Do You Understand Why?

Posted by on August 26, 2001 under Sermons

Occasionally I hear Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segment. When I do, I am always astounded. Two things amaze me: (1) what the people selected do not know and (2) what the people selected think they know, but do not understand.

Suppose for a moment that you have microphones and a camera crew to accompany you as you conduct interviews. You ask some very simple interview questions. First you go to a state university to interview incoming freshmen. This is the interview question: “Why do people go to universities?” Having spent twenty-eight years preaching for college and university congregations, allow me to suggest some honest answers. The top three answers. (1) “They go to party. Everyone is entitled to four carefree years of fun. You just left the restrictions of parents and home. You will spend adult life facing and enduring adult responsibilities. The four years of university life are supposed to be the fun time transition.”

(2) “They go to get a degree. The degree is your key to opportunity. If you want to get a good job, you need to have a degree to put down on your job application.”

(3) “They go to make contacts for the future. Everybody realizes that it is not what you know but who you know. People go to universities to make the right contacts for the future.”

You would be amazed at how few answers people give have anything to do with education.

We could do the interview with the simple question, “Why do people have jobs?” Probable answers would include (1) “to make money.” Or, (2) “to afford fun stuff.” Or, (3) “to have good benefits.” You would be amazed at the number of answers having nothing to do with the success of the business.

  1. Let’s conduct a simple interview with ourselves by asking this question, “Why should Christians exist as the church?”
    1. Our answers to that question might include these.
      1. “It is important to be religious.”
      2. “Going to church is good for the family.”
      3. “Going to church is something that good people do.”
      4. If all of us wrote down honest, heart answers, it would be amazing to note how many of our answers had little to do with God.

    2. Please consider Paul’s answer in Ephesians 1. “Paul, why do we Christians exist as the church?”
      1. Paul wrote this letter to Christians at Ephesus.
        1. The majority of them were converted idol worshippers.
        2. In chapter two he explained that prior to being Christians they were spiritually dead, separated from Christ, not included in God’s covenant, without hope, and without God.
        3. Their preconversion condition was horribly grim.
      2. In chapter one Paul explained the purpose of their being Christians.
        1. He began by explaining these things.
          1. God is the source of blessings (verse 3).
          2. God provides every spiritual blessing in Christ (verse 3).
          3. Before God created the world, God chose all people who want to be holy and blameless to be His people (verse 4).
          4. Before creation he chose to adopt all people who would come to Jesus Christ (verse 5).
        2. Why? Why would God do those things?
          1. So that those who were alive in Christ would exist to the praise of the glory of His grace (verse 6).
          2. We exist as Christians to be living evidence of how good God is, to demonstrate God’s goodness, and to cause people to glorify God.
        3. Paul continued his emphasis.
          1. In Christ you have redemption through his blood (verse 7).
          2. In Christ you have the forgiveness of your trespasses.
          3. In fact, in Christ:
            1. God lavishes His grace upon you (verse 8).
            2. God showed you what He was doing–makes known to you the mystery (verse 9).
            3. God reveals His complete purpose and shows how that purpose is summed up in Jesus (verse 10).
            4. Through that purpose, you have obtained an inheritance (verse 11).
        4. Why? Why has God revealed all those things in Christ? (verse 12)
          1. So that people who have their hope in Christ should be to the praise of God’s glory.
          2. People would give God praise and glorify God because of what happens in Christians’ lives.
        5. Paul still continued his emphasis.
          1. God placed the insignia of the Holy Spirit on them (verse 13).
          2. To use our wording, God used the Holy Spirit to prove that He made the down payment on them, that they belonged to Him.
          3. The Holy Spirit was proof that God was coming back for them, to redeem them for his own possession.
        6. Why? Why would God do that? (verse 14)
          1. Because He expected them to be to the praise of His glory.
          2. When other people saw what God did in them, those people would praise God and give Him glory.

  2. Paul’s emphasis is not some new idea that he thought up for these converted idol worshippers.
    1. That is what Jesus was all about–Jesus lived and died to cause people to praise God and give God glory.
    2. And Jesus did that perfectly!
      1. In Matthew 3:13-17 Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River.
        1. When John hesitated and tried to discourage Jesus from being baptized, Jesus insisted.
        2. He said, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.
        3. John immersed him.
        4. Immediately the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came upon Jesus and God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
        5. In the act of baptism, Jesus was conducting himself to the praise of God’s glory.
      2. In Matthew 17:1-8 Jesus was transfigured, and Peter, James, and John were able to see him.
        1. He was talking with Moses and Elijah.
        2. One account says they were discussing Jesus’ coming death in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).
        3. Peter was frightened and said, “Lord, I am glad we are here. We need to build a tabernacle to honor you, and one to honor Moses [the great Jewish law giver], and one to honor Elijah [the great Jewish prophet].
        4. A cloud covered everyone, and God’s voice spoke saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: listen to Him!”
        5. In this unusual moment, Jesus’ surrender to God was to the praise and glory of God.
      3. It was Jesus himself who explained that his purpose for existence is to be our purpose for existence.
        1. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus said: “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.”
        2. “If you belong to me, do good.”
        3. “Do not be ashamed of the good you do; let it be obvious that you are devoted to doing good because you belong to me.”
        4. “You do not do good to impress people with you. You do good so people will be impressed with your God.”
        5. We are lights to bring glory to God; people praise God because of the good we do.

    3. First century Jews had been God’s people for almost 1500 years.
      1. They knew God’s teachings; they had known God’s teachings for a very long time.
      2. They had known God’s teachings for so long that they decided their role was to judge everybody else.
        1. That seems to be our human tendency when we know God’s will a long time.
        2. We decide we do not know God’s will to serve God.
        3. We decide we know God’s will to judge those who fail God.
      3. They could tell you what was wrong with everyone, and they could especially tell you what was wrong with all those people who worshipped idols.
      4. In Romans 2:24 Paul described first century Jews who existed to pass judgment [he used a quotation from scripture]: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
        1. The Gentiles were those idol worshippers they judged.
        2. Those condemned idol worshippers did not praise and glorify God because of their judgments.
        3. Those condemned idol worshippers blasphemed God because of their judgments.
      5. Christians do not exist to cause people to blaspheme God, but to praise and glorify God.

  3. As a Christian, one of the primary reasons that you exist is to help people see God and praise Him.
    1. Continually over the past 200 years the focus of the restoration movement increasingly has become the church, not God.
      1. Often we are so obsessed with being the church that we loose sight of God.
      2. We assume that if the church succeeds, God succeeds.
        1. And we have a very narrow, restricted definition of the church succeeding.
        2. Far too often we define success in the church more on the doctrinal stands “it” takes than on the way “it” serves the spiritual needs of people.
        3. Far too often we define success in the church on the basis of image rather than on the basis of godliness.
        4. Far too often we are more concerned about our expectations in the church than God’s expectations in the church.
          1. Too often we confuse our expectations for God’s expectations.
          2. Too often we are more concerned about image than substance.
          3. Often we pick the congregation we wish to be a part of on the basis of approved image instead of spiritual substance.

    2. The problem is more fundamental than our perception of the church; the problem begins in our perception of ourselves as individual Christians.
      1. As individual Christians, we are likely to be more concerned with escaping eternal consequences than reflecting the eternal God.
        1. That is what we have been taught for generations.
        2. That was the basis of conversion for many of us.
        3. That was the basis for producing acceptable behavior and maintaining control of congregations.
      2. How often were you taught, “If you do those things, you will go to hell!”
      3. How often were you taught, “This is the way you reflect the merciful God.”
      4. What role did God have in your conversion?
      5. What role does God have in your Christian behavior?

    3. Consider a specific example. If it were possible, would you choose to reflect:
      1. The perfect holiness of God, or would that interfere with your lifestyle?
      2. The perfect purity of God, or would that interfere with your pleasures?
      3. The perfect mercy of God, or would that interfere with your anger?
      4. The perfect grace of God, or would that interfere with your condemnations?

Most of us do not equate being a Christian with accurately reflecting God in an evil world. Do you? Most of us do not understand our purpose as individual Christians and our purpose as the church. We exist to glorify God. Bottom line. We exist so people can see how God helps flesh and blood, and seeing that, honor God for His mercy and forgiveness.

We need to do much better answering the simple questions of who we are and why we exist. We need to understand what it means to be to the praise of God’s glory.

The Challenge That Encourages

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Many years ago as a teenager I played some team sports. One day my coach explained to me one of his basic rules of coaching. “You cannot coach all players the same way. [He used specific players as examples.] If I compliment this player, he lets it go to his head. He becomes so proud of himself he will not listen to anything I say. But this player is a different situation. After I compliment him he listens, and then he works his heart out for me. The key is understanding how to encourage each player to do his best.”

Regardless of your opinion about his approach to challenging his players, he understood an important truth about people. Individuals are distinctive persons with unique personalities. What motivates or encourages one discourages or distresses another. There are those who observe, “Some are overly sensitive and others are not sensitive enough.” To these people, this observation becomes the basis for their interactions.

While the observation is true, it does not explain the reality. We are all different. Nothing is “standard” about us, our experiences, or the way experiences impact our lives. We all want others to see us for who we are. No one chooses to fulfill someone’s expectations as a cog in their machine. Jerry and Lynn Jones explained that does not work in marriage. It does not work in other relationships. It does not work among Christians.

A phenomenal truth about God: He sees each of us as individuals. God looks at six billion people on earth, and sees the individual. He forgives the individual. He treats the individual with grace and mercy. He admonishes the individual. He encourages the individual. He listens to the individual. As He interacts in all these ways, He is always concerned about the person, not the precedent.

Jesus was God’s perfect representative on earth. Jesus initiated a conversation with a Samaritan divorcee to offer her living water (John 4). He allowed the unthinkable! Jesus let a prostitute wash, dry, anoint, and kiss his feet in someone else’s home (Luke 7:36-50). He allowed the unthinkable! Jesus healed a Roman army officer’s servant (Matthew 5:-13). He did the unthinkable! Jesus associated with religious and social outcasts, and religious leaders were incensed (Matthew 10:10-13). He did the unthinkable! In each situation, he was concerned about individuals, not about precedents. He saw the person, the need, and the opportunity, and responded.

That is why God is the goal, and we are the goal setters. That is why Jesus is the teacher, and we are the students. We become so concerned about the precedent that we ignore the individual. God does not. Jesus does not.

God knows whose heart seeks His will, and whose heart does not. God knows who is trying as he or she struggles, and who justifies himself or herself in his or her struggles. God does not use the standard human “pass or fail” method of testing. God uses the divine heart standard of testing. Thank You, God, for seeing us as individuals! Thank You for seeing the worst in us and loving us enough to forgive us, if we will let You.

What Did You Teach This Summer?

Posted by on August 19, 2001 under Sermons

It is that time of year again. Television commercials do not lie, do they? The ads targeting our tax rebates have been replaced with ads about “back to school supplies.”

One commercial presents a jubilant father and two sad children. The father leaps, dances, and jumps up and down isles as he fills a shopping cart with school supplies. The children just stand together and look sad. While this occurs, a background song plays, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Each time I see that commercial I wonder about the underlying message. It is one thing to sell school supplies. It is quite another to declare it is wonderful to be rid of your children.

I am also amazed at when “back to school” ads market their products with an obvious pitch to sex appeal or an obvious justification of selfishness.

Whatever your emotions may be, summer break is over. Tomorrow morning in Fort Smith public schools open for students. For all intents and purposes, summer is over. Our calendar does not mark the beginning of fall. School does.

So, what did your heart teach your kids this summer? When your children are forty year old adults, they will have memories of the summer of 2001. When they remember this summer and their parents, what will they remember? Will anything they remember be associated with your heart?

  1. Consider two fascinating scriptures concerning people committed to God.
    1. The first, Deuteronomy 8:2, was given to the Israelites as they prepared to invade Canaan.
      You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
      1. For forty years these people wandered in the wilderness as their parents died.
        1. God supplied their food by giving them manna to eat every day (verse 3).
        2. God kept their clothing from wearing out for the entire time (verse 4).
        3. Can you image eating the same diet and wearing the same clothes for forty years?
        4. There are people in our world today that would love to eat every day and have something to wear.
      2. Moses spoke to people who trusted, obeyed, and were committed to God.
        1. Even so, they spent the forty years wandering in a desert because of their parents’ choices.
        2. Knowing human nature, there had to be times when they wondered, “Why? We did not distrust God; our parents did! Why must we endure consequences created by our parents’ choices?”
      3. Perhaps God in Deuteronomy 8:2 gave an answer to their why.
        1. Moses said, “I want you to remember this experience.” [“Sure, like they could forget it!” God knew when things changed and became good, they were likely to forget it (verses 11-20)].
        2. Moses said, “This experience happened for identifiable reasons.”
          1. Reason number one was to humble you; humble people depend on God. Arrogant people depend on themselves.
          2. Reason number two was to test you; not to cause you to fail, but to give you opportunity to reveal your heart to God.
          3. Reason number three was based on reasons one and two: obedience comes from people who are humble, whose hearts belong to God.

    2. This whole experience provided them opportunity to reveal their hearts.
      1. The same opportunity was given to their parents.
        1. When the tenth plague released their parents from Egypt’s slavery, in the sports jargon of today, “God was the man!” God was number one on top of everything! God released them, and God visibly lead them day and night with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21).
        2. But when they were trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea, they said to Moses, “Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone and let us be slaves! It is better to be a live slave than dusty grave!” (Exodus 14:12)
        3. When God rescued them by allowing them to cross through the Red Sea on dry land, they were filled with joy and praise for God (Exodus 15).
        4. But when they entered the desert and were thirsty, they grumbled (Exodus 15:24).
        5. When God verbally gave them the ten commandments (Exodus 20), they responded by saying they would do anything God wanted.
          1. Just one request: “Listening to God’s voice will kill us.”
          2. “Moses, you talk to God and we will do anything you tell us.”
        6. Moses went upon Mount Sinai to communicate with God and was gone forty days.
          1. The same people said to Aaron, “We have no idea what happened to Moses.”
          2. “Make us a god” (they knew and were familiar with idols).
          3. Aaron made them a golden calf and said it was their god who delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 32:1-4).
      2. Their parents had a lot of opportunity to show God their hearts, and they did.
        1. They refused to humble themselves when things did not go as they wished.
        2. They failed the test–unless God was doing what they wanted, they did not trust him.
      3. The admonition to this second generation was simple: show God your heart.
        1. Whatever your experience, show God your heart.
        2. Refuse to make the mistakes your parents made; show God your heart.

    3. The second scripture is found in 2 Chronicles 32:31.
      Even in the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.
      1. This statement is made in reference to King Hezekiah.
      2. Hezekiah was an exceptional king in Judah, one of the few kings who led a reform to move people back to God and His ways.
        1. It was Hezekiah who did what was right in God’s sight as did his ancestor David (2 Chronicles 29:2).
        2. It was Hezekiah that repaired the temple and reinstituted sacrificial worship in the temple (2 Chronicles 29).
        3. It was Hezekiah who reinstituted Passover observance (2 Chronicles 30).
        4. It was Hezekiah’s influence that led the people to destroy idolatrous shrines in the territories of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 31:1).
        5. It was Hezekiah who restored the tithe in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 31:4,5).
        6. It was Hezekiah who trusted God when the superior military force of the King of Assyria tried to destroy Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32).
      3. Hezekiah became a very rich man.
        1. He also made some significant mistakes because of his pride.
        2. But with his wealth and his pride, God left him alone to test him.
        3. God wanted to know all that was in his heart.

  2. The only thing we control is our hearts.
    1. What is in our hearts lives there by our choice.
      1. Our choices make our hearts soft or hard.
      2. Our choices make our hearts compassionate or uncaring.
      3. Our choices cause people to see God in our hearts or cause people to decide God is no big deal.
      4. Our choices determine if our hearts finds joy in evil or finds joy in God.

    2. The only thing you have power over is what exists in your heart.
      1. We have no real control over our future.
      2. We have no real control over our health.
      3. We have no real control over our prosperity.
      4. We have no real control over the events that shape our lives.
      5. The only thing we control is the nature of our hearts.
      6. Our choices reveal to God what is in our hearts.
      7. Those choices might be made in the harshness of the wilderness like Israel or in great prosperity like Hezekiah, but we do show God what is in our hearts by our choices–wherever we make them.

    3. This is not a perfect world.
      1. Life is not fair, and never has been.
      2. Life is not just, and never has been.
      3. Like is not kind, and never has been.
      4. Life is not easy, and never has been.
      5. Life does not focus on convenience, and never has.

    4. Everyone makes hard choices; there are no exceptions.
      1. There are enough failed expectations in everyone’s life to create an angry heart.
      2. There are enough disappointments in everyone’s life to create a jealous heart.
      3. There are enough injustices in everyone’s life to create a mean heart.
      4. There are enough bruises in everyone’s life to create a hard heart.
      5. There is enough evil in everyone’s life to create a corrupt heart.
      6. There is enough coldness in everyone’s life to create a loveless heart.

    5. Each one of us decide what kind of heart we have; it is literally our choice.
      1. It is not a matter of our experiences; it is a matter of our choices in spite of our experiences.
      2. By our choices we show God our decision.
      3. By our choices we show people our decision.

  3. So, this summer, what did you teach people about your heart?
    1. First, think about all the things you did this summer.
      1. Make a list.
      2. Where did you go?
      3. What did you do?
      4. How did you spend your time?

    2. Second, think about what your choices taught the people who are important to you about your heart?
      1. What did you teach your children about your heart? If their adult hearts become exactly what they saw in your heart, will you be delighted?
      2. What did you teach your wife about your heart? If her heart becomes exactly what she saw in your heart, will you be delighted?
      3. What did you teach your husband about your heart? If his heart becomes exactly what he saw in your heart, will you be delighted?
      4. What did you teach your friends about your heart? If their hearts pattern themselves after your heart, is that a good thing?

    3. If someone were to review what we revealed about our heart by our choices this summer, what would they conclude?
      1. Would they conclude you have a spiritual heart, a religious heart, or a secular heart?
      2. Would they conclude you have a God centered heart [“God makes them tick”], a pleasure centered heart [“fun makes them tick], or a “thing” centered heart [“possessions make them tick”]?
      3. Would they conclude that we have a serving heart that cares, a heart that does to others what they do to you, or a selfish heart that always takes care of us first?

What did our choices show God about our hearts this summer? Does God look at what we showed Him about our hearts and say, “That person does not have a clue about what life is about.” Or, “That person’s heart really wants My help.” Or, “That heart is truly spiritual. It refuses just to go through the motions of being religious. It belongs to Me.”

This summer taught a lot of people many truths about your heart. This summer also taught God many truths about your heart. What did your choices teach?

“God, Please Focus Us!”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Gloom and depression settled over the situation like a heavy wool blanket on a hot August night. Jesus was dead. From noon to 3 p.m. it was dark. Jesus died with a loud cry, the earth convulsed, and everyone was terrified. Then, nothing was left to do but take Jesus’ dead body off the cross, prepare it for burial, and put it in a tomb.

At the moment Jesus died, God achieved His greatest victory. After creation, Satan drove the wedge of evil between God and people. When Jesus died, God removed that wedge. At last God was free to extend atonement, redemption, forgiveness, mercy, and purification to all people. Never again could evil “own” those who accepted God’s mercy by entering Christ. With Jesus’ death, God defeated Satan!

Only the judgment day will be more significant than that moment. God achieved victory over evil! Yet, not one human understood God’s accomplishment! The eleven apostles did not. The women who followed and served Jesus and his disciples did not. Those helped by Jesus did not. Certainly Jesus’ enemies did not.

Jesus presented his resurrected, physical body to many for forty days. Still no one understood. Followers were overjoyed that he was resurrected, but they did not understand the significance of his death or resurrection. Not until Jesus was presented as Lord and Christ in Acts 2 did they begin to understand. What they had in mind for Jesus and what God had in mind for Jesus were totally different in focus. Their focus simply was not God’s focus.

Grieving seems to be part of my life. I know and understand much more today than I did ten years ago. Going back beyond ten years is embarrassing. When I reflect on all the things I did not know and understand earlier in my life, I grieve and apologize to God. Now I know enough to realize that I never grasped all that God intended or does in Jesus whom He made Lord and Christ.

My goal: have the faith and courage to understand Scripture’s meaning. That demanding goal that is better described as a journey. That journey often walks through fear, often humbles me, and constantly teaches me that faith is trusting God. When my faith is focused on things other than God, I am afraid. When I realize what happened, I am humbled. I often thought I was trusting God only to learn I was not.

I grieve when individuals would rather be religious than spiritual. I grieve when families substitute religious habits for godly values. I grieve when groups would rather defend church history than return to Jesus’ cross. I grieve when Christians would rather place blame than repent. I grieve when congregations prefer to measure themselves by their standards rather than Christ’s. I grieve when the church substitutes its purposes for God’s. And, when I look at God’s perfect holiness and purity and see myself, I grieve.

God, please focus us. Only then can we see Your purposes through Your eyes.

Being Like God

Posted by on August 5, 2001 under Sermons

I want to begin this evening by giving you a problem to solve. Think about it. Be honest with yourself. Refuse to deceive yourself. You certainly do not have to share your solution, but work on a solution.

I once lived in a society that permitted no physical contact between men and women in public. Any form of public physical contact between a man and a woman meant they were not married, but they were sexually involved. Acceptable public physical contact occurred between good friends of the same sex. It was common to see two men walking together holding hands. Because women were so busy when in public [caring for children or preparing for market], you actually saw more men who were friends walking, holding hands. But both were acceptable.

People had so many documents to be physically carried on their person that men often traveled carrying purses. There were frequent roadblocks, and at each roadblock you were required to produce any document the police requested. The convenient way for men to address the situation was to carry all their documents in a purse. It was common to see men traveling carrying purses.

Prostitutes were the only women who wore pants of any kind. Any woman who wore pants of any kind [jeans, slacks, etc.] was immediately understood to be practicing prostitution. Unless you were in a major city where prostitutes wore shorts, women did not wear shorts of any kind.

Your reason for being in this society is to teach people about God and Jesus Christ. You want people to better understand God and Jesus Christ. You want them to develop their understanding from watching your everyday behavior and from listening to what you said.

This is the problem I want you to solve: if you are a single lady, a wife, or the father of a teenage daughter, what do you do? Would the women in your household wear pants in public? Would you hold hands with or touch your wife in public? Would you condemn men for holding hands and carrying purses? How would you behave in public?

At that same time, in our American society if a woman wore jeans or slacks did that mean she was a prostitute? No. At that time, in our society did women wear jeans or slacks? Yes. If men held hands in public and carried purses, what did that mean? In our society, it meant they were homosexually involved. In our society, did dating couples or married couples touch each other in public? Yes.

If you lived in that society and wanted to teach them a correct view of God, what would you do? Would you say, “Those standards are stupid! To attach such significance to such actions is ridiculous! They are obligated to understand me! I am not obligated to follow their customs!”

Or, would you say, “If they misunderstand my behavior and personal conduct, they will misunderstand my God. If I do things they regard to be sexual proclamations, they will assume my God approves of sexual promiscuity. What I wear and how I behave will be conscious of and sensitive to their thoughts and reactions.”

  1. For the Christian, God is his or her standard.
    1. The Christian has these understandings.
      1. Every moment of life in every context and every situation, I represent God.
      2. People will develop more of their concepts about my God from my behavior than from my words.
      3. The best way to properly represent God is to understand Jesus.
        1. Jesus perfectly represented God.
        2. The better I understand Jesus and allow Jesus’ attitudes and principles to be my role model, the better I will represent God.
      4. That is every Christian’s fundamental commitment: to use my behavior and my words to help people better understand God.

    2. Lest you think this is just “preacher talk” that I share to push a personal agenda, listen carefully to Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48.
      You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
      1. I ask you to focus on two things in Jesus’ statement.
      2. The first thing: people who follow God with understanding are different.
        1. They do not hate their enemies and love their friends.
        2. Everyone else does that, but they don’t.
        3. They simply do not act like everyone else even when it comes to enemies.
        4. Reactions to enemies come as close to being “a standard negative” in all cultures among all people as any common behavior/reaction you can name.
      3. The second thing: people who follow God are different because they act like God acts.
        1. Let’s stay with Jesus’ enemy illustration of how our righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
        2. How does God treat His enemies?
          1. People became God’s enemy by completely perverting God’s “very good” creation through rebellion (Genesis 1:31; 3:1-7).
          2. People went from bad to worse until evil was in complete control of human conduct (Genesis 6:5,6).
          3. God struggled against evil to create Israel.
          4. God struggled against evil in Israel to generate conditions that would allow Him to send His son.
          5. God allowed His creation to reject and kill His son.
          6. God resurrected His son from the dead to give his enemies hope.
          7. God used Jesus’ crucifixion and Jesus’ resurrection to allow His enemies to become His children.
        3. We have never done as much for one of our enemies as God did for all His enemies.
      4. If we let God be our standard, how will we act toward enemies, toward those who cause us harm? We will love them and pray for them.
        1. Even the most ungodly people love people who love them and hate people who hate them.
        2. There is no spiritual reward in a lifestyle that loves people who love us.
        3. There is no spiritual reward in a lifestyle that gives acceptance to people we like–even the people who do not know the living God exists do that.
        4. The Christian’s goal cannot be to look and act like godless people.
      5. God is different.
        1. He made the sun, but He lets the sun rise for people who hate him as well as people who love him.
        2. He lets the rains bless evil people as well as godly people.
      6. God’s spiritual maturity is the standard for all those who belong to God.

  2. The fact that God Himself is the standard for the people who choose to follow and belong to Him has always been true.
    1. Leviticus 19:2
      Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
    2. 2 Corinthians 7:1
      Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
    3. 1 Peter 1:13-21
      Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

  3. Consider the moment and circumstances when Jesus made his statement.
    1. Jesus very clearly stated in Matthew 5:20 in the same lesson that the righteousness of the hearers had to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
      1. Have you considered what an astounding statement that was?
      2. Jesus said the scribes and Pharisees did not represent God.
        1. If they listened to the scribes and the Pharisees they would come to wrong conclusions about God.
        2. If they patterned their lives after the lives of the scribes and Pharisees their lives would not reveal God’s priorities and standards.
      3. Wow!

    2. Who were these guys, the scribes and the Pharisees?
      1. The Pharisees:
        1. Were dedicated to ritual purity.
        2. Were dedicated to Scripture as God’s word and gave their understanding of “thus says the Lord” to authorize and authenticate everything they did.
        3. Wore clothing and titles that declared they were religious men who were men of the book.
        4. Were men who knew what scripture said so well that they were convinced that they could pass judgment on everyone else’s beliefs and behaviors.
        5. And they did not represent God! If you listened to them and followed them, you would not act like God wants you to act.
        6. If you listened to them, you would hate your enemies and love those who loved you.
      2. The scribes:
        1. Among other things, made copies of Scripture.
        2. Were technical experts in God’s Word because they made and proofed the copies.
        3. Could tell you how many times every letter of the alphabet occurred in any given book in Scripture.
        4. Knew where the smallest marks went–every dot and dash.
        5. But they did not represent God! If you listened to what they said and followed their example, your life would not show people what God wanted.
        6. If you followed them, you would hate your enemies and love those who loved you.

    3. Let me ask all of us some hard questions.
      1. What does holiness look like? Would people know what holiness looked like if they listened to us and watched our lives?
      2. What does purity look like? Would people know what purity looked like if they listened to us and watched our lives?
      3. What does godliness look like? Would people know what godliness looked like if they listened to us and watch our lives?

Do you have any idea of how much God puts up with in this world every single hour of every single day because He wants His enemies to become His children? And I have the gall to tell God what I will not put up with?

God not only puts up with it, but when we become His children, He forgives it! He treats it with mercy! He looks at us with grace! He loves the ugly and unlovable!

May I share with you one of the greatest heartaches of spiritually growing and honestly reaching for spiritual maturity? The more I mature the more aware I become of the grief I have caused God and do cause God. And God’s love is so great He just asks, “Allow Me be your standard. Represent me conscientiously.”

Do We Know What Love Looks Like?

Posted by on under Sermons

Once I lived with my family in a place where there were no furniture stores within eighty miles. The roads were in such poor condition it could take up to five hours to drive that eighty miles. It could take up to ten hours driving for the round trip. When you found a furniture store, the clerks did not speak English. Any piece of furniture they sold cost several hundred percent more than the same item sells for here. Needless to say, we did not go furniture shopping.

However, occasionally we needed a specific piece of furniture. For example, our sons were small, their room was small, and we really needed bunk beds. Bunk beds were unknown in that area. But, I knew a carpenter who could build anything if he knew what it looked like. If you could show him a picture, he could build it.

I showed him a picture of bunk beds, explained what they were for, and he built a wonderful set of bunk beds. Never mind that I did not think about how I would get them in the house. Never mind that he made them as a single unit. Never mind that we could not get them in the house after they were built. Never mind that he took them apart and rebuilt them inside the house.

If he knew what something looked like, he could build it.

Maybe this carpenter was like most of us. In our lives, we can build it if we know what it looks like. But, if we do not know what it looks like, we cannot produce it.

  1. The Christians living in Corinth faced major problems.
    1. They lived in a very evil environment.
      1. As in every significant city in the Roman empire, idolatry influenced every single aspect of their lives.
        1. No matter how you earned your living, idolatry directly impacted your job.
        2. Every city was full of idols and temples, and Corinth was no exception.
        3. Idolatry was a part of every aspect of city politics.
        4. City officials worshipped and honored the gods.
        5. Morality was defined by the gods.
        6. Ethics was defined by the gods.
        7. Nothing escaped the influence of idolatry.
      2. To make the situation worse, Corinth was a major port city in the Roman empire.
        1. A major trade route to and from the city of Rome passed through Corinth.
        2. Corinth was also the capital of its province.
        3. The city’s environment included everything evil you would expect in a port city on a major trade route.

    2. Societies in the Roman empire and society in Corinth were very different from our society.
      1. Their society was a stratified society, unlike anything we ever have experienced.
      2. We would not even understand how their society worked.
        1. What society expected of people in lower social strata would seem strange to us.
        2. None of us would have enjoyed being a part of their social environment.

    3. Their society had voluntary religious associations.
      1. Such religious associations were common.
      2. Christians at Corinth knew what they looked like and how they functioned.
      3. The evidence suggests that the church in Corinth was conducting itself as a typical pagan religious association.
        1. They knew how to do that
        2. They knew what it looked like.

  2. Have you ever found it strange that a letter written to an ungodly, troubled congregation contained what we regard to be a classic piece of biblical literature?
    1. This congregation has some horrible problems.
      1. Division was a major problem in the congregation.
      2. Sexual immorality was a major problem in the congregation.
      3. Selfishness was a major problem in the congregation.
      4. The abuse of God’s gifts was a major problem in the congregation.

    2. Right in the middle of all those horrible, ungodly problems is 1 Corinthians 13.
      1. It is not unusual to read from 1 Corinthians 13 at a wedding. (You would not read any other part of 1 Corinthians at a wedding!).
      2. It is not unusual to read 1 Corinthians 13 when you are motivating people to consider a noble life. (You would not read any other part of 1 Corinthians to motivate people to consider a noble life!).
      3. It is not unusual to read 1 Corinthians 13 when you are challenging a congregation to develop a great spiritual vision. (You would not read any other part of 1 Corinthians to challenge a congregation to develop a great spiritual vision.)

    3. So why is 1 Corinthians 13 there?
      1. These Christians knew what division and rivalry looked like.
      2. They knew what sexual immorality looked like.
      3. They knew what it looked like to take a brother to a pagan court.
      4. They knew what prostitution looked like.
      5. They knew what selfishness, self-centered behavior, jealousy, pettiness, and meanness looked like.
      6. But they did not know what LOVE looked like.
        1. So Paul told them what love looked like.
        2. He described love in very simple, understandable terms.
        3. He contrasted love to the religious things they knew.
        4. He explained love was the only enduring, eternal, spiritual quality that existed–all their other admired religious qualities that they coveted and abused would not exist in heaven.

  3. Briefly look at 1 Corinthians 13.
    1. What Paul said in the first three verses was devastating if they really listened.
      1. These Christians placed a high premium on speaking in tongues.
        1. Paul said, “If I could speak every human language,
        2. “If I could speak the language spoken in heaven,
        3. “It would be just empty, meaningless sounds if I did not love.”
      2. These Christians placed a high premium on their selfish use of gifts.
        1. Paul said, “If I had the gift that enabled me to prophesy,
        2. “And if that gift allowed me to know all mysteries and all knowledge,
        3. “With all that I am nothing if I do not have love.”
      3. He said, “If I have the kind of faith that allows me to do a miracle of nature, a miracle that can move a mountain, and I do not have love, I am nothing.”
      4. He said, “If I am the ultimate patron, if in my generosity I give everything I own to feed the poor, if I even sacrifice my very life, and I do not love there is no benefit to me in anything I do.”
      5. The Corinthians knew what tongue-speaking looked like; they knew what prophecy looked like; they knew what miraculous faith looked like; they knew what being a great patron looked like.
      6. But Paul said you could have all those and be nothing if you did not have love.
      7. That was the problem: the Corinthians did not know what love looked like.
        1. They knew what quarreling, rivalry, selfishness, self-centeredness, lust, sexual immorality, and spiritual gifts looked like.
        2. But they did not know what love looked like.

    2. So Paul told them what love looked like.
      1. Love is patient, kind, not jealous, not bragging and arrogant.
      2. Love is not rude, not selfish, is not constantly ready for an argument, does not keep a list of wrongs.
      3. Love never finds joy in what is evil, but always finds joy in what is godly.
      4. Love puts up with anything.

    3. That did not resemble anything happening at Corinth!
      1. That is the reason things were in such a mess.
      2. It was not merely that they were not loving each other.
      3. It was that they did not even know what love looked like.

  4. I fear we do not know what love looks like, either.
    1. There are an awful lot of things that would never happen in our lives, in our marriages, or in God’s family if we knew what love looked like and were committed to letting God show us how to be persons of love.
      1. We know what sex looks like in every form and description.
      2. We know what lust looks like.
      3. We know what “one night stands” and recreational sex look like.
      4. We know what affairs look like.
      5. We know what adultery looks like.
      6. We know what divorce looks like.
      7. We know what selfishness looks like.
      8. We know what anger looks like.
      9. We know what abuse looks like.
      10. We know what rivalry looks like.
      11. We know what control looks like.
      12. But far too many of us do not know what love looks like.

    2. So we try real hard to look religious and do necessary religious things.
      1. And Paul did not suggest that should not be done.
      2. Paul said that when we do spiritual things without love, those things are meaningless and without benefit.

  5. There is so much pain and suffering in our relationships and in relationships all around us.
    1. So much of that happens because people do not know what love looks like.
      1. Beginning next Sunday for four days Jerry and Lynn Jones will be with us in a special seminar called “Marriage Matters.”
      2. This is not just another religious exercise a congregation is supposed to have.
      3. It is quite practical: from experience, they know about a spouse’s death, an unfaithful spouse, and divorce.
      4. A lot of what they share will help anyone learn what love looks like.

    2. Because we do not know what love looks like, because we would rather look like our culture than our Lord, we look like everyone else. Listen:
      1. Jesus to the eleven:
        John 13:34,35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
      2. Paul to Christians in Rome:
        Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
      3. John to Christians:
        1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
      4. Paul to the Christians at Corinth:
        1 Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Do you know what love looks like? Do others who are a part of your life know that you know what love looks like? May I share a personal goal with you? I want others to see love when I am at my worst. If love governs me at my worst, it will certainly govern me at my best.

We live in a country, a culture, a society, that does not know what love looks like. It is not enough that we tell people what it looks like. We must show people what love looks like. We know what it looks like because we have seen it. We saw it on a cross and in a resurrection.

Why Do We Turn To Christ?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Not everyone turns to Christ. Not everyone wants to turn to Christ. Many are convinced that turning to Christ is a waste of time and energy. In fact, at any moment in history, the majority of those who know about Christ choose not to turn to him. Then why do those who choose to turn to him make that choice?

Some people turn to Christ because they are convinced that Christ can help them achieve physical and material objectives. If Christ assists them after death, that is a “fringe benefit.” However, eternity is not their primary motivation for “being a Christian.” If turning to Christ can help them achieve this life’s goals and ambitions, that is their primary desire. To them, “the here and now” is the significant consideration.

Some people turn to Christ because they want divine protection from physical disaster. Belonging to Christ is like supplemental insurance. Christ “covers” situations that savings, insurance policies, positions, ownership, and investments cannot cover. After all, there are some things money cannot buy, connections cannot correct, and well placed people cannot fix. In their thinking, Christ “covers” such situations.

Some people turn to Christ because it is good business. Because they are Christians, they expect Christians to do business with them. Being a church member provides them with some impressive contacts. Ignoring that potential is simply “bad business.”

Some people turn to Christ because of family pressure. For generations his or her family have been Christians. In the family, being able to declare “all my family members are Christians” is a prized mark of spiritual success. The family expected you to turn to Christ. That was the expedient, convenient thing to do. This person turns to Christ to keep his or her family off his or her back. Do the expected and avoid family pressure.

Some people turn to Christ because of community pressure. They live and work in a community context where most friends and acquaintances are Christians. To “break out of that circle” would result in numerous practical problems in many aspects of daily life. In definite ways, such a choice would be suicide. Suicide is not their thing.

You know other motivations that cause people to turn to Christ. The lengthy list includes forms of greedy, arrogance, control, power, prestige, or perceived advantage.

Then there are those whose eyes are opened and hearts are softened. They see the mess this world is in. Relationships are self-destructing. Ungodly criteria determine value systems. Morality has little to do with God. “What is in it for me” decides personal ethics. A good lifestyle is existence’s most important consideration. Prosperity bankrupts souls. The devastation of bankrupt souls is overwhelmingly apparent.

These people turn to Christ because they seek life. They trust the message of John 10:10b. “I am come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (NAS).