My Objective in God

Posted by on December 29, 2002 under Sermons

I have little doubt that everyone of us would change many things in our society if we could. I imagine all of us see things occurring in our society each week that grieve us, trouble us, or make us ashamed. It may be in the job place. It may be in the stores. It may be in our own families. It may be at school. It may be on television. It may be at the movies. It may be something as simple as what we see or hear on the sidewalk.

What changes could we make that would make the greatest difference in our society? There are not one or two, but many that could be made that would improve priorities and values in our society. Typically, the changes most of us would make if we could cause them to happen are changes that have high profile visibility.

May I suggest a change that is not “high profile” but would dramatically alter many “high profile” situations. The change: causing each individual to realize there are consequences associated with every decision, every act. The acceptance of the fact that there are both good and bad consequences that result from every act and decision would dramatically impact our society.

It would impact the “I am not to blame” attitude that is the primary attitude of so many. “Yes, it happened. Yes, I did it. If it produced anything bad, it is not my fault.” No matter what happens, it is always someone else’s fault. “I” am never responsible for anything “I” do.

It would impact the attitude that “the world owes me.” “I am entitled to everything I want. It is my right to have it (or to experience it).” Nobody should have something “I” do not have–if “they” have it, “I” should have it.

It would impact the “something for nothing” attitude. “If I do not work, I should receive all the benefits of working.” “If I am irresponsible, I should not be penalized.” “If I buy a lottery ticket, I should win 20 million dollars.” “The ideal life is that life that has nothing to do–except what the person is pleased to do.”

It would impact allowing pleasure to be the highest criteria for human existence. The most relevant question for a sizable segment in our society is this: “Is it fun?” If it does not give me pleasure, I should never be expected to do it.” It is amazing how many adults in our society work for the primary motivation of supporting their fun.

A lot of changes would occur in our society if each person understood and accepted the fact that “my actions and decisions always produce consequences.”

This morning, I want you to make some comparisons. As you make the comparisons, I want you to realize that your actions and decisions matter.

  1. Comparison # 1: who was I when 2002 began, and who am I as 2002 ends?
    1. The comparison is between who you were when this year began, and who you are now.
      1. Has “who you are” improved? Are you a better person as the year ends than you were when it began?
      2. Has “who you are” diminished? As the year ends, are you not nearly the person you were when the year began?
      3. Is there really no change? As the year began and ends, are you basically the same person–with little or no change?
    2. Let’s do more than just base it on personal assumption or a snap impression. Let’s look at the evidences (I will have to trust you to do this.)
      1. First, let’s consider external evidences.
        1. As we look at the “externals,” let’s be very clear about the question.
          1. The question is not, “Did I give these persons things?”
          2. The question is, “What is the quality of my relationships with the people?”
        2. “When I compare my relationships in my own family, am I more of a blessing in my own family than I was when the year began?”
        3. “When I compare my relationships in God’s family, am I more of a blessing to those in His family than I was when the year began?”
        4. “When I compare my relationships with my friends, am I more of a blessing to them as a person as the year ends?
        5. “When I compare my relationships with acquaintances (people I work with, neighbors, etc.), am I more of a blessing to them as a person as the year ends?”
      2. Second, let’s consider internal evidences.
        1. Again, as we examine “internals,” let’s be very clear about the question.
          1. The question is not, “Do other people approve of me?”
          2. The question is, “Do I approve of me?” After all, I lived with me every day and know more about me than anyone else knows.
        2. Do I do more now to encourage and develop godly feelings than I did when the year began?
        3. Do I do more to encourage and develop Jesus’ attitudes in my life than I did when the year began?
        4. In my knowledge of me, am I aware that I am deliberately making decisions, taking actions that move me closer to God now than at the beginning of the year?
        5. Realize this: the closer you get to God the more aware of personal evil you become and the more grateful you become for grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

  2. Comparison # 2: God’s desires for me (becoming what I am capable of being in Christ).
    1. Again, this is a comparison between who you were when the year began and who you are now.
      1. In comparison to January, 2002, are you nearer being the person God wants you to be?
      2. Since January, 2002, are you much further from being the person God want you to be?
      3. When you compare the person you were in January to the person you are in December, and you consider God’s expectations, are you about the same?
    2. Again, let’s examine some of the evidences. The evidences will center in your personal priorities and your personal value system.
      1. Have I become more or less like Jesus the man this year?
      2. What specific spiritual transformations do I realize have occurred in my life the past year?
      3. Can I tell that I have grown closer to God when I honestly look at the things that I approve of in life?
      4. Can I tell that I have grow closer to God when I honestly examine the things that grieve me in life?

  3. Comparison # 3: what I expect of myself spiritually.
    1. The comparison is still between who you were when the year began and who you are now.
      1. This comparison focuses on what you expect of yourself.
      2. When you take an honest look at what you expect of yourself spiritually:
        1. Do you expect more of yourself?
        2. Do you expect less of yourself?
        3. Are your expectations basically unchanged?
    2. To evaluate your current expectations, which of these attitudes toward yourself and your spirituality characterize you most of the time?
      1. “When it comes to Christian living, I am paying my dues.”
      2. “When it comes to living life, I am buying myself some hell insurance.”
      3. “When it comes to being a godly person, my goal is to ‘get by’.”
      4. “In Christ, I want to be the ‘me’ that God makes it possible for me to become.”
      5. Which of these attitudes most characterize your approach to the Christian existence?

  4. I invite you to read with me from 2 Timothy 2:1-13.
    Therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
    1. Paul wrote to Timothy from prison not long before he died.
      1. This is the last writing we have from Paul.
      2. He is writing to a man that he considers his own child.
      3. He is writing about things he wants to say, things that are important to Paul as he prepares for death, things that are important to Timothy as he continues to live.
    2. “Timothy, I want you to be strong in Christ’s grace.”
      1. “Do not let the things I taught you die when I die–share them freely.”
      2. “Be ready and willing to suffer.”
    3. Then Paul shared three illustrations.
      1. The first is a soldier.
        1. A soldier agreed to be a soldier for somebody.
        2. He does not get himself so involved in life that he does not have time to be a soldier.
        3. “Timothy, never forget who you agreed to serve.”
      2. The second is an athlete.
        1. If an athlete is to win, he must compete by rules.
        2. “Timothy, remember that the rules for life come from God, not from forces that oppose God.”
      3. The third is a farmer.
        1. A farmer works really hard.
        2. But a farmer also eats the first produce his crop produces.
        3. “Timothy, you will be the first to enjoy the reward of your efforts.”
    4. “Do not be afraid to suffer for Christ.”
      1. “God will not fail in His commitment to you.”
      2. “If you fail in your commitment to God, your failure will not change God.”

Allow me to focus you on a truth none of us should ever forget: there is just one person that you can change: yourself. No matter what desire you have or how motivated you are, you cannot change other people. You can only change yourself.

But when you dare to change yourself, by changing you, you will touch many other people. It is important that you realized your decisions and actions have consequences. It is important for you to never stop growing closer to God.

“Fixing” God’s Concerns

Posted by on December 22, 2002 under Sermons

First, I ask you to take a Bible, find and mark 1 Kings 17 and 18, and then give me your attention.

I want to begin our study with a series of questions I ask you to consider very carefully.

Question one: if you could change anything [no restrictions] in the church all over the world, what would you change?

Question two: if you could change anything in the church in America, what would you change?

Question three: if you could change anything [whatever your said to do was done just exactly like you wanted it done] in this congregation, what would you change?

Question four: why would you make those changes? Let’s assume that our motivation is greater than personal preference. Let’s assume that our motivation is “doing things God’s way.” Are you sure that what you want done is what God wants done? Are you sure that your priorities are God’s priorities? If your first response is, “Certainly, I’m sure! My priorities come from God’s word!” Do they come from the whole word, or just the part of the word you consider essential? Is your emphasis the same emphasis God has?

Question five: do you really think your changes would “fix” things?

Now turn to I Kings 17, 18.

  1. Let’s begin by understanding what happened before the events of these two chapters.
    1. When King Solomon [King David’s son] died, the nation of Israel divided.
      1. When the nation divided, the majority left God and His leadership and turned to idols.
      2. The part of the nation that turned away from God was often called Israel.
        1. They were ten of the twelve tribes in that nation.
        2. Their king, King Jereboam, established worship centers in Dan and Bethel so the people did not have to leave their territory to worship.
        3. From the time of the split until the time Assyria destroyed them as a nation, they never returned to Jerusalem to worship Jehovah God in the temple.
    2. The events in I Kings 17, 18 occurred after the split in the territory that left God, but before Assyria destroyed that nation.
      1. Elijah, one of God’s greatest prophets, was living in that breakaway nation.
      2. His personal mission was to turn the people there back to God.
        1. His mission for God was to be God’s spokesman.
        2. His personal goal was to heal the breech between these people and God.
      3. Elijah thought he was the only person in the whole nation who was loyal to God (1 Kings 19:10; see also 19:18).
      4. Elijah not only thought he was the only person in these ten tribes who was loyal to God, but he also had a plan–not a rebellious plan–but a plan of how he would achieve his personal goal while serving as God’s spokesman.

  2. Now consider the events of I Kings 17 and 18.
    1. At this time the ten tribes were ruled by an evil king named Ahab and a very wicked queen named Jezebel.
      1. Ahab was a selfish, self-centered Jewish man who did more evil than all the kings who preceded him (1 Kings 16:30).
      2. Jezebel was a Sidionian woman who encouraged and supported the worship of Baal in that nation (1 Kings 16:31).
      3. Under the influence and leadership of these two, these ten tribes became an extremely wicked people.
    2. In 1 Kings 17 Elijah sent Ahab a message that said that the only thing they would receive from God would be God’s words through him, that there would be no rain nor dew. That began a serious drought.
      1. Because of his prophetic declaration against this nation, Elijah had to go into hiding.
      2. For a while he hid by the brook Cherith, but the brook dried up.
      3. Then he hid in Jezebel’s homeland (the land of Sidon) in a village called Zarephath where a widow cared for him.
    3. In 1 Kings 18 we learn that it has not rained in the whole region for over two years.
      1. Can you imagine what it would do to an area that depended on agriculture to survive if it did not rain one time in over two years?
      2. By this time Ahab was extremely angry because he knew that Elijah was the cause of his problems.
      3. God told Elijah to talk to Ahab face to face and following that encounter God would send rain.
        1. Elijah sent word to Ahab through Obadiah (Obadiah was an important servant to Ahab).
        2. Obadiah did not want to take the message to Ahab: “I know you. Ahab will come to meet you and you will be gone because God’s Spirit will take you somewhere else. Then I will be killed.”
        3. Elijah assured Obadiah he would be there when Ahab came.
    4. The meeting:
      1. When Ahab came, he greeted Elijah as the “troubler of Israel.”
      2. Elijah said he did not trouble Israel, but Ahab’s desertion of God troubled Israel.
        1. (My paraphrase): Elijah said this ridiculous situation had continued long enough.
        2. Tell the 450 prophets of Baal who Jezebel supported to meet him at Mount Carmel.
        3. Elijah also sent word throughout the ten tribes for the men to come to Mount Carmel.
      3. When everyone was gathered, Elijah proposed a contest.
        1. He asked them, “How long are you going to continue to be undecided about who is God–Baal or Jehovah? Decide, and follow the one who demonstrates He is truly God.
        2. He called the attention to the fact that the odds were 450 to 1.
        3. He proposed they prepare two sacrifices.
          1. The contest: they would not ignite either sacrifice.
          2. The prophets of Baal would call on Baal to ignite his sacrifice.
          3. He would call upon Jehovah to ignite his sacrifice.
          4. The One who ignited a sacrifice would be the true God and the decision would be made.
          5. The contest was accepted.
        4. The prophets of Baal spent most of the day asking Baal to ignite their sacrifice.
          1. They even cut themselves hoping their blood and mutilation would get Baal’s attention.
          2. Elijah chided them: maybe Baal was occupied with something else; maybe he was gone on a journey; maybe he was asleep–cry louder!
          3. No matter what they did, their sacrifice was not ignited.
        5. Elijah’s request was a brief prayer.
          1. First, he asked everyone to come close.
          2. Then he built a trench around the altar.
          3. Then he had them douse the sacrifice with water three times.
          4. Then he had them fill the trench with water.
          5. With one prayer God sent fire that consumed the sacrifice, the stones, the water, and even the ground of the altar.
      4. The response of the people: the men who gathered from the ten tribes declared “Jehovah Lord is God!”
        1. Elijah then ordered the men to take all the prophets of Baal down to the brook Kishon and kill them.
        2. Then he told Ahab to go eat and drink, rain was coming.

  3. Elijah was certain that his personal goal was achieved.
    1. He changed the situation!
      1. The men of the ten tribes had declared that Jehovah Lord was God, not Baal.
      2. The 450 priests that Jezebel supported in serving Baal were dead.
      3. Surely now these people would turn back to the Lord God and turn away from Baal!
    2. I Kings 19 tells us it did not happen.
      1. In fact, it tells us that Elijah became so convinced that he had failed that he wanted God to let him die right then.
      2. Elijah was convinced that he fixed everything, when in fact he had fixed nothing.
    3. What was wrong?
      1. Was Elijah really a man of God? Yes.
      2. Was the message he spoke from God? Yes.
      3. Were the ten tribes very wicked? Yes.
      4. Did the men from the ten tribes witness the miracle? Yes.
      5. Were the prophets of Baal killed? Yes.
    4. Then what was wrong.
      1. The problem was not just changing to whom you offered sacrifices.
      2. The problem was not just changing gods.
      3. The problem was believing.
      4. The problem was loving the true God.
      5. The problem was that Elijah thought he could solve the problem with a sacrifice and miracles when God wanted love and faith that came from hearts.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

If we understand those words, we understand the problem.

We cannot bypass faith in seeking devotion to God. Without a life altering faith in God, nothing is “fixed.” God’s first concern: “Do they trust Me?” God’s second concern: “Do they love Me because they trust Me?”

The New Beginning

Posted by on under Sermons

I am one of those strange kind of people who commonly cheers for the underdog. I am the kind of person who rejoices when unlikely people overcome impossible odds. My greatest admiration is not for the gifted person who achieves incredible things with few or no problems. My greatest admiration is for the person who seems to have few abilities but uses those abilities to make unbelievable accomplishments in the face of incredible problems.

I often feel a lot of inner emotion when I see or hear about kindness overcoming gross injustice, or compassion overcoming mean-spirited aggression, or someone whose life experiences hardship after hardship but pulls life together anyway.

I am the kind of person who thinks about all the people in our world who know pain and suffering every day of their lives and have no hope of escaping pain and suffering in this world. I am the kind of person who thinks about all the people worldwide who endure horrible injustices day in and day out and have no hope of escaping those injustices in this life. I am the kind of person who notices the many people who suffer the consequences that others created for them, and have no hope of escaping all those consequences in this life.

No, I do not have the answers. No, I cannot make the world good for all those people who suffer its evils. I just do a lot of inner grieving and help where I can.

These attitudes and this awareness are not the reasons I trust God. But these attitudes and this awareness attract me to God.

  1. Someone says, “David, you must be kidding!”
    1. “God, an underdog?”
    2. “He who created everything, who will allow Jesus Christ to bring all people into judgment, disadvantaged?”
    3. “That is ridiculous!”

  2. Before you dismiss me as a total fool, would you think with me for just a few minutes?
    1. May I suggest to you when Genesis reveals to us God’s great creative acts, the primary point is about what God lost, not what God achieved.
      1. God made people in His own image, His own likeness, and placed them in charge of His “very good” creation (Genesis 1:26-31).
      2. Then evil perverted the “very good” creation God made.
        1. Evil perverted God’s “good creation” by deceiving the masterpiece of that creation–the man and woman God made in His own image.
        2. When Adam and Eve preferred evil’s selfish rebellion to God’s love and goodness, God’s design for this world crumbled.
        3. God could not with a simple act undo what Adam and Eve’s failure did.
        4. At that point, God would have been justified in letting people pay the total consequences for their decision, destroying this creation, and expressing His rightful rage against evil–but He did not.
    2. With a few exceptions, people loved evil more than they loved God.
      1. For a while there were people who loved God and people who loved evil.
      2. But that did not last for many generations.
      3. By Genesis 6 the people who loved God ceased to exist, and the people who loved evil were all that existed.
      4. What began as God’s “very good” creation now became everything that God was not.
      5. That which began as totally good now became totally evil.
      6. Again, God could have allowed people to suffer the full consequences of their lives and decisions and destroyed His physical creation, but He did not.
      7. He worked through one man who trusted Him, and attempted a new beginning.
      8. But it did not succeed, and in the struggle between good and evil in human lives, evil prevailed.
    3. Generations later, God found another man He could work with, a man who trusted Him as few people ever have, a man we know as Abraham.
      1. To this man God made a special promise found in Genesis 12:1-3.
        Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
        1. Two things stand out in this promise.
        2. From this man would come a nation.
        3. From this man and this nation would come a blessing that could bless all people.

  3. Then God demonstrated beyond all doubt how patient He is and how determined He is to bring mercy and forgiveness to our world.
    1. God spent several hundred years producing the people who would become the Old Testament nation of Israel.
    2. God spent four hundred years allowing the people who would become the Old Testament nation of Israel to live in Egypt and experience abuse and complete loss of identity as slaves.
    3. God spent forty years preparing them to receive a country of their own, generations leading them through judges, generations leading them through kings.
    4. Yet, even though they existed because God delivered them, even though they existed because God made Abraham a promise, even though they existed to allow God to bring a blessing to all people, they, too, preferred deceitfulness of evil to God’s love and kindness.
    5. Yet, in spite of all their failures, the merciful, patient God persevered in His determination to keep His promise to Abraham.

  4. Then, about 2000 years ago the patience, mercy, and persistence of God triumphed.
    1. One evening God allowed His own son to be born as a human in what began as God’s “very good” creation but had become a creation controlled by evil.
      1. That evening a heavenly host in unison confirmed a statement an angel made to some shepherds with these words:
        Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
      2. What a strange statement!
        1. “May the highest form of praise or glory be given to God!”
        2. “Peace can now exist on earth among the people with whom God is pleased.”
      3. Was there a sudden outbreak of world peace? No.
      4. Suddenly, was there an incredible peace among all Israelites? No.
      5. People who belong to God could be at peace with each other because they could be at peace with God.
      6. God was keeping a promise He made to Abraham about 2000 years earlier.
    2. This Israelite baby born that evening grew to be a man.
      1. He became a man in the nation that knew God better than any other nation.
      2. He became the kind of man who would have existed in God’s very good creation if there was no evil in this world.
      3. This man, who existed as God’s man in a nation that was supposed to be God’s nation, began a determined effort to teach this nation who they were, the true priorities of God, and God’s commitment to mercy.
        1. And he did not fit.
        2. And he did not belong.
        3. And he was not trusted or believed.
        4. In fact, he was rejected and despised by most of those in his nation.
        5. Not even those closest to him who loved him really understood him.
      4. In that special agony produced when caring cannot connect, Jesus made this statement the last week of his life:
        Matthew 23:37-39 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “
    3. Shortly after that, he was executed by crucifixion, and God kept His promise.
      1. God assumed upon Himself the consequences of our failures.
      2. Through Jesus’ blood, God’s forgiveness was available for all people.
      3. Through Jesus’ blood, God’s mercy was available for all people.
      4. When God resurrected Jesus from death and crowned him Lord and Christ, God did exactly what He intended to do–create a new beginning in Jesus Christ.

  5. Let me focus your attention on a statement Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:6-12.
    In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things into which angels long to look.
    1. Peter wrote to Christians who suffered because they believed in Jesus Christ.
      1. “Do not let your pain convince you to leave your God or your faith in the Christ!”
      2. “Find joy in the fact that your suffering is purifying your faith in Jesus–just making it more valuable like fire makes gold more valuable.”
      3. “The end result of all this pain is your salvation.”
    2. “Realize that not even the prophets or the angels understood what God was doing.”
      1. “The prophets realized God would do something incredible when He allowed the Christ to suffer, but they did not know when this would happen.”
      2. “Not even the angels fully comprehended what God was doing when He sent Jesus to become the Christ.”
    3. Do you realize that every godly man or woman in the Old Testament would swap places with you? Not because you are in America! Because you are in Christ!
      1. As great as Abraham was, if you are a Christian, you have a greater opportunity that he had.
      2. As great as Moses was, if your are a Christian, you have a greater opportunity than he had.
      3. As great as King David was, if you are a Christian, you have a greater opportunity than he had.
      4. As great as the prophet Isaiah was, if you are a Christian, you have a greater opportunity than he had.
      5. Do you realize what you have just by being in Christ?

The question: have you allowed God to fashion the new beginning in you?

My Personal Gratitude

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Rarely does a single day pass without reminders of ways many of you “quietly” touch the lives of others. My situation positions me to see many of your quiet acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. I personally appreciate every act of kindness! Thank you for thinking of others. Thank you for allowing God to increase your concern for others. Thank you for demonstrating love for God through thoughtfulness to people.

May I express gratitude to a much appreciated group? We easily assume everything will be “just right” in our worship. When worship is “just right,” we easily assume it just happened. Those are false assumptions! It never “just happens!” Many unseen people conscientiously care for needs and responsibilities. Though they are not seen, we would miss them if they were not there! One such group is our projectionists.

Our announcements do not “just happen” to be on the screen. The communion picture does not “just happen” to appear. The words for our songs do not “just happen” to be there for us to see. The pictures or words in sermons do not “just happen.” Were it not for the work of our projectionists, those pictures and words could not be there.

Several years ago we started projecting pictures and words with some sermons in our desire to intensify the worship experience for many. Some of us learn visually. To combine visuals with spoken words increased the learning experience.

Next we projected our announcements prior to worship. This enabled us to inform people without devoting significant amounts of worship time to announcements.

In time we projected an appropriate picture with a few words at communion to aid Christians who are visually oriented. The objective: intensify worship as we commune.

For those who serve us as projectionists (David Pippin, Darrell Moses, Brad Walker, and Hank Watlington), intensifying worship involved a lot of work. On Fridays or Saturdays, they had three to five hours of preparation to make for Sunday!

For several months many requested that the words of our songs be projected on our screen. Doing this required a significant increase in preparation time. When we began projecting the words to our songs, we also moved much of the slide preparation to the office. Debbie Belote now prepares most of the slides for the projectionists.

During an assembly when pictures or words appear on the screen, be aware that many “quietly” make it happen! Personally, I deeply appreciate all they do! It requires concentration and skill to “make it happen.” To all who help “make it happen,” I personally thank you for your help as we honor God!

Building God’s Temple

Posted by on December 15, 2002 under Sermons

For thousands of years people have associated dedication to God with building temples. We still do. For hundreds of years, when a group wishes to exist as God’s people, one of the highest priorities in their early existence is building a church building.

The building they build is looked upon differently than any other building that is built. Why? In some sense it is viewed as being God’s building that exists to serve God’s purposes. On that conclusion, there is broad consensus: the building is to be God’s, and it should serve God’s purposes. Too often the broad consensus ends there.

Before it is built there is likely to be some intense conversations about its design. By design, what should this building be built to do? After it is built, there is likely to be some intense conversations about its function. By function, how should this building be used?

The basic issue in the minds of those who build, dedicate, and use a building for God is this: how can this building be used to honor God and His purposes?

  1. When God brought the Israelite people out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, one of the early instructions God gave them was the commandment to build a tabernacle.
    1. Remember, the tabernacle was a furnished tent.
    2. The instructions God gave were complete about the design and the furnishings of Israel’s new tabernacle.
    3. Israel prepared, assembled, and furnished the tabernacle just as God directed.
    4. Listen to what happened when the tabernacle was completed, erected, and made ready for its functions.
      Exodus 40:34-38 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

  2. Generations later King David wanted to build God a permanent temple.
    1. David built for himself a permanent palace in the city of Jerusalem.
    2. He felt it was inappropriate for the king to live in a palace while God lived in a tent.
      1. Though God had not requested for David (or anyone else) to build Him a temple, David thought it was the right thing to do.
      2. God sent word to David that he could not build God a temple, but David’s son could (the next king of Israel: see 2 Samuel 7).
    3. After David died, Solomon (his son) became Israel’s king and built the temple.
    4. Listen to what happened when this new, completed temple had the ark of the covenant (from the tabernacle) moved into it.
      1 Kings 8:10-11 It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

  3. I want you to note a significant occurrence.
    1. When Israel erected the tabernacle (a tent with a special purpose) and completely readied it for service, God’s presence filled the tabernacle.
    2. Later, when Israel completed the temple and moved the ark of the covenant in the newly completed temple, God’s presence filled the temple.
    3. That is the fact I want you to notice: when the temple and the tabernacle were given to God, God’s presence filled each of them.

  4. What about today? What about Christians?
    1. The New Testament does not tell Christians to focus on a place or a building.
      1. Deuteronomy 12 repeatedly told the Israel that worshipped in the tabernacle to offer sacrificial worship to God only in the place God caused His name to dwell–worship was unquestionably was place centered.
      2. In 1 Kings 8 when Solomon offered the prayer of dedication for the temple, he repeatedly asked God to hear the prayers of both Jews and non-Jews who came to the temple and prayed–worship was unquestionably temple centered.
      3. But when we read in the New Testament, worship emphasis is neither place nor building centered.
      4. Building a building at a certain place will not achieve God’s worship objectives among people who are Christians.
    2. If the emphasis is not on a geographical place and not on a building (temple), then where is the emphasis?
      1. Listen to 1 Peter 2:1-5.
        Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
      2. In the same paragraph, listen to verses 9, 10.
        1 Peter 2:9,10 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
      3. What I want you to notice:
        1. Those people who belong to God through Jesus Christ, are the living stones who are in the process of being built into God’s house.
        2. God wants us to be His temple by maturing in Jesus Christ.
          1. The most important living stone in this temple is Jesus Christ.
          2. This spiritual house of living stones is being built for a holy priesthood who will offer spiritual sacrifices to God that He accepts because of Jesus Christ.
      4. Then Peter said of Christians that they are not only living stones being built into a spiritual house, but they also are:
        1. A chosen race (that is what Israel was)
        2. A royal priesthood (just as the resurrected Jesus, Christians are to serve in the role of kings and priests–which could not happen in Israel).
        3. A holy nation (what Israel was to be and what Christians are to be).
        4. A people who belong exclusively to God (what Israel was to be and what Christians are to be).
      5. Christians exist to demonstrate that God is excellent because He calls people out of darkness into His marvelous light.
      6. Because of God’s mercy that He has given us, we, who at one time could not even be God’s people, are now His people.

  5. With what we read about the tabernacle and the temple, what happens when God takes possession?
    1. When God took possession:
      1. Of the tabernacle, it was filled with the presence of God.
      2. Of the temple, it was filled with the presence of God.
    2. When God takes possession of us, what should happen?
      1. We as individuals should be filled with the presence of God.
      2. We as individuals should be one more living stone available to God for God to use to build His spiritual house.
      3. When people are around a man or a woman who is a Christian, those people should be aware that these people are filled with God’s presence.
        1. I am not talking about Christians attracting attention to and promoting themselves through some form of manufactured, artificial behavior.
        2. I am talking this fact: my goal is to let my real life belong so completely to God that people cannot associate with me at work on Tuesday and not be aware that God is in control of my attitudes and behavior.
        3. I am talking about this fact: people cannot observe my behavior on Thursday and fail to realize that I really want God to live in me.
        4. I am talking about this fact: people who watch me as I find recreation on Saturday observe the fact that God is in charge of my life.
      4. If I am a Christian, am a part of God’s temple, God’s presence fills my life–and that is my understanding of why God’s Spirit lives in us.

  6. Paul used this exact illustration when writing to Christians in Corinth.
    1. First, he used it as he spoke to all those Christians, all who existed as a congregation of God’s people in Jesus Christ in Corinth.
      1. After powerfully renouncing the problems created by their congregational division, Paul made this statement to the entire congregation in 1 Corinthians 3;16, 17:
        Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
        1. The King James translation translates plural pronouns with “ye.”
        2. This is a “ye” statement: “Do not all of you know that all of you, as a congregation, are God’s temple with God’s Spirit living in you? If any Christian destroys God’s temple [a warning against destructive division], God will destroy that person. God is holy, and God’s temple is holy.”
      2. Then in chapter 6, Paul spoke to individual Christians using the same temple illustration.
        1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 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? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
        1. Being sexually immoral was extremely common place.
        2. In fact, some forms of religion encouraged sexual immorality.
        3. The argument was often made that sexual desires were just natural hungers of the body and should be satisfied just as a hunger for food was satisfied.
        4. Paul said sexual sin produced special consequences.
        5. It is impossible for a Christian man or woman who understands what God does for him or her in Jesus Christ to involve his or her physical body in sexually immoral acts.
        6. Paul’s argument: the Christian’s body is God’s temple housing the Holy Spirit.
        7. God gave that Christian the Spirit, and God bought that Christian’s body (a slave/redemption image).
        8. The body of a Christian is to give glory to God, and that can never occur through sexually immoral acts.
    2. In the same letter to the same Christians, Paul used the temple to illustrate the fact that they were to be holy collectively and to be holy individually.
      1. In a time of temples and slaves, Paul’s illustration was powerful–and clearly understood.
      2. Because neither temples nor slaves are common in our society, we have to pay close attention to get the point.
      3. The point: God’s presence obviously lives in God’s people, and with that knowledge God’s people allow God’s presence to be obvious in their lives.

If you are a Christian, you are God’s temple. If we as a congregation belong to God, we are God’s temple. May we as individuals and we as a congregation obviously be filled with the presence of God.

The Great Contrast

Posted by on under Sermons

Last Sunday afternoon I spent much of the afternoon with people in our inner city outreach called The Way. The afternoon began with Jessie and Mary Sexton renewing their marriage vows in a “church ceremony.” Several who attended never attended a “church wedding.” That included two boys who are probably under ten years of age.

Before the vows, they were revved up. They looked at the candles, at the wedding decorations, at the entire scene. Several of you work every Sunday afternoon with that outreach, and that includes Earl Flood. Earl knew the boys, settled them down, and had them sit between him and Vivian on the second row during the ceremony.

Earl also promised the boys some money if they would sit quietly during the ceremony. They were very quiet! When the ceremony was over and we stood to go to the reception, one of the boys looked at Earl expecting his money. Earl reached in his pocket and handed him a dime. I wish I had a picture of his expression to put on the screen! A look of disbelief swept over the boy’s face as he said aloud, “Only A dime?”

The situation reminded me of an old, old story. A man who always sat on the second row of pews went to sleep during every sermon. So the preacher told a boy that he would pay him a nickel every Sunday if he would sit by the man and keep him awake.

It worked well for a few weeks. The man stayed awake every Sunday, and the preacher gave the boy a nickel every Sunday. Then one Sunday the man slept through the entire sermon.

When the preacher saw the boy after worship, he said, ” I can’t give you a nickel today–you did not keep him awake.” The boy said, “That’s okay preacher. He gave me a quarter to leave him alone.”

Times have changed! The changes stand in enormous contrast.

  1. Let me briefly review.
    1. Two Sunday mornings ago I emphasized that God can take anyone from anywhere in his or her life, and begin relationship with that man or woman at that point.
      1. God does not care who you were or what you did in the past.
      2. God’s focus on is on who you are right now, and who you want to become in Christ.
      3. If we are willing to live in Christ and repent, God wants to forgive us.
    2. Last Sunday morning I emphasized that we must be committed, have a genuine desire to become what we spiritually were born to be.
      1. Christianity is for people who want to move toward God’s nature.
      2. It is not for people who do not want to spiritually grow or spiritually develop.
      3. It is not for people who have no intention of changing anything about the person they are or the lifestyle they enjoy.
      4. God does not forgive us in order for us to selfishly continue in the same old ungodly living and thinking.

  2. This morning I want you to focus on an enormous contrast.
    1. To focus you on this contrast, I want us to read Galatians 5:16-26.
      But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
      1. In this letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul made a distinctive, clear contrast between living our lives under the guidance of God’s Spirit and living our lives under the dictates of our physical desires.
      2. He was quite plain about this fundamental focus in life.
        1. The Spirit and physical desires do not like each other!
        2. They fight each other to be the controlling force in the life of a person.
        3. They have nothing in common–their objectives in a person’s life are absolutely, totally different.
        4. Any person who comes to the conclusion that the objectives of God’s guidance in our lives and the objectives of physical desires in our lives are compatible is self-deceived.
      3. Paul was also quite plain about the nature of “the deeds of the flesh” in this contrast.
        1. Immoral behavior, impure behavior, behavior controlled by sensuousness.
        2. Behavior that involves us in things that oppose God.
        3. Behavior that gives encouragement to ungodly attitudes as they seek control over us (hate, strife, jealousy).
        4. Behavior that is controlled by anger (outbursts of rage, judgmental argumentativeness, divisions).
        5. Behavior that encourages drunkenness and irresponsible indulgence.
      4. Remember Paul wrote this to Christians.
        1. He said, “I warned you things like these will destroy you spiritually!”
        2. “If this is the lifestyle you live, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.”
        3. They could not say “no” to God’s influence in their lives in this world and live with God in His world.
    2. Now focus your attention on the contrast.
      1. Paul said, “This is the way that people who are guided by God’s Spirit live.”
      2. He called these attitudes, behaviors, influences the “fruit” of the Spirit (note the singular “fruit”).
      3. What are these controlling influences?
        1. Love
        2. Joy
        3. Peace
        4. Patience
        5. Kindness
        6. Goodness
        7. Faithfulness (those who keep promises)
        8. Gentleness
        9. Self-control
    3. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have made the decision to kill physical desires that seek ungodly control by crucifying them.
      1. Jesus made the decision to wear our sins as he died on the cross.
      2. Those who belong to Jesus make the decision to let those forces within them that oppose God in their lives die by crucifixion.
      3. Crucifixion is a slow death, but it is a deliberate death! The objective of crucifixion is to kill!
      4. Paul said, “If God’s Spirit gave us life, then let’s allow God’s Spirit determine how we behave, how we live.”

  3. Someone says, “I don’t understand how all this works together.”
    1. “I find all of this very confusing.”
      1. “God does not care where we start, so that means for most of us we start with many, many ungodly problems. That sounds like it is all God.”
      2. “However, when I am born into Christ, God expects me to move closer and closer to His nature. That sounds like it is all me.”
      3. “This morning you stress that surrendering to ungodly behavior, letting my ungodly physical desires control the way I live, will exclude me from God’s eternal kingdom. That sounds like it is up to me.”
      4. “How does all that fit?”
    2. That is an excellent question!
      1. Let’s begin with a clear understanding: nothing any of us ever does deserves what God does for each of us.
        1. Each of us will always need God’s forgiveness.
        2. Each of us will always need God’s mercy.
        3. Each of us will always need God’s grace.
        4. None of us will ever put God in our debt.
      2. But…because God is willing continually to use His mercy and grace to forgive us does not mean that we have an excuse to do evil or a license to live irresponsibly and do things that oppose God in our lives.
        1. God does not care where any of us start, but from that start, wherever it is, we begin growing closer to the nature of God.
        2. We increasingly look like a person who belongs to God, not a person who opposes God. That new “look” comes from the way we treat people and the way we treat God.
        3. I do not want to be who I was, or live like I lived, before I was given life in Jesus Christ.
        4. I surely do not abuse God’s love and forgiveness by living as I please–and using my ungodly lifestyle to slap God in the face!
      3. There will come a moment when God will evaluate the way I used life in this world.
        1. The purpose of that evaluation will not be to determine if I deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy–none of us will ever deserve that!
        2. The purpose will be to see if I appreciated what God did for me.
        3. The purpose will be to see if the way I used life showed my appreciation.
    3. If you are counting on abusing God’s grace to receive salvation, you are lying to yourself!
      1. His grace is absolutely critical to our salvation–there is no way any of us can be saved without the kindness of God’s mercy.
      2. However, none of us will abuse God’s grace.
      3. None of us will exploit God’s grace.
      4. None of us will cheapen God’s grace.
      5. None of us are going to fool God by saying that we care about Him and living like we do not care about Him.
      6. God knows when we are trying and when we are not, and God knows when we are appreciative and when we are not.

Let me ask us some questions:

How do you show God you appreciate His forgiveness?
How do you show God you appreciate His mercy?
Is the joy He gave you obvious?
Is the peace He gave you obvious?

Is who and what you are in Christ in obvious contrast to who and what you were before you entered Christ?

What God Did In Jesus Christ Worked!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

People’s lives were such a mess! Evil was everywhere! Typical moral standards were sickening! Those who considered themselves “experts” in scripture were certain they were “superior” to most other people. People who knew the attitudes and lives of these “experts” had no desire to be like them. If the “experts” represented God, people who knew nothing about scripture wanted nothing to do with the God of the “experts.”

The world was such a complicated place! Those who devoutly declared they belonged to the living God (1) lived in isolation and (2) looked at everyone else with contempt. They honored one God in a world that acknowledged many gods. Though they were a small minority, they considered themselves to be extremely important. “Outsiders” could be accepted if the “outsiders” agreed to live exactly as the community lived.

The majority of the world believed in, accepted, and worshipped many gods. This group of people built temples, maintained priesthoods, and conducted sacrificial worship. They were confident the gods controlled every aspect of life. Most of them also believed the objective of worship was to keep the gods happy. Many of them felt a deep sense of contempt for anyone who believed there was only one God. Believing only one God existed was dangerous to society, to political stability, and to economic opportunity!

There were also those people “who just had it” with religion. They did not believe in any god. Ineffective gods exploited ignorant people while changing nothing!

Moral conditions were horrible! Adultery was so common in Roman society that ineffective civil laws were passed to attempt to curb that problem. Divorce was common. Some brides were accused of wearing out their wedding veils! Homosexuality was common in Greek society. Drunkenness was a part of some religious fellowships. Greed, dishonesty, stealing, and injustice were merely a part of daily existence.

Slaves were helpless! They faced each day knowing they did not control their lives or activities. Owners often considered their slaves as opportunities for sexual gratification. For slaves, saying “no” to an owner was not an option.

Violence was terrible! One never knew when soldiers would fight on their farm! One never knew when his family would be caught in the middle of a violent conflict! Thieves were so bad that (1) you did not travel at night and (2) you secured your home as best you could at sunset. For many, the first century was a cruel, unjust world!

It was in this age and world that Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead. It was in this world that Jesus became Lord and Christ. It was to this age that Jesus brought forgiveness, redemption, hope, and peace. It was a wicked world, but what God accomplished in Jesus Christ was effective! IT STILL IS!

Becoming What God Made Me

Posted by on December 8, 2002 under Sermons

In this country we are obsessed with winning, with being on the winning side. Perhaps this obsession is most easily illustrated by team sports competitions. If “our” team loses and loses and loses, we frequently say, “What is wrong with THEM?” If “our” team wins and wins and wins, we frequently say, “WE are doing okay, aren’t WE?”

Not all people in all nations share our obsession with this kind of winning. In fact, many people in many nations never think about winning from our perspective. They never win politically. They never win against disease. (They often lose children to death in ways we regard as unnecessary.) They do not even win against hunger.

In November we held national mid-term elections that involved numerous local and state offices. Where I grew up, it was common to hear friends ask each other after an election, “Did you lose your vote?” Some people had so much desire to be on the winning side that who was winning would determine their vote. In fact, if you did not vote for a winner, you lost your vote!

I personally think this obsession with winning may be a factor in the decision too many American Christians make about living the Christian life on a real world, everyday basis. Thinking from the criteria of a winner by the standards of our society:

  • When it comes to drunkenness, Christian living is not on the winning side.
  • When it comes to unmarried sexual indulgence, Christian living is not on the winning side.
  • When it comes to loving money and loving things, Christian living is not on the winning side.
  • When it comes to any form of pleasure that is produced by ungodly indulgence, Christian living is not on the winning side.

If a person wants to be on the “winning” side as defined by our society, Christian existence is not the way to live.

This morning I want you to see something (and see it clearly) from the letter that Paul wrote to the Christians who lived in Ephesus.

  1. Let me begin by asking a question: “Does God know what He is doing?”
    1. Allow me to anticipate three answers.
      1. The first response would be what I would call “the response of the insulted.”
        1. “I can’t believe you asked that ridiculous question!”
        2. “Of course God knows what He was and is doing!”
        3. “He is God! He always knows what He is doing!”
      2. The second response would be what I would call “the response of the startled.”
        1. “I never thought about that before.”
        2. “You mean that God was and is trying to accomplish something?”
        3. “You mean that God has a purpose and an objective in what He does?”
      3. The third response would be what I would call “the response of the short answer.”
        1. “Sure, God knew what He was doing.”
        2. “He was and is saving us, destroying our sins, establishing the church.”
        3. “Our forgiveness was and is the foundation of everything God did and does.”
      4. To those who give the response of the insulted, I want to say, “It is okay to ask that question.”
      5. To those who give the response of the startled, I want to say, “Think about it.”
      6. To those who give the response of the short answer, I want to ask a question: “Was saving us all God was doing? If we accept His forgiveness, does that accomplish His entire purpose?”
    2. In the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus, Paul wrote about what God accomplished in Jesus Christ.
      1. In chapter one:
        1. Paul said God’s intentions in Jesus Christ are older than the creation (1:3,4).
        2. In fact, what God accomplished in Jesus Christ is the source of every spiritual blessing available to us (1:3).
        3. Through Jesus Christ, God made it possible for us to be adopted into God’s family (1:5).
        4. Through Jesus Christ, God made our redemption possible (1:7).
        5. Through Jesus Christ, God lavished grace upon Christians (1:8)
        6. Through Jesus Christ, God made it possible for Christians to understand His objectives (1:8-10).
        7. Through Jesus Christ, God gave us an inheritance (1:13,14).
        8. If we are to see what God is doing, we must realize what God did in Jesus Christ (1:15-23). (Paul: my prayer is that you will see what God is doing, what is happening.)
      2. Chapter two:
        1. In Jesus Christ, God gave life to people who had been destroyed (killed) by evil (2:1-10).
        2. In Jesus Christ, God made it possible for anyone from any background from any nation to be part of God’s people (2:11-21).
      3. Chapter three:
        1. Basically, Paul said, “You simply must see and understand what God always intended to do through Jesus Christ, and you must understand that what God intended to do–He did!” (3:1-15)
        2. God did what He eternally intended to do! (See 3:11)
        3. Paul was so in awe of what God did and was doing in Jesus Christ that he prayed this prayer for the Christians in Ephesus.
          Ephesians 3:14-21 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

  2. Just as Paul wrote about God’s meaning in Jesus Christ in the first three chapters of Ephesians, he wrote about what it meant for the Christians at Ephesus to be in Jesus Christ in the last three chapters.
    1. A primary emphasis in those three chapters is a basic contrast.
      1. The primary contrast is the contrast between who they were before they were a part of Jesus Christ and who they are now that they are a part of Jesus Christ.
      2. When they understand God did something incredibly special when He allowed them to enter Jesus Christ, they must also understand that they can no longer think and act like the people who do not belong to God.
    2. To focus us on that contrast, I want you to read Ephesians 4:20-24 and think carefully about Paul’s statement.
      But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
      1. There are several things I want you to notice in Paul’s statement.
      2. In context, Paul said they could not continue to live and act like those people who had not come to God.
      3. When they were taught about Christ, they were not taught to live and act like the people who do not belong to God.
      4. Belonging to Jesus Christ makes you a different person–the life you live really differs from the lives of people who do not belong to Jesus Christ.
      5. And that is just exactly what a person who belongs to God wants.
        1. You don’t want to be that old person who was ruled by evil, who was a slave to temptation, who was deceived by your physical desires and appetites.
        2. You have a new way of thinking that makes you a different kind of person.
        3. God took the evil “you” and created something that never before existed–a “you” who wants to be righteous and holy.
      6. Please note that God did not force them to be people they did not want to be.
      7. Please note they wanted to be as much like God as possible, letting His nature become their nature.

  3. In chapter two when Paul discussed the incredible things God did through Jesus Christ, Paul made this statement in Ephesians 2:10.
    For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
    1. If you are a Christian, God did not forgive your sins just for your pleasure of being forgiven.
      1. God re-created you in Jesus Christ–He made something out of you that never existed before.
      2. As a Christian, you are God’s workmanship–in the same sense that a craftsman makes an object.
      3. God designed each of us as Christians to be people who do good works.
        1. That is what God always intended.
        2. Before you were ever born, this was God’s intention: “Any person who accepts what I did in Jesus Christ will be committed to living a life that does My good works.”
    2. God forgave you and me so that each of us could do God’s good works.
      1. God did not save you or me to live any way we pleased.
      2. God did not save you or me for us to be a selfish, self-centered people.
      3. God did not save you or me so we could “Christianize evil” and thereby justify any lifestyle we wanted to live. [“I can merely put a Christian ‘spin’ on any evil I do.”]
      4. God saved you and me for each of us to become more and more like God.
      5. God saved you and me for each of us to devote our existence to doing the things God wants.

Being a Christian involves the desire to become what I was born in Jesus Christ to be–the Christian wants to grow and to mature in God’s own nature. The Christian wants to live the life God wants and to do the things God wants done. The Christian does not want to act or live in ways that oppose God.

Christianity is for people who want to grow closer to God. Christianity is not for people who have no intention of living and acting like people who belong to God.

Placing God’s Kingdom First In My Life

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Jesus made this statement in a sermon (Matthew 5-7). To most Christians, it is a very familiar statement. It is so familiar that rarely does it provoke basic thought. We have heard discussed many times what the kingdom is and when it came. We frequently have heard discussed how a man or woman goes about the process of putting the kingdom first. Truthfully, most of us could lead a discussion on those matters.

Yet, rarely do we note what a strange statement this was. Certainly, Israel’s religious leaders discussed for years what the kingdom was and when it would come. To declare that “kingdom understandings” were important to first century Israel is an under-statement. They, like us, had much to teach about the kingdom because their “kingdom understandings” were “excellent.” Their understandings were deep and meaningful! They knew all about the kingdom!

Jesus made this strange statement to disciples as crowds listened. He said godliness was not about religious deeds that attracted attention or praise to self (Matthew 6:1-24). He said kingdom concerns were not centered in clothing, food, or the basic necessities for sustaining physical life (Matthew 6:25-31).

Dedication to God’s kingdom was not contained in things godless people declared to be priorities (Matthew 6:32). Nor was it found in anxieties produced by life’s troubles (Matthew 6:34).

We fail to realize how strange this statement was until we consider to whom it was given. Jesus declared this in a religious nation to people in its religious society. They were so religious that their “civil laws” were based on religious perspectives! They had priests who maintained the temple, elders who made religious decisions, scribes who preserved scripture, lawyers who were experts in scripture, and religious leaders who controlled society. Surely if anyone understood God’s rule, they did! Yet, they did not.

How do we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness above all things, as life’s first priority? Through having right rules and regulations? Through having right forms and methods? Through worrying about things godless people worry about? Through making material needs our top priority in life? No. Then how do we do that?

Jesus said we allow God to rule our lives. We place God in control of who we are and what we do. We let God teach us what righteousness is. Then … we allow God to provide us the strength to be a godly person who, in compassion, is fair to everyone.

Because we are Christians, who we are as persons is essential to life. That is more essential than what we eat, wear, or drink. Why? God rules us. We are His people. We exist to represent Him well. Who and what we are leads people to God, not way from Him.

When “They” Come, How Do “They” Feel?

Posted by on December 1, 2002 under Sermons

This evening I want to encourage you to think about what four scriptures have in common. The first two focus on situations that occurred in Jesus’ life.

First, read with me Luke 7:36-50:
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

I especially want you to focus on the Pharisee’s thoughts when the sinful woman came in uninvited and went to Jesus (verse 39): “If Jesus were a prophet (the prophet), he would know who this woman is and what this woman is, and if he knew those things, he would not allow her to touch him.”

The Pharisee was thinking from the concept of exclusion instead of inclusion. He did not think with compassion, “Look at her grief!” He thought judgmental thoughts, “She does not belong here, and if Jesus was who people say he is, he would know that.”

Now read with me from John 12:1-8:
Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

Judas said, “This woman has the wrong priorities! We should be using this money to help poor people instead of buying and wasting perfume!”

The concept is distressing. “Poor people are our opportunity to show our righteousness.” They were not people to be seen with compassion, but people who were “our” opportunity.

The next statement is one made by Paul to Timothy about something Timothy needed to stress to Christian women in the city of Ephesus (1 Timothy 2:9,10).
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

The social context of the city of Ephesus was quite different to the social context in most other major cities in the Roman Empire. In fact, circumstances were literally opposite many other population centers in the Roman empire. The chief religion of the city centered on a female idol, a goddess. Because of that, women had roles and forms of prominence in Ephesus that women did not have in other places.

Paul instructed Timothy to tell Christian women not to get caught up in these false measures of significance. Paul said, “Help them understand that what they wear should be consistent with what they do. Help them understand that they should be known for the good they do, not for the clothes they wear.”

The next statement was made by James perhaps to Jewish Christians (James 2:1-9).
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

I am confident that I could demonstrate this was a primary emphasis in the first century church among Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians: anyone from any level of life should feel comfortable in a gathering of Christians. James said for that to occur Christians had to make the poor slave and the wealthy citizen feel equally accepted, equally welcome. That was the responsibility of the Christians, not the visitors.

  1. Let me encourage you to consider some past emphasis among us.
    1. Let me begin by sharing recent and past experiences.
      1. More than one person lightheartedly teased me about being the only clean shaven person when Ron, Brad, and I talked with you recently and Larry led us in singing.
        1. I remember when growing a beard was reason for dismissal from some of our Christian colleges.
        2. In fact I remember two separate occasions at two separate colleges when it was stressed that a beard was an expression of ungodliness.
          1. One college had a wall dedicated to the school’s founders with their pictures on that wall–and the majority of the founders had beards.
          2. One college had pictures of the school’s founders in the room where students and faculty gathered for a daily devotional, and the majority of those men had beards.
        3. In those days beards were a symbol of ungodly rebellion, and we focused on the symbol instead of the attitude.
          1. My point is not that all men should wear beards.
          2. My point is that we should not judge a person’s character by a beard.
          3. That is a “people criteria,” not a “God criteria.”
      2. I do not often notice those who are serving communion.
        1. I am just glad they are helping us as we remember Jesus.
        2. On those few occasions when I do notice, I gratefully am struck by the variety represented in those serving.
          1. Usually there is a variety of ages.
          2. Usually there is a variety of clothing styles: suits, shirts and ties, dress pants and casual shirts, casual pants and casual shirts.
          3. Given our diversity as a congregation and a people, I personally think that is appropriate.
    2. When Christians assembled in the first century, there often was a mixture that ran spectrum that included slaves, people freed from slavery but poor, people who had never been slaves and were above the poverty line, and patrons who were wealthy.
      1. Their clothing was not comparable–the poverty stricken slave and the wealthy patron did not dress alike.
      2. The New Testament writers stressed these points:
        1. Jesus Christ is the great equalizer; in him we are all equally dependent on God’s mercy and grace.
        2. God is impressed with the person’s faith, not his or her clothing or jewelry.
        3. God’s people make others feel wanted, not excluded.
      3. The objective of Christians has not changed: anyone with a broken heart or seeking heart should be able to come into an assembly of Christians and feel comfortable.

  2. That is what must happen among us–that is where our faith in God and Jesus Christ must lead us.
    1. Let me encourage you in this way when you are here: always be more concerned about wearing your best heart than you are wearing the best clothing.
      1. My point is not that we should be careless and indifferent.
      2. I surely understand there are inappropriate ways to dress when we assemble.
      3. We certainly need to be sensitive to others and to be careful:
        1. Not to intentionally be distracting.
        2. Not to intentionally be disrespectful to God or to people.
    2. However, if we have a significant impact on our community, we increasingly will touch the lives of people who have no religious background.
      1. Those people will come from all levels of Fort Smith society.
      2. Because of their background, they may have no concept of what is appropriate or not appropriate.
      3. Whoever attends our assemblies, I want him or her to know and to feel that he or she is welcome, and that we genuinely care about him or her as a person.
    3. To that end, allow me to encourage everyone to wear your best heart to every assembly.
      1. Let the heart you wear say more about you and us than the clothes you wear.
      2. What is my “best heart”?
        1. A heart that is humble.
        2. A heart that repents.
        3. A heart that is merciful.
        4. A heart that is loving.
      3. That is the heart that represents God correctly.
      4. That is the heart that reflects Jesus properly.
      5. That is the heart that makes people feel at ease in our assemblies.

In the incident of the sinful woman in Luke 7, Jesus said, “I know who she is and what she does, and she belongs here because I care about her.” In the incident of the anointing in John 12, “The priority is knowing who I am.” Paul said to Timothy, “Teach Christian women to be known for the good they do instead of the kind of clothing they wear.” James said, “Make people feel welcome among you even if they are obviously very poor.”

May God give us the wisdom, understanding, and insight to do that.