“Has God Abandoned Me?”

Posted by on May 26, 2002 under Sermons

It was a deeply depressing moment, and it occurred on the worst possible occasion. The conversation was extremely distressing. The men gathered to remember God’s great victory that brought their nation into existence. It was a sober time, but a joyful time. They should have talked about God’s incredible power to deliver His people, they talked about their leader going away.

It was not fair! They left everything to follow this man! Recently he was more popular than ever! A month ago they feared his death, but the last few days he was untouchable. Their concept of victory was in their grasp!

Now the man who was the center of their daily companionship said he was going away, and for the first time he said none of them could go with him. Daily life without Jesus’ physical companionship was unthinkable! All their expectations were centered in his physical presence, and now he said he was leaving.

John 14:1-4 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”

(The same conversation.)

John 14:16-21 “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”

Please remember these statements were Jesus’ statements to eleven of his apostles just hours before he was arrested.

  1. I call to your attention several statements Jesus made to eleven of his disciples/apostles in this reading.
    1. First statement: “You trust God; trust me in the same way you trust God.”
      1. The eleven men are confused and disturbed.
      2. Their confusion is so deep that they are troubled in their inner being.
      3. It was much deeper than intellectual troubling, more than “this does not make sense.”
      4. They struggled with troubled hearts; their emotions as well as their thinking were deeply distressed.
      5. Jesus said they had an option.
        1. They could be heart troubled by what he said.
        2. Or, they could trust him.
        3. The antidote to a troubled heart is faith in Jesus.
    2. Second statement: “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.”
      1. There are several contrasts made by Jesus’ use of dwelling places.
        1. In a poor country with primitive housing, a big issue confronting most people was, “Where are you going to live?”
        2. As they followed Jesus, they did not have a house–Jesus owned nothing.
        3. But Jesus said his Father’s house had lots of rooms, and his Father’s house would be their permanent residence.
      2. He would leave them now, but eventually they would live with him–permanently.
        1. Because he was leaving did not mean he would forget them.
        2. His promise: he would be back for them so they could live with him permanently.
    3. The third statement: “I will not leave you as orphans.”
      1. When Jesus said this, orphans endured one of life’s greatest disadvantages.
      2. Jesus was not abandoning them.
        1. God’s Spirit was coming in his place.
        2. He had been with them temporarily.
        3. The Spirit would be with them permanently.
      3. Also, in a sense he was coming to them.
        1. In the same way that the Father was in him, he would be in them.
        2. When they understood, they would show love for him by keeping his commandments.
        3. The Father would also love that obedient person.
        4. Jesus would disclose himself to that obedient person.

  2. At the moment Jesus made those statements, these eleven men were deeply troubled, and the situation would get much worse before they understood.
    1. The situation became much worse when Jesus was arrested.
    2. The situation became much worse when they ran into the night.
    3. The situation became much worse when Jesus was tried and convicted.
    4. The situation became much worse when Jesus was executed.
    5. The situation was as bad as it could get when Jesus’ dead body was buried and they hid in an upper room expecting to be killed next.

  3. And they did not understand.
    1. They did not understand when Jesus was arrested.
    2. They did not understand when Jesus was convicted.
    3. They did not understand when Jesus was killed.
    4. They did not understand when Jesus was resurrected.
    5. In fact, for the first 49 days after Jesus’ resurrection, they did not understand–nothing made sense to them.
    6. Only after the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 did they understand, and everything made sense.
      1. Jesus still had been arrested, tried, convicted, and killed–but they understood.
      2. Jesus had been resurrected, but now they understood.
      3. They knew where he was, why he was gone, and the certainty of his return.
      4. Now they understood forgiveness as never before.
      5. Now they had hope as never before.

  4. Too many times the American Christian of today feels abandoned, feels like God’s orphan.
    1. Many situations can cause us to feel abandoned.
      1. Someone dies that we loved and depended on every day, and we feel abandoned.
      2. Someone whose companionship has nourished us daily for years is horribly sick, and we feel abandoned.
      3. The lifestyle we enjoyed for many years–maybe for all our lives–becomes impossible, and we feel abandoned.
      4. The job we depended on to care for us as long as we lived disappears, and we feel abandoned.
    2. All too often we feel like God let us down.
      1. Too commonly we are convinced that we made a deal with God.
        1. We would worship Jesus Christ and call ourselves Christians and God would take care of us.
        2. That was the deal, and we expect God to keep His end of the bargain.
      2. So when life goes in completely unacceptable ways, it is God’s fault–He is not keeping His part of the deal.
        1. If someone we love dies, God failed us.
        2. If someone we depend on gets sick, God failed us.
        3. If our lifestyle changes in unacceptable ways, God failed us.
        4. If the job we depended on ceases to exist, God failed us.

  5. Today’s general conditions cause me enormous fears for me, for fellow Christians, for everyone in the Lord’s church.
    1. Commonly, American Christians do a horrible job of separating the American dream from Christian hope.
      1. Far too often we combine the American dream with Christian hope.
      2. We expect Christian hope to produce the American dream.
      3. So if in any way we fail to realize the American dream, God has failed to keep his promises.
      4. I am afraid because the American dream is the most important thing in our lives.
      5. I am afraid because too many Christians decide the purpose of Christian hope is to produce the American dream.
    2. Consider a couple of illustrations.
      1. Illustration one: today more children under five years of age will be hungry all day and go to bed hungry than children under five years of age will have their hunger satisfied with plenty of nourishing food.
        1. If their parents develop faith and became Christians today, the vast majority of those children would still be hungry tomorrow.
        2. Missionaries dare not create the impression that obedience to Jesus Christ produces the American dream.
      2. Illustration two: Joyce and I once lived where 50% of all children born alive died before they reached the age of five.
        1. One of the forces that killed young children were measles epidemics.
        2. When measles epidemics struck rural villages, the young children of Christians died, too.
    3. “Then God abandoned them!”
      1. No! No! No!
      2. That powerfully illustrates my fear: too many Christians decide if God does or does not abandon them by using materialistic standards.
      3. If that is your conclusion, you have a basic misunderstanding of Christian existence.
        1. Jesus’ cross was not about physical advantages!
        2. Christian suffering was not about physical advantages!
        3. Christian martyrdom was not about physical advantages!
      4. Christian existence is about forgiveness.
        1. It is about redemption.
        2. It is about the destruction of guilt.
        3. It is about a genuine hope that goes beyond death.
        4. It is about belonging to God in life and death.
        5. It is about the strength to live for Christ and die for God.

  6. Allow me to ask you some questions.
    1. Are you convinced that the best thing that could happen to America, the best thing that could happen to the world is for God’s will to be done?
    2. Are you willing for anything necessary to happen in your life, in your family, in our country, and in our world for God’s will to come into complete existence?
    3. If your suffering helped someone else find faith in Christ, would you suffer?
    4. If your loss helped someone else find hope in Christ, would you endure loss?
    5. If your sacrifice helped someone else turn life around and direct it toward God, would you endure sacrifice?
    6. If your endurance and perseverance helped someone else find God’s strength, would you accept hardship?
    7. If your death helped someone else find salvation in Christ, would you die?

God’s house has plenty of room. Jesus wants us to live there with him–permanently. We have an option. We can let the uncertainties of physical life distress and trouble us. Or we can trust Jesus to come get us and take us home with him.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

In Frustration Is Opportunity

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The essence of a Christian leader’s task is to confront evil’s devastation with God’s hope. Through Jesus Christ, God can redeem and deliver anyone from the evil’s devastation. Jesus Christ provides God’s hope to any person–including those who exist in the blackness of despair’s deepest pit. The deepest darkness makes Jesus’ light shine brightly. Through an amazing contrast, evil’s darkness highlights God’s love!

My problem: I forget that truth. I confess without hesitation that evil consumes me. Surely I could give a long list of ungodly things I have never done. I also could give a long list of ungodly things I do not do. I could give a lengthy list of “good” things I do. I could give a significant list of spiritual understandings that bless me with an increased spiritual maturity.

Yet, when my mind and emotions are contrasted with Jesus’ life and heart, those lists become meaningless. Jesus reminds me that evil invades every area of my existence.

Spiritual growth produces at least two amazing experiences. First, the more Christians grow toward God, the more aware they become of their evil. Second, the more mature Christians become in Christ, the more they realize their complete dependence on God’s grace. They continually are amazed at God’s vast forgiveness because they continually are amazed at the vastness of their own evil.

Incredibly, we expect others in Christ to have no evil. Evil in the godless amazes us. Evil in the uncommitted shocks us. But evil in Christians disillusions us. We readily admit that evil exists in us. We readily admit dependence on God’s forgiveness. Yet, we are convinced evil should not [must not!] exist in other Christians.

I forget that God’s greatest opportunities are produced by evil’s darkest moments: Israel’s slavery in Egypt; Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal; Daniel’s encounter with the lions; Jesus’ crucifixion; Paul’s sufferings; John’s exile.

God calls us to be His church because evil is FORGIVEN. When evil preys on your weaknesses, you do not need my contempt. You need my encouragement in Christ. When evil preys on my weaknesses, I do not need your contempt. I need your encouragement in Christ. We share forgiveness and hope because we experience forgiveness and hope.

One Tablespoon at a Time

Posted by on May 19, 2002 under Sermons

Suppose you wanted to kill a person. Suppose you wanted to kill that person by poisoning him or her. Would you use a fast acting poison or a slow acting poison? That choice probably would depend on your options. What options? It would depend on your opportunities to administer the poison.

Satan wants to kill you. Evil’s objective in your life is quite simple–your spiritual death. Under no circumstance will evil ever seek anything that is in your eternal best interest. Evil does not bless. Evil does not seek your highest good.

Satan has an enormous arsenal to attack all kinds of people. People who rely on God present Satan a special problem. He will attack them, but he cannot use the same weapons that he uses on people who have not relationship with God.

One of Satan’s favorite methods for spiritually killing people who have a relationship with God is by poisoning them. Evil is very patient. If it is necessary for evil to use a slow acting poison that takes a long time to produce spiritual death, that is okay. If evil can separate us from God a little bit at a time over a long period of time, that is fine. If this separation occurs so gradually that we do not realize what is happening, that is excellent. If we gradually develop a taste for evil to the extent that we do not distinguish evil from good, that is wonderful. If we reach the point that we defend evil because of our conviction that evil is godly, that is wonderful.

One of Satan’s favorite tactics among ethical people devoted to God’s principles is to poison our minds against God by blurring our distinction between godly influences and ungodly influences. Then when difficult moments come into our lives, difficulties will cause us to turn against God rather than to God.

The issue is not, “Will we have tough times in our lives?” Every single one of us will (and do!). The issue is, “How will we react to the tough times that occur in our lives?” Will our difficulties poison us against God? Or, will our difficulties cause us to cling to God?

  1. This evening I want to use Daniel to challenge our thinking.
    1. The first incident in Daniel’s life I ask you to consider is found in Daniel 1.
      1. When Jerusalem first fell to the Babylonians, the first group to enter Babylonian captivity included sons of the royal family and sons of upper class.
        1. While that certainly was not unusual occurrence in warfare at that time, it must have been a serious blow to those Israelites’ faith in Jehovah God.
          1. Jerusalem contained the temple of the living God.
          2. Jerusalem’s citizens were certain the city could not be taken because God would protect it.
          3. God had warned them that He had withdrawn His protection because of Israel’s ungodly behavior, but they did not believe it.
          4. So Daniel and his friends found themselves captives in Babylon.
          5. God had not prevented their capture and deportation!
        2. They could have reasoned, “Why should we honor God when He allowed this to happen to us?”
          1. But they did not.
          2. Instead they turned to God.
      2. The king wanted to prepare some Israelite captives from upper class families to serve in his court. (From the text, it is obvious that many were in such preparation).
        1. The young men selected must be very intelligent.
        2. They must be perfect specimens–without blemish.
        3. They had to look very healthy, very prosperous.
      3. Their presence in the king’s palace served several purposes.
        1. Such young men were visual reminders of the king’s military accomplishments–his servants were prisoners from some of the finest families. Daily he was reminded of his “greatness” and “accomplishments.”
        2. Their wisdom and intelligence were available to the king when he made difficult decisions.
        3. They looked healthy and robust–the king ruled over a prosperous people who were fortunate to have him as their king! Their physical appearance reinforced his royal ego!
    2. The preparation period for service in the king’s court involved a period of three years.
      1. It involved intensive educational preparation.
      2. It also involved a diet that would “fatten” them so the king would be surrounded by healthy, robust persons.
        1. Those in preparation ate and drank what the king ate and drank–the best!
        2. But therein was a problem for Israelite captives.
          1. A portion of the king’s food and drink was offered to the king’s gods.
          2. The diet included foods Israelites were forbidden to eat.
          3. Both situations were spiritually unacceptable for an Israelite who honored God.
      3. But they were captives; who were they to defy the king’s orders?
      4. Daniel asked the overseer to let him and his friends eat vegetables and drink water.
        1. The commander liked Daniel, but he was afraid to go against His instructions.
        2. Daniel proposed a test.
          1. Feed them vegetables and let them drink water for ten days.
          2. Then compare them to everyone else who was eating food from the king’s table.
        3. The test was conducted, and at the end of the ten days Daniel and his friends were fatter than those eating foods from the king’s table.
        4. So the commander continued allowing them to eat vegetables and drink water.
    3. Because in an extreme circumstance they turned to God, God blessed them with knowledge and intelligence.
      1. These Israelites who relied on God were ten times more useful to the king than anyone else in his court.
      2. Because they turned to God rather than away from Him, God made them very useful to the king.

  2. Years later Daniel served in a position of great prominence under King Darius (Daniel 6).
    1. King Darius’ empire was huge; he needed reliable assistance in governing it.
      1. He divided the empire and placed it under 120 administrators.
      2. He placed the 120 administrators under three commissioners.
      3. Daniel was one of the commissioners.
      4. All of these men were to oversee everything in the king’s best interest.
    2. Daniel was an extraordinary man who did only those things in the king’s interest.
      1. The king was so impressed with Daniel that he was close to placing the entire empire under Daniel’s oversight.
      2. The other prominent men (administrators and commissioners) were jealous of Daniel.
      3. They were aware of the king’s high regard for him, and they wanted to destroy the king’s respect for Daniel.
        1. They tried to find a incident when Daniel acted corruptly in his own interest and not the king’s, but they could not find such an instance.
        2. They concluded they could destroy Daniel only if they used the law of Daniel’s God to place him and the king in conflict.
        3. They went to the king declaring they all agreed the king should pass an irrevocable injunction against making any petition (prayer) to anyone but the king for 30 days–a lie, because Daniel knew nothing of the decision.
        4. In his arrogance, the king thoughtlessly agreed and made an irrevocable injunction punishable by death in lions’ den.
      4. Daniel, with knowledge that the injunction was a document in force, prayed to his God three times daily from a window facing in the direction of Jerusalem.
        1. Spies witnessed Daniel’s prayers.
        2. Some of these prominent men brought it to the king’s attention.
        3. The king was distressed by the report and spent the rest of the day trying to deliver Daniel from the injunction, but he could not.
      5. In the evening the king had Daniel arrested and placed in the lions’ den as the order decreed.
        1. The king told Daniel, “Your God you constantly serve will deliver you.”
        2. Daniel was placed in the lions’ den, and it was sealed (to make certain Daniel was protected from his human enemies).
        3. The troubled king fasted the entire night.
        4. At daybreak, he hurried to the lions’ den to find Daniel fine–protected from the lions by an angel.
        5. Daniel was taken from the den, and his accusers and their families placed in the den (they were killed immediately).
      6. Daniel could have reacted to the crisis by saying, “I have honored God all these years. And what has it achieved for me? It has placed me in this horrible dilemma that gives advantage to my enemies.”
        1. But he did not.
        2. He continued to pray prayers of honor and thanks to his God.
    3. Some in our materialistic society are tempted to reason that God rewarded Daniel so wonderfully through those years that Daniel had no choice to make.
      1. Do not forget he was a captive for all those years.
      2. Do not forget that he never went home.
      3. Do not forget that his loneliness in a place that did not serve God must have been enormous.

  3. This week created an opportunity to reinforce a truth I have long noted.
    1. If each of us wrote down the ungodly ways in which our society and culture has changed in recent decades, we would be impressed by evil’s slow poisons.
      1. One tablespoon at the time, evil poisons our minds.
      2. Matters that distressed us a few decades ago rarely cause us to blink.
        1. Sexual sin is a common place reality, an accepted means of recreation, openly endorsed.
        2. Unmarried men and women live together without people considering it to be evil.
        3. Materialism is a powerful force that many accept as a good force.
        4. Pleasure is an important measurement of meaningful living.
        5. I am not speaking of those who are not Christians; I am speaking of those who are Christians.
      3. One tablespoon at a time we became accustomed to ungodly influences.
    2. We can even consider them as “good,” “understandable,” and “desirable” in the right circumstances.

My challenge to each of us is quite simple. Increase your awareness of the ways that evil slowly seeks to poison you in your life. Realize that troubles and challenges will always be a part of physical existence. In your awareness of ungodly influences in your life, build the kind of trust in God that causes you to turn to God in times of trouble–not away from Him.

Just How Important Is That?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Who can exaggerate the importance of high school senior year experiences? So much happens “for the last time.” The senior has been in school two-thirds of life with his or her life evolving around school. If that experience occurred at one place in one school system, he or she spent two-thirds of life (to that point) associating with a core group of acquaintances and friends. Graduation “destroys” that association by sending people in all directions. Every event of the senior year is a “bigger than life last time occurrence.”

Eons ago, when I was a senior in a small high school (with less than 20 graduating seniors), an event of enormous importance involved class rings. Many families faced stressed finances. Only seniors ordered rings. The school placed those orders. The rings’ arrival was a moment of enormous importance! No senior should be denied the “right” to have a class ring! This “forever” possession was an essential “right of passage” to be worn a lifetime. I suspect some families made big financial sacrifices to purchase a ring.

I wonder how long most people wore their rings? For years mine slumbers somewhere out-of-sight. Have you seen anyone older than 30 wearing a high school class ring? Perhaps, but it is not common.

Was that ring truly important? That depends on when you ask the question. If you ask a senior (at least when I was 18), yes, it was. At that age, it was life’s essential possession. Decades later, it was not life’s essential possession–no way!

For many years, with me (and I suspect for many others), it has been an unimportant possession. In the past forty plus years, my life (and yours) has faced many “new” realities. “New” realities diminished the importance of the ring’s reality. The value of the ring did not change. New realities changed my perception. The ring’s significance diminished because its place on the list of life’s realities changed.

This understanding does not focus on the possessions and events of high school seniors. It focuses on total life events and possessions at every age. The ultimate event will be meeting God “face to face.” When this occurs, how many “urgent” and “extremely important” physical matters instantly will become insignificant?

By the way, have you looked at your high school yearbook lately?

Congratulations to our seniors! Seniors, for you, life is beginning, not ending!

“If Everyone Would Just Leave Us Alone!”

Posted by on May 12, 2002 under Sermons

We live in a very troubled world. Each week (sometimes each day) we are reminded just how troubled our world is. We are also reminded that we cannot do anything about it. We do not have that option. It may even become more troubled.

We live in a very troubled society. Every day the newspaper and television news reminds us just how troubled our society is. Someone leaves pipe bombs in rural mail boxes in several western states. A local pharmacy is robbed for the fourth time. Oklahoma authorizes water standards that may have adverse economic impacts on Arkansas. Police conduct a sting operation on prostitution. Arkansas leads the nation (per capita) in illegal meth labs.

Much too often many of us live in very troubled homes. Communication is atrocious. Schedules are unreal. Value systems are ridiculous. We are a collection of strangers living at the same address who occasionally cross paths.

The temptation is to believe the solution is simple. We are tempted to conclude that many problems that irritate us can be solved if we could simply live in a desirable form of isolation where our lives do not have to deal with unwanted intrusions.

Recently Joyce and I received a story via e-mail whose point deserves consideration. Perhaps you also received the story. If so, think about the point as I share the story.

A rat on a farm was absolutely frantic. By chance he saw a package arrive at the farmer’s house, and by chance he saw the farmer’s wife open the package. The package contained a rat trap.

The frantic rat ran to the chicken house seeking sympathy from the chicken. In alarm the rat said, “The farmer just bought a rat trap!” The chicken unsympathetically said, “I am sorry. But that is of no concern to me. That rat trap does not affect my life.”

Still frantic, the rat ran to the pig pen to inform the pig about the rat trap. The pig said, “I am sorry you are upset, but that rat trap does not affect my life.”

Now the rat was beside himself. No one was concerned. So the rat ran to the barn to tell the cow the news. Same response. The cow said, “How boring! Do not bother me with news about rat traps! Rat traps do not affect my life!”

The farmer set the rat trap, and a snake caught its tail in the trap. When the farmer’s wife checked the trap, the snake bit her. Soon she was very sick, and the farmer killed the chicken to make her chicken soup.

She became so ill that the farmer had to call some friends to come help him. He had to kill the pig to feed the people who came to help.

The wife died from the snake bite. The farmer killed the cow to feed everyone who came to the funeral.

The rat trap was of no concern to the chicken, pig, and cow because it did not affect their lives. However, the rat trap was responsible for the deaths of the chicken, pig, and cow.

  1. It was difficult and demanding to learn to live the life of a Christian in the first century.
    1. It was difficult and demanding for a Jewish Christian living in a Jewish community.
      1. The majority of the community never believed that Jesus was the Christ the Jewish prophets declared God would send.
      2. Jesus Christ did not meet the common expectations in Judaism.
      3. His teachings did not “fit” their religious perspective and religious system.
      4. To be a Jew involved far more than endorsing a religious perspective, and soon those who believed that Jesus was the Christ were looked upon as traitors to the nation of Israel.
        Matthew 10:32-36 Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
    2. It was difficult and demanding for a person who came from idolatry to be a Christian.
      1. The government and idolatry held hands to support each other.
      2. The city administration and idolatry held hands to support each other.
      3. Most trades and idolatry held hands to support each other.
      4. The farmers appealed to the appropriate gods to insure productive crops and livestock.
      5. The Christian honored one God while the majority honored many gods.
        1. The Christian’s God declared the other gods did not exist.
        2. Commonly, Christians were considered dangerous to the government, disrespectful to the city, responsible for economic woes, and a reason for agricultural disasters.
        3. Many did not view Christians and their life style with honor or respect.
      6. Paul gives us insight into how difficult it could be to live as a Christian by sharing some of his personal experiences in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33.
        Are they servants of Christ?–I speak as if insane–I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.

  2. We are caught in a huge transition.
    1. This transition is much more significant, much deeper than a transition that requires some physical lifestyle adjustments.
      1. In this society the basis of morality (correct behavior) is in major transition, and in our world biblical morality is under attack.
      2. In this society the basis of ethics (determining good and evil) is in major transition, and in our world biblical ethics is under attack.
      3. In this society the basis of our system of values (what is deserving of our life focus and dedication) is in major transition, and in our world biblical values are under attack.
    2. Personally, I do not think there is a single relationship of any significance that is not under transition or attack.
      1. How do family units work?
        1. Should there be communication?
        2. Should there be commitment?
        3. Should there be dedication to the family?
        4. Who is included in the family unit? How do you stay in the family unit?
        5. How is the conflict between the person and the family unit to be understood?
        6. How is the conflict between individual liberty and family commitment to be resolved?
        7. Does marriage even matter?
      2. How do jobs, careers, occupations, employment work?
        1. Is the only consideration the potential to make money or meet financial needs?
        2. In what if any way is an employee to be committed or dedicated to his employer?
        3. In what if any way is an employer to be committed or dedicated to his employee?
        4. Does dishonesty or exploitation enter the issue in either direction?
        5. Whether employer or employee, is the correct attitude, “Every person for himself (herself)!”
      3. How should we treat people we know?
      4. How should we treat friends?
      5. How should we treat strangers?
    3. While it may not be difficult to call yourself a Christian in the Bible belt of this nation, it is difficult to live as a Christian anywhere in this nation.
      1. We would like to think the solution is isolation.
      2. We would like to think the solution is exercising control.
      3. We would like to think the solution is passing favorable legislation.
      4. We would like to think the solution is a national dedication to the defense of Christian values.
      5. Beware of focusing your concern on “what I want and what is good for us.”
      6. A rat trap can indirectly cause the death of a cow.
    4. There are things you as an individually cannot do and things you can do.
      1. Things you cannot do:
        1. You cannot remake the world.
        2. You cannot stop or reverse globalization.
        3. You cannot transform society in select ways.
        4. You cannot eliminate the presence and influence of evil from our state, our city, or your community.
        5. You cannot “turn the clock back.”
      2. Things you can do:
        1. You can live as a godly person in your family and model godly standards and values.
        2. You can live as a godly person in your work place and model godly standards and values.
        3. You can be a godly person in all your interactions with other people and model godly standards and values.
      3. Will it be easy to be a Christian in an evil world and society?
        1. No.
        2. Do not expect the honor and respect as you model godly standards and values.
        3. In fact, in my personal judgment, expect honor and respect for godliness to decrease in the future.
      4. The primary way that you can impact positive change in our society and world is to have the courage to live as a godly person.
        1. You do not do this because society approves of and respects godliness.
        2. You do it because that is who you are in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:1-11 Therefore 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.

If the focus is on restoring a desirable physical life, wonder what an eighty-year-old in Afghanistan would want? Wonder what a ten-year-old would want? Wonder what an eighty-year-old Palestinian would want? Wonder what a ten-year-old would want? Wonder what an eighty-year-old Israeli would want? Wonder what a ten-year-old would want? Wonder what an eighty-year-old American would want? Wonder what a ten-year-old would want?

As a Christian, what would you want?

Worship By Prayer

Posted by on under Sermons

I wish to share a word of explanation to those visiting this morning. For four weeks we have prepared for a special period of worship by prayer. I have challenged us to develop the kind of faith that depends on God. These are the lessons I used to challenge our focus for the past four weeks:

Looking at Life as God Does
Our Attempt For a Faithless Salvation
In Salvation’s Recipe, There Is No Substitute for Faith
God’s Purposes, Not Ours

This morning, our worship will be centered in scripture readings and in prayers. The readings will be shared without comment. The prayers will be focused on specific concerns as we seek to honor God. Your can follow the readings by reading with me from the projections on the screen.

  1. Reading and prayer:
    1. 2 Timothy 1:3-7
      I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy. For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
    2. Daniel Word will lead in prayer as we ask God’s guidance for parents.

  2. Reading and prayer:
    1. Proverbs 16:1-4
      The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives. Commit your works to the Lord And your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil.
      Jeremiah 10:23,24
      I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O Lord, but with justice; Not with Your anger, or You will bring me to nothing.
    2. Tom Benincosa will lead us in prayer for God’s guidance.

  3. Reading and prayer:
    1. 1 Peter 1:13-19
      Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
    2. Jim Wilson will lead us in prayer as we consider God’s holiness.

  4. Reading and prayer:
    1. Romans 11:33-36
      Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
    2. Bob Fisher will lead us in prayer as we consider God’s purposes.

The most difficult lesson for Christians to learn in physical existence is to “live for God, not for self.” Even in spiritual matters, even in worship Christian’s too often are deeply concerned about their personal preferences and consider those preferences God’s priority concerns.

To the extent any Christian lives for selfish, self-centered, or self-focused considerations, he or she distances himself or herself from God. The essence of faith and humility is the surrender that allows the person to abandon self in devotion to God.

In every age, this is an extremely difficult understanding to accept: I serve God by serving people. I cannot honor my God who I cannot see by holding in contempt people. Jesus demonstrated his service to God by compassionately helping people. The genuineness of our faith in God is evidenced by the way we treat people.

Prayer: Three Levels of Concern

Posted by on May 5, 2002 under Sermons

Your five year old daughter comes to you three separate times with three separate requests on the same day. Each time, that request is a specific request. These are the three:

“Please play with me!”
“I am hungry! Please give me something to eat.”
“I am sorry you need money! Please take my piggy bank!”

None of these request were whinny attempts to gain attention.

All three requests were genuine and sincere. All three requests came from her heart. But, did you regard all three as equal? All three may be equal to her, but all three are not equal to you.

Her desire for you to be a playmate is deep, genuine, and earnest. When she made that request, she felt the need to play. At that moment, playing was extremely important, and it needed to happen right then. You were honored that she asked you to play, but you also understood that playing was not the highest priority for her well being. As important as playing was to her, other things were more important for her right then.

Her request to be fed (if it was meal time) was more important to you than her play request. If she was really hungry, if it was time for her to be really hungry, and if her hunger caused her genuine discomfort, her hunger was very important. You listened to her request to play, but you listen to her request for food differently.

If she overheard you talking confidentially to your husband or wife about a troublesome bill, if she understood your concern, if she understood that you had serious difficulty paying that bill, to her it is just a question of money. She had some money in her piggy bank. Money was money. If you cannot pay the bill by yourself, she will help you pay the bill. She will give you her money to pay that troublesome bill. And her offer deeply touches you. You are moved by her awareness. You are moved by her unselfish concern. You are moved by her desire to help you.

Three very different requests. Three levels of concern.

Our prayers often are requests. While God is attentive to every prayer, the nature of our awareness influences His level of concern. Never is God unconcerned when sincere requests come from hearts that belong to Him. Yet, some concerns are higher than others.

Luke 18 records two parables Jesus gave concerning prayer. I call your attention to both of them.

  1. The first of the two parables is given in verses 1-8.
    1. When Jesus gave the parable, its context needed no explanation.
      1. Jesus used a common situation everyone understood.
      2. What they understood about an everyday situation, we need explained because we do not live in their circumstances.
      3. We must begin with a clear understanding about the two principle people.
        1. A widow was a defenseless, vulnerable individual in their society.
        2. She had no husband to defend her, and she lived in a man’s world.
        3. Many considered widows “fair game” and took advantage of them in unjust, horrible ways.
      4. The Israelite town judge was responsible to see that injustices were properly and fairly corrected.
        1. He was the person you went to see if someone wronged you and refused to correct the wrong.
        2. But this judge felt no responsibility or accountability to God–God was not a factor in his decisions or the cases he heard.
        3. He also did not care what other people said about him.
        4. The foundation of his actions was, “What is in my best interests?” That is all that really mattered to him.
    2. The situation:
      1. Someone continued to take advantage of the widow.
      2. Of herself, she was powerless to stop this unjust person.
      3. Her only hope for protection was to have this judge grant her legal protection.
      4. But the judge was completely unconcerned about what continued to happen.
        1. Her suffering because of the injustice did not adversely affect him.
        2. It the situation did not affect him, he had no reason for concern.
      5. But the widow was persistent.
        1. She came back again and again with the same request for protection.
        2. The widows persistence made her problem the judge’s problem.
      6. Finally, the judge gave her the protection she requested.
        1. He did not act on concern for her.
        2. He acted on concern for himself.
        3. “If I do not do something, she will keep coming back to me, and I am tired of seeing her.”
    3. The point of the parable must not be misunderstood.
      1. Jesus was not saying the God is disinterested when we wrongfully suffer hardships.
      2. He was not saying that God acts only in self interest.
      3. He said if an ungodly man can be moved to action by persistence, a godly person should understand that God will respond to our injustices quickly.
      4. The issue is not God’s willingness to respond, but our confidence in Him.
    4. Level one of our prayers I would call prayers offered because we are distressed by the trials of life.
      1. That is likely the most common prayers prayed.
      2. Those are “what is happening to me physically” prayers.

  2. The second parable is given in verses 9-14.
    1. Again, the context of the situation needed no explanation to the first century Jews.
      1. But the context needs to be explained to us because none of the elements of the situation are common, everyday realities to us.
      2. To us, a temple experience is strange.
        1. Jewish people in or near Jerusalem commonly went to the temple to pray.
        2. While there were designated times to go pray, a person could go to the temple to pray at any time.
        3. Only priests actually went in the structure we would call the temple.
        4. People prayed in what we would call temple courtyards.
          1. A common stance: face looking upward and hands reaching upward–to them a stance of humility and dependence.
          2. With some, private prayers might be also audible prayers.
      3. The Pharisee was the symbol of a deeply religious person.
        1. He represented the common image of the devoutly religious.
        2. In that day, if anyone was concerned about God’s commands and scripture, it was the Pharisee.
      4. The tax collector symbolized the wicked Jew.
        1. Because he collected taxes that benefitted the Roman government, many Jews regarded him to be an enemy of the nation of Israel.
        2. Since the Romans took away Jewish independence, collecting taxes to benefit them was regarded as an act of disloyalty to Jewish people.
        3. The tax collector had the power to assess how much you owed and the power to make you pay his assessment.
          1. The whole system was an invitation to corruption.
          2. Tax collectors often abused people, often took advantage of their opportunity and power.
      5. The contrast was immediately evident to Jesus’ audience: a contrast between the symbol of the devoutly religious and the symbol of the truly evil.
    2. The situation:
      1. A Pharisee and a tax collector were at the temple at the same time praying.
      2. Jesus said the Pharisee prayed to himself (not to God).
        1. He thought that he told God what a godly person he was.
        2. He was so grateful he was not a wicked person.
        3. Two times a week he fasted (a declaration of humility).
        4. He gave God ten per cent of everything he acquired.
      3. He considered himself to be good and the tax collector to be evil.
      4. Though it does not say, he probably was as physically close to the temple as he could get to pray.
      5. The tax collector was consumed with his unworthiness and evil.
        1. Not only did he refuse to look up, but he stood far away from the temple structure and in grief for his wickedness beat on his chest in a sense of unworthiness.
        2. In nothing did he commend himself to God.
        3. He asked, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
        4. He knew who and what he was.
    3. The Pharisee’s confidence was in his goodness; the tax collector appealed to God’s goodness.
      1. The tax collector, not the Pharisee, left with God’s justification.
      2. God completely destroyed the tax collector’s evil.
      3. Jesus said quite simply that the person who exalts himself will be humbled and the person who humbles himself will be exalted.
    4. Level two of our prayers I would call prayers offered because we have reached the awareness of our own evil.
      1. Commonly, a Christian has to grow to the awareness of internal evil to pray such prayers.
        1. Awareness of God’s incredible goodness.
        2. Awareness of how evil we truly are.
      2. It is much too easy to be blinded by our sense of goodness and rightness.

  3. For the third level, I simply want to read the prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians.
    1. Ephesians 1:15-20 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.
    2. To me, some things in this prayer leap out in Paul’s prayerful requests for them.
      1. May God give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing Him.
      2. May the eyes of your heart be enlightened so you will know the hope of God’s calling, the richness of the glory of His inheritance, and the great power He makes available to believers.
      3. May you understand the incredible things God did because the strength of His might was at work in Christ’s resurrection.
    3. Level three of our prayers I would call the awareness of God’s purposes.
      1. At this level we stop focusing on our desires and focus on God’s objectives.
      2. We stand in silent awe at the realization that God can find anything to use from us to help achieve His eternal purposes.

Pray for your physical needs. Pray for your sinfulness. Pray for God’s purposes to be reality. On every level with confidence, pray to God who hears. May the level of our prayers constantly mature, always rising to higher levels. May you always stand in awe of the fact that you can say anything that impresses God. Never forget that humble honesty moves God, but arrogant self-righteousness offends God.

God’s Purposes, Not Ours

Posted by on under Sermons

Consider the question, “Why did you do that?” Depending on the tone of the voice used, that is not one question, but many questions. [Use a change in the tone of my voice to illustrate the different questions that one question can ask.] It can be a polite request for an explanation when something confused you. It can be an accusation and expression of contempt and disgust when a spouse irritates you. It can be a condemnation of children when a child did something without thinking. It can be a “guilting device” you use on a friend when he or she has placed you in an awkward position. We simply use the tone of our voices to make those words an honest inquiry, an accusation, a condemnation, or a “guilting device.”

Why does God do what He does? Does God do what He does for reasons? Is He simply insensitive to us? Does He function on caprice–whatever He is thinking at the moment He just does that because He wants to? Bottom line question: is there purpose behind God’s acts? In all that He does, is God trying to accomplish something?

  1. Most of us have been taught all our lives to accept God’s great, powerful acts without thought or question.
    1. Let me illustrate that fact in ways that we cannot deny.
      1. Do you accept as fact that God is the Creator?
        1. Most of us do.
        2. Most of us accept as fact that this world, life, and humanity have their origin in the powerful acts of our Creator God.
        3. In many of you, a rejection of that fact is equal to a rejection of your faith.
      2. Question: in your own thinking and understanding, why did God create?
        1. Many of you accept without question that He did create.
        2. What answer do you give yourself when you ask yourself, “Why did God create?”
    2. Do you accept as fact that God through His own power and initiative delivered Israelite slaves from Egyptian slavery?
      1. Most of us do.
        1. Most of us accept as fact that the Israelite people were slaves in ancient Egypt for a few hundred years.
        2. Most of us accept as fact that God performed ten powerful acts to deliver the Israelite people from their slavery.
        3. Most of us accept as fact that this deliverance was specifically made possible by God’s powerful intervention.
        4. Most of us accept as fact that Israel would never have been a nation if God had not delivered them.
      2. Question: in your thinking and understanding, why did God deliver Israel from Egypt?
        1. Many of you accept as fact that God delivered Israel from Egypt.
        2. What answer to you give yourself when you ask yourself, “Why did God deliver them?”
    3. Allow me to ask a series of questions.
      1. Do you believe that God by His power allowed those Israelite slaves to walk through the Red Sea?
      2. Do you believe that God by His power sustained this hoard of people in the wilderness?
      3. Do you believe that God by His power allowed Israel to secure and settle in Canaan?
      4. Again, most of us accept as fact that God used His power in all these ways.
        1. To many of us, those facts are unquestionable–they happened.
        2. What answer do you give yourself when you ask yourself, “Why did God do these things?”
    4. Allow me to fast forward history.
      1. Do you believe that God by His power sent Jesus into this world?
      2. Do you believe that God by His power was with Jesus during His ministry in first century Israel?
      3. Do you believe that God by His power resurrected Jesus from the dead?
        1. To many of us those are unquestionable facts–they happened.
        2. What answer do you give yourself when you ask yourself, “Why did God do these things?”

  2. The same divine purposes were behind all those powerful acts of God.
    1. The basic purposes were the same for God in all those powerful acts.
      1. God did not have one set of purposes for creating.
      2. Another set of unrelated purposes for delivering Israel from Egypt, getting them across the Red Sea, sustaining them in the wilderness, and settling them in Canaan.
      3. Another set of unrelated purposes for sending Jesus and being with him in his life.
      4. And another set of unrelated purposes for Jesus’ resurrection.
    2. While each specific act of power had different immediate objectives, all those immediate objectives worked together to accomplish God’s purposes.
      1. When God created, when God formed and sustained Israel, when God sent Jesus, when God resurrected Jesus, God was in the process of accomplishing the same purposes.
      2. God’s purposes are seen in the sum of His total acts, in the culmination of all of God’s powerful acts.
      3. God always has been true to His purposes in everything He does.
      4. Our problem: either we fail to see His purposes or we lose sight of His purposes.

  3. Consider an illustration.
    1. Suppose you are given access to the greatest power that has ever been known on this earth.
      1. This power is so enormous that there is simply nothing beyond its grasp.
      2. It literally can do anything, be applied to any need.
    2. Immediately after receiving access to this incredible power, you are interviewed on a national, live television broadcast by a well know news personality who asks, “How do you personally plan to use this power?”
      1. This is your response:
        1. “I am going to use this power to keep my windows clean.”
        2. Or, “I am going to use this power to add a room to my house.”
        3. Or, “I am going to use this power to remodel my house.”
        4. Or, “I am going to use this power to keep my grass cut.”
        5. Or, “I am going to use this power to keep my gas tank full.”
        6. Or, “I am going to use this power to pay my bills.”
        7. Or, “I am going to use this power to take my dream vacation.”
      2. If you had access to earth’s greatest power, would you think on that level?
        1. Would the focus of all your plans be “me, taking care of my desires, and seeing that I take care of myself”?
        2. Would the focus of your thoughts rise no higher than self and wants?

  4. God always has had a purpose.
    1. That purpose has been attacked by evil, but it has never changed.
      1. When God created, evil perverted God’s “very good” creation.
      2. All of God’s work through ancient Israel,
      3. All of God’s work in Jesus’ ministry,
      4. All of God’s work in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
      5. All of God’s intended work in the church in every age,
      6. Was to lead people back to God’s original purpose when He created people for relationship with Him.
    2. God gives each Christian the privilege of assisting Him as He achieves His purpose.
      1. In giving us the privilege of assisting Him, God gives us access to the power that created, that delivered Israel from slavery, that sustained Israel in impossible circumstances, that sent Jesus into the world, and that raised Jesus’ dead body from the tomb.
      2. In our access to that power much too often the highest level of our thinking and planning focuses only on our short term physical desires.
      3. I wonder how often God listens to our prayers and says, “Is that all you think about? Can you consider nothing higher than that?”
    3. Every Christian always needs to keep in his or her awareness some basic truths.
      1. Truth one: God is greater than I am, and I am privileged just to associate with God.
      2. Truth two: God’s purposes are always greater than my desires.
      3. Truth three: it is an honor to be God’s servant who is dedicated to God’s purposes.

  5. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus taught people to pray.
    1. He taught them three basic understandings.
      1. Understanding one: God hears your personal prayers when no one else even knows you are praying.
      2. Understanding two: God’s response to your prayers does not depend on meaningless repetitions.
      3. Understanding three: the objective of your prayers never is to inform God; God knows your needs before you ask.
    2. Then Jesus illustrated how they should pray, a prayer approach that was unfamiliar to them.
      Matthew 6:9-13 Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]”
    3. Notice these simple observations: this prayer combines four elements.
      1. The first is humble surrender to the holy God in the desire for His purposes to accomplished.
      2. The second is trusting dependence on God to provide physical necessities.
      3. The third is showing appreciation for God’s forgiveness by giving forgiveness.
      4. The fourth is realizing the only hope we have for successfully triumphing over evil is God’s deliverance.
    4. It is hard to do something so simple.
      1. Recognizing God’s purposes were greater than his desires cost Jesus his physical life.
      2. It cost most of the twelve their lives.
      3. It cost Stephen his life.
      4. It cost Paul his life.
      5. If I place my confidence in God, my suffering can assist God’s purposes–even if it costs my life.
      6. And some day I will understand that I paid a very small price to assist the eternal God’s purposes.
    5. One of the most frightening statements in scripture is found in James 4:2-4.
      You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

For a month on Sunday mornings I challenged you to think about faith. Our prayers are one of the greatest expressions of our trust in God. Next Sunday morning we will worship by praying focused prayers to the God who created us and gives us salvation.

The question we Christians must ask ourselves is this: am I alive to fulfill my physical desires and ambitions? Or am I alive to assist God’s purposes? What do my prayers say about me? What my life is about is powerfully influenced by my understanding of the “why” of God’s powerful acts.

“If I Had Known …”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

When in my twenties, I marveled at the way retired men used their time. In the typical short-sightedness of my youth, I thought of the things I would do if I had their flexible time and opportunities. I never had time or opportunity to do things I dreamed of doing. They (from my perspective) had the time I never had–and the flexibility to use time as they chose! Now I understand realities I never considered in my twenties.

Everyone occasionally thinks about “what I would do if …” Some think of it as they look at their past. “If I had it to do over again, I would …” Some think of it as they attempt to see into the future. “If I ever have the opportunity, I will …” All of us are victims of the deception that “just right” decisions, opportunities, and choices produce the “ideal life.” “It is there! I just have to open the door!”

Some think wealth is the key. Some think the key is lifestyle. Others think pleasure, or self-indulgence, or a specific physical body is the key. Every teen, every man, every woman decides a key exists (for him or her) and decides (for him or her) what that key is.

A person enters adult life thinking there is one key. He or she expects to pursue (and acquire?) “ideal life” with one key. He or she does not live adult life long before one key becomes two, two keys become three, and a few keys become a key ring filled with keys.

You question that fact? The key at sixteen and twenty-five are not the same. Twenty-five’s key is not fifty’s key, and fifty’s key is not seventy’s key. We Americans collect keys. We just add new keys to our key ring.

The key to “ideal life” is not wealth, or lifestyle, or pleasure, or self-indulgence, or physical attributes (skin tone, physique, physical presentation, weight, or sexual magnetism). The “ideal life” does not even exist in the context of this life. The key to acquiring the “ideal life” is God. That is the point of the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Peter, Paul, and John. Jesus revealed “ideal life” because he opened our access to God, the key.

Jesus declared, (Matthew 6:25) For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Life is more than survival (even if we live well). When we meet God (and we will!), may we feel no need to think, “If I had known …”