Faith in God Produces Understanding of Others

Posted by on February 24, 2002 under Sermons

This morning I want you to help me preach. I hereby give each of you an opportunity to express yourself. I am counting on your helping me make some powerful points without opening your mouth or making a sound. I sincerely need your help.

“How can we make points without speaking?” I will ask questions you can answer by raising your hand. By raising your hand, you can talk to me and say something to everyone here. My questions are simple. They are neither designed nor intended to make anyone feel awkward. They are not trick questions. And there is an obvious purpose for them. I promise you there is a Bible point, a New Testament teaching in this that I will emphasize.

I am not attempting to coerce anyone to do anything. If you do not wish to raise your hand you surely do not have to. If you are willing to raise your hand, I appreciate your help. Please look at the audience. I really appreciate the teens and the college students sitting up front. This morning it is not rude for you to look at the audience. In fact, I encourage you to.

Let me explain why I am doing this. I could just tell you these things. If I did, they would just “fly right by you,” or you would say, “He doesn’t know what he is talking about!” or you would say, “Why doesn’t he talk about something important?” This morning you can emphasize facts with a force I cannot.

I ask that when you hold your hand up; you hold it up long enough for others to see.

    Questions in set # one:

    1. How many of you spent your childhood in this region?
    2. How many of you spent your childhood somewhere in Arkansas?
    3. How many of you spent your childhood in another state?
    4. Is there anyone here who spent your childhood in another country?

    Questions set # 2:

    1. How many of you adults never attended a year of college in the period of your life from 18 to 25 years of age?
    2. How many of you adults did attend a least one year of college in the period of your life from 18 to 25 years of age?
    3. How many of you are in college right now?
    4. How many of you who have not finished high school plan to go to college?

    Questions set # 3:

    1. How many of your have spent time in the military?
    2. How many of you have never been in the military?
    3. How many of you were drafted into the military?

    Questions set # 4:

    1. How many of you lived on a functioning farm for at least one year of your life?
    2. How many of you never spent a year of your life on a functioning farm?
    3. How many of you have never lived for any period of time on a functioning farm?
    4. How many of you know what these words mean: double shovel, gee-whiz, sod buster?
    5. How many of you plowed a mule?
    6. How many of you gathered eggs from hens’ nests?
    7. How many of you milked a cow?

    Questions set # 5:

    1. How many of you have a computer at home?
    2. How many of you use e-mail?
    3. How many of you play video games at home?
    4. How many of you have played video games in a video arcade?
    5. How many of you know someone under 10 years of age that has computer skills you do not have?

    Questions set # 6:

    1. How many of you had a car before you finished high school?
    2. How many of you have prepared a school report using nothing but the Internet?
    3. How many of you had a cell phone before you were 18?
    4. How many of you came home or come home to an empty house every day because both your parents work?

Are we ever different from each other! All those different background experiences create different ways of feeling, different values, and different ways to look at the world. And all those differences affect us spiritually.

  1. I want to share something about the church of Christ in America that is not exciting but is very important.
    1. In the 1940’s after World War II and during most of the 1950’s, often the strongest and most active congregations of the church of Christ were found in farm areas.
      1. Congregations found in a city setting were mostly found in small towns.
      2. Commonly, those congregations were not the strongest congregations.

    2. In the 1960s and 1970s a major transition began in the churches of Christ.
      1. A lot of things were happening in our country:
        1. The Vietnam war caused all kinds of internal conflict in this nation.
        2. The first major social separation between young people and adults of this nation occurred.
        3. Going to college became a real option for many high school graduates.
      2. Increasingly families could not make a living on small farms, so people began moving to city settings to find work.
      3. In this shift, more and more members of the church of Christ began moving to cities and being a part of or beginning congregations in the city.
      4. Increasingly you had city congregations with a majority of members who came from the farm.

    3. In the 1980s and 1990s the churches of Christ in this country experienced another major transition.
      1. We became primarily a city church.
        1. Many farm community churches that were strong churches began to decline and even die.
        2. When the kids finished high school, they went to college or trade school.
        3. When they finished their studies, they moved where the jobs were.
      2. Many farm community congregations became smaller and smaller and many city congregations became larger and more active.
        1. But the leadership of the church often was composed of men who grew up on the farm.
        2. Increasingly we had leaders of congregations who came from the farm trying to provide guidance for people who never lived on a farm.
        3. Increasingly members who attended a college grew in number.
        4. Increasingly the spiritual challenges members faced in every day life were not even a part of the life experiences of those leading congregations.

    4. By the year 2000 many churches of Christ were in major crisis.
      1. So much change happened in our lives so fast we did not even understand each other–and too many times we did not try to understand each other.
      2. Our personal preferences were elevated to the status of doctrine, and we got very emotional about our doctrines based on preferences.

  2. 2000 years ago a man you know as Paul was very inflexible and dogmatic in his convictions.
    1. He knew what God wanted and he know how God wanted things done.
      1. Anyone radically disagreeing with him was arrested.
      2. He tried to physically force people to agree with him.
      3. It was his view or no view–he KNEW the will of God–he had his understanding of the scripture to prove it.

    2. Then he met Jesus and understood Jesus was the Christ.
      1. What a transformation!
      2. Listen to what he said to quarreling, fighting Christians in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
        For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

    3. All over the world, today Christians will pray to God through Jesus Christ.
      1. Somewhere in West Africa a Christian man has already prayed in a congregation, “Papa God, we do thank you plenty.”
      2. Somewhere in China, prayers rise in Chinese; in Russia, prayers rise in Russian; in Poland prayers rise in Polish, and the same has or will happen in Israel, Palestine, India, Thailand, and Laos.
      3. The only real thing we have in common with any of those Christians is Jesus Christ.

The churches of Christ in America face several enormous crises. One of those enormous crises is our ability to respect and understand each other.

Paul gave this warning to Galatian congregations who were giving each other a lot of grief:
Galatians 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

I may have extreme difficulty relating to and loving you if you do not think like I think and feel like I feel. I may have extreme difficulty, but God has no difficulty at all!

God has invested far too much in your salvation for me to ignore you. How dare I place stumbling blocks in front of someone for whom Christ died?

If all you and I have in common is Jesus Christ, we have everything from creation to eternity in common.

Rearview Mirror and Binoculars

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Life in our world without rearview mirrors or binoculars at the best would be awkward. At the worst, it would be disastrous. Daily we depend on rearview mirrors. Life radically would change if no vehicle had a rearview mirror! Many of us would be dead if there were no rearview mirrors! Binoculars radically alter our world daily. You may not own a pair, but every day of your life is blessed because binoculars were used that day.

Spiritual disaster strikes when Christians fail to use both rearview mirrors and binoculars. With rearview mirrors we see what is behind. We see the roots of the American restoration movement. Keep looking. We see Jesus’ death and resurrection. Keep looking. We see Jesus’ ministry. Keep looking. We see Israel’s failures. Keep looking. We see Israel’s formation. Keep looking. We see Abraham receive God’s expression of intent. Keep looking. We see God forming life from nothing. In our rearview mirrors, it is absolutely necessary to see all of that (and more!).

With binoculars, we see immediately ahead. Binoculars help us see what is happening right now more clearly. They do not show us the future, or what has not yet happened. They show what is occurring right now more clearly. They help us clearly identify what might be unnoticed. They diminish surprises and aid preparation.

With spiritual binoculars we see more clearly the moral impact of September 11, 2001. We see more clearly the ethical and moral impact of Enron. We see more clearly the destructiveness of the global AIDS epidemic. We see more clearly the impact of so many things: the winter drought occurring in many states; the changing weather patterns of our altered climate; the suffering caused through economic decline; the conflict between the need for security and the loss of privacy; choices forced by priorities globally, nationally, statewide, citywide, and within families; and on and on.

One image we must see in every scene in our spiritual rearview mirrors or binoculars is God. Not the God we reshape and mold to fit our reasoned conclusions or current lifestyles. Not the God who gives us the security we demand in the forms we desire. Not the God who “takes care of us” while He forgets the rest of the world. Not the God who knows we are the righteous because we told Him so.

Then what must we see? The God who created life; who made promises to Abraham; who formed Israel; who refused to desert that nation when they failed; who gave the world Jesus; who made salvation available to all. We must see the sovereign God as He is — and more clearly! As we see Him, we must realize He is not responsible for our world’s wickedness, but for His world’s righteousness.

The Heart of the Matter

Posted by on February 17, 2002 under Articles

One of the joys of being a Christian is being able to express your thoughts to God in song and in worship. It’s often a very touching experience to open up your heart and let your feelings pour out for the one who has saved you from your sins. The great thing is, you can do this anywhere at anytime. A couple of years ago I heard a song that forever changed the way I looked at my worship to God. To me, it describes true and undefiled worship. The title of that song is, “The Heart of Worship,” written by Matt Redman. The song suggests that when you strip all of the exteriors things away from worship, you are left with more than just music and songs, you’re left with the true focus of worship: CHRIST. We often focus on the musical notes, the harmonies, and the abilities of the worship leader and preacher more than anything else. However, the heart of worship is Jesus and Jesus alone. It’s all about Him. And just as the song suggests, we should feel true sorrow in our hearts for the things we often focus on during our worship to God. We’ve made worship something God never intended it to be: a performance and a show.

After hearing this song, the tears fell from my eyes. I realized that I had often missed the entire point of worship. It’s not about the preacher, the sermon, the song leader, the songs, the styles, or the people around us. IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS!

Once I realized this, worship took on a whole new meaning to me. When you realize the audience in worship is God and not those around you, your worship will change. You will only be concerned with what is pleasing to God. You will stop worrying about what is pleasing to your friends, your preacher, or the people around you and you’ll focus your heart on praising God.

I was “raised in the church” and have often felt like the audience in worship is almost as important as God. I’ve always heard phrases like “let all things be done decently and in order” and “be sure that you don’t offend your brother.” However, I’ve learned that Scripture teaches that true worship to God may sometimes offend the people around you. They might not like your offering of praise to God. (II Samuel 6:12-23.) In fact, David, a man after God’s own heart, was quick to remind his audience that worship “is before the Lord … therefore I will celebrate before the Lord.” (verse 23)

What a joy it will be when all of God’s people are called home to be with Him. One thing is for certain, everyone will be focused on the heart of worship: worship that is ALL ABOUT JESUS. As we all fall to our knees and our faces before Him, we will be humbled like never before and we will sing the new song, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Revelation 5:12.) May we, as God’s people, purpose in our hearts to not wait until then. Let’s worship Him in EVERY ASPECT of our lives today, for that is the “Heart of the Matter.”

To the glory of John 12:32,
Brad Pistole

Relationship with God: Assurance and Responsibility

Posted by on under Sermons

One of the demanding, continuing responsibilities we each struggle with every day is balance. Daily there are situations that demand each of us answer two questions over and over. The two questions: “When should I respond to a relationship situation?” “How should I respond to a relationship situation?”

None of us answer either question well. With question one, “When should we respond to a relationship situation?” we often struggle as three answers betray us. Either we do not respond when we should, or we inappropriately respond at the wrong time, or we exaggerate our response.

Question two, “How should I respond to a relationship situation?” includes in its foundation the issue of balance. Appropriate responses always are balanced responses that consider all relevant matters in the situation. God responds with balance because God knows hearts and motives. Commonly, ignorance keeps us from responding with balance.

Knowing when to respond to situations and how to respond with balance is extremely important in all relationships. Every relationship situation continually calls for a response. The essence of kindness, fairness, and love is balance. If I respond with anger when I should respond with encouragement, the relationship is in trouble. If I respond by being inattentive when I should respond with concern, the relationship is in trouble. If I respond by judging when I should respond with compassion, the relationship is in trouble. Anytime one of my relationships is in trouble, I am in trouble.

In all relationships, God pursues a course of action we humans too rarely follow. In fact, when we humans learn to imitate God’s course of action, we do so only because of devotion to God. God constantly holds all people accountable for their individual choices and decisions, but God always stands ready to forgive and encourage. Not even Christians do that. We all struggle to imitate God’s balance.

The last Sunday evening I studied with you, we focused on 1 Peter. We noted Peter assured struggling, imperfect Christians that God gave them a living hope and an indestructible inheritance. With all their imperfections, Peter assured them this hope and this inheritance was theirs.

This evening I want us to focus on Peter’s second letter to the same people. I want to focus our study by beginning with a reading of 2 Peter 1:2-11.

2 Peter 1:2-11 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

  1. In this reading, I call your attention to a number of Peter’s emphases.
    1. Consider:
      1. When a person knows God and knows the Lord Jesus, that person’s awareness and understanding of grace and peace is constantly expanding.
      2. God’s power in Jesus Christ has granted us everything we need to be spiritually alive and to exist as godly people.
      3. The avenue through which God’s power is granted to us is through knowing God, the God who called us to Himself through His glory and excellence.
      4. That God grants us incredible promises.
        1. As God keeps those promises, those promises make possible two things:
        2. By His promise we can take part in His divine nature.
        3. We can escape the death of our perverted physical natures that are ruled by physical desire.
      5. We want to take part in God’s nature; we want to escape perverted physical natures ruled by physical desires.
        1. We are very serious about our commitment to this desire; we apply all diligence.
        2. We are committed to grow.
        3. It is not enough to have trust in what God did and does in Christ:
        4. We grow from faith to moral excellence, from moral excellence to knowledge, from knowledge to self control, from self control to perseverance, from perseverance to godliness, from godliness to brotherly kindness, and from brotherly kindness to love.
        5. I cannot love others properly unless I love myself properly, and I cannot love God properly unless I love others properly.
        6. Changing my relationship with others requires of me the responsibility to embrace God’s nature. God gives me the opportunity to pursue the divine nature; I must accept the responsibility to pursue it.

    2. As a Christian, I must understand the pros and cons of a committed pursuit of the divine nature.
      1. The pros:
        1. If I am growing in these qualities, I am by choice useful to God’s purposes.
        2. I permit my knowledge of Jesus to make me fruitful in my devotion to God’s purposes.
      2. The cons:
        1. If I refuse to grow in these qualities, I am either blind (I do not see my commitment and responsibility) or I am short sighted (my vision of commitment and responsibility is distorted).
        2. I do not understand forgiveness and the purification from sin.

    3. If I accept responsibility and commitment to pursuing the divine nature, three things will be true of me in my relationship with God.
      1. I will be increasingly committed to God’s calling and choice: I grow in my understanding of and trust in what God did and does for me in Jesus Christ.
      2. I will not stumble: I will be pursuing the divine nature until I die; I will persevere.
      3. My entrance into Jesus’ eternal kingdom constantly gets bigger and bigger, or, in Peter’s words, is “abundantly supplied” to me.

  2. In this letter Peter makes it quite clear that each Christian faces a choice, a decision.
    1. My choice or decision:
      1. Is to pursue with diligence and commitment God’s nature by developing these qualities that will result in living in Jesus’ eternal kingdom.
      2. Is to pursue with diligence and commitment the physical nature that is ruled by my physical desires that will result in death.

    2. I can forfeit what God promised me and gave me in Jesus Christ, but if I do, it is my choice, not God’s.
      1. The bulk of the rest of the letter gives examples of those who chose not to devote themselves to the divine nature.
      2. I can choose to be:
        1. Daring, self-willed, without respect, animalistic, deserving of destruction (2:10-12).
        2. A person with eyes full of adultery that constantly sin; a person who lures other people away from God; a person whose heart is trained in greed (2:14).
        3. A waterless spring that promises refreshing life but gives nothing but emptiness and dust (2:17).
        4. A storm full of mist but no rain that gives life and refreshing (2:17).

    3. I can choose to pursue the physical nature that produces death instead of God’s nature that promises eternal existence in Jesus’ eternal kingdom.
      1. It is my choice.
      2. But I want you to listen to what happens to me if, as a Christian, I turn away from God’s certain promise of grace and peace that results in living in Jesus’ eternal kingdom.

      2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

In Christ there is no way that you can fail to receive the full promises of God. God’s grace and peace will preserve you and God’s promise will not fail you. Everything that is necessary for you to succeed spiritually already is in place by God’s power. All each of us has to do is trust what God did and does in Jesus and grow toward the divine nature. At our own pace and ability, all we have to do is grow.

But I must want it. My baptism is only the first step to my commitment to grow in God’s nature. God forgives. God sustains. God promises. I trust and I grow. I cannot do what God does. God cannot do what I must do. God gives. In confident trust, I grow.

First They Gave Themselves to the Lord

Posted by on under Sermons

[An elder presents information and thanks to the congregation for responding to our financial challenges for 2002.]

[David Cogswell presents significant financial needs and opportunities for 2002.]

[David Chadwell begins his segment with prayer.]

2 Corinthians 8:1-12 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.

  1. Jewish Christians in the city of Jerusalem faced some very harsh, life threatening realities.
    1. Acts 11:27-30 speaks of a world wide famine, and it speaks of Barnabas and Paul bringing a contribution from Antioch to the Jerusalem elders to provide relief to Jerusalem Christians.
      1. Acts 11 occured too early to be the gift of 1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 8.
      2. Acts 20:4 spoke of a time when Paul was accompanied on a trip to Jerusalem by men from the areas that gave the gift of 2 Corinthians 8 to be taken to Jerusalem.
      3. We cannot know for certain when Paul brought the gift of 2 Corinthians 8 to Jerusalem.

    2. This is what happened.
      1. Paul in an earlier letter to the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 16:1-4) urged those Christians to prepare a contribution and have it ready to take to Jerusalem.
      2. He wanted this gift to be ready when he retutned.

    3. When Paul wrote the letter we call 2 Corinthians, those Christians still did not have their gift ready.
      1. Paul devoted a significant part of this letter urging them to keep their promise.
      2. Paul was concerned, and his concern went deeper than the need.
        1. As Paul visited other congregations in the area, he used Corinth’s generosity as an example to encourage their generosity.
        2. He did not want to bring representatives from other congregations to Corinth and discover Corinth had not prepared to keep their promise.
      3. So Paul used two examples to urge Christians at Corinth to keep their promise.
        1. First, he used the poverty among Christians in Macedonia.
          1. These Christians were so poor that Paul hesitated to take any gift from them.
          2. Though they were deeply poor, in that poverty they were extremely generous.
          3. When Paul hesitated to take their gift because of their poverty, they insisted.
        2. Second, he used the Lord Jesus Christ.
          1. Though Jesus was rich, for our sakes he became poor.
          2. His poverty made us rich–we owe our salvation to him.

    4. So Paul urged them to complete their promise.
      1. He asked them to do what they were able to do.
      2. He said God only looks at what you can do, how you use what you have.

  2. Jack Exum was with us last weekend, and many of us here were blessed by his visit.
    1. He challenged us to think, and we thought.
    2. He challenged all who chose to do so to make a promise to God, and many of us did.
    3. May we keep our promise.

  3. But I have a challenge for each of us that goes beyond merely giving more money.
    1. Paul said there was a reason the poor Christians in Macedonia were so generous toward Christians they never met.
      1. They did something that surpassed Paul’s expectations.
      2. What they did was the literal foundation of their generosity.
      3. First, they gave themselves to the Lord.

    2. That is my challenge to each of us.
      1. Give yourselves to the Lord who gave Himself for you.
      2. Every Monday morning, first thing: give yourself to the Lord for the entire day.
      3. Every Tuesday morning, first thing: give yourself to the Lord for the entire day.
      4. Every Wednesday morning, first thing: give yourself to the Lord for the entire day.
      5. Every Thursday morning, first thing: give yourself to the Lord for the entire day.
      6. Every Friday morning, first thing: give yourself to the Lord for the entire day.
      7. Every Saturday morning, first thing: give yourself to the Lord for the entire day.
      8. If we do that for six days, I have no concern about what we give or what we do on Sunday.
        1. If it is our choice and behavior to give ourselves to the Lord for the entire day Monday through Saturday,
        2. We will give ourselves to the Lord the entire day on Sunday.

[Contribution will be collected.]

[Invitation will follow.]

Have you ever given yourself to the Lord? When? If you did, does the Lord still have you? How does He know it?

Is God More Generous Than I Am?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Most devout Christians consider themselves to spiritually “have it together.” Even some Christians who do not claim to be devout are confident they “accurately know what it means spiritually to ‘have it together.'”

Certainly we do! If a devout Christian realized that he or she did not “have it together,” he or she would change. A devout Christian makes necessary adjustments to assure he or she “has it together.” If I know I need to make spiritual adjustments and refuse to make those adjustments, how can I be honest about being devout?

That is equally true of the Christian who is convinced, “I know what spiritually ‘having it together’ is.” His or her “knowing” depends on his or her being honest. If I know what spiritually “having it together” is, my knowledge must be founded on honesty. How can I be honest in my knowledge if I willingly cling to ignorance?

Does any devout Christian believe his or her spiritual understanding is better than God the Father’s? Or the Lord Jesus Christ’s? Or the Spirit’s? Does the Christian who is confident, “I know ‘spiritual togetherness,'” believe his or her understanding is superior to that of God the Father’s? Or the Lord Jesus Christ’s? Or the Spirit’s?

A challenge: (1) observantly scan through the gospels. (2) Note the person and the occasion each time Jesus forgave someone of his or her sins. (3) Ask yourself this question: “Do I forgive the same kind of person in similar situations?” (4) Give yourself an honest answer.

Are God the Father, Jesus Christ the Lord, and the Spirit more forgiving than I am? More compassionate? More merciful? More grace oriented? More encouraging? More hope centered? More reassuring? More willing to allow those who stumble to begin again?

Who has the best understanding of “having it together” spiritually? The Lord who died for me? The Father Who resurrected His son from the tomb? The Spirit who transforms human groans into prayers uttered in God’s language? Or me?

On matters of eternal generosity, who is the most generous? God or me?

The Heart of Worship

Posted by on February 15, 2002 under Articles

I have been thinking about worship and issues relating to worship. I will try to get it all in here, but I am sure I won’t. Here are some stream of conscience thoughts.

Why do I go to the church building to worship? Well, for one the Bible tells me to. I expect to go in there and receive and give there. I want to be encouraged; I hope to encourage. I hope that my praise to God is pleasing to Him through prayer as a group and through song. I expect to take communion and think on the events that day of the cross and my eternal salvation because of that. I also expect to hear a message that will make me examine myself, make me want to improve as a Christian, and possibly learn something I hadn’t thought of before. In general, hear a message that will make me think.

I have learned other things will happen while I am there. Announcements will be made about my fellow believers. Upcoming events. And the inevitable social interaction of fellowship before services begin. OK, enough to start at least.

I can’t rely completely on those people that stand at the front of the congregation to worship for me. I could have the best preacher in the world delivering an outstanding sermon and if I don’t think about what he is saying, if I discount that it has nothing to do with me or my life before he starts to speak, it does not benefit me at all or my walk as a child of God.

I could have the most “enthusiastic” song leader lead the congregation in the most perfectly picked out songs, and if I just mouth the words and not “listen with my heart,” I haven’t benefitted. All I have done is make the noise louder in the room. My heart has not grown because of a pretty noise coming from my lips.

I could have heard the most eloquent prayer uttered, and if I don’t pay attention and the way I think of it “pray with in my mind,” I haven’t prayed. In fact I believe I have insulted Jesus.

I cannot expect anyone around me to make me more spiritually mature. Yes, we can be encouraged by others. But we aren’t mature because we know mature people. I don’t think on the Day of Judgment, if I am standing in the middle of a group of spiritual giants, my soul can grab hold of those around me and pull me up to heaven. At some point I have to be mature myself. In fact, my baby is a good example of this, he is in a house with people who eat solid food and walk all the time. He has to learn to do this for himself.

I believe our focus during worship should be on God and not ourselves. And we should try to please God in our worship and not our own desires. Once I was sitting next to a friend in church and we were singing a song that I do not really get excited about singing, to say the least. But it is a wonderfully-worded song, and I don’t have a problem singing it. After it was over, my friend said, “That is my favorite song!!” I thought, oh, the least I can do is sing it with a happy heart. I am not here to please myself, but God and the ones He loves. I think that our focus on God can only make our heart grow in worship.

I don’t know what my point is; I guess I have several. But for one, what I am thinking is no matter what type of atmosphere you are surrounded with in a building, the atmosphere that is most important is the one in your heart. And it takes more than an hour a week in a building or a really good mission trip or a youth group weekend or summer camp. I think it takes the private time, alone, with God daily to change how we feel when we do get together to worship God in a building. Those who don’t have a closeness to God the rest of the week won’t feel any closer to God when they walk through those doors of the building on a Sunday morning.

In fact, that should probably be some sort of litmus test to one who leaves and feels empty. Maybe they do depend too much on others for their spiritual happiness. Whether we have a conservative-as-it-comes or as-liberal-as-it-can-be service, there would be people in the same position.



Posted by on February 10, 2002 under Bulletin Articles

Few weeks pass that I am not frequently reminded of life’s complexity. In new ways, experiences reveal that decisions are rarely as simple as we declare them to be. Last week, including last Sunday, was filled with such reminders. Along with my typical responsibilities I was involved in two funeral services. Much of my week was involved in encouraging people to find life and mature in living. Some of my week was involved in encouraging people to accept and cope with the death of someone they loved.

Living for God is not simple. Placing God in charge of death is not simple. God through Christ wants us to understand the best preparation for death is found in allowing Him to teach us how to live. However, understanding the “how” is never simple.

Deep concerns abound! For some, it is rearing their children. For some, it is bringing stability to marriage. For some, it is providing economically for dependents. For some, it is personal, spiritual development. For some, it is recovering from personal tragedy. For some, it is enduring a significant personal failure. For some, it is helping others find life in Christ. Each concern definitely falls inside God’s will.

Sunday evening as I enjoyed visiting with people I rarely have opportunity to be with, someone sent his friend to ask if I could baptize him. With joy I visited with and baptized Larry Schluterman into Christ. Larry has not visited with us, but he plans on being part of us. Later, a lady called to ask if I could preach her mother’s funeral. She is a friend, but has never visited with us.

As I enjoyed Sunday evening’s association, I noticed several things: the relaxed atmosphere; groups of people doing different things with each other; Christians enjoying being with each other. And I realized others of this congregation were having similar experiences elsewhere.

Thank each of you for your love for God and others. Let God mature your awareness.


Posted by on February 3, 2002 under Sermons

The biggest events in our society are planned around victory. In just a little while the Super Bowl begins. By today’s end, we will recognize one victorious team as the professional football champion of the world. Just a month ago we recognized the University of Miami football team as the number one college football team in this nation.

It is not just football teams. In a few days we begin the winter Olympics. And we will be very interested in how many gold metals American athletes win. In March we have the national basketball tournament to recognize one victorious team as the number one collegiate basketball team in America. Late spring and early summer we have a professional basketball play off series that ends by recognizing the number one professional basketball team in the world. We also have a professional hockey team playoff series that ends in a victorious team being recognized as the number one hockey team in the world. Then in the fall we have the World Series to determine the number one professional baseball team in the world.

And that is not all of our preoccupation with victory. Every state has its championship high school teams. Most cities have their champions in all types of leagues that even include competitions among children.

In this society we stress the importance of winning. Victory! You can easily get the impression that winning is everything. Nobody wants to lose.

Listen (or read with me) as we focus on 1 Peter 1:3-5.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

  1. We might conclude Peter wrote this statement to some Christians who “had it all together,” who were “outstanding as godly people,” and who were “beating evil black and blue” as they were victorious over the forces of evil.
    1. The letter of 1 Peter does not confirm that conclusion.
      1. Listen to Peter’s statements in the verses that immediately followed:
        1 Peter 1:6-9 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
        1. Distressed by various trials (in the sense of temptations)?
        2. Proving the genuineness of their faith?
        3. Tested by fire?
      2. Later in chapter one there is the sober challenge to be holy.
      3. Chapter two begins by instructing them to “put aside” all malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.
      4. Chapter two also urges them to understand they do not belong to a physical existence in a physical world.
      5. Chapter two also requests that they allow Jesus to teach them how to suffer.
      6. After urging them to understand how to restructure their human relationships, chapter three begins a long emphasis on the reality of suffering in spiritual existence.

    2. The assurance given to these Christians about a living hope based on God’s mercy was not given to Christians who had no struggles.
      1. The assurance of an inheritance that could not be destroyed, that could not be made undesirable, that could not fade into meaninglessness, that was reserved for them, was not given to Christians who struggled with temptation.
      2. The assurance that they were protected by God’s power was given to Christians who suffered and went through fiery trials.
      3. Turn the emphasis around: in spite of the fact that they struggled with temptation; in spite of the fact that they had evil they needed destroy; in spite of the fact they struggled with suffering, they were assured:
        1. They had a living hope that could not be taken from them.
        2. They had a wonderful inheritance that could not be destroyed.
        3. Their inheritance was reserved for them in heaven.
        4. Their struggles and suffering did not have the power to destroy their living hope or inheritance.

  2. For just a moment I want to focus on the assurances that Peter gave these Christians in 1:3-5.
    1. The first thing I want you to notice is Peter began his letter with these assurances.
      1. Peter did not end the letter with the assurances.
      2. Peter did not say:
        1. If you past the test of your trials in an acceptable manner;
        2. If you “clean your act up” and imitate God’s holiness;
        3. If you get rid of the hate filled acts (malice), the deceit (guile), acting like godly people some times, and acting like evil people other time (hypocrisy), the jealousy between you (envy), and ruining the reputations of each other (slander);
        4. If you live like people who do not belong to the physical;
        5. If you develop the right kind of relationships in your families;
        6. If you suffer with the right focus and attitude;
        7. Then you have these assurances.
      3. I want you to see a very important contrast.
        1. There is an enormous difference between declaring, “If you behave in X manner you have Y assurances,”
        2. And saying, “These are the assurances given to you; these assurances should cause you to behave in this manner.”
      4. Christians do not behave in certain ways in order to get something; they behave in certain ways because they have received something.

    2. That is a key understanding in 1 Peter.
      1. “The living hope is yours–it is based on what God did in Jesus’ resurrection.”
      2. “The wonderful inheritance is yours–it is based on what God did when He made you part of his family.”
      3. “The reservation is yours–God made it in your name.”
      4. “The protection is yours–it is based on God’s power.”
      5. “It is not only yours, but God is fully prepared to give it to you.”

    3. We can respond to God’s assurances in two ways.
      1. We can say, “All right! I can abuse God’s kindness and generosity and live any way I please.”
        1. “I can keep right on deliberately being evil and deliberately doing evil.”
        2. “God has given me these things! I will do what I want!”
        3. That is a horrible conclusion that results in our destroying the mercy, kindness, grace, and gifts of God.”
      2. Or, we can say, “Thank you God! If I take Your gifts, I must show You my gratitude!”
        1. “There are only two ways available to me to show my gratitude:”
          1. “One is the kind of person I become.”
          2. “Two is the way I behave (live my life).”
        2. This response understands how desperately I need God’s gifts.
      3. This response understands there is nothing I can do to deserve God’s gifts.
      4. The only thing I can do is demonstrate my appreciation for God’s gifts by who I am as a person and how I live my life.”
    4. When a Christian appreciates what God gives him or her, he or she wants to serve God, not irritate God.

  3. In Peter’s assurances, we as Christians must have some basic understandings.
    1. The living hope is a confidence, not an unrealistic wish–Christian hope is not wishful thinking but firm conviction based on God’s actions.
    2. In the same manner, the inheritance is not wishful thinking, but a firm confidence in God’s promise.
    3. God’s salvation in the individual Christian’s life is not easily destroyed.
      1. Our forgiveness is not an “iffy” proposition–it is not uncertain, based on God’s unstable thinking that changes every hour.
      2. Our relationship with God is not based on a grasshopper concept that hops in and out of salvation.

Is it not interesting that the typical focus of the church has been on how easy it is to lose salvation and the emphasis of God in scripture is on the dependability of salvation?

One thing Peter said that you must see and never doubt: the assurances to a Christian on the certainty of salvation are based on what God did and does, not on what we do. God gives the person in Christ salvation. No person earns salvation. Obedience is our expression of gratitude. Never put your faith in what you do. Always put your faith in what God does.

The Key To Living Is Dying

Posted by on under Sermons

[David holds an ebony staff given to him in West Africa as he begins to speak to those assembled.]

What you see me holding in my hand represents one of the most significant honors given to me in my life AND a reminder of one of the most embarrassing periods in my life. Very few people have seen this ebony staff. I have never told an audience the story it represents.

The years of 1970-72 were difficult years. Joyce and I and our three young children were in a country in West Africa. That country and this country have almost nothing in common. For example, a church cannot exist or function in that country (and many others) unless that church has government registration.

Through an unfortunate misunderstanding, the government had not given the Church of Christ registration. For two years many of the missionaries tried unsuccessfully to resolve the misunderstanding. In the early months of 1972, after a long period and a lot of effort by many people, the government registered the Church of Christ. We were officially permitted to exist and function. When registration was given, there were only three missionary families in that country–one evangelist and two doctors.

The congregations were overjoyed, there were at least fifty at that time. The local congregation arranged a special evening meal with the missionaries. After the meal, they held a celebration ceremony. In that ceremony they dressed me in this lappa and numerous other things and presented me with this ebony walking stick.

It was a surprise. I did as they told me as everyone laughed a lot and celebrated. I thought it was merely the joy of receiving registration for the church. I had not the least idea, absolutely no concept of what was actually occurring when they presented me to the group as Chief Esomba.

  1. Much over a year after that evening several of us were visiting the remote village of Mbonge, the last settlement before the mangrove swamps began.
    1. By coincidence, I was introduced to the paramount chief, a high official in the tribe.
      1. The person introducing me to the chief was present the night I was declared to be Chief Esomba.
      2. He said quite simply, “This is the man you gave us permission to honor as a chief.”

    2. Suddenly I realized things I never understood before.
      1. The Christians who honored me as Chief Esomba went to a great deal of difficulty to get permission to do what they did.
        1. The lappa cloth can be possessed and worn only by a chief.
        2. The style of ebony walking stick can be used only by a chief.
      2. In their culture, both are respected symbols of authority.

    3. And I felt very ashamed because I had no idea, no understanding of what they did.

  2. Someone will now read for us Matthew 9:1-7.

  3. Paul wrote Romans 6 to Christians in Rome.
    1. These Christians had a poor understanding of what God did when they trusted Jesus’ crucifixion and were baptized into Christ.
      1. Some of these Christians actually suggested that God’s grace in Jesus Christ gave them permission to do evil without resisting the evil.
      2. The probability is fairly certain that if you are a member of the Church of Christ you associate Romans 6 with baptism.
        1. Romans 6 uses baptism as a powerful illustration.
        2. That illustration speaks eloquently about Paul’s understanding of the nature and purpose of baptism.
        3. Because Paul’s understanding was revealed to him by Christ and guided by insights that came from the Holy Spirit, his illustration comes from an understanding of God’s will in Jesus Christ.

    2. As powerful and beautiful as that illustration is, Romans 6 is not about baptism.
      1. Romans 6 is about this: the need for Christians to identify sin as their enemy.
        1. The Christians who received Paul’s letter had been baptized.
        2. But they had a lot in common with me when I received the ebony staff–they had a very poor understanding.
      2. Romans 6 is about how a Christian should view and react to sin.
        1. In the New American Standard translation, the word “sin” occurs sixteen times just as it does in the King James translation.
        2. In the twenty-three verses of the chapter, “sin” is mentioned sixteen times!
      3. When you seriously consider Paul’s emphasis, you are astounded. Paul talked about:
        1. Dying to sin (verse 2)
        2. The death of the body of sin [speaking literally of the control of our physical bodies] (verse 6)
        3. Slavery to sin (verse 6)
        4. Freedom from sin (verse 7)
        5. Christ dying to sin for everyone [once for all] (verse 10)
        6. Looking upon yourself as being dead to sin (verse 11)
        7. Refusing to let sin rule your physical body (verse 12)
        8. Refusing to yield parts of your physical body to sin’s purposes (verse 13)
        9. Refusing to let sin be your master (verse 14)
        10. Understanding that God’s grace does not license sinful behavior (verse 15)
        11. Understanding that slavery to sin produces death (verse 16).
        12. Understanding slavery to sin is ended by giving heart obedience to God (verse 17).
        13. God frees us from sin’s slavery so we can chose to be slaves to righteousness (verse 18).
        14. People who continue to be sin’s slaves do no serve righteousness’ purposes (verse 19 and 20)
        15. The conscious purpose of being freed from sin is to become enslaved to God (verse 22)
        16. Sin pays wages; God gives a gift. (verse 23)
          1. The wages sin pays is death.
          2. The free gift God gives is eternal life in Jesus Christ.
      4. One of the primary points Paul made in Romans chapter 6 is in the form of a challenge: serve God without restriction and with a dedicated heart just like you served sin without restriction and a dedicated heart.

    3. But today there is a problem; and the problem is enormous; and the problem is very real.
      1. For some of us, the word “sin” communicates a powerful, fearful concept and understanding.
      2. For some of us, the word “sin” is a religious word, but it means almost nothing.
      3. For some of us, the word “sin” means nothing and communicates nothing.
      4. All three of these groups are sitting right here right now.

  4. So what are we to do? If the word does not mean anything to you, Paul teaches you nothing.
    1. Every one of us who considers himself or herself a Christian must reach a common understanding.
      1. God gives life a focus and set of purposes.
        1. God’s focus and purposes run much, much deeper than a set of rules and regulations or a list of do’s and don’ts.
        2. We understand God’s focus and purposes by belonging to Jesus Christ and letting Jesus Christ teach us.
        3. The better we understand God’s focus and purposes the more we are pulled toward God.
        4. Understanding God means allowing God to guide our lives toward its purpose: being upright by God’s definition.
      2. Evil also gives life a focus and set of purposes.
        1. Evil’s focus and God’s focus are exact opposites.
        2. Evil’s purposes and God’s purposes are exact opposites.
        3. The objective of evil is to distance you as far as possible from your God, your Creator.
        4. That basically is what sin is and what sin does.
        5. Concepts that separate you from God; understandings that build walls between you and God; behaviors that move you further and further from God are expressions of evil, are sin.
        6. They cause any person to miss God’s purpose for life.

    2. Paul made several facts very obvious in Romans 6.
      1. God’s objective in Jesus Christ was to sanctify (set apart from evil for God’s own purposes) the person who comes to God through Jesus Christ.
        1. God does not sanctify us through our own worthiness and behavior–we have evil in us, and we always will have evil in us.
        2. God sanctifies us when we trust what God did in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and make that trust the foundation of our obedience.
      2. None of us are capable of destroying all the evil that exists in us.
        1. But we are capable of refusing to give evil control of our lives.
        2. We cannot eliminate every form of sin in our lives, but we can be forgiven.
        3. By God’s forgiveness, we have a new life.
        4. By God’s forgiveness, He destroys our slavery to sin and frees us from the rule of sin.

    3. Allow me to focus each of us on a growing problem among Christians.
      1. Too many Christians do not want to be dead to evil.
        1. Too many have been baptized, but they do not want to die to evil.
        2. Too many have been baptized, but in certain circumstances they want sin to rule them and be their masters.
      2. We too often convince people to be baptized who have no desire to die to sin.
        1. The act of baptism within itself has no power.
        2. Baptism becomes a powerful act when two things are true.
          1. The act of baptism is powerful when God in His power forgives by using the blood of Jesus.
          2. The act of baptism is powerful when a person who places his or her trust in Jesus Christ wants to die to sin.
      3. Christians are people who want to be alive to God and dead to sin.

When those four men climbed up on a roof, strained to tear that roof up, strained to make a hole big enough to lower a litter with a paralyzed man on it through it, strained to get the paralyzed man on the roof, and labored to lower that man down to Jesus, I can feel the disappointment when Jesus said to the man, “Take courage, son, your sins are forgiven.”

“My sins are forgiven? Give me something I need! Give me the use of my body again! Forgiveness of sins–what is that?” I seriously doubt that the man or the four men who brought him comprehended the gift Jesus gave the man.

Do you realize, do you understand what God did for you when you were buried in baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrected to newness of life? When you were baptized, were you placing your trust in Jesus in your desire to die to sin?

Never forget this: evil pays wages; God gives gifts. The only wages evil can pay are death. The free gift of God is eternal life.