Your Spiritual Needs Matter

Posted by on September 29, 2002 under Sermons

(The format of this occasion of sharing with the congregation was different. David Chadwell and Brad Pistole sat on two stools in the pulpit area [on that level]. They shared information about the upcoming Congregational Family Needs Analysis by each asking three questions. They used an informal dialogue format to share with and inform the congregation.)

This morning Brad and I want to share some important (perhaps critical) information with you. We are going to share this information by asking each other questions. We hope you listen, think, and remember.

  1. David asked Brad three questions and Brad shared information in his answers to those questions.
    1. The three questions David asked Brad:
      1. Brad, what should be our definition of Family Life Ministry?
      2. Brad, what are the objectives in developing a Family Life Ministry?
      3. Brad, explain to us what a Family Life Ministry is and is not.
    2. The information that Brad shared included the following:
      Many people are thinking, “Family Life Ministry … I continue to hear that term, but I’m just not sure what you mean by that.” We need to begin by defining what we mean by Family Life Ministry.

      Family Life Ministry is ministry of the church through preventative and therapeutic efforts designed to strengthen ALL forms of families in the church and in the community.

      In other words, we want to begin by finding some form of ministry for every single member of our church family, whether they are single, married, divorced, remarried, widowed, young, old, or in between. By actively involving every member in some form of ministry or service to others, we will in turn, be better prepared to reach out to our community and reach others for the cause of Christ.

      Good Family Life Ministry will be built on 3 things:

      1. The Bible
      2. Marriage and the Family
      3. Adult Education– address and prevent problems before they arise and teach people how to deal with specific problems when they do arise.

        The church often deals with the task of having to “pour cold water on smoldering ashes.” Effective Family Life Ministry helps you “get there before it’s too late”–before the problems arise.

      Before we go any further, let us tell you what Family Life Ministry is not. Family Life Ministry is not:

      1. Building a Facility
      2. Not necessarily expensive (it can start small and grow to different levels and involve many different ministries)
      3. Not a catalog of programs–(“if we just get the right program, it will fix everything here”).
      4. A “title only” approach to ministry–(“we definitely need something new here, so let’s start this new thing and give it a fancy name”).
      5. A counseling center–it will involve counseling but goes far beyond just counseling alone.
      6. Not just limited to mom, dad, and the kids–(The percentage of traditional families in the church has dropped to about 15%. [The definition of a traditional family: parents and children with the father working as the only source of financial income. Mom stays at home.] The number of families in the church that are dual income families has risen to over 25%. The fastest growing type of family in the church is the single parent family. There are also singles, blended families, and widow/widowers.)

      Family Life Ministry is a philosophy of ministry that is people centered and seeks to do good to others just as Jesus did.

      Family Life Ministry will help families begin their spiritual journeys, grow, suffer, struggle, etc. In order to do this, the leadership must know their members well.

      Because of the need to know each member better, we have decided to participate in a Congregational Needs Analysis. This 25 question survey will allow the leadership to get to know the congregation better and it will better prepare us for the types of programs and educational classes we need to provide our families here.

  2. Brad asked David three questions and David shared information in his answers to the questions.
    1. The three questions Brad asked David:
      1. David, what is God’s purpose for any person [man or woman] being a Christian?
      2. David, what do you consider to be ONE critical understanding that each one of us in the congregation needs right now?
      3. David, you have spent forty years of your life preaching, teaching, counseling, and studying. With all of that as a background, what do you understand God wants us to be as a congregation of Christians?
    2. The information David shared in his answers included the following:
      1. Question one: what is God’s purpose for any person [man or woman] being a Christian?
        Let me begin my answer by stating that I am convinced (even among Christians) many purposes we champion for being a Christian are more about our purposes than God’s purposes.
        1. These common purposes have existed for a very long time.
        2. They have been around so long that the vast majority accept them and no one uses the Bible to question them.
        3. In fact, to question them is to be “ungodly,” “unbiblical,” and disloyal to the church.

        My understanding of God’s purposes for being a Christian must included these two basic understandings:

        1. God’s purpose for the man or woman who becomes a Christian is for him or her to become a spiritual person in Jesus Christ.
          1. That is much, much more than becoming a member of the church.
          2. That is the dedication of that Christian man or woman to let Jesus Christ remake him or her into a specific kind of person.
        2. God’s purpose for the man or woman who becomes a Christian is for him or her to come as close to His mind and His heart as possible.
          1. He or she wants to think from Jesus’ perspective because Jesus thinking was God’s thinking in a human body living in this world.
          2. He or she wants to have the feelings of Jesus (again) because Jesus’ feelings are God’s feelings clothed in a human body in the world.
      2. Question two: what do you consider to be ONE critical understanding that each one of us needs in the congregation right now?
        1. One critical understanding everyone of us needs to have in common right now is this: it is okay with God for Christians to be different. Romans 14 made that point very powerfully to the Christians in Rome.
        2. God’s objective in Jesus is to make spiritual persons, not to make spiritual clones.
        3. Each one of is an individual. God wants each one of us to be a godly individual.
      3. Question three: what do you understand God wants us to be as a congregation of Christians?
        1. This is my understanding of what God wants us to be as a congregation of Christians: any struggling person could come into our midst and sense quickly that he or she could find help with those struggles and encouragement.
        2. People who are hurting should be able to be with us and quickly sense that we care.
          1. With a little time they should be able to understand that we care because we know God.
          2. With a little time they should be able to understand that knowing God is the greatest source of pain relief in existence.
      4. There is a lot of pain among us.
        1. We need to provide the teaching and help that opens our lives to God.
        2. To do that, we need to know where you are hurting and in need.
        3. That is the purpose of this analysis.

      [Transition: Brad steps down and David closes]

  3. If Jesus the man lived in Fort Smith today, and if Jesus the man met with this congregation, several of us would have a very difficult time hearing him and watching him.
    1. Think about only the people and incidents that are found in the gospel of John.
      1. In John 2, he took plain water and turned it into wine at a wedding feast.
        1. If he performed a miracle right here right now, some of us would have real problems–“Jesus, you simply cannot do that here. Miracles are not permitted around here.”
        2. If he made wine right here right now, some of us would have real problems–“Jesus, you simply cannot do that here. Alcoholic beverages are not permitted around here.”
      2. In John 2, he ran people out of the temple because they were there for the wrong reason.
        1. If right here right now he got into someone’s face and told that person to get out of here because they were here for the wrong reason, some of us would say, “Jesus, you simply cannot do that here. ”
        2. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get people to come?”
      3. In John 3, he challenged the knowledgeable Nicodemus by demanding that he grasp the basic concept of the new birth.
        1. Nicodemus was very prestigious in the religious community, and Jesus exposed his ignorance.
        2. “Jesus, you simply cannot do that here. Do you have any idea of who he is?”
      4. In John 4, he offered living water to a Samaritan woman who had been divorced five times and was currently living with a man to whom she was not married.
        1. If he did that right here right now, some of us would say, “Jesus, you simply cannot do that here.”
        2. “That is not the kind of people God wants in His church.”
      5. In John 6, Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people many of whom had no spiritual interest in his teachings.
        1. If he did that right here right now, some of us would say, “Jesus, what are you doing? You simply cannot do that here.”
        2. “Do you have any idea of the problems you are creating?”
      6. In John 8, Jesus refused to condemn a woman who was taken as she was in the actual act of committing adultery.
        1. If he did that right here right now, some of us would say, “Jesus, you simply cannot do that here.”
        2. “People will get the wrong idea about God.”
      7. In John 9, he healed a blind man and really upset the religious community.
        1. If he did that right here right now, some of us would say, “Jesus, you simply cannot do that here.”
        2. “You are alienating the people who are serious about God matters.'”
      8. In John 12, he allowed Mary to anoint his feet with a very expensive perfume.
        1. If he did that right here right now, some of us would say, “Jesus, you simply cannot do that here.”
        2. “That is a waste of money, an extravagance that cannot be justified.”
        3. “You simply must learn to make better use of our resources.”
      9. In John 13, he very humbly washed his disciples’ feet.
        1. If he did that right here right now, some of us would say, “Jesus, you simply cannot do that here.”
        2. “You are embarrassing people by making them feel very awkward.”
        3. “Making people feel awkward is not what we are about.”

There are many, many lessons to be learned from all those incidents. To me it seems one lesson is obvious: Jesus cared. He cared about God. He cared about people. He cared about hurting people. In his caring, he gave hurting people hope.

The more you learn about God, the more you care about people. The more you learn about Jesus, the more you care about people. The more you learn about God and Jesus, the more you extend hope to struggling people.

Congregational Family Needs Analysis

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

This Sunday morning Brad Pistole and I will discuss the Congregational Family Needs Analysis. The elders request everyone to fill one out the following Sunday (October 6). [Yes, the analysis will be available to those who cannot be here October 6.] It is totally anonymous. The only information about your person requested is your age group (a multiple choice request). It is intentionally anonymous so each person can express himself or herself freely and honestly.

It has twenty-five (25) questions. Twenty-four (24) are multiple choice questions. The last question: “Additional comments.” Many should complete the survey in less than 20 minutes.

The basic objective is to gather information that will assist the elders and staff. It will help us address the spiritual needs of more people as classes, support groups, special events, etc., are planned. Without this information, we often plan on the basis of “what we think your spiritual needs are” rather than what you know your spiritual needs to be.

Often you are challenged to realize that members of this congregation have many differing spiritual needs. While all Christians have some similar needs (repentance, increasing faith, greater commitment and devotion, etc.), most Christians have needs unique to his or her situation. The combination of what is happening in one’s family; among one’s peers; in one’s work; in one’s educational process; in one’s severest temptations; in one’s greatest discouragements; in one’s most acute disappointments; in one’s harshest trials; and in one’s greatest fears make each of us unique.

What may be of powerful encouragement to one Christian may be meaningless to another Christian. What may powerfully motivate one Christian may leave another Christian unmoved. Spiritual maturity in Christ follows many paths. This information will help us improve the encouragement given each baptized believer as he or she travels his or her path. We want each of us to be closer to God a year from now than we are at this moment–regardless of how close to God each of us is now.

With a dialogue method, Brad and I will seek to help you memorably focus on the importance of the Congregational Family Needs Analysis. Jesus taught Jews and Samaritans. Paul taught Jews and Gentiles. Many of the early evangelists taught those who worshipped God and taught those who worshipped idols. The paths to faith in Jesus Christ often required different routes. Want a biblical example? Read the sermon in Acts 2 and the sermon in Acts 17. Note the differences in preaching to a Jewish audience and an audience who worshipped the gods.

God’s Christ is adequate for all groups, though each group is different. Help us plan for God’s Christ to meet your spiritual needs.

We Are Not Alone

Posted by on September 15, 2002 under Bulletin Articles

Last Sunday morning I shared this thought: we must not discourage God’s influence in our lives. Along with several Bible statements, I called this one to your attention:

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)

Consider this part of the statement: “… by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The “sealed” Paul used illustrated the fact that Christians at Ephesus must not “grieve the Holy Spirit” whom God allows to live in His people. It referred to a well known practice in that day. Persons of position or importance possessed signet rings. These rings made imprints. An imprint declared something was a person’s or from him.

For example, when such a person wanted to send a private letter to someone, he “sealed” the letter. Sealing wax was softened by heat, closed the message, and was imprinted [while soft] with his insignia. When the wax hardened, a broken “seal” was obvious.

What was the insignia’s purpose? It said several things. (1) “This is from me.” (2) “I intend this message for you personally.” (3) “This message belongs to me. It is my property given to you.” It protected a private, personal message.

Consider the contrast. A message not sealed belonged to anyone who wished to read it. They did not have our modern forms of mail service. Often a message passed from person to person before final delivery. If unsealed, everyone handling it could have it read. Ownership of the message was questionable. (A great way to start false rumors!)

I think Paul made this point to those Christians: “You are God’s property, and God verifies that fact. His seal is the Holy Spirit’s presence in your lives.” What did God’s seal verify? (1) It verified they were God’s because they were in Christ. (2) It verified that their relationship with God was individual and personal. (3) It verified that their lives, their existence were God’s property. They BELONGED to God!

What was their responsibility? They must understand they belonged to God. God’s ownership was to be obvious in them internally — in heart, in emotions, in dedication. God’s ownership was to be obvious in them externally — in words spoken, in behavior, in habits. No one associating with them should fail to be aware that they belonged to God!

This statement includes an extremely important encouragement. God was at work in their lives. His influence actively worked in them to move them closer and closer to God. God’s influence within them must not be discouraged. They must not want to discourage His influence. Why? This influence meant THEY WERE NOT ALONE!

The person in Christ is not on his or her own! WE ARE NOT ALONE!

Being God’s Person Inside and Out

Posted by on September 8, 2002 under Sermons

All of us are astounded when we meet someone who sees basic things in ways that are completely different from the way we see them. They can look at the exact situation I look at and see something completely different. Thus I wonder how could he possibly see what he sees, and he wonders how could I possibly see what I see.

My first introduction to this truth came through my involvement in mission work in West Africa. I actually thought I was well prepared to do that work because I loved people and was devoted to God’s word. Actually, I was poorly prepared to do that work because I did not understand a basic fact: people who come from different cultures use different thought processes.

May I use two illustrations. The first illustration is based on the word “missionary.” To most of us that is a good word. Twenty-five years ago it was a very good word in the church in this culture. To us (and those who sent us) it was a word that said love, compassion, caring, sacrifice, and devotion.

But to many who received us, it was a terrible word. “Do you think we are an ignorant people? Do you think we are the kind of people who need missionaries? Do you think we are uneducated? Do you think the way to help us is by destroying the values and relationships we honor?” The concepts involved in the word “missionary” insult many people.

Second illustration: I thought everyone used and followed the same thought process, just used different languages to think as they thought in the same ways. Was I ever wrong! There are many different ways to think. If all a person does is master another language, he or she still will not communicate well if he or she does not learn how to think like other people think.

The ruling counsel of a sizable village charged one of our mature students with a crime. I asked and received permission to attend the hearing. I listened for about an hour as they discussed the crime this student committed on a specific date. On that date at the time he was accused of committing the crime, he was in school, not in the village.

I politely asked for permission to speak and explained he was in school. They politely listened, thanked me, and continued their discussion.

The student was Nigerian. The village was Camerounian. The counsel was offended because they felt the student acted disrespectfully to Camerounians. This was the way they addressed and corrected the situation.

Ridiculous? Not at all! They just did not use my Western logic to address their problems. The student knew what was happening and why. The counsel knew what was happening and why. I was the one who did not understand what was happening and why. I did not think the way they thought.

Before you decide that is ridiculous, force yourself to remember in this culture a time when you rejected someone because he or she did not think your thoughts in the way you think.

This evening I call your attention to Matthew 15.

  1. The Pharisees and scribes confronted Jesus with a serious religious question.
    1. To use our words, they said, “Explain yourself. For generations, in accordance with the teachings of those long respected, we have religiously purified our hands before we ate. Why do you not require your disciples to practice this?”
      1. First, we need to place the issue in clear focus.
        1. Jesus did not oppose all tradition because all tradition is bad.
        2. Jesus opposed a specific kind of tradition: tradition that contradicts God’s commands (teachings).
      2. Second, we need to understand their concern.
        1. Many Jews went through a religious ceremony of purifying their hands before they ate.
        2. The purpose seemingly was to protect them from accidentally defiling themselves before God when they ate.
      3. Third, we need to understand Jesus’ reply.
        1. “Why are you guilty of doing what you accuse me of doing?”
        2. “The ten commandments instruct you to take care of your aging parents.”
        3. “You say that if a person makes a pledge to the temple, your pledge to the temple takes precedence over one of God’s commandments.”
        4. “That is hypocrisy! As Isaiah the Prophet said: you use good words when you talk, but that is all it is–just words. Your heart is not in what you say. You consider human rules to be more important than God’s teachings.”
        5. “God knows it, so your worship is just words and an insult to God.”
    2. Jesus then asked the multitude of people to listen to him and understand.
      1. “It is not what you put in your mouth that makes you impure before God.”
      2. “It is what comes out of your mouth that makes you impure before God.”
      3. From its beginning hundreds of years before, Israel thought keeping the dietary code in Leviticus 11 was an essential key to purity.
        1. Purity long had been a procedure, a ritual.
        2. Jesus said purity involves much more than adopting what you conclude are the right procedures.
    3. Jesus’ disciples then said to Jesus, “Don’t you realize what you just said offended the Pharisees?”
      1. The Pharisees were the symbols of devotion and knowledge of God’s word.
      2. Jesus answered by making two statements:
        1. “If God did not plant it, it will be uprooted.”
        2. “Blind people make horrible guides.”
    4. Peter then asked for an explanation.
      1. Jesus’ first response: “You mean you do not understand either?”
      2. Jesus’ second response:
        1. “When you eat food, the body will eliminate it–the act of eating does not change your spiritual condition.”
        2. “But what you say comes from your heart, and this does reveal your spiritual condition.”
        3. “That does defile you before God.”
        4. “From your heart comes evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, stealing, deceitfulness, and slandering, and these things defile you before God.
        5. “Failing to ceremonially purify your hands before you eat will not make you spiritually impure, but letting evil live in your heart and express itself in your life will make you spiritually impure.”

  2. I want to encourage you to do some in-depth thinking about the situation and the problem Jesus addressed.
    1. First, think about the Pharisees.
      1. It is very easy to stereotype these men as a group of “bad people,” “religious villains.”
        1. That stereotype is misleading.
        2. These were devoutly religious people who totally disagreed with Jesus’ approach to God or his emphasis in Judaism.
        3. In their understanding of scripture, Jesus was teaching error.
      2. Consider:
        1. Did the Pharisees believe in the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ? Yes.
        2. Did they believe that God’s word was inspired, the truth, the living will of God? Yes.
        3. Did they believe that God’s word was the final authority in all religious discussions? Yes.
        4. Did they believe that Israelites had to obey God and do precisely what God said do? Yes.
        5. Did they believe that God’s word could be applied to any situation that arose as the world changed? Yes.
      3. Then what was the problem between these people and Jesus?
        1. The Pharisees tended to equate obedience with following the correct procedures.
        2. They determined correct procedures by:
          1. Applying God’s word to every situation.
          2. By considering what had happened in the past important.
          3. This was the way they answered two questions: what and how.
        3. What occurred in Matthew 15 illustrates how they thought and what they did.
          1. What does God expect in His people? Purity or cleanliness; that is what God’s word said.
          2. In the matter of diet, how can an Israelite be pure? He or she ate the right foods, and he or she ate them in the correct manner.
          3. What was the correct manner? The past said an Israelite must go through the religious ceremony of hand washing prior to a meal.
          4. Was their intention evil or ungodly? No.
      4. Their approach to obeying God and following God illustrates a problem that always plagues conservative approaches to obeying God “by just doing what God said.”
        1. Such people want to do what God said for us to do, and that is good.
        2. In our zeal and dedication, too often we do not distinguish between what God said and what we think or conclude.
        3. In our zeal and dedication, too often we reduce obedience to God to what should be done and how it is done.
        4. Too often this is the result: we place too much emphasis on how and not enough emphasis on motives.
        5. When we do that, we easily become procedural and ritualistic; we attach more significance to what is done than why it is done.
    2. There are two extremes we always must keep in our awareness with the understanding that neither extreme accomplishes God’s purposes.
      1. Extreme # 1: reducing obedience to God to procedures.
      2. Extreme # 2: declaring that how we do things is unimportant as long as the heart is right.

Jesus did not endorse either extreme. Jesus said justifying your religious procedures at the expense of ignoring God’s purposes misses the point of belonging to God. It is not enough to control what your body does. One must give his or her heart to God. The key problem is what is in a person’s heart. The origin of evil in a person is his or her heart. It is not enough to control the body by following the right procedures. A Christian belongs to God inside and out.

Encouraging God’s Influence in Me

Posted by on under Sermons

Can you imagine saying this to anyone you care about or love? “You have entirely too much good influence in your life! Your peers encourage you to do all the right things in all the right ways. (Or) your best friend sees all of your finest qualities and encourages you to be the very best you that you can be. (Or) your husband constantly influences you to be a better person. (Or) your wife always inspires you to become a better person. (Or) the people you associate with everyday bring the best out in you. Your friends really help you be a better person.”

“And that is not good! The influences in your life encourage you to be too good. You are too compassionate, too kind to others, too merciful, too generous, too helpful, too considerate of others’ needs and feelings, too forgiving, too thoughtful, too caring. Do you not understand that being a good person is bad for you!”

Can you imagine saying that to any member of your family or to any Christian in this congregation?

The objective of being a Christian is to allow Jesus to have so much influence in our lives that he teaches us how to be godly. Would you think about these questions? Can any person have too much good influence from God in his or her life? Is it undesirable for any person to have too much of God’s good influence in his or her life?

  1. In Acts 2 Peter spoke to a Jewish audience about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    1. This was a dedicated, religious audience who were serious about God.
      1. Some of them were residents of Jerusalem (2:5).
      2. Some of them were pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost, one of Israel’s most important Jewish gatherings to honor God (2:8-12).
      3. Peter told this audience:
        1. They knew God sent Jesus because of Jesus’ power.
        2. They were responsible for Jesus’ death.
        3. God made this Jesus that they had crucified both Lord and Christ.
    2. Those whose consciences were penetrated by Peter’s statements earnestly wanted to know what they should do–Jesus was dead; they were responsible; was there anything they could do about the situation?
      1. Peter said yes, there was something they could do if they realized that they made a horrible mistake.
      2. Peter said there were two things they could do, and doing those two things would produce two results.
        Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
        1. The two things those who believed that Jesus was God’s Christ could do:
          1. Repent
          2. Be baptized
        2. The two results:
          1. The forgiveness of sins, including forgiveness for being responsible for the death of the Jewish Messiah God promised Israel.
          2. Receiving God’s Spirit in their lives as God’s gift to them.

  2. When we choose to become Christians (when we have enough faith in Jesus that we make a personal choice to repent and be immersed into Christ), God allows His presence to live in each of us.
    1. That fact is emphasized in a number of ways.
      1. When Peter spoke for the apostles before Israel’s highest court and affirmed that God resurrected Jesus from the dead, he made this statement:
        Acts 5:32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.
        1. There were two forms of witnesses to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.
          1. One form was human: “We are witnesses of these things.”
          2. One form was from God: “So is the Holy Spirit.”
          3. The Holy Spirit was more than just a witness; he was also God’s gift to those who obey God.
      2. To an entirely different group, Paul emphasized the same fact.
        1. Peter spoke to Jewish experts in God’s teachings.
        2. Paul spoke to people converted from idol worship to Jesus Christ.
      3. Paul urged these people to understand that they could not longer indulge their sexual desires in ungodly behavior.
      4. Listen to Paul’s explanation of why ungodly sexual behavior could not occur in the lives of these Christians.
        1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

    Song: #71 As The Deer
    Song: #683 I Am Mine No More

  3. One of the most difficult understandings to cling to, to embrace, to never turn loose of when we become Christians is this: “I am now totally dedicated to a changed existence.”
    1. What does that mean?
      1. It means that I desire God, I choose God as the most powerful, consuming, “every moment” influence in my life.
      2. It means I change my focus every day of my life in every situation.
      3. It means I change the ways I think and feel.
      4. It means I change the ways I act.
      5. It means I change my words and my conversation.
    2. In Ephesians 4:30 Paul made this statement to the Christians at Ephesus:
      Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
      1. “Paul, what are you talking about?”
      2. If God’s presence in my life is God’s gift to me when I repent and am baptized into Christ, if from that moment on the Holy Spirit living in me makes me God’s temple, I have a responsibility to God’s presence living in me.
        1. What is my responsibility?
        2. My responsibility is this: I encourage God’s presence in my life; I do not give God’s presence in my life grief.
        3. God’s presence in me is influencing me to be the godliest person I am capable of being.
        4. My responsibility is simple: I do not make the Spirit’s work in me more difficult.
      3. “How does a Christian do that?” I call your attention to the context:
        1. Verses 17-24–I begin by understanding I am no longer to live, act, feel, and think like an ungodly person.
        2. Verse 25–I do not deceive anymore.
        3. Verse 26–I am not controlled by anger anymore.
        4. Verse 28–I do not steal anymore.
        5. Verse 29–I do not use rotten words and rotten conversation any more.
      4. “I don’t understand; just what do I do if I refuse to cause God’s presence in me grief?”
        1. I stop being deceptive, being controlled by anger, stealing, and using rotten speech–all of which show contempt for people.
        2. Instead, I am truthful; when I feel anger, I make it brief; I do honest work and help those in need, I use speech that encourages people.
        3. God’s presence in me is the insignia (seal) verifying that I belong to God, that God has redeemed me.
      5. Paul reminded the Ephesian Christians that they would not be bitter, resentful people filled with malice, but kind and compassionate people filled with a forgiving attitude.
    3. To the Christians in Thessalonica Paul wrote this statement:
      1 Thessalonians 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.
      1. The words Paul used suggest that they had been quenching the Spirit and need to stop quenching the Spirit.
        1. “Quench” was a word whose common use was what was done when a person put out a fire.
          1. God’s presence in a Christian’s life is there to encourage that person to become an increasingly godly person.
          2. Paul stated it was possible for a Christian to oppose the Spirit’s work to the extent that you made the work of God’s presence impossible.
        2. “I technically want to be a Christian but I do not want to be a godly person.”
      2. Again, I call your attention to the context in chapter 5.
        1. Verses 1-5–Instead of being a bunch of irresponsible drunks who have no idea of what is happening, encourage each other and build each other up. (Your influence should make it easier for a Christian to be godly, not harder.)
        2. Verses 12, 13–Respect those who are encouraging you to be a godly person.
        3. Verse 14–Warn the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
        4. Verses 16-22–Do the kind of things that help you grow closer to God.

The person who is a Christian is not on his or her own. God’s presence lives in the Christian. God’s spirit lives in the Christian man or woman to influence him or her to grow closer and closer to God.

But that influence is not powerful in me unless I want it to be powerful. I cannot live my life any way I please and expect God’s presence to “make” me be what God wants me to be. I, through my attitudes and behavior, can grieve God’s presence in my life. I, through my attitudes and behavior, can quench God’s presence in my life. I can be influenced to become an increasingly godly person who constantly grows closer to God only if I want to be godly.

If I cooperate in every possible human way–by study, by prayer, by obedience–God’s Spirit within me as a Christian has an enormous challenge in moving me closer and closer to God.

I must want to cooperate! I must want to be a godly person! I must value closeness to God and His ways! God will do within me what I literally do not have the ability to do, but God will not do this in spite of my opposition. God will do it with my desire and cooperation.

As a Christian, I must not grieve the Holy Spirit. I must not quench the Spirit. I must work with God in becoming the man or woman God knows I am capable of becoming.

“Do I Have To?”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

I am amazed at how often I transform joyous blessings into agonizing drudgery. That seems to be characteristic of Americans. Too many Americans believe the “ideal life” combines no responsibility with sufficient money to be self-centered. Unfortunately, too many Christians confidently accept this conviction without thought.

I truly enjoy what I do. I always have felt blessed to do what I do. My age reminds me that a radical change is coming. Because of “the passing of time” I physically will not be able to do what I enjoy doing. What a strange thought!

If life’s only purpose is to be selfish and self-centered, life has no purpose. If all a person has to think about or consider is “me,” that person’s life is horribly empty. If “my” existence revolves around “my” pleasures and “my” desires, “I” am mixing the ingredients for a recipe of disaster. Consider:

Taking the garbage out is preferable to having no garbage.
“Having to work” is preferable to having no job.
Wearing clothes that are not “in” is preferable to wearing rags.
Having to attend school is preferable to not being able to read.
Mowing the grass is preferable to having no home.
Having “less than ideal” health care is preferable to having no health care.
Working is preferable to not eating.

Use your own life and experiences to expand this list. I have heard about people who ate other’s garbage to prevent starvation. I have lived where there were no jobs, where some people wore rags, where many people could not read, where many people had no home, and where some people went a lifetime without seeing one doctor.

In two completely different contexts this summer I talked with individuals who (a) came from impoverished third world countries and (b) were visiting the U.S.A. for the first time. I asked both the same question and received from both the same answer. Question: “What most impresses you about this country?” Answer: “Your infrastructure. You actually can see what your taxes do.”

Amazing! Not the food, the houses, the wealth, the pleasures, nor the lifestyles, but our use of taxes to create infrastructure! When was the last time you were thankful for our infrastructure? When was the last time you were grateful for the way our taxes are spent?

Perhaps we cannot be grateful for such things unless we live where there is little infrastructure, and we never see anything constructive produced by taxation.

By the way, when was the last time you felt deep gratitude for God’s forgiveness?

Acts: Understanding Our Origin (part 6)

Posted by on September 1, 2002 under Sermons

For five lessons I have asked you to consider specific information in the book of Acts that talk about Christianity in its earliest form. I have not asked you to agree with me. I have only asked you to look, to study, and to think from a perspective that many do not use when approaching Acts.

  1. Thus far I have asked you to study and consider these facts and situations revealed to us by Acts:
    1. In the first nine chapters of Acts the church is completely Jewish.
      1. The Jews who accepted Jesus as being the Christ or Messiah that God promised Israel understood that in Jesus God kept His promise to Israel.
        1. The “restoration of the fortunes of Israel” was understood to be God’s work in the resurrected Jesus.
        2. The early sermons to the Jewish people stressed that fact.
      2. The primary distinction between those Jews who were Christians and those Jews who were not was this: the acceptance of the resurrected Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah.
        1. Jews (a minority) who believed Jesus was the Christ or Messiah were Christians.
        2. Jews (a majority) who believed Jesus was not the Christ or Messiah were not Christians.
        3. Both believers and rejecters attended the synagogue and the temple.
        4. Both believers and rejecters honored Jewish customs and Jewish practices.
      3. Peter’s visit to the home of Cornelius and his social association with people who were not converts to Judaism created a major crisis among Jewish Christians.
        1. The issue was not can people who are not Jews be saved through the resurrected Jesus.
        2. The issue was can people who are not Jews be saved through the resurrected Jesus without approaching Jesus through Judaism.
      4. Paul, as a Christian, was falsely accused of doing two things:
        1. Defiling the Jewish temple by bringing people who were not Jews into temple areas forbidden them.
        2. Teachings Jews not to practice Jewish customs.
      5. Paul was not guilty of doing either of those things.
        1. He made a Jewish vow (likely Nazarite vow) prior to coming to Jerusalem on his last trip there (Acts 18:18).
        2. He sponsored four Christians who took a Jewish vow (likely Nazarite vow) and escorted them to the temple (Acts 21:20-26).
      6. He did the last thing by the direction of the Jewish elders to make a specific point to Jewish Christians who believed the false reports given against Paul.
        Acts 21:24b 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.

  2. This evening I want to call your attention to two things: the first is Paul’s defense speeches that are found in Acts 22, 24, and 26.
    (If you would like to do some deeper research in Paul’s defense speeches, a good starting source would be The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, complied by Ben Witherington, III.)
    1. In Acts 22, I ask you to note these things:
      1. Paul spoke to a Jewish audience (probably including proselytes) from some steps that connected the temple court yard of the Gentiles with the Antonian fortress.
      2. Verse 1 makes it clear that Paul addressed them as a Jew and identified with their Jewishness: he called them “brethren and fathers.”
      3. Verse 2 states he used their language (not Greek) to talk to them, and that they listened to him because he was speaking to them in Jewish language.
      4. In verses 3-5 he identifies with his Jewish audience by declaring his Jewish credentials.
        1. He was Jew born in Tarsus, Cilicia (which had an honored Jewish community).
        2. He grew up in Jerusalem.
        3. He was taught at the feet of Gamaliel, the most prestigious Rabbi in Israel of that time.
        4. He was conservatively taught the law of “our fathers”; he had a strict Jewish religious background.
        5. He was as zealous for God as they were.
        6. He was a persecutor of The Way.
        7. Jewish leaders right there in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin and the Jewish temple could verify these facts.
        8. His point is, “I am Jewish,” not “I used to be Jewish.”
      5. Then he explained why he become a believer in Jesus Christ. (Verses 6-21)
        1. He told them about his encounter with Jesus, and nobody got upset.
        2. He told them about the visit of Ananias, the man who was devout by the standards of the law and was respected by all Jews, and nobody got upset.
        3. He told them about his baptism, and nobody got upset.
        4. He told them about the warning he received in a vision, an nobody got upset.
        5. He told them about the instruction to go to non-Jewish people, and everybody got violently upset.
        6. They wanted to kill him because he associated with people who were not Jews.
    2. In Acts 24, I ask you to note these things:
      1. He made his defense before the Roman procurator or governor, Felix, after Jewish representatives from Jerusalem have accused him of being: (verses 5,6)
        1. A real pest.
        2. A man who stirred up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world.
        3. The ringleader of a dangerous group.
        4. A man who desecrated the Jewish temple.
      2. Paul defended himself by declaring his Jewishness: (verses 10-13)
        1. He went to Jerusalem to worship (as a Jew).
        2. He was not engaging in confusing discussions or riots in synagogues, or the temple, or the city of Jerusalem.
        3. The Jewish representatives could not prove any of their charges.
      3. He plainly admitted these things: (verses 14-16)
        1. He did belong to The Way.
        2. He served the God of the Jewish fathers.
        3. He believed everything that was in accordance with the Jewish Law.
        4. He believed everything that was written in the Jewish prophets.
        5. He placed the same hope in God that his accusers placed in God, a hope based on the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked.
        6. Because of his belief in the resurrection, he was serious to maintain always a blameless conscience before God and men (that would include Jews).
      4. He explained how this situation happened. (verses 17-21)
        1. He came to Jerusalem to bring a gift to Israel (probably the collection from Gentile churches).
        2. He was found in the temple quietly purifying himself (according to Jewish teaching), causing no disturbance.
        3. Those who caused the disturbance were Jews from Asia, not Jerusalem.
        4. One of two things should happen:
          1. Either the Jews from Asia should be there telling the court what he did wrong.
          2. Or the accusers who were present should tell the court what he did wrong in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin.
    3. In Acts 26, I ask you to note these things:
      1. Paul made his defense before King Agrippa who was an expert in Jewish customs and questions.
      2. He began by affirming his Jewishness. (verses 4-7)
        1. From the time he was a boy the way he lived demonstrated his commitment to Israel and to Jerusalem, and all Jews knew that.
        2. His commitment to Jewish ways was well known–he was a strict Pharisee.
        3. He was being tried because of the hope God gave the Jewish fathers.
        4. The Jews are accusing him because he was devoted to Jewish hope.
      3. He then explained why he believed in the resurrection of Jesus (verses 8-21)
      4. Everything he taught was in agreement with Moses and the Jewish prophets.
    4. Paul did not teach Jews to abandon Jewish ways, and Paul himself did not abandon Jewish ways.
      1. However, Paul did not bind Jewish ways on non-Jewish people.
      2. People who were not Jews did not have to do things the way Jews did them to be saved.
      3. Jews who believed in and accepted Jesus had to have some basic understandings.
        1. Jesus was the Christ that God promised Israel.
        2. Jesus is God’s high priest who represents Jews and all people before God.
        3. Jesus is God’s atonement sacrifice that eliminated Jewish atonement sacrifices.

  3. Most Christians who were Jews and most Christians who were converted from idolatry did things very differently.
    1. Most Jewish Christians met in synagogues when they were welcome; most Christians converted from idolatry did not.
    2. Most Jewish Christians who had access to the Jewish temple went to the temple; Christians converted from idolatry did not.
    3. Jewish Christians ate kosher food; Christians converted from idolatry ate many different kinds of foods.
    4. Jewish Christian could make certain kinds of sacrifices at the Jewish temple; Christians converted from idolatry did not.
    5. Jewish Christians observed regulations regarding religious purity that Christians converted from idolatry did not.
    6. Jewish Christians observed Sabbaths and Jewish holy days which Christians converted from idolatry did not observe.

  4. Turn to Romans 14. These differences are precisely the problem Paul addressed.
    1. I call your attention to:
      1. Verse 4: do not judge Jesus’ servant; Jesus’ judges each of you, you do not judge each other; Jesus can make both of you stand.
      2. Verses 5, 6: when it comes to what you eat or what days you observe, your actions should be determined by your convictions–the Lord knows when you are honoring him in what you do.
      3. Verse 10: do not judge each other or hold each other in contempt.
      4. Verse 16: do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as an evil thing (do not use your liberty destructively).
      5. Verse 20: do not tear down God’s work by insisting on things being done your way–even when your way is precisely what God has said.
    2. Let me make some observations: I ask you to think about these things in your heart and understanding.
      1. There are times when we create terrible disturbances among Christians because baptized believers in Jesus Christ sincerely do something others do not do.
        1. It may be raising hands.
        2. It may be clapping.
        3. It may be the kind of songs sung.
        4. It may be assembly atmosphere issues.
      2. The common reaction is to judge baptized believers who do things differently.
      3. The common judgment is made on their motives: “they are just drawing attention to themselves” or “they are just interested in entertainment.”
      4. Be careful! The Lord knows your heart and their heart. The Lord knows your motives and reasoning and their motives and reasoning.

One of the most difficult Christian challenges we face is learning how to spiritually encourage Christians who do things differently from ourselves.

My Origin and My View of You

Posted by on under Sermons

In today’s America there is likely more interest in ancestry than at any time in the history of this nation. The American people’s interest in genealogy is so great that almost every extended family has at least one person who has a deep interest in tracing “where we came from” and “who we are related to.”

Why all the interest? There is no single reason. For some it is a fun thing to do. For others it is a search for personal identity. For others it is a desire to connect with history. For others it is a desire to connect with their cultural heritage. For some it is the determination to connect with a sense of personal worth.

  1. Probably no one has a greater need for a sense of identity than someone who has just been released from a life of slavery.
    1. Being forced to exist in harsh slavery dehumanizes a person.
      1. You are forced to look at yourself as a piece of property instead of a person.
      2. Others treat you like a piece of property.
      3. Your only value is produced by what you are able to perform for others.
      4. What you think does not matter.
      5. What you feel does not matter.
      6. What you need does not matter unless it affects what you can do for those who own you.
    2. For generations the Israelite people existed as slaves in Egypt.
      1. It seems their principle function was to provide the muscle power for building projects.
      2. They had every reason to view themselves as a bunch of nobodies.
      3. When God released them from slavery they were still a bunch of nobodies–they were just freed nobodies instead of enslaved nobodies.
        1. Just because you are given freedom does not mean that your view of yourself instantly changes.
        2. Most of us have seen that truth in our lifetimes.
          1. In 1992, Joyce and I had the opportunity to travel to Russia.
          2. I was given the opportunity to speak in English in a Russian University.
          3. I had that opportunity because their communistic form of government was replaced with a democratic form of government.
          4. The people I met and worked with were “free” but they had no hope.
          5. They had no opportunity when communism fell, and had (if possible) even less opportunity now that they were free.
          6. Being free did nothing to change the way they looked at themselves, their lives, or their futures.
        3. In 1993 Joyce and I visited a mission work in Gadinya, Poland.
          1. We were working one-on-one teaching mostly university students as we assisted a missionary family.
          2. The husband and father of the family we assisted was Polish, born in Poland, grew up in Poland.
          3. While we were there, something he had imported arrived in a port in West Germany, and we made a trip to pick it up.
          4. He planned his trip so that he did not have to stop for anything in what had been East Germany.
          5. Was the wall down? Yes.
          6. Were the fences, the “no man’s land,” the barbed wire barriers gone? Yes.
          7. Had being free changed the way the people looked at themselves and others? No.
    3. Because the Israelite slaves were released from Egyptian slavery and crossed the Red Sea meant they were truly free, but it did not mean that instantly they stopped thinking like slaves.
      1. God did many things when He freed them to form a bond between those slaves and the God who could care for them.
      2. But these slaves needed a sense of identity.
      3. Unless they had a sense of identity that was rooted in the God who delivered them, they would think and act as slaves think and act for a long, long time.
      4. God wanted them to know their origin.
        1. God wanted them to know that He was their origin.
        2. The first people to receive the book of Genesis were these slaves.
        3. One of the first things God wanted them to understand about people was this:
          Genesis 1:26,27 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

    Song: #96 I Stand In Awe [ask everyone to stand]

    You are not an accident that took several million years to become a human. You did not “just happen” because as a random act the proper compounds accidentally came together. You exist by intelligent design and intent.

  2. Perhaps you ask, “I don’t see that my origin has relevance to anything. I am who I am regardless of where humanity began. What difference does it make?”
    1. Your understanding of humanity’s origin powerfully influences your life; in fact, it is one of the most fundamental influences in your life.
      1. How you treat other people is powerfully influenced by your view of the origin of people.
      2. How you treat other people has a powerful influence on the way you look at yourself.
    2. In the book of James we read this statement:
      James 3:9-11 With it (the tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it (the tongue) we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?
      1. James’ point to Christians was quite simple: it is impossible to bless God and curse people.
      2. Why?
      3. God made people in His own likeness.
      4. There is a basic inconsistency: when we curse what God made in His own image, we at the same moment curse God the Maker.
        1. James said they knew it was impossible for one spring to allow salt water and fresh water to flow from the same opening.
        2. It is also impossible for the same heart and mouth to speak contemptuously of people and praise God.
    3. Jesus was asked more than once what God’s greatest commandment was (Matthew 22:34-40).
      1. He always responded by giving the #1 and #2 commandments.
        1. #1 was to love God with all your being.
        2. #2 was to love your neighbor as yourself.
      2. The two could not be separated.
      3. It is impossible to love God with all your being and to refuse to love your neighbor as yourself.
      4. Why? Because humanity has its origin in God and was made in God’s image.
    4. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus taught a story about the final judgment to a Jewish audience.
      1. What criteria will God use to separate His servants from evil people in the final judgment?
      2. That audience likely would have given many answers.
        1. “God’s law.”
        2. “What kind of sacrifices you offer.”
        3. “How frequently you go to the synagogue and the temple.”
        4. “Keeping the cleanliness laws, the dietary code, and the special holy days properly.”
      3. I have no doubt that Jesus’ answer totally surprised them: God divided people from all nations on the basis of how they treated other people.
      4. Jesus explained: “The King will answer and say to them,’Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'” (Matthew 25:40)
      5. Why?
      6. Respecting and being kind to people is respecting and being kind to our Lord and our God. People are made in God’s likeness.

    Song: #719 Love One Another

    When God created humanity in His image, God did things far beyond our ability to grasp. Being made in His likeness probably includes the independence He gave us, the ability to choose, the ability to serve and the ability to rebel, the conscience, and the ability to premeditate either good or evil.

  3. Among the most challenging gifts God gave us was the ability to love.
    1. Love is uniquely characteristic of God.
      1. In fact, John once described God as love.
      2. In 1 John 4:8 John wrote, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
    2. Love is not an expression of selfishness or self-centered existence; love is an expression of “godlikeness”.
      1. Perhaps among the greatest losses in our society is this: the conviction that love is selfish.
        1. In America, too often love is not about how I touch the lives of others, but how others serve me.
        2. In America we too often confuse love and sexual gratification.
        3. Too many decide the quality of someone else’s love on the basis of the way he or she fulfills or satisfies me physically.
        4. If we are not very careful, we wrongly decide love is all about me and how I feel.
        5. God’s love for us is so incredible that He can see our potential even when it is buried under all our failures.
        6. The truth is that we learn how to love from God.
        7. Thankfully, Joyce’s love for me is not dependent on my perfection.
        8. She can look through my weakness and flaws to see qualities she appreciates and values.
        9. That is what God does: He is not blinded by our mistakes.
      2. If you want to see how much a person loves God, look at the way he or she treats the family, the neighbors, the strangers, God’s family, etc.
        1. That certainly is not the suggestion that you can believe anything you wish and live in any way you desire and it does not matter as long as you treat people right.
        2. It is the declaration of God’s standard: if you love God, it shows in the unselfish, kind way you treat other people.
        3. Why?
        4. It is impossible to love God while refusing to love humanity made in God’s own likeness.

I want to give you a very simple challenge. Let God teach you how to love your husband. Let God teach you how to love your wife. Let God teach you how to love your children.

“How do I do that?” By letting God teach you how He loves you.

If you are willing to let God teach you how to love your family, at the same time He will be teaching you how to love other people.

Do You Get Tired of Doing Good?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in the Roman province of Galatia. Christians there dedicated to spiritual peace, spiritual development, and unity in Christ must have been extremely discouraged. Their preoccupation with “putting out fires” among Christians left little time or energy to devote to peace, development, and unity.

Some Jewish Christians from Judea attacked Paul’s message to them [the message that converted them!]. They declared Paul’s misunderstanding of the gospel produced a flawed message (1:6-2:10). Paul told non-Jews they could be saved through Christ without coming to him through Judaism. These Christians from Judea said Paul was horribly wrong. They told Galatian Christians (a) they were not saved and (b) their sins were not forgiven. Certainly they could be saved and forgiven. However, they were told that was possible only if they approached Christ by learning to do things the Jewish way.

To make matters more discouraging, the leading Jewish apostle visited non-Jewish Christians in Antioch of Syria (2:11-14). At first his visit was wonderful! He had table fellowship with non-Jewish Christians just as he did with Jewish Christians.

However, when he learned Jewish Christians from Judea were coming to Antioch, he ceased table fellowship with non-Jewish Christians. He feared the Jewish Christians who were coming. Insulting these non-Jewish Christians was not enough! He convinced other Jewish Christians there (including Barnabas, a Jewish missionary to non-Jewish people!) to end their table fellowship with non-Jewish Christians. How depressing to all Christians who were not Jews!

Additional discouragement: some non-Jewish Christians there did not understand the essential importance of allowing God’s Spirit to bear fruit in their lives. Their lifestyle still was determined by physical desires instead of spiritual commitment (see chapter 5).

As he closed, Paul wrote, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:9,10).

Devotion to doing good because of our faith in God and Christ still exhausts us.

  • Evil is always present.
  • Injustice is always obvious.
  • “Good” people make terrible mistakes.
  • “Evil” people continuously create pain and struggle.
  • Needs continuously overwhelm best efforts.
  • Nothing is “fixed” or “resolved” permanently.

So why try? “We are just plain tired!” Ah, but we forget. What? We do not do good because we can permanently “fix” everything in this world. We do good because God does good, and we are God’s children. This world is temporary. God’s home is not.