God’s Basic Desire

Posted by on March 30, 2003 under Sermons

There are two extremely critical questions about life each of us ask and answer about ourselves. We may not realize we ask ourselves these two questions, but each one of us do. We may not realize we give personal answers to each of these questions, but we do. All of us ask the questions. All of us answer the questions. We may not share our answers with anyone else, but those answers live in our hearts.

What are these two questions all of us ask and answer?

The first question is this: “What is my life about?” We may ask that question in many forms. “What do I live for?” “What is the most important thing in life to me?” “What is the number one consideration or issue in my life?”

Most of us ask and answer that question by the time we are twenty years old. Once we answer that question, we are not likely to change the answer. Changing answers happens, but it does not happen easily. Our answer determines the way we live for a long, long time.

The second question is this: “How am I going to produce (or achieve) what I have decided life is about for me?” The “how” question is basically a simple question. “I have decided what my life is about. How am I going to get there? How am I going to make it happen?” While our “what’s” do not change very often, our “hows” may change many times. If one “how” does not work, I need to find a “how” that will work.

If you examine most of us at age 30 and age 50, the “what” answer often has not changed. The “how” answer has probably change a lot.

Maybe your reaction is, “Big deal! That is the most boring observation I have heard in a long time!”

It is a big deal. In fact it is a very big deal. Two more observations.

Observation one: whatever the person you are married to is living for on your wedding day will likely be the same “what” he or she will be living for in 40 years. If you do not like the “what” he or she is living for when you are engaged, don’t marry him or her.

Observation two: your answer to the “what” question will definitely determine the place God has in your life. One of the most critical spiritual problems among Christians is this: we say we believe in God, but our “what” answers oppose God.

  1. Let me illustrate the fact that a person can say he or she believes in God, but he or she actually opposes God because his or her answer to “what is my life about” opposes God.
    1. Consider:
      1. If my answer to “what is my life about” is money, then my money will always be more important than God.
        1. The best God can ever hope for in my life is second place.
        2. Any time I have to make a decision between money and God, God loses.
      2. If my answer to “what is my life about” is sex, then sex will always be more important than God.
        1. The best God can ever hope for in my life is second place.
        2. Any time I have to make a decision between sex and God, God loses.
      3. If my answer to “what is my life about” is having fun (whatever I consider having fun to be), then having fun will always be more important than God.
        1. The best God can every hope for in my life is second place.
        2. Any time I have to make a decision between having fun and God, God loses.
      4. I could illustrate the point in a lot of ways: success of whatever type, acceptance of whatever type, achievement of whatever type, social prominence in whatever segment of society that is important to me, etc.
    2. The point is simple: my answer to the question, “What is my life about?” determines the way I look at God and the place I allow God to occupy in my life.
      1. The determining factor in how I live my life is my answer to the question, “What is my life about?”
      2. My answer to that question determines the position I allow God to assume in my life.

  2. Perhaps your quiet, inner voice says, “David, I do not like the direction you are going with this. If you are going to make the point that God should be number one in my life, your are going to turn me off and freak me out.”
    1. “If you are going where I think you are going, I don’t want to hear this.”
      1. “After all, what do you expect from me?”
      2. “I am here, and there certainly are many other places I could be doing many other things much more enjoyable.”
      3. “I follow most of the rules when it is really important.”
      4. “I give; isn’t the big thing you want my money?”
      5. “I don’t stand in my family’s way of being as religious as they want to be.”
    2. “What does God want anyway?”
      1. That is an excellent question!
      2. What does God want?
      3. In different ages was it different things, or has it always been the same thing?
      4. This morning I want to suggest that before you decide what you want in life, you need to understand what God wants.

  3. Genesis 3 tells us there was a time when God had open, free, direct communication with people.
    1. Before evil entered human life, this world was very different.
      1. God had daily conversations with people–they were made in His image and likeness, and God enjoyed talking to them.
      2. At that time there was no shame; there was nothing to be ashamed of.
      3. At that time there was no fear; there was nothing to be afraid of.
      4. At that time there was no need to hide from God; God was not associated with danger.
    2. What does God want?
      1. He wants what He enjoyed when there was no evil in human life.
      2. Basically what God wants has never changed.
      3. He wants what He had and wanted in the beginning.

  4. Let scripture declare what God wants.
    1. Think with me for a moment about Exodus 19.
      1. The situation:
        1. God already had rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery.
        2. God already had separated Israel from Egyptian control by bringing them across the Red Sea.
        3. God already had brought this huge mass of people to the foot of Mount Sinai.
        4. God was now ready to speak the ten commandments to them.
      2. This was to be a special moment in Israel’s relationship with God, and God wanted them to understand what a unique, special occasion and opportunity this was.
        1. God asked Moses to give a special message to Israel before He voiced the ten commandments to them.
        2. Listen to God’s special message to Israel recorded in Exodus 19:4-6:
          You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
      3. What did God want? God wanted a people who belonged to Him by choice, who were uniquely His because they wanted to be uniquely His.
      4. He wanted a people who belonged to Him as people belonged to Him before there was evil in human life.
    2. Think with me for a moment from Deuteronomy 7:6-8:
      1. The situation:
        1. It is now almost a generation later from Exodus 19.
        2. Moses is an old man.
        3. Only three adults who left Egypt are now alive, and soon there will only be two.
        4. The old man Moses does not want the second generation of Israelites to make the same basic mistake their parents made.
      2. Soon they will enjoy the fulfillment of God’s promise–soon they will enter the land God promised them and become a settled nation.
      3. Listen as Moses gave them this message:
        Deuteronomy 7:6-8 For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
      4. What does God want?
        1. The same thing He wanted when He spoke to their parents at Mount Sinai.
        2. He wants a people who belong uniquely to Him by choice; they are His because they want to be His.
        3. He wants a people who by choice belong to him just like people did before evil existed in human life.
    3. Think with me a moment from Titus 2:11-14.
      1. The situation:
        1. The moment of Jesus’ crucifixion is long past.
        2. The moment of Jesus’ resurrection as the Christ is long past.
        3. The good news of what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection was declared to the nations, among both the Jews and those who were not Jews.
      2. Now all people can be God’s sons and daughters; all can be forgiven; all can be saved.
      3. And what does God want? The same thing God always wanted.
      4. Listen as Paul writes Titus:
        Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
      5. He wants a people who belong uniquely to Him by choice because they want to be His.
      6. He wants a people who are uniquely His just as were people before evil existed in human life.

“David, you are always asking us questions. Let me ask you a question. What do you want?” That is a good question. I have been a preacher for 49 years. For 41 of those years I have served God’s people full time. In all that time what I wanted has not changed much. First, I want to be one of those people who belong uniquely to God. Second, I want you to be one of those people who, by choice, belong uniquely and exclusively to God. I cannot explain to you how important that is to me.

I have learned two things. First, I have learned that if I am to be one of those people, I must be committed to that purpose every day. Second, I have learned that each of you will be one of those people only if you choose to be.

So I guess the question is this: who do you want to be? What is your life really about?

A Time to Think About the “Unthinkable”

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As I write, I wonder, “Has it only been five days?” For months, constant information bombarded us. It focused on the enormous debate about the justification and essentiality of a war. The debate continued so long it made many insensitive to the arguments. It assumed the atmosphere of an “academic” discussion, not a “reality” consideration.

Then war actually began. Information bombardment from an academic discussion was replaced with military images of a virtually unopposed border crossing. Accidents, not skirmishes, were the danger. The process and progress amazed us.

Then the images changed. Casualties and POWs became reality. The cost was no longer dollars, but lives. The changed images escalated. Many different viewpoints interpreted those images as the entire world watched and commented.

Many American people and many in the church have lived in isolation for a long, long time. Neither as a people nor in the church do we naturally think of ourselves as a part of a world community. We are bewildered when large numbers of people (at times including nations) distrust and dislike us. We are the good guys who believe everyone should be free and prosperous. We are the compassionate ones who are the first to respond to humanitarian needs. Why would anyone not like us?

Both as a nation and as a church, we have enjoyed almost six decades of the luxury of living in isolation. We have nourished ourselves with our isolation. No longer is that an option. No longer can we pretend “that is the way it is.” The world is much too small, and we are only a part of it. We are just one part of a world community.

What does that mean for Christians? A lot! First, it means we must earnestly ask what life is really about. Does God the Creator really exist? Is He really the most important reality in our lives? Must He really determine how we live and what we are about? Is the primary concern of life really what happens after death? Is the resurrection really real? Is accountability really real? Is the judgment really real? Spiritual realities must move from the hypothetical to the real.

Second, we must realize life’s fundamental concern must return to a common truth: death is real. It does not occur on our terms at the time of our choosing. Life is not about lifestyles, entertainments, pleasures, homes, furnishings, cars, careers, or economic security. All of those can be dramatically altered instantly. It is about preparation for death. It is about God’s forgiveness. It is about meeting God after the physical ends.

To waste life is the ultimate folly. To base life on the temporary embraces that folly. It is essential to focus our thoughts on matters we too rarely consider from reality’s view.

“Skip Over” Scriptures: Romans 16, Part 4

Posted by on March 23, 2003 under Sermons

Let’s begin this evening by turning to Romans 16.

As an introduction to my thoughts, I want to make a single point. My personal conviction is this: if we divorce Romans 16 from the Paul’s basic message in the entire letter of Romans, we will make Romans 16 say things that Paul did not say. For myself, I regard that to be an abuse of scripture.

  1. In verse 17 Paul urged them to keep any eye on those who stirred up trouble and hindered “the teaching,” and reject their influences.
    1. For several years among us, this verse was used as justification for “marking” fellow Christians who should be rejected and shunned by other Christians.
      1. The reasoning seemed to follow this line of thinking:
        1. “My position is the true position; my position is God’s position.”
        2. “This position is a salvation matter, and if you do not agree with my position, you are rejected by God, and therefore you are lost.”
        3. “If a division exists between us as Christians, it is your fault because you reject my position.”
        4. “Because you refuse to accept my position, I am obligated to tell everyone that you are a false teacher, and every other faithful Christian and congregation must reject you.”
        5. “I am not the problem; you are the problem. Any problem that exists is produced by you.”
      2. Ironically, the practice of “marking” is not intended to promote healing among Christians, but division among Christians.
        1. I say ironically, because I understand Romans to be a healing message that was intended to close the gap between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians.
        2. The “marking” agenda easily becomes a control mechanism in which one group of Christians demand that all other Christians conform to their conclusions and positions.
        3. The basic objective is not to seek understanding, but to impose conformity.
        4. Understanding is not important; agreeing with those exercising control is important.
    2. In my understanding that practice and conclusion is precisely opposite the point Paul made in his letter to Christians in Rome.
      1. Paul began to reveal and stress his basic point to the Christians in Rome from chapter one when he declared in verse 16 that he was not ashamed of the gospel.
        1. The gospel or “good news” (which is the basic meaning of the word) was “good news” for two reasons:
        2. The first was salvation; this good news is based on God’s power to save.
        3. The second was the fact that God’s ability to save is so powerful that it could save Jews and people who are not Jews.
      2. To me, that is the overall problem addressed in this letter to Christians in Rome: God equally can save Jews and people who are not Jews.
        1. Jewish Christians had real trouble with Paul’s understanding and declaration of the “good news.”
        2. Non-Jewish Christians could easily become arrogant and boastful if they followed wrong motivations when they heard and trusted the “good news.”
        3. Paul’s basic point in the first 11 chapters was this: God always had planned to present a salvation that could save everyone in all nations through Jesus Christ and the work of His Spirit.
      3. Some Christians genuinely resented Paul’s good news.
        1. They actively opposed the unity between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians.
        2. Paul’s letter to the congregations in Galatia documents both the existence and the basic work of such Christians.
        3. Paul said these people who opposed God’s mission to the gentiles are not the slaves of Jesus Christ who serve Jesus Christ, but are slaves to their own motives who serve their own desires.
        4. They are convincing; in fact they are so convincing that they can deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
        5. The objective of these Christians is to destroy the oneness of Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians.
        6. Paul said see them for who and what they are, and do not let them succeed.
      4. Paul was delighted to hear about their dedication to obedience.
        1. He had only one thing to add.
        2. He urged them to be experts in what is good and innocent.

  2. Verses 21 through 23 are a series of greetings from Christians who were with Paul in the place he wrote the letter (likely in Corinth or Cenchrea).
    1. Timothy, his fellow worker, sent greetings.
    2. Some Jewish Christians sent greetings.
    3. The scribe who actually wrote the letter (Paul dictated; the scribe wrote) sent greetings.
    4. Paul’s patron sent greetings.
    5. Erastus, very likely the same Erastus documented archeologically, sent greetings (he was a high official in the pagan city government, the city treasurer).
    6. And another Christian there sent greetings.

  3. In the last three verses, Paul closes this letter in a manner very similar to the beginning of the letter.
    1. According to Paul’s “good news” that was based on a foundation produced by the preaching of Jesus Christ, God was able to establish all of them–Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians.
      1. This could happen because God had revealed the mystery which was a secret in past ages.
      2. It was no longer a secret, not longer an obscure mystery.
      3. The prophets who wrote scriptures did not understand how God would work through this mystery, but the eternal God knew precisely what He was doing.
      4. What is this “mystery” which was then revealed and made known?
        1. The Jewish prophets knew that God had a gentile mission (a mission to all the nations of people who were not Jews).
        2. But they did not know what this mission looked like, or how God was going to achieve that mission.
        3. God achieves that mission through faith in Jesus Christ.
      5. Through faith in God’s Christ, anyone has access to salvation.
        1. Being God’s people does not depend on genealogy.
        2. Being God’s people does not depend some special knowledge or tradition.
        3. Being God’s people depends on understanding what God does in Jesus Christ.
        4. All the nations now have access to God’s salvation, and no one has an advantage (many Jewish Christians did not like that!).
    2. Jesus Christ reveals just how wise God is; an understanding of Jesus Christ motivates the person to give glory to God.

  4. Let me conclude by asking you to focus on what Paul did in Romans 16.
    1. He asked them to accept and treat kindly the Christian lady who was his patroness, who had helped many (who likely took this letter to Rome).
    2. He greeted Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians in the churches in Rome.
    3. He noted Jewish Christians who were respected and appreciated by congregations of Christians who were not Jews.
    4. He stressed how active Christian women were.
    5. He commanded all Christians to greet each other respectfully (holy kiss).
    6. He urged them to see Christians who sustained divisions among them (tried to keep those divisions in tact) for who and what they were.
    7. He sends greeting from both Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians.
    8. He stressed that God always intended to save people who were not Jews, and God accomplished that through Jesus Christ.
    9. The messages in Romans 16 are consistent with Paul’s basic message in the rest of the letter; in fact, it illustrates his basic message.


    The point Paul wanted them to understand is basically the same point he made in the very beginning of the letter.

    1. God does not care if you are a Jewish Christian or a non-Jewish Christian.
    2. Since it does not matter to God, it should not matter to you.
    3. Instead of hassling each other, accept and encourage each other.
    4. God wants everyone to trust the same thing: His accomplishments in Jesus Christ.
    5. When people do that, it changes the way they live and what they live for.

God’s Memory

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I thank the elders for allowing Joyce and me to take a week to be with her dad and mom. I thank Richard Hostetler and Kevin Roberts for preaching last Sunday. I thank Kevin Hesslen and Dale Brown for teaching my classes. I thank you all for your prayers for us and for Joyce’s mom and dad.

The week we were in Crossville, Tennessee, was unusual for us in several different ways. This is one of the ways that it was unusual for me: I spent a week in the place I grew up remembering good memories from my past. I was able to go places, see people, and think about things that I had not thought about in years.

For example, twice I was able to talk with a Bible teacher who was also my high school science teacher. Bert Ingram taught me the value and the importance of studying the Bible in context.

I saw and talked to a high school classmate who was in my graduating class of about 20.

I saw a lady from a congregation for whom I preached on Sundays before I married.

I visited the place that I proposed to Joyce.

I was in a Bible class held in the place where Joyce and I married.

I drove by the location of the first place Joyce and I lived after we married.

  1. Human memory is a strange thing.
    1. As we visited a very sick Allen Wells in the hospital, I had some cherished, special memories of him.
      1. I remember well the first time I met him when I was 16 years old.
        1. I was dating Joyce and visiting in their home when he came in from his usual long day of work.
        2. At the time, he was a huge man who probably carried at least 250 pounds on his 6 foot 4 inch frame.
        3. He briefly greeted me and disappeared behind a door.
        4. A while later he asked me to come into the room.
        5. When I did, he had over 35 pistols on the bed, no two alike.
        6. At that time in his life, he traded and sold guns.
        7. Years later after I married Joyce I teased him by telling him I did not know if he was telling me to get serious or get gone.
      2. I remember the time Joyce and I decided to do mission work in Africa.
        1. The hardest part of that decision was telling our parents.
        2. We had some special concerns in telling Allen.
          1. At that time he was not a faithful Christian (he was a good man, but rarely worshipped).
          2. We needed to tell him that we were taking his only grandchildren over 5000 miles away.
        3. When I told him, all he asked was, “Is this what you and Joyce really want to do?”
          1. I said, “Yes.”
          2. He said, “As long as my kids are doing what is right, I want them to do whatever they want to do.”
          3. That is all he ever said about our decision.
    2. Joyce and I have been married for almost 42 years, and Allen has never criticized me or told me what to do.

  2. I said human memory is a strange thing.
    1. Why would I say that?
      1. Human memory is essential to human existence.
        1. There are very few things any of us could do without memory.
        2. Even things as simple as walking and swallowing depend on memory.
      2. Conscious human memory is unusual because we are more likely to remember the bad and forget the good.
        1. It is much easier to remember what we do not like than remember what we do like.
        2. It is much easier to remember failures than it is to remember successes.
        3. It is much easier to remember flaws than it is to remember talents.
    2. Let me ask you to create for yourself a Bible example.
      1. I am going to mention a Bible person, and I want you to hold on to the first thing that comes to your mind concerning this man.
      2. What is your first memory when I say the name of the man . . . David?
        1. Let me take a chance: would everyone whose first thought was Bathsheba or something relating to the David and Bathsheba hold up your hand?
        2. Would everyone whose first thought was “the man whose heart belonged to God” hold up your hand?
    3. David is a powerful illustration of a basic difference between human memory and God’s memory.
      1. One of the things I had opportunity to do the week I was home was a lot of Bible reading in books I find too little time to read.
        1. I have a new study Bible I am trying to become more familiar with.
        2. While we were home, I had the time to do a lot of reading in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings.
      2. In those readings I read about David’s life and several generations beyond David’s life.
      3. As I read, I was impressed with how often those scriptures talked about the fact that God did things “for the sake of David” long after David had died.
        1. Obviously, God remembered David and actually did things because of His memories of David.
        2. Was David perfect? Absolutely not! In the incident involving Bathsheba, he was guilty of murder and adultery.
        3. Even though that was true, the thing God constantly remembered about David was that David’s heart belonged to Him.

  3. Let me share with you some specific examples of God’s memory of David.
    1. 1 Kings 11 states that King Solomon began as an incredible man of God but became a man who turned his heart away from God.
      1. Solomon loved foreign wives: Egyptian, Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite (1 Kings 11:1).
      2. This was in direct rebellion against God’s instructions to Israelite men.
      3. When Solomon rebelled against God, he rebelled in an enormous way.
        1. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
        2. These women successfully turned his heart away from God when Solomon was an old man.
        3. They even succeeded in getting Solomon to follow other gods and do evil in God’s sight.
        4. Solomon even built places of worship so his wives could worship their gods.
        5. Twice God appeared to Solomon instructing him to reject these gods, but Solomon refused to listen to God, preferring to listen to his wives.
      4. God was so angry with Solomon that He declared that He would take most of Israel and give it to someone other than Solomon’s son.
      5. However, one tribe would be given to Solomon’s son.
        1. Why?
        2. The answer: “for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:13).
    2. Two generations later, long after Israel had divided, Abijam became king of Judah.
      1. Abijam was the son of Rehoboam, the great-grandson of King David.
      2. He also was a very wicked man (1 Kings 15:3).
      3. Yet, God allowed Abijam’s son to become the next king of Judah.
        1. Why?
        2. God allowed his son Asa to succeed him “for David’s sake” . . . “because David did what was right in the sight of the Lord” except in the case of Uriah (1 Kings 15:4, 5).
    3. Yet two more generations later, God permitted Jehoram to become king of Judah.
      1. He also was a very wicked man, yet God allowed him to be king.
      2. Why?
        1. “The Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David, His servant . . .” (2 Kings 8:19)
        2. God continued to remember David.
    4. Six kings after King David God still acted on His memory of David’s heartfelt devotion.
      1. Even though five of those kings were evil men, God still acted on His memory of David.
      2. Though David’s descendants were in no way worthy of God’s blessing, God blessed them because of David’s dedication.

  4. At this very minute, our world and our society is a very evil, uncertain place.
    1. To me, anyone who would dare predict what will happen even in two months is a very unwise person.
      1. The times are too complex.
      2. The situation is too complicated.
      3. Our world is too small, and cultures neither understand nor respect cultures who are significantly different.
    2. Wonder what God thinks when He examines the incredible mess we people have made on this earth?
      1. May I ask a question: does God continue to be patient because of us or in spite of us?
      2. How many times do you think God says, “For the sake of . . ., I will do this. I will never forget the devotion of his (or her) heart.”
      3. When God looks at your motives, is He elated or is He disgusted?

  5. Allow me to share one last thing about God’s memory.
    1. Jeremiah 31:31-34 predicted a time when God would make a new covenant with all Israelites.
      1. Among the features of this covenant was this: “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
      2. The time was coming when God would forget every sin He forgave.
    2. The writer of the book of Hebrews referred to that specific prophecy in Hebrews l0:16, 17.
      1. He declared Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that prophecy.
      2. When God gives us forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the sins He forgives cease to exist in His memory.

Perhaps you honestly say of yourself, “God cannot have any good memories of me. He would never act in goodness or mercy because of anything He remembers in my life.” That may be true. But it can change. When we humbly, obediently give our hearts to God, He forgives. When He forgives, He forgets the evil.

God committed to you in Jesus’ death. Allow your faith in Christ to commit to God in repentance and baptism.

Certainty In Uncertain Times

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It has been decades since so many uncertainties existed in America. Today there are adults who have not experienced uncertainty. The depression was experienced by their great-grandparents. World War II was experienced by their grandparents. The Viet Nam conflict was experienced by their parents. However, their world has been a time of prosperity, of education, of planning for the future, of tomorrows that were improved versions of today, and of living “the American dream.”

Yet, the past few months produced times of increasing uncertainty: shrinking job markets, economic down turns, questionable futures, educational preparations that are slow to produce opportunity, $1.50+ gasoline, the activity of terrorists in America, and forced family separations without predictable reunions.

Pessimism is not my aim. Hope is my aim. Yet, if hope is to be real, it must be based on certainty. It is too human to invest hope in present desires rather than enduring intangibles. Christians urgently need to focus clearly on God’s enduring intangibles.

Constantly I am reminded that anything physical has a short lifespan. Each morning my body gives me that reminder. Trials and struggles reinforce that reminder. When joyful promises of radiant tomorrows turn into bitter disappointments, these reminders become reality. Sickness and death declare anything physical is weak and uncertain.

Then, where is the hope? Depressions cannot eliminate God’s mercy. Wars cannot destroy Jesus’ death. Bad economic realities cannot neutralize God’s forgiveness. Trials and struggles cannot cancel redemption. Death cannot prevent resurrection.

If our hope is produced by leaning on the physical, it will break and pierce us. If our hope is produced by leaning on God’s love reflected in Jesus Christ and His Spirit, it will be our reality in eternity. Christians are not made for the world of wickedness. We are made for the world of the righteous. Remember 2 Peter 3:13?

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new
heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Whatever happens, Jesus still died for us. That eternally declares God’s love and mercy. Those intangibles are God’s changeless certainties. May they be the foundation of our changeless certainties.

“The Solution Is So Obvious!” Really?

Posted by on March 9, 2003 under Bulletin Articles

Have you noticed this about struggles? Others’ problems are “easy” to remedy, but my problems are complex and complicated. Typically, we evaluate others’ obvious, serious struggles. First, we are amazed “that person” has struggles. Second, we are amazed the struggle exists. Third, we are so certain the solution is “simple” that we are amazed he (or she) has not realized this “simple solution.”

Have you ever thought or said this? “He (or she) should not have that difficultly! It is so unnecessary! The solution is obvious! If he (or she) simply had done …, this never would have happened. Even now, if he (or she) would simply do …, the situation would be resolved. I don’t know why he (or she) can’t see that!”

Much of my life is spent (a) encouraging individuals who endure struggles or (b) trying to help individuals increase perspectives as they seek to overcome struggles. I learned several enormous lessons that I frequently must “relearn.”

(1) Every situation has more than “one side.” Two or more people can look at the same situation, be honest with the facts and the circumstances, and come to totally different conclusions. ALWAYS more than the “facts” are evolved. Each person’s perception of those facts is powerful and essential. When a person thinks it, he (or she) believes it. If he (or she) believes it, to him (or her) it is true.

(2) Pain is pain. No matter how distorted perceptions may be, if he (or she) hurts, the pain is real. Because the pain is real, the solution never is found in one of these declarations: “Just get over it and grow up!” “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” “You made your bed; lie in it!” “It is not that big a deal!” “Save self-pity for real problems!” Minimizing suffering never produces solution.

(3) If you want to encourage or help, do not give advice. Listen. Help a person see “the unnoticed.” Guide him (or her) to increased awareness. Share, if you are willing to identify with the person’s traumatic experience, he (or she) has reason to bond with you. Yet, NEVER FORGET, it is his (or her) choice, not yours. Do not make choices for him or her.

(4) Refuse to play the blame game. Refuse to assign blame. Knowing “whose fault” it is or “what percent of the fault lies where” solves nothing. People seriously interested in resolving crisis lose interest in blame. Blame commonly seeks self-justification. Solutions are concerned about recovery.

(5) In any real, continuing solution, the greatest single factor is the God factor.

Ephesians 3:20,21 “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.”

Be part of the solution. Care, but do not gossip. Never be a “know it all.” We don’t.

“Skip Over” Scriptures: Romans 16, Part 3

Posted by on March 2, 2003 under Sermons

It seems typical of all people to sink instead of rise. That is true in the church as well as out of the church. Let me illustrate what I am talking about. It is easier to expect the worst from people than to expect the best from them. It is easier to surrender to bad motives than it is to develop good motives. It is easier to be critical than to be encouraging. It is easier to judge than it is to be compassionate. It is easier to resent than it is to praise. It is easier to condemn than it is to forgive. It is easier to be selfish than it is to be unselfish.

Jesus expects the best from us. If people expect the worst from us, Jesus still expects the best from us. If we expect the worst from ourselves, Jesus still expects the best from us. Everyday he challenges us to find the strength and guidance in him to be the best person we can be.

It is in that expectation that lies the conflict and challenge. All of us enter Christ leaving an ungodly existence. Even if we enter Christ from the environment of a Christian home, we all still leave environments that are less than perfect, environments that have degrees of ungodliness. When we enter Christ, Jesus says to us, “I want you to find the strength and guidance in me to become what I can make you.”

Then the struggle begins. It is easy not to grow. It is easy to be content with who and what you are. It is easy to compare yourself to people who do not even try to be godly to feel good about who you are. It is easy to compare yourself to Christians who made mistakes to feel good about who you are.

It is hard to accept Christians who are different as being Christians also. If they have a different culture, if they come from a different social level, if they have a different background, if they have different traditions, it is difficult to accept and relate to them in Jesus Christ. It is hard to build a sense of community, a sense of belonging.

  1. Building this sense of community, this sense of belonging is a significant concern in Romans, as it is in Galatians.
    1. It is hard to build an entirely new sense of belonging among people who never associated with each other in the past.
      1. Many Jewish people who became Christians had serious problems accepting and relating to non-Jewish people who became Christians.
        1. Depending on where the Jewish converts lived (almost always in Jewish communities), they lived in various degrees of isolation from non-Jewish people.
          1. In Palestine they lived in near complete isolation, maintaining as little interaction as possible with non-Jews.
          2. Outside of Palestine (in the Diaspora), they had higher levels of interaction with non-Jewish people which depended on (a) where they lived and (b) how large the Jewish community was in that city, town, or area.
      2. Early, accepting Jesus as the Christ was largely a Jewish issue in Jewish communities.
      3. Suddenly when non-Jewish people heard about and began to accept the resurrected Jesus Christ, Jewish believers faced the problem of how to relate to and accept believers who had a idolatrous background.
    2. It created a huge problem in the Christian community.
      1. Jews and idolatrous people came from very different religious backgrounds–as examples, Jews believed in the existence of one, exclusive God and idolatrous people believed in the existence of many gods, many of whom were not exclusive; the Jews had one temple that was the one place for sacrificial worship, but most idols had numerous temples and numerous places for sacrificial worship.
      2. Cultures were different.
      3. Traditions were different.
      4. Life styles were different.
      5. Diets were different.
      6. Even clothing often had differences.
    3. If converted idol worshippers did things the way converted Jews did them, that was tolerable.
      1. That commonly was the situation when converted Jews were the larger number.
      2. But when converted idol worshippers equaled or outnumbered converted Jews in a city, town, or area, the converted idol worshippers often saw no need to do things the ways Jews did them (follow Jewish traditions).
    4. The situation became more complex.
      1. As time passed, converted Jews were ostracized from the synagogue (a Jewish institution) and from the activities of the Jewish community.
      2. Converted idol worshippers were no longer welcome in what were known as “associations” in many Roman cities.
      3. The Roman empire and local governments became increasingly suspicious of people who would not call Caesar god, who would not worship in temples dedicated to the Roman Caesars, and who would not honor the gods that protected the empire.
      4. Increasingly, it became essential that those who believed in the resurrected Jesus Christ accept each other and form a strong sense of community.
      5. Christians of radically different backgrounds did not need to fight one another or ostracize one another.
    5. The comments Paul made in Romans 16:16 to the end of the chapter need to be understood from the perspective of this widespread, very real problem.
      1. In the early church Christians ate together frequently.
        1. One of the first activities of the very first Christians (who were Jewish Christians) was eating together.
          Acts 2:46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.
        2. Well into the first century, Christians eating together was still a common, important activity. Jude spoke of ungodly Christians who abused this practice:
          Jude 12 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted.
      2. Paul mentioned both the practice of Christians eating together and the very real problem Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians often faced when they ate together.
        Galatians 2:11,12 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
      3. This eating together played a powerful, important role in Christians bonding with each other as the community of Christ.

  2. First, I want to call to your attention the holy kiss mentioned in Romans 16:16.
    Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
    1. We likely would be very uncomfortable doing things as the early church did them.
      1. As I understand it, three things were commonly a part of the early Christians assemblies (I am not implying that other things were not a part of their worship):
        1. One was the meal, the love feast, the eating together.
          1. It served several purposes; consider two.
          2. It declared to poor Christians who struggled to survive, “You are a real part of the Christian community.”
          3. It built or sustained this sense of community.
          4. The motive for this meal was not having a feast, but affirming a sense of togetherness.
          5. Remember: eating a meal was a common part of sacrificial worship, and they understood Christian worship to be sacrificial worship–Jesus as their sacrifice, and eating a memorial meal was an appropriate expression of worship.
        2. One was the holy kiss.
          1. I know nothing of how it was done.
          2. A common conclusion: men kissed men and women kissed women, and they likely kissed each other’s cheeks.
          3. I understand, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” is in the form of a command, not a suggestion.
          4. Instead of a sensual kiss (which was quite common in their world in which fornication, adultery, and homosexuality were more common than they are today in our society), they shared a holy kiss.
          5. The purpose was basically the same purpose of the meal–to affirm community and togetherness.
        3. One was communion or the Lord’s supper.
          1. Remember that Jesus instituted this at a meal.
          2. The fact that it is referred to as the Lord’s “supper” would indicate a meal.
          3. Also remember again that meals were a common part of worship both in the Jewish world and the idolatrous world.
    2. To the best of my understanding, this occurred when Christians assembled for worship:
      1. At some point there was a meal that affirmed their love for each other.
      2. At some point there was a holy kiss that declared, “We accept each other, we belong to each other.”
      3. At some point there was communion or the Lord’s supper that affirmed that they could belong to each other and to God because of the sacrifice Jesus made for them.
      4. These are not the only three things that occurred, but there is evidence that these three things occurred.

  3. In Romans 16:16 I also call your attention to the statement, “All the churches of Christ salute you.”
    1. My conclusion: the words, “the churches of Christ,” were not a name and were not used by Paul as a name.
      1. I understand that the references to the church in the New Testament other than just the words “the church” are all possessives: “the church of …”.
      2. The possessives are not names, were not intended as names, were only used to show relationship.
        1. These possessives include:
          1. Matthew 16:18–My church, or the church belonging to Me (Jesus).
          2. Acts 20:28–the church of God, or the church that belongs to God.
          3. Romans 16:16–the churches of Christ, or the churches belonging to Christ.
          4. 1 Corinthians l:2 ;11:22; 15:9–the church of God, or belonging to God.
          5. 2 Corinthians 1:1–the church of God, or belonging to God.
          6. Galatians 1:13–the church of God, or belonging to God
          7. 1 Thessalonians 2:14–the churches of God in Christ Jesus, or the church belonging to God because of what He accomplished in Christ Jesus.
          8. 2 Thessalonians 1:4–the churches of God, or the churches belonging to God.
          9. 1 Timothy 3:5–the church of God, or belonging to God.
          10. 1 Timothy 3;15–the church of the living God, or belonging to the living God.
        2. This same form of possessive is used in reference to a church or churches existing in a geographical area or among a people.
          1. Romans 16:4–the churches of the Gentiles
          2. 1 Corinthians 14:33–the churches of the saints
          3. 1 Corinthians 16:1 and 19–the churches of Asia
          4. 2 Corinthians 8:1–the churches of Macedonian
          5. Galatians 1:2–the churches of Galatia
          6. Galatians 1:22–the churches of Judea
          7. Colossians 4:16–the church of the Laodiceans
          8. 1 Thessalonians 1:1–the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
          9. 2 Thessalonians 1:1–the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Consistent with the context of the book–the enormous problem between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians–Paul said to greet each other as genuine members of the Christian community in Rome, AND at the same time remember that you are a part of the community of Christians everywhere (they send their greetings).

Separating the Possible From the Impossible

Posted by on under Sermons

I want to begin this morning by speaking to all the teenagers and all the adults. I want to ask you to make a comparison and a prediction. I want every teenager and every adult to make the comparison. Then I want to ask every teenager and every adult to attempt to make a projection.

The comparison: consider clearly who and what you are right now. Look at yourself very carefully. Consider how you think. Consider what you do on a day to day basis. Consider what you really like. Consider what you really dislike. Consider foods, drinks, and clothes that are very important to you right now. I just want you to honestly picture who you are and what you are right now. You are not asked to share this picture with anyone. Only you know your picture of yourself. Do you have the picture?

Now make a comparison. If you are a teenager, subtract ten years from your age. If you are an adult, go back the last distinct period of life you experienced (single, newly wed, married with small children, married with kids in school, single parent with kids in school, married with teens or single parent with teens, empty nest, early retirement, etc.). Take your picture of yourself as you are right now, and place it beside the picture of who you were ten or more years ago. Look at those two pictures of you as a person. Place them side by side in your mind. Have you changed? Are there obvious ways that you are not the same now as you were then? With most of us, some of those changes are good, and some of those changes are not good.

Now the projection. Take a moment to add ten years to your life. For the sake of the illustration, we all will assume that everyone of us will be alive in ten years. If you take that picture of yourself right now and place it beside what you think you might be like in ten years, will there be any significant changes? I sincerely hope that all of us know there will be changes. With most of us, some of those changes will be good, and some of those changes will not be good.

Frequently I work with engaged couples to encourage them to prepare for a successful marriage. Basically I challenge each of them to focus on what he or she expects in the husband roles and the wife roles. One statement we discuss is this:

“We and our relationship will remain basically unchanged over the years.”

As time passes, healthy people change. They change because they grow. As they grow, if they are married, the marriage relationship must grow with them.

  1. Last Sunday morning, we noted that Jesus compared his concept of what it means to be a righteous person to the prevailing concepts of human righteousness in first century Israel. [This is not a series. I just want you to see something that hopefully will challenge and encourage you.]
    1. The people to whom Jesus spoke this lesson in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 lived in a very religious nation.
      1. This nation had possessed God’s law for over a 1000 years.
      2. That law was specifically given to them.
      3. Scripture was written to them.
      4. For generations they listened as scripture was discussed and explained in their synagogues.
      5. The prophets were sent to them by God.
      6. Of all existing nations, they had the best knowledge of righteousness.
        1. They were certain their concepts of righteousness was correct.
        2. They were certain their concepts of righteousness were God’s concepts of righteousness.
        3. They were certain their concepts of righteousness directly were based on God’s law as revealed in scripture.
    2. Jesus declared they were seriously mistaken; their conclusions about human righteousness and God’s desire in human righteousness were not alike.
      1. They misunderstood God’s basic concerns.
      2. Their thoughts and God’s concerns were different, in some cases radically different.
      3. They were certain they understood God, but they did not.

  2. We have a first century Jewish man who was a specific example of the problem.
    1. This man wrote two very insightful statements about himself before he became a Christian.
      1. The first statement is found in a letter he wrote to the Christians who lived in Galatia.
        Galatians 1:13,14 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
      2. The second statement is found in a letter he wrote to a Christian friend whose name was Timothy:
        1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
      3. In these two scriptures I want you to focus on two facts for the moment:
        1. Before Paul became a follower of the resurrected Jesus Christ, he was one of the leading students in Judaism; he was truly a well educated scholar.
        2. Before Paul became a follower of the resurrected Jesus Christ, he was an extremely violent man–he was violent because his concept of righteousness demanded that he be violent to Jews who believed that Jesus was resurrected and was the Christ whom God promised.
    2. What did this Jewish man called Saul or Paul believe?
      1. He was a Pharisee, a student of one of the most learned teachers Israel ever had (Gamaliel), a person who moved in the highest circles of Israel (he could petition the Jewish high priest for help).
      2. This scholarly man considered Jesus’ resurrection a lie that deceived many Jews.
      3. This scholarly man believed Jesus was a fraud, and was not the Christ.
      4. He believed that Jews who followed this dead Jesus were a serious threat to Judaism.
      5. He believed that the only way to stop the threat was to arrest and kill the Jews who believed in Jesus.
      6. He believed that was the righteous thing to do!
      7. Did he think he knew what righteousness was? Yes!
      8. Was he convinced that he understood God’s concepts of human righteousness? Yes!
      9. Was he serious about what he believed? Yes! So serious that he arrested and wanted killed those Jews who followed Jesus.

  3. What happened to change this man from a violent scholar in Judaism, to a person who knew Jesus was the Christ, to a person who attempted to go throughout the Mediterranean world teaching people about Jesus Christ?
    1. He met the resurrected Jesus Christ in person.
      1. Acts 9:1-9 records that meeting.
      2. Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Jewish people who believed that Jesus was the Christ.
      3. But before he got there, Jesus appeared to him and identified himself.
      4. That meeting totally turned Paul’s life around.
    2. Years later Paul clearly remembered that meeting and remembered what Jesus said to him.
      1. When he was on trial as a Christian, he explained to King Agrippa why he was a Christian with these words:
        Acts 26:14-20 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
      2. Before Paul devoted his life to Jesus Christ, he was a violent man who hunted down Jews who believed in Jesus.
      3. After Paul devoted his life to Jesus Christ, he was a compassionate man who wanted everyone to be a Christian.
      4. His devotion to Jesus Christ cost him everything–his position, his prestige, his accomplishments, and eventually his life.
    3. Why? Why would Paul give up everything that he worked so hard to achieve?
      1. Let’s let him explain.
      2. I urge you to listen very carefully to his explanation and expand your understanding of human righteousness.
        Philippians 3:7-11 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
        1. Pay very careful attention to Paul’s explanation for his change.
        2. Paul mentioned two kinds of righteousness: (1) the righteousness that is produced through human achievement; (2) the righteousness that is produced through confidence or faith in Jesus Christ.
        3. The violent Paul was dedicated to the righteousness produced through human achievement.
        4. After Paul met the resurrected Jesus Christ, he rejected that righteousness as worthless.
        5. The Christian Paul understood the righteousness that is produced by faith in Jesus.
          1. Did that understanding made him more or less obedient? More!
          2. Did that understanding made him more or less committed? More!
          3. But his confidence was in what God did in Jesus, not what he did in obedience.

The righteousness produced by faith in Jesus is available to everyone of us who realize we need it. Just like Paul, we do not have it because we have the perfect past. Just like Paul, we do not have it because in the past we did all the right things. Just like Paul, we have it because we have the courage to change our understanding of what makes a man or woman righteous before God.

Paul said the point of God allowing him to be a Christian was to prove God could save anyone who turned to him. Though Paul was very religious before he was a Christian, Paul understood he was on top of the list of evil person. One thing God proved when He forgave Paul was this: if God could forgive Paul, God can forgive anyone.

You do not have to have an ideal past to become a Christian. You must have the courage to change. You must have the courage to trust what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection instead of trusting yourself. You must have the courage to change because you accept God’s concept of righteousness.

Personal Struggles Have a Purpose?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Few weeks pass in my life that I do not grieve because of my struggles, struggles in my extended family, and struggles in God’s family. I do not know anyone who has no personal struggles. So many tragedies! So much hurt! So much evil! He or she who dares follow Jesus is deceived if he or she is confident that is the way to escape struggles!

Evil is as real a force in this life as is godliness. In this world, the clash between the forces controlled by evil and the forces controlled by God is quite real. You and I are the battleground. When Paul stressed to the Christians at Ephesus the importance of being prepared for this clash, he reminded them in Ephesians 6:12:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

American Christians find it extremely difficult to realize that physical existence is not about experiencing an earthly “good life.” We question why our dedication to an earthly “good life” has undesirable effects on our children. We wonder why faith in God is not a guaranteed route to an earthly “good life.” Then when evil happenings distress our lives, we really are confused. “Isn’t that impossible? Doesn’t faith in God prevent that?”

James urged Christians not to blame God for evil happenings. Not even the temptation to do evil comes from God. Our struggle with evil originates in us, not in God.

James 1:12-16, Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

John reminded Christians in 1 John 4:4:

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (Thanks for the reminder, John!)

Each of us may be part of the battleground, but each of us decides who wins the battle on our piece of the battleground! When trials come, persevere! On your piece of the battleground, allow God to reign! In your life, allow God to be a bigger influence than evil!