Can You Change Your Life?

Posted by on December 30, 2001 under Sermons

This week I hope you had quality time with those people who are special in your life. Joyce and I have our holiday the Saturday before Christmas. Saturday our children and grandchildren who could visit gathered in our home. Commonly, by Christmas, everyone is gone. Joyce and I spent Christmas together just as a couple.

This year we did something different for us. We rented some movies. Among them was Castaway, which we had not seen. Near the end of that movie, Tom Hanks’ character explained to a friend what it was like to be marooned alone on an island for more than four years. He said, “I was in control of nothing.” He explained that he could not even control his death.

“I was in control of nothing.” Does that sound strange to you? Or does that sound real to you?

The conviction that we are in control is an illusion.

  1. Once there was a man named Jacob who, it seems to me, was convinced that he controlled his destiny.
    1. His destiny would be what he made it!
      1. Though he was the second born of twins, he would gain for himself the coveted birthright [a larger portion of the inheritance; dominance as leader of the family after his father’s death] (Genesis 25:27-34).
        1. He caught his brother in a moment of need and weakness.
        2. Esau, his twin brother, came in from hunting weak and extremely hungry.
        3. He asked Jacob for a portion of beans he saw Jacob cooking.
        4. Jacob told Esau he would feed him if Esau swore he would give Jacob his birthright.
        5. Foolishly, Esau sold Jacob his birthright for a meal.
      2. Later, with the help of his mother, Jacob stole the family blessing from Esau (Genesis 27).
        1. When his blind father wanted to give Esau the family blessing, Jacob deceived his blind father into blessing him.
        2. Isaac told Esau he would bless him with the family blessing after Esau killed a deer and fixed Isaac his favorite meal.
        3. While Esau was hunting, Jacob [with his mother’s encouragement and help] dressed in Esau’s clothing, brought a meal of goat meat, and deceived his father.
        4. Jacob was so successful in his deceit that his father pronounced the family blessing on Jacob.
        5. Esau was so angered by Jacob’s deceit that he planned to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac died, but Jacob fled to his mother’s people before that happened.

    2. While working for Laban, the man who became his father-in-law, Jacob was deceived (Genesis 29:21-30).
      1. He worked seven years as a herdsman for Laban as a bride price for Rachel.
      2. Laban promised him that after seven years of work Jacob could marry his youngest daughter.
        1. Instead, Laban gave Jacob his oldest daughter, Leah, in Rachel’s place.
        2. Their wedding customs were quite different from ours, and the wedding took place at night.
        3. Jacob did not discover Laban’s deceit until the next morning.
        4. A week later, Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel with the promise of seven additional years of work (Genesis 29:25-28).
      3. Marrying sisters, one whom he loved more than the other, began a life of horrible conflict and rivalry filled with intrigue and deception within Jacob’s family.
      4. Many years and many deceptions later, as an old man, Jacob had an audience with the king of Egypt.
        1. That Pharaoh inquired about his age, Jacob gave an insightful answer.
        2. This is what Jacob said:
          Genesis 47:9 “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.”

  2. In one more day, another year ends, and traditionally it is the appropriate time to do some reflecting.
    1. The ending of a year has different effects on all of us.
      1. Some of us look with great anticipation at another year ending.
        1. Probably most of those with great anticipation are teens and college students.
        2. What age is it “that you just cannot wait to reach?”
          1. Have you realized that you will be that age only a short period of time? Your “ideal age” is not permanent!
          2. Any year you name that you “would love to be” only lasts twelve months.
        3. Once you pass twenty, you cannot image how fast you will reach thirty–just ask any 30-year-old.
      2. For some, the passing of a year is a matter of relative indifference.
        1. For those who are not phased by the passing of another year, you probably feel like you have a lot of years left in your life.
        2. You are pretty much satisfied with your age and figure you will be there for a while.
        3. When I was in my twenties, thirties, and early forties I could not understand why retired men did not spend their time hunting and fishing.
          1. I never hunted or fished as much I wished.
          2. Retired people had the time and could afford it.
          3. I did not have the time and could not afford it.
          4. I also thought 65-year-olds and 70-year-olds physically feel the way 25-year-olds feel.
          5. I did not have a clue! I do now!
        4. The time will come when you look back and quietly ask yourself, “Was I ever that age?”
      3. For some of us the passing of a year is a matter of sober awareness.
        1. We are aware that “middle age” is history for us.
        2. We are very much aware that we are foolish for assuming anything about the future.
        3. It is disconcerting to look ahead or to look behind.
        4. Using each day well as it comes takes on a whole new meaning to us.

    2. Christians, reflect a little with me just over the past 12 months.
      1. In the past twelve months, what do you think were the best choices you made? the best things you did? the wisest moments you had?
        1. In 2001, what was the best decision you made?
        2. What was the best act of friendship you performed?
        3. What was the greatest kindness you did that no one but you knows about?
        4. What was the finest family thing you did? [Name things you did for specific family members if you wish.]
        5. What was the wisest business decision you made?
        6. What was the wisest choice you made about your personal life?
      2. In the past twelve months, what do you think were the worst choices you made? the worst things you did? your dumbest moments?
        1. Of all the decisions and choices you made in 2001, what was your dumbest, most stupid, most ignorant decision or choice?
        2. What was the most hurtful thing you did to a meaningful friendship?
        3. What opportunity for good did you let pass by that you most regret?
        4. What did you do that brought the greatest hurt to your family?
        5. What is the dumbest business decision you made?
        6. What is the most ignorant, ridiculous decision you made about your personal life?

    3. Would you let me meddle in your life, and mess with your mind?
      1. If I asked you these same questions at the close of 2002, would you give basically the same answers? At the end of 2002, will nothing have changed?
      2. As time rolls on in your life, will very little change about you as a person?

  3. Let me state what I am not trying to do, and then state my challenge to you.
    1. This is not what I am trying to do.
      1. I am not merely trying to get you to abandon some bad habits.
      2. I am not merely trying to get you to exchange some bad behaviors for some good behaviors or some bad habits for some good habits.
      3. I am not merely trying to get you to confess to yourself that some things need to change in your life.
      4. I am certainly not trying to convince you to wear a religious cloak once or twice a week.

    2. I am challenging you to do the same thing Paul challenged Christians at Ephesus to do when he wrote:
      Ephesians 4:22-24 “… in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
    3. I am challenging you to do the same thing Paul challenged Christians in Galatia to do when he wrote:
      Galatians 6:7,8 “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
    4. I am challenging you to do the same thing Paul challenged the Christians at Colossae to do when he wrote:
      Colossians 3:8-11 “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him– a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”
    5. I am asking all of us, including myself, “Change who you are as a person.”
      1. “I am who I am!”
        1. No, you are not!
        2. God knows you can change as a person; He gave Jesus to make that possible.
      2. You do not change yourself as a person by being religious.
        1. You change yourself as a person by being Christian.
        2. You let God teach you how to think and in that way give you a different mind.
        3. You let Jesus teach you how to feel and in that way give you a different heart.

As a person, how would you like to be different in 2002? I am not asking you what physical changes would you like to see in your body. I am not asking you what good habits you would like to form or what bad habits you would like to break. I am asking you something more basic. I am asking you do you have the courage to let God change you as a person? That means changing the way you think. That means changing the way you feel.

You cannot control another person–not a best friend, or parents, or a husband, or a wife, or children, or coworkers, or business partners. The only control you have is over the person you are. And you really do not have control over that. You decide who determines who you are as a person: Satan with evil or God with righteousness. If you decide Satan, he will do all he can to move you toward being your worst person possible. If you decide God, He will do all He can to move you toward being the best person your are capable of being.

The issue is this: what kind of person do you want to be? Do you have the courage to allow God to help you be the best person you are capable of being?

Jesus: God’s Gathering

Posted by on December 23, 2001 under Sermons

Life contains many distressing realities. One distressing reality arises when we try to protect someone we care about from danger. When we see a dangerous situation, warn the person, and he or she reacts by (a) seeing no danger and (b) ignoring our concern, we are genuinely distressed. That situation is a recipe for disaster.

Virgin Falls Years ago we took a good friend to visit our families. My mother wanted to take us on a long wilderness hike to a unique place called Virgin Falls. Virgin Falls is a waterfall where there is no stream, no river. The water flows out of a huge rock cave at the top of a mountain, falls over a rock ledge, and disappears over a hundred feet below at the base of the ledge.

copperhead The only way to get to Virgin Falls was to walk a trail through wilderness woodland for several miles. As we walked the trail, our son Kevin led the way. Suddenly he took a long leap, turned around, and shouted, “Snake!” Stretching across the path was a copperhead, a poisonous snake. Our friend laughed like it was a big joke designed to scare him. Because the snake was the color of the trail, and because our friend was not accustomed to watching for snakes, he could not see it.

It took all our powers of persuasion to convince him not to continue walking and step on the snake. The danger was very real, but, to him, there was no danger.

  1. The frustration we experience when we try to help someone and have our concern rejected is devastating.
    1. Without exception, every adult here knows that frustration.
      1. Sometimes it is a very dear friend who misunderstands and rejects our help.
      2. Sometimes it is a spouse who misunderstands and rejects our help.
      3. Sometimes it is our child who misunderstands and rejects our help.
      4. Sometimes it is our parent who misunderstand and rejects our help.
      5. Sometimes it is our Christian brother or sister who misunderstands and rejects our help.

    2. Most of the teens here know that frustration, and you teens who have not yet experienced this frustration will.
      1. Typically, teens know how to care about a peer’s well being deeply.
      2. Typically, teens are committed to “being there” for a struggling peer.
      3. Typically, teens commonly grasp the concept of unconditional love.
      4. The combination of those awarenesses definitely will produce the experience of seeking to help someone who refuses to be helped.

    3. God knows that frustration of trying to help those who reject His concern; having helpfulness rejected is far more than a mere human experience.
      1. God worked for thousands of years to produce the perfect means for us to deal with our most serious problem, the problem that easily destroys us.
      2. That serious problem that seeks to destroy each of us is the evil within us.
      3. God worked for thousands of years to provide us a means of escaping evil.

    4. God even sent Jesus as flesh and blood into our world to show us how to escape evil’s destruction.
      1. The people Jesus lived among could have and should have understood what he was trying to do, but they did not.
      2. Basically, they considered Jesus the problem instead of the solution.
      3. The understandings Jesus shared came directly from God, but those understandings were “too different”–many people could not even think the way Jesus thought.
      4. Just days before his execution, Jesus voiced his frustration, the frustration of (a) wanting to help people escape destruction, (b) of having the ability to provide that escape, and (c) of the people not seeing the danger.
      5. See if you can hear his frustration:
        Matthew 23:37-39 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

    Reflect on Jesus’ frustration with us when we ignore his help, when he spreads his wings to cover us, and we refuse to take shelter. Reflect on this by singing. As you sing, focus on the words. First, we will sing a song that should touch the hearts of those who “go through motions.” Second, we will sing a song that should touch tender hearts. Then we will sing our gratitude and awareness. The song leader will lead these songs from the pew. The words of each song will be on the screen.

    792 “My Eyes Are Dry”
    794 “Unto Thee O Lord”
    801 “Where No One Stands Alone”

  2. Jesus used a well known image then that many of today have never known.
    1. Baby chicks are hatched with several forms of awareness including these two: awareness of the need for protection, and awareness of the meaning of mama’s warning clucks.
      1. Baby chickens have no awareness of the dangers of a hawk, but hawks love to eat baby chickens.
        1. Were it merely a contest between baby chickens and hawks, the hawks would win 100% of the time.
        2. But mama hen knows about hawks.
        3. Mama hen recognizes a hawk soaring above looking for a meal.
      2. When mama hen is aware that a hawk is near, she begins clucking. mother hen protecting her young
        1. Her short feathers stand on end making her appear bigger than she is.
        2. She moves in a slow strut ruffling her wings and clucking her warning, letting all her chicks run under her for refuge.
        3. She literally places herself between the soaring hawk and her babies.

    2. Jesus wanted to do the same thing for the people of Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
      1. He wanted to shelter them from danger.
      2. He wanted to rescue them, to make their destruction unnecessary.
      3. He wanted to deliver them from the consequences of Israel’s past faithlessness.
      4. But faithlessness won; they would not listen to him.

  3. Do you listen to his warnings? Do you keep yourself under his protection?
    1. Jesus wanted to do the same thing the hen did.
      1. The hen placed herself between the danger and her chicks.
      2. Jesus wanted to place himself between the danger and the residents of Jerusalem.
      3. Jesus wants to place himself between the danger and you.

    2. That is what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross: he placed himself between us and the evil that will destroy us.
      1. He literally died to give us the opportunity to live.
      2. Only his blood can rescue us from the destruction of evil.

    3. To me, most people misunderstand God’s joy at Jesus’ birth.
      1. God knew long before Jesus’ birth the only way evil could be defeated was through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      2. When the heavenly hosts declared to the shepherds the night of Jesus’ birth,
        (Luke 2:14) “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased,”
        what was that about?
        1. It was about God keeping His promise.
        2. It was about finding peace in the shelter of the one who would die for us.

When we, in our minds and hearts, see Jesus dying on the cross, we see an disturbing, repelling sight. There is nothing appealing about a dying body on a cross.

But when we see in the dying Jesus our rescue, our shelter from evil, the complete meaning of his dying body on the cross changes.

Jesus knows the danger threatening to destroy you and calls you just as the mother hen calls her chicks when there is danger. Do you hear him calling? How do you react?

“So It’s December! What Is the Big Deal?”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Reminders are incredibly important! At times I place a “sticky note” in a strategic place to “remind” me. I often leave things on our table at home to “remind” me. I must confess that when I sit in my recliner, if I need to do something at a specific time, it is foolish (stupid?) not to set a timer to “remind” me (yes, I unintentionally doze-well!).

December is a “reminder” month. Though no way exists to know the date of Jesus’ birth, for centuries December has been a “reminder” of God’s enormous love for us. It is more than a “reminder” of God’s love. It “reminds” us genuine love joyfully, sacrificially commits. It “reminds” us God’s love modeled the love that must live in us. It “reminds” us that we can sacrificially love others because God loves us. Please do not allow greed or self-centeredness to hide the “reminder.” Use your words, tone of voice, attitudes, emotions, body language, and kindness to let all touched by your life know your love. Love others because God loves you! Jesus proves He does!

Choice Is Necessary

Posted by on December 16, 2001 under Sermons

Among the general population, in the month of December, Americans resent the necessity of choice. “David, what are you talking about?” At least in this nation, December’s events demand that we make choices. Those from the ages of children to the ages of grandparents have to make choices.

“We do not have to make choices in December!” Oh yes we do! When wrapped packages begin to appear in your home, do you openly immediately or does your family wait? The common December question, “What do you want for Christmas?” demands that you make a choice. Do you like surprises, or do you prefer to pick out the gifts you want to receive? Young families, do you face any challenges deciding where you will be December 25th?

Then there are those who are convinced they can bypass the necessity of choice. They attempt to give everyone everything they want, and fail. They attempt to be at every place December 25th, and fail. They attempt to give everyone exactly what they want, but surprise them, and fail.

December is filled with choices. Some choices are enjoyable. Some choices are not liked.

In regard to choices, December is really not that different to life the other eleven months of the year. December just reminds us over and over and over that choices are inescapable and necessary.

  1. From the very beginning, the person who lived in relationship with God chose to do so.
    1. Every person whose life was lived in relationship with God made that necessary choice.
      1. Genesis 3 tells us evil became reality in this world when two things happened.
        1. Eve chose against relationship with God.
        2. Adam stood there silently, without saying a word, and let her decide for both of them.
      2. Genesis 4 explains that Abel chose to honor God while Cain chose to honor himself.
      3. Genesis 5 says Enoch made such extraordinary choices for relationship with God that God did not permit Enoch to die.
      4. Genesis 6 says Noah chose for God when the entirety of human population wanted nothing to do with God.
      5. Genesis 12 through 22 states that Abraham repeatedly chose for relationship with God among people who did not know that God existed.

    2. Why? Why would these people make such unpopular, uncommon, unacceptable choices?
      1. Hebrews 11:13-16 explains their choices in this way:
        All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
        1. Their choice to live in relationship with God was incredible.
          1. They had a basic understanding that God would send this world a blessing which would be available to all who lived.
          2. They had full confidence God would keep His promise.
          3. But they all died before God sent Jesus who became the Christ, before Jesus died and was resurrected as the Christ.
        2. They had so much confidence in the fact that God would keep His promise that by faith they could look into the far distance and see God doing what He promised to do.
          1. They had so much confidence that they lived in ways that proved they did not belong to this world.
          2. They knew they did not “fit” in this world.
          3. They were looking to live in a place where they “fit,” a country of their own.
        3. The result: God was not ashamed to claim those people as His people.
          1. God was delighted to be known as their God.
            1. Because they were perfect?
            2. No, because they chose relationship with Him over relationship with this world.
          2. God was not only happy to be known as their God, but He Himself also prepared for them a place where they belong.

    3. In reference to Moses and his choices, the very same chapter makes this statement.
      Hebrews 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
      1. As an adult, Moses made some extremely difficult choices.
      2. He lived in Pharaoh’s palace [the king of Egypt’s palace] when Egypt was the leading nation in the Mediterranean world.
        1. He had opportunity to chose to be a part of the king’s family.
        2. He had opportunity to chose a life of pleasure.
        3. He had opportunity to live his life enjoying the “passing pleasures of sin.”
      3. But he chose to endure the wrongful treatment of God’s people who were slaves in Egypt.
        1. He did not know all the details about Jesus, but he understood God had something very special in mind for the people of this world.
        2. He understood that the reward involved in God’s plans far exceeded the “passing pleasures of sin” even when they were experienced in the palace of a wealthy, powerful king.
      4. So, by choice, he spent his life leading some ungrateful, liberated slaves through a dessert.

  2. The one thing all the people who chose relationship with God had in common in their choices was faith in God (confidence or trust in God).
    Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
    1. To belong to God, a person must have faith in God.
      1. Faith is a choice.
      2. If a person does not chose to place his or her trust (confidence) in God, he or she cannot please God.
      3. God requires two things of those who come to Him.
        1. They must believe that He exists.
        2. They must have confidence in the fact that He rewards those who seek Him.

    2. It grieves me that there is so much evidence that we as God’s people have forgotten the necessity of faith.
      1. Repentance without faith cannot and will not please God.
      2. Baptism without faith cannot and will not please God.
      3. Godly acts without faith cannot and will not please God.
      4. Our fundamental choice is not repentance, or baptism, or godly acts.
      5. Our fundamental choice is faith in God.
        1. Faith in God means trusting God as we make our choices.
        2. Faith in God means confidence in God as we make our choices.
        3. Faith in God means choosing to live for Him instead of the passing pleasures of sin.

  3. “The floor is now open for nominations for the hardest thing about being a parent.”
    1. Whether you are married or unmarried, have children or do not have children, have small children or have grown children, you can make a nomination.
      1. All of us here have been children.
      2. That means all of us have interacted with a parent.
      3. That means all of us are qualified to nominate the greatest difficulty of parenthood.

    2. So, in your mind, right now tell yourself your nomination for the hardest thing about parenthood.
    3. I wish I had a list of all your nominations.
      1. I suspect that our nominations would be influenced significantly by our personal experiences.
        1. Perhaps the unmarried would nominate an unmet parental expectation rooted in their childhood.
        2. Perhaps couples who have no children would nominate the loss of freedom and privacy.
        3. Perhaps couples with infants would nominate the loss of sleep.
        4. Perhaps families with small children would nominate financial or time stresses.
        5. Perhaps families with teens would nominate some form of exasperation.
        6. Perhaps families with grown children would nominate children leaving home permanently.
      2. May I share my nomination?
        1. Thus far in my life I would say the hardest thing about being a parent is watching your child become a person who makes choices.
        2. Our children will do the same thing we adults have done: they will make their own choices; they will decide for themselves.
        3. And included in those choices is the choice to be a person of faith in God.

    4. If your goal is to get your child to attend church as an adult, or to be baptized, or to live a lifestyle that does godly deeds, your goal is too small.
      1. None of those things will please God without faith.
      2. Our goal can be nothing less than helping our children discover and accept faith in God.
      3. The first thing that is essential for that to happen: your children must see that faith in you.
      4. The second thing that is essential for that to happen: our children must see that faith in us.

Are we being religious without having faith in God? Or, are we learning to be spiritual people who build life’s foundation on faith in God? What choice do we make?

Killed By Friends

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis of Tennessee, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory of Massachusetts, and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser of California were Army Green Berets, members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group deployed in Afghanistan. They also were our first combat casualties from those who were deployed on Afghanistan’s soil. A 2,000 pound satellite-guided bomb from a U.S. B-52 missed its intended target and killed them. Intentional enemy fire did not kill them. Accidental friendly fire killed them.

Evil makes life on earth a disaster experience. Evil reduces people to an animal’s mentality and behavior. Before evil, people lived in God’s presence in ways not possible now. They even had conversations with God (see Genesis 3:8-11). But evil distanced people from God. When evil held complete domination in people’s minds and hearts, the intents of their hearts were totally wicked on a continuing basis (Genesis 6:5,6).

In every age people who dare to be godly do not fit in an evil world. That is a constant. It was true 3,000 years ago. It was true 2,000 years ago. It was true 1,000 years ago. It is true today. It always will be true in every age.

To dare to develop a Christian heart and behavior is to dare to be a “misfit” in an evil world. To dare to follow God is to declare war on Satan. Satan takes such declarations very seriously. Only good defeats evil [good as defined by God]. The person who dares follow God, who allows God to teach him or her to do good is Satan’s only physical threat on earth. Belonging to God makes any person Satan’s special enemy.

Satan has an incredible array of weapons to assault the person committed to godliness. The variety of his attack plans defy description. He specializes in the unexpected. He assaults our weakness. He loves the element of surprise. He intends to destroy.

He has a special means for assaulting hearts of the godly. It uses the element of surprise (or astonishment). He uses “friendly fire” to cause casualties among the righteous. He uses those devoted to God to assault those devoted to God. A godly person is devastated when assaulted by those who endorse godliness. Nothing seems so useless and unnecessary as death inflicted by friendly fire. Killing is simple. Encouraging is demanding.

Principles to remember: But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

The Difference Between Joy and Pleasure

Posted by on December 9, 2001 under Sermons

[When I greet the people as we begin our assembly, explain I want them to participate in the opening of the evening’s lesson. Tell them that as I begin our lesson later, I will walk among them asking those who raise their hands to explain their understanding of the difference between the concepts of pleasure and joy.]

[When I begin my lesson, leave the pulpit area and walk the aisles for a few minutes asking those who raise their hands to share their understanding of the difference between joy and pleasure. After listening to several who raise their hands share their thoughts, return to the pulpit area.]

In one way, we commonly think there is little difference between joy and pleasure because we commonly conclude that the “end result” of both is happiness. If we conclude that personal happiness is the objective of both pleasure and joy, our concept of and desire for happiness easily can control us. If that happens, pleasure commonly rules our lives.

  1. Lets begin with a brief summary of last Sunday evening’s study.
    1. Last Sunday evening we discussed the truth that our focus determines what we see.
      1. I illustrated that fact by having you look at the picture that contained both an “obvious view” and a “hidden view”.
      2. I focused you on each view.

    2. We examined the “focus” problems in the churches of Galatia.
      1. I called attention to Paul’s concern for those Christians in Galatians 5.
      2. Paul said that Christ gives us freedom when we become Christians.
      3. The immediate question every Christian faces is this: “how will I use my new freedom?”
      4. Each Christian must understand three things.
        1. One: the strong desires of my physical existence and the influence of God’s Spirit in my life are at war with each other.
        2. Two: If I allow my strong physical desires to determine how I live my life, I will justify the works of the flesh, and Paul listed several.
        3. Three: If I allow God’s Spirit to determine how I live my life, I will produce the fruit of the Spirit, and Paul states how that fruit reveals itself in my life.

  2. One way the fruit of the Spirit reveals itself in my life is in joy.
    1. However, if I do not clearly understand the nature of joy, I may live for a counterfeit and call it joy.
      1. Is the focus of joy physical happiness?
      2. Is the foundation of joy physical well being?
      3. Is the expression of joy euphoric feelings?
      4. Can joy exist in my life only if things are going like I want them to go in my physical existence?
      5. If the joy that is the fruit of the Spirit exists, how will I recognize it?

    2. Again, my focus as a Christian is extremely important.
      1. When it comes to having joy, my expectations determine my focus.
      2. If joy from God’s Spirit is present, what do I expect?
      3. How will I know if joy is there or not?
      4. Is it purely a matter of physically feelings? Is it just my emotional response?

  3. Let me challenge you to think and increase understanding.
    1. First, there can be no question from a biblical perspective that people who were converted to Jesus Christ experienced that joy.
      1. Read Acts 2:43-47 and the joy of these first converts is obvious.
      2. Later, when God’s Spirit sent the evangelist Philip to the city of Samaria to tell people about Jesus Christ, Act 8:8 makes this statement:
        So there was much rejoicing in that city.
      3. After Paul and Barnabas visited Antioch of Pisidia, converted people, and experienced dangerous, difficult conditions, Acts 13:52 makes this statement:
        And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
      4. Paul wrote letters to Christians that commonly contained some very difficult, hard, sacrificial teachings, but he often encouraged those same Christians to know and experience joy.
        1. Consider as an example Romans 15:13.
          Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
          1. Paul gave some truly difficult teachings in Romans.
          2. But the Christians in Rome could accept those teachings and still experience joy.
        2. Paul’s desire for Christians to experience joy was often a part of his letters to Christians.
          1. Often he had some difficult things to teach those Christians.
          2. But Christians could accept those difficult things and still have joy.

    2. Think a minute.
      1. What did being a Christian cost Peter?
        1. It cost him a lot of struggle and physical difficulty, and likely his life.
        2. Did he have the joy the fruit of the Spirit produces? Yes.
      2. What did being a Christian cost Stephen?
        1. It cost him his life (Acts 7:59,60).
        2. Did he have the joy the fruit of the Spirit produces? Yes.
      3. What did being a Christian cost Paul?
        1. It cost Paul struggles and difficulty we cannot even comprehend–read 2 Corinthians 11:24-33.
        2. Did he have the joy the fruit of the Spirit produces? Yes, and he often declared he had that joy.

    3. How can that be? How can people who belong to Jesus Christ endure such struggle and still experience joy?
      1. We will not understand unless we distinguish between our concept of pleasure and the New Testament concept of joy.
      2. Our concept of pleasure is based on physical feelings that we like.
        1. The result is indulging our physical desires.
        2. Pleasure’s voice commonly says, “But it feels so good!”
        3. That means the physical sensation is delightful.
      3. The New Testament concept of joy is based on purpose in existence.
        1. Christians are not slaves to physical sensations and responses.
        2. They live for something more important than having pleasurable physical sensations.
        3. Existence is not about the slavery of physical indulgence.
        4. They understand life does not end at death.
        5. Joy is based on a sense of fulfillment and purpose that pleasure cannot understand.
      4. By way of contrast, if pleasure “is the ultimate” why is it that the more people improve their physical life styles and acquire the means for pleasure, the more their boredom and depression increase?
        1. Why is it that their children are often disgusted with existence?
        2. Why is addiction a common experience in seeking pleasure?

  4. Focus on one example. Listen to Hebrews 12:1-3.
    Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
    1. An enormous number of godly people who lived by faith challenge us by their examples.
      1. They urge us to get rid of those attachments in our lives that discourage us from following God and developing faith in Him.
      2. They urge us not to get our lives tangled up in the evils that lead us away from God.
      3. They urge us to look at life as though it were a long distance race.
        1. Run life’s race with endurance.
        2. Keep your eyes, your focus, set on the finish line.

    2. As you look at the finish line, never take your eyes off of our great encourager, Jesus Christ.
      1. He showed us how to dedicate our entire existence to faith.
      2. He showed us how a person who matures in godliness lives by faith.
      3. He showed us how to live by faith in God in spite of incredible opposition.
        1. He endured death by crucifixion.
        2. He was not destroyed by the shame and humiliation of crucifixion nor by being rejected by his own people.
      4. How did he do it? He knew the joy that was set before him.
        1. He knew the joy of living with God.
        2. He knew the joy of accomplishing God’s purposes.
      5. Because he knew the joy, he ignored the hostility he experienced.
      6. If we know the joy, we will ignore the hostility of physical existence.

It is in the joy that you will find the strength and endurance of service. It is in the joy that you will find the praise of worshipping God.

The Objective Is to Spiritually Nurture

Posted by on under Sermons

My oldest son decided after entering college that he wanted to be a preacher. Shortly after that decision, he decided he wanted to be a missionary to a French speaking country. His college degree is in missions. Though he preached full time for a few years, his life did not develop in the ways that he planned.

Though his life has not worked out as he planned, he maintains interest in meaningful, spiritual involvements. For years he has devoted one week of each year to working with young people at camp. He and I share that experience in common. I spent a week of my life most of my years from age 26 to age 40 working in youth camps.

About ten years ago after finishing a week at camp, he talked to me about what he learned that week. He said, “Dad, I finally understand something. I finally understand why kids who are bored with the church and often resent the church genuinely enjoy their spiritual experiences at camp. Their spiritual experiences at camp teach them the joy of worship. Their worship at camp is relevant and heart filled. When they return to church, they find no relevance, no joy, no heart in the church’s worship experience.”

I found his insight more than just interesting. I also found it sobering.

  1. We can ignore his observation, or we can emotionally react to his observation, or we can be sobered by his observation.
    1. That observation came about a decade ago.
      1. I personally can remember struggling with the same understanding more than 30 years ago.
      2. That is not a new phenomena; it is a decades old reality.
        1. In past years it was a problem.
        2. Today it is a crisis.
      3. If you are tempted to say, “In no way is that a crisis; that is just a kids’ problem,” let me ask you to put the situation in perspective.
        1. The teens who struggled with the same situation that I knew almost 40 years ago are now well over 50 years old, and many of them do not even pretend to be Christians.
        2. The teens my son spoke of 10 years ago are now all in their twenties, and you can be certain many of them do not pretend to be Christians.
      4. For years we have had a lot of teens who hated worship assemblies.
        1. When they reached age 21 they did not suddenly love worship assemblies.
        2. They became adults who hated worship assemblies.
        3. Do you personally know someone like that?

    2. We can ignore that situation.
      1. We can think it is just a few Christians who feel that way.
      2. We can even think only weird Christians feel that way.
      3. We can even ignore that fact when our children feel that way.

    3. Or, we can emotionally react to the situation.
      1. We can get angry because anyone discusses the situation.
      2. We can refuse to make any effort to understand the situation or the needs.
      3. In our strong feelings we can label the whole situation as ridiculous and refuse to be a part of any discussion.

    4. Or, we can be sobered by the reality that creates actual spiritual needs.
      1. We can admit to ourselves, “I need to understand what is happening.”
      2. “I cannot be blind to what is happening any longer–I must look at the situation honestly.”
        1. “When I look around, it is obvious that a whole lot of people are not here.”
        2. “It is equally obvious that far too many Christians I know are spiritually inadequate to handle life.”
        3. “I cannot keep living in the church like there are no unmet spiritual needs.”

  2. As Christians, why do we do what we do? What is the bottom line?
    1. Look at all the things we do.
      1. We build buildings.
      2. We have programs.
      3. We encourage Bible study.
      4. We fund missionaries.
      5. We hire staffs.
      6. We appoint leadership.
      7. We assemble several times every week.

    2. Why do we do all that–and more?
      1. Is there a reason for doing those things?
      2. Is there a bottom line objective?
      3. What are we trying to accomplish? Are we trying to do something more significant than perpetuate ourselves, our preferences, and our traditions?

    3. Read with me.
      Ephesians 4:14-16 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
      1. Bottom line: the objective of the Christian community is to nurture every Christian toward spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ.
      2. Bottom line: in the Christian community, no Christian is a “write off.”

    [Here Ted Edwards shared a new initiative to spiritually nurture our children in our Gateway program. Follow this link to read and view the presentation. Then press the “Back” button on your Web browser to return and finish this sermon.]

  3. Consider two statements.
    1. Thousands of years ago Moses under the guidance of God’s Spirit wrote these words:
      Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
    2. Almost two thousand years ago Paul under the guidance of God’s Spirit wrote these words:
      Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
      Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

  4. Do you know anyone who dreads attending worship? (We commonly call it “going to church.”)
    1. Do you know anyone who “dreads” coming?
      1. Do you know anyone who comes simply to please their husbands or wives?
      2. Do you know any children who come only because their parents make them come?
      3. Do you know any teenagers who long for the day they leave home and can stop “going to church?”
      4. How many of our children have done that?

    2. What have we done?
      1. Why has “church” become synonymous with an hour assembly on Sunday morning instead of being God’s people every day of our lives?
      2. Why has “worship” become a performance that we observe instead of a time of praise when every Christian glorifies God?
      3. Look at how we have confused the Bible’s concepts: we “go to church” to attend a “worship service.”
        1. “Church” is something we are, something Jesus died to make us, something we are twenty-four hours a day seven day a week three hundred and sixty-five days a year.
        2. “Worship” and “service” are not the same thing: we worship to praise God for what he has done and is doing for us; we serve to fulfill our mission in Christ

    3. May I share what I want for Christians at West-Ark?
      1. I want every Christian who is a part of this community of Christians to be spiritually strengthened by his or her awareness of God’s work through Christ in his or her life.
        1. I want each of us to know without question that God forgave every past sin when we committed to God through baptism–God committed to me in Jesus’ cross, and I committed to God when I was baptized into Christ.
        2. I want each of us to know that when Jesus’ blood began to flow in our lives destroying sin through forgiveness that it keeps on flowing, keeps on forgiving if we will acknowledge our mistakes (1 John 1:5-10).
        3. I want each of us to know that our salvation is real, not because of what we do, but because of what Christ did for us.
        4. I want us to dress ourselves in God’s armor so that Satan’s attacks cannot destroy us (Ephesians 6:13-17).
        5. I want each Christian to face every distress, every discouragement, every hurt in the certain knowledge that God’s grace will sustain him or her.
        6. I want us to love each other so genuinely that we never minimize each others’ struggles and hardships.
        7. I want us to be the greatest support system to each other that you could find anywhere on earth.
      2. And I want our children to be better prepared spiritually to live in this ungodly world than we were.
        1. I know that their world is more difficult than my world.
        2. There is only one thing I can do about the complexity of your realities.
        3. The one thing: encourage you to mature in Jesus Christ.

Public worship should be a time of joy, encouragement, and strength for all of us.

Hate’s Chain Reaction

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Bombs explode in a busy Jerusalem mall. Terrorists strike again. Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cuts short his visit with President Bush to rush back to Israel. Immediately, America’s latest initiative to “broker” a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is in jeopardy. Israel tensely watches the official American reaction. The Arab world tensely watches the official American reaction.

Unstable governments of some Arab allies are nervous. America never grasps Arab perspectives on the sensitivities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Israel is nervous. How does American commitment to an Arab alliance affect America’s alliance with Israel? This nervousness could affect America’s coalition against terrorism. That would affect the war in Afghanistan. That would affect the American recession. That would impact us nationally. Whatever happens, you and I are directly affected.

Because a few people had a hatred big enough to die for, our world shakes. Because a few had such hatred, millions of people are placed in jeopardy. The hatred of a few affects the direction of our world. The hatred of a few affects the direction of our lives. Hate’s chain reaction is powerful!

Hate’s chain reaction always has been powerful. Trace the long-term impact of Cain’s hate for Abel, a hatred that motivated him to kill his brother (Genesis 4). That hatred introduced humanity to a new level of evil. That hatred was rooted in selfishness and injustice. Cain worshipped to promote Cain. Abel worshipped to honor God.

At first, Cain was angry with God, but that was an ineffective, useless anger. So the older brother focused his anger on the younger brother. “God’s reaction was Abel’s fault!” God warned Cain that sin was waiting at his heart’s door, poised to leap on him. He ignored the warning. Because he hated, he preferred murder to repentance and self-control. His hatred still impacts our world–and our lives.

Only one chain reaction is more powerful than hate’s chain reaction: love’s chain reaction. In Jesus’ death, God reacted to hate with love. God set in motion an eternal chain reaction. Only doing good defeats evil (Romans 12:21). Love reacts to evil by doing good. When we love instead of hate, God uses us in love’s chain reaction. Only faith in God strengthens us to unselfishly love rather than to selfishly hate.

Your Focus Determines What You See

Posted by on December 2, 2001 under Sermons

We have all kinds of pictures and games that challenge our focus. Commonly it is a picture or an object that has an obvious view and a “hidden” view. What is the obvious view and what is the “hidden” view is purely a matter of focus. When we look at the picture we all see the obvious. That is all we expect to see. That is all we look for. We see the “hidden” picture only when we change our focus, only when we look for it. It is essential to change your focus to see the “hidden” picture. Once you see the “hidden” picture, it is quite obvious.

old man's face

Look at this picture. What do you see? Do you see the face of an old man? If you see the face of an old man, hold up your hand. (Give everyone one a moment to look at the whole picture and see the obvious.)

Now look at the same picture minus two details.

lady sitting

What do you see? Do you see a lady sitting under a knurled tree? (Show the image that reveals the “hidden” picture. Give everyone a moment to look at the “hidden” picture made obvious.)

Look again at the first picture. Do you now see both pictures? Do you see the difference changing your focus makes? (Give everyone a moment to look.)

By using these images, I want to make a single point. Hang on to this single point. To change what you see, you must change your focus. If you never allow your focus to change, you will never see God’s view through Jesus’ eyes. Our focus always determines what we see.

Please take a Bible and mark the book of Galatians.

  1. First, let me focus your attention on the background of this letter.
    1. Paul wrote this letter to Christians in a number of congregations in the province of Galatia.
      1. By our standards and criteria, all these congregations were “young” first generation churches.
      2. These Christians had been Christians for a short period of time.
      3. For a crude illustration, imagine this situation.
        1. Suppose all the congregations in Arkansas were much less than one generation old.
        2. Suppose every resident Christian in Arkansas was converted in the last fifteen years.
        3. Suppose Paul wrote all of us a letter because he was concerned about a specific situation that affected all the congregations.
        4. That is basically what happened.

    2. What caused Paul to write the letter?
      1. Paul made at least one mission trip to the area, perhaps two.
      2. The result of his mission work was the existence of several congregations.
      3. When Paul’s mission work in the area came to an end, some Jewish Christians visited the Galatian Christians Paul converted to Christ.
        1. Most of the Galatian converts were not Jews, so most of the congregations were composed of people converted from idolatry.
        2. These Jewish Christians were absolutely convinced that if these people did not adopt the Jewish religious system their conversion to Jesus Christ was meaningless (Galatians 1:6-10)
        3. So these Jewish Christians told these new Christians that Paul’s teaching was not reliable because Paul did not tell them all they needed to know (Galatians 1:11-2:21).
        4. They had come to inform them of things that Paul did not tell them.

    3. What did these Jewish Christians do?
      1. They basically taught these people the Jewish rituals and system.
      2. They basically caused these new Christians to believe that their conversion to Christ was not enough to save them unless they adopted the Jewish system.
      3. Paul in his teachings focused the people on Jesus Christ.
      4. These Jewish Christians changed Paul’s focus by focusing these people on the Jewish system.
      5. They said if they did not focus on the Jewish system, focusing on Jesus Christ would not save them.
      6. What these new Christians saw depended on their focus.
        1. Paul used most of the letter attempting to focus them again on Christ.
        2. He declared that the message these Jewish Christians shared with them did not focus them on God’s work in Jesus Christ.

  2. Perhaps someone asks the question, “What difference did it make? As long as they were trying to obey God, why could they not choose to focus on Christ or on the Jewish system?
    1. That is not only an excellent question, but that is an important, critical question.
      1. We have Christians today who think “why” you do something is not important if you do the “right thing.”
      2. For example, as long as you sing a cappella and take communion every week, “why” is not important if you just do it.
      3. It is not a matter of focus; it is a matter of doing what you are supposed to do.
      4. Paul powerfully disagreed with that conclusion.

    2. Look with me at Galatians 5 and allow Paul to show us the importance of having the proper focus, of seeing through the eyes of God and Christ.
      1. In verse 1, Paul said Christ intended for Christians to be free.
        1. Christ did not free the Christian to give the Christian an opportunity to go back into slavery.
        2. In context, if they accepted and lived by the Jewish system, they went back into slavery.
        3. Consider how simple it was for these new Christians to believe what the Jewish Christians said.
        1. Most of them were converted from idolatry.
        2. They offered sacrifices, they followed rituals, they followed what they considered were “right procedures” for doing religious things, they had rules for governing what they did, and they had priests (authority figures) to tell them what to do and to tell them if they were doing it right.
        3. These Jewish teachers were telling them in the past they just had the wrong system.
          1. They worshipped the wrong gods.
          2. They offered the wrong sacrifices.
          3. They followed the wrong procedures.
          4. They had the wrong rules, and rituals.
          5. They listened to the wrong authority figures.
        4. This was the Jewish teachers’ point: their problem was not that they followed a system. Focusing on a system was fine.
          1. Their problem was that they focused on the wrong system
          2. The solution was to change systems: worship the right God, follow the correct procedures, adopt the right rules, listen to the right authority figures.
        5. Paul said that was not true.
          1. Paul said the focus was wrong.
          2. Justification before God is not the result of faith in a system.
          3. Justification before God is the result of faith in a Savior.
        6. The Jewish Christians asked them to change systems.
        7. Paul asked them to change their focus: replace faith in systems with faith in a Savior.
      2. Why? What difference does it make? If my faith in a system is based on the same emphasis that a faith in a Savior is based on, what difference does it make if I depend on a system or on a Savior?
        1. That is an excellent question! Understanding the difference is essential!
        2. This is the difference:
          1. When I place my faith in a system, I place my faith in me and my actions.
          2. When I place my faith in a Savior, I place my faith in my Savior and his actions.
          3. The same obedience to the same responsibilities totally changes meaning (a) if I place my faith in a system or (b) I place faith in a Savior.
          4. Paul said placing faith in a system produces sin and death, but placing faith in a Savior produces life (Romans 8:3,4).

  3. I ask you to focus on Galatians 5:13-26 for you to see Paul’s focus and contrast.
    1. Look at verses 13-15.
      1. Surrendering ourselves to Christ gives us freedom.
        1. The issue immediately becomes how will we use this freedom.
        2. Paul said that if a Christian uses this freedom to indulge his or her physical desires, he or she does not understand God’s purpose in making us free.
        3. God did not free us to indulge our physical desires.
        4. God freed us to love and serve.
      2. Think about the contrast:
        1. A system allows us to indulge physical desires as long as we honor the system.
        2. Christ teaches us how to love and serve just like he did.

    2. Look at verses 16-24.
      1. So every Christian man and woman faces the same choice: will physical desires determine how I live my life, or will God’s Spirit determine how I live my life?
        1. If as a Christian I allow God’s Spirit to direct my life, I will not allow physical desires to determine how I live my every day life.
        2. Why? As a Christian I understand that the purposes of God’s Spirit and the purposes of my physical desires are at war with each other; they literally try to kill each other.
        3. If God’s Spirit determines how I live my life, I will not allow my physical desires to interpret and apply God’s law.
      2. It is very easy for me to determine if God’s Spirit determines how I live life or if my physical desires determine how I live life.
        1. If physical desires are in control of how I live, I do the deeds justified by those desires as they interpret God’s law.
        2. As a Christian I will justify immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, outburst of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and companion behaviors.
        3. Even though I am a Christian, even though I follow a religious system, as a Christian I need to understand that if I use freedom in Christ to indulge physical desires, I will not live with God when I die.
        4. BUT, if God’s Spirit determines how I live and how I interpret God’s law in my life, I will produce the fruit (singular) of God’s Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
          1. Those qualities are NEVER in conflict with God’s law.
          2. Those are the qualities of life produced in the person who belongs to the Savior Jesus Christ.
          3. That fruit exists in the Christian’s life who deliberately executes his or her physical desires and passions.
      3. The challenge: let God’s Spirit determine how you live each day of your life.
        1. Never place your faith in yourself by trusting a system.
        2. Always place your faith in a Savior by trusting Jesus Christ.

It is all a matter of focus. That focus will determine what you see spiritually. If I as a Christian live by my physical desires, I will use God’s law to justify ungodly behavior and produce sin and death in my life. If I as a Christian live by God’s Spirit, I will use God’s law to produce spiritual life by letting it show me how to produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Who Do You Want to Look Like?

Posted by on under Sermons

This morning please consider a powerful Bible truth emphasized in both the Old and New Testaments. This truth is clearly taught, but it is not easily shared. To make the point as clear as I can, I want to use my Dad to create an illustration.

When I was a child my Dad was called “Chad” (short for “Chadwell”). I was Chad’s oldest living son. At times when I was with Chad, someone said, “That is Chad’s son.” What does, “That is Chad’s son,” mean? It can mean three things.

First, it can be a simple statement of identification. “Chad has a boy with him. That boy is his son. That is Chad’s son.”

Second, it can be a statement that explains the unusual. Suppose Chad has some strange peculiarities, some weird habits. People who know Chad understand he has some weird ways. As Chad’s son, I adopted some of his weird ways. So when I leave a group of adults after behaving strangely, someone who knows Chad explains, “That is Chad’s son.” Everyone who knows exactly what he means.

Third, it can be a compliment that explains wonderful qualities. Suppose Chad has some outstanding inner qualities. If you are around him, those qualities are obvious. He has a life focus, a spirit, an attitude, and a heart that are impressive. It is impossible to be around Chad and not see those genuine qualities. When you are around his son, you see the same qualities. So as a honest compliment, people say, “He is Chad’s son,” meaning the boy reflects his Dad’s inner qualities.

Obviously, every man who is lovingly serious about being a father wants the third usage to be true. He wants the statement to be a declaration of good inner qualities rather than an explanation of weirdness.

  1. Jesus explained to a large audience of Jews that the purpose of being religious is reflecting God’s wonderful qualities.
    1. Jesus said his disciples are religious for two reasons.
      1. The first: they are a part of God’s family, His children.
      2. The second: as children they want to reflect God’s wonderful qualities.

    2. In Matthew 5:9 as Jesus gave this audience the beatitudes, he made this statement:
      Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
      1. One of God’s greatest desires in reaching out to people is to make peace.
        1. God sent Jesus into this world to make peace.
        2. One objective of Jesus’ ministry was to create the opportunity for peace with God for people who desperately needed to make peace with God.
        3. Jesus’ death on the cross made peace possible between God and people.
          1. John recorded this statement Jesus made to Nicodemus:
            John 3:17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
          2. God finds no pleasure, no joy in any person being alienated from Him.
          3. God finds pleasure and joy in each person who is at peace with Him.
      2. All of us as Christians need to understand that God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness are certain evidences of God’s enormous desire for peace with us.
      3. God’s children are peacemakers because they reflect God’s desire for peace.

    3. In Matthew 5:44-45 in the same sermon to the same audience, Jesus made this statement:
      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.
      1. Why would Jesus’ disciple want God to teach him or her how to love an enemy?
      2. Jesus explained his disciples would want to do so because that is what God does.
      3. Only God loves his enemies.
      4. Jesus’ disciples want to reflect God, so it is never enough just to be religious, just to be faithful to their religious system.
        1. They want to reflect God in all of His goodness.
        2. If they reflect God’s goodness, they will love their enemies.

          [An Elder leads a prayer asking God to open our hearts to His heart.
          A songleader leads # 484, “You Are My All in All”]

    4. Please let me focus your understanding on the Matthew 5 audience to whom Jesus made those statements.
      1. Most of the people in that audience were absolutely certain that they were God’s children.
        1. They were convinced that they alone were God’s children.
        2. It was impossible for any other people on earth to be God’s people like they were.
        3. So they were convinced that no other people on earth could possibly be God’s children.
        4. They were the descendants of Abraham through Isaac.
          1. They were the living fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.
          2. They were the people and the nation that God promised Abraham.

      2. For a long time Israel was taught that being God’s children was a matter of biology and a matter of correct procedures.
        1. The biology part was having Abraham as an ancestor.
        2. The correct procedure part was following all the correct religious rules and regulations that governed Israel.
          1. They made a check list of all their responsibilities.
          2. When they could check things off the list, they were faithfully religious.
          3. When they could not, they invited God’s wrath.
          4. If they just did the right things in the right way, they were religiously okay.
          5. Just be faithful to the approved check list!
        3. They composed an elaborate check list from Old Testament commandments.
          1. “How often am I supposed to offer a sacrifice? What kind of sacrifice am I to give? For what? Exactly how am I suppose to do that? Okay, did that.”
          2. “What am I supposed to do on the Sabbath day? How officially do I keep that day holy? What am I forbidden to do on that day? Okay, did that.”
          3. “What foods am I not supposed to eat? What is the approved way of cooking on the Sabbath? What will make my hands spiritual impure before I eat a meal? How do I purify my hands just in case they are impure? Okay, did that.”
          4. “How many times a day am I supposed to pray? At what time of day am I supposed to pray? What am I supposed to pray at each of those times? Okay, did that.”
          5. And on and on and on it went.
        4. In the sermon Jesus basically said, “No, no, no, no! You miss the point of being religious.
          1. “In fact, you are so caught up in the process of being religious that you fail to be spiritual.
          2. “You are very careful to do all the right things in what you conclude are the correct ways, but you are not focused on God.
          3. “Nothing you do is concerned with reflecting God’s goodness.
          4. “Everything you do is merely a matter of keeping the rules.”
        5. What understanding did Jesus try to get them to accept about being God’s child?
          1. “If your focus is on reflecting God’s goodness, you will obey God.”
          2. “If your focus is on your system and your check list, you will pervert the rules and miserably fail to reflect God.”
          3. “Then end result of rules keeping is that you create a system and follow the system instead of reflecting God as His children.”

      3. Paul, the preacher, the missionary explained the same difference in Romans 8.
        1. Paul explained the difference in following the same law with a completely different focus in Romans 8.
          1. If you follow the law with your life focus on physical existence and fleshly desires, the law is impotent and the end result is sin and death (Romans 8:3).
          2. BUT, if in Christ you yield to God’s Spirit, you relate to the same law in ways that produce life (Romans 8:4).
        2. As Paul explained that truth, he made this statement in Romans 8:14:
          For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

  2. A common problem among Christians is this: the focus of our lives is controlled by the physical, not by the desire to reflect God.
    1. Perhaps many of us react to that statement by saying, “David, that is not true! We are Christians! We are spiritual people! We are here this morning, are we not?”
      1. This is not an accusation. This is a request for each of us to examine our own lives.
      2. We want to look and act like our godless society.
        1. We want to dress like our godless society dresses.
        2. We want to find our pleasures like our godless society finds its pleasures.
        3. We want to prosper in the same manner our godless society prospers.
        4. We want to spend money in the ways our godless society spends money.
        5. We want to act like our godless society acts.
        6. We want to speak like our godless society speaks.
        7. We want to live by the same value system our godless society uses.

    2. And what is the end result?
      1. When people look at us they do not see God’s goodness, they see us living for the same things godless people live for in the same way godless people live.
      2. They see people who are jealous of godless people, not people who are filled with praise for their God.

    3. So if we follow the system and keep the right check list:
      1. We can watch pornography.
      2. We can commit adultery.
      3. We can cheat people.
      4. We can use godless language.
      5. We can get high or get drunk.
      6. We can abuse or take advantage of people.
      7. We can indulge any sensual desire.
      8. AND STILL BE PROPERLY RELIGIOUS because the church we attend sings a cappella, because we take communion every week, because we put our “time in” by sitting on a church pew. We keep the system.

Jesus told people who used the same approach, “God’s children do not live that way. God’s children reflect His goodness.” Paul said God’s children keep God’s law because they let God’s Spirit focus their life on God.

A hard question: do people look at the focus of your life and say, “That person belongs to God,” or say, “That person belongs to the Church of Christ.” To understand the difference between those two statements means you understand what Jesus said about God’s children in Matthew 5, 6, and 7.