We Travel to Our Future by Walking Through the Past

Posted by on October 26, 2003 under Sermons

God did something powerful and unique in Jesus’ death and in Jesus’ resurrection. In Jesus’ death God gave us powerful gifts: forgiveness, redemption, atonement, sanctification, justification. In Jesus’ resurrection God showed us that He is more powerful than death. Not only can He reverse the effects of death, but He can use physical death as our door to eternal life.

This morning I want to begin by calling your attention to this statement in Acts 2:43-47.
Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 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, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

  1. I would like to challenge you to form even deeper insights into this scripture.
    1. If the only insights we develop are taken from a search that seeks to determine what is and is not a command, we miss the key lesson, the key point.
      1. The first thing we must remember is that the church in Jerusalem began with highly religious, very devout people.
        1. The vast majority of the “about 3000” people who were baptized because they believed in Jesus’ identity were pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to observe one of the national holy days Israel observed by God’s command for centuries.
        2. All of them were either devout Jews or devout Jewish converts (proselytes).
        3. The church did not begin with a group of people who did not know God and who were not committed to God–these people prior to conversion were so devoted to God that they made a pilgrimage to praise God on a national festival day!
        4. Acts 2 tells us that those who heard this first sermon came from throughout the Roman world–for many of these people the pilgrimage was an expensive, time consuming trip.
        5. My point is quite specific–the first converts to Jesus as the resurrected Christ were very religious, very devout, and likely very knowledgeable people.
      2. Carefully notice that even though they were highly religious people prior to conversion, there is a remarkable difference in them after conversion.
        1. One reason they were different: they wanted to belong to Jesus Christ because they knew that God worked in his life, his death, and his resurrection.
        2. Remember: the difference is not explained by declaring that non-religious people became religious, but that religious people were obviously different.
        3. Another reason for the difference: they saw God at work in Jesus.
      3. Look at the differences:
        1. There was this continual sense of awe among them.
        2. They saw the impact of the apostles’ miracles, they saw the impact of this new spiritual community on Jerusalem, they saw God at work in Jesus Christ, and they were overwhelmed with what they saw.
        3. They shared with each other.
        4. They sacrificed to help those in need.
        5. They worshipped every day.
        6. They had daily fellowship with each other.
        7. There was a sense of gladness, a sense of heart devotion among them that was new.
      4. There were three things that resulted from these powerful changes.
        1. They were continually praising God.
        2. They were respected by other people.
        3. The Lord was adding believers to them every day–people could look at them and see God at work in Jesus Christ!
    2. Let’s ask a question that should be asked: what was happening?
      1. God placed a tremendous emphasis in Israel on helping the poor and the helpless.
        1. Allow me to share with you just two examples.
        2. The first example is a series of emphases on what Israel should do for its poor found in Deuteronomy 15.
          1. At the end of every seven years they were to forgive debts.
          2. If an Israelite among them was in such poverty that he could not meet his responsibilities, they were to allow him to be a servant for six years.
            1. On the seventh year they were to release that man.
            2. When they released him, they were to give him so many different gifts that he could begin a new life with a fresh start.
        3. The second example had to do with a practice called gleaning commanded in Leviticus 23:22.
          1. Remember they were an agricultural society.
          2. When they harvested their crops, they were not to harvest the entire field.
          3. Certain parts of the field were to be left untouched.
          4. The needy and alien were to be allowed to harvest those areas.
      2. Let me ask you to look at what happened in Acts 2 perhaps in a way you have never considered it before.
        1. These new converts were saying, “At last we understand what You wanted Your people to be from the beginning.”
        2. “You were not merely giving us a bunch of laws in order for us to jump through Your hoops! You were not creating a religious obstacle course!”
        3. “You wanted us to be a specific kind of people, a people who reflected You.”
        4. “Now that we understand who Jesus was and what You are about in Jesus’ life and death, we understand–and we are astounded!”
        5. “There is only one appropriate response–to live the lives of the people You always wanted! We praise You for the opportunity to do that!”
    3. That is what I want us to be–a people who are in awe because of the ways God can express Himself in us and use us–all because of what He did in Jesus Christ!

  2. In the past few weeks several close friends have asked me if I was okay or asked about my future, and I deeply appreciate the asking and the concern.
    1. Usually when I am asked, it is in the context of Chris and Karen coming to work with us.
      1. There are some things you need to understand.
      2. The first thing you need to understand is that I am looking forward to their being a part of us.
        1. In no way is Chris being a part of our staff a threat to me.
        2. He and I not only want to tell you that; we want to show you that.
        3. There is simply too much to be done in this congregation for Brad and I to be the only two full-time staff members in a congregation of this size.
        4. I think I can speak for Brad as well as myself by saying we both are really happy to have someone else to work full-time with us.
      3. The second thing you need to know is that I talk to Chris every week.
        1. Chris and Karen are going through a very challenging time right now–any time a minister leaves one congregation and goes to another, it is a demanding time.
        2. Believe me, I know from experience, that is the one time in the life of a minister and his family when they do not belong anywhere.
          1. You are leaving friends you love and care about, and that is not easy.
          2. You are excited about meeting new people, making new friends, and falling in love with another congregation, but you are not there yet.
          3. I imagine there are all kinds of emotions in both Chris and Karen as they think about moving back to their home area.
        3. You are nervous because you have a house to sell.
        4. You are a excited because you have new challenges ahead.
        5. It is just plain difficult; they surely need our prayers.
        6. They know more people here now than I knew when I moved here, but they still have a lot of you to meet and get close to.
      4. The third thing you need to know is that I realize my limitations.
        1. No, I have no plans for retiring.
        2. No, I have no plans for moving.
        3. No, I have no sense of someone else taking my place.
        4. I understand something–I could not continue to work much longer at the present level without burning out.
        5. With Chris’ help and involvement, I have every reason to believe that I can live among you and work with you for several years–that is my hope!
      5. The fourth thing you need to know is that I want my relationship with you just to keep on growing.
        1. I try to show in what I am how much I love you and care about you.
        2. I try to live what I share with you–I really try to show you as well as teach you.
        3. I try to teach you what I understand so none of us will face God and say in shame, “I didn’t know that!”

  3. There is something in Acts 2 I want to be true of us.
    1. I want God to increasingly open our eyes so that we see the incredible thing God does for us in Jesus Christ.
      1. While I surely want us to see Jesus as Savior, I want us to understand what it means for God to give us a Savior.
      2. I want us to grow out of perspectives that see God’s commands as religious hoops to jump through, or a religious obstacle course to be completed.
      3. I want us to realize that God wants us to be what He has always intended His people to be.
      4. I want us to see God’s purposes in Jesus, and to want God to use us in accomplishing those purposes.
    2. I want us to be in awe of what God is doing.
      1. I want us to be filled with a desire to praise God.
      2. I want us not only to feel but to nourish a special bond between us.
      3. I want people to see us as a special blessing from God.
      4. I want the Lord to add to us those who are being saved.

I neither want nor expect any of us to be flawlessly perfect. That cannot be. We are all human and we all will make mistakes. I only want this: I want it to be obvious that God is in charge of our lives.

Chris, Brad, and I all want the same thing. We all want us to be God’s people–no more, and no less. We all have just one request. Put God in charge of your life.

An Encouraging or Discouraging Experience?

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A few days ago I was part of a group conversation. The topic: recent discouraging contacts with retail/service outlets. The focus: frustrations occurring because of unhelpful, unresponsive service personnel. Numerous incidents were used to illustrate frustrations. Why were people frustrated? The reasons included (1) no help was offered; or (2) service personnel showed no interest; or (3) a customer with a specific request was ignored; or (4) there was no awareness of the customer’s time restraints.

Certainly, I realize it is a “two way” problem. Expectations may be unreasonable. One may bring his/her frustrations with him/her. Patience may be in short supply. A legitimate business problem may exist that prohibits the anticipated response. The service personnel may have no “people skills” and interact poorly with people.

I have no interest in debating the problem. I hope we have interest in learning from the problem. When caring people show real concern and appreciation for others, it makes a lasting impression. That impression creates future opportunities.

A congregation is in “the people business.” We are not in that “business” to sell, or to exploit, or to manipulate, or to “fake” concern. We are in that “business” to bring people closer to a caring God. People are touched by God’s caring when they are touched by our caring. When people worship with us, the last thing we should want is to be anonymous. The next to the last thing we should want is for a visitor to leave feeling anonymous.

Chris Benjamin arrives November 3rd, and his family moves later that month. The elders want him to focus on getting acquainted with you. Help him and Karen! Wear your name tag EVERY time you come.

You do not have a name tag? Tell us! We will make you one. You lost your name tag? Tell us! We will make you one. You have not placed membership? We would love to have you! We will wear name tags for you if you will wear one to help us!

We need two things. (1) Names for making tags. (2) Members who wear name tags. This Sunday we will have people stationed at each exit to receive names of those needing tags. If you do not have a name tag, give one of those persons your name. We gladly will make the tag! Please wear it!

Do it for Chris and Karen! Do for each other! Do it to reflect our God who cares!

Great Parallels, Part 3: Exodus and Jesus

Posted by on October 19, 2003 under Sermons

Think about this biblical concept: first comes trust, then comes service.

I want you to consider why that is true. (1) The quality of service rendered depends on the extent of the person’s trust. (2) The amount of service rendered depends on the depth of the person’s trust. (3) Sacrificial service depends on total trust. We all make sacrifices when there is unquestioning trust. As service increases, trust must increase.

This basic principle always has characterized God’s relationship with humans. The first thing God always has sought to produce in the hearts and minds of those who follow Him is trust. God always has given those who follow Him reason to trust him. God always has devoted His efforts to creating reason for trusting Him before He declared His expectations. God always wanted obedience to be an issue of trusting appreciation rather than a control issue. When we seek to get people to yield to God as a matter of letting God control rather than first helping people create trust in God, we misunderstand God and His purposes. We take a “short cut” God never took. The consequence of that “short cut” is commonly disaster.

  1. Let’s begin our insight with considering Abraham’s direct descendants in Egypt who became the nation of Israel.
    1. Let’s begin by considering these people’s spiritual condition in slavery.
      1. Did they practice circumcision as a religious rite?
        1. I would conclude they did.
        2. I base that conclusion on the statement made in Joshua 5:2 when God commanded Joshua to order massive circumcision again.
        3. Joshua 5:4,5 gives the reason for this circumcision: all those who left Egypt were circumcised; all of those born in the wilderness (the past 40 years) were not; and all the adult males who left Egypt died in the wilderness.
      2. Did these people have a good, clearly defined understanding of Who God is and what His nature is before Moses came back to lead them out of slavery?
        1. I conclude they did not.
        2. I base that conclusion on these people’s devotion to idolatry.
        3. I think their worship of the golden calf after their deliverance supports that conclusion: remember what they were told about the image of the calf in Exodus 32:4? “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
        4. The next day was declared to be a “feast to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5).
        5. I think their constant reverting to idol worship in Canaan supports that conclusion.
        6. The freed slaves had a very poor concept of God and His nature when they were free.
      3. Did they have a tabernacle, or a temple, or any form of devoted sanctuary for worshipping God as slaves in Egypt?
        1. There is no mention of such a place.
        2. There is no mention of such activities.
      4. Did they have a set of religious laws and directives they followed?
        1. Aside from the rite of circumcision, there is no mention of religious laws.
        2. Aside from the rite of circumcision, there is no mention of special behavior associated with religious commands.
        3. And it is obvious that they could practice circumcision and worship idols at the same time.
      5. In that period did they have any revelations from God?
        1. There is no record of these people receiving any revelations from God.
        2. In fact, the key revelation from the exodus forward would be, “I am the God who brought you out of Egypt.”
    2. God’s self-defining act in the people of Israel, God’s gift to Israel that forever thereafter said they had reason to trust Him, was the exodus from Egypt.
      1. So if these people were asked to declare the nature and character of God in Egypt prior to any influence from Moses, could they do it?
      2. I personally doubt it.
      3. They might identify God with the golden image of a calf–they did later!
      4. They might identify God with the Sun–that was a significant divine force in Egypt.
      5. They might identify God with fertility rites–they did later when they worshipped the Baals!
    3. I submit to you that prior to Moses that these people had an extremely poor understanding of God and knew of no reason to either trust or love God.

  2. Note what God did first.
    1. God did two things simultaneously.
      1. He gave them clear reasons for trusting Him by benefitting them and punishing their owners.
      2. At the same time, He declared His basic nature, basic character, and basic power of supremacy over all things–from Pharaoh to nature.
    2. In this entire period, God had one primary request of these people: trust Me.
      1. “Trust Me enough to follow me.”
      2. “Trust Me enough to know (without doubting) that I can take care of you.”
      3. He declared Who He was by directly addressing the greatest problem they had: slavery.
    3. How did God identify Himself, give the people reason to trust Him, and address their problem of slavery? He did this through powerful acts we know as the plagues.
      1. Listen to God’s statement initiating the period of the plagues:
        Exodus 6:6,7 Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
      2. The powerful acts of God:
        1. The water became blood
        2. There were frogs everywhere
        3. The insect infestation was a common as dust
        4. A swarming insect infestation would invade all Egyptian homes, but not any the slave homes in Goshen
        5. Egyptian livestock died, but not the livestock of the slaves
        6. The Egyptian people and animals had sores
        7. A very heavy hail fell and caused death and destruction among the Egyptians, but not among the slaves
        8. A heavy infestation of locusts destroyed remaining crops
        9. There was a three day period of extreme darkness among the Egyptians, but the slaves’ lights worked in their homes.
        10. The death of the firstborn of all the Egyptians.
      3. What was the point?
        1. It declared to Pharaoh Who was God, Who was in control.
        2. It declared to the slaves Who was God, Who was in control.
    4. Did God have expectations that would be fulfilled in the attitudes and behavior of the slaves?
      1. Yes!
      2. However, God’s expectations were not declared until He gave Israelites undeniable reason to trust Him.

  3. To me, the parallel to what God did for us in Jesus’ death is overwhelming.
    1. Consider:
      1. Just as Israel was victims of a slavery they could not escape by themselves, we were victims of a slavery we could not escape.
      2. Just as the slaves had a very poor concept of God, we had a very poor concept of God.
      3. Just as God acted first to gain their trust, God acted first to gain our trust.
      4. Just as God gave them reason to trust Him, God gave us reason to trust Him.
      5. Just as the only request God made of them at first was to trust Him enough to follow him, the only initial request God made of us at first was to trust Him enough to follow him.
      6. What is the forever proof that God loved/loves Israel? The exodus.
      7. What is the forever proof that God loved/loves us? Jesus’ death.
    2. Consider:
      1. Israel abused God’s love and insulted God in their attitude and their behavior, and the God who brought them out of Egypt was forced by them to make Israel suffer the consequences of their rebellion against the God Who delivered them.
      2. Of this we can be certain: in spite of Jesus’ death, if we abuse God’s love and insult Him by the way we think and live, we will force God to allow us to suffer the consequences of our rebellion.
      3. It has nothing to do with how deeply God loves!
      4. It has everything to do with our rebellious lack of appreciation!

  4. In Jesus’ death and resurrection God has given us every reason to trust Him.
    1. He has shown us that He is bigger and more powerful than death.
      1. The issue is never how big is God’s love for us.
      2. The issue is always this: do we trust Him?
    2. Do we?
      1. If we do, that trust is seen in our attitudes toward God and people.
      2. If we do, that trust is seen in our behavior.
      3. If we do, that trust is seen in our service.

Trust without service is empty and meaningless. Service without trust is empty and meaningless. It is not an issue of control. It is an issue of appreciation based on affection.

God’s Eternal Kingdom

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I want to begin this morning with a reading from Daniel.

Daniel 1:8-17 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials, and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.” But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables. As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams.

  1. I am impressed with this fact: horrible circumstances often were the means for the person who experienced those horrible circumstances to move to greater usefulness for God.
    1. There are a number of these situations in scripture:
      1. Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers.
      2. Moses’ mother being forced to abandon him.
      3. Samuel living as a child in strange circumstances.
      4. David fleeing for his life in the wilderness.
      5. Jesus’ execution.
      6. Paul’s struggles as many tried to destroy him.
    2. Jesus made this statement to his disciples in Matthew 5:11, 12:
      Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
    3. Daniel’s experience is typical of numerous people who faced an enormous crisis in a horrible situation: “Will I turn to God in faith, or will I turn against God in anger?”
      1. One to two situations could have been true of Daniel prior to captivity.
      2. One, he could have been a religious person who was not a godly person.
        1. He could have been one of those people who did “the right” religious things just because that is what a person did and he was required to do them.
        2. He may have just “gone through” the motions.
        3. That certainly would be consistent with conditions in Jerusalem prior to falling to Babylon’s supremacy.
          1. The reason Jerusalem fell was due to its ungodliness.
          2. The people in Daniel’s segment of Jerusalem society were known for their self-indulgence, not their spirituality.
      3. Or, two, he could have been one of the truly few godly people who went into Babylonian exile because of who he was and where he was in Jerusalem’s society.
        1. He could have been a very godly young man who was forced into exile because of the ungodliness of the majority.
        2. Perhaps he was not sent into exile because of his ungodliness, but because of the ungodliness of the majority.
      4. Regardless of which was the situation, he faced an immediate crisis in captivity.
        1. Among a large group of captives, the king had selected him to be prepared for service in the king’s court.
        2. To be in that position, two things were necessary:
          1. Special educational preparation
          2. Becoming fat (the king did not want to look at skinny people)
      5. The king himself prescribed the food and drink for this group.
        1. The king gave a specific officer the responsibility to see that this group ate and drank the prescribed food.
        2. If Daniel ate this food and drank this wine, he violated the religious dietary code he always lived by.
        3. Yet, if he rejected the food and wine, he faced serious consequences.
      6. He had to decide what role God had in his life, and he had to do it as a captive.
    4. He approached the man in charge [whose heart God opened toward Daniel] and asked the man to allow him and his three Jewish friends to be vegetarians.
      1. The commander said, “If I do that, I will be executed.”
        1. “You will be skinner that everyone else.”
        2. “When the king sees this and knows why, he will execute me.”
      2. Daniel proposed a test.
        1. “Let us eat vegetables for ten days.”
        2. “Then compare us to those on the king’s food and drink.”
        3. At the end of the 10 days Daniel and his friends were fatter than those who ate the king’s food and drank the king’s wine.
      3. These four Jewish vegetarians were blessed with exceptional intelligence, and Daniel even understood visions and dreams.

  2. Now let us read together Daniel 2:31-35.
    You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
    1. The king had a dream that really disturbed him.
      1. He had all the interpreters assembled before him.
        1. He said, “I had a dream, and I am really anxious to know its meaning.”
        2. The men assembled said, “May you live forever! Tell us your dream and we will tell you what it means.”
        3. The king said, “No! You tell me both the dream and its meaning or all of you will be killed and your homes destroyed!”
      2. The assembled group were shocked by the request. “Tell us your dream!”
      3. However, the king was not be moved from his demand: “That will not happen! You are buying time. If I tell you the dream, you can deceive me.”
        1. “Tell me both the dream and the meaning and I will give you great reward; if you do not tell me the dream, you will be killed.”
        2. The group protested that the request was unfair, that only a god could respond satisfactorily to the king’s demand.
    2. The king was indignant and furious, and issued orders to kill all the wise men of Babylon.
      1. Daniel learned of the king’s plan and asked God to reveal the dream to him.
      2. God revealed the mystery to Daniel, and he requested an audience with the king.
      3. The scripture we read was Daniel revealing the dream to the king.

  3. Read with me Daniel 2:44, 45, which is the final part of the interpretation of the king’s dream.
    In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”
    1. Most of the dream had to do with the great empires that were to come in the future.
      1. The beginning of these great empires was the Babylonian empire with King Nebuchadnezzar as its king.
      2. This is what would happen: the current empire would be swallowed up by the next empire. (Remember these empires were know to them as kingdoms.)
    2. The final kingdom would be God’s kingdom.
      1. In the time of the final kingdom in the statue, God’s kingdom would come into existence.
      2. It would be like a stone cut without hands that would crush the statue.
      3. God’s kingdom would never be destroyed; it would endure forever–once God’s kingdom came into existence, it would never cease to exist.

  4. Permit me to share with you some things I learn from this occurrence.
    1. The first lesson I learn from this occurrence comes from the fact that Daniel faced a “relationship with God” crisis.
      1. That crisis could have masked itself in many ways: a captivity crisis; a culture crisis; a political crisis; a horrible circumstances crisis; a reality crisis.
      2. But Daniel saw the crisis for what it was–allowing God to determine who and what Daniel was.
    2. The second lesson I learn from this occurrence [in fact from Daniel’s life] is found in Daniel’s awareness that God should receive all the credit.
      1. Daniel never approached a situation with the attitude “look what I can do.”
      2. Daniel consistently made it clear to the king that it was God, not Daniel
      3. Daniel 2:20 – Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him.”
    3. The third lesson I learn from this occurrence is heard in Daniel’s God-given interpretation of the dream: from the moment God’s kingdom became a reality in this world, it never ceased to exist.
      1. It endured and continues to endure because of God’s purposes and intent.
      2. It does not endure because of human accomplishments–the existence of God’s kingdom depends on God, not on us.
    4. That leads me to a fourth realization: God’s enduring kingdom began with God’s achievements in Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, not with us 200 years ago.
      1. The key to being a part of God’s enduring kingdom is what God did in Jesus Christ.
      2. The key is not in our achievements in what we perceive to be human correctness.
    5. Thus in our personal lives, the key to being a part of God’s kingdom is allowing myself to be ruled by God.
      1. The key is not being more correct than everyone else.
      2. The key is being ruled by God.
      3. I can be correct in my opinion and still be totally removed from God.

I want to close by asking you to read with me a statement given in scripture by Paul to some people who were absolutely certain they were correct, and in their correctness they were sure they were superior to other people.

Romans 2:1-11 Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

Does God rule you, or do you attempt to rule others?

The Past Is the Past

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This past weekend Joyce and I were part of the homecoming in a former congregation in Oxford, MS. It was an enjoyable, encouraging, uplifting experience. That congregation fashions its homecoming around its campus ministry. They plan their homecoming to coincide with homecoming at the University of Mississippi. The result is the return of some former students. We not only saw many friends who continue living in Oxford, but we also unexpectedly saw some friends who attended the university.

Every homecoming is filled with memories of the past. All such occasions are filled with memories, reminders, and lessons. For thirty-six hours, I had a heavy dose of all three.

Some were light-hearted and humorous. Several told me that humorous “lie”: “You haven’t aged a bit!” Because I look in the mirror daily as I shave, I know better! I suspect the problem is more one of “eyesight” than of a “fountain of youth”!

Some existed in the silence of my heart. Mark Parker (of Harding Graduate School of Religion) coordinated an auditorium Bible class devotional. Along with the songs and readings, he requested sharing centered in realizations of past blessings received through that congregation. As some shared, I quietly thought of those now dead but who profoundly touched and blessed me and my family. Though dead, they still speak to me.

There were many lessons! They included reminders of lives blessed by God through His use of you; reminders of your own humanity and weakness; reminders that God can use you but does not depend on you; reminders of the incredible ways your life was blessed; and reminders that one’s influence continues to live in one’s absence.

The past is the past. One cannot live in it–either in its successes or failures–without wasting the present. No matter how appreciative one is of the past’s good and blessings, it is never (ever!) a substitute for the present. Allow the past to bless the present, but never allow it to place a curse on the present. Be grateful, remember blessings, and be encouraged, but keep moving forward. Always be certain to do this: let your memories from the past clear a pathway to humility, not to arrogance.

Philippians 3:13,14 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Pray for Chris and Karen Benjamin and sons. Chris hopes to arrive November 3.

Let Him Guide You!

Posted by on October 12, 2003 under Bulletin Articles

Acts 10:38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

Peter made this statement to Cornelius in awkward, difficult, uncomfortable circumstances. He did something unique. “And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean'” (Acts 10:28). God did a lot to convince Peter this was the right thing to do. Peter’s past said this was not what God wanted because Cornelius was the wrong kind of people.

The crucified Jesus changed everything! Peter needed to understand the change! No longer was an “Israelite” determined by birth, but by faith in God’s work in Jesus’ resurrection. As Paul explained to non-Jewish Christians in Galatia, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

It took a lot for God to convince Peter to see His concern for all people. Even after a vision [seen three times] (Acts 10:9-16), vocal instructions from the Spirit (Acts 10:17-20), and an encouraging report about Cornelius (Acts 10:22), Peter did not know why he went to Cornelius’s home. He did not understand why Cornelius wanted him to come (Acts 10:28, 29). He had no idea about what to say in that situation!

Then he understood! “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him'” (Acts 10:34,35).

Please note: (1) Peter told Cornelius about Jesus. (2) He confirmed Jesus’ identity. (3) He wanted Cornelius to understand that “Jesus went about doing good,” that he provided healing to those oppressed by the devil, and that God was with him.

Do people ever need to hear this message: (1) Jesus used His life and abilities to do good. (2) He has the power to heal those oppressed by the devil. (3) God was (and is!) with Him in what he did and does.

Who needs to hear this message? Those who conclude there is only evil in the world. Those who think there is no hope. Those oppressed by the devil. Why? They need to know Jesus can be their source of goodness and hope. They need to understand that God Himself is behind the good Jesus does and the hope Jesus gives.

If you belong to Jesus, use your life to do good. End your oppression to the devil. Depend on God who sent us Jesus. Share the freedom and the hope.

Great Parallels, Part 2: Exodus and Jesus

Posted by on October 5, 2003 under Sermons

There are many mistakes people commonly make in life that are just plain inexcusable. There is no reason for these mistakes. These mistakes are made because we just do not think. In our thoughtlessness, we do not take the time to reflect on what we know. Then when consequences come crashing down upon us, we commonly are thoroughly disgusted with ourselves.

I would classify as one such mistake our failure to learn from other people’s experiences. When for hundreds of years the same decisions and directions of life result in the similar sufferings and consequences, we need to learn from other people’s mistakes. When for hundreds of years the same decisions and directions of life result in the same benefits and blessings, we need to learn from other people’s wisdom.

When generations before us made the common bad choices of every generation and suffered consequences, we need to learn from their bad choices. When generations before us made the uncommon good choices facing each generation and received blessings, we need to learn from their wisdom.

This evening I want you to focus on a second parallel between Exodus and Jesus.

  1. I want us to begin with the tenth plague God brought upon Egypt which resulted in Israel’s release from slavery.
    1. I call your attention to Exodus 12. Please read with me verses 1-14.
      Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste–it is the Lord’s Passover. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments–I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
    2. God told Moses and Aaron how He wanted Israel to observe the Passover when it occurred.
      1. This is a brand new observance, and brand new feast, and it was unlike anything that had ever occurred before in the history of these people.
      2. To say it was different I think is an understatement!
      3. To observe this occasion would take a lot of faith because some of the requirements were quite different.
        1. Every family was to acquire a lamb or kid (it could be either a sheep or goat) for this occasion–every family would participate in this event. (If a family was too small to eat a lamb or kid, they were to combine with another family.)
        2. The lamb or kid was to be a year old and without any defect.
        3. On the afternoon of the 14th day of the month they all were to slaughter their lamb or kid at twilight.
        4. Part of the blood was to be taken and smeared on the door posts and lintel of the houses in which people would eat.
        5. The lamb or kid was to be roasted in its entirety, not boiled, and eaten with bitter vegetables and unleavened bread, and the leftovers were to be burned before morning.
        6. As they ate, they were to be fully clothed (including sandals on their feet and staff in their hand), and they were to eat quickly.
        7. That evening I (God, not a “death angel”) will pass over Egypt killing every firstborn male in both families and animals.
          1. I, the Lord, will execute judgment against the gods of Egypt.
          2. I will see the blood you placed on your doors and pass over you–none of you will die.
        8. This memorial was to be a perpetual ordinance in Israel that in future generations would be celebrated as a feast to God.
    3. Now read with me Exodus 12:29-36.
      Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the Lord, as you have said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.” The Egyptians urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, “We will all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls bound up in the clothes on their shoulders. Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
      1. About midnight God caused all the firstborn Egyptians (from the king’s family to the criminal’s family) and all the first born livestock to die.
        1. There was massive death in Egypt.
        2. There was massive mourning and grief in Egypt.
        3. The sound of mourning could be heard everywhere.
        4. Someone was dead in every home.
      2. The king called Moses and Aaron and ordered all Israel out of the country.
        1. Every Egyptian was so afraid that they hurried them on their way.
        2. Earlier they had given the Israelites gifts of whatever was requested–gold, silver, clothing.
      3. Can you imagine the enormous inconvenience of leaving in the middle of the night without vehicles and electrical power? I know they were guided by God’s fiery cloud which provided them light, but I doubt that it was an easy, simple matter.

  2. There are many obvious parallels we could consider.
    1. We could think about parallels between Passover and the Lord’s supper.
      1. Both involved a sacrifice of flesh and of blood.
      2. Both were to be a feast.
      3. Both were to be a continual memorial.
      4. Both involved death.
      5. Both provided the seemingly impossible opportunity for a new existence.
    2. We could think about the parallels between participation.
      1. Passover was to involve directly all the people of Israel
      2. The Lord’s Supper is to involve directly the entire Christian family.
    3. We could think about the parallels between each being a beginning.
      1. The first Passover marked the beginning promise of the nation of Israel.
      2. The first Lord’s Supper marked the beginning promise of Christianity.
      3. Each beginning was a fulfillment of God’s purpose and intent–neither was an accident!

  3. As interesting as all those parallels are, I choose for our focus another reality illustrated by both.
    1. The first fundamental parallel is this: deliverance is always from God.
      1. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, and they of themselves were powerless to change things.
      2. We were slaves to sin, and we of ourselves were powerless to change things.
      3. Were it not for God’s actions, we both would have remained slaves.
      4. Only God could end the slavery.
    2. The second fundamental parallel is this: the price of deliverance always includes blood.
      1. For God to pass over an Israelite family, there had to be blood on the door posts and lintel–that blood was essential if God was to pass over.
      2. For God to justify us, to forgive us of our sins, Jesus’ blood must be on our hearts.

Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.


    1. Seek deliverance in God, and praise God for deliverance.
    2. Never forget we cannot save ourselves.
    3. Show your appreciation for Jesus’ blood in service to God.
    4. Rejoice in Jesus’ blood, but never abuse it!

My God Can Save!

Posted by on under Sermons

We live among lots of forces that actively discourage discovering spirituality in the resurrected Jesus Christ. First, we live among voices that constantly say, “You don’t want to be spiritual! You don’t want to go in that direction! Think about all you can’t do and all you can’t have!” Second, if we get past those voices, we encounter all kinds of ungodly powers that discourage us. Third, if we refuse to let ungodly powers control us, we endure all the discouragement that occur when Christians oppose Christians. Fourth, if we get past those discouragement, we deepen our discovery of evil within ourselves. Fifth, when we move to the depths of spirituality in Christ, we discover our total unworthiness.

That is quite a journey! It is especially quite a journey for many American Christians! As a people, we are not deeply familiar with true humility, or repentance, or dependence, or unworthiness. One of the hardest things we must confront on our journey to spirituality is our personal nothingness and God’s deserved worthiness.

  1. When our faith leads us to total surrender to the resurrected Jesus, two incredible things happen to us–both as acts of God.
    1. First, I ask you to read with me as we consider Acts 2:37-40.
      Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”
      1. If we do not note the context of Peter’s words in this sermon, we will miss a critical point.
        1. Peter spoke to a Jewish audience in the holy city of Jerusalem–those listening to him were either born Jews or were converted to Judaism.
        2. He is not speaking to people who are ignorant of God or ignorant of righteousness.
        3. These people knew what God did when He led their ancestors from Egypt, when He spoke through Moses, when He gave their ancestors Canaan, when He ruled through David, when He challenged Israel through the prophets.
      2. The heart of the sermon Peter just shared with these people focused on Jesus.
        1. He is God’s promised Christ.
        2. He is the keeping of God’s promise.
        3. He is the resurrected Christ or Messiah.
      3. If they really believed Jesus was the Christ, if they really believed that Jesus’ execution was a rejection of God, they would respond in two ways.
        1. They would repent.
          1. That was far more than being sorry for their mistake of rejecting Jesus and opposing God.
          2. That was redirecting their lives, that was working with God in Christ instead of opposing Christ and thereby opposing God.
          3. Their repentance would be obvious; it would be reflected in the way they lived.
        2. They would be baptized.
          1. This was far more than just a ritual, just a requirement.
          2. It was their commitment to God who committed to them in Jesus’ death.
          3. It was their statement that they did believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and that they were committed to redirecting their lives.
      4. If they had the kind of faith that would lead them to repentance and baptism, two things assuredly would happen by an act of God.
        1. God would forgive them. Even of being guilty of encouraging Jesus’ execution, God would forgive them!
        2. God would give them as a gift the Holy Spirit.
      5. This promise was not just to them, but to their children, and to those who were far off.
    2. Expressing faith in repentance and baptism is just the beginning, not the conclusion.
      1. Life still has to be directed.
      2. The person still has to learn how to cooperate with God’s presence in him/her instead of frustrating God’s presence in him/her.
      3. The focus of the person’s life still has to change.
      4. He or she has made the commitment to change, but now he or she has to carry through by changing the way he or she lives.
      5. He or she was alone, without God, before faith moved him or her to commit.
      6. Now he or she must understand how to cooperate with God in his or her life.

  2. What should occur in the lives of the men and women whose faith in Jesus Christ moved them to redirect their lives and be baptized into Christ?
    1. I invite you to read with me from Romans 8:18-30.
      For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
    2. In the first part of Romans 8, Paul described the great war that is ongoing in the lives of Christians.
      1. As a Christian, there are two powerful influences pulling on us in opposite directions.
        1. The first powerful influence is the evil influence that challenges us to be people who are concerned only about the physical.
        2. The second powerful influence is the righteous influence that challenges us to keep the focus of our lives on God.
      2. These two influences are constantly pulling at the Christian to the point of tearing us apart.
        1. Every day we have to decide again who we are.
        2. Every day we have to decide again what the purpose of our life is.
        3. Every day we have to decide again our focus.
    3. The chapter ends with an emphasis on the incredible things God does for us as we wage this war.
      1. God is always for the person in Christ.
      2. God justifies the person in Christ.
      3. God gives the victory to the person who is in Christ.
    4. The statements we just read couple together the experience of fighting the inner war and trusting God’s incredible help.
      1. First, Paul said I want you to realize beyond doubt that the sufferings caused by the war are worth the pain caused by the war.
      2. Second, Paul said I want you to understand that it is not just you struggling–evil’s perversion places the whole creation in sorrow and pain.
      3. Third, Paul said I want you to understand that your placing yourself in Christ just started a process that will not be completed until you live with God.
      4. Four, Paul said I never want you to feel abandoned because the Spirit God gave you as a gift when you were baptized will pray for you in God’s language when you are so weak you do not even know what to ask–and the Spirit will pray for you with a perfect awareness of your needs.
    5. Then Paul said the most astounding thing!
      1. “Nothing can happen in your life that God cannot use for your salvation.”
      2. The ultimate good that can occur in you is for you to live eternally with God.
      3. No matter what happens to you in this physical existence, no matter what suffering Satan causes you to endure, God can use every bit of it to draw you closer and closer to Him.
    6. When our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ by God moves us to repent and be baptized, that sets in motion an unbelievable process for every person who enters Christ.
      1. God in his foreknowledge has determined that He will assist that person to be more and more like Jesus.
      2. As that person matures in faith, God will intentionally make that person more and more like His son.
      3. God will constantly call that person closer and closer to Him.
      4. God will justify that person–He will continually make that person’s mistakes meaningless.
      5. And the end result will be that God will glorify that person.

  3. If you are a Christian, I hope you will mature in your understanding of how incredible God is.
    1. You are caught in the middle of a war, but you are never on your own!
    2. When you were baptized into Christ, God gave you a gift.
      1. That gift is His Spirit.
      2. That gift is God’s mark of possession–you belong to Him!
      3. That gift will pray for you when you are too weak to pray for yourself.
    3. Because of all God does for us, there is no reason for us to fail.
      1. We do not succeed because we are so wonderful, successful, and adequate.
      2. We succeed for one reason alone–what God makes happen.

For us to succeed as Christians, two things are required of us. We must love God. Our lives must be focused on God’s purposes. We cannot do what God does for us–God does not ask us to do what we cannot do. God asks us as Christians to do what we can do: love Him, and focus our lives on His purposes.

Faith’s Benefits Depend on Jesus’ Resurrection

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

What are the benefits of trusting the living God Who: (1) sent His son to earth; (2) allowed His son to stress His priorities and purposes during the son’s ministry; (3) sacrificed His son through execution; and (4) raised His son from death?

Are they seen in an ideal physical life? Christ’s cross says, “No!” The apostles’ deaths say, “No!” Christian martyrs say, “No!” Poverty stricken Christians say, “No!”

Are they seen in material advantages? Jesus’ teachings said, “No!” (See Matthew 6:19-34.) Paul said, “No!” (See Ephesians 4:28.) James said, “No!” (See James 5:1-6.)

Are they seen in incredible housing, unimaginable vehicles, secure retirements, or lavish inheritances? Everything above says, “No!”

Are they seen in a wonderful spiritual insurance policy that protects physical life? Death from natural causes, devastating disease, horrible accidents, random acts of murder, the enterprise of war, the terrorists’ merciless acts, and the ravages of poverty all say, “No!” Christians die, are diseased, experience accidents, physically suffer when war occurs around them, are victims of violence, and can lose material security.

Then what possibly are the benefits of faith in the living God? Consider some biblical understandings. We understand: (1) evil perverted all God’s intentions in physical existence; (2) the physical realm is so tainted by evil that God can never achieve His complete purposes in physical existence; (3) God will achieve His purposes and we will have our fulfillment when we live with Him; (4) physical death is not an end to life, but a transition to life as God intended it. Therefore, we confidently use this life for God in the expectation of experiencing life with God.

Why? We trust God’s resurrection of Jesus. If there was no resurrection, there is no reason to be a Christian, no benefits of faith in God. If that is the case, Paul said we are pitiful people who were deceived by lies.

The peace, joy, hope, and strength Christians have now are built on the foundation of Jesus’ resurrection. His resurrection is the foundation of our resurrection.