 12:1-3 could come true only if Abraham had a son. Though he was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4) when God made those promises, he and Sarah had no children. When God made the promise, Sarah was not pregnant.

Abraham learned trusting God to keep His promise meant patiently waiting. That is not easily learned. Abraham, like us, was anxious, concerned, and impatient. He attempted to give God a way to keep the promises by asking God to accept Eliazer as his son (Genesis 15:1-6). God said, “No. You will have your own son.” Genesis records that Abraham believed God, and God accepted Abraham to be a righteous man on the basis of that trust. It would be 25 years before God’s promise of a heir born from Abraham and Sarah’s marriage became fact (see Genesis 17).

Years after Isaac’s birth, God, without explanation, instructed Abraham to take this promised son and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah (see Genesis 22). Without delay, Abraham obeyed. He would have killed the child in sacrifice had God not stopped him. In faith, he trusted the God who gave him the child, not the fact the child existed.

Abraham learned to trust God quietly. Having learned that lesson, he learned to trust God in aggressive action. In that, Abraham is a permanent example for Christians. Before the people of Israel existed, Abraham learned what Jesus demonstrated hundreds of years later. Faith in God trusts in quiet surrender (as in Gethsemane) and trusts in active surrender (as in the cross).

It is the rare individual who learns both sides of godly faith. As Christians, we struggle to learn the fullness of complete faith in God. Full, complete faith knows when to trust quietly and when to trust actively. Full, complete faith allows God to help us understand that obedient faith quietly trusts at the appropriate time, and actively trusts at the appropriate time.

Through God’s values and guidance, godly wisdom learns when to patiently trust and when to be active. Godly faith understands serving God can be quiet or be active.

Authority and Spirituality: The Bonding

Posted by on June 3, 2001 under Sermons

In all sectors of life, discovering and respecting balance is extremely important. That truth can be illustrated in so many ways. Consider just one. For most of us, our morning routine includes starting and driving a car or truck. Most of us take for granted starting and driving our vehicles. Most of us use the engine’s power without a thought. We just count on the power being there. It will “happen” without thought or understanding.

The power that moves most cars happens because of an explosion. For that explosion to occur, the engine must have the proper balance between gasoline and oxygen. Without a balance of gasoline and oxygen, that vehicle with its sleek interior, CD player, fine tires, and great looks will sit motionless as if it were a rock. If the explosion occurs (we call it combustion) within the walls of the cylinders in just the right sequence, the pistons move. The moving pistons turn the drive shaft. The turning drive shaft moves the wheels. And off we go. But nothing happens unless the gasoline and oxygen are balanced.

Take the same gasoline and the same oxygen, put them in a gasoline container, drop a lighted match in the container. You have the same explosion, but the explosion produces a destructive fire.

Take the same gasoline and the same oxygen, and ignite them at the refinery. You have the same explosion, but the explosion produces an enormous disaster.

The combustion in the car engine, the fire in the gasoline container, and the refinery explosion all produce power if you have the right balance of gasoline and oxygen. Only the engine uses that power productively.

  1. In Romans 1:16,17, Paul wrote to Christians in Rome:
    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
    1. The gospel is the power source that fuels salvation.
      1. The gospel is:
        1. The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        2. The good news that God atoned for our sins and can redeem us from evil through Jesus’ blood in Jesus’ death.
        3. The good news that God demonstrated His power to raise us from the dead by raising Jesus from the dead.
      2. When a person understands the power in that good news and trusts that power by responding to God who gave the power, he or she receives salvation.
      3. When a person either refuses to understand the power of the good news or rejects the power of the good news, the result is eternal condemnation.
      4. The same power can save (which is God’s desire) or destroy.

    2. In Jesus’ death, God did the righteous thing (Romans 3:24, 25).
      1. God has the right to forgive our sins because God paid the full consequences of our sins in Jesus’ death (Romans 3:26).
      2. God can atone for our sins by using Jesus’ blood to remove our sins.
      3. God can redeem us from sin, buy us back from Satan, because God allowed Jesus to be made sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21).

    3. How can I unleash the power of God in the gospel to produce the blessings and benefits of salvation in my life?
      1. I allow the power of the gospel to “explode” in my life by responding to God with a proper balance.
      2. Is authority a part of that balance? Absolutely!
      3. Is authority the only thing necessary to produce my salvation? No.
        1. Authority looks to God alone for guidance.
        2. Faith trusts God’s guidance.
        3. Obedience responds to God’s guidance.
        4. Spirituality devotes itself to being the godly, righteous person God saves me to become.

    4. Salvation is the result of seeking the right balance between authority and spirituality.
      1. Anytime I use authority to oppose spirituality, I am ignoring God’s balance.
      2. Anytime I use spirituality to oppose authority, I am ignoring God’s balance.
      3. If I want salvation in Christ, I want to trust Jesus’ death and resurrection, I want to obey God, I want do to God’s will.
      4. But God’s power of salvation in Christ involves more than appealing to authority.
      5. It is too easy to abuse authority by focusing on God’s words without understanding God’s meaning.
        1. It is too easy to abuse authority by ignoring the meaning of what God said.
        2. It is too easy to abuse authority by ignoring God’s message.
        3. It is too easy to abuse authority by ignoring God’s purpose.
        4. When an appeal to authority is used to oppose God’s message and God’s purpose, that authority is not God’s authority–no matter what the person claims.
      6. A proper use of God’s authority never ignores God’s message or purposes.

  2. I ask you to consider a group in the New Testament who had no balance in seeking to do God’s will.
    1. This group is sobering and scary. Why?
      1. They were very religious.
      2. They made God’s authority the only issue in determining right from wrong.
      3. They were experts on the words in scripture, and could readily quote those words.

    2. But:
      1. They misunderstood God’s message and purposes.
      2. They used their misunderstanding to oppose God’s message and purposes.
      3. They appealed to authority to oppose God’s message and purposes.
      4. They rejected God’s own son, completely failed to recognize him, because he emphasized God’s message and purposes in opposition to their conclusions.
      5. One of the primary tools they used to oppose Jesus was an appeal to authority.

    3. Who were these devoutly religious people? Israel’s religious leaders; the one people who should have understood God’s authority, meaning, and purpose.

  3. I call your attention to two situations in Matthew, the gospel written to Jewish people.
    1. The first is found in Matthew 12:1-8.
      1. I will paraphrase the incident; please look at these verses as I do so.
      2. Jesus and his disciples were taking a walk on the Sabbath day, and the Pharisees were following him in a desire to catch him violating authority.
      3. The disciples were hungry, so they stripped some heads of ripe grain from the tops of wheat or barley stalks and ate the grain.
      4. Promptly the Pharisees who followed accused them of violating scripture’s authority.
        1. They regarded the disciples’ reaching out along the path and stripping the grain to be a violation of one of the ten commandments.
        2. Exodus 20:8-10 commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath day holy by not doing any work.
          1. It was a Sabbath day, and they regarded what the disciples did as an act of work.
          2. According to their oral law, which made application of the written law, the disciples were guilty of reaping or harvesting or both.
      5. Jesus responded to their accusation.
        1. By using examples of David eating the consecrated bread and the priests offering sacrifices on the Sabbath, Jesus used the authority of scripture to challenge the basis on which they determined authority.
        2. That certainly is worthy of study and understanding, but I want you to focus on Jesus’ basic observation:
          Matthew 12:7 “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”
          1. Jesus said, “You do not understand the meaning of God’s complete will.”
          2. He quoted Hosea 6:6 to document the truth that they did not understand God’s meaning and purposes.
          3. Jesus said in God’s priority, compassion is more important than sacrifice.
          4. Jesus said if they understood that, they would not condemn the innocent.
      6. To the Pharisees, Jesus’ statement was heresy.
      7. But, Jesus’ statement was based on a perfect understanding of God’s priorities.
      8. These Pharisees abused God’s authority because they did not understand God’s meaning.

    2. The second is found in Matthew 21:23-27.
      1. This incident occurred during the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, and we need to examine its context.
      2. The chapter begins with Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem.
        1. This is the conscious act of an Israelite king riding into the royal city.
        2. The multitude understood the meaning of what happened, and their acts and shouts were the acts and shouts of Israelite people receiving their new king.
        3. The multitude rejoiced; the religious leaders fumed.
      3. In verses 12 through 17 Jesus caused a major incident in the temple area by overturning money tables of those who exchanged currency.
        1. Those who traveled long distances were permitted to buy their sacrifices after they arrived in Jerusalem instead of bringing their own animals.
        2. But often to make a purchase, they had to turn foreign currency into local currency.
        3. That is what the money changers did–they exchanged currency (for a fee).
      4. In verse 23 Jesus came to the temple area (one of the large courtyards) to teach.
        1. Those who controlled temple activities were religious leaders in Jerusalem; they came to Jesus.
        2. They asked him two questions; consider both questions.
          1. “By what authority are you doing these things?”
          2. “Who gave you the authority to do them?”
        3. It was all a question and matter of authority.
          1. These religious leaders certainly had not given Jesus the authority.
          2. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin, the highest court in Israel, had not given him the authority.
          3. Since these religious leaders considered themselves to be God’s official authority, in no way did they regard Jesus’ actions as approved by God.
        4. Please note Jesus never answered their question.
        5. Please note that the religious people who insisted on knowing “by what authority” did not understand God’s message, did not understand God’s purpose, and did not recognize God’s Son.

Must our spiritual authority come from God? Yes! That is the point: it must be God’s authority and not our own conclusions. If it is God’s authority, it will be in balance with faith in Christ and obedience to God. If it is God’s authority, it will cause me to be a spiritual person. If it is God’s authority, I will not only understand what scripture says, but I will devote myself to understanding what it means.

When a Christian man or woman uses authority to justify ungodly attitudes or unspiritual acts, he or she is abusing God’s authority. He or she is substituting his or her own views for God’s meaning and purpose in God’s word. The objective is to be spiritual people as we live in Christ. The objective is never self-justification.

What Does It Mean To Be Spiritual?

Posted by on under Sermons

I want to ask your permission to think with you by using a different approach. Please do not “turn me off” or “change channels.” My beginning may not appeal to all of you, but please follow me to the end. By the time I reach the end, I hope to connect with every teen and every adult present.

I want to begin simply. What is your definition of spiritual? You have a personal concept. What is it? Should a Christian be a spiritual person? As a Christian, is it your goal to be spiritual? How do you know when you are spiritual?

Is spirituality just a matter of being in a church building on Sunday? Owning a Bible? Believing God exists? Believing Jesus died and was resurrected?

Is spirituality just a matter of rules and regulations? Just a matter of accepting the right set of beliefs? Just a matter of doing right things and not doing wrong things?

  1. On September 1, 1939, Germany began World War II by launching a ferocious invasion of Poland.
    1. By October 6, in only 36 days, the nation of Poland ceased to exist–it was completely absorbed into the Soviet Union and Germany.
      1. When Poland fell to the Germany invasion, Germany immediately did what to us is unthinkable.
        1. The German army arrested everyone who occupied a position of leadership in every sector of Polish society.
        2. All of these people (who numbered in the thousands) were executed.
        3. In the five years of Nazi occupation, over five million Poles were murdered, half of them Jews.
      2. All Polish leadership was systematically destroyed.

    2. In the course of that war, those in charge of the German war machine attempted to exterminate certain ethnic groups from Europe.
      1. Concentration camps existed to control and eliminate people.
      2. A number of those camps were designed to be death camps.
      3. The people killed in concentration camps numbered in the millions.
      4. To us, the scale of death, the scale of starvation, the cruelty used in the work groups, and survival conditions in the camps were unbelievable.

    3. How does a whole society become oblivious to death and human cruelty on such an enormous scale?
      1. How can cultured, advanced, civilized people tolerate such gross inhumanity?
      2. It is a complex process involving many factors, but at the foundation of the process is this: you change the way that people look at life.
      3. When a nation looks at itself as humanity’s master race, when a society looks at groups of people as being so inferior that they are not human, that nation (or society) can destroy those people for the good of the world.
      4. “If we are the master race, then the world is blessed if we control the world.”
      5. The process begins by changing the way people look at life.

  2. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese Air Force bombed Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack.
    1. That Sunday, 2,403 Americans were killed, and another 1,178 were wounded.
      1. American wives lost their husbands.
      2. American parents lost their sons.
      3. American children lost their fathers.

    2. In the next four years, Japan’s air force used Kamikaze pilots.
      1. A Kamikaze pilot deliberately crashed into a target to destroy the target.
      2. He willingly, deliberately died in the process.
      3. Can you understand that? Does that make any sense to you?
      4. Why would a pilot do that?
      5. You cannot understand the “why” unless first you understand how such people looked at life.

  3. On August 6, 1945 , an American B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima; on August 9, three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki.
    1. The destruction was so complete that it was unbelievable.
      1. Around the ignition point of the bomb, nothing was left–everything evaporated.
      2. The world had never experienced or witnessed such total devastation.
      3. Nothing ever produced such devastation.

    2. Those bombs began the atomic age and a whole new way to look at life.
      1. Once Russia also developed atomic bombs, Americans lived in the cold realization of what such bombs could do to us.
      2. Unless you lived in the cold war years between Stalin and Kruchiev’s Russia and this nation, you cannot image the fear.
      3. Unless you lived through the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, you cannot believe what fear of nuclear attack did to the American people.

    3. The potential of nuclear destruction fundamentally changed the way people looked at life.

  4. In the early 1960s, the Viet Nam conflict began.
    1. That conflict began at a time when some Americans’ view of life was undergoing radical changes.
      1. The “flower children” and the “hippies” were feared as a revolution movement in our society.
        1. A whole generation of people shouted, “Make love, not war.”
        2. Other generations looked upon those people traitors.
        3. The hate-filled confrontation between Americans was incredible.

    2. The way many Americans looked at life changed as many of us watched, and the change was vicious and ugly.
      1. To those Americans who survived World War II or who lost sons or husbands in that war, the unthinkable was happening.
      2. To those rebelling against what they saw as American cruelty and injustice, the unthinkable was happening.
      3. As a result, this nation’s people was forever changed.
      4. Why? It permanently changed the way that Americans look at life.

  5. So you teens say, “Okay. I see your point, but that stuff happened long ago–that kind of change that alters the way people look at life does not happen today. “
    1. Really?
      1. All it takes to change the way people look at life are powerful influences that change the way we think.
      2. Early In my lifetime the influences of arrogance, the dehumanization of people, death, and violence changed the way people looked at life.

    2. Today one of those powerful forces is music.
      1. One of the most powerful international forces known in today’s world is music.
      2. Song lyrics and musical sounds powerfully impact people’s views of life.
        1. I struggle to get people’s attention for less than two hours a week–in a year, the average weekly time is less than that.
        2. How many hours a week do you listen to music on a radio station, on a CD, on MTV, on VH1, on MP3, or on Napster?
      3. What does the music you hear say:
        1. About hopelessness?
        2. About worthlessness?
        3. About sex?
        4. About anger?
        5. About selfish pleasure?
      4. Which influence is the most powerful in the way you look at life–the words of Jesus Christ or the words of your music?
      5. Do the songs you listen to over and over do the same thing to the way you look at life that German death camps, Pearl Harbor, atomic energy, and the “make love not war” did long before you were born?

  6. So everyone asks, “What does that have to do with being spiritual?” Everything! Everything!
    1. Listen to John’s thoughts:
      1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
      Listen to the same statement as translated by The Message:
      Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world–wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important–has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out–but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
      1. If you love God’s values, God’s love lives in you.
      2. If you reject God’s values, God’s love cannot live in you.
      3. You cannot love the things that oppose spirituality and love God at the same time.

    2. Listen to Paul’s words:
      Ephesians 5:15-21 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
      Listen to the same statement translated by The Message:
      So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants. Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.
      1. Be very careful in deciding how to live your life and use your time.
      2. Do not let drinking determine your songs.
      3. Let your feelings for God and Christ determine your songs.

For a hundred years we systematically created a monster, and now the monster has turned on us. For a hundred years we shouted, “Authority! Authority! Where is your authority?” Every religious issue was reduced to an authority issue.

Most of our divisions can be traced to arguments about authority. No matter what a member does, he claims Bible authority. No matter what position a member holds, he claims Bible authority. Regarding anything religiously important, I never hear a member of the church say, “I have no authority for this, but I believe…” Too many use the Bible anyway they wish to prove or justify anything they want.

Is Bible authority important? Absolutely! Is authority the only important consideration? No! Does something that includes authority go beyond authority? Yes! What? God’s will. God’s will creates spiritual people who live lives that respect God’s authority.

What is the monster we created? We allowed Christians to look at life through what they claim to be Bible authority. We allowed Christians to believe authority excuses ungodly thinking and behavior. Too many Christians justify ungodly thinking and behavior on the basis of authority with no intention of being spiritual. Too many of us fail to realize you cannot combine authority and ungodliness. The basic objective of God’s will is to produce spiritual people.

In my life time, I have heard many Christians ask, “Show me where the Bible condemns…” Rarely do I hear Christians ask, “Help me understand how to be spiritual.” Too many Christians have no desire to be spiritual. That is the monster.