“I Did Not Stand a Chance”

Posted by on March 31, 2002 under Sermons

Romans 7:14-24 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

After I lived in West Africa for more than two years, some students in our Bible training school came to me and asked this question: “Why do the missionaries lie to us about a new missionary?” Their question shocked me. When a new missionary was coming, Christians would come to me and ask, “What is he like?” I answered their question by sharing his strengths. So my response to their question about lying was this: “I do not understand. What do you mean?”

The students explained when a new person was to come, a friend who knew this person best was expected to tell others all his faults and weaknesses. “He eats too much.” “He is not dependable in these circumstances.” “He is lazy.” Then no one was surprised when he came and had faults. They knew the weaknesses and expected them to appear.

Our American practice is completely different. When we were asked about someone new who was to come, we shared his strengths. When the new man and his family arrived, the people expected people without faults. When faults were evident, people were shocked.

How would you like for the person who knows you best to tell everyone your faults and weaknesses? Is that a frightening thought? A person knows every true, bad thing about you shares with others all they know about you. Nothing is hidden.

I am glad that is not the way our culture functions. If people truthfully knew every weakness I have, I would not stand a chance.

  1. As we began this morning’s worship, Romans 7:14-24 was read.
    1. My personal conclusion: Paul shared something very personal about his attempt to be God’s man.
      1. Religiously, Paul was a very accomplished person before he met the resurrected Jesus.
        1. At a very young age he moved from Tarsus to Jerusalem.
        2. Though he was not born in Jerusalem, he spoke Palestine’s language.
        3. He became a Pharisee.
        4. He became a Bible scholar.
        5. In his age group, he was one of Israel’s leading students in God’s law.
        6. I have no doubt that he could quote a lot of scripture.
        7. I have no doubt that he knew the official interpretation of many scriptures.
      2. Knowledge has a way of creating the arrogance of false confidence.
        1. In his arrogance Paul had great confidence in his knowledge and understanding.
        2. In his arrogance Paul was so confident that he was right that he both arrested and physically abused Jews who became Christians.

    2. The fascinating thing is this: meeting Jesus destroyed his arrogance and confidence instead of entrenching it.
      1. That is strange!
      2. Did he actually see the resurrected Jesus? Yes.
      3. Did he actually hear the resurrected Jesus? Yes.
      4. Did he actually talk to the resurrected Jesus? Yes.
      5. Did he boast about it? No. The meeting devastated him.

    3. The closer any person comes to God, the more he or she sees self “for what I am.” God through Jesus turns light bulbs on in your dark places.
      1. God is light.
      2. God concentrates His light into a penetrating beam of light in Jesus Christ.
      3. The closer you or I come to God, the more we see ourselves for who and what we are.
      4. God “lights up” all the dark corners of our lives and opens all our closet doors.

  2. I do not know what period of Paul’s life Romans 7:14-24 charts, but I can surely identify with what Paul said.
    1. When we first begin to develop our desire to do God’s will, our basic question is, “What does God want me to do for Him?”
      1. Our initial focus is on deeds, acts, obedience.
      2. At that very early stage, doing what God wants sounds so simple.
        1. “I can do that!”
        2. “That is doable — maybe even simple!”
        3. It seems such a simple matter to do what God wants until I am caught in the middle of the raging conflict of my two natures.
        4. Until the conflict of my two natures declare open war on each other, I can consider myself a good person.
      3. When my war of conflicting natures consumes me, confusion overwhelms me.
        1. Part of me genuinely wants to be godly–I sincerely want to be spiritual.
        2. But the more I understand godliness, the more aware I become that evil is a part of me.
        3. I grow to an understanding that belonging to God is far more than accepting some new responsibilities in my actions; it is changing the way I think and feel as well as changing what I do.
        4. Invariably I find myself doing the things I despise and condemn.
        5. And my contempt for myself deepens–I lose respect for me because I hold my actions and heart in contempt.
      4. This is one of the great surprises, great ironies in anyone’s spiritual journey: the more devoted I am to doing God’s will, the more I realize that I am incapable of making myself a spiritual person.

    2. I make this statement fully understanding you need to think about it: the closer a person comes to God, the more he or she realizes, “All I am doing is confirming I am evil; my best efforts cannot make me spiritual.”
      1. The closer I come to God, the more aware I become of my unworthiness.
      2. The closer I come to God, the more I realize evil is a part of me.
      3. In a truly personal way, that is what I understand Paul to say about himself in Romans 7:14-24.
        1. Paul always had been a very dedicated, accomplished religious person who considered himself devoted to God and devoted to scripture.
        2. With all he knew and accomplished, the end result was the conviction of his wretchedness, of his hopelessness.
        3. Paul said the closer he came to an understanding of God’s will, the more he realized it was impossible for him to make himself spiritual.

    3. Paul had to accept that realization before Paul could grasp what God does for him in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
      1. Paul’s new realization and question:
        Romans 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
      2. Paul’s new understanding and answer:
        Romans 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
      3. You must remember that we added the chapter and verse designations hundreds of years after Paul wrote this letter.
      4. Paul’s conclusion to his new realization and new understanding:
        Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
      5. So we shout, “Why? Why is there no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus?”
        1. Is it because I no longer have evil within me? No.
        2. Is it because I perform such marvelous acts of obedience that God now owes me? No.
        3. Is it because at last I can stand and declare what I have made myself as a person? No.
      6. Then what is it? It is confidence in what God does in Jesus’ blood and resurrection.
        1. It is what God does, not what I have accomplished.
        2. It is divine forgiveness, not human achievement.
      7. Will I obey God and serve God? Absolutely!
        1. But I place all my faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in what God did.
        2. I place none of my confidence in what I do.

    4. Let me illustrate God’s continuing work in our forgiveness with what I call spiritual journey lines. I will focus on three general situations: persons struggling with addiction, persons who are “unchurched,” and persons who have a heritage among Christians.
      1. Can God in Christ Jesus save people in all three situations? Unquestionably.
      2. Consider the personal, individual nature of our salvation: what God does when forgiving any person in Christ is astounding.
      3. Consider the person who is addicted (to anything–sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol, etc.).
        1. His or her spiritual journey may begin below ground zero.
        2. He or she has lived a horrible life.
        3. One could not be much more unspiritual than he or she has been.
        4. This person has two enormous problems: (1) he or she has surrendered to evil, and (2) he or she knows almost nothing about God.
        5. Can God forgive the person if he or she redirects life and enters Christ Jesus? Absolutely. In Christ, God will patiently walk with that person every step of the way.
      4. Consider the person who is “unchurched”: he or she may not be a “bad person,” but he or she has zero spiritual background.
        1. This person has one enormous disadvantage: he or she knows almost nothing about God’s will.
        2. If the person repents and enters Christ, can God forgive him or her? Absolutely. In Christ, God will patiently walk with that person every step of the way.
      5. Consider the person who has extensive heritage in Christ.
        1. Does this person have evil within him or her? Absolutely.
        2. This person’s biggest handicap likely will be realizing that evil lives within him or her because he or she has always been among godly people.
        3. Does this person need to redirect life? Absolutely. Does he or she need to enter Christ? Absolutely. Will God walk with him or her patiently? Absolutely.

    5. Which one of these people have the greatest spiritual need?
      1. Every one of them has the same need for God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
        1. For every one of them, it is 100% Jesus Christ and zero percent personal accomplishment.
        2. Every one of them desperately needs God’s forgiveness.
      2. And when forgiven, every one of them is equally God’s son or daughter, not because of what they do or where they are on their spiritual journey, but because of what God does.

Our perfect God created perfect salvation by paying the perfect price for perfect forgiveness. His salvation is perfect because of Jesus Christ. His salvation is perfect because it begins where a person is. His salvation is perfect because it can work in any person’s life, no matter who he or she is or what he or she has done.

God knows everything we have done. God knows every weakness we have. God knows everything bad about us to be known. Yet, it does not matter after we enter Christ.

No one has to live in his or her wretchedness. In Christ Jesus, God can make every person alive and forgiven, regardless of where the spiritual journey begins.

When Walls Fall

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Bible students regard falling walls as a positive happening. Likely the first incident involving falling walls was the collapse of Jericho’s walls. The fall of Jericho’s walls was a positive event. Good prevailed over evil. Good was outside. Evil was inside. Those walls protected evil. When they fell, good assaulted evil and prevailed over it.

Perhaps the events at Jericho symbolize God’s assault on and victory over evil in our lives. Before we enter Christ, God is outside and evil is inside. Our “walls” keep God “outside” to protect the evil “inside.” Good assaults and prevails over evil in us only if we let our walls fall.

As encouraging as the Jericho incident is, collapsing walls are in “our best interest” if your walls fall, not mine. Ask these questions. Is God good? Reflex answer: “yes.” Is your eternal best interest on God’s heart? Reflex answer: “yes.” Is evil bad? Reflex answer: “yes.” Does evil seek your eternal best interest? Reflex answer: “no.”

Why do reflex “head” answers calm the conscience but terrify the heart? We defend our walls. Our sentinels sound the alarm if God threatens to breech our walls. Our inner resources repair and maintain our walls. Our heads say we have no walls, but our hearts know better. Our walls are in place to limit God’s access and influence.

A serious objective of most of our spiritual activity is “breaking down the walls.” Bible study, prayer, worship, and fellowship all assault my walls. Collectively we declare when anyone’s walls collapse, it is good, not bad.

Then why am I fearful, even terrified, when I feel my walls crumbling? If I choose to allow God greater access to my heart and influence on my mind, why am I fearful? Why do I feel so vulnerable and at risk?

Consider two of many reasons. (1) When God prevails in me, evil dies in me. We are extremely uncomfortable when any part of us dies. The deception that God and evil can co-own and co-control us feels good. (2) Evil is more comfortable in an unrighteous world than is good. Our evil world often causes good enormous discomfort.

If God influences me as He wishes, my walls must fall. Yet, it is hard to let my walls crumble. My head may tell my tongue to say it is good for my walls to collapse. However, when my heart sees the rubble, it is terrified. Why? My walls limited my faith in God. Living by faith in God without walls is a demanding challenge that begins in my heart.

How Long Has God Cared?

Posted by on March 24, 2002 under Sermons

This evening I want you to think with me. I am not trying to get you to agree with me. Just think with me. All I am seeking to do is to challenge you to broaden your perspective.

“Why do you do things like this?” I never stop using the Bible to advance my understanding. I seriously doubt that I will ever stop using the Bible to challenge others to advance their understanding. “Why?” This is my conviction: a growing understanding is the key to a deeper faith in God. When a person’s understanding grows, his or her faith in God grows.

Both right now and in the days to come, we all have a desperate need for a deeper, growing faith in God. The only positive, no fail force we have to endure the evil of now and the future is a mature faith in God.

If I asked how long God has wanted to save all people, how would you answer my question? Would you answer, “God wanted to save all people from the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.” If I disagreed for this reason, what would you think? The reason: (a) it was God’s concern to save all people that allowed Jesus’ crucifixion. (b) Therefore, God’s concern to save all people existed before Jesus’ crucifixion.

You respond, “I follow that; I need to back my answer up in time to the birth of Jesus.” If I disagreed for the same reason, what would say? (a) It was God’s concern to save all people that sent Jesus to this world. (b) Therefore, God’s concern to save all people existed before Jesus’ birth.

Question: how far do we need to “back up” to identify God’s concern for all people?

Observation: we have centered our focus and our justification for Christian existence on Matthew 28:18-20 for so long that we assume the great commission marks the beginning of God’s concern to save all people. I ask you to consider that the great commission in Matthew 28 is not God’s first expression of concern for all people.

  1. God’s concern for all people is stated early in the first book of the Bible.
    1. In Genesis 12, God made a sequence of promises to Abraham.
      1. This is last promise (Genesis 12:4) in that sequence: “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
      2. This is my understanding:
        1. From God’s creation of man and woman, God intended to have a righteous relationship with people, a relationship filled with blessings.
        2. When Adam and Eve were successfully tempted, evil made the relationship God desired with people an impossibility.
        3. God immediately set in motion the actions and deeds of His grace to restore the relationship that evil destroyed.
        4. Genesis 12:4 in a very basic form is God’s specific declaration of what we call the great commission.
          1. God’s purposes in Abraham included all people.
          2. God’s vision in Abraham was world wide.
          3. God would pursue His worldwide vision of seeking all people by working through Abraham’s descendants through Isaac.

    2. However, Bible Israel never understood that God’s purpose in them was to bless all people.
      1. In their arrogance, they selfishly appropriated God’s love and concern only to themselves.
      2. When God offered Israel a covenant in Exodus 19:5,6 to make them His unique possession, Israel concluded God loved them more than God loved anyone else.
        1. When Moses declared God’s love for them was not based on the fact that they were more deserving than the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 9:4,5), they did not understand.
        2. At first they seemed to develop the “God likes us more than He likes other peoples” attitude.
        3. That attitude seemed to become “God likes us and no one else.”
        4. That attitude seemed to become “God likes us so much that He could not possibly abandon us.”
      3. In the Bible, many of Israel’s serious spiritual problems were the result of their failure to understand God’s love and concern for all people.

    3. Just how bad did it become?
      1. Listen to a New Testament statement made by Paul, the man who learned the hard way that God was concerned about all people.
        Romans 10:1-3 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them (Israel) is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
      2. What was Israel’s problem? Why did they substitute their own system of and concerns about righteousness for God’s righteousness?
        1. Was it a lack of zeal? No.
        2. Was it a failure to study scripture? No.
        3. Was it a failure to believe scripture came from God and is authoritative? No.
        4. Was it a failure to realize God had interacted with Israel throughout their history as a people? No.
      3. Then what was it?
        1. They did not understand that God was concerned for all people.
        2. They were convinced that God’s love for them excluded everyone else.

  2. Allow me to ask you to consider two things. Again, I am not seeking your agreement; I am just asking you to think.
    1. # 1: Israel had a long history of failing to see the obvious.
      1. In the Old Testament there is a continual emphasis on God’s mission to the nations, meaning God’s mission to nations other than Israel.
      2. The fact that Jonah is included in Israel’s collection of scripture is fascinating.
        1. The book called Jonah is about a Jewish prophet by the name of Jonah.
        2. God commissioned him to go to the non-Jewish nation of Assyria, to its capital city of Nineveh and deliver this message: God has endured all your wickedness that He can tolerate.” (Jonah 1:2)
        3. Jonah did not wish to go, and he did all he could to escape his responsibility.
        4. God forced him to go.
        5. With great reluctance, Jonah went to Nineveh and delivered a very pessimistic message that offered no hope: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4)
      3. After delivering this message, after offering these people no hope, Jonah went to the East side of the city to see what would happen.
        1. The people of Nineveh repented.
        2. God did not destroy them.
        3. And Jonah was extremely upset.
        4. He said, “I knew it! I knew You are gracious and compassionate! I knew Your anger was too easily quieted and Your mercy too easily granted! I knew You would change Your mind!” (Jonah 4:1,2)
        5. Jonah was so upset with God for not destroying these people that he asked God to kill him.
        6. God replied, “How could I disregard all these people?” (Jonah 4:11)
      4. Is there any clearer declaration in the Old Testament the God cared about people who were not even a part of Israel?
        1. Is there any clearer evidence in the Old Testament of Israel’s problem attitude in regard to God’s concern for other people?
        2. I submit to you that if God sent Jonah to Israel with a promise of destruction, and God showed Israel mercy, Jonah’s reaction would have been full of approval.
        3. Instead of approval, this was Jonah’s attitude: “God, You cannot have this deep sense of concern for people we despise!”

    2. # 2: Jewish Christians had a horrible time accepting people who were not Jews as Christians.
      1. I think Romans 3:1 gets to the heart of the problem.
        Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?
      2. What is the core of their problem? Attitude. For a very long time they were convinced that the fact that God loved them meant that God could not care about anyone else.
      3. The fact that God loved them had to mean they had a position and an advantage that no one else had.
      4. Their confidence was in the perceived advantage they had in their relationship with God.
      5. Paul said, “No, your advantage was the opportunity to know that God was at work bringing Jesus to be Savior of the world.”

It is very easy to make Bible Israel’s mistake. It is very easy to think our advantage is in our conviction that God loves us more than He loves other people. Our advantage is not in who we are, but in a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Do not die in the conviction that you will stand before God and say, “Do you know who I am?” If you do, you likely will be astounded when God replies, “No, I do not know who you are. In fact, I have never known you.”

Is Christianity a Good Influence?

Posted by on under Sermons

If I asked you, “Is Christianity a good influence in a community?” you would regard my question to be ridiculous. Virtually every adult here is certain Christianity is a good influence in any community, or you would not be here. If you sincerely were convinced, heart and soul convinced, that Christianity is a bad influence on a community, you would not be here.

If your conviction is that Christianity is a good influence on a community, may I ask a question? What do you mean by “good influence”? I want to ask some questions. You answer my questions in your own thinking. Please DO NOT answer my questions in any manner other than in your own mind.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have a positive influence on the morality of that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have a positive influence on the ethics (concepts of right and wrong) of that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will a the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have a positive influence on the way people treat people in that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have a positive influence on the level of caring in that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community decrease the crime rate in that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have any positive impact on decreasing poverty and the things associated with poverty in that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

  1. I want to share two situations, one communicated by someone else, and one from my personal experience.
    1. The first situation comes from someone else.
      1. The elders encourage and make it possible for each of us on staff to attend one gathering a year as a type of continuing education experience.
        1. It is common for the staff to share tapes from these experiences.
        2. This information came from a tape Brad Pistole [youth minister] shared with me. The speaker who shared this information was Mr. Lynn Anderson.
      2. A British journalist researched this question and presented the findings in a one hour television program: “What is the impact of Christian faith on society?”
        1. Their primary objective was this: find the most Christianized city in Western civilization and examine the impact Christianity has on that city. The search was not restricted to one country.
        2. The criteria for determining the degree of Christianization was simple: find a city where more people go to church on a regular basis than in any other city.
        3. The city they selected [because of the percentage of people who attend church on a regular basis] was Dallas, Texas.
          1. What was shared was in no way used as an attack on Dallas, and I certainly have no desire to use the information in this way.
          2. By pure coincidence, the Church of Christ has the largest number of members in Dallas than in any other city in Western civilization.
      3. Life in Dallas was examined in a variety of ways:
        1. Health care
        2. Hospitals
        3. Emergency care
        4. Contagious diseases
        5. Infant mortality rate
        6. Job availability
        7. General economics
          1. How easy is it to get a job?
          2. How easy is it to get housing?
          3. The relationship between potential income and potential housing.
        8. Homelessness
        9. Racism
        10. The existence of abuse
        11. Crime rates
        12. Economic discrepancies
      4. Note this: the focus of the categories is on relationships and people-to-people interaction. (It was not an evaluation of that city as a city.)
      5. All of those categories were compared to cities which had significantly less people attending church on a regular basis.
      6. When they made these comparisons of Dallas to other cities in these selected categories, they concluded that Dallas was one of the worst cities to live in.
      7. They then arranged a meeting with respected preachers in the churches of the community.
        1. They shared their findings.
        2. They asked, “How do you explain this?”
        3. The common answer: “Those things do not concern us. We are spiritual leaders.”

    2. The second situation is from personal experience.
      1. In October of 1993 Joyce and I spent three weeks in Gadansk, and Sopot Poland doing one-on-one private studies with high school students, college students, and young professionals.
        1. Basically we were doing follow up from the previous summer’s work in “Let’s Start Talking.”
        2. We used the Gospel of Luke for the foundation of religious studies.
        3. After three weeks of long days and nights of one-on-one studies, we both were exhausted.
      2. On our return to Oxford, we spent four days in Copenhagen resting and touring the old city.
      3. I never have had an experience quite like that one.
        1. If you have traveled outside the United States, hold up your hand.
        2. Let me tell you about some of the experiences, and you will see why I was surprised.
        3. When we arrived in the airport, there were two signs.
          1. One sign said, “If you have something to declare, this way” with an arrow pointing the direction.
          2. The other sign said, “If you have nothing to declare, this way” with another arrow pointing to some double doors.
          3. We had nothing to declare, so we walked through the double doors–and to the outside sidewalk; no one checked us or anything we had.
        4. The first thing I noticed were clean, sanitary, convenient disposal containers for drug paraphernalia.
          1. It is not illegal to use recreational drugs.
          2. They did not want you to endanger anyone else with your needles.
        5. When Joyce and I checked into our hotel, there were advertising magazines by the telephone.
          1. The magazines were advertising available escort services.
          2. Listed were available ladies, their educational background, the number of languages spoken, etc.
          3. The information was not presented in what Americans would consider a pornographic manner.
      4. The city was as neat, clean, and very attractive.
        1. Stores having sales displayed merchandise on side walks UNATTENDED.
        2. We were there for two days before we saw our first policeman.
        3. The people were extremely courteous and helpful.
      5. Yet, Denmark is not a religious place.
        1. It is said in Denmark a person attends church three times in a lifetime.
        2. The first time is to be christened as a baby.
        3. The second time is to get married.
        4. The third time is for your own funeral.
      6. What would happen in our country if:
        1. You were not required to pass through customs at an entry air port?
        2. Recreational drugs were legal.
        3. Prostitution was legal and could advertise.
        4. Police had an almost invisible presence.
        5. Stores placed sales merchandise on the side walks unattended.
        6. Would our cities be safe, courteous, and clean?
        7. And we are considered a Christian society.
      7. From my American experience, those circumstances did not add up.

  2. I fear that something we did so long ago now deceives us and betrays God’s purposes.
    1. Because of some arguments among ourselves decades ago about what the church can and cannot do, we made an artificial distinction.
      1. We separated what we labeled as “secular concerns” from what we labeled to be “spiritual concerns.”
      2. We acknowledged God created us to be “secular beings” and “spiritual beings.”
      3. But we created the impression God’s primary concern is the “spiritual being.”
      4. We created the impression that God’s objective in our earthly existence is to destroy our interest in secular matters and to promote interest in spiritual matters.
        1. Then we called spiritual matters God’s doctrinal concerns.
        2. We classified secular matters as being evil.
      5. That artificial separation has a horrible impact on us.
        1. Some Christians see no conflict between being very deceitful Monday through Saturday as long as they worship on Sunday.
        2. Some Christians see no conflict between having a secret sexual affair Monday through Saturday as long as they worship on Sunday.
        3. Some Christians see no conflict in being unconcerned about people around them as long as they can isolate themselves in the church.

  3. I want to challenge your minds and hearts by reading scripture.
    1. The first reading is from Isaiah 1:16,17 given after Isaiah told Judah that their correct worship disgusted God.
      “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”
    2. The second is Psalm 15.
      Psalm 15:1-5 O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the Lord; He swears to his own hurt and does not change; He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
    3. The third is a statement Jesus made in Matthew 5:13-16.
      You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
    4. The fourth is part of a parable Jesus gave in Matthew 25:34-46.
      “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

May God give us the wisdom to grasp the proper balance of His concern for the whole person.

Question: if every Church of Christ in Fort Smith disappeared, ceased to exist, in 24 hours, would there be any noticeable impact on the well being of this community?


Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

My mother called early Sunday morning. Her oldest living brother, Willard Martin, died Saturday night. He was 96 years old. His wife, Freda, died several years ago.

When I was a child, we lived a hundred miles from Uncle Willard. Today that is no trip at all. Then it was a long, tedious trip over curvy, two-lane mountain roads passing though many small towns. While we lived only a hundred miles from most of our Nashville, Tennessee, relatives, we did not spend much time with them.

When I was five, I was sick much of the time. Dad moved our family fifty miles from his job to change climates. Five days a week he rode or drove a hundred miles round trip to work and back. Understandably, on weekends he rarely wanted to drive a hundred miles in the opposite direction to visit. Only occasionally did we take trips to Nashville.

Occasionally Uncle Willard and Aunt Freda would visit us on a weekend. My brother and I joyfully anticipated his visits. He serviced vending machines, and he always brought us a whole box of Heath Bars. He also, almost always, took us fishing. Probably because of those fishing trips, I called him Uncle Wormy. I still can hear him laugh, and still hear him say, “Boys, what you need to do is …”

Memory is a peculiar thing. Often I struggle to recall the details of what happened a month ago. Yet, I easily recall fishing spots we visited fifty years ago. Memories of “then” stick to my mind as if they were made of velcro, but memories of “now” often slide away on skis coated with teflon.

Memory is a powerful force in life. It can refresh us with images that renew our hearts. It can torment us with images that refuse to disappear. It can demand honesty, or it can encourage deception. It can use our yesterdays to bring hope to our todays, or it can use our yesterdays to bring doubt to our todays. It can be all embracing, or it can be highly selective. It can focus only on the good or the bad, or it can accept the good and bad.

How fortunate are people who have memories created by those who loved! How fortunate is everyone who has a past ruled by a loving God! Never forget your present interactions are building someone’s memories. Never forget that if you have a “now” ruled by a loving God, in the future you will have a “past” ruled by a loving God.

Perverting Trust

Posted by on March 17, 2002 under Sermons

Most people who regard themselves to be Christian, including most if not all of us, agree the foundation of Christianity is trust. Faith is a cornerstone of Christianity. In practical terms that we understand, faith is trust. One of Christianity’s basic objectives in a Christian’s life is developing trust. Increasing our willingness to trust is the constant goal of faith.

I sincerely doubt that the greater majority of Christians (a) discount the importance of faith or (b) disagree that the goal of faith is to increase a believer’s willingness to trust. There is broad agreement on the importance, the necessity of having faith or trust.

The common disagreement comes when people (who regard themselves to be Christians) define what we are to trust. There is broad agreement that believers must trust. There is also broad disagreement about what should be the object or focus of that trust. Consider a few things that are commonly presented as the foundation object or focus of a believer’s trust.

a doctrinal position
a set of doctrinal positions
[Both are often referred to as “the faith.”]

a tradition
a set of traditional practices
[The person who keeps the traditions is often referred to as “faithful.”]

the church
[One devoted to the church is often referred to as someone who “keeps the faith.”]

Last Sunday evening I asked you to think about the trust that God values. We noted the incident in Abraham’s life in Genesis 15 when he trusted God’s promise, and God reckoned his trust as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

This evening I ask you to focus on another incident in Abraham’s life, his willingness to kill his son Isaac as a burnt offering to God (Genesis 22:1-19).

  1. The situation:
    1. Isaac, the son God promised Abraham, is now a “lad.”
      1. Scripture does not say how old Isaac was at this time.
      2. The evidence indicates he was much older than a toddler.
        1. He walked, talked, and was able to have an insightful conversation with his father.
        2. He was physically capable of going on a three day trip with his father.
        3. He knew and understood the basic necessities for a sacrifice of burnt offering to God.
        4. He was able to carry the wood to be used in the sacrifice up a mountain.
      3. Abraham waited twenty-five years for Isaac’s birth.
        1. Abraham is now over one hundred years old.
        2. The impossible became fact for him and Sarah.
        3. It happened because God kept His promise.

    2. The request astounds us; I wonder how it affected Abraham.
      1. The incident began very simply.
        1. Genesis 22:1 simply notes that God “tested” Abraham.
          1. Not “tempted,” but “tested”
          2. Satan uses temptation in the desire to destroy us.
          3. God tests us in the desire to advance our spiritual growth.
        2. It began with a simple call, “Abraham!” and a simple answer, “Here I am!”
        3. God’s request was direct, to the point, and simple: “Take Isaac and offer him as burnt sacrifice on Mount Moriah.”
      2. I long have been astounded with the promptness and preparation of Abraham’s response.
        1. I have no doubt that Abraham loved Isaac dearly.
        2. I have no doubt that Abraham felt a great sense of peace and hope when he looked at his son and thought about God, the blessing, and possibilities that existed because God kept His promise.
        3. Now God asked Abraham to do something that defied Abraham’s past experiences with God and God’s promises to Abraham.
        4. Abraham:
          1. Arose early the next morning.
          2. Prepared his donkey for travel.
          3. Took young men to assist him.
          4. Prepared the wood for the sacrifice.
          5. Abraham did nothing to prolong the life or delay the death of Isaac.
        5. The servants had no idea of what was to happen, and Abraham made certain they did not interfere with his offering.
      3. I have long been impressed at how difficult those three days of travel must have been.
        1. He spent each of those days with his son certain he was taking his son to his death.
        2. He spent each of those days with his son knowing that he would kill him.
      4. I have long been impressed with Abraham’s answer to Isaac’s question.
        1. Isaac: “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”
        2. Abraham: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the sacrifice.”

    3. Abraham would have killed Isaac in sacrifice to God had an angel not stopped him in the act.
      1. Do you want to understand the nature of the trust that God reckons to be righteousness?
      2. “Now I know that you fear (reverence) God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Genesis 22:12)

  2. What was this “testing” all about? Why put Abraham and Isaac through all that agony?
    1. I call your attention to the central issue within the incident.
      1. This was the question to be answered.
      2. Does Abraham place his trust in the gift (the son) God gave?
      3. Or, does Abraham place his trust in the God who gave the gift?

    2. God was very specific about the great promises He made to Abraham.
      1. Abraham would have descendants through whom God would bring a blessing to all families of the earth. (Genesis 12:1-4)
      2. Those descendants would be so numerous they could not be counted. (Genesis 15:5)
      3. This would all happen because Abraham and Sarah would have a son. (Genesis 17:15, 16)

    3. Did Abraham believe those promises would happen because Isaac existed, or did Abraham believe those promises would happen because God existed?
      1. Was his confidence in God until Isaac was born, and at Isaac’s birth he transferred his confidence in the fact he had a son?
      2. Or, did he keep is confidence in the God who made the promise even after Isaac was born?
      3. In the willingness to offer Isaac, Abraham emphatically declared, “My trust is in the God who gave me Isaac.”
        1. “Abraham, is Isaac the son God promised you?” “Yes.”
        2. “You clearly understand that Isaac is the son of promise?” “Yes.”
        3. “If you kill Isaac, how will God keep His promise?” “I do not know how God will do it, but if He promised it would happen, it will happen.”
        4. Many hundred years later, Hebrews 11:19 stated Abraham was confident that God was able to resurrect people from the dead.
      4. Abraham made it quite clear that 100% of his confidence was in God, and 0% of his confidence was in himself or anything he did.
        1. What did God owe Abraham? Nothing.
        2. What did Abraham think God owed him? Nothing.
        3. Abraham learned much before this incident that God could do what God promised because He was God.
        4. The God that gave a hundred year old man and his ninety year old wife their first child could do and would do anything necessary to keep His promise.

  3. Let me illustrate the total adequacy of God and the total inadequacy of a person.
    1. My point: the production of salvation in my life is all God.
      1. Divine forgiveness is 100% God and 0% David.
      2. Divine mercy is 100% God and 0% David.
      3. Divine grace is 100% God and 0% David.

    2. First, I use the incorrect concept I used years ago.

      wrong concept of grace

      1. When I first began focusing on God’s grace, I illustrated grace in this way.
      2. The person does all he can do, which is never nearly enough.
      3. Then God makes a person acceptable by adding grace to make the person complete.

    3. Second, I use what I now understand to be the correct concept.

      correct concept of grace

      1. The New Testament concept of grace is that God provides 100% because even the best of us can provide nothing.
      2. The person obediently serves God, but the person places zero confidence in anything he or she does.
      3. I can stand before God because of what God does for me in Christ, not because of anything I do for God.

    4. The central question is not about the necessity of obedience but about the purpose of obedience.

      the issue

      1. Is obedience absolutely necessary? Yes!
      2. Does my obedience earn anything or in any way obligate God to me? No!
        1. I obey because I trust.
        2. I obey to express my love and appreciation for all that God does for me in Christ.

One of the serious, destructive crises we face as Christians today is found in this fact: too many trust the gifts God gave instead of the God who gave the gifts.

We need the kind of trust in God that made Abraham willing to offer Isaac.

We need the kind of trust in God that allowed Job to remain with God after he lost everything.

We need the kind of trust in God the led David to face Goliath.

We need the kind of trust in God that motivated Daniel to be loyal to God even in the land of captivity.

We need the kind of trust in God that overwhelms us when we consider God’s mercy and forgiveness, just as Paul was overwhelmed.

We need the kind of trust in God that never forgets God owes us nothing, but we owe God everything.

Terrified or Pumped?

Posted by on under Sermons

How often do you think about standing before God to discuss the way you used your life? When you think about that occasion, how do you feel? Do feel a sense of fear or a sense of excitement?

It will happen. It is unavoidable. Not many occurrences in our futures are absolute certainties. Our meeting with God is an absolute certainty. Nothing you or I can do will prevent it.

Who would like to prevent that meeting with God? The person who is terrified of God would prevent that meeting. The thought of talking to God about the way he or she used life fills that person with terror.

Some people are excited about that meeting. No, they do not think they have conquered all evil. No, they do not think that they are perfect. No, they do not think they have deceived God about their flaws and mistakes. They place their confidence in God’s forgiveness and Jesus’ blood. They are excited because they understand their meeting with God will be an occasion of incredible peace.

If you want to be certain that your meeting with God is an occasion of incredible peace, not a time of terror, what would you do? Would you do nothing because you are convinced that God is easily irritated? Or, would you take responsible risks for God because you are convinced that God likes for His people to show initiative?

Focus your attention on Matthew 25:14-30. Late in his life, Jesus taught the parable we call the parable of the talents.
For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  1. First, we must do something Jesus did not need to do–we need to understand the facts behind the parable; Jesus’ audience immediately understood the facts behind the parable.
    1. The basic fact we must understand is this: the parable is based on the servants’ use of the money they were given.
      1. The master in the parable is a wealthy man.
        1. He gave three servants a total of eight talents to use in his best interest while he was away on a long trip.
        2. One talent weighed about 75 pounds.
          1. In the parable Jesus did not say if he was talking about a gold talent or a silver talent.
          2. Regardless if he talked silver or of gold talents, the amount of money the master entrusted to his servants was enormous.
            1. If they were gold talents, just one talent was worth over $350,000 if you figure 75 pounds of gold at $293.30 an ounce (the value of an ounce of gold on Wednesday of this week).
            2. If they were silver talents, just one talent was worth over $5,300 if you figure 75 pounds at $4.48 an ounce (the value of an ounce of silver on Wednesday of this week).
        3. Jesus told the parable 2000 years ago, and the point was that the master entrusted a lot of money to each of the three servants.
      2. The master did not have that money because he allowed his money “to sit around and do nothing.”
        1. He put his money to work.
        2. But he was going to be gone for an indefinite period of time.
          1. He would not be there to manage his money.
          2. He would have to trust someone else to manage it for him.
        3. So he called three of his servants he regarded as trustworthy and capable, and he gave them the responsibility of managing his money while he was away.
      3. All he expected of each servant was what that servant had the ability to do.
        1. If gold talents were given to the three servants:
          1. He gave one servant over $1,750,000 to manage in his absence.
          2. He gave one servant over $700,000 to manage in his absence.
          3. He gave one servant over $350,000 to manage in his absence.
        2. The amount the master entrusted to a servant depended on that servant’s personal capability.
        3. His expectations did not exceed the servants’ abilities–he did not expect them to do something they were not capable of doing.
      4. After giving the money to each servant, the master began his long trip.
        1. Trips were dangerous.
          1. It was unwise to travel with a lot of money.
          2. Traveling with all that money also would be irresponsible and unproductive.
        2. Trips were uncertain.
          1. There was no means of staying in contact with anyone at home.
          2. You could not know how things were going in your absence or make suggestions when problems arose.
        3. There was no way to know how long you would be gone or set a date for your return.
          1. When you traveled, very little was under your control.
          2. Each day you simply did what was possible.

    2. What happened:
      1. The servant who was entrusted with over $1,750,000 went right to work.
        1. He acted responsibly, but he also took risk.
        2. In his master’s absence, he doubled the amount to over $3,500,000.
        3. The entire effort profited his master.
          1. The entire $3,500,000 belonged to his master, not to him.
          2. He was just being a responsible servant, doing his job.
      2. The servant who was entrusted with over $700,000 also went right to work.
        1. He, too, acted responsibly but took risks.
        2. He, too, doubled the amount entrusted to him to over $1,400,000.
          1. That entire amount belonged to his master.
          2. He was merely being a responsible servant, doing his job.
      3. However, the responsibility terrified the third servant!
        1. He had only one desire–do the safest thing possible! Take no risk!
        2. So he did the safest thing to be done then–he buried the money.
        3. The master would not make anything, but neither would the master lose anything.
        4. When the master returned, he received his actual money back.
        5. In this servant’s estimation, the safest thing to do was to do nothing.
          1. Forget capability.
          2. Forget risk.
          3. The master’s best interest is served by losing nothing.
          4. That is all the master is concerned about–losing nothing.
          5. Play it safe–don’t do anything!

  2. In time the master returned and called the three servants in to give a report.
    1. Two of the servants had wonderful reports.
      1. The servant entrusted with $1,750,000 reported he doubled the amount entrusted to him.
      2. The servant entrusted with $700,000 reported he also doubled the amount entrusted to him.
      3. Both received the same compliment from the master.
        1. “You did well; you were a good servant; you were dependable.”
        2. “I will place you in charge of many things.”
        3. “I invite you to share life’s joy with me.”

    2. The report of the servant who received over $350,000 was horrible.
      1. “I knew what kind of person you are.”
        1. “You are a hard man, just plain unreasonable.”
        2. “I knew there was no way that I could meet your expectations because you always expect something for nothing.”
      2. “When you entrusted this money to me, I was scared!”
        1. “So I did the safe thing.”
        2. “I hid your money in a safe place.”
        3. “Now I give you the same money you gave to me–you lost nothing.”
      3. The master’s reaction is astounding.
        1. “If you knew me so well, why did you not at least place my money where it would draw some interest.”
        2. “You wicked, lazy slave.”
          1. Wicked, lazy slave?
          2. He did nothing! He did not lose anything!
          3. How could the slave be wicked and lazy if the master got back exactly what he gave the slave?
      4. “Take this wicked, lazy slave’s $350,000 away from him and give it to the slave who manages 3 ? million dollars for me.”
        1. He will work! He will be responsible! He uses the money!
        2. “I will give more opportunity to the one who uses opportunity.”
        3. “I will take opportunity away from the one who refuses to use it.”
      5. “Severely punish the wicked, lazy slave who had both ability and opportunity, but no initiative.”
      6. Why was this slave such a miserable failure? He did not know his master!

  3. I have worked for and in the church all my life.
    1. This year, I have preached full time for 40 years.
      1. It has been and is my joy to know, work with, and be encouraged by many Christian men and women who are serious in their commitment to godliness.
      2. But in all these years, I have noticed something over and over.
        1. Too often the controlling attitude in a congregation is this: “let’s play it safe.”
        2. What does that mean? What does it mean when we say, “Let’s play it safe.”
        3. Too often it means, “God would rather we be afraid of Him and do nothing than trust Him and take initiative.”
        4. Where did we form the conclusion that the safest way to please God is to do nothing? Why did we decide the safest way to make God happy is to take no risk?

    2. When God built his church on the foundation of Jesus Christ, God did not build a building.
      1. What God built was not centered in a building.
      2. What God built was not dependent on a building.

    3. What God built was a people, a people who sought God’s best interest, a people who responsibly took risk to God’s glory.
      1. Know God!
      2. Know the enormous investment God made in the church He built–He invested the life, death, and blood of His Son.
      3. Take what God entrusted to us and use it to His glory.

We come to this building to honor God with worship, to study His will, and to encourage each other. We leave this building to function as God’s people, to assume the responsibilities of godliness, to make a spiritual difference wherever we are.

Go honor God! Go be spiritually responsible! Go be a positive influence who dares to take the risk of being Jesus’ light in a dark world! We have so much ability! Use it to bless and benefit God’s investment!

If There Were No Clouds

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

When do we say, “What a dreary day!” Oh, we said that in the past! And, we will say that again! When? When will we say that? On a day when the temperature is 78 degrees; the sun is shining; the sky is a clear, deep blue; spring’s new leaves cast their first shadow; birds sing; and flowers accent the bright green with color?

Will we say that in the fall when trees put on fall colors; the first crisp 50 degree morning arrives; the sun shines with such brightness one can hardly see; the sky is a clear, deep blue; and the bright, fall sunlight highlights every delicate hue of nature’s kaleidoscope?

In our late summer’s heat when 100 degree days make the air still and heavy, turn green to brown, and transform the ground to concrete or dust, we talk about “oppressiveness.” A blue sky with its sunshine merely adds to the “oppressiveness.”

In our “dead of winter” cold when 30 mile-an-hour northern winds blow air chilled to temperatures under 20 degrees, we talk about the “penetrating” cold. A blue sky with its sunshine is no more than an empty appearance playing tricks on expectations.

So, when do we say, “What a dreary day!” Dreary days come any time of the year when cloudy days follow cloudy days. We associate dreariness with cloudiness. How strange! Clouds raise our water levels in the winter. Clouds make possible the spring’s life. Clouds break summer’s drought. Clouds produce fall’s rest. Clouds bring life. Why? Clouds bring water.

A few days ago I talked by phone to a person whose body is able to do little. With joy and purpose, he shared his dreams and projects. His actual world is quite small. Yet, he discovers ways to share Jesus Christ to other countries. He expressed gratitude for his strength and health as he told of others living with horrible limitations. I wondered, “Were I in his condition, would I see only dreariness? Or would I see clouds offering me life? Would I stop living or live fully?”

May all of us see the clouds. May all of us see the life they bring. May those clouds bring us the water of life. May we drink and live.

John 4:10 “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

The Trust God Values

Posted by on March 10, 2002 under Sermons

For hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, “faith” has been (a) one word of a group of words commonly confined to religious vocabularies and (b) a religious concept that should be used only in religious contexts. For example, if you or I use the word “faith” we automatically assume we are in a religious discussion. Today, how often do you use the word “faith” in a discussion that is not religious?

There was a time within my lifetime in this society when the word “faith” served a dual role. When the word “faith” occurred in a conversion, it might be a religious discussion, but it might not be a religious discussion. “That is one person you can place your faith in!” “This is a ‘good faith’ agreement.” “He (she) is faithful to do what he (she) says.”

At that time the word “faith” was both an important religious word and practical word. Yet, even then, commonly the religious concept and the practical concept were disconnected. You were either talking religion or you were talking business. In business, you were talking about trust. In religion you were talking about salvation.

Yet the basic concept in business or religion was the same–genuine trust or absolute confidence. The primary difference did not have to do with the concept. The primary difference concerned those bound by trust. If business was discussed, the bond of trust was between a human and a human. If religion was discussed, the bond of trust was between a human and God.

  1. First, I want to clearly narrow the focus of my thoughts tonight.
    1. I am specifically talking about a person who belongs to God, who has a relationship with God, who is accepted by God because he or she is in Christ.
    2. Both two scriptures I use tonight are based on situations in which the person or persons were God’s people.
      1. The first scripture is about Abraham long after Abraham began following God’s instructions.
      2. The second scripture is an illustration Paul used to expand the understanding of the Christians in Rome.

  2. I want to begin with an incident in Abraham’s life found in Genesis 15.
    1. Before Genesis 15, Abraham obeyed God in ways that impress us.
      1. He left Ur, a center of civilization, to travel to Haran with his extended family.
      2. He left a world of idolatry to follow the God he recently met.
      3. Then, when his father died, he left Haran and his extended family to be a nomad in a dangerous area.
      4. When his livestock and Lot’s livestock together were too large for the water and food supply, he gave Lot first choice of areas to go, and he (Abraham) went the other direction.
      5. When Lot, his family, and his possessions were captured in a war, Abraham rescued Lot.
      6. All of this happened because Abraham trusted God.
      7. As I focus you on a statement that declared God’s attitude toward Abraham, keep your thinking focused on two facts.
        1. Fact one: Abraham followed God–he was God’s man.
        2. Fact two: as God’s follower, Abraham was very obedient.

    2. God appeared to Abraham after Abraham rescued Lot (Genesis 15:1-6)
      1. I will use my own words to state the conversation–read the text and make certain what I share accurately reflects scripture.
      2. God said, “Abraham, do not be afraid. I will protect you and reward you.”
      3. Abraham said, “How can that happen? How can you reward me?”
        1. “The rewards you promised me depend on me having a son.”
        2. “A slave will have to be my heir because I have no son.”
      4. God said, “That will not happen. A slave will not be your heir.”
        1. “You will have a son, a son truly from you.”
        2. “From that son will come so many descendants that it will be as impossible to count them as it is for you to count the stars.”
      5. Then this statement occurs in verse 6:
        Genesis 15:6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
        1. God said it, and Abraham trusted what God said.
        2. God promised it, and Abraham trusted God’s promise.
        3. Why did Abraham trust? Because God said it.
        4. Was Sarah pregnant? No.
        5. Was the son to be born within the next year. No.
        6. Was Sarah young enough to have a reasonable hope of getting pregnant? No.
        7. Abraham trusted God’s statement simply because God said it.
      6. Notice something extremely important.
        1. God did not reckon Abraham to be a righteous man because of one or all of Abraham’s remarkable acts of obedience.
        2. God attributed righteousness to Abraham because the obedient Abraham trusted God.
        3. Did Abraham, the man who followed God, obey God? Yes.
        4. Was his obedience necessary? Yes.
        5. Did God attribute righteousness to him because of his acts of obedience? No.
        6. God accepted him as righteous because the obedient Abraham trusted God.

  3. Thousands of years later after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, Paul used this exact incident to explain a crucial understanding to Christians in Rome.
    1. Paul’s specific statement we will examine is Romans 4:1-8.
    2. Before we focus on that statement, we need to establish some context.
      1. In the first two and a half chapters of this letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul emphasized the fact that everyone needs what God did in Jesus Christ.
        1. God’s power revealed in what God accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only hope anyone has for salvation (1:16, 17).
        2. That good news is God’s power to save.
        3. That good news reveals how God uses faith to make people righteous.
      2. Why does everyone need to understand that God uses faith in His accomplishments in Jesus’ death and resurrection to make people righteous?
        1. Guilt–everyone has guilt they cannot escape.
        2. The only way to escape guilt is to trust what God did in the cross and resurrection.
        3. Only that trust allowed people who do not know God to escape their guilt.
        4. Only that trust allowed the people who knew God best (the Jews) to escape their guilt.
      3. What is so special about what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection? (Romans 3:21-31).
        1. God established a means of making people righteous that was based on trusting God’s accomplishments in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        2. Everybody needs this means of being righteous because everybody is a sinner.
        3. God gave us all a gift, the gift called grace, by justifying us in the redemption in Christ.
        4. God paid our debt; He paid for our sins; He did it with Jesus.
        5. But the only way we can benefit from the things God accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection is to trust what He did.

    3. Jewish Christians in Rome had a real problem with Paul’s declaration.
      1. First, there was no way they were condemned by guilt just as were those people who did not know God.
      2. Second, two things made them different.
        1. They had the right ancestors.
        2. Long ago they received God’s law.
      3. Third, God did not work like Paul said He worked.
        1. Paul misunderstood God.
        2. God would never base salvation on trust.

    4. Now pay close attention to what Paul said in Romans 4:1-8.
      1. Paul said, “I am not telling you that God has a new way of working with people to make them righteous.”
        1. “I am telling you God is doing what He always did.”
        2. “God always made people righteous on the basis of their trust in Him.”
      2. Paul asked these Christians to think and to remember.
        1. First, if Abraham was righteous because of his obedient acts, God owed Abraham.
          1. Abraham had bragging rights because of what he did.
          2. Abraham had himself to thank for his righteousness.
        2. Second, Paul reminded them that God credited Abraham with righteousness because Abraham trusted God.
      3. Paul emphasized trust (faith) is the way God has always made people righteous.
        1. That is the way God made Abraham righteous.
        2. Hundreds of years after Abraham died, King David verified that is the way God works when David wrote:
          1. Blessed is the person whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
          2. Blessed is the person whose sins have been covered (by God),
          3. Blessed is the person whose sin God will not take into account.
        3. When a person places his or her trust in what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God forgives that person’s sins instead of holding him or her accountable for those sins.
        4. That is the way God functions in making people righteous.
        5. That is the way God always functioned in making people righteous.

  4. It is essential for us Christians to focus on Paul’s point.
    1. We want to take the focus off of us, and put the focus on the person who has not yet become Christian.
      1. Paul spoke to people who were Christians.
      2. Basically, Paul asked Christians, “What do you trust? Where do you place your confidence?”
      3. The powerful temptation for Christians is to place salvation trust in something besides God’s accomplishments in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        1. Jewish Christians were tempted to trust their ancestry.
        2. Jewish Christians were tempted to trust their obedience, their works.
        3. Jewish Christians were tempted to trust their past.
      4. We have the same problem.
        1. Do you know who my family is? What my roots are?
        2. Do you know what my family and I have done for the church?
        3. Do you know how many generations my family has been in the church?

    2. There is a powerful temptation to reduce salvation to a system that measures faithfulness by human deeds instead of the depth of a Christian’s trust in God.
      1. We make a check list of what a Christian is supposed to do, and our confidence is placed in our check marks.
      2. We declare ourselves righteous if we have the right number of check marks.
      3. God considers us to be righteous when we trust Him.

Will a person who trusts God obey God? Absolutely! Abraham did. King David did. But as remarkable as the obedience of Abraham and David was, their confidence was in God, not in their obedience.

Place your confidence in God, not in yourself. My salvation exists because of what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection, not in anything that I have done. The trust God values is centered in trusting what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection, not in trusting my obedience.

“Lord, I Promise You …”

Posted by on under Sermons

Help me as together we focus our minds. I want all to establish a mutual focus by reading together Genesis 15:7-17.

And He [God] said to him [Abraham], “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” He said, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. And on that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram …

  1. The context of the situation:
    1. The five kings in the area in which Lot lived rebelled against four kings who controlled the area (Genesis 14).
      1. The five kings lost the war.
      2. Not only was their territory plundered, but Lot, his family, and everything he owned was captured and taken.
      3. Someone who knew Abraham reported what happened.
      4. Abraham took his own private fighting force, surprised and defeated the forces of the four kings, and freed everything and everyone including Lot.

    2. After that occurred, God came to Abraham in a vision to encourage him.
      1. “Do not be afraid, Abraham.”
      2. “I will protect you and reward you.”

    3. Abraham said, “How are you going to do that, Lord?”
      1. “You promised me a son long ago, and I still do not have that son.”
      2. “If I don’t have a son, a slave is going to become my heir.”
      3. In the place Abraham lived, a childless man’s heir was a slave he chose.

    4. God said, “That will not happen.”
      1. “You will have a son to be your heir.”
      2. Verse 5 said God had Abraham go outside and look up at the stars.
        1. He asked Abraham to try to count them.
        2. Then God promised Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars.
      3. Abraham believed God, and God made Abraham’s trust to be righteousness.
        1. God said, “I brought your out of your homeland to this place.
        2. “I give this land to you.
        3. “One day your descendants will live here.”

  2. Abraham asked, “Lord, how do I know you are giving me this land?”
    1. To make the agreement in a way that Abraham clearly understood, God had Abraham to prepare for a blood agreement or covenant.
      1. God gave these instructions to Abraham: “Bring me a three year old heifer, a three year old female goat, a three year old male sheep, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
      2. God wanted Abraham to understand the certainty of His promise, so God had Abraham prepare for a blood agreement.
        1. The animals were cut in half, placed so the blood drained downward to form a path way.
        2. When such agreements were made, the two making the promise, agreement, or covenant walked in the blood between the halves of the sacrifices.
        3. Apparently this act said, “If I do not keep my promise, may I be killed just like these animal were.”
      3. This was a terrifying occasion for Abraham.
        1. How can a human swap promises with God?
        2. God will never fail to keep any promise He makes.
        3. A human can never keep a promise as God does.

    link to graphic source
    Art used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright © 2000.
    Click here to visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site.

    [Song #31 “Be still and know that I am God.“]

    Read with me again. This time I want to read a New Testament scripture about a covenant that involves you and me. I now read to you Hebrews 10:26-29.
    For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

  3. God said to each of us who are in Christ Jesus, “I promise you that you will live in heaven with me. Your salvation is as certain as My promise.”
    1. “You cannot save yourself, but I can give you salvation–just like I gave Abraham Canaan, I give you salvation.”
      1. “This time I bring the blood sacrifice for our agreement, covenant.”
      2. “Just as it was a blood agreement when I gave Abraham Canaan, the agreement I make with you is a blood agreement.”
        1. “Abraham brought animals for the blood of our agreement.
        2. “I bring the blood for the agreement I make with you.
        3. “It is the blood of my Son.”

    2. The writer of Hebrews had some things to say to Christians because they entered a blood agreement with God.
      1. These Christians were very discouraged and were considering ignoring their blood agreement with God.
      2. “You would enter a blood agreement with God and deliberately ignore that agreement by continuing to sin?
      3. “If you deliberately keep living like a sinner, the only thing ahead of you is God’s fury.
      4. “You know what happened when an Israelite removed himself from God’s mercy.
      5. “How much worse punishment do you think you will receive if you walk on God’s sacrifice (the body of His Son) and walk through Jesus’ blood as if it were just mud?
      6. “What do you think will happen if you insult God’s spirit of grace?”

    [Song #176 “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris, 1985]

    Read with me a third scripture. This statement is written by the author of Hebrews to those same Christians. It is very relevant to our blood agreement with God. The scripture is Hebrews 10:19-25.
    Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

  4. There are times when I witness a baptism or assist in a baptism that I am very afraid.
    1. God is not the reason for my fear.
      1. I have every confidence in God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s grace.
      2. No sin is too difficult for God to forgive.
      3. No life is too messed up for God to transform.
      4. No person is too unholy for God to sanctify.
      5. No wicked life is too black for God to purify.
      6. God can do and will do what He promised to do.

    2. The person entering a blood agreement with God is the reason for my fear.
      1. When a person gives me reason to think that he or she does not know what he or she is doing, I am afraid.
      2. When a person places his or her confidence in their act instead of God’s act, I am afraid.
      3. When a person thinks or says, “God is promising everything and I promise nothing,” I am afraid.
      4. When I see men or women who were immersed into Christ, who made a blood agreement with God, live and act like that agreement does not exist, I am afraid.

My terror does not come from being scared of God. God’s mercy and grace are dependable. My terror comes from being scared of us. We are not dependable.

Do you, as a Christian, ever ask yourself, “What am I doing? What am I doing here? What am I doing with these people who care nothing at all for God?”

When Abraham offered the animal sacrifices of Genesis 15, he walked in animal blood. When you were immersed into Christ, God washed you with the blood of His son. In your everyday life, how often do you ignore your blood agreement with God? Do you exist in that agreement as you thank God for His mercy and promises?