Nurturing Life, Not Barriers

Posted by on September 30, 2001 under Sermons

In working with any group of people, the greatest challenge to achieving a common goal is generating cooperation. This is especially true in our American culture and society. These are our tendencies: (1) individually we tend to be extremely independent. (2) Individually we tend to be very self-centered. (3) Individually we tend to think of self importance. (3) Individually we tend to attribute bad motives to those who do not think “as I do.” (4) Individually we tend to be very competitive. (5) Individually we tend to have great confidence in our personal conclusions. (6) Individually we tend to want to determine the direction rather than following in a direction.

In my understanding of scripture, God establishes our goal as the church. In my understanding of scripture, that goal is to encourage every person toward the fullness of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Christians achieve spiritual maturity by traveling differing routes, differing development patterns, and differing learning patterns.

When Paul wrote his letter we call Romans to the Christian community in Rome, those Christians were extremely different. Part of them were converted from first century Judaism and part of them were converted from first century idolatry. Their differences were enormous. Their concepts of God were quite different. The way they saw life was quite different. Spiritual development occurred in their lives differently.

  1. Read with me as I read Romans 12:3-8.
    For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
    1. Were I to sum up Paul’s message in this paragraph to Christians in Rome as they struggled with differences, I would do it in this way: “You are not in competition.”
      1. “Whatever ability or gift you have, use it for the benefit of the entire church.”
      2. “You are not in competition.”
      3. “Look at yourselves in the same way you look at a human body.”
      4. “You are not in competition.”
      5. “Well developed eyesight, a strong stomach, and powerful hands do not achieve strength in the same way.”
      6. “You are not in competition.”
      7. “No matter how different you are, it is okay.”
      8. “You are not in competition.”

    2. We urgently need Paul to teach us the same lesson.
      1. We are not in competition.
      2. The car clinic is not in completion with CURE, the Discovery Dinner is not in competition with His Needs/Her Needs, the Inner City Ministry is not in competition with Kids for Christ, the Quilters are not in competition with 60 plus, Wings is not in competition with the Vacation Bible School, local outreach is not in competition with foreign missions, and the Jail Ministry is not in competition with the children’s education program.
      3. We are not in competition.
      4. We function together as a body to help people move toward a mature, spiritual completeness in Christ.

  2. The lives of many of you are sources of personal encouragement to me.
    1. This morning I want to mention one person to illustrate my point, and I surely do not want to do anything to embarrass him.
      1. John Lindgren powerfully encourages me.
      2. I sincerely doubt “big John” has any idea of how much he encourages me.

    2. Let me share just a little bit about John as a person.
      1. I met John about four years ago when he was deeply troubled.
        1. He genuinely wanted to be a Christian.
        2. But he thought his past made it impossible for him to be a Christian.
        3. When John understood that the purpose of God’s mercy and grace was to allow him to begin his life anew, John became a Christian.
      2. John grew up in an orphanage without parents.
        1. Because of that experience, he endured a lot of disadvantages.
        2. Initially, his Bible background would not allow him to have a good understanding of sermons or classes–he just did not understand.
        3. The fact that he could not understand caused John at lot of anxiety.
      3. So Buster Herren and John spent one-on-one time studying together every class period and on many Sunday nights.
        1. And John grew.
        2. And John became a serving, involved part of the body of Christ.
      4. And every time I see John, I am encouraged.
        1. And every time John walks up to me and says, “I have a question,” I am encouraged.
        2. And every time I watch John as he is involved, I am encouraged.

  3. The road to maturing in Christ is not the same road for all of us.
    1. That is one of the reason we started the small group ministry.
      1. Not everyone learns by the same methods.
      2. Not everyone is encouraged by the same context.
      3. Not everyone is nurtured in the same forms.

    2. That is the reason that this ministry continues to function as LIFE groups.
      1. The “L” is for love; the “I” for involvement; the “F” for fellowship; and the “E” for evangelism.
      2. The objective of LIFE groups: to encourage people on their journey to the fullness of Christ.

    3. Deacons Blake Frost and Larry Roper want to share with you briefly a blessing and opportunity that LIFE groups provides them.

[This ends the prepared outline of David Chadwell.]

The Strength of Faith in God

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Throughout time, amazingly, in some ways people never change. With the sophistication of our achievements, technology, and advancements, we, as a society, convince ourselves that “we are really different from people in the past.” In basic ways, we are not. We allowed the glitter of our external advancements to blind and deceive us. No matter how much life changes externally, people who place their trust in humanity remain amazingly the same. And they always suffer the same disillusionment.

Hundreds of years ago a young man named Daniel witnessed the unthinkable. The city of God containing the temple of God collapsed. Its government failed, and its most prestigious people were forced to move several hundred miles to Babylon. That entire situation must have been quite a shock. Previously, important people including influential religious people [supposedly close to God] declared nothing bad could happen. Anyone declaring the contrary was using scare tactics.

I do not know what Daniel planned for his adult life in Jerusalem, or what he thought his Jerusalem future held. I am confident his aspirations included none of his actual adult experiences. Rather than becoming an important hometown man who moved among Jerusalem’s elite, he was forced to move to Babylon to become servant to the king.

Incredibly, Daniel experienced a significant life of great influence in Babylon. In time, King Nebuchadnezzar placed great trust in Daniel’s insights and wisdom. The king often relied on Daniel more than anyone else.

From the beginning, Daniel never took credit for his wisdom and understanding. From the beginning, Daniel made it clear that God was the source of his understanding. God was to be glorified, not Daniel. “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for all wisdom and power belong to Him… It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; who knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells in Him” (Daniel 2:20,22).

Daniel experienced some severe trials. He survived hatred and jealousy. Why? His faith was in God, not himself. His faith was in God, not human strength. His faith was in God, not a world empire’s might. Daniel’s faith in God was always the basis of his decisions and actions.

Each of us attempts to determine the meaning of the current events. We are assured everything will be all right, but we wonder. May our lives and our values reflect Christ’s light. May we be lights in darkness. May we be the assurance that things can be all right. Because we are America? No. Because of our great military might? No. Because of our economic strength? No. Because of our position as leader of the free world? No. Because of our reputation as the defender of freedom? No. Because of our incredible technology? No.

Then why? Because Jesus is the Christ. Whatever happens, it will be all right.

The Big Gift

Posted by on September 23, 2001 under Sermons

In the past twelve days we have seen Americans responding to American needs with an outpouring of concern unseen in this country for decades. The images of firemen rushing up a burning, collapsing building as thousands flee that building astound us. The images of policemen securing a disaster area by placing their own lives in jeopardy are riveting. Nationwide long lines of people gave blood, and some donors had never given blood before. This summer our hospitals pled for blood, but very few gave. Those who exhaust themselves in recovery and rescue efforts have their physical needs addressed as people bring food, water, and anything else they think is needed. If any personal equipment is needed by the hundreds of people working at ground zero, Wal-Mart sends it if they can find it. In New York’s business community, competitors sacrifice to assist each other. A massive influx of people continue to go to New York to volunteer their help.

Everyone wants to do something. People do not just want to do something. They want to do something that makes a difference.

Therein lies a major issue. What makes a difference? How should you measure differences when they are made? What criteria determine if a difference is an important difference?

  1. Think with me about an incident in Jesus’ ministry recorded in Matthew 9:1-8.
    1. This particular incident involved a man who was paralyzed.
      1. Remember that Jesus already caused enormous curiosity and incredible interest by performing miracles.
        1. Matthew 8 recorded Jesus healing a man with leprosy, healing the servant of a Roman centurion, destroying a fever in Peter’s mother-in-law, causing a storm to cease, and casting demons out of an uncontrollable man.
        2. This miracle in the beginning of Matthew 9 just followed in the flow of Matthew’s emphasis.
      2. Some friends or family members of the paralyzed man either heard or saw what Jesus could do.
        1. They were convinced that Jesus could make a difference.
        2. Jesus could end their friend’s [or family member’s] paralysis.
        3. Jesus arrived in Capernaum by boat.
        4. They brought the man to Jesus on a bed; his physical condition was bad.
        5. Jesus looked at the faith of the people who brought the man on a bed and said to the man, “Take courage, my son, your sins are forgiven.”

    2. Jesus’ statement would not have been heard as an insignificant statement.
      1. Remember, these were Jewish people in Galilee who knew and understood the beliefs and traditions of the Jewish people in Palestine.
      2. Remember first century Jewish people commonly regarded disease and serious health problems to be the result of acts of evil the sufferer committed.
        1. Often a serious health problem existed as proof of a serious sin.
        2. To tell a first century Jew with a serious health problem that his sins were forgiven quite significant.
        3. That statement made to a seriously sick person today would likely cause a lot of people to laugh, but not then.
        4. From the teachings given to Israel in what we call the Old Testament, they clearly understood that God used disease to punish evil Israelites.

    3. It is possible to focus on two reactions to Jesus’ statement.
      1. Matthew focused on scribes’ reaction.
        1. The scribes overheard Jesus’ statement and were appalled by what Jesus said.
        2. Among themselves they said, “This man blasphemes God.”
        3. In their view Jesus acted as if he were God by presuming to do what only God could do.
        4. Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he classified those thoughts as evil.
          1. Astounding!
          2. Here were men who served a very important religious role in Jewish society by, among other things, making copies of scripture.
          3. Scribes had an earned reputation for detailed knowledge of scripture.
          4. But Jesus said in this situation their perception of God caused them to think evil thoughts.
          5. I seriously doubt anyone but Jesus considered their thoughts evil.
          6. Most Jews considered the scribes’ thoughts to be godly in any situation, particularly a situation that involved knowledge of God.
        5. So Jesus revealed to them the evil of their mistaken perspective.
          1. He asked which was harder to do, to say the paralyzed man’s sins were forgiven, or to tell the paralyzed man to get up and walk?
          2. To document his authority to forgive sins, Jesus told the man to get up, pick up his bed, and go home.
          3. That is exactly what the man did.
          4. The large crowd who watched and listened were in awe of what happened and glorified God for giving such authority to people.

    4. For a moment I would like to focus your attention on the paralyzed man and the friends or family members who brought him.
      1. Matthew did not record their reaction to Jesus’ statement, “Take courage, my son, your sins are forgiven.”
      2. I wonder if they realized that Jesus gave this man his greatest gift first?
      3. I wonder if they were disappointed because Jesus did not immediately heal the man as they expected?
      4. Let me try to put the situation in perspective.
        1. Jesus’ forgiveness would last for eternity.
        2. Jesus’ act of physical healing would last only until the man died.
      5. Would he feel and understand the blessing of forgiveness if he spent the rest of his physical life paralyzed, unable to get up or walk?
      6. Would he feel blessed only if he could get up and walk?
      7. What do you think?

  2. Allow me to focus our attention on us.
    1. The greatest single blessing God wants to give each of us is the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ atoning blood.
      1. You and I can be reconciled to God only if we are forgiven.
      2. You and I can be at peace with God only if we are forgiven.
      3. You and I can worship God only if we are forgiven.
      4. You and I can serve God only if we are forgiven.
      5. You and I can live in hope only if we are forgiven.
      6. You and I can die in confidence only if we are forgiven.
      7. You and I can be resurrected to live eternally with God only if we are forgiven.
      8. Every good thing God wishes to give us depends on our forgiveness.

    2. Right this moment in our lives, there is no gift that Christ can give anyone of us that is more significant than forgiveness.
      1. Yet, the truth is that forgiveness is the least appreciated gift God gives us right now.
        1. We each want God to do something for us that makes a difference.
        2. Forgiving us while leaving our physicals situations untouched is not what we want.
        3. Right now, forgiveness is not the difference we expect and want.
        4. The situation is much like the immaturity we see in our children who live at home.
          1. Their expectation wants a difference that is immediate and visible.
          2. If their parents do things that have the potential to make major, lasting differences throughout the child’s life, those things are not significant to the child unless they are immediate and visible.

    3. If you could have God do anything you can imagine to make a difference right now, what would it be?
      1. If we let our imaginations run wild, we can think of a lot of things we would like to change instantly.
        1. We would like to have the Trade Center Towers standing and the Pentagon unharmed.
        2. We would like to have all those wives have their husbands back, all those husbands have their wives back, all those children have their parents back, and all the dead have their lives back.
        3. We would like to have the same secure feeling we had two weeks ago.
        4. We would like to have the terrorists become as committed to peace as they are to destruction.
        5. We would like for all the innocent people of Afghanistan to have their wounds healed and lives restored.
        6. We would like to have people understanding each other instead of hating each other.
      2. Could it be that nothing we want would be eternal?
        1. Could it be that nothing we want would last longer than our lifetimes?
        2. Could it be that nothing we want would be the thing we need the most–God’s forgiveness?

    4. Let me approach the same thought from a different direction.
      1. How long have you been a Christian?
      2. In the time that you have been a Christian, has there been an occasion or situation in which you knew beyond doubt that God powerfully touched or blessed your life?
        1. I am not talking about your everyday type of experience.
        2. I am talking about an unusual circumstance or situation.
      3. If someone who was not a Christian was in a serious conversation with you and asked, “Has God ever done anything for you?”
        1. How would you answer? Would you say yes?
        2. If the person sincerely asked you to illustrate how God has blessed and helped you, and you were moved to answer, how would you illustrated God’s help?
        3. Let’s say you shared more than one illustration.
          1. What would be your number one illustration?
          2. Would the fact that God forgives you on a daily basis be one of the illustrations?

If we through God’s mercy and grace hear our Lord greet us and accept us as faithful servants in the judgment, we will hold a unanimous conclusion about God’s greatest gift to us. It will be God’s forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. And we will praise Jesus for dying for us. And we will glorify God for sending His son.

What Would You Like?

Posted by on under Sermons

Wow! Have you caught your breath this week? Is it not amazing how our thinking has changed? So many things that were enormous and of incredible importance to our lives on Monday, September 10 became insignificant and petty after Tuesday, September 11. If you are like me, your mind staggers and reels as it attempts to grasp the significance of September 11. We realize something major happened, but we struggle to understand what it means. We realize our nation is unlikely to ever be the same, but we struggle to grasp how it will be different.

Allow me one example to illustrate the change. If on Monday, September 10, we made an application for a permit for a prayer assembly on the capitol building steps, what reception do you think that request would have received? If on Monday, September 10, we suggested through proper channels that our congress make plans that week to sing a prayer for our country [God Bless America] on the capitol steps, what reception do you think that suggestion likely would have received? If on Monday, September 10, we recommended all living American presidents and a host of dignitaries assemble in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for prayers for our nation and our world, would anyone have seriously considered the request? If on Monday, September 10, we seriously suggested that President Bush declare within that week a national day of prayer, what reception do you think that suggestion would have received?

I think the only honest answer to all of those questions is a negative answer. Yet, all that happened. In less than twenty-four hours after Monday, September 10, the unthinkable became the desirable. A society that was virtually anti-religious instantly became a praying society. An invincible society suddenly felt weak. A society who was the master of its own destiny suddenly became vulnerable. A society that strongly believed in self and its abilities suddenly knew they were pathetically inadequate. A society that was convinced it had fashioned an indestructible nation by becoming the earth’s only superpower suddenly realized it could be destroyed by an incredibly small group of invisible enemies.

  1. This is the strangest moment in American history.
    1. We have declared war on an enemy who devastatingly attacked us in unbelievable, impossible ways.
      1. We have declared war, yet we have not fired one shot because we do not know where to shoot.
      2. We have declared war, and we have placed our powerful military on high alert, but for days we did not deploy our military to a specific front.
      3. We have declared war, and we have the world’s largest navy and air force, but for days our navy and air force’s primary function was to protect this nation instead of attacking an enemy.
      4. We have declared war, and we are not absolutely certain who our actual enemy is or where that enemy is located.
      5. We have declared war, and our greatest initial weapon is prayer.

    2. So you are praying, are you using your prayers to help fight our war?
      1. What do you want?
      2. If through your prayers anything could happen that you want to happen, what would happen?
        1. Would some people die?
        2. Would over 6000 bodies be found so grieving family members could “find closure?”
        3. Would grieving people find comfort?
        4. Would our lives and our American lifestyle “return to normal?”
      3. What is it you would have God do? What would you like?

  2. In his earthly ministry, Jesus lived in a very religious, very prayerful society.
    1. In Matthew 6:5-15 Jesus told a praying people there were some basic lessons they needed to learn and understand about prayer.
      1. He said that if they were sincere in their desire to talk to God, they needed to understand some realities.
        1. First, he said when you pray, you pray for God’s ears not for people’s ears.
          1. If you pray to impress other people, those people may be impressed, but God does not even listen.
          2. When you pray, talk to God.
        2. Second, he said (speaking of personal prayers) pray your private prayers all alone.
          1. With many religious people then that was not the situation.
          2. Privacy was much harder to find and was not a typical part of life.
          3. Some seemingly felt that if people did not hear your prayers that God could not hear your prayers.
          4. Jesus said people do not have to hear your prayers in order for God to hear your prayers.
        3. Third, he said you cannot influence God by “wearing God down.”
          1. Many children use the tactic of “wearing their parents down” by endlessly making the same request over and over.
          2. Jesus said that is the way that people who do not know God pray.
          3. He said it is not repetition that moves God to action.
          4. Repeated, earnest requests are good, but attempts to use whining manipulation is bad.

    2. Then Jesus gave these praying people an example of how to pray to God.
      1. In his example, Jesus included this very simple statement in verse 10: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
      2. Is that what you want? Do you want God’s will to be done right here and now in the same manner that it is done where God’s presence is centered?
        1. If I had a one-on-one religious conversation with you three weeks ago and we discussed the moral, spiritual, and religious decay in this nation, could you, three weeks ago, illustrate America’s decay?
        2. If three weeks ago we discussed things that were spiritually hurtful in our nation, could you, three weeks ago, illustrate spiritual failures?
        3. Since September 11 has this nation become morally or spiritually healthy?
        4. Has anything changed besides our anger, our fear, and our awareness of our need?

  3. I absolutely do not wish to be misunderstood.
    1. To me, the patriotism, the courage, the bravery, and the national unity we have seen for almost two weeks is wonderful.
      1. I have deep gratitude for the incredible examples of sacrifice and caring we have seen for days from New York.
        1. With genuine apologies to the residents of New York and Washington D.C., I do not think most religious people in this nation would have looked to those two cities for spiritual or patriotic inspiration.
        2. I honestly doubt that any place in America could have surpassed them in heart, attitude, or courage in the face of an unthinkable crisis.
      2. My personal love for this nation grew powerfully in the early 1970s when Joyce and I did mission work.
        1. Until that experience, I had no idea of how blessed Americans are.
        2. I have visited in several nations in capacities other than a tourist.
        3. No one lives as do we.
        4. No one has the extensive freedoms we have.
        5. No one has the opportunities we have.
      3. One of the great gifts God has given me is American citizenship.
        1. It is an unspeakable privilege to live in this country.
        2. Far too few American truly understand the privileges they have and commonly take for granted.

    2. I wonder in the past week and a half, how many times Americans have sung “God bless America” sincerely with heart?
      1. I wonder in the past week and a half how may times Americans have earnestly prayed for God to bless America.
      2. Have you?
      3. If so, what are you asking? What do you want?
      4. May I ask you to think about something I find absolutely fascinating.
        1. The first week in September you and I could have discussed all the reasons for God perhaps not blessing America.
        2. Few, if any, of the things we could have talked about have disappeared.
        3. Could we have a discussion today of reasons for God blessing America?

    3. I love my country.
      1. I do not even wish to try to imagine life without the freedoms and opportunities this nation provides me.
      2. But as much as I love America, there is something I love more.
        1. I love God’s kingdom even more than I love this nation.
        2. I would love to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
        3. Above everything else, I would love for God’s kingdom to prosper.
      3. If God can bless America and His kingdom simultaneously, may it be.
      4. Nothing would bless this nation and this world more than for God’s will to be done here and now as it is in heaven.

  4. Two thousand years ago Luke 13 tells us about a tower in Jerusalem that fell and killed eighteen people.
    1. It is possible that the tower in Siloam was a part of Jerusalem’s defense system that was intended to help protect the holy city and the temple.
      1. It was unthinkable that a tower whose purpose was to help protect God’s city and God’s temple could fall on some of God’s people.
      2. With their view of God and their concept of God’s people, what happened to those people simply did not make sense.
      3. There was only one answer that made sense to them: the people who were killed when the tower fell must have been really evil people, and God was punishing them.

    2. Jesus said they reached the wrong conclusion.
      1. He did not explain why the tower fell on those people; in fact, he did not even discuss the deaths.
      2. Instead, he talked to his living audience.
        1. He said if their conclusion was that those people died because they were evil and they were lived because they were good, they reached the wrong conclusion.
        2. The tower falling on those people had nothing to do with their being evil, and the fact that his listeners were alive had nothing to do with them being good people.
      3. Then Jesus made this simple but profound statement: “…Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).
        1. “The fact that they died violently in an incredible accident is not proof that they desperately needed to turn their lives around.”
        2. “The fact that you are alive does not prove you do not need to turn your lives around.”
        3. “You need to redirect your lives as much as they did.”

  5. Our nation is in great crisis, probably greater than any of us yet realize.
    1. That automatically means each of us is in great crisis.
      1. The truth is that we all face a crisis we do not wish to face.
      2. So we sing and pray, “God Bless America.”
      3. What do we want from God?
        1. Are we singing and praying, “God get us out of this mess.”
        2. Or are we singing and praying, “God help us turn our lives around.”

    2. America’s greatest crisis is not terrorism.
      1. That is the shocking, devastating crisis that captured our attention.
      2. That is the unbelievable crisis that mystifies us.

    3. America’s greatest crisis is the same crisis we faced when the month of September began.
      1. We need to redirect our lives. Have you redirected your life? Have you placed God in charge of the direction?
      2. Allowing God to redirect our lives is a crisis that we each can handle.

None of us are invincible. We never have been. We just deceived ourselves into believing we were. September 11 sobered us. September 11 made us stop lying to ourselves.

Since September 11, what has happened to your spiritual health? Do you need to redirect your life? Do you want to redirect your life? Do you realize all that God has done in Jesus Christ to give you opportunity to redirect your life?

Confusion, Confusion, Confusion

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

For the first time I have opportunity to share with you after the horrible events of last Tuesday. My mind says our world fundamentally changed. My routine says nothing changed. My understanding says the changes barely have begun. My personal history says it was a horrible event, but the worst is over. My world awareness says the event has worldwide significance. My complacency says it was deeply regrettable, but life will continue as always. One part of me knows the situation is incredibly complex; another part of me oversimplifies all aspects of the situation.

I must struggle with conflicting realities. Each reality has elements of truth, but those realities often are in fundamental conflict. I watch our nation function in contradictory ways. Frequently those contradictions also consume me. The “before Tuesday, September 11” and the “after Tuesday, September 11” astound me.

“Before,” this nation was so pleasure, money, and individual freedom centered that it was irreligious. “Confine religion to religious buildings. Do not share your religion with anyone!” “After,” congress prays on the Capitol steps. Five presidents and countless dignitaries assemble in a cathedral for a prayer service. An emotional coach of the New York Jets professional football team made astounding statements. He said if our nation needed diversion last Sunday, go to church and pray. He said there could be no better national diversion than every citizen attending church and praying.

“Before,” NATO nations constantly quarreled in their alliance. China viewed us as their greatest enemy. Russia regarded us with grave suspicion. “After,” NATO unified. China was sympathetic. Russian citizens cried as they brought flowers to impromptu memorial sites, and their leaders pledged cooperation.

Around the globe stunned democratic nations held memorials and declared support. At the British “changing of the guard” ceremonies, protocol changed in historically unique ways. Among the changes: they played our national anthem. Could it be that people soberly realized current western civilization was threatened?

Our President declared the attack an act of war. That act of war killed over 5,000 innocent civilians. So we declared war against evil. I read of the panic in Afghanistan among innocent parents and children. In indescribable poverty, they desperately attempt to leave their country. Their experiences are also horrible. If they die, is that also an act of evil? I read of terroristic violence American citizens commit against American citizens of suspected Arab descent. Does justice function through acts of injustice? Is it “good” if “we” do it to “them,” but “evil” if “they” do it to “us”?

Throughout history, moments of great crisis produce events of great evil. Events of great evil produce incredible opportunities for good. In days of deep darkness Christ’s light can shine the brightest. May we each have the faith and courage to reflect His light in the days, weeks, and months of deep darkness ahead. Tragedy creates opportunity.

Survival Is As Significant As Birth

Posted by on September 9, 2001 under Bulletin Articles

A sad reality I encountered in West Africa was the infant mortality rate. At that time, fifty percent of all infants died before the age of five. Infant mortality was so common in some areas that parents did not name children at birth. Naming was delayed until parents believed children would live. Survival was as significant as birth.

In my college days in Nashville, Tennessee, over one hundred congregations of the Church of Christ existed in that city. At that time factual estimates suggested half of all immersed into Christ never worshipped. About fifty percent of immersed believers expressed little or no interest in the church. The spiritual birth rate was incredible. The spiritual survival rate was deplorable. Even if the single criteria for spiritual development was church attendance, the spiritual survival rate was still deplorable.

As Christians, we need to do all possible to increase the spiritual birth rate. We need to do all possible to help people find Jesus as Savior and receive the forgiveness of sins. Every person needs the forgiveness provided by Jesus’ blood. Every person needs the hope provided by forgiveness. No one should be denied eternal opportunities.

We also need to do all possible to increase the spiritual survival rate. New Testament writers placed enormous emphasis on spiritual survival. No epistle suggested this to Christians: “You had enough faith in Jesus to be immersed. You have done quite enough! Nothing else is necessary! Do not spiritually grow! Stay as you are!”

Peter told young Christians to understand they were spiritual infants. They were to long for the word’s pure milk and spiritually grow (1 Peter 2:2). Paul told Christians in Corinth to be mature in their thinking instead of being children (1 Corinthians 14:2). They needed to become men and put childish things behind them (1 Corinthians 13:11). Paul told the Christians in Ephesus not to be easily deceived children, but to mature to the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13,14). Paul explained his goal to Christians in Colossae: to present Christians complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). A major theme in New Testament epistles is spiritual maturity. Spiritual survival that resulted in spiritual maturity was as important as spiritual birth. It still is.

“Is spiritual maturity that important? Must we be that serious about nurturing Christians? Does not evangelism totally fulfill our mission?” According to New Testament epistles, Jesus Christ’s objectives cannot be achieved only through evangelism. Yes, helping those born in Christ survive and reach spiritual maturity is that important.

“How important is it?” Christians in Corinth suffered from horrible spiritual problems. Paul wanted to help them, but in their spiritual immaturity, they rejected his help. He wanted to share things they needed to know, but they were immature babies dependent on milk. He could not feed them meat (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

May our spiritual birth rate increase. May we nurture all born into Christ.

The “Throwaways”

Posted by on September 2, 2001 under Sermons

What destroyers do you think that you would most despise? If someone did something horrible to totally change your life, what “thing” could they do that you would despise the most? What could someone do to you or your family to make you say, “I despise you! I hope nothing good ever happens to you! I hope you have to live in great sorrow and die in agony!”

Perhaps your response is, “Nothing could happen to make me feel that way.” I hope that you are right, but I doubt that you are right. There are moments when I think I could never despise anyone. Then there are moments when it would be much too easy to despise people who really hurt me. Those moments make me realize we all can despise other people much more easily than we think.

If someone murdered your husband, would you despise that person? If someone raped your wife, would you despise that person? If someone murdered or raped your child, would you despise that person? If someone deliberately burned your home, would you despise that person? If someone deliberately destroyed your job out of sheer contempt for you, would you despise that person?

Let me set a context that would cause all of us to struggle with our feelings. If another nation conquered us and took away our freedoms, we would struggle with our feelings. If that nation replaced our police force with their occupation troops, we would struggle with our feelings. If by new law, those troops could conscript us to help them any time they wanted to, we would struggle with our feelings. If everywhere we went, we saw those occupation troops controlling the situations, we would struggle with our feelings. Every time we saw an officer in charge of those troops, we would really struggle with our feelings. That situation is so foreign to our circumstances, can we even imagine it?

  1. We have to imagine those circumstances to understand Matthew 8:5-13.
    1. For about a hundred years, the Jews were free.
      1. Then in 64 B.C. the Romans took control of their country.
        1. The official headquarters of the Roman military occupation force was located in Caesarea.
        2. That city was the official residence of the Roman procurator who controlled Palestine.
        3. That was the official location of Palestine’s Roman court.
      2. The Roman occupation military force was scattered throughout Palestine.
        1. Everywhere Jews traveled within their own country those troops were visible reminders that they were not free.
        2. If a Roman soldier was traveling and he wanted a Jew to carry his pack, all he had to do was tell the Jew to pick up the load.
        3. Roman law required the Jew to carry his pack for a mile.
        4. No matter what the Jew was doing or how much he resented it, he had to carry the soldier’s pack.
      3. Place yourself in those circumstances and feel the animosity.

    2. A Roman centurion came to Jesus pleading with Jesus to help him.
      1. Can you picture that scene?
        1. Can you picture a Roman officer in the occupation force pleading for a Jew to help him?
        2. The Roman military did not plead for help from its captives; it ordered its captives to help.
        3. Can you imagine a man from a military that honored many gods asking for religious help from a man who taught there was one God?
      2. The situation:
        1. A Roman military officer in Palestine’s occupation force who keeps the Jewish people under control has a servant who is paralyzed and in great pain.
        2. He is so convinced that Jesus can correct the situation that he comes to Jesus to ask for his help.
          1. This is one of the few times that Jesus used a miracle to help a person who was not a Jew.
          2. The entire situation is quite unusual.
        3. Jesus immediately agrees to go to the man’s home and heal the servant.
      3. The response:
        1. The officer’s immediate response: “I am not worthy for you to come into my home.” (Wonder how many other people were told by this officer, “I am unworthy to have you in my home.”)
          1. This Roman military officer had more respect for Jesus than did Jesus own countrymen–what Jew ever said, “I am not worthy for you to come into my home?”
          2. Incredible!
        2. The officer further said, “There is no need for you to come into my home.”
          1. “I possess and use authority.”
          2. “I know how to give orders to those who are under me.”
          3. “Just say the word, and the healing will occur.”
      4. Jesus’ astonishment:
        1. “I have met no one in Israel that has this much faith!” (Israel’s religious establishment asked Jesus for “a sign.”)
        2. “This is the reason that people who are not Jews will be in the kingdom of heaven.”
        3. “It is also the reason you first century Jews will be excluded from that kingdom and experience enormous grief and suffering.”
      5. Jesus’ response to the Roman army officer:
        1. “Go back. May your faith determine what happens.”
        2. The healing quickly occurred.

  2. If you think that Jesus was doing nothing more than condemning many of the first century Jews, you miss the point.
    1. If you think this is merely an anti-Semitic statement, you really miss the point.
      1. Jesus was not putting the first century Jews down.
      2. It was not a “I do not like you because you do not like me” statement.

    2. Jesus’ point is seen in the incredible contrast.
      1. On one side were the first century Jewish people.
        1. They had a long history with the living God that began with Abraham.
        2. For centuries they have been blessed by their relationship with God.
        3. God gave them His word, His law, and His prophets.
      2. On the other side is this Roman army officer.
        1. He was in an army that consulted the idolatrous gods for favorable signs before beginning a military campaign.
        2. He is an officer in the occupation force.
        3. He may never have heard of or had contact with the God of Israel until he was stationed in Palestine.
        4. He heard of Jesus, and he believed Jesus could heal his servant.
        5. Though he held a position of authority and had power, he humbly came to Jesus to ask for help. (He did not send someone; he came himself.)
        6. He was convinced that Jesus had the authority just to speak and the healing would occur.
      3. Jesus said the first century Jews who have known God for hundreds of years did not have that kind of faith.
        1. Because they do not have that kind of faith, people like the Roman army officer would be in God’s kingdom, and the first century Jewish people would not.
        2. God accepts us on the basis of our faith, not on the basis of our ancestors or our history.

  3. I have given a lot of thought to the point of this incident, and I struggled to find a way to make it come alive in our understanding.
    1. Do you plan on going to heaven, to bowing yourself down in the presence of God?
      1. “Certainly!”
      2. Why? Explain why you plan on being in heaven.
        1. “I am a member of the Church of Christ.”
        2. “I was immersed when I was baptized.”
        3. “I take communion every week.”
        4. “I sing in worship a cappella.”
        5. “I trust the Bible to be my spiritual and religious authority.”
      3. If you wrote your reasons down for having confidence in your eternal salvation, without prompting:
        1. Would you list faith in God? Where would you rank it?
        2. Would you list faith in Jesus Christ? Where would you rank it?
        3. Would you tie your obedience to your faith in God?
        4. Would you tie your repentance to your faith in God?
      4. Is our faith in our identity or is our faith in our God?
      5. Is our faith in our heritage or is our faith in our God?
      6. Is our faith in our restoration commitment or is our faith in our God?

    2. Suppose you asked a devout religious leader in Israel at the time of Jesus’ ministry, “What is the difference?”
      1. “What is the difference between faith in commanded sacrifices and faith in God?”
        1. He would have answered, “There is no difference.”
        2. “Faith in a commanded sacrifice is faith in God.”
      2. “What is the difference between faith in the temple and faith in God?”
        1. He would have answered, “There is no difference.”
        2. “Faith in the temple is faith in God.”
      3. “What is the difference between faith in being God’s people and faith in God?”
        1. He would have answered, “There is no difference.”
        2. “Faith in being the people of God is faith in God.”
      4. But Jesus said, “There is a difference.”
        1. Jesus said, “The Roman centurion placed his faith where faith should be placed.”
        2. Jesus said, “I have not seen anyone in Israel who does that.”

    3. What I want you to see is so easy to misunderstand but is so important to understand. Let me answer some questions.
      1. “Do you want to be a member of the church of Christ?”
        1. Yes; I have spent my life attempting to serve God in Christ’s church.
        2. But my faith is in God and what he did in Jesus Christ, not in the church of Christ.
      2. “Were you immersed when you were baptized into Christ for the remission of sins?”
        1. Yes, and I am convinced that a person who believes in Christ and wishes to redirect his or her life should be immersed into Christ.
        2. But my faith is in my God and what He did in Jesus Christ, not in the fact that I was immersed.
      3. “Do you take communion weekly to remember the Lord’s death?”
        1. Yes, and I am convinced Christians should take communion each week to remember Jesus’ sacrifice.
        2. But my faith is in my God and what He did in Jesus Christ, not in the fact that I take communion every week.
      4. “Do you believe in the basic objective of restoration?”
        1. Yes; I am convinced that we should never stop trying to understand how to be God’s people as were the Christians in the first century.
        2. But my faith is in my God and what He did in Jesus Christ, not in the restoration movement.

Can you imagine anything worse than hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful servants,” and not being included in the group? Can you imagine anything worse than asking, “Why?” and hearing the Lord say, “I never saw the kind of faith they had in you.”

That Is Not the Way It’s Done!

Posted by on under Sermons

Teens are a wonderful gift! In a family that works together, teenagers can make a wonderful contribution. Teens are a wonderful family labor force, right teens? Parents do not know how to appreciate what teens do for the family until they leave home.

The first year both my sons moved away and were not longer a part of our “family work force,” I mowed over an acre lot by myself with a push mower. I almost killed myself! All that summer, every available evening, I mowed part of my yard. I never finished! By the time I cut the last section, it was time to start again. It did not take long for me to determine the quickest way to mow my yard. Soon after I figured out the quickest way to mow, the “quickest way” became the “only way.” Not long after that, the “only way” became the “correct way” to mow my yard.

The next summer I bought a riding mower. Of course, I still mowed my yard the “correct way.” That summer Kevin visited and offered to mow the yard. I quickly accepted his offer and proceeded to tell him the “correct way” to mow my yard. He listened, smiled his Kevin smile, and proceeded to cut the yard his way.

No matter what I decided, there were many ways to approach cutting my grass.

  1. People are very strange beings.
    1. We tend to be arrogant, near-sighted, and over-confident.
      1. If you had a nickel for every argument that will occur in America this week concerning the best way to do something, you would be a rich person.
      2. If you had a nickel for every argument that will occur in the families of this congregation this week concerning the best way to do something, you would have some “serious spending money.”

    2. Most of our disagreements are not about “whats” but about “hows.”
      1. We agree on many of the “whats.”
        1. Most husbands and wives agree on many of the “whats;” the majority of their disagreements are on the “hows.”
        2. Most of the people you work with on your job agree on the “whats;” it is the “hows” that produce the biggest head knocking sessions.
        3. This is my experience in the church: much of the time we agree on the “whats;” it is the “hows” that give us fits.
      2. Consider one example.
        1. Financially a husband and wife basically agree on the “whats.”
        2. They have a specific income that produces a specific amount of money.
          1. The “what” primarily involves living on that income.
          2. The “what” involves paying the bills, providing the necessities, caring for the unexpected, and saving something for the future.
        3. But, “how” do they do that?
          1. Most of the conflicts center on “how.” Why?
          2. My way is the way to do it; my way makes sense; and all of us understand we need to use the sensible approach.”
      3. Let me describe what happens.
        1. Convenience becomes habit.
        2. Habit becomes routine.
        3. Routine becomes necessity.
        4. Necessity becomes unbreakable law.

  2. We humans are so confident that “we know the best way to do things” that we even feel comfortable telling God how He should do things.
    1. “I belong to God.”
      1. “I know what God thinks.”
      2. “I know what God values.”
      3. “I know God’s ways.”
      4. “I know how God would have things done.”
      5. “Listen to me. When you listen to me you can count on the fact that I know God’s ‘what’ and ‘how.'”

    2. Centuries ago Isaiah wrote Judah and declared,
      Isaiah 55:8,9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
      1. In context, Isaiah encouraged exiled Jews to place their trust in the fact that the God who exiled them would forgive them.
      2. That is not the way we humans do things.
      3. We do not force people to endure the consequences of their misbehavior, and then offer them forgiveness and restoration.
      4. We people have a very poor understanding of grace.
        1. Grace is not typically a part of our existence.
        2. Grace is very much a part of God’s existence.

  3. Jesus stressed that God does not do things the way people do them.
    1. In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus taught a parable about some laborers.
      1. The time for the grape harvest arrived, and a vineyard owner needed help.
        1. People who worked as day laborers [much as today in some cities] came to a location in the city and waited for someone to offer them a job for the day.
        2. People who needed to hire help knew where to go to hire laborers.
      2. The vineyard owner went early in the morning to hire some laborers.
        1. He found men needing a job and agreed to pay them a day’s wage.
        2. He did not have enough help, so he went back to the same place at 9 a.m. and hired the men he found. He said that he would pay them what was right if they would work for him.
        3. He went again at noon and at 3 p.m. and did the same thing.
      3. At 5 p.m. the vineyard owner did the unthinkable–with only an hour left to work, he went to hire laborers.
        1. When he found unhired men, he asked, “Why have you been standing around all day?”
        2. They replied, “No one hired us.”
        3. He said, “Go work in my vineyard.”
      4. When the day was over, he told his foreman to pay all the workers.
        1. The foreman started by paying the last group who worked very briefly.
        2. He paid them a full day’s wage, the same amount promised to the men hired at 6 a.m.
        3. Those who worked all day were elated–surely they would be paid more than a day’s wages.
        4. But, when they were paid, they received the same amount–a day’s wage.
      5. The people who worked all day gripped: “You paid us no more than you paid those men who worked for an hour! That is not right!”
        1. The owner replied, “I did nothing wrong to you. I paid you what I promised. If I choose to pay those who worked an hour a full day’s wage, that is my business.”
        2. “I can do what I want to do with what I own.”
        3. “You criticize me because I am generous?”
      6. God is not bound by human thoughts and standards; the generous, merciful God does things His way.

    2. Jesus told another parable in Luke 13:24-30.
      1. A person in his Jewish audience asked if just a few were going to be saved.
      2. He urged his Jewish audience to make great effort to enter the narrow door before opportunity passed.
      3. Once the head of the house shut the door, those outside could not enter.
        1. Those outside would beg the owner to open the door and let them in: “We knew you well. We had meals with you. We listened to you teach.”
        2. But the owner would not open the door: “I do not know you. If you were not up to evil you would have come in when the door was open. Just leave and go away. Take your evil elsewhere.”
      4. The Jews who could not get in had double grief.
        1. They saw their ancestors who began Israel inside, in God’s kingdom, and there was no way they could join them.
        2. They also saw people who were not Israelites inside with their ancestors.
      5. Again, God is not bound by our thoughts and ways; He does things His way.

    3. This is just as difficult to accept today as it was in first century Israel.
      1. Paul discussed this very struggle in Romans 9.
      2. First century Jews had a difficult time accepting the fact that God loved and saved people who were not a part of Judaism.
        1. Their complaint: “That is not fair! It is not right! We have been Your chosen people for over 1400 years. We are Israel!”
        2. Listen to Paul:
          Romans 9:10-12 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
      3. Paul told Israelites God always has functioned in this manner.
      4. If they went all the way back to the Israel’s beginnings, to Jacob and Esau, God chose to work through the younger Jacob before those twins were born.
      5. That is just not the way people did things! You worked through the oldest son, not the youngest!
      6. That was not the way people did things, but God was not bound by the decisions and behavior of people.

  4. God is sovereign. What does that mean?
    1. God does things His way, as He chooses.
      1. He does not abuse His power, or people, and He keeps His promises.
      2. Those who trust Him know He is trustworthy; He will keep His word.
      3. People cannot obligate God; people must trust God.
        1. We do not trust God because “He does it our way.”
        2. We trust God because the trustworthy God keeps His promises.

    2. We humans do not like to be reduced to trusting God.
      1. Depending on trust makes us very uncomfortable.
        1. Humans function on documents, signatures, guarantees, and contracts.
        2. We obligate people to keep their promises because humans deceive and break promises.
        3. If we have a document, a signature, a guarantee, or a contract and you fail to do what you are obligated to do, we will take you to court and make you keep your promise.
      2. We humans function much better on obligations than on trust.
      3. But we cannot obligate God; we must trust God.
        1. Must we obey God? Yes.
        2. Does human obedience obligate God? No.
        3. Does human obedience place us in a bargaining position with God? No.
      4. Christians who trust God do not serve God in an attempt to obligate God.
        1. Christians serve God because they trust Him.
        2. Christians serve God because they trust His love for them.

    3. “Why should I trust God, especially since He does not do things the way I would?”
      1. Why? Because God sent us Jesus. It took God a long time to keep His promise, but He kept it.
      2. Why? Because God let Jesus die for our sins. It took God enormous patience to keep His promise, but He kept it.
      3. Why? Because God raised Jesus from the dead to be Lord and Christ. It required a lot of effort from God to keep His promise, but He kept it.

We Christians make a spiritual mess out of the church. In the church, we have spent about a hundred years teaching Christians to trust themselves instead of trusting God. We taught ourselves to trust our logic, our reasoning, our conclusions, our practices, our name, and our ways. Too much of that has little to do with trusting God. It has a lot to do with our attempt to obligate God. Is your confidence for salvation in your trust of God or in trusting yourself because your confidence is in what you do?

God and Hope

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

In the tiny country of Palestine among the small population of first century Jews, there were many religious outcasts. Among those outcasts, none were resented more than Samaritans. People in main stream Jewish religious acceptability despised Samaritans. Climbing Israel’s ladder of religious respectability intensified resentment for Samaritans.

Samaritans were partly Jewish. Hundreds of years prior to the first century, their Jewish ancestors married people who were not Jews. Jewish resentment was so deep that Jews refused to associate with Samaritans (John 4:9). Occasionally Jesus’ Jewish enemies tried to produce an emotional reaction against him by declaring he was a Samaritan (John 8:48).

Prior to his ascension, the resurrected Jesus told his apostles to be his witnesses in Samaria. Acts 8:4-13 stated that happened. The results: (1) there was a lot of rejoicing and (2) men and women were baptized.

Sharing news about the Christ brought hope to Samaritans. To a Bible student, that is not surprising. On one occasion Jesus dared travel across Samaria. On this trip, he took the initiative to offer hope to a Samaritan divorcee living with a man to whom she was not married (John 4:7-18). Jesus offered this divorcee living water. That is not an evangelistic outreach we would devise. Yet, extending hope to this divorcee was effective. As a result, many in the village of Sychar believed Jesus was the Savior of the world (John 4:39-42).

These Samaritans concluded Jesus was the Christ. During Jesus’ ministry, few Jews reached that conclusion. Because Jesus gave a divorcee hope, the Samaritans in Sychar recognized his true identity. Because Jesus gave her hope, he taught Sychar.

In Matthew 8:10-12, Jesus made an incredible statement to a Jewish audience. A Roman military officer requested, “Heal my suffering servant.” Jesus offered to accompany him to his home. The officer said that was unnecessary. He said, “Just say the word…” His faith astounded Jesus. No Israelite had shown such great faith.

Jesus then observed that many people who did not descend from Abraham would sit with Abraham in the kingdom of heaven. At the same time, Abraham’s descendants would be denied a place in that kingdom.

Why? Faith in Jesus was generated by hope. The Roman military officer came to Jesus in hope. His hope produced faith. The combination of hope and faith produced unquestioning confidence, a confidence Jesus had not seen in Israel.

How big is your faith? How big is your hope? The size of your hope powerfully affects the size of your faith. You want to lead outcasts to faith? Help them find hope.

One Christian’s Perspective on the American Tragedy

Posted by on September 1, 2001 under Articles

We offer our condolences to all who have been negatively affected by terrorist attacks.

The events of September 11, 2001, represent the most horrific American tragedy that most of us have ever experienced. Americans have been murdered on an unbelievable scale in the most unimaginable fashion. Many all over our nation will suffer the consequences of this catastrophe for years to come.

In my opinion, Christians should respond to this wickedness in a manner different from the typical man on the street. A natural response to such an attack on us is to desire to “get even.” But Jesus has called His disciples to a higher standard of behavior. Let us trust God’s promise that all things eventually work together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). As we read in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” As Christians, we are not to be people of wrath or hate. Trust that God will take care of this wickedness in His own way and in His own good time.

We have heard and will continue to hear many news reports that will be filled with stories about people who are seeking revenge. Romans 13, especially verse 4, teaches us that God uses government as the power that He has authorized to avenge and to execute judgement on those who practice evil. Let us permit God to deal with this matter in His own way. Let us support our government and pray for our leaders.

Even in times of adversity, Christians should treat all men with kindness and respect. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to do good to all people. In Luke 6:35, He reminds us that God is kind even to the unthankful and evil. Let us be forgiving as God has forgiven us through Jesus.

Let us be careful about spreading unsubstantiated gossip about how this will affect our lives. Be on guard as Satan attempts to use this to further his control in this world, in our communities, and even in our own homes. Be diligently prayerful that we will not let this be a time that weakens our faith in God, but a time that will build our faith as we strengthen our commitment to Him and His purposes. This evil is a work of Satan, not of God.

Jesus Christ was a peaceful person and His followers should be peaceful. Let us pray for a speedy resolution to the current crisis and pray for healing for those who have been harmed. Remember that Jesus died for all men, even those who cowardly murder the innocent. God’s grace is the only real solution to this conflict. God’s mercy is the only permanent fix for a world trapped in darkness. People need to be taught of the love of God and of the sacrifice of His Son. Let us take every opportunity to point others to Jesus.

Satan wants us to keep our minds focused on the evil in this world in such a way that will force us into sinful behavior. God prefers that we focus on His goodness which He demonstrated at the Cross. The death of Jesus Christ was a more horrific tragedy than any other in the history of the world. Yet through that event the whole world can be blessed. The world will be a better place only when all men and women come to an understanding of our Creator and Savior.