Victory In Jesus

Posted by on January 26, 2003 under Sermons

This evening is “the game.” It is Super Bowl Sunday. The kick off is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. late this afternoon. Some of you are saying, “Can’t wait.” Some of you are saying, “What is the big deal?”

Let me share with you some interesting facts. The two teams are playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. That trophy will become the permanent possession of the winning team. It is made from sterling silver with a sterling silver regulation football on top of it. Cost–$12,000.

Each player on the winning team will receive a ring that cost $6,000 each. Each member of the losing team will also receive a ring that cost about half that amount. Each player on the winning team this year will receive over $60,000. Each player on the losing team will receive over $30,000.

The economic impact on the state of Georgia when Super Bowl XXXIV was played in Atlanta was 292 million dollars.

Most Super Bowls generate 100 million dollars in merchandise sales that bear the Super Bowl logo.

It is the top “at home” party event of the year. It is the second largest day of food consumption in this country–only Thanksgiving exceeds it. The average “at home” party has 17 people. Ninety-five per cent of all those who watch the Super Bowl on TV watch it with someone else. In the history of television, nine of the ten most watched TV programs were Super Bowls.

Antacid sales typically increase 20% the day after the Super Bowl, and 6% of the American work force call in sick the day after the Super Bowl. Super Bowl weekend is the slowest weekend of the year for weddings. Large screen TV’s increase in sales 5 times the week before the Super Bowl.

It will take 14 miles of soft drink lines to supply the 160 dispensers used to serve fans at the game.

To me, the two facts that stand out in my thinking the most are these:

1. A team has to beat a team to be a “winner.” 2. If a team does not win this game, that team feels like “losers”–even though they are the champions of their league.

This afternoon I want to consider another victory. In this victory, you do not have to beat anyone. In this victory, only death loses.

  1. First, I ask you to read with me from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.
    Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
    1. Context:
      1. The Christians at Corinth had lots of spiritual problems.
        1. They let their culture determine their behavior in the church, among themselves.
        2. They had problems in their marriages, and problems in their worship.
        3. They even had problems in their Christian beliefs–evidently a significant group of them rejected the concept of Christian resurrection.
      2. Evidently Paul addressed several of these Christians’ specific questions about the nature of resurrection.
        1. Paul was straightforward.
        2. “If there is no resurrection, Christ was not raised from the dead.” v.16
        3. “If Christ was not raised, your faith is worthless and your sins have not been forgiven.” v. 17
        4. “Then Christians who sleep the sleep of death have perished–they are dead forever.” v. 18
        5. “If all we are doing is putting our faith in Jesus for ‘this world’ results in this life, we are pitiful.” v. 19
    2. In our reading, Paul affirmed some basic truths about resurrection.
      1. The physical cannot inherit God’s kingdom, and that which dies cannot inherit that which cannot die.
      2. Resurrection does not depend on everyone dying.
        1. When the time of the resurrection comes, not everyone will be dead, but everyone will be changed.
        2. That which dies will be changed into that which cannot die.
        3. When that happens, death will be destroyed; at that moment death can no longer be victorious over us.
          1. Death’s ability to kill is found in sin.
          2. Sin takes its power from the law.
          3. Paul is not declaring God’s law to be a bad thing; he is acknowledging God’s law made us aware of our rebellion against God. Paul made the same point to the Christians in Rome at least three times in Romans 3:20 (God’s law cannot be the means of human justification); Romans 4:15 (God’s law results in our receiving wrath because it makes us aware of our rebellion), and Romans 7:8 (sin used God’s law to make us aware of our rebellion against God).
      3. They must understand that God gives us victory through what God accomplished in Jesus’ resurrection.
        1. If they understood that, it would produce specific results in their behavior.
        2. They would be unmoveable and steadfast–there would be no question of who or what they were in Christ (they would have no doubt).
        3. The objective of their lives would be doing God’s work.
        4. They would serve God’s purposes in the knowledge that it was not wasted effort.

  2. Second, I ask you to read with me from Romans 8:31-39.
    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    1. Context:
      1. Christians in Rome had significant fellowship problems with each other.
      2. They also had significant problems living in Rome’s culture.
      3. Circumstances were such that they struggled to place confidence in God’s strength to help them. (Perhaps they regarded their life circumstances in this physical world to be bigger than God).
    2. Paul said they needed to understand God.
      1. First understanding: nothing they confronted was bigger than God; the ultimate was having God on your side.
        1. God’s commitment to them was unquestionable: just look at the investment God made in giving His Son.
        2. If God’s initial investment was His Son, He will supply everything necessary for you to endure. [The issue in endurance was not God’s commitment to them; it was their commitment to God.]
        3. You are beyond Satan’s accusations because God has justified you.
        4. You are beyond Satan’s condemnation because Jesus Christ intercedes for you (and his resurrection placed him in position to be your intercessor).
      2. Second understanding: nothing can keep God from loving you.
        1. Nothing (external of you) can separate you from God’s love.
        2. Hardship does not prove God does not love you.
        3. Physical death does not prove God does not love you.
        4. Nothing in heaven or earth can separate you from God’s love because God’s love for you is shown in Jesus Christ.

For us, the victory is what God did for us in Jesus’ death. The struggle for Christians is found in the fact that we are physical beings who live in a physical world that is in rebellion to God. As physical beings in this rebellious world, we seek to be spiritually alive. That can happen only because of what God did for us in Jesus’ death. Our hope of victory is in Jesus’ resurrection.

Victory is not in what we can do but in what God has done. Victory is not found in defeating another person. Victory does not involve another person being a loser. It involves death being a loser.

Whose Perspective? Yours or God’s?

Posted by on under Sermons

This morning I want you to take a journey with me. This journey begins several thousand years ago, but it ends with you and me.

  1. Let’s begin.
    1. For our purposes this morning, the journey began when God made this statement to Abraham in Genesis 12:7.
      The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”
      1. The phrase I ask you to note and remember is, “…I will give.”
      2. Remember the land was God’s to give.
      3. God promised Abraham that He would give Abraham’s descendants something that belonged to God.
    2. Several generations pass (over 400 years) and Abraham’s descendants became an enormous group of slaves living in Egypt.
      1. God spoke to Moses in the Sinai wilderness and commissioned him to go to Egypt, provide leadership for Abraham’s descendants, and lead them out of their slavery.
      2. This was God’s statement to Moses:
        Exodus 3:6-8 He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.”
      3. Later, this was another statement God made to Moses:
        Exodus 6:2-8 God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them. I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.’ “
      4. Notice the phrase again, “I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.”
      5. The land belonged to God.
      6. God would give what was His to them to be their country.
    3. Later still, after God rescued these people from Egyptian slavery and took them through the wilderness to the border of the land God promised them, they refused to enter the land because they were afraid.
      Numbers 14:1-8 Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us–a land which flows with milk and honey.”
      1. Note Joshua and Caleb’s statement again: “…He will bring us into this land and give it to us.
      2. Joshua and Caleb clearly understood the land was God’s, and God could give it to them.
    4. Thirty-nine years later when God brought the second generation of Israel to the border of the land, Moses stressed that the land was God’s to give.
      1. Deuteronomy 1:8–The Lord has placed this land before us.
      2. Deuteronomy 4:1–“… Go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”
      3. Deuteronomy 5:31 spoke of the land God gave them to possess.
      4. Deuteronomy 6:18 spoke of the land God gave your fathers.
    5. Because the land belonged to God, Moses plainly declared to Israel that the people who lived on that land were to have some specific understanding.
      1. He explained in Deuteronomy 10:18,19 that God had special concern for widows, orphans, and people who were in Israel but not citizens of Israel.
      2. He explained in Deuteronomy 15 that he wanted them to take care of the poor when they entered their new land.
        1. On every 7th year they were to cancel their debts to each other.
        2. They were to be generous with those in need, to “freely open your hand,” and to give without grief.
        3. If a fellow Hebrew was in such horrible economic condition that his only option was to sell himself into slavery, they were to “buy” that Hebrew with the following understanding:
          1. They would treat such people as hired help, not as slaves.
          2. They could keep them in their service for only six years.
          3. They would not send them away empty-handed.
          4. They would honor a system of redemption.
    6. They were to have some specific understandings about the land according to Leviticus 25.
      1. Every seventh year they were to let the land rest–no cultivation or crop growing.
      2. They could not permanently sell the land.
        1. Every 50th year land was to return to its original owners.
        2. If you sold a house in a walled city, you have one year to buy the house back.
        3. If you sold a house in a village, every 50th year it became the property of the original owner.
        4. No Hebrew was to charge another Hebrew interest on a loan.
    7. There were also laws about the way you harvested your land.
      1. Leviticus 19:9,10 said you could not harvest an entire field or an entire vineyard; some had to be left for the poor and alien to harvest.
      2. Deuteronomy 24:19-22 said they could only harvest a crop one time (we country folks would call that the “first picking”).
        1. That which was late to ripen was left for the widow, orphan, and alien to harvest.
        2. If you forgot a sheaf of grain and left it in the field, you were to leave it for the poor.

  2. Why? Why all these laws about the land, the people who lived on the land, and the way you treated struggling people who lived on the land?
    1. There are three reasons given.
      1. “I am the Lord God.”
      2. “The land is Mine.”
      3. “You must never forget that once you were slaves.”
    2. “Never forget it all belongs to God. Never forget who you were without God.
      1. Does this sound familiar?
        Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.
      2. Paul used this statement in trying to encourage Corinthians Christians to stop judging each other on the basis of food.
        1 Corinthians 10:26 for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.
    3. Paul also explained to an audience in Athens that they needed to change the way they perceived God.
      Acts 17:23-26 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.
      1. If you are to understand who God is, these four understandings are basic.
        1. God is the Creator.
        2. God cannot be confined to a building built by humans.
        3. God is not dependent on humans.
        4. God is the source of life for all people.
      2. Without these four understandings, you cannot know God.

  3. Christians must understand the same things God wanted Israel to understand.
    1. “I, God, am owner–it all comes from Me.”
    2. “Without Me you are still slaves.” [For us, to evil.]
    3. “With Me you have redemption–I alone can destroy your slavery.”
    4. “You show that you understand this by the way you treat others, even the most insignificant of people.”
    5. Listen to James 3:9,10 as he spoke of the way we use our tongues:
      With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it 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.

[Song of reflection; elder offers the invitation; song of invitation.]

To Find Strength, Refine Focus

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

What New Testament people’s ability to trust God provide you strength? Do they include these people? Zacharius and Elizabeth, the elderly parents who gave life to John who baptized? Wonder if they were alive when their only son was executed? Mary, Jesus’ mother, who conceived him prior to marriage? Her husband, and the son she conceived, died before she did. John, the man Jesus said was the greatest person ever born (Matthew 11:11)? He was beheaded. Jesus, God’s son, the Messiah, the Christ? He was crucified. Peter, the apostles’ leader? He was crucified upside down. Paul, Christ’s apostle to non-Jewish people? He was beheaded.

Were Zacharius, Elizabeth, Mary, John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, or others like them weak people? No! They lived their lives in surrender to God’s will with confidence in God’s purposes. If those purposes included having a child when you were elderly, so be it. Elizabeth found it embarrassing, but so be it.

If God’s purposes included conceiving a child as a virgin (which few believed), so be it. Mary responded, “Behold, the female slave of the Lord …” (Luke 1:38).

If God’s purposes included his execution, so be it. John understood the risk he took before he declared the condemnation that eventually resulted in his execution.

If God’ purposes included crucifixion, so be it. It was not what Jesus wanted, but he still surrendered to “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:39).

If God’s purposes included death, so be it. Tradition says Peter requested an upside down crucifixion because he felt unworthy to die as Jesus did. Paul said, “I will continue to be poured out like God’s drink offering …” (2 Timothy 4:6).

Weak in faith? No, strong in faith! Define strength. They were strong enough to give children to God’s purpose, strong enough to die by execution. How did they measure faith’s strength? How did they measure God’s blessings? By homes, careers, jobs, prosperity, or the “good life” they lived? No. They measured God’s blessings by their usefulness to God’s purposes. The highest blessing God granted them in physical life was using them to accomplish His purposes.

Christian men or women who measure God’s blessings primarily by the material, primarily by the physical, primarily by living standards, primarily by health, primarily by what happens in the lives of loved ones lean on a sword with its point directed toward their heart. God’s priority blessings are not material or physical. Now God’s priority blessings are forgiveness, redemption, atonement, holiness, purity, and spiritual life. God’s priority blessing after physical existence is eternal existence with Him.

“If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Jesus’ Cross: My Center

Posted by on January 19, 2003 under Sermons

What is the center of your life? What do you live for?

Some of us might say, “I live for my grandchildren! My grandchildren are the center of my life! There is nothing I would not do for my grandkids!”

Some of us might say, “I live for my children! My children are the center of my life! There is nothing I would not do for my children!”

Some of us might say, “I live for the person I am married to (husband, wife)! My spouse is the center of my life! There is nothing I would not do for my spouse!

Some of us might say, “I live for my career! My career is the center of my life! There is nothing I would not do for my career!”

Some of us might say, “I live for my country! My country is the center of my life! There is nothing I would not do for my country!”

Are you a Christian? If you are a Christian, there is one true center of your life.

This evening we will study some statements from I Corinthians 1 and 2. Please take your Bibles and read with me 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. I am reading from the New American Standard translation.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

  1. Let’s begin by noting my understanding of the context.
    1. Though the city of Corinth was located in Greece, the city was a Roman colony and its society was regulated by Roman perspectives and Roman systems.
      1. One the key systems functioning in any Roman city (and Corinth was not an exception) was the patron and client system.
        1. The patron typically was a wealthy person who paid clients on a regular basis for their loyalty and support.
        2. Politics, society, and commerce functioned using this hierarchy system.
        3. At the top of the system was the patron, and above all else a client must be loyal to his patron.
      2. Another key system was examining all situations and occurrences on the basis of human wisdom.
        1. It was ridiculous to accept perspectives or conclusions that defied human wisdom.
        2. Society in general concluded that believing that there was only one God was ridiculous.
        3. Society in general concluded that believing in an invisible God was ridiculous.
        4. Society in general concluded that believing that this one God used a human death to produce an eternal redemption and an eternal forgiveness was ridiculous.
        5. Society in general concluded that was especially true if this death was produced by the most degrading form of Roman execution that existed in the first century.
    2. In any city that was primarily controlled by Roman customs and systems, people who belonged to Jesus Christ would continue their lives under these influences.
      1. 1 Corinthians is written specifically to Christians living in Corinth.
      2. At the foundation of their problems is the fact that the city’s culture had far too much influence in their lives.
      3. The culture’s influence in their day to day lives created all kinds of problems in the congregation of Christians in Corinth.
        1. Within the letter there are indications they were meeting in wealthy Christians’ homes.
        2. They looked at these Christians in the same way the Corinthian people looked at secular patrons.
        3. What they considered loyalty was a major issue in the congregation.
        4. By the standards of their current human wisdom, a teaching based on a crucifixion death was ridiculous–declaring a Savior who was executed as a criminal was just plain foolish.
        5. The result: Christian Corinth’s message was centered in human wisdom instead of being centered in Jesus’ crucifixion.
    3. I want you to keep something important clearly in mind.
      1. This letter was written specifically to Christians living in the city of Corinth.
      2. It is not an evangelistic letter written to people who were not converted to Jesus Christ.
      3. It is a letter of admonition written to Christians; these are baptized believers who have placed the trust in Jesus Christ.
      4. Paul said the spiritual antidote to their spiritual problems was placing their full confidence in Jesus’ death.
        1. That is the message we often tell people who are not Christians.
        2. Paul said active confidence in Jesus’ death is a message needed as much by Christians as by people who are not Christians.

  2. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
    1. Jesus’ crucifixion produced different responses in the first century world of the Roman empire.
      1. To those who did not believe that God was at work in Jesus’ death, the concept was complete foolishness–it defied human wisdom to such an extent it was stupid.
      2. To those who trusted as fact that this was God’s means of giving us a Savior, it was incredible, believable, and beyond comprehension.
        1. God created our salvation in a way that was neither dependent on or obligated to human wisdom.
        2. The wise God knew that humanity would never grasp Him, His concern for us, or our primary needs through the vehicle of human wisdom.
        3. So God utilized a foolish message (to humans) to call humans to salvation.
      3. What God did in Jesus’ death defied all thinking.
        1. The Jewish unbelievers, who were God’s chosen people for centuries, wanted signs, miracles which would affirm God’s accomplishments in Jesus’ death.
        2. The general population, who were not Jewish, demanded that God’s salvation be perceived by human wisdom, and that did not happen.
        3. Only to those who have confidence in God’s actions in Jesus’ death, to those who recognize God’s call in Jesus’ death, whether they are Jews or from a non-Jewish people, see God’s power and wisdom in Jesus’ death.
    2. Paul’s highest appeal is to God’s nature.
      1. God is not a product of human creation.
      2. Human wisdom did not bring Him into existence.
      3. Human wisdom has no power to measure him.
      4. Even that which humans would regard as foolishness in God is wiser than humans.
      5. Even that which humans would regard as weakness in God is stronger than humans.
      6. God and God’s actions are superior to human wisdom or strength.

  3. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
    And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
    1. First note this: the emphasis that called them into Christ is the same emphasis that will sustain them as people who are in Christ.
      1. What is that dual emphasis? Jesus’ crucifixion.
      2. Paul challenged them to remember carefully.
        1. You were not converted because you were impressed with me.
        2. You did not respond to my message because you were impressed with my speaking ability.
        3. Nor did you respond to my message because you were impressed with my human wisdom.
      3. I was determined that your motivation for responding to my message was in no way to focus on me and your positive impression of my ability.
      4. I was determined to center my message to you on Jesus Christ and his crucifixion.
    2. Remember clearly the time you decided to come to Jesus Christ.
      1. As you remember, remember me.
      2. You saw my weakness; we shared weakness in common.
      3. You saw my fear; we shared fear in common.
      4. You saw my trembling; we shared trembling in common.
      5. Consider what Acts 18:9,10 says about Paul while he was in Corinth:
        And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
      6. You did not respond because I was so persuasive.
      7. You responded because you saw God’s Spirit and God’s power demonstrated.
        1. What you saw was not demonstrated in me.
        2. What you saw was demonstrated in Jesus’ crucifixion.
      8. The foundation of your faith is not an expression or form of human wisdom.
      9. The foundation of your faith is the power of God revealed in Jesus’ death.

  4. If they understood that their faith was firmly planted in what God did in Jesus’ death, if they allowed Jesus’ crucifixion to be the center of who and what they were, they have the foundation for solving the problems among them.
    1. That is the foundation for solving their problems of Christian division.
    2. That is the foundation for solving their problems of sexual immorality among Christians.
    3. That is the foundation for solving their problems of injustice among Christians.
    4. That is the foundation for answering their marital questions.
    5. That is the foundation for solving their fellowship issues.
    6. That is the foundation for solving their worship problems.
    7. That is the foundation for learning to love and respect each other.
    8. That is the foundation for placing their confidence in the reality of resurrection.

We Christians need the same understanding and perspective Paul shared with Corinthians Christians. The beginning point for facing all our problems and challenges is the same beginning point: Jesus’ crucifixion.

The center of Christian existence must be Jesus’ crucifixion. We need to be very careful to convert people to Jesus’ death, and not to the church. If we do not do that, problems among Christians will continue to increase.

The Awkwardness of Christian Fellowship

Posted by on under Sermons

Through the centuries, the greatest growth and development occurring in Christians is produced by association. Each of us is challenged more to change through our interaction with other Christians than through any other means.

Let me use two illustrations. Recently a West-Ark family visited another state and attended another congregation one evening. The wife’s first comment in the parking lot [on arrival] was, “We are overdressed!” She meant, “The way we are dressed may keep us from interacting well with these Christians.” Is it not interesting that the thought of interaction with other Christians immediately made this person think of clothing?

When Joyce and I lived in Oxford, Mississippi, College Hill Presbyterian Church building was located a few miles out of Oxford. The building was quite old, predating the Civil War. It was so old that on occasion it hosted historical tours. One of the features of the earliest building was a section [a balcony] built for slaves. In the early years, interaction was restricted. A slave could be converted. A slave could sit in the same building and worship. But interaction was limited.

The interaction we Christians know as fellowship is powerful. It receives its power through the influence of humans upon humans. As long as I can keep enough distance between you and me that I can look at you and evaluate you impersonally, your life does not impact my life. But the moment you become a person to me, the moment you become close to me, your life touches my life.

Roman house

  1. I want to begin this morning by calling your attention to the floor plan of a Roman house owned by a wealthy person in the first century.
    (The diagram comes from Pompeii. This Italian city was quickly buried in searing volcanic ash by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD–about 45 years after Jesus’ death.)
    1. The first thing I want you to notice is the house’s large size.
      1. The garden area alone had twelve huge columns in it–Roman houses commonly had gardens inside–that was typical of wealthy homes built in the Roman style in the first century.
        1. The people who owned the home and their guests could lounge in their garden without leaving the house.
        2. They often took their meals while gazing at their garden area.
    2. It was possible to maintain such a large home and live leisurely and elegantly because the family was served by slaves–slaves who cooked, cleaned, trimmed, and did anything their masters wished done.
      1. There is a reason for calling this to your attention.
      2. Many early congregations met in homes.
        1. Not many of those congregations met in the homes of peasants–there was not enough room for such meetings in most peasants’ homes.
        2. But there was enough room for such gatherings in the homes of wealthy Christians, and there is some biblical evidence that wealthy Christians used their homes for church gatherings.
      3. Likely such gatherings were held in the reception area.
        1. That would fit with the lifestyle of the wealthy.
        2. The way things functioned in the Roman society of the first century and the way things function in our society today are quite different.
        3. The essential system was the patron/client system.
        4. A wealthy person placed a number of people on retainer and paid these people on a regular basis.
        5. On a designated day the clients frequently came to the patron’s home, were received, and were paid.
        6. That was the way the political system worked, and it was the way the commercial system worked.
          1. To be prominent politically, you had to be wealthy.
          2. To be influential, you had to have important clients who were indebted to you.
        7. To have a number of people who were not on your social level come into your home was not unusual–it happened frequently.

  2. Now I ask you to read with me from Philemon (which has only one chapter) verses 4-20. Paul, who was in prison in Rome, wrote to Philemon, who was wealthy, a Christian, and close to Paul.
    Philemon 4-20 I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you–since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus–I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well). Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
    1. I ask you to consider several things in this reading.
      1. Paul was very grateful for the love Philemon showed to Jesus Christ and to all Christians.
        1. Paul found personal joy and comfort in Philemon’s love for Christians (very important to a man in prison!)
        2. Paul knew the hearts of Christians were refreshed through Philemon’s love.
      2. Using our language of today, Paul said, “Philemon, I need to talk to you about something, Christian to Christian.
        1. Notice that Paul’s “conversation” with Philemon involved a Jewish Christian, a wealthy gentile Christian, and a slave Christian.
        2. Paul wanted to talk to Philemon about a slave named Onesimus.
      3. Onesimus had not been a good slave to Philemon.
        1. In fact, Paul said in the past Onesimus was a useless slave.
        2. But that had changed.
        3. For some reason Onesimus abandoned Philemon (which could have cost Onesimus his life were he caught!).
        4. Either he “searched Paul out” in Rome or just happened to find Paul in Rome.
          1. As a result, Paul converted Onesimus to Jesus Christ.
          2. Onesimus then served Paul while Paul was a prisoner.
      4. Onesimus the Christian served Paul so well that he wanted to keep Onesimus.
        1. But Philemon had not given Onesimus to Paul.
        2. So Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon.
    2. Paul told Philemon, “When Onesimus comes back to you, do not treat him like a slave who has upset you.”
      1. “Instead, treat him like a Christian brother.”
      2. “Now he is much more to you than a slave.”
      3. “If he owes you anything, charge it to me–I will pay you.”
    3. To me, one of the most interesting statements Paul made was this one:
      1. “I have the right in Christ to order you to do this, Philemon” (verse 8).
      2. “But, instead, I am appealing to you in love to do this” (verse 9).
    4. Again, I call your attention to this fact: we have three Christians, a Jew, a wealthy gentile, and a slave.
      1. When Paul was released from prison and visited Philemon (as he said he would do in verse 22), when Christians assembled in Philemon’s house, Paul would be there, and Onesimus would be there.
      2. Have you considered the awkwardness of such situations?
        1. A slave sat in his master’s house as a brother–because they both are Christians.
        2. A Christian slave took the lead in Christian worship, and the master who owned him yielded to him.
        3. And the interaction of Christian influence powerfully touched both of them.

  3. Lock on to this perspective.
    1. Were there very poor Christians in the early church? Yes.
    2. Were there very rich Christians in the early church? Yes.
    3. Did they have association with each other as Christians? Yes.
    4. Did this influence powerfully impact both of their lives? Yes.

  4. This same Paul gave instructions as a mentor to another preacher whom Paul considered his son in the faith. Listen carefully to what Paul wrote to Timothy.
    1. Concerning Christian slaves, Paul told Timothy to teach this:
      1 Timothy 6:1,2 All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against. Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.
    2. Concerning wealthy Christians, Paul told Timothy to teach this:
      1 Timothy 6:17-19 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

Life’s issue is not, “How much do you have?” Life’s issue is this: “How is God glorified through what you have?”

[Song of reflection, followed by an elder extending the invitation, followed by invitation song.]

Who Is the Worst Off?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Two people discussed a “normal” adult who is in the worst condition to be experienced. Can you resolve their dilemma? Which condition do you consider the worst?

First, they discussed the deplorable condition of the arrogant person. The arrogant are easily self-deceived. It is highly probable that the primary source for arrogance comes from specific self-deceptions. Arrogance commonly arises from two sources. Either the person is genuinely convinced he or she is superior to other people, or the person seeks to hide a sense of insecurity. Either he or she tolerates others because “my superior awareness knows and understands more than you do,” or he or she “must know and understand more than others” to evade a sense of insecurity. Arrogance is an awful master who does ugly things to its slaves!

Second, their discussion turned to the ignorant person. Ignorance does terrible things to differing types of people. Some are subjected to enormous suffering and pain in life simply because of ignorance. Others are confident their trustworthy awareness enlightens them, but their understanding is dim. Others, confident in their insights, challenge people to accept their perspectives while never realizing their unfounded assumptions. Ignorance convinces those blinded by darkness that they see. It cruelly betrays its slaves!

Third, their discussion turned to the self-centered person. A truly self-centered existence is the highest form of selfishness. The universe rotates around “me.” Relationships are about “me.” Involvements must please “me.” Commitments must be to “my” advantage. Everything must benefit “me” first and foremost. In each consideration of life, “I” must be first. If “I” do not enjoy it, if it is not fun for “me,” if it does not serve “my” purposes, count “me” out! A self-centered existence sees life through narrow, restricted glasses. If “I” am not prominent in any field of vision, something is fundamentally wrong with the view. Self-centeredness makes one a slave to poor sight!

Which is the worst state of existence: arrogance, ignorance, or self-centeredness?

May I suggest another consideration? Any condition preventing a person from depending on God is the worst state of existence. Likely all of us are afflicted with a degree of arrogance, a degree of ignorance, and a degree of self-centeredness.

God is the only One who can see us accurately for who and what we are and still love us. He accurately can see our arrogance, ignorance, and self-centeredness, and still love us enough to maintain a relationship. What disaster for anyone to separate self from the only One who can know us for who and what we are, and still love us!

Jesus’ Cross: My Crisis

Posted by on January 12, 2003 under Sermons

I want to ask you to take a short walk with me down memory lane. What I call to your attention likely has always happened among people in all the ages. A person is impressed and excited about some new information or understanding. So he or she excitedly shares this information or understanding with others. The “others” are definitely unimpressed. The “others” are so unimpressed that they verbally declare their disappointment.

Long ago in our society they might say, “Big deal!” What they meant was that the information or understanding they heard was horribly insignificant. “You are excited about that?”

Or, there was a time when they might say, “Whoopee for you!” What they meant was, “This information or understanding IS NOT cause for celebration. It is hardly worth mentioning or noticing!”

In a latter period they might say, “So what?” They meant, “There is nothing in this information or this understanding that is worthy of getting excited about. There is no real significance, no real meaning in it. It is not even worth noting.”

Consider some questions. Are you here tonight because of your faith or because of a habit? That is not intended to be a discouraging question. I am very happy that you are here, very happy to have an opportunity to think with you. It is a reflective question.

Are you here because of your commitment to God through Jesus Christ? Or, are you here because good people go to church? Those are not easy questions to answer.

John 19:17-30 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’ ” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”; this was to fulfill the Scripture:, “They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

Tonight I want you to consider the crises created for each one of us by Jesus’ death. To you, is the fact that Jesus was executed by Roman solders at the insistence of Jewish leaders a “big deal,” or a “Whoopee,” or a “So what!” or entirely something different?

“What crises are created for each of us because a man called Jesus died 2000 years ago?” I can think of at least three crises.

  1. Crises #1 is revealed in the answer we give to this question: is the fact the Jesus died upon a Roman cross the completion of a divine plan or a purely natural occurrence in the sequence of natural events?
    1. Is it the completion of divine planning to fulfill divine promises?
      1. Did God make Abraham a promise?
      2. Did Sarah give birth to Isaac long after she we past childbearing age?
      3. Did God from the son bring into existence a larger extended family?
      4. Did God through Jacob produce the twelve men whose descendants would be the twelve tribes of Israel?
      5. Did God through Joseph situate Abraham’s descendants in Egypt?
      6. Did in time those descendants become (a) an enormous people who existed as (b) Egypt’s slaves?
      7. Did God through powerful acts release these people from their slavery?
      8. Did this same God forge these people into a nation and give them a land?
      9. Did God after hundreds of years send Jesus to earth through this people?
      10. Did God allow Jesus to enter this world as a baby, have a ministry in Israel as a Jewish man, and be executed on a cross to provide us with a blood ransom from evil?
      11. Did all that God promised Abraham and his descendants become reality in the death of Jesus?
    2. Or,
      1. Was Jesus just a Jew born in the first century world of Palestine?
      2. Was he just a Jewish man who disagreed with the way things were being done in Palestine?
      3. Did his popularity with the people just place this man at odds with those who held political power in Israel?
      4. Did these men just manipulate a tense situation between the Roman authorities in Palestine and the Jewish people in Palestine to get rid of a man who was truly an irritation and inconvenience?
      5. Was it just a matter of some Jewish leaders manipulating the Roman presence to get rid of some irritating competition?
    3. “I don’t know” is not an option for us.
      1. We each must decide if God was at work or nothing unusual was at work.
      2. That creates a crisis.

  2. Crises # 2: what did God accomplish in Jesus’ death?
    1. Did He actually accomplish these things?
      1. Potential forgiveness for everyone who realizes his or her sinfulness.
      2. Redemption: a ransom that changes ownership in a person’s life by rescuing that person from the consequences of evil.
      3. Propitiation: the act of satisfying justice through having another pay the penalty of our failure.
      4. Purity: a cleansing from all evil.
      5. Holiness: making us able to stand in the sight and presence of a pure God.
      6. Justification: allowing us to appear before God as if you had never done anything wrong.
    2. Or,
      1. Did just a good, unselfish man die?
      2. Was a innocent man from a peasant’s background become the victim of power politics–he just got caught in the middle of Roman and Jewish politics?
    3. “I don’t know” is not an option for us.
      1. We each must decide if God achieved His purposes or a good man was the victim of power politics.
      2. That creates a crisis.

  3. Crisis # 3: in my total life, how will I respond to what happened?
    1. There are many ways that I can respond to what happened.
      1. I can say, “God was not at all involved, and there is nothing to think about as I live my life.” Thus I declare no further response is necessary.
      2. I can say, “There is a possibility that God was involved, so I better learn how to ‘play the game.'”
        1. This tends to be an external (“outside of the real me”) response.
        2. I decide I must go through the motions.
      3. I can say, “God was unquestionably involved, and I had better learn how to do the right things.”
        1. In this I may give a little of my internal self.
        2. But it is mostly a matter of demanding of myself that I perform the right acts.
      4. I can say, “God definitely was involved, but all He is concerned about is how I feel.”
        1. In this I try to make everything internal and nothing external.
        2. I may “do” very little for God, but I constantly affirm how I “feel” about God.
      5. I can say, “God has provided me the opportunity to be someone I could never have become without what He did in Jesus’ death. I want my whole person to be changed, transformed by putting God in charge of remaking me inside out.”
        1. It is a matter of emotions and attitudes.
        2. It is a matter of service in God’s purposes.
        3. It is a matter of treating other people as I want to be treated.
        4. It is a matter of both how I think and what I do.
    2. But I must respond in some way.
      1. God was or was not at work when Jesus died.
      2. If He was at work, I am one of the reasons that He was.

Thus far in your life, what have you decided? How have you responded? Is Jesus’ death more than a “big deal,” “whoopee,” or “So what?” to you? Or much more?

The Tension Factor

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The probability is very high that close to 100% of you came to this assembly this morning in a vehicle powered by gasoline. Probably, most of you are just like me. We put fuel in the tank, a key in the ignition, and expect our vehicle to go. For most of us, “driving” focuses on three things: the gas pedal, the brake, and the steering wheel. While we are “driving,” several hundred other functions are occurring that we never think about–unless we must take our vehicle to a mechanic.

The probability is very high that each vehicle that we rode to this assembly has a timing belt. Though most of us rarely think about a timing belt, it is absolutely essential. If it breaks, a driver needs to get to the side of the road and turn the ignition off immediately. Without a timing belt, an engine literally cannot function. Without a timing belt, there can be no power to make the vehicle move.

What is a timing belt? In very simple language, that belt tells each cylinder when to ignite the gasoline. The power in each of our engines is produced by its cylinders. In our cars and trucks, each engine has several cylinders. Something has to inform each cylinder when to ignite its fuel so the cylinders can work together instead of haphazardly. Basically, that is what the timing belt does. It tells each cylinder when it is its turn to ignite the fuel.

For a timing belt to perform that function, it has to have just the right amount of tension on it. It always will be under tension. A timing belt with no tension on it is worthless.

This morning I want you to understand that tension serves an important purpose in seeking to be godly. I want you to understand the purpose of a godly life in this world is not to escape tension. It is to have the right kind of tension so that we can function in the ways God wants us to function.

I want to focus your attention on some statements Jesus made in a sermon.

Matthew 6:19-34 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

  1. In this statement, Jesus dealt with this primary issue: “What is the basic purpose for my life?”
    1. Our answer to that question depends on our concept of life.
      1. Is life confined to a physical life time, so the only true issues of life involve “right now” and “this world”?
      2. Or, is what happens in this physical world only one part of life?
        1. Surely life is concerned about the physical, but the physical is not all of life.
        2. Life is also concerned about existence when we are no longer physical.
        3. In fact, there is more life to be lived when we are no longer physical than there is life to be lived while we are physical.
    2. One common answer that exists in every age no matter when and where a person lives is this: “The purpose of life is to gain wealth.”
      1. “Wealth is pleasure!”
      2. “Wealth is the solution to all problems!”
      3. “Above all else, wealth is security!”

  2. Jesus said wealth is not life’s purpose and wealth is not life’s security.
    1. He gave several reasons that declared a person is foolish for making wealth the purpose of life.
      1. Wealth can be stolen or destroyed.
        1. If life’s purpose is to acquire wealth, then life loses its purpose when wealth is stolen or destroyed.
        2. If we trust in wealth, we are pitiful when wealth is stolen or destroyed.
      2. Wealth distorts the way we see everything.
        1. When life is about wealth, we reduce everything we see to dollar signs.
        2. When we reduce everything to dollar signs, we are pitiful.
      3. When wealth controls us, it is the only thing that rules us.
        1. The person who is convinced that he or she can make both God and wealth equal controlling forces in his or her life is self-deceived.
        2. When we have deceived ourselves into believing that we can serve God and wealth equally, we are pitiful.
      4. When God controls us, He can do things for us wealth cannot do.
        1. Wealth controls through worry.
        2. God guides with comfort and strength.
        3. When God controls, there is peace.

  3. Jesus told people who declared for centuries that they were God’s unique people not to reduce life to the level of people who do not belong to God.
    1. People who do not belong to God (always the major influencers) are consumed with the physical.
      1. They are the people who scream, “Wealth is the answer!”
      2. They are the people who scream, “Measure me by what I wear! Measure me by what I eat! Measure me by what I have! Measure me by where I live!”
      3. And they are among the people who are controlled by their anxieties.
    2. So Jesus asked, “Which is the greater? The Creator or the things He made?”
      1. “Put the Creator first.”
      2. “Put His priorities first.”
      3. “Before anything else, submit life to His rule and His objectives.”
      4. “And do it with this understanding: if He is your first priority, He will take care of you.”
    3. “Everyday has enough troubles of its own.”
      1. “You do not need to borrow trouble from the future.”
      2. “All you need to do is to use the day you have for God and His purposes.”

  4. In that perspective from Jesus, there is tension.
    1. Every Christian man or woman who seeks to be a godly person knows and feels the tension.
      1. Society screams, “Possessions are everything;” the godly ask do I possess too much?
      2. Society screams, “Indulge yourself;” the godly ask, “Is indulging what I am doing?”
      3. Society screams, “Protect yourself with things;” the godly ask, “Do I look to God for my security?”
      4. Society screams, “Measure your life by what you have;” the godly ask, “Do I measure myself by my relationship with God?”
    2. May we aspire to be the godly, and may we never stop asking ourselves questions.
      1. For in those questions there is tension.
      2. In that tension is our focus.
      3. That tension allows God to let us move forward toward Him.
      4. In the tension there is the power to be a godly person.
      5. Without the tension there are no questions.
      6. Without the questions there can be no godliness.
      7. Only if we are personally concerned about the tension questions can we place God powerfully in control.
    3. The fact that we feel tension as we pursue a godly life does not prove we have left our salvation–it merely proves we are growing.

[Song of reflection, followed by one of the elders offering the invitation.]

A Time For Prayerfulness

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The times are evil. Nothing new! They were evil in the first century (Ephesians 5:15-17). Most of us older adults are accustomed to “evil days” characterizing people “over there.” That often meant countries who recognized no god or honored a strange god. “Evil days” occurred in places desperately needing missionaries. We needed to send them so their “evil days” could end.

No longer are “evil days” over there. They are here. A man or woman chooses a spouse on the basis of passion, or looks, or money. Little or no consideration is given to godliness. Husbands and wives war against each other as if God did not exist. Marriages are devastated by unimaginable expressions of faithlessness. Children are great as infants, tolerated prior to adolescence, and a major frustration as teens. “True friends” indulge with us in the pursuit of passions. We trust them to enjoy and keep quiet about it. Life’s goals are material–possess, buy, acquire! Security is monetary with a focus on this world and life. “What is it worth? Can I indulge myself with it? Can I retire on it?”

Our great theological issues center on worship forms, not lifestyles. Ironically, the epistles contain little information about worship forms, but heavily emphasize lifestyles. Too many have more confidence in church membership and attendance than in God’s incredible accomplishments in Jesus’ death. In the church, spiritual priorities are more likely to rest on our preferences than God’s will. For many, “restoration” is more concerned about American priorities in the 1900’s than Jesus and His first century priorities.

The result? People’s lives descend at a quickening rate into the chasm of despair. “What’s wrong? I don’t understand! Fix it! Make my life happy, my family sound, my spouse loving, or my child kind.” In the almost forty-one years that I have worked with the church full time, the anguish is constantly louder and louder.

So we quietly teach, guide, and increase awareness of godly (and ungodly) decisions and focuses. We try to “turn on the light” that will increase understanding of God’s light to the world — Jesus. But even with what I do, what Brad does, what the elders do, and what many of you do, we get further and further behind.

If ever there was a time to pray, it is now. We desperately need godly men and women. Pray! We desperately need Christians who love God more than themselves. Pray! We desperately need Christians who learn from God to love people. Pray! We desperately need to learn how to let God be God. Pray! Consequences must not destroy us. Pray!

How Jesus’ Disciples See This World

Posted by on January 5, 2003 under Sermons

In mid-summer of 1970, Joyce and I moved to Africa. Years before that, we both wanted to do mission work. We both were convinced in our love for God and our love for people this was the thing to do. So we took our three small children–ages 7, 5, and 2–and moved to an impoverished nation about the size of the state of California.

When we moved I was thoroughly American, thoroughly naive, and poorly prepared, but convinced I was well prepared. I grew up in the mountains of east Tennessee in a rural community with a small congregation. I grew up with a personal goal of making a noticeable faith difference in our world. I had no idea of how large this world is. I had no idea of how complex this world is. I had no idea of how powerful and diverse political systems are in this world.

In Africa we lived and worked in a rural area. I had never seen poverty on the level I saw it. I had never seen need on the level I saw it. I had never seen suffering on the level I saw it.

But, in the beginning, I had the answers! I approached situations as a typical American would approach them. Early, I frequently found myself thinking two thoughts. (1) “If these people only had …” (2) “If we just had the money, that problem could be solved.” Some months later I came to realize that possessing things and money were not the answer and would never be the answer. Increasing their possessions did not contain the answer to their many problems. That is a very un-American realization.

  1. I want to focus you on a statement Jesus made in response to a bad attitude.
    Luke 16:14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.
    Luke 16:19-31 Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house–for I have five brothers–in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'”
    1. The first thing of importance to note is this: Jesus’ primary lesson focused on the importance of human behavior in this life.
      1. The primary lesson is about people who are convinced that they belong to God but do not focus their lives on God’s priorities.
      2. The primary focus of their lives is living well.
      3. The primary focus of their lives is not on caring about other people.
    2. The second thing of importance to note is this: the point of the teaching is not found on what the man did, but on what man was.
      1. The point is not that everything would have been okay in the rich man’s life if he had just given Lazarus some leftovers.
      2. The point is that the rich man lived his life oblivious to the suffering of others.
      3. He focused his existence on indulging himself in a marvelous lifestyle.
      4. He did not focus his life on compassion for those who suffered and struggled.

  2. Two thousand years ago when Jesus gave this teaching, the situation and the teaching was full of enormous contrasts.
    1. In its context, the religious elite are laughing at Jesus and his teachings–they thought what he said had no merit, was totally ridiculous.
      1. Jesus’ earthly origins were rooted in a peasant’s existence.
        1. Nazareth was a small, rural community with a small population who eked out a survival existence in a large bowl like area on top of a mountain.
        2. To put it in terms we can identify with, there were no public schools, the vast majority of the population worked hard as farmers, there was no indoor plumbing, and a common reality was starvation.
        3. Jesus knew the realities of a hard life before his ministry began.
      2. The Pharisees likely lived in a city with the conveniences it offered (like Jerusalem).
        1. They likely had a prestigious education.
        2. They likely had the advantages of an education given by the instructions of a respected Rabbi.
      3. They laughed; who was this country peasant who thought he could teach people about God’s priorities?
    2. The values Jesus stressed had nothing in common with the theology the Pharisees taught in Israel, a theology that was accepted by most Israelites.
      1. Everybody knew God materially blessed and prospered the godly!
        1. That is what scripture taught!
        2. If the Pharisees were enjoying the finer things of life, that just proved they were godly men!
      2. Jesus said godliness is not demonstrated in lifestyle, but in one’s treatment of struggling people.

  3. To emphasize his point, Jesus used a story as a means of teaching.
    1. He talked about a rich man who concluded that the reason for wealth was to indulge oneself.
      1. This man was truly rich.
        1. His outer clothing was the most expensive dyed cloth you could buy, purple.
        2. His underwear was the finest you could buy, made of fine linen.
      2. He lived the high life!
        1. The word “splendor” suggests that he had and ate the best of the best.
        2. He existence was in total contrast to Lazarus existence.
    2. Lazarus’ life contrasted to the rich man’s in every way.
      1. Lazarus was a sick man who was starving to death.
        1. Other’s routinely carried him to the rich man’s gate hoping there he would be noticed and given consideration.
        2. Knives and forks were not used to eat–commonly things were scooped up on small pieces of bread; crumbs were the “waste” that resulted from this type of meal.
        3. Lazarus hoped to eat the waste from meals that dogs ordinarily ate.
      2. He was so sick that he had a lot of open sores on his body.
        1. Evidently his sores were exposed and untreated [maybe he did not have enough clothing to wear?].
        2. His only treatment for his sores was dogs licking them.

  4. They both died, and the contrasts continued.
    1. The man who had everything in his physical life found himself suffering in the afterlife, and the man who suffered in physical life found himself at ease in the afterlife.
      1. The situation was unimaginable!
        1. A prosperous life on earth proved the rich man belonged to God–he should not be suffering!
        2. A life of suffering on earth proved one did not belong to God–Lazarus should not be at ease!
      2. The man who was in control of everything on earth controlled nothing after death; and the man who controlled nothing on earth needed nothing after death.
        1. Now the rich man cries for mercy–in physical life could he have ever imagined the value of a single drop of water?
        2. Now Lazarus is at ease in need of nothing.
      3. In physical life the rich man was accustomed to ordering slaves to do his bidding.
        1. In afterlife he could not even get a request fulfilled.
        2. In physical life he missed the point of living.
        3. He did not want his brothers to make the same mistake.

  5. It is very easy to miss the point of Jesus’ story, and very easy to focus our attention on things in the story that are not Jesus’ primary point.
    1. Jesus’ point: blessings in this life are opportunities to invest in eternal life
      1. We invest by serving the needs of people.
      2. The purpose of having is not:
        1. To be the world’s greatest consumer.
        2. To indulge ourselves.
        3. To experience a pleasurable existence.
      3. The purpose of having is to serve.
    2. Jesus’ point is not that there is virtue in the experience of poverty or painful struggle.
    3. Jesus’ disciples see struggling people, and serve, just like God does.
      1. To me, one of the most sobering statements made by Jesus is found in Luke 16:25:
        But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.”

[Song of reflection, followed by one of the elders offering Jesus Christ’s invitation.]