The Holy God and the Unholy Us

Posted by on May 25, 2003 under Sermons

This morning I want you to involve both your mind and heart in your focus. I want to lead your thoughts to God’s holiness in this specific way. I want you to go deep inside your heart, deep inside your mind, and recall a cherished memory of an incredible place. This place overwhelmed you with awe, filled you with a spirit of wonder within, inspired you with its breath taking beauty. The sense of mystery in this place captured you.

Let me be specific. I am not talking about a place that caused you to say, “That sure is pretty.” I am talking about much more than that. I am talking about a place that took your breath away. As you soaked in this scene, you stood silently as you were filled with a sense of awe, a sense of smallness, a sense of mystery. Have you ever visited such a place? Where was it? I want you to remember it right now.

Maybe your place involves a mountain view. This mountain view filled you with a sense of awe and mystery. No matter how much you looked at it, you never tired of seeing it. (On the screen is a view of mountains.) As you look at your view in your mind, remember that it started with a creative act of our God.

Maybe your place involves the view of a valley. As you saw this scene, it touched you deeply. Something deep inside you simply never tired of looking. Through your eyes it spoke to your heart, and your heart stood in silence as it was filled with joy. (On the screen is a view of a valley.) As you look at your view in your mind, remember that it started with a creative act of our God.

Maybe your place involves a view of a desert. As you looked at this scene, you had difficulty believing what you were seeing. The view was simply too big, to inspiring to exist. How small you felt as you drank in its vastness. No matter how many others were near you, it was as though you were all alone. You were so awed by what you saw you could have looked, and looked, and looked. (On the screen is a view of a desert). As you look at your view in your mind, remember that it started with a creative act of our God.

Maybe your place involves a view of an island. Out of what seemed to be the “nothingness” of water suddenly there arises an island. It is almost mystical, full of life, just appearing “out of nowhere.” As you watch it rising before you, it is almost surreal. The closer it gets, the more life filled and awe-inspiring it becomes. (On the screen is a view of an island.) As you look at your view in your mind, remember that it started with a creative act of God.

Maybe your place involves a view of a sunset or a sunrise. Maybe it is a place that provides you a spectacular view if you get up early enough to watch the sun climb over the horizon or sit silently and watch the sun fall below the horizon. Maybe you listen to the world all around awaken at sunrise or listen to the world all around you go to sleep at sunset. The sounds and the sights truly overwhelm and absorb you. (On the screen is a view of a sunrise or sunset.) As you look at your view in your mind, remember that it started with a creative act of God.

Maybe your place involves a view of a city. It is not a view of an individual, but a view of where masses of people live. You look at where they live. You identify as a part of them, but you marvel at how different all of you are. (On the screen is a view of the skyline of a city.) As you look at your view in your mind, remember that it all started with a creative act of God.

  1. There is nothing good that we see, nothing good that we experience that did not have its origin in our Creator God.
    1. Our God is a God of incredible power, a God of incredible holiness, and a God of incredible purity.
      1. The astounding thing is this powerful, holy, pure God has such concern for us weak, unholy, impure creatures.
      2. About three thousand years ago, the psalmist David wrote these words:
        Psalm 8:1-9 O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
      3. About a thousand years later, Paul [who was the author of many of the New Testament letters] quoted from Isaiah and Job as he wrote these words in Romans 11:33-36:
        Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
      4. This same Paul wrote this statement to the Christians in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 3:18-23:
        Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.” So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
    2. What does it mean to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him to be the Christ?
      1. “It means that I turn away from the evil in my life and turn to God.” Yes, it means that, but believing in the resurrected Jesus means much more than that.
      2. “It means that I choose to be baptized into Christ.” Yes, it means that, but believing in the resurrected Jesus means more than that.
      3. “It means I worship God as the living God and the only God, and worship Jesus Christ as the Lord of Lords.” Yes, it means that, but believing in the resurrected Jesus means more than that.
      4. “It means I serve God as the ruler of all things in my life.” Yes, it means that but believing in the resurrected Jesus means more than that.
      5. “What more does it mean?”
        1. It means that I constantly grow in my understanding of how great God is.
        2. It means that I constantly grow in my awareness of how evil I am.
        3. It means that I know that even when I am the best me I can be that even then I can stand in God’s presence only because He forgives me.

    [Let’s sing together “We Bow Down” (577)]

  2. The same Paul who declared God’s greatness to Christians in Rome and Christians in Corinth made this statement to the Christian Timothy:
    1 Timothy 1:12-17 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. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
    1. Before Paul became a Christian, you and I would say that Paul was a very evil, violent person.
      1. He was a very accomplished religious person–he was not mean for the sake of meanness; he was mean because he misunderstood God.
        1. In his understanding of God, Christians were God’s enemy.
        2. In his understanding of God, it was God’s will for him to abuse and arrest Christians.
        3. In his understanding of God, it was a act of service to God to vote for the death penalty for some of the people he arrested.
      2. But the resurrected Jesus had use for Paul–even though this man thought Jesus was a dead disaster who even dead was a threat to God’s people.
        1. When the Christian Ananias thought it was a mistake to take a message from the resurrected Jesus to this man, the resurrected Jesus made this statement:
          Acts 9:15,16 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
        2. He who had caused suffering to those who belonged to Jesus would suffer because he belonged to Jesus.
    2. Please notice that Paul felt a deep sense of honor and privilege to belong to Jesus Christ.
      1. In no sense did he feel that he was being punished.
      2. In every way he realized how much mercy God gave him through Jesus.
    3. He noted two reasons that God’s mercy and grace we given to him in Jesus Christ.
      1. First, he received God’s mercy and grace because he acted in the ignorance of disbelief.
        1. “I don’t understand that. How could he say he was ignorant?”
        2. His ignorance was the result of a lack of faith.
        3. He did not understand the relationship between Jesus and God.
        4. He did not understand what God was doing for people through Jesus.
      2. Second, he received God’s mercy and grace to be the forever example to all who lived after Paul.
        1. God through Jesus forgave Paul to demonstrate Jesus Christ’s perfect patience.
        2. If God was merciful to Paul when he finally understood and turned to the Savior instead of fighting the Savior, God can and will be merciful to anyone who will understand what God does through Jesus Christ, and turn to the Savior.
        3. We all need to understand that God’s number one priority in His relationship with people is to forgive them.

Please notice that long after a believing Paul was baptized into Jesus Christ, long after the Christian Paul endured great suffering for Jesus Christ, long after Paul gave great service to Jesus Christ, he still knew who and what he was. By his own classification, he declared he was the greatest sinner on earth because of the mean, violent things he did against God’s purposes.

Paul understood that the only reason that he had the privilege of suffering for Jesus Christ was this: God’s mercy and grace.

You and I do not deserve God’s kindness and forgiveness. The only reason that we can approach God is found in the fact that He has forgiven us. The only reason that we have God’s forgiveness is found in the fact that God has mercy on us and in His mercy gives us grace through Jesus Christ.

Every good thing that exists began with a creative act of God. That includes your salvation and mine.

I invite you to the God who will forgive you, not because you deserve it, but because He is merciful.

An Attitude of Modern Idolatry

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Recently I heard a study followed by numerous interviews on the dangers of tanning our skin. The author of the study discussed findings [admittedly not new] documenting that tanning [by any method] was dangerous. Common consequences included wrinkling and skin cancer. College aged persons tanning routinely could anticipate both consequences. Of course, nothing is new in this verification. Such information has been common knowledge for years. For years warnings have been issued.

The emphasis on these findings was followed by filmed interviews with college aged men and women. “Are you familiar with the danger?” “Yes.” “This is not new information to you?” “No.” “Do these findings affect your tanning habits?” “No.” “How can you know what you know and continue an intensive regiment of tanning?”

The answers to the last question revealed two common attitudes that captured my attention. Attitude one: “Wrinkling or skin cancer are likely to occur twenty-five years from now. That is far off. I will deal with those problems then. Right now what is important is how I look today.” Attitude two: “If my tanning results in skin cancer later, I will have the cancer cut off — no big deal!”

This is not about sun tanning, artificial tanning, skin tones, skin firmness, physical exposure, “looking good,” or “feeling good” because others admire your body. It is about an attitude, an attitude rooted in modern idolatry.

We saturate ourselves with “immediate gratification” expectations. We focus life on “right now.” I must feel good about myself “right now.” I must eat “right now.” I want to get well “right now.” I want problems solved “right now.” I want troubles ended “right now.” I want possession of my purchase “right now.” I want my family to fulfill my expectations “right now.” Spiritual blessings and protection must come “right now.”

We laugh at the ignorance that prostrated itself before carved stones or wood hundreds of years ago. How foolish! How silly! How ignorant! How short sighted! As we ridicule their ridiculous short sightedness, we prostrate ourselves before our god of “right now.”

Twenty years is not a long time. Ask me. I thought it was when a young, foolish me too often bowed before the altar of “right now.” Now I know differently. Often eliminating cancer is not simple. Ask a family member of someone whose life was shortened by cancer. Surely, you will be different! Tell us about it–in twenty years when your body does not have the regenerative powers it had when you were twenty-two.

Next time you want your spiritual expectations met “right now,” ask yourself how you can serve the eternal God with an offering on your altar of “right now.” The god of “right now” specializes in robbing life. The God who is Father of Jesus Christ specializes in giving life. Does “right now” or God govern your life?

Familiar Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Posted by on May 18, 2003 under Sermons

This evening I want us to focus on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. In the past, a common approach to a scripture like this was to dissect it. We take out our spiritual dissecting kit and begin to cut and probe. We often come to seriously flawed conclusions because convictions are based on our opinions that we support with our dissecting.

Many of you took a biology class. At some point in your biology class, you likely went to a laboratory and dissected something. For years biology students dissected frogs. Hopefully you understood what a frog was before you dissected a frog. The purpose of dissecting was not merely to have an experience that developed skills in dissecting. The purpose of the dissecting was to better understand a living frog.

In our study of the Bible, too often we dissect a scripture before we understand God’s purpose. For example, often we have a poor understanding of the nature and purposes of God’s people. Too often we dissect to find reasons to support our ignorance or misconceptions. Too often our conclusions are not focused on God’s purposes. Too often our dissecting is more concerned about us than it is about God.

This evening I want to attempt to show you something that hopefully causes you to think. I hope your thinking will better focus you on who we are to be because we place our faith and hope in Jesus whom God declared to be the Christ by his resurrection from the dead.

  1. Let’s begin by a broad overview of the failure of the Christians in Corinth [let’s make sure we have a picture of the frog before we begin to dissect].
    1. Allow me to begin with this emphasis: never forget that with all their failures and problems, Paul addressed the Christians at Corinth from the beginning of his letter as “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
      1. Because they placed their faith in Jesus Christ, they were God’s people.
      2. They were God’s people because of what God did and was doing in them, not because of some incredible human correctness or achievement.
      3. They were God’s people even though they had a lot to learn about how to act like God’s people.
      4. They had the responsibility to understand how to act like God’s people.
      5. But their hope was to be placed in what God did for them, not what they did.
    2. These Christians had a horrible understanding of what it meant to be God’s people.
      1. The problems they had among themselves were continuing proof that they had a terrible understanding of what it meant to be God’s people.
        1. Existing as God’s people always has been about “being,” not about “doing.”
        2. Are Christians responsible to “do”? Of course!
        3. But our “doing” must arise from our “being.”
        4. What we “do” arises out of what we “are.”
        5. A person can “do” without “being,” but “being” will always affect our “doing.”
        6. Those of you who are Christian parents understand that reality in providing guidance for your children.
      2. Look at the problems that existed in their Christian community.
        1. They did things that supported and encouraged division among themselves (Paul powerfully argued that their division was destroying God’s purpose in them).
        2. They were too proud, too arrogant to address an incest situation that openly existed among them. (They were more concerned about their reputation than they were about God’s reputation.)
        3. They settled their disagreements by using judges who did not even know the living God. (They were more concerned about defending themselves and their interests than misrepresenting God and His concerns.)
        4. They defended their immoral sexual practices (prostitution) because they had a basic misunderstanding of God’s purposes. (Sexual gratification is about physical desires, not about spiritual purposes.)
        5. They had some fundamental misunderstandings of relationships in marriage. (Marriage was primarily about human desires, not about divine purposes.)
        6. As was common in Roman cities, they were really deceived by the status that economic and social positions conferred. (Life was about who you were in society, not about who you were in Christ.)
        7. There was some fundamental confusion about idols being gods. (Many had a very poor understanding of the living God.)
        8. Their many worship problems arose from a concern about promoting self instead of praising God. (Worship was about them and their position, not about God and His position.)
      3. Christians in Corinth had a very poor understanding of who they were because God placed Christ in them.
        1. In a lot of specific ways they acted like the people who did not have Christ in them.
        2. Their understanding of “being” as people who belonged to God was very deficient.

  2. To me, the basic problem Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 is this: the Christians who composed the Christian community at Corinth had what even their local pagan societies considered an inferior sense of “being” as a people dedicated to God.
    1. First, in most Roman cities the judicial system expected religious organizations to take care of their own problems “in house.”
      1. In 1892-93 an archeological team excavated a large room in an area near Athens, Greece (which is less than 100 air miles from Corinth).
        1. In that excavated room they found a number of altars and a number of sculptures.
        2. They also found the minutes of a group known as the Bacchic society who honored the god Dionysus.
        3. The minutes included the reorganization of this religious society.
        4. Included in those minutes were the specified ways in which they internally took care of their problems.
        5. It included a section that declared the rules of group and the penalties for breaking those rules.
        6. They resolved their own difficulties between members, and even if a member went outside this religious society with his complaint, he was still subject to the punishments of the group.
      2. The point I want you to see is this: not even pagan religious societies sanctioned what the Christians in Corinth were doing to each other.
      3. There are many questions you can ask me about this passage that I could not declare a definitive answer in regard to the question.
        1. I cannot tell you in what way God’s “holy ones” (saints) will participate in judging the world (the forces that defied God). (6:2)
        2. I cannot tell you in what way those who were physical shall judge angels. (6:3)
    2. Instead of “spiritually dissecting” situations that we cannot know for a certainty, focus on the obvious that we can know.
      1. The situation: Christian individuals were resolving their problems and differences by taking each other to pagan courts.
        1. Judges, who had neither knowledge of or allegiance to the living God, who worshipped idols and embraced the moral concepts and principles of idolatry, were resolving differences among those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ.
        2. And that is what Christians wanted!
      2. In Paul’s two comments about Christians judging the world and judging angels (comments they had at least some understanding about), Paul said, “This is a ridiculous situation!
        1. “You mean you do not have even one wise person among you who can resolve these differences?”
        2. “You mean you do not realize that you are causing the idolatrous part of the community (which was a greater majority) to view the Christian community as behaving disgracefully?”
      3. “As a group of people who represent the holy God, you should be ashamed of what your are doing!”
        1. “You actually think the a judge who worships idols is in a better position to resolve differences among Christians than is a wise person who is a Christian?”
        2. “You actually think it is better for the community of Christians to be disgraced in the eyes of the pagan community if that allows you to have what you want? You had rather for the whole community of Christians to be disgraced than for you to endure an injustice?”
        3. “You mean you actually think God rather you cheat another Christian than for you to suffer an injustice?”
    3. Do you notice there is a lot of similarity in what happened in chapter 5 in the case of incest among them and what happened in chapter 6 when Christians took Christians before pagan judges?
      1. In both situations, Christians had a very poor understanding of who they were as the holy ones of God who represented God.
      2. They were behaving in ways that even idol worshippers regarded to be disgraceful.
      3. How could they possibly expect to demonstrate the desirability of God’s nature as the living God if they acted in ways that were inferior to people who worshipped things that were not even gods?

  3. Bottom line principle: the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom.
    1. Being unrighteous included these things:
      1. Sexual injustice.
      2. Worshipping things that are not God.
      3. Practicing homosexuality.
      4. Practicing stealing.
      5. Being controlled by greed.
      6. Being controlled by alcohol.
      7. Being controlled by pleasure.
      8. Cheating people.
      9. If anyone tells you other wise, he is deceived. If you believe him, you are deceived.
    2. That is who you were, not who you are.
      1. That is what your baptism, your sanctification, your justification in Jesus Christ was all about.
      2. You cannot be alive in Jesus Christ and let God’s Spirit live in you and act like the person you used to be before you belonged to Jesus Christ.
      3. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian was changing your “being.”
      4. You desperately need to understand who you are and what you are about as people who represent God and the resurrected Jesus Christ.

There is a powerful temptation, a seemingly overwhelming desire, to make New Testament scripture a rule book. There is a powerful temptation, a seemingly overwhelming desire, to confine our spiritual responsibility to (a) finding the rules and (b) technically keeping the rules.

Paul said if you take another Christian before a pagan judge to resolve a dispute, you fail long before you reach the judge’s “court room.” If you have such a horrible relationship with another Christian, you have a basic failure to understand what God intends in Christian existence and relationship–and likely you both have the same basic failure.

The question most preachers are asked fairly frequently is this: “Does this act break the rules?” Wrong question! The appropriate question: “Is the holy God properly represented in what is happening?” This is an entirely different question.

Each of us as Christians represent the holy, pure God. Represent Him well!

Who Needs To Change?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

If you are to have the “ideal existence,” what changes must occur? In Christian thinking, the “ideal existence” focuses on different realities. Some would focus on relationships currently unavailable to them. Some would focus on acquiring things they do not possess. Some would focus on changing undesirable circumstances.

Generally speaking, most American Christians focus on one of two matters [or both]. First, many say the “ideal existence” would involve possessing “things” they do not have. Second, many others would say, “If a certain person changed, my life would be ?ideal.’

Infrequently will a Christian say, “If I changed, God would lead me toward the ?ideal life.'” In this society, achieving the “ideal existence” too easily focuses on (a) acquiring things or (b) changing someone else, not on (c) changing me.

Achieving the “ideal life” is rightfully a lengthy discussion. There is no desire for this thought to be an oversimplified view of complex realities. Nor does it want to ignore unhealthy situations that make abuse victims “door mats” for abusers. Basically your attention is directed to consider a view of life held in relatively healthy situations.

First, Christians must examine the accepted concept of an “ideal life”. It is much too easy for Christians to allow society and culture to define the “ideal life” concept rather than allowing God to define that concept. Society and culture’s definition focuses on things, or people perceived responsible for struggles, or lifestyle circumstances.

Second, Christians must realize the “ideal life” cannot be defined as freedom from struggles. Nothing removes physical existence from struggles. Aging, relationship trials, sickness, pain of all types, human shallowness, human arrogance, injustice, and deceit guarantee any form of physical existence shall endure struggles.

Consider one illustration. Jesus told his disciples to pray for those who abuse them (Matthew 5:44, 45). Peter said suffer in a manner that causes abusers to inquire about the hope that sustains you (1 Peter 2:12; 3:15). Consider a Christian behavioral principle: Christian godliness impacts others when the Christian’s focus is on changing who I am rather than on changing (or controlling) the ungodly.

The Christian’s focus is reflected by this prayer: “God, give me the wisdom to understand the kind of person You want me to be. Then help me find in You the strength to be that person.” Its focus is not reflected by this prayer, “God, he [she, they] make my life miserable! Give them what they deserve!”

If I focus on changing my heart, God changes the focus of others’ hearts.

Familiar Scriptures: Ephesians 5:19

Posted by on May 11, 2003 under Sermons

One of the most familiar verses in the Bible in the Churches of Christ is Ephesians 5:19.

Ephesians 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.

Among most of the Churches of Christ this verse is used frequently and holds a powerful significance for two reasons. First, it is one of a very few verses in the New Testament that mentions music. Second, it was adopted as a theological commentary on the musical form of Christian worship offered to God.

To me the essential question all Christians need to ask in regard to this verse is: what did Paul mean when he penned these words? Was he writing about a worship practice in the church of Ephesus? Was he trying to direct them in the theology of musical worship?

  1. As we dedicate ourselves to understanding Paul’s encouragement in Ephesians 5:19, I want to begin by setting this statement in the broader context of Ephesians 5:1-21.
    1. First, I ask you to note something.
      1. The thoughts of Ephesians 5:1-21 come between (1) a powerful emphasis in chapter 4:17-32 that contrasts the lifestyle of an unspiritual person in Paul’s day with a spiritual life style and (2) an emphasis on the type of marriage relationships spiritual people sustained.
      2. Please notice this entire section is a contrast between the lifestyles of people who belong to Jesus Christ and are filled with God’s Spirit and the typical lifestyles of people in that time who did not belong to Jesus Christ.
        1. 4:17-32–Contrasts: a person who belongs to Christ lives life for different purposes (with specific contrasts given).
        2. 5:1-21–Contrasts: a person who belongs to Christ imitates God, not the values of people who do not belong to God.
        3. 5:22-6:4–Contrasts: a person who belongs to Christ develops and nurtures marriage relationships in a godlike manner.
    2. To call the contrast of 5:1-21 into focus, consider these slides on the emphasis in the texts. I ask you to turn to Ephesians 5.

    Slide # 1:
    The over-all emphasis of
    the section:
    Be imitators of God.
    The child-father analogy.

    Slide # 2:
    The section’s focus:
    Christian lifestyle.
    The example:
    Jesus Christ.

    Slide # 3:
    The contrast is between the
    godly and ungodly.
    moral and immoral.
    pure and impure.

    Slide # 4:
    unselfish and greedy.
    thankful and silly, course.

    Slide # 5:
    The consequences of a
    Christian’s dedication to
    forfeit inheritance.
    wrath of God.

    Slide # 6:
    Specific contrasts:
    light and darkness
    Lord and Satan
    wise and unwise

    Slide # 7:
    sober and drunk
    Spirit filled and
    wine filled

    Slide # 8:
    Point: those who are
    ambassadors of God
    through Jesus Christ
    must be holy people.

  2. The primary challenge of the section (Ephesians 5:1-21) is the challenge for the Christians at Ephesus to be imitators of God.
    1. For them to be imitators of God, they must understand they are God’s children in a manner similar to Jesus’ understanding he was God’s son.
      1. In this challenge we see ourselves as God’s beloved children in a similar manner that Jesus saw himself as God’s beloved Son (thus our objective is to make God well pleased with who and what we are just as God was well pleased with who and what Jesus was).
      2. Jesus Christ shows us how to imitate God because he perfectly reflected God in his physical existence.
        1. Ephesian Christians had to allow Christ to teach them how to live lives of love (just as we must).
        2. In love he was God’s sacrifice for those who would believe.
        3. Those who believe must be God’s sacrifices also.
        4. Being God’s sacrifice is reflected in the surrender of ourselves to God’s purposes.
        5. This deeply pleases God.
      3. Saints (holy ones, Christians) are very different in the lives they live.
        1. The holiness of God, not the ungodliness of society, determines how they live their daily lives.
        2. They refuse to be immoral, impure, or greedy–allowing God to be their standard and concept of morality, purity, and greed.
        3. Their talk is filled with gratitude, not emptiness–to focus on values other than gratitude is to be deceived.
      4. The difference between how they lived right then as imitators of God and how they lived before they committed to imitating God was the difference between day light and the deepest darkness.
        1. The qualities of a life that is living in the light by imitating God were radically different from the qualities produced by not imitating God and living in the darkness.
        2. They are children of the light–they must look like people who imitate God.
        3. It was shameful to look like people who did not imitate God.
      5. They needed to give careful attention to how they lived their lives.
        1. They lived in a very evil time.
        2. They needed to be wise.
        3. They needed to understand living for foolishness was spiritual disaster.
        4. They needed to understand what God’s will was.
    2. Paul then gave three specific examples:
      1. Example one: The “wise” existence that realized the foolishness of evil would not surrender to a life of drunkenness.
        1. Instead of being filled with wine, they would be filled with the spirit.
        2. Drunkenness will waste life.
        3. Being filled with the spirit will give life.
        4. The evidence that you are filled with the Spirit instead of filled with wine: your songs.
        5. You sing the songs that honor the God you imitate, not the songs of a drunkard.
      2. Example two: Your are grateful individuals.
        1. You give God thanks for everything.
        2. You do this by acknowledging what God gave you and gives you by allowing Jesus Christ to be your Saviour.
      3. Example three: you serve each other.
        1. Every Christians sees himself or herself as God’s slave.
        2. He or she holds Jesus in such profound reverence, such fear, that just as Jesus surrendered himself to be God’s sacrifice, the Christian surrenders himself or herself to God’s purposes in other’s lives.
        3. The focus in living is not on “what can I get” but on “what can I give.”

Ephesians 5:19 was not written as Paul’s directive on how the Christians in Ephesus worshipped, but how Christians in Ephesus lived.

Am I encouraging us to adopt instruments in our worship? No. I am just encouraging all of us to place the emphasis where Paul placed it in his directive.

We have far too many Christians who have decided that because they are saved by God’s grace they can do anything they want to do. They can do whatever they wish to do sexually. They can get high on drugs. They can get drunk. They can indulge themselves any way they please. As far as they are concerned, it will not matter because God’s grace will cover them.

Paul said not so. People who belong to God imitate God. That includes what they talk about. That includes what they sing about. That includes how they use their lives.

We desperately need to place the emphasis where Paul placed it.

The Initial Matter: Spirituality’s Foundation

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I want us to begin by accepting a challenge. Here is the challenge: what do you think are the five most powerful symbols of influence worldwide? I want you to focus on the world, not just America.

“David, it would be a whole lot easier if you would let us limit our search for influence symbols to America.” I agree. That would be much simpler. But I want you to consider worldwide symbols of influence, not just American symbols of influence. A huge symbol of influence in America might not be even a large symbol of influence in Europe, or India, or far east countries.

Remember the focus: the top five symbols of influence worldwide. What would be your five?

Included in those five should be motherhood. Virtually every society in the world acknowledges the influence of mothers as a powerful influence.

Doubt it? Think. When a 350 pound professional football player trots to the side line, pans to the camera and waves after a big play, does he say, “Hi, sweetheart,” or, “Hi, brother,” or, “Hi, family,” or, “Hi, sports agent,” or, “Hi, money manager”? No. Most of the time he says, “Hi, mom.”

Have you ever heard the term, “The mother of all wars”?

Why is “yo Momma,” often used as an insult?

A mother’s influence is powerful in virtually any society anywhere in the world. Why? Why are mothers typically such powerful symbols of influence? May I suggest two significant reasons. First, one of the most powerful symbols of love in any society is a mother’s love. Mothers everywhere commonly make incredible sacrifices for their children. Second, a mother’s heart is huge. The amount of caring and compassion mothers show for their children is beyond description.

Anything that shrinks a mother’s love or a mother’s heart shrinks her influence. Anything that encourages her love and gives her the courage to have a strong heart increases her influence.

From a mother’s love and a mother’s heart we should learn some essential lessons about our relationship with God.

  1. There always has been a primary emphasis on the importance of loving God.
    1. For a moment, consider the continuing emphasis on loving God.
      Moses said to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4-6, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.”
      Hundreds of years later, Jesus answered the question, “What is God’s greatest commandment?” Jesus answered in Matthew 22:37,38, And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.”
      1. The foundation commandment of all commandments is total love for God.
      2. No matter what commandments we obey, if there is no love for God, there is no meaning in obedience.
        The last night of his life, Jesus said this to the twelve in John 13:34, 35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
      3. His love for God was the foundation of his love for them.
      4. If they loved God, they loved him; and if they loved him, they loved each other in the same manner that he loved them.”
        Still later the Christian Paul wrote to Galatian Christians in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”
      5. Being a Jew is unimportant.
      6. Not being a Jew is unimportant.
      7. What is important is allowing your faith in God to express itself in love.
      8. When a person believes in God, his or her faith expresses itself.
      9. The appropriate godly means for faith to express itself is love.
        Still later, Paul made this statement from one preacher to another preacher in 1 Timothy 1:5, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
        John emphasized the importance of loving God and loving people with these words in 1 John 4:7,8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
      10. The progression is obvious and consistent: Service to God must be based on whole being love for God; whole being love for God reveals itself in love for people.
    2. Where does this consuming love for God come from? Again, the answer is consistent: it must come from the heart, from the innermost emotional core of the person.
      1. Though King Saul was selected by God Himself to be king of Israel, Saul was a total disappoint to God.
      2. God expressed His disappointment with Saul through Samuel with these words in 1 Samuel 13:13,14: Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart …”
      3. Later, God through Samuel appointed David to become Israel’s king after Saul died.
        1. Throughout the Old Testament David was the standard of the person who loved God, whose heart belonged to God.
        2. Hundreds of years later after Christianity was established, David was still known as the person who loved God so deeply that his heart belonged to God (Acts 13:22).
      4. When David used prayer to dedicate the supplies later to be used in building the temple, he made this statement:
        1 Chronicles 29:17 Since I know, O my God, that You try the heart and delight in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here, make their offerings willingly to You.
        1. The gifts honored God because they were from hearts.
        2. They could be given with joy because they were from hearts.
      5. In that same prayer, David made these statements in 1 Chronicles 29:18,19:
        “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, our fathers, preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Your people, and direct their heart to You; and give to my son Solomon a perfect heart to keep Your commandments, Your testimonies and Your statutes, and to do them all, and to build the temple, for which I have made provision.”
      6. Two generations later when Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, became king of Judah, this is what was written of him:
        2 Chronicles 12:14 He did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the Lord.
      7. Yet generations later, when Jehoshaphat was king of Judah, this is what is written of him:
        2 Chronicles 19:3 But there is some good in you, for you have removed the Asheroth (wooden pillars used in idolatry) from the land and you have set your heart to seek God.”
      8. There is an enormous emphasis in 2 Chronicles on the heart.
      9. There is an enormous emphasis in Jesus’ teachings on the heart.
      10. Read with me these statements written by Paul to Christians at Ephesus:
        Ephesians 1:18-20 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places …
        1. Should Christians know the hope of God’s calling? Surely!
        2. Should Christians declare the riches of God’s glorious inheritance? Surely!
        3. Should Christians understand the surpassing greatness of God’s power toward believers? Surely!
        4. Should Christians fully realize all these things are consistent with the resurrection of Jesus and Jesus’ enthronement? Surely!
        5. Allow me to call one thing to your attention: all this can begin when people are willing to have the eyes of their hearts enlightened.

  2. Let me give all of us, myself included, a test. May I emphasize it is not my test, but God’s.
    1. The test: how do you demonstrate your faith and your commitment to God?
      1. “I come to all the assemblies of the church faithfully!” Good, but do you love God from the heart with all your being?
      2. “I am very generous in what I give to the church!” Good, but do you love God from the heart with all your being?
      3. “I recognize God as my supreme authority in everything religious!” Good, but do you love God from the heart with all your being?
      4. “I have identified my abilities and gifts, and I make certain that I use all my gifts to benefit God’s work!” Good, but do you love God from the heart with all your being?
      5. “I am involved in a ministry!” Good, but do you love God from the heart with all your being?
      6. “I am involved in a care group or a small group or both!” Good, but do you love God from the heart with all your being?
    2. A few days ago I reestablished contact with a Christian friend I deeply value–he is one of those people who has blessed me by being a mentor to me.
      1. We have a friendship that is genuine, even though we might not contact each other for several months–no matter when we talk, it is like we saw each other yesterday.
      2. The first thing he told me was that his wife had died, and after her death he almost died.
        1. He had a long stay in the hospital and was not improving.
        2. He prayed to God and said his first choice was to die and be with his wife, but if God had a use for him here, that was okay.
      3. He told me about his recovery, and then with emotion he said he was grieved.
        1. He was grieved because he had never learned what it meant to love God with all his being.
        2. He was grieved because he loved his wife so much he would rather be with her than stay here and serve God.
        3. He was grieved because God had not been his number one love.
        4. He said he now commits his life to learning how to love God with all his being.

My question to all of us, including myself, is simple. Do you love God with all your being? Do you understand what it means to love God with all your being? How much of your heart actually belongs to God? How powerful an influence is your love for God?

We must learn to love God, and we must put emotion in our love for God. If we take the emotion out of loving God, we rob God by robbing the love.

Would It Make a Difference?

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Suppose you are featured in an interview. Your responses will be featured in a national news release. The basic question: “How does God make your life different?” How would you explain that your life is different because of your relationship with God?

Would you discuss worship? Would you talk about how often you attend church? Would you list involvements in church work? Would your explanation basically center on the TIME you devote to the church?

Would you share how much you give? Would you share the percent of your income you give to the general contribution? Would you discuss projects that hold special interest to you? Would you share the monetary sacrifices you make? Would your explanation basically center on the MONEY you devote to your religious interests?

Would you discuss your devotional life? Would you share how often you read and pray? Would you share the importance of devotionals to daily focus? Would your explanation basically center on the FOCUS you devote to the faith in God?

Would you share how faith in God determines who and what you are? Would you stress how faith in God changes you as a person? Would you stress that change is a maturing, growing, unending process? Would you stress the impossibility of understanding who you are without understanding your faith in God? Would your explanation basically center on BEING because faith in God is critical to who and what you are as a person?

Suppose the group authorizing the interview is not Christian. Suppose they carefully analyze your remarks. If your emphasis is on the time, would they conclude you would have more time if you did not believe in God? If your emphasis is on money, would they conclude you would have more discretionary funds if you were not Christian? If your emphasis is on focus, would they conclude you would be an excellent devotee to any cause? If your emphasis is on who you are because of faith in God, would they conclude you cannot be understood or explained unless the explainer considers your faith in God?

What would you want understood? Your accomplishments or identify? Would you want them to understand what you do in terms of who you are? Do you want the focus on your hope or your achievements? If faith in God were removed from your life, would the effects be measured in time and money, or in who you are as a person?

1 Peter 3:15 … sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

Reflecting God’s Glory in Our Lives

Posted by on May 4, 2003 under Sermons

God has worked through many different people to bring incredible blessings into my life. Is that true in your life also? Sometimes I do not realize the incredible blessing God gave me through someone else’s life until long after the blessing occurred.

No matter what your age, no matter who you are, can you make in your mind a list of people who have been a dominant, positive, godly influence in your life? Would you please do that right now? In your mind, would you think about the people who have changed your life for the better simply because you knew them?

As I thought about this lesson, I did that on paper. I made a list of men and women who changed my life for the better. In all of them, I found one thing obviously in common. It was the presence of God in their lives that touched my life.

  1. Allow me to take you back several thousand years ago.
    1. Our God of incredible love, mercy, and compassion wanted to offer all people the opportunity to return to Him.
      1. He began by producing a nation of people from one man.
        1. The nation was Israel.
        2. The man was Abraham.
      2. In time the descendants of Abraham through Isaac became slaves.
        1. God used His incredible power to deliver them from slavery.
        2. He led them to the foot of a mountain in a dessert where He vocally declared to them in their own language ten basic instructions they were to follow.
          1. Four of those instructions focused on how they honored Him.
          2. Six of those instructions focused on how they treated each other.
      3. Then God met with their leader, Moses, on that mountain to reveal to him many laws and the plan for a place to worship Him, a portable temple, a huge tent called a tabernacle.
      4. Moses shared the laws with Israel, and he had Israel to build this tabernacle to honor God.
      5. Listen to what happened on the day everything was completed and put together:
        Exodus 40:34-38 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.
      6. From the moment that the tabernacle was assembled, the presence of God was constantly visible, day and night, in the center of Israel’s camp.
      7. Right there in the center of everything God was visibly present.
      8. Listen to how essential this presence of God was in Israel.
        Numbers 9:15-23 Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning. So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp. At the command of the Lord the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the Lord they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped. Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the Lord’s charge and not set out. If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the Lord they remained camped. Then according to the command of the Lord they set out. If sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, when the cloud was lifted in the morning, they would move out; or if it remained in the daytime and at night, whenever the cloud was lifted, they would set out. Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out; they kept the Lord’s charge, according to the command of the Lord through Moses.
    2. That is not the only time that happened in Israel.
      1. Generations later a godly man named David wanted to build God a permanent temple.
        1. David captured the city of Jerusalem and made it both the royal city and the holy city.
        2. He was king of Israel, and as king he built himself a royal place.
        3. But he did not think it was appropriate for him to build himself a palace and not build God a temple.
        4. God said, “David, you will not build Me a temple, but your son Solomon will.” (1 Chronicles 28:3-6)
      2. After David died and Solomon was Israel’s king, he built an incredible temple for God.
        1. He dedicated that permanent structure with a prayer requesting that God hear prayers from both Israelites and people who were not Israelites that were offered at that temple.
        2. Listen to his reason: “. . . in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, and fear (reverence) You as do your people Israel. . .” (2 Chronicles 6:33)
        3. Now listen to what happened when Solomon finished his prayer:
          2 Chronicles 7:1-3 Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house. The priests could not enter into the house of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house. All the sons of Israel, seeing the fire come down and the glory of the Lord upon the house, bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave praise to the Lord, saying, “Truly He is good, truly His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
      3. God’s presence was obvious in His temple, whether it was the portable temple called the tabernacle before Israel had a country, or was a permanent temple, the permanent structure in Jerusalem.
      4. When God exists in His temple, His presence is obvious.

  2. Perhaps your reaction is, “David, that is interesting, but all that occurred hundreds, even thousands of years ago. That is all Old Testament stuff. We belong to Christ. I am interested in New Testament insights.”
    1. May I make a request of you? Would you read attentively with me as I share with you some statements that Peter made to Christians? All these statements are found in 1 Peter chapter 2. Let’s begin with 1 Peter 2:4,5:
      And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
      1. Now consider 1 Peter 2:9:
        But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
      2. Now consider 1 Peter 2:11,12:
        Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
      3. Consider some obvious declarations Peter made to Christians in the statements:
        1. We who are Christians are God’s temple.
          1. God lives in us.
          2. God’s presence should be obvious in us.
        2. We exist as Christians to serve two purposes:
          1. To offer sacrifices to God, the sacrifices God wants, through Jesus Christ.
          2. To declare specific ways in which God is wonderful–we want all people to see the great qualities of the God who saved us.
        3. All that being true, do not live like the people who do not know God.
          1. People who do not know God may hate the way we live, even call it evil.
          2. But, in time, the way we live will influence them to honor God.
    2. One of the studies called to my attention recently focused on why people who are not Christians visit a church assembly.
      1. As you think with me, please do not confuse the questions.
        1. The study was not about why we want them to visit.
        2. The study was about why such people did visit.
        3. The study was not about our reasons but about their motivations.
      2. Among the top things people who do not attend church look for when they visit a church is God’s presence.
      3. For a lot of people, there is an enormous absence of God’s presence in life.
      4. Consider the contrast.
        1. When I was a teenager:
          1. Often school days began with a Bible centered devotional.
          2. There were special religious presentations made in the class room.
          3. There were special religious assemblies in the school.
          4. Most of the kids I knew went to church somewhere.
          5. Even the few who did not go to church were expected by their parents to submit to Christians standards.
          6. Drugs had a zero presence anywhere.
          7. Very few students drank, and the majority of people considered drinking as unacceptable.
          8. Religious discussions could (and did) occur anywhere, including the work place.
          9. Churches were regarded to be a significant asset to the community and were often given special help and consideration by the community.
        2. Times have changed radically.
          1. There is to be no presence of religion in any form in the school.
          2. The majority of teens do not attend church anywhere.
          3. Parents who do not go to church do not impose Christian standards on their children.
          4. Drugs and drinking have a significant role in the lives of people.
          5. Religious discussions are not to occur in the work place.
          6. Churches often are not regarded to be an asset to a community.
      5. I do not think it was possible to live in this society fifty years ago and not be exposed to Christians influences–at least not in the southern United States.
      6. It is quite possible to live in this society today and have zero exposure to Christian influence.
    3. In no way am I making a political statement or suggesting oversimplified answers.
      1. I just want to make one simple point: if people should be able to go anywhere and experience the presence of God, it should be here.
      2. When someone is with us, we want it to be obvious that God is here.
      3. It should be obvious that we are here to praise and glorify God, and we want God here.

When we began thinking together, I asked you, in your mind, to list the people who had or have a powerful, positive, godly influence on your life. Let me ask one more question: would anyone put you on their list?

How can you be that kind of influence? First, let it be obvious in the way you live your life that God’s presence in your life is vitally important to you. Second, really care about people. Third, do good in Jesus name at every opportunity.

Consider two goals. Make it your goal that when people see you, they also see the presence of God. Make it your goal to be a godly, positive influence in the lives of the people you know.

Who/What Teaches You How To Think?

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Our world and our society are in a determined war to control people’s thinking. This war is visibly evident in the American-Arab struggle. America sees Arab fundamentalist religious perspectives as extremely dangerous. Arab nations see American values and lifestyles as extremely dangerous. America champions religious freedom as a right, but hates religious fanaticism. Arab peoples champion religious fervor, but hate influences that value things above people. Obviously, neither culture thinks like the other culture.

Many American influences think the key to winning Arab minds is establishing American democracy in that region. Many Arab influences think the key to winning American minds is demanding that Americans respect Arabs: “Let us take care of ourselves.” American influences have urgent reasons for establishing democracy. Arab influences have urgent reasons for regarding American influences to be evil.

The “now” war is not about territories or resources. It is about minds, thought processes, values, standards, world views, and the character of human interactions.

While the effects of that war are visibly displayed by emotional demonstrations, the same war quietly is waged in our own society. Advertising targets our desires and seeks to persuade us to adopt the advertisers’ perspective. Movies and television shows are consistent in the values and standards they portray. Political parties, movements, and specialized advocacies challenge us to “see things through their eyes.” Hundreds of times daily, we are asked subtly or blatantly to “look at life” as someone else sees it.

The war is for minds, thinking, and perspectives. It always has been and always will be. Change a person’s thinking, and you change the person. Change a people’s thinking, and you change the nation. Change the world’s thinking, and you change the world.

A Christian objective is to change thinking. This change first must occur among those who accept and follow Jesus because he is God’s Christ. Christians can change others’ thinking only when they first have changed their own.

Romans 12:1, 2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

He who controls your mind controls your body. He who controls both controls your life. Who controls your thinking?