Serving: The Path To Spiritual Existence

Posted by on July 29, 2001 under Sermons

Last year, for four quarters in Sunday morning adult Bible classes, we focused on the importance of Christians being God’s servants. The first quarter we focused on the fact that Jesus was God’s servant. God could send His son to be anything God wanted him to be. God chose for him to be a servant.

The second quarter we focused on the fact that Jesus teaches people who follow him to become servants. We examined Jesus’ enormous emphasis on the fact that his disciples are servants.

The third quarter we focused on the fact that God’s servants live surrendered lives. We noted that emphasis again and again throughout the New Testament.

The fourth quarter we focused on the fact that God’s servants seek to be God’s stewards. The most trustworthy servants became stewards. We seek to be God’s trustworthy servants.

Little by little we have changed Christianity. I wonder if Jesus would recognize what we call faith as being faith. I wonder if Jesus would recognize what we call love as being love. I wonder if Jesus would recognize what we call commitment as commitment.

I fear all of us have transformed Christianity in two basic ways. Much of the time, Christianity is not about what God wants but about what we want. Because we misunderstand what God wants, we substituted what we want. Much of the time Christianity is not about serving, but about getting. We are so spiritually confused we often think getting is serving.

We are greatly concerned about baptizing people. Seldom do we have equal concern about us baptized people serving. We even create the impression that people can follow Jesus without serving.

  1. John 4 tells us on one trip Jesus went from Judea north to Galilee by passing through Samaria.
    1. Perhaps John stated the route Jesus took because it was so unusual.
      1. In Jesus’ time, Jews despised Samaritans so much that they rarely traveled in Samaria.
      2. On this trip Jesus did many “unacceptable” things: he traveled through Samaria; he talked to a woman he had never met; and the woman was “the wrong kind of woman”–a divorcee who was living with a man to whom she was not married.

    2. Before Jesus initiated his conversation with this woman, his disciples left Jesus at the well to go into the town of Sychar to buy food (4:8).
      1. When the disciples returned to the well and Jesus, the Samaritan woman was leaving to return to Sychar.
        1. The disciples left Jesus tired, hungry, and thirsty.
        2. When they returned with food, they urged Jesus to eat, and he did not.
      2. Instead of eating, Jesus said he had food they knew nothing about.
        1. Then they asked among themselves if someone fed him.
        2. They had no idea about the meaning of what he said.
      3. Jesus then made this statement:
        John 4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”

  2. John 5 tells of the man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.
    1. After healing the man, Jesus told him to pick up his pallet and walk.
      1. Jesus healed the man on a Sabbath day.
      2. When the man started walking in the city of Jerusalem with his bed mat, a number of people were offended.
        1. To keep God’s commands, Jews did no act of work on the Sabbath.
        2. They considered carrying his bed mat to be an act of work and condemned him for it (5:10).
          1. The man explained that the person who healed him told him to carry his pallet (5:11)
          2. They asked him to identify the person who gave him those instructions (5:12).
          3. He did not know who Jesus was, but later when he learned who he was he told those who condemned him.
        3. When those who were offended learned that Jesus did it, they began to persecute Jesus (5:16).
      3. To them, the fact that Jesus healed the man violated the Sabbath day.
        1. In their thinking, Jesus made himself equal to God
        2. Those two things increased their desire to kill Jesus (5:18).
      4. In response to those people, Jesus made this statement:
        John 5:30 I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

  3. In John 6, Jesus fed 5000 people starting with very little food.
    1. This all happened in an uninhabited area.
      1. That evening, Jesus sent his disciples away in a boat and went alone up a mountain to pray.
      2. The disciples rowed most of the night in the wind and waves, and did not make it across the sea of Galilee.
      3. This was the night that Jesus walked on the water in the early morning darkness.

    2. The next morning Jesus was in Capernaum.
      1. The people Jesus fed on the other side of the lake searched for him and could not find him.
      2. Finally some of them crossed the lake to Capernaum, found Jesus, and asked how he got there (6:25).
        1. Jesus said, “The only reason you are looking for me is that you want more food.”
        2. “You need to be looking for the food that gives you eternal life.”
      3. That began a tense conversation in which they tried to manipulate Jesus.
        1. They said, “Moses fed our ancestors. He gave them manna from heaven.”
        2. Jesus answered, “Moses did not feed them. God did. God sent your ancestors manna, and now God is sending bread from heaven that is the true bread that gives life.”
      4. Then Jesus made this statement:
        John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

  4. For just a minute, I want you to focus on God, focus on Jesus, and focus on yourself.
    1. Jesus is the only person who ever did God’s will perfectly as a human.
      1. Jesus could tell his disciples that doing the will of God was his food because it was (John 4:34).
      2. Jesus could tell his Jewish enemies that he was devoted to God’s will, not his own will, because that was the actual situation (John 5:30).
      3. Jesus could tell the people he fed that he was committed to God’s will, not his own will, because that was the actual truth (John 6:38).
      4. Jesus could pray in the garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, “Your will be done, not my will” (Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:39) because that was always the focus of his life.

    2. “Yes, David, you are right. That was a Jesus thing. Nobody can be like Jesus. Nobody can do God’s will like he did. Doing God’s will definitely was Jesus’ thing.”
      1. Is that your response? Doing God’s will was Jesus’ thing? What does that mean? What does that mean about you and me doing God’s will?
      2. Let me ask you some questions:
        1. How often is there a week in your life when for that week doing God’s will is your food?
        2. How often is there a week in your life when you can tell your enemies that doing God’s will, not your own will, is the focus of your existence?
        3. How often is there a week in your life when you can tell those who are trying to take advantage of you that you are committed to doing God’s will, not your own?
        4. How often in a life and death crisis do you ask God to do His will even if doing His will results in your death?
      3. “Wait a minute, David! Before any of us answer those questions, let’s get some perspective.”
        1. “Doing God’s will in the way you are talking about is a Jesus’ thing, not an us thing.”
        2. Really? Is that your perspective? Because Jesus did God’s will so well you and I do not have to do it.
      4. In Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, in chapter 6 he taught his followers how to pray.
        1. He even shared a simple prayer as an illustration of how to pray.
        2. In that illustration in verse 10, Jesus said his followers should pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
        3. How do you think God’s will is done in heaven?
        4. If God’s will was done on earth in the same way God’s will is done in heaven, what would Christians do?
        5. If God’s will was done in your life in the same way God’s will is done in heaven, what would happen in your life?

    3. Let’s get really practical about doing God’s will as people owned by God.
      1. How many days as you climb into bed to sleep can you say, “I really was the person God wanted me to be today.”
      2. How many times when you get home from a date and you are all alone can you say, “I really was the person God wanted me to be on that date.”
      3. How many days can you say, “I really was the husband God wanted me to be today.”
      4. How many days can you say, “I really was the wife God wanted me to be today.”
      5. How many days can you say, “I really was the parent God wanted me to be today.”
      6. How many times as an employee, and employer, a customer, a stranger, a neighbor, a friend, can you say you were what God wants you to be?
      7. How many times after entertainment, a “winding down” time, a “having fun” time, a “going out with the boys” time, or a “going out with the girls” time, can you say you were what God wants you to be?
      8. How many days end by your being able to say to yourself, “My life served God’s purposes today.”

    4. In contrast to that, how many days in my life are not about God.
      1. How many things that I do are not at all about God?
      2. I am not asking how many things do we do that we know to be evil.
        1. That is another discussion that we all need.
        2. I am asking do we consciously try to serve God?
      3. Is that not the basic focus of being a Christian: consciously serving God?

The words each of us as Christians want to hear God say to us are, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21,23). I ask all of us, myself included, two questions. Why should God call me a servant? Why should God consider me a loyal, trustworthy servant?

Thanks! See You Sunday!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Richard Hostetler, thank you! Richard is a member of the West-Ark family. He lives in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. For years, he was a minister. Last week I took my annual trip to Harding Graduate School to audit an in-depth study of 1 and 2 Corinthians. Those taking the course attended sessions all day each day for a week. The elders invited Richard to speak Sunday morning. I was delighted to listen as Richard focused us on Jesus and his blood.

Sunday will be a special day in this congregation’s spiritual growth and development. We will conduct a ministry fair. The ministry fair has two objectives.

The ministry fair’s first objective: the elders want each member (men and women, from teens to retired) to complete a Membership Involvement Form. Parents of young children are asked to partially fill out a form for each child (to give us their child’s full name and date of birth). The form requests some biographical information and some interest information. The forms are now available. They are on a table on the north side of the foyer.

The information gathered from the forms will be used in three ways. First, the information will be entered into our database. Curtis Jackson, with input from others, designed and installed a new database system for our church office. The biographical and service information will be entered into our database to help us function and serve better as a congregation. Second, the deacons will receive the service information. They will provide leadership for specified ministry areas. Recently we appointed many new deacons. The deacons will coordinate the ministries. They plan to move our ministries to higher levels of service. Third, the elders want to involve every possible member in serving God. For our own salvation, they want us to worship and serve.

The ministry fair’s second objective: the ministry fair is a serious effort to educate us about the ministries at West-Ark. Most ministries will have an attended display table illustrating and describing their work. First, you will have opportunity to see the work of many ministry areas. Second, you will be encouraged to be involved in a ministry that interests you. The elders want us all to worship. The elders want us all to serve.

“What can I do?” Attend Sunday. Worship and learn. Fill out a form. Be involved.

Sunday’s schedule is different. Adult classes (not children’s classes) will meet from 9:30 to 10:00 a.m. They will dismiss at 10 a.m. to allow adults to visit the display tables. Worship begins at 10:30 a.m. A fellowship meal will be served after worship. Curtis McDonald and his crew will prepare the meal. Please bring desserts. At 1:00 p.m. we will have our quarterly family meeting. The meeting will focus on serving. It will close with a devotional. Then we will have additional time to look at the ministry displays. We will not have a Sunday evening assembly.

Help God’s family here grow to a new level of spiritual maturity and service Sunday!

The Light

Posted by on July 22, 2001 under Bulletin Articles

There is something about darkness. . . Children cry out at night in fear of darkness. They associate darkness with monsters. In fear they “feel” the monsters in the room.

Darkness also intensifies fears for adults–hearts pound, pulses race, sweat pours. Moving to a new place to live is a wonderful experience–in the day time. How long does it take you to identify all the new night sounds? How many nights are necessary before you “sleep in peace” in the knowledge that new sounds are not new dangers?

In the winter when daylight is short and darkness is long, adult depression increases. My Dad died of Alzheimer’s. For months, as sunset faded into darkness, he experienced “sundown syndrome.” Darkness transformed him into a different person.

People who experience light’s blessings also have a healthy respect for darkness. An exhilarating walk in the woods on a sunny day is an adventure in fear at night. A sidewalk traveled without thought in daylight becomes a trek of nervousness in the dark.

Darkness deepens loneliness. It transforms tranquillity into anxiety. It changes calm into nervousness. It magnifies stress. Have you ever yearned for daylight to come quickly? Have you ever dreaded the coming of darkness?

To experience absolute darkness is horrible. The total absence of light immobilizes us. When I was a teen, my family visited Mammoth Cave. At a level of well over 100 feet underground, our guide had everyone sit down. With full explanation, he turned off all light. He had us sit down because in absolute darkness you are easily disoriented. You can lose your balance. It was so dark you could touch your eyeball with your finger tip without seeing it.

Jesus came to provide light to our world. John declared it was Jesus’ life that provides us light (John 1:4). Jesus understood that he came to be the light source for our world. On an occasion of public teaching, he declared, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Through Jesus we see how to live. Light fills our life because Jesus is our light source.

Because light makes it possible to see and to distinguish, light reveals. Some do not like what they see. They would rather live in darkness than see. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that evil people love darkness and hate light because light exposes actions. Those who hate light avoid it. They do not want to clearly look at self, do not want to distinguish between good and evil within their lives (John 3:19-21).

Do you live in light or in darkness? To you, is light a blessing or a curse? Do you intently look in your life to see yourself? Do you allow Jesus to “turn the light on”? Does the light that comes from Jesus’ life give you life? Does the light Jesus provides show you how to live?

“Jesus, Teach Me How To Live”

Posted by on July 15, 2001 under Sermons

What is the key to successful living in 21st century America? We might receive a number of different suggestions. “The key is a good inheritance.” Most people do not have that option. “The key is good connections.” I hope we are not forced to live in a society that uses bribes and favors to survive or succeed. “The key is ‘ground floor’ opportunities.” Most of us lack the vision and insight to recognize what most people call good opportunities.

While we might suggest a number of things as “the key” to successful living in this century, I think the greater majority of us would offer the same suggestion. “The key to successful living at any time is education.”

What does that mean? I am confident most of us in this audience would agree on the importance of education. Most of us would agree that there is a direct link between education and successful living. Most of us would agree that a lack of education is a definite liability. But if we really thought about it, none of us would say that education is magic. Education can create opportunities, but an educated person can live a very unsuccessful life.

  1. One of the statements frequently quoted or used in churches of Christ is Jesus’ statement at the close of the gospel of Matthew. (We have no copyright on that statement. Other evangelical churches also use the same statement frequently.)
    Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
    1. You may know Jesus’ statement so well that you never think about its words or its meaning.
      1. Jesus’ basic acknowledgment is this: all authority belongs to him.
        1. By God’s planned intent and purpose, the resurrected Jesus is Lord in heaven (the residence of God) and Lord on earth (the residence of people).
        2. By death and resurrection, God enthroned Jesus as the Christ.
      2. That is precisely the conclusion Peter wanted Israel to understand in the first sermon preached after Jesus became the Christ.
        Acts 2:36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.”

    2. Jesus’ basic instruction was to go among all people and make disciples.
      1. We have placed enormous emphasis on going into the world and baptizing people.
      2. Jesus certainly declared people’s need to be baptized.
        1. But that was not the primary need Jesus emphasized.
        2. People’s primary need was the understanding they needed to be Jesus’ disciples.
        3. Those who wished to be disciples were baptized.
        4. Baptism was a person’s reaction to his or her desire to be a disciple.

    3. To advance our understanding of Jesus’ statement, let’s advance our understanding of the context of the statement.
      1. Who made the statement? Jesus made it.
      2. When did Jesus make the statement? After his resurrection, before his ascension.
      3. To whom was he speaking? He spoke to eleven of the disciples who followed him during his ministry (Judas was dead).
      4. Please pay careful attention to these things in the statement.
        1. Because he had the authority, he had the right to send the eleven among all people to make disciples.
          1. How strange that directive must have seemed!
            1. In Matthew 10 he told them to only teach Israelites.
            2. The eleven’s mission had been to Israel, not all people.
          2. Jesus had not yet ascended to stay with God.
          3. The understanding that accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 had not yet come to these eleven men.
          4. Acts 1:6 reveals these men were still confused about what Jesus was going to do just before his ascension.
          5. All the evidence leads me to conclude that they had no real idea of what Jesus meant when he said to go make disciples among all people.
        2. Jesus’ emphasis was on making disciples
          1. If people were to become disciples, two things had to happen, not one thing.
          2. First, the desire to be a disciple would lead them to want baptism.
          3. Second, after baptism, these baptized people who wanted to be disciples were to be taught to observe all things Jesus had commanded these eleven men.
            1. These men already had the teachings.
            2. The teachings were the teachings Jesus gave them.
          4. Jesus gave this instruction to these men before his ascension and before Acts 2.
      5. Let me share a conclusion; I do not ask you to accept my conclusion; you surely can disagree with my conclusion; I just ask you to think with me.
        1. Matthew was written before what we call the Bible and New Testament existed.
          1. In fact, all the writings that are in the New Testament had not been written.
          2. The first known declaration that the same books [writings] we have today should be in the New Testament was made in AD 367.
          3. That is almost 300 years after the gospel of Matthew was written.
        2. I conclude Jesus’ meaning in this statement is found in the gospel of Matthew.
          1. This statement is the last statement made in this writing.
          2. The emphasis Matthew gave to Jesus’ teachings between the first of the book and this last statement would include the teachings the people who wanted to be disciples should receive.
          3. My conclusion is simple: let Matthew tell us what Jesus meant.

  2. Let’s deepen our understanding by asking a simple question: what was a disciple?
    1. A disciple was a pupil, a learner.
      1. The disciple system of education was common in the Roman world.
      2. It was extremely common in first century Jewish society.
      3. A teacher (among Jews, a Rabbi which was their word for teacher) would select a group of men to be his students.
        1. Those students were called disciples.
        2. By their own choice they wanted to study under the teacher.
      4. The more advanced and knowledgeable the teacher, the more selective he was in accepting students.
      5. The students would reflect the concepts and values of their teacher.

    2. Jesus wanted people worldwide to have the opportunity to be his pupils, his learners.
      1. He wanted everyone who wanted to learn his teachings to have opportunity to do so.
      2. What did Jesus want people to learn? The importance of that question cannot be exaggerated.

  3. The gospel of Matthew opens with Jesus’ birth.
    1. Only two of the gospels discuss Jesus’ birth, and Matthew is one of them.
      1. An angel informs Joseph his fiancee, Mary, will give birth to a son.
        1. Joseph was not to assume Mary had been sexually unfaithful to him; she was not.
        2. The angel makes this statement: Matthew 1:21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
      2. Among his missions, Jesus came to save Israel, his people, from their sins.
        1. Israel did not think they needed to be saved from their sins.
        2. They were God’s chosen people; they were not evil people.
        3. While Jesus came to save them, many of them had no desire to be saved because they were certain they did not need to be rescued from evil.
      3. Jesus’ ministry began after his baptism and temptations–both experiences opened his ministry.
      4. Matthew 4:23 states he went throughout the Jewish region of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, declaring the good news of the kingdom, and healing people.

    2. Matthew 5, 6, and 7 is the longest recorded sermon in any of the gospels.
      1. Basically, the sermon declares if their righteousness does surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees they cannot be a part of God’s kingdom (5:20)
        1. In the first century religious world of Israel, the Pharisees were the accepted symbol of righteousness. Jesus’ statement was incredible.
        2. Jesus was not talking about outdoing the Pharisees.
        3. Jesus was talking about having a different understanding of righteousness.
      2. To have a righteousness that surpassed the righteous of the Pharisees:
        1. You had a different concept of morality, of honesty, and of the proper treatment of people (5:21-48).
        2. You understand the purpose of righteous behavior was to serve God, not to make people notice you (6:1-18).
        3. You trusted God, not money or material things (6:19-34).
        4. You helped people instead of judging them (7:1-5).
        5. You learned how to help (7:6-12).
        6. You were very careful to make your relationship with God a real relationship (7:15-27).
      3. Then in Matthew 8 and 9 Jesus was busy practicing what he preached.
      4. In Matthew 12 Jesus found himself under attack by the Pharisees. He told them:
        1. They misunderstood God’s priorities.
        2. They gave Satan credit for God’s work.
        3. They could not see the obvious.
      5. In Matthew 13 Jesus taught in parables; he told stories.
        1. God wants everyone to hear about His salvation and His kingdom.
          1. Even those who will never accept anything they hear should have opportunity.
          2. Even those who begin to live for him and quit should have opportunity.
        2. Satan will actively oppose God’s work, but God will prevail.
          1. His kingdom will begin small but become huge.
          2. It will influence slowly, but it will influence everything.
          3. Some will find His kingdom by accident, and some will search for it.
          4. His kingdom will have serious people in it and false people in it.
      6. In chapter 15 Jesus said:
        1. God is not deceived by words.
        2. God looks at and knows hearts.
        3. Just as true good comes from hearts, true evil also comes from hearts.
      7. In chapter 18 Jesus said:
        1. God values the innocent and the humble.
        2. Never cause yourself or others to trip.
        3. Seek to settle differences in constructive, helpful ways.
        4. Forgive others just like you wish to be forgiven.
      8. In chapter 19 Jesus said:
        1. In your marriages and in your personal lives, you have and keep God’s priorities, not the priorities of religious society.
        2. It is hard for the rich to have God’s priorities.
      9. In the last week of his life, Jesus’ teachings were under the microscope.
        1. As he was repeatedly under attack by Israel’s religious leaders, he kept his focus on God’s priorities.
        2. Then he endured injustice and died showing us how to live and die by God’s priorities in the worst of times and circumstances.

Israel was certain that they knew how to live exactly as God wanted. Jesus said they did not. If the eleven went among all people and made disciples, what would they do? They would use Jesus’ teachings to teach people how to live. Jesus came to people who did not know how to live. People still do not know how to live. Jesus taught and teaches people how to live.

Many of our problems exist in the church because we have convinced people to be baptized who do not want to be disciples. “Jesus can be involved with my religion, but he cannot be involved in my life. Jesus, you can tell me how to do church, but do not even try to tell me how to live.”

Am I suggesting that we monitor who is baptized? No! I am suggesting that we do what Jesus asked–call people to discipleship.

The Guide

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Typically, we hire a guide for two basic reasons. (1) The guide can lead us to a new, unknown destination. (2) The guide knows how to lead us to that destination safely. In the process of taking us where we wish to go safely, the guide blesses us in many ways. He knows how to care for the unexpected. We do not. He knows how to identify and interpret dangers. We do not.

An expert guide’s value is seen in his understanding and knowledge. He knows when to be concerned–and when not to be. We who need a guide commonly lack that understanding and knowledge. Things that seem strange or out of place concern us. Such things may be nothing more than ignorance. We often are unconcerned about true danger. Lack of concern about true danger does not neutralize it.

To lead us safely to our destination, the guide is equipped with insights that realize when concern is necessary–and unnecessary. To utilize all the guide’s ability, to make his task “possible,” we must trust the guide. If our guide is skilled and knowledgeable, he leads and we diligently follow. We never forget he is the guide. We always remember that we are followers. We understand our guide is always necessary.

All of us are on a journey going where none of us have been. None of us know how to recognize all the dangers. None of us know when to be and not to be concerned. Without question or argument, we need a guide.

Each day is a new adventure. Each age is a new territory. As the adult journey begins, we are blessed physically, but have little experience. As our journey nears its end, we have a lot of experience, but physically have declined. In our early years, the destination is so far away it seems unreal. In our later years, the destination is so close we cannot ignore it. Our own deaths are the doorway to our destination.

Only one person made the journey, passed through death’s doorway, and returned to be our guide. Less than 24 hours before passing through that doorway, he told his closest friends, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus is the only guide who can take us safely to our destination. Jesus knows how to live, how to die, and how to go to the Father. He knows how to endure temptation and not sin. He knows how to forgive. He knows how to live and die in peace. He knows false danger and real danger, and he knows how to distinguish between the two.

We do not know how to live, how to die, or the way to the Father. Of ourselves, we do not know how to endure temptation, forgive, live in peace, die in peace, or distinguish between false and real dangers.

We urgently need the only guide available. Is Jesus your guide?

Who Controls My Life?

Posted by on July 8, 2001 under Sermons

Control is an enormous issue in America. I seriously doubt that you could name a sector in our society in which control is not a major issue.

Control is certainly a major political issue. Who controls the White House? Who controls international policies? Who controls domestic policies? Who controls the Senate? Who controls the House of Representatives? Who controls the governor’s office? Who controls state policies? Who controls city affairs? Almost every political question on every political level begins with this question: who has the control?

Control is certainly a major heath issue. Who controls the direction of this nation’s health care system? Who controls the doctors? Who controls the hospitals? Who controls the drug companies? Who controls the insurance companies? Who controls who my doctor is and what health care I receive?

Control is certainly a major issue in congregations. Do the elders control? What do they control? Do the preachers control? What do they control? Do the members control? What do they control? Do special interest groups control? The whole concept of autonomy is basically about control.

For the last three or four decades, the overriding issue in the lives of the individuals is control. When we discuss protecting “my rights,” or defending “my freedoms”, or intruding in “my space,” or asserting “my independence,” what are we discussing? We are discussing control, who controls “me.”

A basic issue causing major problems in marriages involves questions of control. A basic issue causing major problems in parent and child relationships involves questions of control. A basic issue causing major problems in personal life styles involves questions of control. A basic issue causing major problems in congregations involves questions of control. A basic issue causing major problems in personal godliness involves questions of control.

In being a godly person, is the question of control an internal issue, an external issue, or a combination of both internal and external issues? If it is a combination of internal control and external control, what is the balance?

  1. When Peter wrote the letter we call 1 Peter, he had an extremely difficult task.
    1. He had to prepare the hearts and minds of those Christians who received his letter for hard times and suffering.
      1. In 1 Peter 3:16 he informed them they were going to be slandered.
      2. In 4:12 he informed them that they would be subjected to a “fiery ordeal.”
      3. In 4:14 he informed them that they would be reviled because they believed in Christ.
      4. In 4:16 he informed them that they would be subjected to humiliation.
      5. A number of times in chapters 3 and 4 Peter used the word “suffering.”

    2. I do not know about you, but that is not the kind of information I want to send to Christians I care about and love.
      1. I do not enjoy giving people bad news.
      2. I have had the experience.
        1. I well remember waiting alone in a hospital to tell a father who came home from a job out of state that his only child, a teenage son, had been hurt in an accident and would not recover.
        2. I well remember waiting at a home to tell a father that the daughter he loved committed suicide.
        3. I well remember having to inform almost a hundred congregations that the government ordered them not to meet again.
      3. It is hard to give people bad news.

  2. Peter prepared these Christians for his bad news.
    1. In chapter one, Peter did two things.
      1. First, he reminded them of the enormous blessings God had given them.
        1. Verse 3: God’s great mercy.
        2. Verse 3: the new birth which gave them a living hope that was made possible by Jesus’ resurrection.
        3. Verse 4: their indestructible inheritance that was reserved for them in heaven.
        4. Verse 5: the protection of God’s power.
        5. Verses 6-9: anything that happened would only prove their faith and save their souls.
      2. Second, he reminded them of their commitment.
        1. Verses 13, 14–they belonged to Christ to serve God’s purposes.
        2. Verse 15-21–because they belonged to God through Christ, they were committed to being holy just as their God is holy.
      3. Because they obeyed the truth and purified their souls, they must love each other fervently (1:22).
        1. If they understood who they were,
        2. If they understood what was temporary and what was permanent,
        3. They would love each other fervently.

    2. In chapter 2, Peter reminded them of who they were.
      1. Verses 1-3: knowing the Lord’s kindness meant they must not live like people who did not know the Lord.
      2. Verses 4-10: they lived and acted like living stones who were God’s temple.
      3. Being Christians made them unique as people.
        1 Peter 2:9,10 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

    3. Even though bad times were coming, they would behave in truly distinctive ways.
      1. Verses 11 and 12 said they would be the slandered, but the way they lived would prove the slanders false.
      2. In verses 13-17, Peter stated that even though they would be slandered, they would be good citizens.
      3. In verses 18-25, Peter stated the even though Christians who were servants would be slandered, they would be good servants.
      4. In 3:1-6, Peter stated that even though Christian wives would be slandered, they would be exceptional wives known for godly behavior.
      5. In 3:7, Peter stated that even though Christian husbands would be slandered, they would be exceptional husbands treating their wives with understanding and honor.
      6. In 3:8-12, Peter said that even though the times would be tough on Christians, they would be a kindhearted, humble people that tried to live in sympathy and harmony with everyone.

  3. What is your reaction to Peter’s letter thus far?
    1. “Get real! No way!”
      1. “Peter told these people they were going to be slandered, but they would prove the slanders false by being kind, gentle, considerate people?”
      2. “Who are you kidding? That IS NOT the way you confront and fight injustice! That is not the way you defend your rights! That will not work!”

    2. I would hate to have the responsibility of writing Peter’s letter to American Christians today.
      1. First, we would get terribly upset if someone who knew what he was talking about told us we would be slandered.
      2. Second, we would get just plain angry if someone who knew what he was talking about told us we were going to suffer.
      3. Third, we would resent being encouraged to counter these problems by living good lives of kindness and gentleness.

    3. If you conclude this is just the way people reacted back then, you make a big mistake.
      1. If these were just “natural reactions,” Peter had no need to write them this letter.
      2. Peter explained how they could prepare for the coming slander and suffering.
      3. They were to prepare in most unusual ways.

  4. How did Peter suggest that they prepare and react?
    1. In 3:13, Peter reminded them that the wisest approach to escaping harm was zealously to do good.
    2. In 3:14, Peter admitted that did not always work–sometimes people hated righteousness so much they harmed good people just because those people belonged to Jesus Christ.
    3. This is what Peter said to do when they suffered for being righteous.
      1. Do not let their brand of fear intimidate and trouble you (3:14).
      2. Seat Jesus Christ on the throne of your heart (3:15).
        1. Give him and him only the position of Lord.
        2. Put Jesus, and only Jesus, in control of your attitudes and behavior.
        3. Be ready when those hurting you ask how you can be a calm person full of hope when you are being treated terribly.
        4. Be ready to explain your hope, not defiantly, but gently.
      3. Always maintain a good conscience (3:16).
        1. Be true to what you know to be right in Christ.
        2. Live in ways you understand to be loyal to Jesus.
        3. If you do that, those who slander you will be shamed by their slander.
      4. Why?
        1. One answer: Jesus Christ.
        2. God proved in Jesus’ death if the choice is between suffering for what is right or suffering for what is wrong, God’s people suffer for what is right.

  5. Most of us are grieved and distressed by many of the tragedies among Christians.
    1. Christians as a group do not do things well.
      1. We do not do closeness well.
      2. We do not do marriage well.
      3. We do not do parenting well.
      4. We do not do church well.
      5. We do not do crises well.
      6. We do not do tragedy well.
      7. We do not do sickness well.
      8. We do not do dying well.

    2. Sometimes we get alarmed and decide THE solution is to teach people “how to.”
      1. Teach people “how to” build relationships, “how to” worship, “how to” handle hardship, “how to” die.
      2. I am all for teaching people “how to” and readily admit that we do not do enough to help people understand “how to.”
      3. But if we think we will solve our many problems by teaching people “how to,” we are terribly mistaken.

    3. The basic problem in America and in the church in America is not a “how to” problem; the basic problem is the control problem.
      1. Sometimes I fear we want to teach people “how to” do everything but have faith in God.
      2. We desperately need to teach people to seat Jesus Christ on the throne of their hearts and turn control over to him.
      3. Our basic problem: the wrong things control our lives.
      4. No matter what you teach people “how to” do, as long as Jesus Christ is not the Lord in control of their lives, things will not go well.

When we combine Jesus’ control of our lives with teachings that show us “how to,” God does powerful things. Who sits on the throne of your heart? Who controls your life?

Whom Do You Trust?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Today “faith” is almost always a religious word. When we speak of having “faith,” we think in religious terms. “Having faith,” to many, is experiencing something religious. Associating “faith” with a religious concept or expectation may or may not be biblical.

Often, when people discuss faith, we misunderstand each other. Why? We associate different concepts with the word. Those differing concepts are foundations for different meanings. When we use different meanings as we discuss the same word, we will misunderstand each other.

Does no common, everyday English word exist that accurately reflects God’s meaning for faith? Yes, that word exists. In “every day language,” faith is trust. Biblically, talking about having faith is speaking of trust. Declaring faith in God is declaring trust in God.

In some circumstances, that trust is a quiet dependence. We trust God exists. We trust God to keep His promises. When we experience crises, trust quietly depends on God’s presence and has confidence in His care.

In other circumstances, that trust is an active, confident initiative. When we understand the God we trust wants us to behave or serve in specific ways, we actively behave or serve those ways. That is “obedience.” We actively behave in godly ways and serve God’s purposes because we trust God.

Why were we baptized? If our motives were biblical, we trusted God to use Jesus’ blood as He promised (Ephesians 1:7). Why do Christians repent when we realize sinfulness? We trust God’s promise of forgiveness when we realize and confess our failures (1 John 1:9).

Spiritual maturity produces an awareness that sin and evil are a part of us (Romans 7:7-25). The truth about “self” is distressing. The harder we try to destroy evil’s presence in our lives, the more aware we become of our sinfulness. Instead of sinking into despair, those alive in Christ trust God. The person alive in Christ understands being in Christ destroys condemnation (Romans 8:1).

In the first century, extremely ungodly people turned to Christ for forgiveness and new life. No one can be in worse spiritual condition before conversion than were the Christians at Ephesus. Read Ephesians 2:1-3, 12. Note their horrible condition prior to conversion. Then read 2:4-9. Note what God did in Christ to change their horrible condition. Verse 10 stressed God changed them for them to serve His purposes. What did they need to do? Trust God’s promises. Trust God enough to serve Him.

In our lives, the issue is uncomfortably simple. Do we trust God?

Do You Want to Know the Power?

Posted by on July 1, 2001 under Sermons

This week we celebrate the birth of our nation. Our nation was born when our ancestors declared independence. Today, our nation is the most powerful nation that exists. This nation does not have the greatest population of all the nations. This nation does not have the greatest land mass of all the nations. This nation has not always had the greatest power of all the nations. Today, at this moment in history, this nation has the greatest power.

If we do not have the greatest population, and if there are nations that control more land than we do, why are we, at this time, the most powerful nation? Many factors work in combination to produce this nation’s power. One significant factor is the enormous past sacrifices made for this nation. Without those sacrifices, this nation would not exist. Without those sacrifices, this nation would not have survived. Without those sacrifices, there would be no power.

Each week on Sunday, we individually and as a congregation celebrate the birth of Christianity. Christianity exists because Jesus willingly died by crucifixion to make our forgiveness possible. Christianity exists because God raised the dead body of Jesus from the dead. Forgiveness happens because of God’s work in Jesus’ death. The power exists because of God’s work in the resurrection.

We can become Christians because of Jesus’ willing sacrifice of his life in crucifixion. We can be sustained as Christians because God’s resurrection power sustains us. Without Jesus’ sacrificial death, there would be no Christianity. Without Jesus’ resurrection, there would be no power to sustain us as Christians.

This morning I want you to consider two reactions to Jesus’ resurrection.

  1. Jesus was raised from the dead early Sunday morning the day after the Jews observed the Passover.
    1. That first day, the resurrected Jesus appeared to several people in many different circumstances.
      1. That first day was the beginning of a forty day period when Jesus physically presented himself to people in a variety of differing circumstances.
      2. On this first day, in the evening, Jesus made a physical appearance to the disciples as a group.
        1. The eleven were still in shock.
        2. Everything happened so fast–Jesus went from the most popular man in Jerusalem to the most despised man in Jerusalem so quickly.
        3. Mary Magdalene reported Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples early that first day (John 20:18).
        4. In the early morning Peter and John ran to the empty tomb (John 20:1-9).
        5. The gospel of Luke states that the men who talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus reported to the disciples as a group that they had seen and talked to the resurrected Jesus (Luke 24:33).
        6. The gospel of Mark states as a group the disciples did not believe those reports (Mark 16:11,13).
      3. That evening the group, excluding Thomas, were together behind locked doors afraid that their enemies might kill them now that Jesus was dead (John 20:19-21).
        1. Suddenly the physical Jesus appeared standing in the middle of them.
        2. He greeted them with the common Jewish greeting, “Peace be with you…”
        3. After greeting them, he showed them his hands and his side–he wanted there to be no doubt that he was physically alive.
        4. They rejoiced; they were excited.
      4. Later Thomas Didymus (Thomas the twin) joined them.
        1. They explained what happened: “We saw the Lord!” (John 20:24,25)
        2. To Thomas, that idea was preposterous: “Unless I see his hands with my own eyes, feel the nail prints with my own finger, and put my hand in his pierced side I will not believe that he is physically alive.”
      5. Eight days later Jesus appeared again to the disciples, and this time Thomas is with them (John 20:26-29).
        1. The circumstances are quite similar: as a group they are gathered behind locked doors, and Jesus greets them with the common Jewish greeting, “Peace be with you.”
        2. Then Jesus spoke specifically to Thomas: “Stick out your finger and examine my hands; put your hand in my side; believe I am resurrected.”
        3. I do not know what Thomas did.
        4. We are only told his verbal response: “My Lord and my God!”
        5. Jesus said to Thomas,
          John 20:29 “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

    2. The second man thought Jesus was a fraud and thought the Jews who believed in Jesus were enemies of God.
      1. Then Paul saw and talked to the resurrected Jesus (Act 9:1-9; 22:14; 26:16).
      2. Seeing and hearing the resurrected Jesus totally turned his life around.
        1. What was extremely important before seeing the resurrected Jesus suddenly became totally unimportant.
        2. Prior to knowing the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, Paul was the rising star in Judaism (Galatians 1:14).
        3. As a young man, perhaps a child, he left his home in Tarsus to study under the renown Jewish teacher, Gamaliel, in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3).
        4. Yet, after seeing and hearing the resurrected Jesus, he gave up everything he worked so hard to achieve (Philippians 3:7,8).
      3. “Why would anyone do that?”
        1. In Philippians 3:9-11, Paul gave five reasons for making that decision.
          1. He wanted the righteousness God gives when a person has faith in Christ instead of the righteousness produced by personal achievement through the law.
          2. He wanted to know Jesus Christ.
          3. He wanted to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
          4. He wanted to participate in Jesus’ sufferings.
          5. He wanted to experience personal resurrection from the dead in the way Jesus Christ made it possible.
        2. Notice that two of Paul’s five reasons directly related to resurrection.
          1. He wanted to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
          2. He wanted to personally experience resurrection in Jesus.
      4. I want you to focus your attention on Paul’s desire to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
        1. Paul was on his way to Damascus in the conviction that he was absolutely right in his convictions and understanding.
        2. When Jesus appeared to Paul, Paul knew he was completely wrong in his convictions and understanding.

    3. Paul had an entirely new understanding of God’s power.
      1. What power could take a dead body killed by crucifixion and sliced open with a spear, and bring that body back to life? (John 19:31-34)
      2. Paul had great faith in God’s power.
        1. He had no doubt that God used His power to deliver his ancestor’s from Egypt.
        2. He had no doubt that God used His power to allow those ancestor’s to cross the Red Sea.
        3. He has no doubt that God used His power to physically feed those people with manna in the wilderness.
        4. He had no doubt that God used His power to provide water to those people in the wilderness.
        5. He had no doubt that God used His power to give Israel the land of Canaan.
        6. Had you asked Paul to illustrate how God used His power to help Israel in the Old Testament, Paul was full of illustrations.
      3. But the power of resurrection was more than any of those powers.
        1. How so?
        2. Those things preserved physical life.
        3. The power of the resurrection created life after there had been death.
        4. The ultimate power of the physical is to cause death.
        5. Resurrection power destroys death.

  2. What is so incredible about resurrection power?
    1. Resurrection power is the power of Re-creation.
      1. Through resurrection power God recreates life after evil destroyed that life.
        1. Resurrection power is the power source of God’s grace.
        2. Resurrection power is the power source of God’s mercy.
        3. Resurrection power is the power source of God’s forgiveness.
        4. Resurrection power is the power source of newness of life in Christ.
      2. Satan used evil to kill everyone of us.
        1. We each were born with life that came from God, but when we yielded to evil Satan destroyed that life.
        2. Through resurrection power, God gives us life that Satan and evil cannot destroy.
        3. No matter how much Satan hates that life and attacks that life, as long as we remain in Christ, Satan cannot destroy that life.

    2. Resurrection power is the greatest power God has ever used in human life.
      1. It is greater than physical miracles because those miracles only affected life on this earth.
      2. It is greater than physical blessings because those blessings only exist now.
      3. Resurrection power gives us life not even physical death can destroy.

    3. What is resurrection power about?
      1. Is it about money? No.
      2. Is it about material things? No.
      3. Is it about prestige and social status? No.
      4. Is it about fulfilling physical desires and wants? No.
      5. “Then what is resurrection power about? It sounds pretty useless.”
        1. It is about me becoming the person I have the potential to be through God’s power.
        2. It is about me living in this world and the world to come.
        3. It is about living a full life now and living a full life with God.
      6. To me, the Christian’s most common and greatest abuse of God’s power is seen in this: we try to use God’s power to satisfy wants instead of learning to live.
        1. Look at our prayers.
        2. So much of our praying focuses on what we want.
        3. So little of our praying focuses on what we are or can become.
        4. How often in our prayers:
          1. Do you ask for the strength to forgive an enemy?
          2. Do you ask for the compassion to care about people we have a hard time respecting?
          3. Do you ask for the wisdom to be honest and kind?
          4. Do you ask for the ability to be helpful and encouraging?
          5. Do you ask for the attitudes, spirit, heart, and humility of Jesus?
        5. How often do we ask God’s guidance and power in helping us change?
      7. Can God make it possible for you to change as a person? Through the resurrection power revealed in Jesus Christ, yes!

    4. The gospel of John stresses the fact that Jesus is the source of life.
      1. John 1:4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
      2. John 8:12 “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
      3. John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
      4. John 11:25,26 “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Why are you a Christian? If your only motivation is fear, you will never mature spiritually. If your only motivation is to keep your premiums current on hell insurance, you will never mature spiritually. If your only motivation is to fulfill an obligation, you will never mature spiritually. Our motivation for being a Christian must become the same reason Jesus surrendered himself to God in crucifixion. He came to give us life. We must want life.

No matter what sin has done or is doing to kill you, in Jesus Christ there is life. That life is available to you through God’s resurrection power.

Convictions and Daily Life

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

To you, does the word “convictions” have a meaning? Which of these serve as the foundation of your meaning? (1) “Convictions are beliefs you accept as truth.” (2) “Convictions are your daily behavior.” (3) “Convictions are beliefs you accept as truth that express themselves in daily life.”

Each Christian must be a person of “conviction.” To say to a Christian, “You have no convictions,” is to insult him or her. Jesus was a person of conviction. So were Paul, Timothy, Titus, Mary, Martha, and Mark’s mother. Anyone with any understanding of Christian existence knows men and women who belong to Christ must be people of conviction. The essential question: what does it mean to be a person of conviction?

Some conclude having convictions is a matter of holding correct Christian beliefs. To them significant faith questions often begin by asking, “Where do you stand on …?” “Is he liberal?” “Is she legalistic?” “Does he believe the Bible is verbally inspired?” “Does she believe the Holy Spirit is active today?” “What is his understanding of ‘the faith’?” “What is her understanding of ‘the church’?” “To find out, ask, ‘What is your position on …?’ Then listen. If he uses this word, he is …. If she uses this phrase, she is …. But if he or she uses that word or phrase, he or she is …. You can tell where a person ‘stands’ by certain words and phrases he or she uses.”

This approach to godliness defines conviction solely in terms of a specific set of beliefs.

Some conclude that having convictions is basically a matter of personal behavior. “I am a person of conviction! I am honest, pay my bills, take care of my family, am a good neighbor, am a responsible member of the community, and am loyal to my country. Religious involvement is unnecessary to holding convictions. I am not involved with the church, but I am a person of conviction. Church-wise, I do little. However, I live my convictions. That makes me a person of conviction.”

This approach to godliness defines conviction solely in terms of personal behavior.

Some understand being a person holding Christian convictions involves both beliefs and behavior. Jesus Christ is truth and defines truth (John 14:6). Understanding truth begins by understanding Jesus. Yet, it is not enough to know truth. Truth expresses itself in behavior. Jesus perfectly expressed God’s truth in human behavior. Jesus is the ultimate example of holding truth and expressing convictions.

To reduce convictions to a matter of holding truths leads us to act as judges. To reduce convictions to a matter of personal behavior leads us to self-justification. To understand Christian convictions are based on truths that change our daily behavior leads to humble service to God.