Our Attempt For a Faithless Salvation

Posted by on April 28, 2002 under Sermons

We feel an enormous burden for the salvation of people. To us, it is unthinkable that other people should be eternally lost. It is especially unthinkable that any person we know and love–our child, our spouse, our friend, our neighbor–should be lost.

Because of this enormous burden we feel, we often do two things that are spiritually disastrous to us.

What two things? First, we assume upon ourselves Jesus’ role in salvation matters. We decide who will be and who will not be saved. Second, we oversimplify response to God through Jesus Christ. We assume people believe in Jesus Christ. We assume people repent. Saving others just becomes a matter of convincing them to be baptized. If we can just convince a person to be immersed for the remission of sins, salvation (in our thinking) is a fact.

The enormous burden we feel for the salvation of other people did not originate with us. Jesus felt that burden. As he taught in Jerusalem the last week of his earthly life, he made this statement:

Matthew 23:37-39 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “

Jesus is the Christ. He is Lord. The form of grief the Savior felt was his, not ours. What was to occur to Jerusalem was unnecessary because the people did not know who he was and trust him. Their primary failure was their failure to believe in him.

  1. During Jesus’ ministry, the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 13) records an occasion when Jesus taught some simple facts about God’s kingdom by using a series of parables.
    1. The series of parables Jesus used were:
      1. The sower
      2. The tares among the wheat
      3. The mustard seed
      4. The leaven
      5. The hidden treasure
      6. The expensive pearl
      7. The dragnet
    2. The points about God’s kingdom that Jesus made were these:
      1. The response a person makes to Jesus depends on the person’s heart.
      2. Inside the kingdom will be people who belong to Satan and people who belong to God. This is by Satan’s planning and efforts.
        1. God does not want anyone belonging to Him destroyed through uprooting those who do not belong to him.
        2. Therefore, there will come a time chosen by God when God’s angels separate those who belong to God from those who belong to Satan.
        3. Those who belong to Satan inside the kingdom cause godly people to stumble while they refuse to place themselves under God’s rule.
      3. God’s kingdom will have a tiny beginning, but will grow into an incredible tree.
      4. God’s kingdom grows through influence–one life will touch another life.
      5. Some accidentally discover God’s kingdom just like a person who discovers a hidden treasure.
      6. Some discover God’s kingdom because they search for it, just like the person searching for an expensive pearl.
      7. By God’s design, God’s kingdom will gather (attract) all kinds of people.
        1. Some are devoted to God, and some oppose God.
        2. The angels will separate the ungodly from the godly at the end of time.
    3. Note this series of parables about God’ kingdom begins with the parable of the sower and ends with the parable of the dragnet.
      1. It begins by emphasizing a person’s heart determines the response the person gives to Jesus.
      2. It ends by emphasizing all kinds of people will be in the kingdom when time ends, and the angels’ job is to separate the ungodly from the godly.

  2. Many of you are quite familiar with the parable of the sower: focus your attention on that parable for a moment.
    1. The parable (story) is very simple and was taken from an every day scene of life in their planting season.
      1. A person sows a field with wheat or barley seed.
        1. The person sowed the only way they planted that kind of seed–by broadcasting the seed.
        2. The difficulty of that method: the sower has little control over where the seed falls.
      2. As he sowed, seed landed on four kinds of soil.
        1. The hard pathway that everyone packed down by walking.
        2. The rocky ground that had a little soil and too many rocks.
        3. The thorny ground–nothing wrong with the soil, but there was too much competition from the thorn plants.
        4. The good soil that produced a harvest.
      3. The soils are people’s hearts.
        1. Some people are hard-hearted when it comes to Jesus.
        2. Some people are much too shallow to belong to Jesus.
        3. Some people have too many things in their lives that complete with Jesus, and the competition chokes Jesus out of their lives.
        4. Some people want to belong to Jesus, want their existence to serve his purposes, and bear spiritual fruit by producing the fruit of the Spirit.
    2. I want to make two simple points from this parable.
      1. Point one: there will never be a time when every person you know is good ground, or is a person who wants to belong to Jesus.
        1. There will always be hard-hearted people.
        2. There will always be shallow people.
        3. There will always be people whose lives are too crowded with other things for Jesus to fit in.
        4. Jesus did not give us the responsibility to determine who these people are.
        5. Jesus give us the responsibility to share Jesus and God’s rule in the hearts of people with everyone.
        6. But I just plant, and you just plant.
        7. I do not determine the nature and quality of a person’s heart.
        8. If people rejected Jesus himself, by what arrogance do I decide that no one will reject me when I introduce that person to Jesus and God’s rule in his or her life?
      2. Point two: if all I accomplish is immersing a bad heart that intends to remain a bad heart, nothing has been accomplished.
        1. If I immerse a hard-hearted person who does not believe, that does not produce salvation.
        2. If I immerse a shallow-hearted person who, instead of believing, spiritually wilts and die, that does not produce salvation.
        3. If I immerse a person whose life is so crowded the he or she has no place for Jesus in his or her life, that does not produce salvation.
      3. Our primary challenge is to encourage real faith, real trust in God’s work in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        1. Baptism for the remission of sins means nothing without that faith.
        2. Faith in God’s work in Jesus can turn hard hearts into good hearts, shallow hearts into good hearts, thorny hearts into good hearts.
        3. BUT–the person must soften the hard heart, or dig out the rocks, or pull up the thorns.
      4. For decades we have been focused on baptism with little attention to encouraging faith.
      5. A result: far too many people who have been immersed for the forgiveness of sins who have little or no faith in Jesus Christ.
        1. We made church membership more important than trusting God.
        2. In the New Testament, people who trusted what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection were baptized.

  3. The parable of the dragnet is not nearly as familiar to us as the parable of the sower.
    1. It, too, was a simple parable (story) taken from their everyday existence.
      1. Food was often scarce and starvation was a real possibility.
      2. One source of food was fish.
      3. One means of catching fish was the use of a drag net.
      4. The problem with a dragnet was that it caught everything–fish that were eatable and fish the Jew was forbidden to eat.
      5. The procedure was fairly simple:
        1. Use a dragnet and catch everything you could.
        2. When you pulled the net to the bank, separate everything in the net.
        3. Place what was eatable in containers.
        4. Throw away what was not eatable.
    2. Jesus said God’s kingdom would catch all kinds of people, some truly devoted to God’s purposes, and some who opposed God’s purposes.
      1. But Jesus did not place us in charge of determining what kind of person each person was.
      2. Nor did Jesus place us in charge of the separation.
      3. At the right time, God will be in charge of the separation, and He will send His angels to take care of that task.

  4. Allow me to share some simple conclusions with you.
    1. Saving people is basically about challenging people to change their hearts by placing their trust in what God did for them in Jesus Christ.
      1. Using the parable of the sower:
        1. My primary responsibility is plow the hard ground, or dig out the rocks, or pull out the thorns in my own heart.
        2. My secondary responsibility is to encourage others as they work on softening their hearts, digging out their rocks, and pulling out their thorns.
        3. The greatest encouragement I can give them as I encourage them toward faith in God’s work in Jesus is to let them see in the genuineness of my faith the desirability of being good hearted people who belong to Jesus.
      2. Will that convince everyone? No! Everyone does not wish to belong to Jesus.
        1. If we want to be God’s kingdom, we must be committed to living in faith and calling others to faith.
        2. We must understand that immersing people for the forgiveness of sins when they do not believe is meaningless.
    2. Purifying God’s kingdom by placing ourselves in charge of separating people in “the dragnet” is God’s business, not ours.
      1. It is God’s business because we know what is in a person’s heart only if that person chooses to reveal it to us.
      2. Too all of us, that should be wonderful news.
        1. God knows which direction my heart is moving even when people cannot.
        2. Plowing hard ground and making it soft is hard work and takes time; digging rocks out is hard work and takes time; pulling thorns is hard work and takes time.
        3. God’s knows if I am involved in that process when people do not!
        4. Because God knows, God is qualified to use the angels to separate.

My challenge is simple: do not entrust your salvation to the fact of baptism or church membership. Everyday of your life, work on your heart. Have the faith that lets God rule you. Let your immersion stand on that faith. Let your faith rule your heart. Never forget that God knows what is happening in your heart.

“Now That Is What I Had in Mind!”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The creative process attempts to make a mental picture or mental concept and make thoughts become reality. How often have you said, “I know what I have in mind, but it is hard for me to explain it”?

Many things begin as “an idea.” The “idea” exists in your mind and thoughts, but you do not know where your “idea” exists as a reality. Therefore you do one of three things. Either you “make” what you “have in mind”; or you find someone else who can “make” what you “have in mind”; or you “search” for what you “have in mind.”

All of us commonly use this process. You want a different house. You “have in mind” exactly what you want. You look for “what I have in mind.” You want a different car. You “have in mind” exactly what you want. You look for “what I have in mind.” That is the common process used when we need a unique tool for a job, a unique machine for a need, a special article of clothing, a computer system, etc.

When you “know what you want,” you explain to someone who does not “see” your mental picture, “I will know it when I see it.” When you see it, you declare, “Now that is what I had in mind!” What joy when we locate “what I had in mind!”

When God created the universe, He had something “in mind.” When He brought humanity into existence, He had something “in mind.” When temptation won in the garden of Eden, God did not abandon what He had “in mind.” When evil perverted His creation and people, God did not abandon what He had “in mind.” God pursued what He had “in mind” with great patience, mercy, and love. God used Jesus’ death and resurrection to create the renewed opportunity for what He had “in mind” for humanity.

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:20-24).

QUESTION: Does God look at your heart, your mind, your emotions, your commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, your dedication to godly living, and the way you treat other people and say, “Now that is what I had in mind!”

God’s View of Restoration

Posted by on April 24, 2002 under Sermons

It is much too easy to begin a spiritual investigation by making basic assumptions. For example, it is easy to “assume” what restoration is. It is easy to “assume” that our dedication to restoration is a biblical thing to do.

Let’s not “assume.” Let’s ask the questions. From the Bible’s point of view, what is restoration? Is dedication to restoration a Bible thing to do?

  1. Restoration is one of the primary themes and concerns in the Bible.
    1. We are introduced to the basic concept of restoration in Bible’s first book, the book of Genesis.
      1. Our first introduction to the concept of restoration is in Genesis 20.
        1. Abraham was afraid that he might be killed by someone who wanted to marry his wife, Sarah.
        2. So Abraham told everyone that Sarah was his sister (she was his half sister).
        3. The king of that area, King Abimelech, took Sarah with the intention of making Sarah his wife.
        4. God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and told him that if he married Sarah he was a dead man because Sarah was Abraham’s wife.
        5. This was in instruction God gave King Abimelech:
          Genesis 20:7 “Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
      2. Our second introduction to the basic concept of restoration is again found in Genesis, chapter 40, in an incident in Joseph’s life.
        1. Joseph was in the prison the king placed his prisoners.
        2. The king of Egypt put his chief cup bearer and his chief baker in that prison.
        3. Both of these men had dreams they did not understand, and the chief cup bearer asked Joseph to tell him what the dream meant.
        4. Joseph did, and this is what the dream meant.
          Genesis 40:12,13 “This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer.”

    2. This is the basic concept of restoration: to cause to turn back, a returning, a making whole again, to be complete.
      1. This concept is used often in the early part of what we call the Old Testament in regard to people, livestock, and possessions.
      2. But in the collection of Psalms, this concept is applied to Israel’s need to return to God.
      3. The concept does not change; the application of the concept changes.
      4. Israel belonged to God.
        1. God created them.
        2. They existed as a people and as a nation because of God’s deliverance.
        3. God not only established them; God also gave them their land and their purpose for existing.
      5. Israel needed to return to God.
        1. They needed to go back to the God who made them.
        2. They were incomplete because they had left God.

  2. From the book of Psalms forward into the New Testament, the basic concept of restoration is returning to God.
    1. Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 both talk about Israel’s great wickedness and foolishness.
      1. Both Psalms end with exactly the same emphasis and plea:
        Psalm 14:7 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores His captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.
      2. Psalm 14:7 and 53:6 make identical pleas.
      3. It is God who will restore the fortunes of His people.

    2. Listen to some of the restoration emphasis in Psalms.
      1. In Psalm 60:1 God has broken Israel because of their wickedness.
        Psalm 60:1 O God, You have rejected us. You have broken us; You have been angry; O, restore us.
      2. Psalm 80 petitions God to rescue His people from the disaster they brought on themselves.
        Psalm 80:3 O God, restore us And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.
        1. This Psalm briefly tells the story of Israel.
        2. Israel was like a grape vine; God had taken them out of Egypt and planted them in Canaan.
        3. In Canaan God had protected them for a while, but God had removed their protection because of their wickedness.
        4. The Psalm makes a plea:
          Psalm 80:14 O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You; Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine.
          Psalm 80:19 O Lord God of hosts, restore us; Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.
      3. Psalm 85:1-4 asks God for mercy.
        Psalm 85:1-4 O Lord, You showed favor to Your land; You restored the captivity of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. You withdrew all Your fury; You turned away from Your burning anger. Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your indignation toward us to cease.
      4. If God restores them, how will they act toward God?
        1. Verse 8: We will listen to God and not return to our stupid way of living.
        2. Verse 9: We will reverence Him so that His glory will live in our land.
        3. Verse 10: We will combine mercy with truth, and righteousness and peace will be close companions.

  3. There is a lot of Old Testament emphasis on restoration; I chose for us just one example from Jeremiah.
    1. In Jeremiah 5, God instruction Jeremiah to tour the streets of Jerusalem and see if he could find just one person who cared about justice (the fair treatment of other people) and who was interested in truth (in context, doing what you promise to do).
      1. If Jeremiah could find just one person, God would pardon the entire city.
      2. That is how untrustworthy and ungodly the citizens of Jerusalem were at that time.
      3. Jeremiah walks among the poor citizens of the city.
        1. He finds no one.
        2. He said to himself, “Why should I expect to find that kind of person among poor people? They are foolish people who do not know the way of the Lord.”
      4. So Jeremiah went among the significant people of the city.
        1. He still did not find the person he was looking for.
        2. All of them also had broken away from God.
      5. God declared, “I have no reason to pardon those people!”

    2. In Jeremiah 6:16-21 God made this statement:
      Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ “And I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen.’ “Therefore hear, O nations, And know, O congregation, what is among them. “Hear, O earth: behold, I am bringing disaster on this people, he fruit of their plans, Because they have not listened to My words, And as for My law, they have rejected it also. “For what purpose does frankincense come to Me from Sheba And the sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable And your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.” Therefore, thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am laying stumbling blocks before this people. And they will stumble against them, Fathers and sons together; Neighbor and friend will perish.”
    3. In Jeremiah 7:1-11 God gave Jeremiah specific instructions about what he was to do and say:
      The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house and proclaim there this word and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’ ” Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’–that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the Lord.
      1. I would paraphrase God’s interaction with a wayward Israel in this way: God said;
        1. “You have forgotten what who you are supposed to be.”
        2. “You have forgotten who I am and what I am about.”
        3. “You think because you have My temple and offer correct worship everything is okay.”
        4. “It is not okay!”

  4. When we enter the New Testament, things are still not okay in Israel.
    1. Luke 19:11 states that those who listened to Jesus expected God’s kingdom to come immediately.
      1. Some of the Psalms called for restoration, for the people to return to God; it did not happen.
      2. Jeremiah (and other prophets) called for restoration, for the people to return to God; it did not happen.
      3. Jesus’ ministry comes and nears its end, and it still has not happened.
      4. Some expected it to happen immediately, before Jesus died, but it did not.

    2. When Jesus died and was resurrected, those who were closest to Jesus had no understanding of what all this meant.
      1. The disciples who had followed Jesus throughout his ministry asked Jesus a question just before Jesus ascended into heaven. This is their question:
        Acts 1:6 “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
      2. They still did not understand God’s purposes in restoration.

    3. After the church was established, after the good news of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection had been preached in Jerusalem, Peter made this statement at the temple.
      1. He had just healed a lame man.
      2. An astounded group of witnesses wanted to hear what Peter had to say.
        Acts 3:19-21 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.
      3. God’s restoration was in progress from the moment that Jesus was presented as Lord and Christ for the first time in Acts 2:36.
      4. God’s restoration will not be complete until Jesus returns and God’s judgment begins.

  5. From scripture I conclude three things about God’s restoration.
    1. Restoration focus on God’s priorities, not ours.
    2. Restoration begins when God’s people repent and return to godly living.
    3. Restoration cannot be produced by forms (that is never enough); it can be produced only when hearts are ruled by God.

  6. God has always wanted the same thing from people; His desire has never changed.
    1. He wanted it in creation.
    2. He wanted it in Israel.
    3. He wants it in us.
      1. What is that?
      2. He wants a people who belong to Him and to Him only by their own choice.

Titus 2:14 [Jesus Christ] gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Do you belong exclusively to God?

It’s a Different World

Posted by on April 21, 2002 under Sermons

Are you easy to teach? Most of us probably would say, “Sure!” Allow me to expand the question. Are you easy to teach spiritual realities? Most of us probably still would say, “Sure!” If you believe you are easily taught spiritual realities, what do you mean? Consider some observations: (1) we easily are taught realities that we already accept. If the teacher is not changing my basic understandings, if the teacher is not challenging what I accept to be fact, I am easy to teach. (We love for teachers to reinforce or expand what we already believe.) (2) if we are told spiritual realities that fundamentally conflict with what we long accepted, most of us are very difficult to teach. It is not a matter of how true the reality is. It is a matter that we have to change basic understanding. Most of us are not easily taught realities that change long accepted, deep convictions.

In this life, on this earth, one of the most difficult, challenging, complex tasks is teaching people realities they never considered.

  1. Allow me to illustrate that difficulty.
    1. In the early 1970s my family and I lived through a cholera epidemic in another country on another continent.
      1. The first fact: cholera is a deadly disease, but a easy-to-prevent disease.
        1. If people wash their hands well before eating,
        2. If people cook their food well,
        3. If people drink purified water,
        4. If people clean their cooking utensils well,
        5. They can prevent a cholera epidemic.
        6. All that is required is good sanitation–it is not a matter of vaccinations or medications.
      2. The second fact: people were sick and dying by the hundreds all around us.
      3. The third fact: the government immediately launched a poster campaign in an attempt to educate the public about the cause of cholera.
      4. The fourth fact: many people totally rejected these “new ideas” about what caused cholera.
        1. It was common knowledge that sickness was caused by spirits.
        2. The cholera epidemic was occurring because some spirits were upset.
        3. It was ridiculous to think the epidemic could be stopped by clean hands, pure water, and well cooked food.

    2. While we were there, there were several outbreaks of what they called Apollo disease.
      1. You and I call this disease “pink eye.”
      2. Why did they call it “Apollo disease”?
        1. An out break of pink eye occurred when the Americans walked on the moon.
        2. That was unnatural; people were not suppose to do that.
        3. This disease was a direct result of people walking on the moon.
        4. Therefore they named the disease the Apollo disease.

  2. One of our long held conclusions about the Church of Christ is that we are highly similar to the church of the first century.
    1. We understand that the church in the first century had some obvious differences with today’s Church of Christ.
    2. However, we do not spend much time thinking about those differences.
    3. We never deny those differences.
      1. In fact, we speak of the differences very “matter of faculty” in our Bible study.
      2. We would be appalled if a Christian rejected the miracles or the functions of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
      3. But, we are equally appalled when a Christian claims to be able to do miracles or function in the Holy Spirit as did the Christians of the first century.

  3. This evening, I want to focus your attention on just one consideration: how would you teach people in the first century world and first century church?
    1. Suppose you were committed to teaching people in the first century world and the first century context. How would you go about the process of teaching?
      1. We are so familiar and comfortable with life in American society that it is easy to think the world always has been basically like it is here right now.
        1. Most people always have been able to read and write.
        2. Most people always have had access to printed Bibles, concordances, Bible dictionaries, and other forms of Bible study aides.
        3. Most people always have had access to Bible study materials that they used in Bible study classes.

    2. The first century world was very different.
      1. People who became Christians came from radically different religious backgrounds.
        1. The Jews came from a highly structured religious background that incorporated a lot of religious ritual in every day life and in worship.
          1. They had the synagogue in which they heard the law discussed every Saturday.
          2. They had a temple, priests, and sacrifices.
          3. They made no separation between their religious life and their every day practices–life, government, and religion were intertwined in each other.
        2. The peoples who were not Jews worshipped gods that were in great contrast to the Jewish god.
          1. Their every day conduct was different from Jews.
          2. Their moral codes and ethical principles differed from Jews.
          3. They, too, had temples, priests, and sacrifices.
          4. But their rituals were very different.
          5. Their religions were very much involved in their economics and their government functions.
      2. I do not know what the literacy rate was, but many people could not read or write.
      3. There was no printing; the printing press had not been invented.
        1. Only wealthy people could own a scroll of just one section of what we call the Old Testament.
        2. What we call the New Testament was being written and existed as a collection of 27 writings after 300 A.D.

    3. So how would you teach?
      1. Consider some scriptures.
        1. 1 Corinthians 11:1,2 imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
        2. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
        3. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life (undisciplined life) and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
      2. They could not run to a duplicator machine and make everyone a copy of Paul’s letter.
        1. Many of the people learned by listening to the letter and listening to admonitions from readers.
        2. Some learned by listening to those who prophesied or those who interpreted a tongue speaker.
        3. The common way of learning was to understand “how this is to be done.”

    4. To us, the word “tradition” is a despicable, evil word.
      1. Obviously, Jesus and the Pharisees had some major differences as Jesus declared God’s priorities in God’s teachings and the Pharisees interpreted God’s teachings by the traditions of the elders (see Mark 7:1-23 as an example).
      2. Obviously, Paul also used the word in a very good sense–he commended Christians for keeping the traditions he taught them.
      3. Tradition is bad when:
        1. It is based on human priorities.
        2. It contradicts God’s emphasis.
      4. Tradition is good when:
        1. It is based on God’s priorities.
        2. It stresses and encourages Christians to devote themselves to God’s emphasis.

  4. In my study, I conclude there is an enormous contrast between our spiritual emphasis and their spiritual emphasis.
    1. Our spiritual emphasis is on the worship procedures and forms.
      1. To determine the faithfulness of a Christian or a congregation, we examine worship practices.
      2. To determine dedication to God’s word, we examine worship practices.
      3. To examine core faith issues, we examine worship practices.
      4. Faithfulness is not determined by what a person does in his or her every day life.
      5. Faithfulness is determine by church membership and worship attendance.

    2. Their spiritual emphasis was on the way a person lived his or her life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
      1. There is very little said in the New Testament about Christian worship practices.
      2. In fact, if a delegation from a first century congregation worshipped with us today, I sincerely doubt that they would recognize anything we did.
      3. The contrast between first century worship and our worship is enormous.
        1. They commonly worshipped in homes; we commonly worship in church buildings.
        2. The Holy Spirit was obviously present in many if not all of their worship assemblies.
        3. Miracles could occur as a part of their worship; they never occur as a part of ours.
        4. Christians commonly spoke in tongues in worship as a part of teaching and encouragement; that never occurs in our worship.
        5. Christian prophets could receive revelations in their worship assemblies; we do not think in terms of Christian prophets existing today.
        6. Anyone of us, including me, would feel very out of place and uncomfortable in a first century worship assembly.

    3. In my understanding, three key realities were constantly stressed in the first century community (congregation).
      1. The first: God’s rule in the Christian’s life through the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
      2. The second: the Christian’s changed way of living his or her every day life.
      3. The third: the Christian’s changed way of treating other people.

    4. Let’s allow Paul’s letter to the Colossians to illustrate all three.
      1. God’s rule through the Lordship of Jesus Christ:
        Colossians 1:13-20 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
      2. The Christian’s changed way of living:
        Colossians 3:1-11 if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
      3. The Christian’s changed way of treating other people:
        Colossians 3:12-17 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

We will not prove to God that we are Christians as were those people of the first century by what happens in our worship assemblies. What happens as we worship God is important, but it is not nearly enough. We are Christians as were those first Christians when (1) we let God rule our lives through the Lordship of Jesus Christ; (2) we let God change the way we live our lives; and (3) we learn from God how to treat other people.

Are you easy to teach?

In Salvation’s Recipe, There Is No Substitute for Faith

Posted by on under Sermons

Picture this scene, and think about your answer. A very nice looking man who has dated you for months proposes to you. The fact he asks you to marry him is of no surprise to you. For the past few weeks you have expected him to ask you to marry him. This is the way he proposes to you:

“I want you to marry me. I want you to be my wife. But I also want to be very honest with you. I do not trust you. I want you to clearly understand that I do not trust you. I doubt I will ever trust you. But I still want you to be my wife.”

All you ladies who would turn down a marriage proposal from a man who did not trust you, hold up your hand.

Men, you propose to a beautiful woman. You have been dating her for several months. She is absolutely gorgeous. You ask her to be your wife. This is her response:

“I will marry you. But I want to be very honest with you. I do not trust you. I want you to clearly understand that I do not trust you. I sincerely doubt I will ever trust you. However, I will marry you.”

All you men who would retract your proposal if she told you she did not trust you, hold up your hand.

Trust is essential to meaningful relationship. If there is no trust, there can be no relationship. In relationships, the trust factor is enormous.

  1. On the last Sunday in March, I asked you to consider this question: “Is Christianity a good influence?”
    1. In that lesson I called your attention to the fact the we have artificially separated the secular from the spiritual.
    2. To me the ultimate expression of this artificial separation is this: church things are spiritual and everyday life things are secular.
    3. The consequence of this artificial separation is a compartmentalized life.
      1. Why can Christians be very involved in the church and get drunk? or high? or act promiscuously? or have affair? or lie? or steal? or cheat? or hate?
      2. Why? Because in some Christians’ understanding, it is okay to do these things if two conditions exist:
        1. You are not involved in church things when you do them.
        2. You are in a secular context when you do them.
      3. To the Christian who does those things, there is no conflict if you maintain a clear distinction between the secular and the spiritual.
      4. To the skeptic who is not a Christian, such behaviors are ridiculous expressions of hypocrisy.

  2. This must be our basic understanding: God has a will, a purpose, an objective in this world.
    1. God’s purposes are bigger than me.
      1. God’s objectives are bigger than my desires or my ambitions.
      2. While God has a deep personal love for me and is merciful toward me, His love for me does not set aside His will or His purposes.
    2. Let me use Jesus to illustrate my point.
      1. Why did Jesus die? Why was he executed on a cross?
      2. We might give many correct reasons.
        1. “He was God’s sacrifice for sin.” That is right, but go deeper.
        2. “His blood atoned for the sins of people who accept Jesus Christ.” That is right, but go deeper.
        3. “Our sins were placed on his body so we could die to sin.” That is right, but go deeper.
        4. “Jesus the man yielded to God’s will.” That is right, but go deeper.
      3. “David, how much deeper can a person go?”
        1. Jesus the man was ruled by God for years before he came to the cross, and that truth allowed Jesus the man to accept the cross.
        2. For years God defined who Jesus was, shaped Jesus as a person, and determined the kind of person Jesus was each day of his life.
        3. Jesus did not live to do his own will, satisfy his own desires, or live as he pleased, then decide the last night of his life to die on the cross.
        4. All his life God’s will determined who he was and what he did.
        5. When Jesus died on the cross it was not the first time he did God’s will; he simply did what he always did; let God’s purposes decide what happened in his life.
      4. By Jesus’ choice, God ruled Jesus–every day in every matter.
    3. But most of the committed followers of God, including many religious leaders who declared God ruled them, could not see God ruling Jesus.
      1. In Matthew 11:7-19 Jesus paid tribute to John saying that no man ever born was greater than John.
        1. But the religious leaders did not declare John to be a great man of God.
        2. They said John fasted too much.
        3. Then Jesus came and the same religious leaders said that he ate too much, drank too much, and associated with the wrong kind of people.
      2. In Matthew 12:22-29 the religious leaders were reacting to the fact that Jesus healed a demon possessed man.
        1. This was their explanation of the healing: Jesus got his power to cast out demons from the prince of demons.
        2. They gave Satan credit for an act of God.
        3. Jesus said that was a ridiculous explanation because it had forces of Satan fighting against the forces of Satan.
      3. In John 11 Jesus resurrected Lazarus from death.
        1. This happened very close to Jerusalem.
        2. As a result, everybody was talking about Jesus’ miracle.
        3. Not only was the resurrection astounding, but there were many eye witnesses.
        4. Most of the religious leaders of Israel were deeply upset by the miracle and by all the talk.
        5. John 11:47-50 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”
        6. They considered Jesus to be such a dangerous influence that they felt justified in killing him–they certainly did not see God ruling his life.
    4. If people agree with us and our religious emphasis, they are spiritual people, but if they do not agree with us and our religious emphasis, they are secular people–that is the way it has always been.
      1. In my late teens one of the prominent members of the Church of Christ was a Texan named Billy Sol Estes.
        1. He was influential in his congregation and influential with the teenagers.
          1. In those days teenagers who were members of the Church of Christ were not under any circumstance to attend a senior prom.
          2. Mr. Estes was a multimillionaire who personally paid for special occasions for teenagers from the Church of Christ to have a senior celebration.
        2. Then in the early 1960s Mr. Estes was revealed to be an extraordinary con-man who made his money by deceitfully taking advantage of government programs.
          1. He was well connected in the highest levels of our federal government.
          2. By his own acknowledgment he had personal information about a number of illegal payoffs and nine murders.
        3. Question: how could a man be such a prominent, influential part of the Church of Christ and, at the same time, be involved in so many ungodly activities?
          1. Easily!
          2. All he had to do was artificially separate the spiritual and the secular.

  3. “On, but Mr. Estes is an unusual situation. That kind of separation of the secular and the spiritual is very unusual.”
    1. I am afraid that kind of artificial separation of the secular and the spiritual is not unusual at all.
      1. The magnitude of Mr. Estes actions were unusual.
      2. However, the separation he made continues to be very common among Christians.
    2. May I illustrate the artificial separation of the secular and the spiritual.
      1. It is noon Sunday and you are in the car headed home or out to eat.
        1. You are with your family or a friend, and you are talking about the worship.
          1. “I really liked this morning! They sang my kind of songs and David talked about something that is really relevant to my life right now.”
          2. “Finally they are focusing on what we need to focus on in worship. It is about time they got it right!”
        2. Then what happens illustrates the artificial separation of the secular and the spiritual.
          1. You turn the radio on and listen to music with some of the ungodliest words, attitudes, and emotions imaginable. But it is okay. You left church and you had a good worship experience.
          2. Or someone says something you do not like, and your anger explodes all over your wife, or your husband, or your kids, and the situation gets horrible and tense. But it is okay. You left church and you had a good worship experience.
          3. Or on your way home you promise yourself that you will get high this afternoon because tomorrow is Monday and you just need some time to veg out. But that is okay. You left church and you had a good worship experience.
          4. Or you made plans last night to join a friend this afternoon and indulge your desires by gratifying some ungodly emotions. But that is okay. You left church and you had a good worship experience.
      2. What is going on? You are artificially disconnecting the spiritual and the secular in your life.
        1. Every Christian has concerns about what happens in worship.
        2. Far fewer Christians are concerned about what happen in his or her daily life.
      3. Being a Christian involves who I am every day of my life.
        1. It involves wanting God to rule everything that happens in my life and my death, just like Jesus did.
        2. It involves how I treat other people, how I treat my family, how I relax, how I have fun, how I work, how I do anything.
        3. Being Christian is who I am all the time; worshipping with other Christians is just a part of it.

Worshipping without faith means nothing. You can keep all the rules and regulations you want to keep, but if you do it without faith it means nothings.

The person who has faith lets God rule his or her life 24 hours a day 7 days a week. There is no substitute for faith. If God rules your life, you must trust Him.

God adds to the church. And the church is God’s kingdom. Why? Because God, the king, rules the lives of the people He adds to the church.

Looking at Life as God Does

Posted by on April 14, 2002 under Sermons

“I want an Arkansas driver’s license. Tell me what I need to do to get one.” What answer would you give? “First, you must be 16 years of age.” “Okay.” “Second, you must be a resident of Arkansas.” “Okay.” “Third, if you do not have a driver’s license from another state, you must pass a written test. Then you must pass a driving test.” “Okay.” “But, if you have a license from another state, that is not necessary.” “Okay.” “Fourth, you must go to the department of motor vehicles, present your proper documents, complete the paper work, and pay the proper fee.” “Okay.” “Then you are issued an Arkansas driver’s license.”

Footnote: when you receive a driver’s license, your world changes. You have a form of freedom that you never experienced before. You have a level of responsibility that you never had before. You can help people as you never helped them before. You can hurt people as you have never hurt them before. Your whole world changes. Your whole life changes. Neither you, your life, nor your world will ever be the same again.

Some of you are saying to yourself that my last few statements are an enormous exaggeration. I could try to prove those statements are not an exaggeration by illustrating the freedoms, powers, and responsibilities of a driver’s license. Instead, allow me to make my point in a much simpler way. First, everyone present who has a driver’s license, hold up your hand. Thank you! Second, everyone of you who have a driver’s license think to yourself how radically your life would change if you did not have your license for just one month. Third, all of you who hope someday to have a driver’s license, what if you were informed today that you would never in your entire lifetime be granted a license?

  1. Suppose someone said to you, “I want salvation. What is necessary for me to have salvation?”
    1. “I have been reading the Bible lately.”
      1. “It talks about making forgiveness available to everyone.”
      2. “I want forgiveness. The Bible tells me when I receive forgiveness that I will also receive salvation.”
      3. “I want salvation. How do I get it?”

    2. What would you tell that person?
      1. “I know what I would tell that person.”
        1. “I would tell him that he has to believe.”
        2. “I would tell him that he has to repent.”
        3. “I would tell him that he has to confess.”
        4. “I would tell him that he has to be baptized.”
      2. “I would tell him when he does those things, he has salvation.”

    3. What do you mean?
      1. When you tell him that he “has to believe,” what do you mean?
        1. Believe what?
        2. Believe what you tell him?
        3. Believe in the church?
        4. Believe a fact or a set of facts?
        5. What is he supposed to believe?
      2. When you tell him that he “has to repent,” what do you mean?
        1. What is that? What is repentance?
        2. Being sorry? Sorry for what?
      3. When you tell him that he “has to confess,” what do you mean?
        1. Confess what?
        2. Confess the fact that he has done evil things?
        3. Confess the specific evil things he has done?
        4. Confess a fact or a set of facts?
        5. Or is confession just an acknowledgment that you accept some facts about Jesus?
          1. “God send him; he was executed on a cross; God raised him from the dead.”
          2. “I confess those things happened.”
          3. Is that what confession means?
      4. When you tell him to be baptized, what do you mean?
        1. Is baptism just something you do?
        2. Or is it just something God does?
        3. Does it mean anything?

    4. “Well, David, since you seem to be so ignorant about how a person receives salvation, let me explain it to you.”
      1. “When a person actually receives salvation, there is the preacher’s part and the person’s part.”
        1. “The preacher’s part is to talk to you a little bit about believing, which he assumes you do or you would not be there.”
        2. “The repenting part just happens–nobody really does anything.”
        3. “The confessing part is real simple–you just say, “Yes,” at the right time.”
        4. “But the preacher takes care of all that; that is his part; you just say what you are supposed to say at the right time.”
      2. “The baptism part is your part.”
        1. “And, really, you just have to cooperate with the preacher to do that.”
        2. “He says something about why this is happening, puts you under some water, then lifts you back up.”
      3. “When all that happens, you have salvation.”

  2. Permit me to draw two comparisons between a driver’s license and salvation: one comparison is positive, and one is negative.
    1. First, the positive comparison: when you receive a driver’s license, it is essential that you change the way you look at life, you look at people, you look at property, and you look at other drivers.
      1. If that change does not happen, you are a threat to yourself, to everyone in your vehicle, and to everyone you meet on the road.
      2. Is it required that you change the way you look at life before you get a driver’s license?
        1. No! That change is not even listed among the requirements.
        2. But that change is an important part of the “why” for taking the written test.
        3. That change is an important part of the “why” for the driving test.
        4. That change is just as essential as knowing the rules and mechanics of driving.
      3. In the essential nature of that change, there is a parallel between receiving a driver’s license and receiving salvation.
        1. Receiving salvation involves changing the way you look at life, you look at people, you look at things, you look at God, and you look at the meaning and purpose of life.
        2. Changing the way you look at existence is just as essential as what you do.
        3. The power of what we do as we seek salvation depends on the changed way we look at life and eternity.
        4. The changed way we look at life is an essential part of believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized.

    2. Second, the negative comparison: a person does not get salvation like a person gets a driver’s license.
      1. Human beings give driver’s licenses; God gives salvation.
      2. With a driver’s license, you do the right things in the right order, and you get the license.
        1. “It is mine!”
        2. I deserve it! I did the right things to get it! No one has the right to deny me of what is mine!”
      3. We have created the impression that we have the right to have salvation just like we have the right to have a driver’s license.
        1. But there is a fundamental difference between the two: salvation is God’s gift to the person.
        2. We have it only because God gives it to us, and not a single one of us deserve it.
      4. A critical part of receiving God’s gift is the complete change in the way we look at God, the way we look at Jesus, the way we look at self, and the way we look at life.

  3. In the New Testament, Christians had a huge problem understanding how essential it was to change the way you looked at your existence.
    1. The Christians in Rome did not understand the importance of changing the way a Christian looks at existence.
      1. Paul told those Christians that they misunderstood the purpose of baptism if they did not change the way they looked at existence.
      2. Romans 6:3-7 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.
      3. There was a time in their lives that they did not even know what evil was.
        1. Then they became aware of evil, and became aware that evil was in their lives and controlled their lives.
        2. They did not want evil to control them.
        3. They understood that God through Jesus Christ was the only one who could do anything about it.
        4. Evil does not control the person in Christ because that person yields control to God.
        5. That changed the way they looked at everything.

    2. The Christians at Corinth had an enormous problem understanding that Christians see life, themselves, other people, and God differently.
      1. Why did they have competing divisions inside the congregation, why did they have a man who maintained a sexual relationship with his step mother, why did they take each other to a pagan court, why did many of them visit prostitutes, why was worship gatherings an open competition among Christians that created confusion?
      2. Why? They looked at existence and the meaning and purpose of life just like they did before they became Christians.
      3. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

    3. I am confident that I can show you Paul bemoaning the same problem in many of his New Testament writings: Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Titus.

  4. That same problem is an enormous problem right now among Christians, in the church.
    1. We look at life, and the meaning of life, and the purpose of life, and the objectives of existence the same way everyone else does.
      1. In fact, the way people who are not Christians look at life is more likely to influence the way we look at life than we are likely to influence the way they look at life.
      2. We marry for the same reasons they do; we divorce for the same reasons they do; we look at children the same way they do; we treat people the same way they do; we indulge our desires the same way they do; we let the physical control us the same way they do; we are materialistic in the same ways they are; we see physical existence just like they do.

    2. We have so much to learn about the meaning of faith, repentance, and baptism.
      1. We have so much to learn about what it means to have faith and believe.
      2. We have so much to learn about what it means to repent and to repent.
      3. We have so much to learn about what it means to confess and to confess each day.
      4. We have so much to learn about what it means to be baptized and to commit.

Are you a Christian? How has the way you see self, life, and God changed since you became a Christian? Is your view of existence still changing as you spiritually grow? Do you want that change to occur in your life? If it does not, it is very questionable that you are a Christian. An fundamental evidence of conversion is this change in the way we see life.

The Blessing of Light

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Recently as we went to bed, we opened the bedroom window “a crack” to enjoy the cool, fresh air of early spring. The next morning before our alarm clock sounded, it was daylight. As morning light arrived, the birds held a choral convention in my yard. The sky was clear and blue. The sun filled the new day with its soft early light. It sounded and felt like spring! The sunlight intensified the meaning and feeling of life!

I am delighted “light” is the symbol of the highest good people know. God is light (1 John 1:5). He is pure light, light completely free from any influence of darkness. I am delighted there is no conflict between loving God and loving light. Years ago I was in a graduate Bible class studying Matthew 5:14. My teacher reminded everyone that light is manifested in many forms. Some of those forms are not helpful. People often use light in threatening or hurtful forms.

Concentrated light misused blinds temporarily or permanently. Bright headlights are wonderful on the road at night. When flashed in our eyes at night, they temporarily blind us. Sunshine blesses us in more ways than most of us can count. Staring directly into the sun can blind us permanently.

I walk several times a week. The winter months are the greatest challenge to my walking. No, it is not the cold or the wind that makes my winter walking a challenge. It is the darkness. Street lights are truly helpful, but nothing can compete with sunshine! Sunshine brings a unique, special feeling to my life. I never take it for granted!

God, the eternal light Who is free from all evil influence, sent Jesus to be light of the world (John 8:12). Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” The man or woman willing to be Jesus’ disciple becomes a light who sees how to live. The source of his or her light is Jesus. A Christian is a light only when he or she reflects Jesus.

Let your light reveal God’s goodness. Never reflect Jesus in an attempt to blind others. Always reflect him in ways that help others see. When they see, they will understand God’s works are good. They will understand God is the source of your good works. They will see God is responsible for the good that exists in you.

They, too, will learn to love the light because they understand the wondrous benefit of seeing. Reflect light so that people may find life in Jesus and good in God.

“Reading” People

Posted by on April 7, 2002 under Bulletin Articles

While driving recently, I noticed a street was closed. A large orange sign with black lettering stood at the barricade. It said, “Fresh Oil.” I knew exactly what it meant. I was grateful the street was closed–I did not wish to splatter liquid tar on my car. I had no confusion about “why” the street was closed. I had no complaint to make.

However, the sign would confuse those who knew the words but not the meaning. Some would not call the layer of gooey, black liquid recently placed on that road surface “oil.” “Oil” is the liquid one places in a car engine, or squirts on a moving part, or uses to be a protective coating, or uses as a fuel. (Any of you remember “coal oil”?) That gooey liquid often used in road construction is called “tar.” “Oil” is fairly easy to remove. Have you removed “tar” from a car’s surface recently?

What does “fresh” mean? “Fresh” as contrasted to what? To “stale”? “Oil” or “tar” has an expiration date? Have you ever read an orange sign with black letters at a road construction site that said, “Stale Tar”?

Okay! That is a ridiculous observation. Never mind that “Fresh Oil” and “Stale Tar” contain the same number of alphabetic letters. The point is simple: we know what a “Fresh Oil” sign means at a road construction site. We always have known the meaning of that sign. Some of us learned that meaning “the hard way” before signs were used.

The Christians at Corinth were the kind of church that could fill a preacher with joy one minute and break his heart the next. Paul said to them, “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:2). In another letter to the same Christians, he wrote, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2).

Ouch! What preacher would want people who were not Christians to “read” Christians at a place and conclude he taught them internal rivalry, adultery, law suits, prostitution, mutual contempt, marital stress, and worship wars? What preacher would want people to “read” the church and conclude, “That congregation of Christians threatens our society!”

Christians must realize we do not exist in a vacuum. We must understand others “read” us all the time. Too often we understand ourselves, but to those who “read” us, we look, sound, and act unattractively ridiculous. May our “signs” clearly declare Christ’s value.

May we help hasten the day when “Christian” commonly means blessing. As we are “read” by all people, may our “signs” be as clear to others as they are to us.