Connecting My Christianity With Who I Am

Posted by on August 25, 2002 under Sermons

When you interact with other people, who are you? If you had to describe yourself as a person when you interact with others, how would you describe yourself?

Are you “the mystery person”? The “mystery person” never allows anyone else to see the “real me.” He or she works carefully to create and display a facade. What others see is what he or she wants you to see–not the real person existing on the inside. Others see only what the “mystery person” wants them to see.

Are you the “chameleon”? The chameleon is a lizard that among other interesting things can change his skin color to match his surroundings. If, in your interactions with others, you are a chameleon, who you are depends on the people you are with. What you “show” people about yourself depends on who they are, not on who you are.

Years ago I knew a man well who always met with the church. He had not decided to be a Christian, but he rarely missed. A prominent member of the congregation lived near him. One day he walked in a store and heard this prominent member using horrible language that revealed terrible attitudes. The man who was not a Christian was shocked and disillusioned. The prominent Christian was a chameleon. Who he was with determined his language and his attitudes.

If who you are is determined by the people and the circumstances around you, maybe you are a chameleon.

Are you someone who says, “What you see is what you get!” This person says, “I am who I am, and I am not going to change.” He or she has decided that honesty is being course and abrasive in every situation. This person says, “I am not a hypocrite. The honest thing is to be who and what you are regardless of people or circumstance.”

  1. Let me ask you a simple question and hopefully challenge you to give yourself a simple answer: what does the way you interact with other people have to do with being a Christian?
    1. For some people being a Christian has to do with belonging to a church.
      1. If you ask, are you a Christian, he or she says, “Yes, I go to church.”
        1. “I’m a Church of Christ.”
        2. “I’m a Baptist.”
        3. “I’m a Methodist.”
        4. “I’m a Presbyterian.”
        5. “I’m a Lutheran.”
      2. Being a Christian is a matter of affirming church membership or church attendance.
        1. Being a Christian does not really have anything to do with who I am.
        2. It has to do with the fact that I attend church somewhere.
    2. For some people being a Christian has to do with being basically a good person.
      1. If you ask this person if he or she is a Christian, there is a pause as he or she thinks about what he or she is.
      2. This person thinks within themselves, “I do not rape, or steal, or murder, or abuse my family, or create problems for other people.”
      3. “I am a good neighbor, a reliable employee, a responsible member of the community.”
      4. “I never make things difficult for any church and I don’t oppose religion.”
      5. “I believe in God.”
      6. “So I must be a Christian.”
    3. Does being a Christian have anything to do with who a person becomes? If a person becomes a Christian, is there any change in the person he or she is? Is the only noticeable difference seen in the fact that I attend church?
      1. For too many people, being a Christian has nothing to do with who the person is.
        1. It has to do with what he or she believes.
        2. It may have something to do with what he or she does or does not do.
        3. It might even have something to do with his or her habits.
      2. But for too many people, being a Christian has nothing to do with “who I am.”
        1. Christianity and being have little or no connection.
        2. What I believe and who I am are two separate considerations.
        3. In no way is Christianity about personal change, or growth, or maturing, or actually being something as a person.
        4. It is about membership or affiliation or belief system, not about who I am.
        5. It is about doing the right things at the right places.

  2. Jesus had enormous difficulty with most of the people he taught during his ministry with this very same problem.
    1. Jesus was a Jew, an Israelite.
      1. All twelve of his close disciples were Jews, Israelites.
      2. He primarily worked with the Jewish people, the nation of Israel (Matthew 15:24)
      3. Once as he sent his disciples out among the towns and villages, he sent them only to Jewish people (Matthew 10:5,6)
    2. But the Jewish people of his day had an attitude problem that prevented them from seeing what they needed to see.
      1. Consider a hypothetical conversation between Jesus the Jewish people of his day.
        1. “Who are you?” “We are Israelites.”
        2. “What does that mean?” “That means we are God’s people.”
        3. “How do you know that you are God’s people?” “We have the right ancestors. Abraham is our forefather. We are descendants from Abraham through Isaac.”
        4. A key element in their religious confidence was their ancestry.
      2. The gospel of Luke emphasized this problem when John was preparing the nation of Israel for Jesus’ ministry.
        1. John the son of Zacharias was preaching to Israel in the wilderness area of the Jordan River.
        2. Luke summaries the thrust of John’s preaching by stating John was preaching “the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
        3. He was not the kind of preacher that most American audiences would appreciate.
          1. As the crowds came from the cities and towns to the wilderness area to hear John’s message, he called them a bunch of poison snakes and asked who warned them to flee from the coming wrath?
          2. He urged them to repent, to be so dissatisfied with who they were before God that they turned their lives around and become different people.
          3. He knew some would say, “We do not need to repent; we are the descendants of Abraham.”
          4. He said they were not to think that having Abraham as an ancestor eliminated their need to repent.
          5. Then he made a very interesting statement: “I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.”
        4. Jesus dealt with the same attitude in John 8:31-33.
      3. The problem: placing confidence in the wrong thing; creating security where there is no security.
      4. It is much too easy for us to be unaware of what a powerful, dramatic statement that was. Allow me to put it into today’s terms in a way that helps us see what a powerful, dramatic statement that was.
        1. Suppose a messenger from God asked us, “Are you sure you are Christians?”
        2. Suppose we all said, “Yes!”
        3. Suppose the messenger asked why we are so sure.
        4. Suppose our answer was, “We are sure because we are members of the Church of Christ.”
        5. Suppose this was his reply: “God can make members of the Church of Christ from the rocks around your building.”
        6. How would you react to his statement?
      5. John told them they trusted the wrong thing; they needed to repent.
        1. Men and women who belong to God change.
        2. Because a person belongs to God, he or she becomes a different person.

  3. Let me illustrate the truth with two of the most prominent Christians in the New Testament.
    1. The last night that Jesus was physically alive as a man, he told his disciples all of them would desert him that night. (Matthew 26:31-35; Luke 22:31-34)
      1. Luke records this statement from Jesus to Peter:
        Luke 22:31,32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
      2. Peter said he would go to prison with Jesus and die with him.
      3. Jesus told him he would deny him that night before the rooster crowed.
      4. Matthew records Peter’s response: it would never happen.
      5. After Jesus’ resurrection, John records a conversation between the resurrected Jesus and Peter. (John 21:15-17)
        1. Three times Jesus asked Peter if Peter loved him.
        2. Each time Jesus asked Peter to tend his lambs, shepherd his sheep, and tend his sheep.
      6. The Peter we see in the book of Acts is obviously a changed man.
    2. The second illustration begins with a man who was among the most violent enemies Jesus had. This angry man did not believe Jesus was God’s Christ.
      1. Acts 9:1,2 makes this statement about the man:
        Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
        1. He got the letter.
        2. He was on his trip to Damascus to arrest Christians when he met the resurrected Jesus.
        3. To say that Saul’s (or Paul’s) new understanding that Jesus was the Christ totally changed him is an understatement.
        4. Did he ever repent!
      2. Allow me to illustrate the change by reading a statement this man wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica years later.
        1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
        1. The man who wanted to murder Christians became the man who was as gentle with Christians as a nursing mother with her own children.
        2. The man changed!

The living God loves you so much that He is willingly to bless you in ways that go beyond your ability to comprehend. There is no question that He loves you. There is no question that He can bless you. The question is this: will you let Him love and bless you?

Whether or not He can bless you, even how He can bless you, depends on your willingness to repent, to change who you are. That involves becoming. That involves growing. That involves maturing.

And that leads each one of us back to the same question: “Who am I?”

Dealing with Struggles

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Everyone has them. Children, men, and women have them. Single, married, divorced, and grieving people have them. Good people, indifferent people, and evil people have them. Teens, adults of all ages, even elderly people have them. Parents with children at home and parents with grown children have them. Healthy people, sick people, poor people, middle class people, and rich people have them.

The only requirement for having struggles is life. If you are alive, you have struggles. The issue is always the same: “How will I deal with my struggles?” The issue is never, “Will I have struggles?”

The human reaction to struggle is strange. “Mine” are “real” and “unavoidable.” “Yours” are “unnecessary.” If “I” were “you,” “I” would not struggle. However, if “you” were “me,” “you” could not cope with “my” struggles.

If you inquire about my struggles, I will do one of three things. (a) I will deny that I have any struggles. I might even be offended that you imply that I do. Your inquiry may be considered an intrusion. (b) I might express appreciation for your concern while minimizing my struggles. I might even indicate that something breaking my heart is no more than a minor irritation I occasionally notice. (c) Or, I may throw myself a pity party at your expense. I might exaggerate my problems. I might magnify my insecurity. I might do all I can to make you feel sorry for me.

Christians do a less than desirable job of declaring Jesus’ messages about struggles. The ability to cope is not found in denying or exaggerating the fact that we each confront problems. People can help, but people are neither the ideal nor complete answer.

After noting the fickleness and blindness of many people, Jesus offered hope: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

On the last night of his physical life, he said this to the twelve: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus does not cause our struggles to “evaporate.” He gives us strength to cope with them.

Acts: Understanding Our Origin (part 5)

Posted by on August 18, 2002 under Sermons

Matthew 13 is a collection of Jesus’ kingdom parables. Jesus used parables to describe aspects of God’s kingdom, or as Matthew writes, “the kingdom of heaven.” These parables that focus on the nature of God’s kingdom include

the parable of the sower
the parable of the tares among the wheat
the parable of the mustard seed
the parable of the leaven
the parable of the hidden treasure
the parable of the costly pearl
and the parable of the dragnet.

Jesus’ emphasis concerning God’s kingdom did not agree with Israel’s common concepts and expectations. In fact, Jesus’ emphasis concerning God’s kingdom was close to being the opposite of many Jewish expectations.

This evening I want to begin with the statement Jesus made near the end of Matthew 13. After all the kingdom parables, Jesus made this statement in verse 52:
And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matthew 13:52)

A scribe typically was among the experts who had a lot of knowledge of God’s word. When a scribe grasped God’s understanding of His kingdom, with this new understanding that scribe could “see things” in God’s revelation that many others failed to “see.” It was not that the scribe added anything to what God said about His kingdom. He just had his eyes opened so he saw the whole revelation, not just what Israel expected. He was like a father who could show his family things new and old from his treasures.

To me that statement is among Jesus’ most interesting statements. I want to be a disciple of the kingdom of heaven. I want to understand what God intended His kingdom to be. I want to develop the ability to “see” things new and old in God’s treasures.

Tonight I do not ask you to agree with me. I ask you to study, to look at scripture, and to think with me as we look at some events in Acts 21. I ask you to dedicate yourself to “seeing” and to refuse to let past expectations put a blindfold over your eyes. All I ask you to see is what scripture says.

  1. We need to begin our examination by first noting Numbers 6:1-8.
    1. These are the instructions given to Israelites (Jews) for making and keeping a Nazarite vow.
      1. The word Nazarite refers to be “separate” or “separated.”
      2. It was a Jewish vow that could be taken by an Israelite man or woman.
      3. It was a voluntary vow of total devotion to God for a specific period of time.
      4. A Jew made this vow because he or she chose to do so, not because he or she had to do so.
    2. For the Jew who made the Nazarite vow, there were some specific requirements.
      1. The Jew who assumed the vow of total devotion to God in a Nazarite vow could not drink wine, could not drink any alcoholic beverage, could not drink vinegar, and could not eat any grape product (fresh or dried).
      2. The Jew who assumed total devotion to God in a Nazarite vow could not cut his or her hair.
        1. During the period of the vow the hair could not be cut or trimmed.
        2. When the time of the vow was completed, the head was shaved and the hair was burned in the fire under his purification sacrifice.
      3. The Jew who assumed total devotion to God through a Nazarite vow could not come near a dead person, not even if his father, mother, brother, or sister died.
      4. In every way this man or woman totally separated himself or herself for commitment to God during the period of the Nazarite vow.
    3. Have this clear understanding: it is a Jewish practice of devotion to God that involves specific behaviors of consecration and acts of sacrifice.
      1. I now ask you to look at Acts 18:18:
        Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.
      2. The biblically consistent understanding of this verse is that Paul had (voluntarily, as a Jewish individual) taken a Nazarite vow.
        1. Perhaps he was giving special thanks to God for his recent safety in extremely difficult circumstances.
        2. Perhaps this also is a factor in his determination to reach Jerusalem where his sacrifices could be offered and his hair burned.

  2. Now I ask you to consider Acts 21:17 following.
    1. Paul reached Jerusalem as he intended and planned. (verse 17)
      1. Some of the Jerusalem Christians were glad to see him and gave him a good reception. (verse 17)
      2. The day after arrival Paul and his company had a meeting with James and all the elders. (verses 18, 19)
        1. Paul gave these leaders a report on all that God had done among the gentiles (non-Jews) through Paul’s recent work.
        2. There are two reactions: (verses 20-22)
          1. The first reaction: these Jewish Christian leaders glorified God for what had occurred among the gentiles (non-Jews). They were genuinely thankful.
          2. The second reaction: we have a problem, and we must deal with it.
      3. What was the problem?
        1. There were thousands of Jewish Christians (the literal translation is ten thousands) in Jerusalem who are devoted to the law.
        2. They had been told (probably by Jews from Asia who made pilgrimages to Jerusalem) that Paul taught Jews to abandon Jewish customs. They said Paul taught Jews these things:
          1. “Do not follow the instructions of Moses.”
          2. “Do not circumcise your children.”
          3. “Do not follow Jewish customs.”
        3. They could not keep Paul’s presence in Jerusalem a secret, so they had to do something to defuse the crisis.
    2. Now let’s ask a question that we do not ask often enough.
      1. Who controlled Jewish Palestine including the city of Jerusalem? Rome did by forced occupation.
      2. How did Rome enforce its interest and control? Through Roman procurators (like Pilate when Jesus was crucified).
      3. Who was the Roman procurator at this time? A man named Felix.
      4. What can we know about Felix?
        1. First, remember he was a gentile, not a Jew.
        2. Second, he was procurator in a period when Jewish nationalism was on the rise and the resentment against gentiles was growing in Palestine.
          1. There were a number of Jewish insurrections against Roman control.
          2. Jews hated Rome and had hostel feelings for any gentile influence.
          3. Felix dealt with the situation with brutality and attacked Jewish customs.
        3. What the Asian Jews accused Paul of doing would stir violent anger in Jerusalem.
          1. In that emotional climate, Jews would consider Paul a traitor for even working among gentiles.
          2. Even the suggestion that he was teaching Jews to abandon Jewish practices would have outraged many Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
    3. Let me make some basic observations about the incidents in the last part of Acts 21.
      1. First observation: they happened. A Jewish Christian missionary who was the apostle to the gentiles was by choice involved in a Jewish vow, Jewish ceremony, and Jewish sacrifices.
        1. We cannot pretend it did not happen. That is not an honest way to deal with scripture.
        2. If what occurred does not fit our concepts, we need to reexamine our concepts, not ignore scripture.
      2. Second observation: there are two basic ways for us to approach what occurred.
        1. The first approach is to decide that James and the elders of Jerusalem Christians were trying to deceive those Christians in order to bypass a crisis.
          1. To me that approach in any form or variation is totally rejected and totally unacceptable.
          2. I do not regard what they did as an attempt to deceive.
        2. The second approach is based on an understanding that the Asian Jews misrepresented Paul to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. The action was taken to correct a false impression.
          1. Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be Christians, and Jews did not have to become gentiles to be Christians.
          2. Paul did not teach Jews to abandon Jewish practices; he taught gentiles (non-Jews) that they did not have to submit to Jewish practices to become Christians.
    4. There is definite evidence about the thrust of the gospel (a) to Jewish audiences and (b) to non-Jewish audiences.
      1. To a Jewish audience, the gospel message was “Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ) that God promised Israel He would send.”
        1. Look at the evidences for yourself.
        2. In Acts 2, what was Peter’s sermon about? God send Jesus, and the resurrected Jesus is Lord and Christ. (verse 36)
        3. In Acts 3, what is Peter’s sermon about? Jesus is the Prince of Life, the Christ.
        4. In Acts 4, what is Peter’s defense for his preaching? Jesus is the Christ, and you Jewish leaders rejected him.
        5. In Acts 5 what is the apostles’ defense before the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem? Jesus is the Christ, exalted by God to be Prince and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel and to grant the forgiveness of sins.
        6. In Acts 7 what is Stephen’s defense before the Jewish Sanhedrin? All Jewish history verifies that Jesus is the Righteous One God promised us.
        7. In Acts 9 what was the great new understanding that Paul (Saul) received as a result of his encounter with Jesus? Jesus really is the Christ, the one God promised Israel.
        8. In Acts 13 what is Paul’s message to Jews, proselytes, and God fearers in the Jewish synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia? Jewish history and Jewish scripture prove that the resurrected Jesus fulfills God’s promise to Israel’s ancestors.
      2. In contrast:
        1. In Acts 10 what is Peter’s emphasis in his sermon the gentiles gathered in Cornelius’ home? Jesus was sent by God, crucified, and resurrected, and God sent him to (a) provide opportunity to all nations and (b) to judge the living and the dead.
        2. In Acts 17 what was Paul’s sermon about to the gentile idol worshippers and philosophers at the Areopagus (on Mars Hill)? It was about the true nature of God. They stopped him before he could tell them about Jesus who was resurrected and would judge the world according to righteousness.

  3. How did James and the elders address the problem?
    1. Paul has been misrepresented by Asian Jews, so let it be obvious to Paul himself to keep Jewish customs.
      1. Four Christians had taken a vow [I presume a Nazarite vow]. (verse 23)
      2. Paul was to purify himself at the temple, “sponsor” them, and pay the expenses [the sacrifices were expensive].
      3. This to me is the essential question: Why? Listen to verses 24, 25.
        Acts 21:24,25 “… all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”
        1. What would all understand?
        2. Paul followed Jewish customs himself, and he did not teach Jews to abandon those customs.
        3. The Jerusalem leadership already was on record of setting behavior for gentiles that did not require them to observe Jewish customs (Acts 15).
        4. Paul did no more among gentiles than what the Jewish leaders said should be emphasized.

We are gentile Christians. Our dedication to restore Christianity contains almost nothing Jewish in it. We are completely unfamiliar with Jewish Christianity. Because we have never been around Jewish Christianity, we have made some assumptions about God we need to reconsider.

The bottom line for Jew or Gentiles was that Jesus was the Christ. The Jew understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. The non-Jew understood that Jesus was the means through whom God brought the blessing of forgiveness to all people. Jesus revealed God’s righteousness to the world, and all people will be judged by the righteousness he revealed.

Communion Emphasis

Posted by on under Sermons

  • Song #869 “We’re Marching to Zion”

  • Song #144 “O Worship the King”

  • Song #578 “We Will Glorify”

  • Welcome

  • Song #1018 “Joy to the World”

  • Prayer

    If we had the ability to focus on Jesus’ intentions when he took communion with his disciples for the first time on the evening just before his arrest, I am confident that all of us would be shocked. I think we would be shocked at the simplicity of Jesus’ intentions.

    Through the ages, different churches have assigned many types of symbolism to communion. Sometimes those symbols are very Jewish in origin. Jesus was a Jew. All of his disciples were Jews. When Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples, the Jewish Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the temple as the Jewish people prepared for Passover.

    We rarely consider that the Passover was the Jewish people’s most important spiritual memorial. Passover had great significance to them. It is certainly true that some symbolism between Jewish Passover and Christian communion are powerfully shared. But it is also true that many of the early Christians were not Jews. They were converted from idolatry. Their former worship of idolatrous gods symbolically shared almost nothing in common with the symbols of Jewish Passover.

    When Jesus took communion with his disciples, he knew communion was not just for Jews who believed in him. He knew his communion was for all people. It was for those who understood Passover. It was also for those who had no knowledge about Passover. What Jesus did in observing communion was extremely significant. It was also extremely simple.

    As Jesus the Jew took communion with his disciples who were Jews, he began in a way that devout Jews commonly began a meal. He blessed the bread and broke it. When devout Jews began a meal, the head of the household began by giving thanks: “Blessed are You, O Lord…Who brought forth food from the earth.” With that blessing, the bread he held was broken and the meal began.

    The two basic survival foods at that time in their world were bread and the juice of grapes. It is not an exaggeration to say that physical survival at that time in that world depended on bread and the juice of grapes. In a very simple, real way that used simple, essential foods associated with survival, Jesus declared to his disciples that they should remember how essential he was to their survival.

    In communion we do many things. One of those things is to declare our awareness and understanding that we could not survive without Jesus. Without Jesus we cannot be forgiven. Without Jesus we could not come to God. Without Jesus we could not be in God’s family. Without Jesus, we would spiritually die.

  • Song #176 “Lamb of God”

    I am deeply impressed by the simplicity of Jesus’ words.

    According to Matthew 26:26 in simplicity Jesus said these words:
    While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

    According to Mark 14:22 in simplicity Jesus said these words:
    While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.”

    According to Luke 22:19 in simplicity Jesus said these words:
    And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

    Why? The basic point was simple: when you eat this bread, remember me. Remember my physical body. Very soon that physical body would be killed in a horrible manner. Jesus’ love for them and us took his body to the cross. Jesus’ love for them and us kept his body on the cross.

    We remember Jesus’ body for a lot of reasons. We remember he assumed a physical body like ours. We remember that he truly understands us because he had our real experiences in a physical body. We remember that he loved us so much that he endured the pain and suffering of that physical body dying. And each Christian realizes because he used his physical body to free us from sin’s condemnation, we want to be part of his body on earth right now.

    Each Christian should say within himself or herself, “Because he sacrificed his body for me, I am. I can be part of God’s family because he sacrificed his body for me.”

    Remember Jesus’ simple words: “Take, eat. This is my body.”

  • Prayer for the bread

  • Taking the bread

  • Song #374 “There is a Fountain”

    Jesus’ took a cup of grape juice (or wine), thanked God, and told all his disciples to drink from the cup. Just as the bread symbolized his body that soon would be sacrificed in crucifixion, the contents of the cup symbolized his blood that soon would be poured from his body to the ground.

    With the same simplicity, he made two statements about his blood. He said it was the blood of the new covenant. He said that it was his blood which would be sacrificed so that many could receive the remission sins.

    To the Jewish people the word “covenant” was a very important word. Israel came into existence as a nation which was to belong to God because of a covenant God made with Abraham. Everything that happened in Israel for hundreds of years was the result of that covenant. This new covenant was God’s provision for all people to have opportunity to be His people.

    Years later Paul wrote this statement about Jesus’ blood.
    Ephesians 1:7,8 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.

    As you drink the grape juice, remember Jesus’ blood. Remember it with joy and appreciation. Without Jesus’ blood, you and I are guilty before God with no hope and no means of dealing with our guilt. With Jesus’ blood, you and I are a part of God’s family with hope because of the forgiveness of our guilt.

  • Prayer

  • Taking the grape juice

  • Song #429 “Oh, To Be Like Thee”

    Have you ever wondered what it was like to take communion among Christians in the first century? Have you always assumed their communion procedures were pretty much like our communion procedures?

    First, let’s remember some basic circumstances. Early Christians were a small minority. If it was a Jewish congregation of Christians, if they were located among a large population of Jews, most of the Jews in that place did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or Christ that God promised Israel. Many times Jewish Christians were neither respected nor appreciated by the majority of Jews who rejected Jesus as being God’s Christ.

    If it was a congregation in which most of the Christians were not Jews, they were still a minority and still unpopular. Many thought they were a threat to the Roman government. The Roman government despised new cults that drew people away from the traditional Roman gods, and Christianity was classified as one of those new cults. Since Christians honored the one living God and rejected all other gods, many people regarded Christians to be a dangerous threat to society and the economy. Many were convinced that Christians angered the gods by honoring only one God.

    Often early Christians were neither respected nor appreciated.

    They did not build church buildings. They lived in a world that considered Sunday the first day of the work week. Probably Christians meet either early in the morning or in the evening. They did not have communion trays for sharing the bread and the grape juice. They did not have refrigeration or our common forms of preserving food, so the grape juice was juice if it was near the harvest and wine if the harvest was long passed.

    What they did was so different that most of us would have felt awkward and out of place. From the information available to us today, this seems to be what they did, at least among Christians who were not Jews. They met in homes in small groups of believers. They shared a meal together to affirm their bonds of togetherness because all of them placed their faith in Jesus Christ. The meal preceded communion that came at the end of the meal when they joyfully remembered Jesus’ body and blood.

    In the early Christian community, weekly communion did two things. Every week it remembered Jesus, Jesus who gave them salvation, Jesus who gave them hope, Jesus who loved them enough to die for them. As groups of Christians remembered Jesus, they affirmed their unity, their togetherness because all of them had one thing in common–they believed Jesus was the Christ.

    Today it is so easy for Christians to make communion a requirement we habitually keep in doing what we are supposed to do. The “spiritual magic” is in doing it. The benefit and the power is not in the remembering.

    When we remember, we appreciate.

    When we remember, we repent.

    When we remember, we renew our commitment to Jesus and to God.

    Do you believe Jesus is the Christ? Do you believe enough to make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life? Do you believe enough to remember, and to let God and your memories of Jesus change the way you live your life?

  • Invitation Song #359 “I Love the Lord”

  • Prayer for the offering

  • Contribution

  • Song #674 “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

  • Closing Prayer

  • Jabulani

    Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

    The first weekend in August, Joyce and I attended Jabulani Africa. The occasion was a celebration of 100 years of mission work on the continent of Africa. Attending provided us many blessings. Those blessings included having time with people we had not seen in years, meeting people in person we only knew by name, listening to spiritually mature African Christians and American Christians frankly discuss difficult challenges, and being encouraged by the worship and lessons.

    In the early 1970s when we lived and taught in West Africa, such an occasion was beyond imagination! We could not envision (during our lifetime) that spiritually mature Christians from Africa would come to America for such an occasion! Christians from twenty-six African nations were present. Each evening the featured speakers were African Christians. (There are congregations of the church in thirty-six of the fifty-six African nations.)

    Things have changed! Some of the congregations are as large as West-Ark. Some of the congregations have elders. Some of the congregations are sending trained missionaries to other African nations. Many places in Africa are quite receptive to Christian teachings. If one considers the entire range of influences our world recognizes as evangelical Christian influence, there is more evangelical Christian activity on the African continent than there is in North America. If Africa is not yet the center of Christian activity for our world, it soon will be.

    Two interesting pleas were made by spiritually mature, trained African brothers. The first: do not send us your American issues. Please do not use American perspectives to impose solutions on African problems. The second: let’s be partners and work together in our outreach throughout Africa. We understand the African mindset, and we have resources not available to you. Allow us to have input, and let us work together as partners.

    West-Ark indirectly had an important presence at Jabulani. A young lady who grew up in West-Ark, Kendra Parker Cutsinger [Joe and Terri Parker’s daughter] was an important “behind the scene” coordinator in Jabulani’s preparations and helped “make things happen” during the four-day gathering. Jim Wilson shared excellent, practical information concerning medical missions. He emphasized that the focus of medical missions was to assist evangelism in its outreach.

    May God always help us look and see beyond ourselves.

    Acts: Understanding Our Origin (part 4)

    Posted by on August 11, 2002 under Sermons

    I am sorry that there has been a three-week gap in this study. Let me begin with a brief review.

    In the first lesson we emphasized this fact: what occurred in Acts 2 was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel to “renew (or restore) the fortunes of Israel.” You read with me a number of texts to document from scripture that understanding.

    In the second lesson I called your attention to many statements in the first 9 chapters of Acts that verified the earliest church was completely Jewish. That does not mean that all Christians were physical descendants of Abraham. It means that all Christians were committed to Judaism prior to becoming Christians. Those first Christians worshipped at the temple, in synagogues, and followed Jewish practices. The key difference was the fact that they accepted Jesus as being God’s promised Messiah (Christ) to Israel.

    In the third lesson I called your attention to the huge question when the church began: must all Christians do things the way Jewish Christians do them?

    Tonight I want us to focus on a single point: the earliest argument among Christians (among people who believed and accepted Jesus as God’s Christ) was the argument about methods. If a believer from idolatry entered Jesus Christ, did he or she have to do things the way Jewish Christians did them? The core of the debate was NOT could non-Jewish people who lived in idolatry become Christians. The argument was this: what path should they follow to conversion to Christ, and how should they live after conversion to Christ?

    [The primary sources for some of the facts I share with you this evening are the Bible, Everett Ferguson’s Second Edition of Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Jack Lewis’ commentary, The Gospel According to Matthew, Volume II, and The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Volume 3.]

    1. To me, the beginning point for producing a deeper biblical understanding needs to begin with a deeper understanding of proselytes.
      1. Proselytes were people who were not descendants of Abraham through Isaac who had converted to the Jewish God and the teachings of Judaism which allowed them to be a part of the Jewish community.
        1. Was God interested primarily in Israel and the way Israel was commanded to do things?
        2. Was God interested in all people, not just Israel?
        3. Some of the Jewish people in the first century (and likely before that time) said God was only interested in Israel, and it angered them for anyone to say otherwise.
        4. Some of the Jewish people in the first century (and likely before that time) said God was interested in all people.
      2. God made it clear very early that He was interested in all people.
        1. Hundreds of year before God made Israel a nation, He made this statement to Abraham in Genesis 12:3:
          “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
          1. God made many promises to Abraham in verses one, two, and three.
          2. But everything God promised Abraham was to result in a worldwide blessing on all people.
          3. Abraham’s descendants would be special to God, but God intended to use His work in Israel to bless all people.
        2. Even when Israel was a nation, God stressed His interest in people who were not Israelites.
          Exodus 12:48 But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.
          Leviticus 19:34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
          Numbers 15:30 But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people.
        3. Note:
          1. At the first Passover God made provisions for people who were not Israelites to take the Passover in the future.
          2. A person who was not an Israelite living in Israel was to be loved as if he were an Israelite.
          3. But, the person who was not an Israelite was required to live by the law of Moses.
      3. God never stopped declaring to Israel His interest in all people.
        1. Rahab was a prostitute from Jericho who assisted some Israelite spies when the invasion of Canaan was planned, and she was an ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ.
        2. Ruth was a Moabite who followed her mother-in-law to Israel as a person in poverty in very difficult times; she was King David’s great grandmother and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
        3. Jonah was an Israelite prophet sent to the Assyrians.
        4. The Jewish prophets made many statements of God’s interest in the nations.
        5. I suspect that in all ages it was common to have people who were not the descendants of Abraham living in Israel among Israelites who followed the teachings and practices of Israel.
      4. That was definitely the case in Israel when the church began.
        1. Acts 2:10 clearly states proselytes were present on the day of Pentecost when Peter presented the resurrected Jesus to Israel as God’s promised Messiah.
        2. Acts 6:5 clearly states that one of the seven Christians of good reputation full of the Spirit and wisdom selected to oversee the ministry to the widows was a proselyte.

    2. What do we know about Jewish proselytes?
      1. We know that Israelites were divided over the issue of accepting people who were not true descendants of Abraham (through Isaac) into the Jewish community.
        1. Some Israelites opposed the conversion of anyone. These Israelites were a minority.
          1. A person who was not the descendant of Abraham had no place in the Jewish community; a person was born into Judaism, not converted to Judaism.
          2. They said such people were more likely to sin.
          3. They likened them to sores on the skin of Israel.
        2. The majority of Israelites accepted the conversion of non-Jewish people.
          1. Proselytes were common in Israel in the first century.
          2. They also were a part of the early church.
        3. This disagreement should come as no surprise to us today.
          1. One huge problem in the church today is the feeling that some first generation Christians are second-class members.
          2. They are less likely to become a part of the church’s leadership.
          3. They are less likely to become “important adult teachers.”
      2. We know that proselytes perhaps did three things in their conversion to Judaism.
        1. If you were a male convert, you had to submit to circumcision, and all the males in your family had to be circumcised.
          1. That requirement resulted in many men believing in the God of the Jews, but not converting.
          2. Some did not convert because it was a painful requirement.
          3. More did not convert because they regarded circumcision to be a disgusting practice.
        2. If you were a male or a female, you were ceremonially immersed, and that immersion was very similar to our baptism.
          1. It was a cleansing ceremony, a spiritual ceremony.
          2. The person immersed himself or herself in the presence of witnesses.
          3. The witnesses recited the commandments of Judaism as the person performed this cleansing or baptism.
        3. A proselyte was expected to give a gift to the Jewish temple.
          1. This requirement is debated.
          2. Was it a requirement only in Palestine only prior to the destruction of the temple?
      3. My point: people who were not Jews were converted to Judaism long before Christianity began.
        1. The debate between Paul and Jewish Christians in Acts 15 and Galatians 2 was not about the right of people who are not Jews to come to Christ.
        2. The debate was about how that happened.
        3. It was about the route of conversion to Christ or the methodology of coming to Christ.

    3. Allow me to try to show you clearly what this intense argument was about.
      1. Many Jewish Christians said that of course people who were not Israelites could become Christians, but to do so they first had to learn to do Jewish things Jewish ways.
        1. First, they had to believe in the one God, not the many gods of idolatry.
        2. Second, they had to be indoctrinated on the correct things to do and the correct way of doing them.
        3. Third, they had to be circumcised then immersed.
        4. Fourth, they had to have their lives monitored to see that they lived by Jewish law.
        5. The end result was that the church would be Jewish in its practices.
        6. This was the only way to make certain that people who were converted from idol worship did godly things in godly ways.
      2. Paul said this was totally unnecessary for conversion to Christ.
        1. If a person believed that Jesus was the Christ,
        2. If a person wished to turn away from a life of idolatry to Jesus Christ,
        3. If a person was immersed into Christ,
        4. He or she was in 100% relationship with God, saved from his or her sins.
        5. A person did not have to be an Israelite or do things the way Israelites did them in order to be a Christian.
        6. God through His Spirit would produce the fruit of the Spirit in that convert’s life.
      3. That was the issue.
        1. It was not about could they become Christians.
        2. It was about the path they followed to become Christians.
        3. Could one serve God in Christ without learning Jewish ways?
          1. Some Jewish Christians said it was absolutely essential to do things in Jewish ways–circumcision and observance of the law of Moses was a must (Acts 15:1,5).
          2. Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy , and other Jewish Christians said those who were not Israelites did not do things the way Jews did them.

    That was a major first century issue in the early church, and a very heated, emotional issue. If in Acts 15 it had been decided that all Christians must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, it is highly probable that you would not be a Christian.

    Letting Our Spirits Heal

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Many of us, if not most of us, spent much of this week in shock and grief. Many of us knew George and Hazel Hastings. Some of you knew them well for many years. He served as an elder in one of the congregations that merged to form West-Ark. Many of us held cherished personal relationships with them. They were an honored, active part of this congregation. Even though they were elderly [88 and 84], they were actively involved in visiting and encouraging others.

    Some of you were actively involved in encouraging them. Last Sunday they were not with us, and that was very unusual for them. Some of you called them Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening to see if they were okay. They explained to at least some of their callers that George was not feeling well. That coupled with Hazel’s struggle with the pain of her “shingles” kept them at home.

    1. One of the questions that haunted our thoughts this week: “What could I have done to prevent this tragedy?”
      1. All of us have been in a state of shock.
        1. A lot of tears have been shed the last few days.
        2. Many have struggled with “dazed” feelings.
        3. I am sure that neither George nor Hazel had even a small idea of how distressful their deaths would be to so many people.
      2. What occurred was so out of character.
        1. George and Hazel were gentle, kind, helpful people.
        2. They were married for 62 years, and were extremely close and independent.
          1. They depended on each other, and only on each other.
          2. Hazel grew up as a orphan.
          3. For years her greatest fear was being left alone; in fact, years ago she formed an agreement with George that he would never leave her alone.
          4. They were very open about the fact that they wanted to die at the same time–neither of them could consider continuing life without the other, and being a burden on their family was not an option.
        3. Hazel was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; they did a good job of disguising how advanced her condition was.
        4. Quite recently George was informed an aggressive form of cancer would end his life soon.
          1. His death would mean that he could no longer be Hazel’s caretaker.
          2. It also would mean her worst fear would happen: she would have to continue life without him.
          3. Even with all the assurances from their children, that was unacceptable to both of them.
      3. So that leads us back to our question: “What could I have done to prevent this tragedy?”
        1. When I answer from my perspective, listen to all of my explanation.
        2. “What could I have done to prevent this tragedy?” Nothing.
        3. All her life Hazel’s worst fear was being left without George.
          1. That fear was founded in her experiences of living as an orphan as a child.
            1. That fear intensified when a grown son died of cancer.
            2. That fear intensified as her Alzheimer’s progressed.
          2. That fear had been a part of her married life for many, many years.
          3. That is why long ago she had George promise her that he would never leave her to live alone.
        4. Their children made special efforts to assure each of them that they would never be a burden and would never be abandoned.
          1. Years ago they actually got them to agree to move closer.
          2. When the time of moving neared, George and Hazel refused to move.
        5. They wanted to be independent, and they refused to consider any other arrangement.
          1. They made it very clear long ago that nursing homes were not an option.
          2. They made it very clear long ago that moving was not an option.
          3. They made it very clear long ago the there was only one acceptable situation: depending on each other as they took care of each other in their own home.
        6. These were not their decisions that were made in the past few weeks or few months.
          1. These were their decisions made years ago.
          2. These were their options and the way they lived for years.

    2. George and Hazel’s deaths offer unusual spiritual challenges: their tragic deaths almost demand that we examine our basic concepts of Christian existence.
      [Transition: An 88 year old man married to an 84 year old woman for 62 years chose to die this week. They made their choice after a lifetime of devotion to Christ and the church. Their choices demand that we think about three common concepts most Christians accept without thought.]
      1. The first consideration: our basic understanding of Christian existence needs honest re-examination.
        1. We have seriously oversimplified the nature of Christianity.
          1. Some of you say, “That is crazy! In no way have we oversimplified Christianity!”
          2. Some of you say, “I am terribly confused. This whole event does not make sense. I have no idea what to think.”
          3. Some of you say, “Obviously we need to do some serious thinking.”
        2. If you think that Christianity is simple and we have all the answers, I challenge you to consider two examples as I ask you some basic questions.
          1. Example one: how could king David be a man after God’s own heart and (a) commit adultery with Bathsheba and (b) have Uriah killed in an attempt to hide his adultery?
            1. If the answers are so simple why did God allow David to keep Bathsheba as a wife?
            2. How could God allow the next king of Israel be Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba?
          2. Example two: how could an apostle be guilty of hypocrisy and influence other Christians to indulge in hypocrisy?
            1. In Acts 10 God used a variety of methods [including visions, the voice of the Holy Spirit, and the falling of the Holy Spirit] to convince the apostle Peter that people who were not Jews or Jewish converts were not to be rejected by Jewish Christians as “unclean” people, and the apostle Peter finally understood and did just as God directed.
            2. In Acts 11 Christians in the Jerusalem congregation were upset with the apostle Peter for associating with people who were not Jews or Jewish converts.
            3. In Acts 15 some of these upset Christians traveled to the first non-Jewish congregation, rejected their salvation, and caused serious confusion.
            4. Later, in that very same congregation (Galatians 2:11-13), the apostle Peter did the exact opposite of what God commanded.
            5. The apostle Peter did this because he was afraid of some Jewish Christians who came from the Jerusalem church.
            6. Paul said what the apostle Peter did was an act of hypocrisy that influenced others to be hypocrites.
          3. We have oversimplified the basic nature of Christianity, and that oversimplification produces confusion and consequences.
      2. The second consideration: every single Christian–without exception–totally depends on the mercy of God’s forgiveness.
        1. Every one of us who are God’s sons or God’s daughters have relationship with God because of God’s major forgiveness every single day of our lives.
        2. If God’s merciful forgiveness were withdrawn from any of us, none of us could be God’s son or daughter.
        3. I am not God’s son because I am good; I am God’s son because I am forgiven.
        4. We urgently need to spiritually mature to the point that we stop placing our faith in our goodness and start placing our faith in God’s mercy.
      3. The third consideration: we need to define correctly God’s core concern.
        1. When I talk about God’s core concern, this is the issue:
          1. What is God’s core concern?
          2. Not, what is our core concern?
          3. By “core concern” I mean the heart of God’s basic concern.
        2. The answer we gave for almost 100 years is this: God’s core concern is proper worship procedures.
          1. We have created the impression among ourselves that God’s greatest single concern is how we do worship.
          2. We have created this conviction: as long as we do worship right, God is pleased.
            1. If you have a horrible marriage, that is okay; just do not miss communion on Sunday.
            2. If you neglect your children, that is okay; just sing a cappella in worship on Sunday.
            3. If you commit adultery, that is not the end of the world; just stay through the invitation song on Sunday morning.
            4. You and I could illustrate this truth in many ways.
          3. We have said that to God, the core of Christianity is worship procedures, not relationship realities.
        3. God’s core concern has never changed: it always has had a double emphasis, relationship with God and relationship with people. Briefly consider five examples.
          1. Consider the ten commandments God gave Israel in Exodus 20.
            1. My understanding: those commandments were God’s basic expectations and were the foundation of everything else God commanded Israel.
            2. Four of those commands declared Israel must have profound respect for God.
            3. Six of those commands declared Israel must treat others properly.
            4. None of those commands dealt with what we regard to be worship procedures.
          2. Consider Isaiah 1:10-17.
            1. Every single worship act that God found offensive was commanded.
            2. To me the emphasis is very clear. Listen to Isaiah 1:16,17.
              “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.
            3. “You place your emphasis on worship, and your worship makes me sick.”
            4. “First, learn to treat people as I want them treated.”
          3. Consider Matthew 12:1-7. The Pharisees verbally attacked Jesus over what they regarded as violations of the Sabbath day.
            1. In Jesus’ response, he made this statement:
              Matthew 12:7 But if you had known what this means, “I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent.
            2. Compassion was about the way people were treated.
            3. Sacrifice was about worship.
            4. Number one with God is the way people were treated.
          4. Consider Matthew 22:36-40. Often we refer to Jesus’ response to God’s greatest commandment.
            1. Love God with all your being.
            2. Love your neighbor like yourself.
            3. Jesus never separated these two commands.
          5. Consider Romans 13:8,10. Paul stressed the same truth. When writing to the Christians in Rome, he said:
            Romans 13:8 he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
            Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    “Are you saying that what we do in worship is unimportant?” No, that is not what I am saying. God’s core of relationship with Him is how we treat people. That is what Christianity is about. Worship honors God when we first treat other people right.

    Our failure to understand that is destroying us.

    Ultra-Selfishness and God’s Forgiveness

    Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

    We live in a selfish country existing in a selfish world. In specific ways, all countries and all ages have been selfish. Christianity began in a “me” centered society located in a “me” centered empire. Perhaps saying we are a selfish society indicates no more than this: today’s selfishness continues a long history of human selfishness in every age.

    Evil always makes people selfish. Eve ate the forbidden fruit to have God’s knowledge of good and evil. Cain killed his brother Abel. Israel built a golden calf in the wilderness. Israel worshipped the Baals in Canaan. The rich young ruler asked Jesus the “right” question. Ananias and Sapphira lied about their gift. They all thought what they did was to their advantage.

    Selfishness motivated all of them, and resulted in horrible consequences. What appeared to be “good for me” was disastrous. Sometimes fear produces selfishness. Sometimes pleasure produces selfishness. Sometimes the desire for advantage produces selfishness.

    We live in a sexually saturated society that makes sexual pleasure an American god. Our commercials, our television programs, our movies, and our Internet all have a significant sexual component.

    The more devoted we become to this god, the more selfish we become. It is not the unselfish relationship of successful marriage many seek. It is the “rightful” pursuit of personal gratification many demand. As hunger for selfish sexual excitement grows, marriage disintegrates, divorce is common, and pornography is a constitutional “right.”

    The most devastating result of sexual selfishness is abortion. For some, discovery of a pregnancy is a worrisome inconvenience threatening “my” lifestyle. For others, the discovery of a pregnancy is a time of horrible fear and major anxiety. In both situations, there is a “simple solution” — abortion. One person endures the “inconvenience” of abortion and feels little.

    Another person fearfully submits to an abortion and never forgives herself for destroying a life. Christians have a dilemma. We are anti-abortion. Yet, we are pro-forgiveness. Please do not allow the god of sexual pleasure to seduce you. Selfish gratification at the altar of the god of sex kills.

    God did not give us the gift of sexual intercourse to be selfish. If worshipping at the altar of the god of sex resulted in a pregnancy and abortion, learn about God’s forgiveness. Repent and forgive yourself by accepting God’s forgiveness. Let Him heal your heart and conscience with His forgiveness.

    The Challenge

    Posted by on August 4, 2002 under Bulletin Articles

    Representing God is extremely difficult. No, representing God is impossible. Representing Jesus Christ, God’s son, is extremely difficult. God is beyond our ability to comprehend. Jesus spent time on earth as a human. Our common bond of humanity with Jesus enables us to partially relate to Jesus. However, his dependence on God was absolute, and that is beyond our ability to comprehend.

    One of our greatest challenges in representing God and Jesus Christ is the challenge of understanding God’s balance between compassion and condemnation. In compassion is opportunity for forgiveness. In condemnation is opportunity for rejection. Human repentance determines if forgiveness or rejection occurs. Some who benefit from compassion refuse to repent. Some who are condemned do repent.

    The congregation representing God and Jesus Christ accepts two equal responsibilities regarding evil. The first is show compassion to people. The second is to condemn evil. Doing both in ways that represent God and Jesus Christ is extremely difficult.

    Some see no difficulty. Yet, the difficulty obviously arises. Those who primarily show compassion can in compassion condone evil. Those who primarily condemn can in condemnation show no feeling for others’ struggles. Humans do a poor job of finding and clinging to the ability to be compassionate toward people while condemning evil. We do not quickly see, acknowledge, or honor God’s balance between compassion and condemnation. We are poor at realizing when to do what.

    The Pharisees were quite judgmental. To them, most everything was “black” or “white.” It was merely a matter of knowing God’s law and applying it to the situation. Jesus drove them crazy. He ate with those “with whom a godly person does not associate” (Matthew 9:10-13). He offered a divorcee the water of life (John 4) and allowed a sexually sinful woman to touch him (Luke 7:37-50). Compassion for people often served as his motivation (Matthew 14:14). He often forgave a person’s sins (Matthew 9:1-8).

    This “unacceptable” behavior drove the Pharisees “ballistic”! Jesus and the Pharisees agreed about what the law said. They disagreed over the law’s priorities. That disagreement never ends! Most spiritual disagreements are not over what God’s word says, but over its priorities.

    Only Jesus can show us God’s priorities. Only Jesus can teach us that every person is a person before God, not a problem or a statistic. Only Jesus can teach us that God loves each person and will do everything for others He does for us.

    Representing God is impossible! Representing Jesus Christ is extremely difficult!