For What Were You Thankful?

Posted by on November 30, 2003 under Sermons

Here we sit! Most of us four to seven pounds heavier than we were last Sunday. I am not asking for confessions, so I will not ask for a show of hands. Please do not raise your hands, just answer to yourself–but be honest! How many of us ate too much last Thursday? How many of us are so tired of turkey that we do not appreciate anyone making us even think about turkey?

I hope sometime in the course of the past few days you had a time to either discuss your gratitude with your family or to quietly reflect on your gratitude. I hope you were able to spend time with your family. I hope you had a memorable meal or two. Yet, more than anything, I hope you had time to reflect on your blessings.

May I assume you spent some quality time thinking about your blessings? When you are grateful for your blessings, what do you think about?

Do you think exclusively in terms of material things? “I am grateful for my wonderful place to live. I am thankful for my lifestyle. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful the members of my family are alive. I am thankful for my job. I am thankful for my prosperity.”

If your gratitude is confined to the material, do you realize how many grateful people exist that cannot be grateful for a single one of those material things? Many of them do not have a desirable place to live, or a good lifestyle, or family members who are alive, or jobs, or prosperity. You have many spiritual brothers and sisters who cannot think of material things (as we often do) when they reflect on gratitude.

Allow me to assume that most of you are Christians.

Is your gratitude based on a mix of spiritual blessings and material blessings? Do you include in your gratitude the fact that God forgives you every day of your existence? God continually covers you with Jesus’ blood so you constantly remain in His redemption. Does your gratitude include the fact that you are redeemed? You are God’s property. God acknowledges you are His without shame or embarrassment. Does your gratitude include that fact that you are sanctified? Each day God sees you as a holy person, not because of the absence of evil in our lives, but because God placed our sins on Jesus.

Every spiritual gift God gives us originated in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

My point is not that it is inappropriate to be grateful for material blessings. My point is this: gratitude is incomplete if it does not begin with God’s spiritual gifts in Jesus Christ.

This morning I want us to focus our thinking on a prayer that Paul prayed. The question I want each of us to ask is this: if I had been alive when Paul wrote this prayer, could he have prayed this prayer for me?

Read with me Ephesians 1:15-23.
For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 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, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

  1. This prayer is found in a letter Paul wrote to the church in the city of Ephesus.
    1. After identifying himself and extending greetings to the Christians at Ephesus, Paul focused them on the incredible acts of God in verses 3 through 14.
      1. God is to be honored (glorified, or praised) for many reasons.
        1. Through Christ God has extended to us every spiritual blessing.
        2. God always has intended to choose those people who would trust what He did in Christ.
        3. Through Jesus God is willing to adopt us as His children.
        4. That adoption can occur because of His incredible grace.
        5. We are forgiven because God used Jesus’ blood to redeem us.
        6. God lavishes His grace on us as His children.
        7. We understand that we have the right to belong to God just as Israel did–and we have that right because of what God did in Jesus Christ
        8. God even has given us an inheritance.
        9. It should be obvious through God’s Spirit existing in us that we are God’s property.
      2. The objective of all these incredible things God does for us is simple: we should be to the praise of His glory.
        1. When people see what God makes us, they should praise God–not us.
        2. The only way our behavior and emotions can be explained is God’s influence on us.

  2. Then Paul offered the prayer for them that we just read.
    1. Pay careful attention to what motivated Paul to pray this prayer for them.
      1. He heard of the faith they had in making Jesus Christ Lord of their lives.
      2. He heard of their great love for other Christians.
      3. The result of both was that Paul was deeply appreciative.
    2. Listen to the specific things Paul prayed for them.
      1. That God, the Father of Jesus Christ, would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in their knowledge of God.
      2. That the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened in the specific ways.
        1. They would grasp the hope of God’s calling.
        2. They would grasp the incredible wealth God had given them in His inheritance.
      3. That they would grasp the incredible power God gave those who trusted what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  3. I ask you to focus on each of the three things Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians.
    1. They would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in their knowledge of God.
      1. If we are to change a person’s life and world, we must change that person’s concept and understanding of God.
        1. I have held that conviction for years.
        2. I share it often.
      2. Most of the Christians in Ephesus were people who were not Jews, who were converted from worshipping idols.
        1. Before conversion they worshipped many different gods in the conviction that all of them existed.
        2. Before conversion they worshipped many different gods to keep those gods from being offended with them.
        3. Before conversion, a god could be represented by a piece of human art.
      3. After conversion, they had to change their understanding of God.
        1. There was One, not many.
        2. The One loved them and was a source of help.
        3. The One could not be represented with a piece of human art work.
      4. Paul prayed they would have a better understanding of God.
        1. The better they understood God, the better they would understand themselves.
        2. The better they understood God, the wiser they would become.
        3. The better they understood God, the more God could reveal His will to them.
    2. Paul prayed the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened.
      1. They would never know the hope God provided them unless they could “see” God with their hearts.
      2. They would never know the value of their inheritance in God unless they could “see” God with their hearts.
      3. The only way to destroy hopelessness, the only way to understand that there was something more valuable than the material things of “right now,” was to have the eyes of their hearts enlightened.
    3. Paul prayed that they would grasp the incredible power God made available to Christians through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
      1. The grace that makes our salvation possible depends on God, not on us.
      2. God’s resurrection of Jesus and God’s enthronement of Jesus declares the great power of God.
      3. If God could do all He did in Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement, God could surely keep all His promises to them.
      4. If:
        1. You will enthrone Christ in your life as Lord,
        2. You will humbly accept the authority of the enthroned Christ,
        3. You will be a part of Christ’s body,
        4. You will allow Christ to demonstrate God’s fullness by being a part of God’s people.
      5. If you will do that, then the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will save you.

  4. Let’s see if we as 21st century Christians can personalize the three elements of Paul’s prayer.
    1. Do you want to know God so well that you are made wiser and understand what life is really about?
      1. Which attitude best typifies the drives of your life and relationships?
        1. “God, teach me just what I need to know, but don’t change anything–I like me just like I am.”
        2. Or, “God, help me understand everything I can about You so I can constantly change as a person.”
      2. If you know God better, you will change as a person.
    2. Do you want God to teach you how to see from the heart so your Christian hope will increase and you will understand the value of your inheritance?
      1. Which attitude best typifies the drives of your life and relationships?
        1. “God, I do not want to know anything different or anything else.”
          1. “I had rather live in a hopeless existence that to have to learn anything else about You.”
          2. “I want to enjoy right here right now–I rather live for right now instead of eternity.”
        2. Or, “God help me see how temporary right now is and how permanent eternity is.”
      2. If we are to make our decisions in hope, we must let God teach us about our inheritance.
    3. Do you want the power of God to determine who you are and what your life is about?
      1. Which attitude best typifies the drives of your life and relationships?
        1. “God, leave me alone and let me live like I want to live–just save my soul without messing with my life.”
        2. Or, “God, help me see that the power that raised Jesus from the death can work in my life to rescue me from any form of evil.”
      2. If the power of Jesus’ resurrection controls our lives, God will mess with our lives and change the way we behave and feel.

Do we have so much confidence in what God did and does through Jesus Christ, do we have so much love for other Christians, that God rejoices to recognize us as part of Christ’s body?

It Is Worth It!

Posted by on November 23, 2003 under Sermons

Commonly, beginning is exciting! Commonly, anticipation is exciting! Finishing, being so involved that you cannot turn loose, passing the point of “no return,” is commonly exhausting and demanding.

For an illustration, let me use building a house. Joyce and I have never built a house [that is not shared with a deep sense of regret; neither of us have ever wanted to build a house]. The closest we came to building a house was adding a master bedroom and bath to our home years ago. I had a friend who had an excellent reputation as a carpenter. I had him “black in” our addition–put up the outside shell with the roof. We accepted the responsibility of doing all the inside finishing that we could.

When we planned the addition, he said to me, “Are you sure you want to do this? In my experience, people have a choice. They can hire someone to do all the building and remain married, or they can do part of the building themselves and get a divorce.”

We did not get a divorce, but by the time we moved into the room if cured me of any desire to build a house. The beginning, the anticipating was very exciting! The finishing was very stressful!

When the resurrected Jesus first was presented to Israelites as Lord and Christ in Acts 2, what happened initially was very exciting! Jewish people were being converted so fast that earliest Christians could imagine all Israel being converted!

But some Jews really resented this message about the resurrected Jesus being the Christ. The leaders of Israel did not like it, and soon moved through death and persecution to stop it. When the message began to spread among people who were not Jews, the religious leaders among these people did not like it. They used persecution and death to try to stop it. Then the leaders of the Roman empire, sometimes locally and sometimes nationally, did not like this new religion. At times they used sanctions, persecution, or death to try to stop it.

A movement that began with so much hope and promise in time became a real hardship. Around 30 AD the first Christians had favor with everyone. By 50 A.D. very unlikely forces were cooperating to create real hardships. By 70 A.D. Paul had been executed, some of the twelve had been killed, and physical suffering for faith in Jesus was not uncommon. By the end of the first century some Christians seriously wondered if the Christian movement could survive.

Let me try to make this real to us. Suppose that 50% of the working people in this congregation lost their jobs because they believed Jesus was the Christ–and they could not get other jobs. Suppose the most of the retired people lost their retirements because they believed Jesus was the Christ. Suppose our building was declared off limits to us and we could not assemble here. Suppose there was no money to pay Brad, Chris, Derrick, or me. Suppose there was not enough money to have a mission’s Sunday. Suppose we really struggled just to try to take care of each other.

Would you be discouraged?

If your answer is, “Yes!” you can understand the discouragement of many Christians in the last half of the first century.

This evening I want to consider Peter’s encouragement to discouraged Christians in 1 Peter 1. Please turn there with me and let me point out a few things for all of us to consider.

  1. Consider 1 Peter 1:
    1. The introduction: verses 1,2.
      1. Peter identifies himself as the writer of this letter.
      2. He is an apostle–a messenger of Jesus Christ who is representing Jesus Christ.
      3. Galatians 2:8 declares he is Jesus’ apostle to the Jewish people.
    2. Peter is specific about the Christians who were the first to receive this letter.
      1. They are people who reside as aliens–they do not belong, they are not considered to be a part of local society–they live in these places, but they do not belong.
        1. Can you identify with that?
        2. Is that not what is increasingly happening in our society?
      2. They are the scattered–they reside as aliens in places which were not their original homes.
        1. It is very difficult to live somewhere that you do not belong.
        2. The difficulty increases if you are living there by necessity, not desire.
        3. Every day reminds you that you are not a part of these people and will never belong.
        4. The reason you will never belong is seen in your commitment to God through Jesus Christ.
      3. Even though they are aliens and the scattered, they are also the chosen.
        1. They are the chosen because God chose them.
        2. To the local people they may be aliens and the scattered, but to God they are the chosen.
        3. They are not the chosen because of their wonderful accomplishments.
        4. They are the chosen because of God’s incredible accomplishments–they are the chosen by the foreknowledge of God, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ.
        5. Their obedience allowed God to work in their lives.
    3. What they have: verses 3-12.
      1. Peter began with concepts that should be powerfully encouraging.
        1. Because of God’s great mercy they were born to a living hope by the resurrection of Christ–their hope was alive because it was placed in a living person, not a dead person.
        2. God’s specific reason for raising Jesus was to provide those who trusted that resurrection an inheritance. Consider Peter’s description of their God-given inheritance:
          1. It is imperishable–the forces at work in this world (like rust and thieves) cannot destroy this inheritance.
          2. It is undefiled–nothing can diminish its desirability or value.
          3. It is unfading–it was not of great value when it came into existence, but has its value fade as time passes.
          4. It is reserved–it belong to them, exclusively for them, and is saved for them.
          5. In regard to this inheritance, they must understand they are protected by God’s power–no matter what people do to them in this world, the inheritance is theirs.
      2. The physical trials they endure only illustrate the genuineness of their faith and the value of their faith.
      3. They prefer salvation over good treatment or belonging.
        1. This is the salvation the Jewish prophets discussed.
        2. They knew this expression of God’s grace would be the most valuable expression of grace God had given.
        3. Though they longed to be alive when this grace was expressed, it was revealed to them that this expression of grace could not come into existence in their lifetimes.
    4. Because God has given you the wonderful gifts of inheritance does not mean you can act irresponsibly: verses 13-21.
      1. You will prepare yourself for serious thought and firmly place your hope in God’s grace.
      2. As obedient children, you will not live and act as you did prior to being Christians.
      3. Now your are called to God’s holiness, and you take that call very seriously.
      4. You were kidnapped by evil.
      5. God did not pay your ransom with money; He purchased you with the blood of His only son, His sacrifice for your sins.
      6. You place all your hope in the God who raised Jesus from the dead and glorified the resurrected Jesus.
    5. This is how you give expression to your new relationship with God: verses 22-25.
      1. Your obedience comes from souls that have been purified.
      2. They were purified to love other Christians genuinely, without pretense, with love that comes from the heart.
      3. The way your obey God and the way you love other Christians shows you are a completely new person, born again, through God’s living word.
      4. This was the word that was proclaimed to you.

  2. You and I live in a difficult, ungodly society.
    1. In far too many instances the priorities of this society are not those of God.
      1. Not in focus of life.
      2. Not in lifestyles.
      3. Not in values and standards.
      4. Not in concepts of integrity and honesty.
    2. In far too many instances we do not feel like aliens.
      1. We are more likely to try “to belong” than to recognize that faith in God generates differences.
      2. We are far too likely to substitute church membership for godly living.
      3. We are far too likely to be selfish in our relationships.
      4. We are far too likely to live for things ungodly than the things of God.
    3. The truth is, for all of us, that just living life get more and more challenging, more and more difficult.
      1. It is hard to be godly in an ungodly society.
      2. It is hard to be spiritual when so many others are just religious.
      3. It is hard to be unselfish in our relationships.
    4. We desperately need to understand some basic facts.
      1. We need a better understanding of what God did for us in Christ.
      2. We need to trust God’s grace instead of our achievements.
      3. We need to understand what godly living is.
      4. We need to understand that it is worth the effort to belong to God.

It is easy go begin in a state of excited anticipation. It is hard to “hang in there” when it is tough to live as a godly person in this world. But it is always worth it.

“God, It Hurts!”

Posted by on under Sermons

What I now share with you is not intended as a slam or a condemnation. I offer it only as an insight to be shared with you. We American people are terribly spoiled and do not know it.

Our philosophy as a culture may be summed up in this manner: we are for success and against pain and inconvenience. When we turn on a light switch, we expect light–and expect it immediately. When we turn on a water faucet, we expect pure water–and we expect it immediately. When we turn an ignition switch, we expect the motor to start–and we expect it immediately. When we go to a doctor because we are sick or in pain, we expect our medical problem to be solved–and we expect results immediately. When we go to a restaurant, we expect food cooked just exactly like we like it–and we expect to be served promptly.

Our motto is: “If it is broke, fix it, and do it fast!” Most of us live our lives fast and most of us expect nothing to break. However, the older we get the more we learn that simply is not the way life works–not even in America!

Let me share with you two vivid memories. The first came from the first campaign group I traveled with. Coming home after three weeks in West Africa, the thirteen of us had a layover in Paris, France. This was 1969 when an airline paid for layovers and meals. We were having supper. One man who was part of the group was demanding–he wanted more than the airline authorized. A French waiter tried to explain he could have a choice, not one of each; but his words fell on a deaf ear. Finally, in exasperation the French waiter gave the campaigner what he wanted. As the waiter turned and walked away, I heard another waiter say, “He is American.” That was all the explanation needed to understand the situation.

When Joyce and I returned from West Africa on our only leave, I was anxious to share our slides with my family. After Mom and Dad saw those pictures, my Dad made this comment: “I would not live that way. I’d get me a hammer and some nails and make something different.” I asked, “What if no one had a hammer, and there were no nails?”

We think we can fix anything, but we prove frequently we cannot. We do not intend our confident expectations to be arrogance. But the rest of the world sees it as arrogance. And I am afraid that God frequently sees it as arrogance as well.

  1. This confidence that anything can be fixed quickly without pain or personal inconvenience often deceives us in our relationship with God.
    1. It is much too easy for us to act like we have God on a retainer.
      1. Often in business we put a specialized professional on retainer.
      2. That means if we need him/her we will call him/her to come take care of a special need that has arisen.
        1. It is much too easy for us to treat God that way: “God, we are placing You on a retainer–if I ever need You, I will call You.”
        2. Too often we use prayer only to call God when we have a special need.
        3. When we “call” God, we expect immediate results.
          1. “God, come right now!”
          2. “God, fix my problem right now!”
          3. “God, I don’t want any more pain!”
          4. “God, I could do so much better if You would just fix this like I want it fixed right now!”
      3. If God does not fix it “right now” precisely the way we have decided it should be fixed, then frequently we cry out. “God, where are You? Why have You not answered me?”
    2. Where did we ever get the idea that God works in very visible ways, that He adopts our solutions so He can solve problems in precisely the way we want, and He always acts quickly?
      1. The Bible abounds with illustrations of God at work when no one thought God was working.
      2. The Bible abounds with illustrations of God being at work in ways that were not a human approach.
      3. The very fact that our salvation exists illustrates that God’s time table is not our time table.

  2. Let me share with you two illustrations from the Bible.
    1. One of the continuing problems in Israel was idolatry–Israel had a long, long history of worshipping gods other than Jehovah God.
      1. Before Israel crossed the wilderness the first time, they built and worshipped a golden calf (Exodus 32).
      2. When Israel finally was established in Canaan, they worshipped the Baals.
      3. Judges records how Israel repeated the same cycle of failure and rescue over and over, and frequently a part of the failure was worshipping idols.
      4. No matter what consequences they suffered as a result of idol worship, the nation always returned to idols.
      5. While idolatry was common in Israel in the Old Testament, there was a deep aversion to idolatry in Israel in the New Testament.
        1. Why?
        2. Israel finally learned their lesson.
        3. God finally “got through” to them once and for all.
        4. How?
        5. One of the things God accomplished through the Babylonian captivity was this: He cured Israel once and for all from worshipping idols.
        6. Israel finally learned and understood that there was one God, and idols were never to be considered as representing gods, never worship them.
      6. Was Babylonian captivity:
        1. Fast? I do not consider seventy years fast!
        2. Painless? That captivity caused lots of pain!
        3. Did God use the idolatrous Babylonians to punish the Israelites? God told the prophet Habukkuk He did!
      7. And Israel learned an extremely hard, painful lesson–the slow, hard way.
      8. The point I would like you to consider is this: it was very difficult for Israel to grasp that God worked through the Babylonian captivity, but He did!
    2. I would like to take the second illustration from Paul’s life as a Christian.
      1. Read with me 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
        Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
      2. There are several truly fascinating revelations found in this statement.
        1. God allowed a specific stress to existing in Paul’s life that Paul called a thorn in the flesh.
        2. God did not send the thorn; the thorn came from Satan.
        3. The thorn caused Paul pain–Paul said it tormented him.
        4. While God did not send the thorn, God used the thorn to protect Paul from a specific problem: arrogance.
        5. Paul did not like the thorn–this miracle worker begged God three times to take it away.
        6. God caused Paul to understand that he was to stop looking at the thorn and instead look at God’s grace.
        7. Why? Because God’s power is revealed in human weakness.
        8. Paul finally understood!
        9. If the means of God’s power living in him was his human weakness that endured a thorn, he would be content to be weak so God could be powerful in him.
        10. The key: just like us, Paul had to learn to depend on God’s grace instead of his accomplishments.
      3. What was the thorn?
        1. I do not know–Paul never identified the thorn.
        2. Let me speculate [and this is truly speculation, not fact!]
        3. Let’s speculate that the thorn was the Judaizing teachers who gave Paul enormous problems.
        4. Paul would go to a community, teach people who were not Jews about Jesus Christ, and begin a congregation.
        5. These Jewish Christians would come to town after Paul left and tell non-Jewish Christians that they were not saved–if they were going to be saved, first they had to learn and accept Jewish ways.
        6. I can almost hear a frustrated Paul scream.
          1. “God, why don’t you stop them from doing this?”
          2. “Because of what they are doing, I have to keep cleaning up messes they make!”
          3. “My life would be so much simpler if I could just evangelize new places and not clean up the messes they make.”
          4. “Lord, make it stop! Make this problem go away!”
      4. And God said:
        1. “I am using this to help you Paul, not hurt you.”
        2. “It is too easy for you to feel arrogant–that does not serve My purpose.”
        3. “If you want Me to be powerful in your life, learn to trust My grace instead of your ability.”

  3. Allow me to illustrate from my own life the truth that God works through even painful circumstances.
    1. When I was six years old, I almost died from respiratory problems.
      1. At that time my family lived in the new community of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
      2. A doctor told my Mother and Father that if I was not moved out of that climate, I would die. That suggestion was a major difficulty in those days!
      3. In the summer I was seven, we moved near Crossville, Tennessee–fifty miles from Dad’s work.
      4. That move created major inconveniences for everyone.
        1. We moved from a well equipped house in a city to a poorly equipped house in the country–the only appliance we had was a refrigerator.
        2. For the first time in her life, Mom learned how to live on a farm–her whole life had been in a city environment.
        3. For months, the only way Dad had to commute to work was to catch a bus at 3:30 a.m.; he literally traveled down the mountain, and there were no interstate highways.
        4. I changed school systems, changed the way I dressed, felt very out of place, and fit in about like a sore thumb.
        5. I easily could make a case for it being a difficult experience for everyone!
      5. However, that move resulted in some major blessings.
        1. I outgrew my respiratory problems and in time become a healthy person.
        2. I learned a way of life that blessed the rest of my life.
        3. In the second grade I met Joyce, we were sweethearts in the 6th grade, we dated through high school and three years of college, and we married in 1961–she is one of the great gifts God has given me.
        4. I also met an adult by the name of Ray Cope who had a dream.
          1. There were thirteen congregations in the county, one full time preacher, and two part time preachers.
          2. His dream was to take teen boys from our congregation to congregations that had no one to teach or preach and fill a need.
          3. I was one of those teens.
    2. In a real way, I can say that I have the life I have and the wife and children I have because I almost died when I was six years old.
      1. I am convinced God used my sickness to bring me great blessings.
      2. Never think that because there is pain and inconvenience that God is not at work!

Do you want God to work in any way necessary to make you His son or daughter in judgment? Even if it includes pain or inconvenience now?

If you wish to be His child in judgment, see Him in your pain and inconvenience now!

A Journey, Not A Destination

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

In a country in West Africa, Joyce and I were second generation missionaries. [Please understand I fully realize that mission efforts in different cultures and societies are unique — we must be cautious when we are tempted to form universal mission principles from single culture experiences.] We really wanted to do mission work!

I was on campaign to that area about a year prior to our move. Four missionary families had all details arranged for the thirteen campaigners to visit for three weeks. Villages received us enthusiastically! Excited crowds listened and discussed for hours! Many were baptized! Evening meetings with missionary families were enthusiastic events! Four families and thirteen visitors are a big crowd in any home!

Before we moved, I envisioned lots of evangelistic activity. About thirty congregations existed when we arrived. Shortly there were fifty. In less than two years, there were eighty. At “leave time,” there were one hundred ten known congregations. They sprang up spontaneously through neighbor, family, and friendship evangelism.

Never were there more than six missionary families (and that rarely!). Some did not have one convert who read or understood worship. Few Bibles, no printed lessons, and no study aids existed. Virtually every congregation was composed of spiritual infants. Immediately the overwhelming need was stabilization of infant converts and congregations. How do a maximum of six missionary men with no preacher training school stabilize fifty-plus congregations? Baptisms were easy, but nurturing spiritual infants was demanding! To allow Christians and congregations to die is failure, not success. If the mortality rate almost equals the birth rate, little is accomplished!

Spiritual maturity is a journey, not a destination! From believing in Jesus to a determination to repent is a journey. From both to the desire to enter a covenant relationship with God through baptism is a journey. Faith, repentance, and baptism merely produce a spiritual infant. At that point the journey truly begins!

The path to spiritual maturity is marked by “Jesus-guided” changes in behavior. Victory is not achieved by sitting down on baptism’s banks, but by walking the path of godly living 24/7. A Christian man or woman never stops walking that path!

Did you view your baptism as a destination, or beginning a journey? Did you sit down on baptism’s banks, or did you start walking the path of godly living? Is your spiritual goal maturity in Christ, or do you plan always to be a spiritual infant?

Baptizing is simple! Nurturing is demanding! Sitting is easy! Following a rock-filled path is hard! Do not sit down! Help others! Convert, but encourage believers to live godly lives!

Now But Not Yet

Posted by on November 9, 2003 under Sermons

David and I have spoken often about managing the transition that the two of us are experiencing in this ministry partnership. I think we are doing a good job of it. Tonight I want to share with you the testimony of a man in transition – namely, me. As I mentioned this morning, a bond has been forming between my family and this church. Even before I moved we felt connected and we longed to be with you. And even though I am here NOW, I know that in some ways I am NOT YET here. Up until a week ago I was living in Lake Jackson, Texas, but felt my heart and hope centered in Fort Smith. And NOW I am living in Fort Smith, but my family is NOT YET here. That’s the nature of transition. A reality exists NOW but it is NOT YET realized. It’s like an engagement: a couple is in love and they have a ring and a wedding date NOW, but they are NOT YET married. And if an engagement was as good as a marriage, then it wouldn’t be an engagement, it would be a marriage! Even though there is a relationship NOW it is NOT YET a marriage.

Transitions are tough because we tend to worry a lot during transitions. Consider the transition period of an engagement. As a minister I work with couples engaged to be married and they worry a lot. They worry about things that probably won’t matter after the wedding is over. Maybe it is easier to worry about NOW rather than focus on that which is NOT YET realized. In my own transition with my family in Lake Jackson I admit that I worry about pressing issues NOW because my family is NOT YET here. Transitions between what is NOW and what is NOT YET can be filled with a lot of worry.

I have learned that this transition between two places is a symbol of our existence in this world. As Christians we live between the promises and of God NOW and the things that have NOT YET happened. Jesus was crucified, buried, raised from the dead and he rules even NOW, but he has NOT YET returned to fully realize his rightful rule. We know that even NOW Jesus has defeated the powers of evil, but evil has NOT YET been completely eradicated. So, you can see that even as a church we can get worried even about matters of church and faith …

John 14:1-3. Three Points: Trust, Truth, Hope

Trust: "Don’t be troubled. Trust in God, Trust also in me."

  1. Jesus’ absence was to the benefit of the early disciples – he left to prepare a place for them.
  2. He did not leave them as orphans, he did not abandon them (v. 18):
    1. He left the Spirit, another Comforter (14:15-17).
    2. He left them peace (14:27).
    3. Trust = they would have to have faith to endure the death and they would need trust and faith to endure the transition between NOW and NOT YET.

  3. My leaving has been especially hard on my youngest son Ethan. He is only five. Sometimes he would say to Karen, "Why is Daddy leaving us?" Friday I sent digital photos of our rent house to Karen. I was in one of the photos and Ethan saw it. He started crying and saying, "That’s what Daddy looks like today."
    1. I spent a lot of time before I left trying to help the boys understand (trying to help myself, too). I wanted Ethan to trust me while I am gone. And one of the things I have said and Karen has said is that I am going to "prepare a house for them." And this experience has helped me realize the truth of the world we live in and the work of Jesus between what is NOW and what is NOT YET. Christ gave us the truth when we said … [Scripture from John 14].

Truth: "In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you."

  1. Truth is, "This World is Not My Home"
    1. Christ is preparing a better home.
    2. Peter says that we don’t worry in this transition world; rather we look forward to a new heaven and earth – the home of righteousness.
  2. C. S. Lewis – "I find within myself a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, which draws me to the conclusion that I was made for another world." – [Why do we give in to worry when it is just as easy to hope?]

Hope: "When everything is ready, I will come back and get you so that you will always be with me where I am."

  1. The Return of Christ:
    1. Unfortunately it has been used as an instrument of fear
    2. Results:
      1. We live timid lives
      2. We have lost a desire for his return
  2. But John regards the Return as a message of HOPE!
    1. The slogan of the early church: (Aramaic) Marana Tha! (1 Corinthians 16:22) "Come soon, O Lord."

I believe that the news of Christ’s return, the news of our Father’s rule can be good news of great hope when we consider the truth and how much we can trust God.

[Illustration: The Day Care Story. We were waiting for our Father’s return. He came to take us home.]

Now if little children can find hope and trust, rather than worry, because of a simple truth like a parent’s love, then I think we can find the courage to live faithfully and hopefully in a world that is not our home. He has NOT YET returned, but he is NOW preparing a place for us. There’s room for you in the Father’s house. Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.

A Commitment to Service

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A week and a day ago I was chugging up I-45 and Highway 75 through Texas and Oklahoma in my Oldsmobile, its back end weighed down by a U Haul trailer. I felt like a nomad or a pioneer of old making my way to unknown territory. And now I feel like I am home.

And yet I feel incomplete. I really want my family to be here – and they want to be here – but you understand that and you have made me and my family feel so very welcomed. Even before my arrival a week and a day ago you have welcomed us with your emails and cards. We have prayed with you and for you and shared in your prayer requests and your dreams – and we weren’t even here yet.

So much has occurred so quickly that the last week and a day has seemed like a month and a week. I have even experienced two or three seasons since I have been here – summer, fall, and deer season! It has been sunny and it has been rainy – but as heavy as the rainfall has been, it is nothing compared to the outpouring of God’s blessings. This last week has been a week of blessings. I have been blessed to share this with all of you. Friday was particularly a day of blessings. In less than seven hours I was blessed to find a place to rent here in Fort Smith and sell my house in Lake Jackson [Texas]. [All of it happening simultaneously!] I was at the home of Blake and Colleen Frost with Larry and Donna Roper when my cell phone rang and the good news about a contract on our house came in. My phone kept ringing Friday. Now church, I do believe in a cappella worship, but on Friday my cell phone ring started to sound like praise music! It was a day of good news and blessings – and I got to share it with you!

Since that phone call from the West-Ark elders in September following a congregational meeting when an offer and invitation was made and my family has accepted, we have experienced the work of God’s Spirit to create bonds of love and fellowship. This is what I want to proclaim this morning. The wonderful power of God’s Spirit to create unity and to empower a people to praise and service. I believe in this, not only through experience, but also from God’s word (Numbers 11) …

16 The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.
24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the Tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again. 26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

  • Consider the attitude of Moses. He knows the Spirit of the Lord is not a limited resource. He is not threatened by others who are empowered to praise and service. In fact he welcomes it. Moses knows that leadership in the Kingdom of God can be shared – and we ought to know this for we are all servants and there is one Lord over us all.

I have already told you how I have experienced the blessings of God with some recent good things in my life and that I was especially blessed to share it with you. But I also want to proclaim that the blessings and Spirit of the Lord may be experienced in difficult circumstances.

Consider this: An elderly man who cares for his ill wife faces poor health himself. He despairs of being separated from her so he takes her life and then his own. I know that this story sounds very familiar to many of you in the West-Ark church family. I know and you know that this happened here over a year ago. But what you may not know is that this very same event took place in where I lived, in Lake Jackson, just three weeks ago. Horrible tragedies and yet I have witnessed the power of God’s Spirit at work in His people to work in a tragic situation to bring about good. I was so very disturbed the night I heard that one of our members at Lake Jackson, a man with a strong family in our church, had done something like this. I was planning to leave Lake Jackson in two weeks and I wasn’t sure if I was able mentally and spiritually to minister in this serious crisis. So I turned to friends outside our Lake Jackson congregation for support. Among those, I contacted the elders and ministers at West-Ark. I wasn’t sure quite how to explain what happened. I was amazed to learn this congregation had suffered through a similar crisis – and suddenly I no longer felt alone. You were sharing the burden with me and understood. And I thank God for David Chadwell. He was able to share with me his experience as a minister of God in a similar crisis. Without David, I would not have been able to minister as I did to the family at Lake Jackson. God’s spirit is not a limited resource.

I am blessed to be a part of a team (David, Brad, Derrick, Roy, Lynn, Debbie and Myra) and a spiritual community. And regarding David and I, I want you to know that I am not replacing David. I don’t see it that way, neither does David, and we don’t want you to see it that way. I feel like I am part of a team – David and Joyce Chadwell are truly friends. I have been blessed by David this week and I look forward to working alongside him – as well as the other ministers, the elders, and ministry leaders. I know that God’s Spirit is easily shared with all who are baptized into Christ and who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is unlimited. That’s clear to me as I read the vision of the body of Christ Paul describes in Romans 12 …

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

  • Whatever gifts and talents I have to offer, they have been entrusted to me by God. They are the fruit of His Spirit. I must offer them in the service of His mission. I encourage all of us to do the same.
  • I am blessed to be given this opportunity to serve in the Name of Christ – to preach His word, to baptize in His name, to bring reconciliation with the help of His gracious Spirit, to share in the common faith around the table of our Lord.
  • I welcome your prayers for me and my family as God brings us even closer into this fellowship and as He guides us in His mission in Fort Smith.

Always Growing; Always Maturing

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1 Corinthians 9:24-27 “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

How do you react to Paul being “disqualified”? Unthinkable? Not to Paul! Paul understood the distinction between “knowing” and “being.” Unfortunately, it is not difficult to encounter Christians who do not understand that distinction.

“Knowing” enables us to do many things. We can judge–declare others lacking, inferior, deficient, pathetic, ungodly, unrighteous, or outcasts. We can teach–“here is how you need to change!” We can criticize–“you need to know, to realize, to focus, to redirect!” If we are not extremely careful, we allow what we “know” to serve as the foundation of an “authoritarian complex.” That complex frequently declares decisions God did not declare or establishes criteria that God did not present.

Paul frequently challenged Christians to evaluate their lives and their motives. However, Paul also did two other things. (1) He made it quite clear that he genuinely loved those he challenged. (2) He was very open about his own weaknesses and struggles. Paul “knew” in order that he might “be.”

He did not say, “You need to run with God’s goal clearly in mind.” He said, “I need to run with God’s goal clearly in mind.” He did not say, “You need to stop fighting the air and calling it boxing.” He said, “I must not flail at the air and call it boxing.” He did not say, “You must discipline your body!” He said, “I must discipline my body.”

Why that emphasis? He understood he could present a needed message to others and experience no personal benefit. Paul “knew” in order to “be.” Regardless of what he knew, if he did not use “what he knew” to “be,” his knowledge did not profit him.

Never forget you do not “know” to teach, but to “be.” The foundation of what we teach must arise from what we are instead of what we know. When we belong to God, we never “arrive.” Instead, we always mature and grow toward God’s nature and character.

Philippians 3:12 “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

Why did Jesus Christ “lay hold on you”? Are you pressing on?

God’s Solution To Our Unholiness

Posted by on November 2, 2003 under Sermons

The lesson this evening is shared with you as the result of a request. I was requested to share with all of you the concepts I shared with a class last Sunday morning. The request was made because the class provided some understanding and helped eliminate some personal confusion.

I will share these understandings this evening by using some diagrams. I hope by both seeing and hearing, we all will deepen our insights and understandings.

  1. Let’s consider the basic problem that exists in humans establishing a relationship with God.
    1. The basic problem is stated by acknowledging a basic dilemma:
      1. How can a Holy God enter a relationship with unholy people?
      2. We will not understand the dilemma unless we understand the basic character of God in terms of His holiness.
    2. What should we understand about God being a Holy God?
      1. We should understand that God is the total opposite of evil (sin).
      2. There is no evil in God. God is holy by character.
        1. It is not a matter that God chooses not to be evil.
        2. Instead, it is a matter that God by divine nature and character is not evil.
        3. No form of evil has any appeal to God; God cannot be tempted (James 1:13).
        4. Evil is completely incapable of deceiving God! (Galatians 6:7)
        5. In fact, God finds evil in any form repulsive.
      3. Humanity is in total contrast to the Holy God.
        1. Everyone of us can be deceived by evil.
        2. Some form of evil appeals to each of us.
        3. We are temptable, and we will never cease to be temptable.
        4. We are always by human nature and human character susceptible to evil.
          1. Evil can pervert and corrupt our attitudes.
          2. Evil can pervert and corrupt our emotions.
          3. Evil can pervert and corrupt our motives.
          4. Evil can pervert and corrupt our intentions.
          5. Evil can pervert and corrupt our behaviors.
        5. We are so susceptible to temptation and deception that we can be perverted and corrupted in fundamental aspects of life and never know it!
        6. We can actually think we are acting for God when we are acting for evil!
    3. The basic problem is created by the fact that God is holy and we are not!
      1. There will never be an occasion when God’s basic nature or our basic nature changes.
      2. God always will be by divine nature holy.
      3. We always will be by human nature unholy.
      4. Therein lies the basic problem: how can He Who is by divine nature holy associate with us who are by human nature unholy? How can He Who is repulsed by evil associate with us who are by human nature unholy?
      5. In some way the Holy God must allow us to be holy in order for Him to associate with us.

  2. In the consideration of holiness, it is given to us by God’s act and not as an achievement of ourselves.
    1. “What do you mean by that statement?”
      1. There is nothing any one of us can do of ourselves to make us holy apart from the involvement and action of God.
        1. We are 100% incapable of making ourselves holy.
        2. There is nothing that we can cause to happen in our hearts, our minds, or our bodies (apart from God’s involvement) that can make us holy through the power of humanity.
        3. We are human; we always will be human on this earth.
        4. We, on earth, will never be beyond temptability or deception.
      2. If God makes us holy:
        1. It will have to happen through God’s action and power.
        2. It will have to be a gift–under no circumstance will we deserve it.
    2. That is why our holiness is totally dependent on God’s forgiveness.
      1. Divine forgiveness comes from God to us as a gift.
      2. We do not deserve it; we cannot deserve it; it is never granted to us because we merit or deserve forgiveness.
      3. Forgiveness exists because of God, because of God’s mercy, because of God’s grace, because of God’s love.
      4. Forgiveness is extended to us because of Who God is, not because of who we are.
        1. Forgiveness exists because of what God did in Jesus, not because of what we do in response to Jesus.
        2. Basically forgiveness is God’s gift.
        3. We responsively can accept and appreciate it, but we can never deserve it.
        4. All we can do is accept forgiveness; we can never deserve forgiveness.

  3. The Holy God acts in righteousness.
    1. People who accept the Holy God’s forgiveness respond to God in righteous attitudes, emotions, and behavior.
      1. There are some basic understandings we must have regarding human righteousness.
        1. We must understand that our righteousness is inferior–it will never be on par with God’s righteousness.
        2. We must understand that we can learn what is righteous only by learning the character and nature of God.
        3. We cannot know what is righteous without God informing us of what is righteous.
      2. The only way we can appreciate the gift of God’s forgiveness is by demonstrating our appreciation through righteous behavior.
        1. Growing and maturing spiritually is basically learning how to imitate the character and nature of God.
        2. That is both positive and negative.
        3. In the positive, we develop the attitudes and motives of God and reflect them in our emotions and our behavior.
        4. In the negative, we refuse to think, feel, or do those things which oppose God.
        5. A person cannot appreciate God’s gift of forgiveness while knowingly, deliberately, by choice yielding to emotions or actions that oppose God.
        6. That simply means that we always are struggling against our human natures that either accept evil or are pulled toward evil.
    2. The only way the Holy God can extend to us holiness, forgiveness, and righteousness is through Jesus. Consider some scriptures:
      1. 1 Corinthians 1:30 But by His doing [God’s] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.
      2. 2 Corinthians 5:20,21 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
      3. Colossians 1:26-28 That is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
      4. Colossians 1:13,14 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
      5. Ephesians 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.

God can give us the gift and can accept the inferior expression of our righteousness because God gave us a Savior. Only because we have a perfect Savior can God be in relationship with us unholy humans.

Your Goal: To Be Indispensable or Useful?

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Our American culture uses victory in a competition as an extremely important measure of success. It seems everything is a matter of competition. It seems the goal of competition always is to be # 1. Which of your children is the most significant achiever? Does your child “out achieve” other children? Which of your parents is the most aggressive? Is your aggressive parent more aggressive than other aggressive parents? What kind of grades does your child make? Who is the top student in your class? Who is on track to be the valedictorian? Is your sports team in the top ten ranking in the state? Does your sports team have a national ranking in the top ten? Has it ever won a national championship? Is your company in the Fortune 500? Where do you personally rank in your company?

In what neighborhood do you live? Do you have the biggest house in that neighborhood? Is your house furnished better than other houses? What do you drive? How many cars do you have? How much do you earn? How much money do you have? What are you worth?

Our society constantly bombards us with the suggestion that we can measure our significance by our possessions or our achievements. We are so accustomed to this type of evaluation that we naturally think in these terms without realizing it.

This attitude of being “the best” seeps into the pores of our souls. Because “being the best” is such an important measurement of success in our society, it easily is carried over into the church. Who is the best preacher you ever heard? Who is the best elder you ever knew? Who is the best Bible teacher you ever encountered? Who is the best song leader you ever followed? What was the best congregation you were ever in?

If we are not quite aware and extremely careful, even Christians as the church measure success in terms of competition. It is an ancient problem. Jesus often caught his twelve disciples arguing about who among them was the most important.

This morning I want to take a devotional thought Martha Walker shared in a WINGS devotional last year and expand on it a little.

  1. We are either told or have implied to us that the key to success is being indispensable.
    1. It is a relatively simple concept.
      1. “Do what you do better than anyone else does it.”
      2. “Do it so well that no one can do it better.”
      3. “If you do what you do better than anyone else, others always will be forced to depend on you–getting rid of you is never an option!”
      4. “Be indispensable! That is the key to security and success!”
    2. If you have not yet learned this lesson, you likely will learn it before you die.
      1. No one is indispensable.
      2. Take any one of us out of the picture, and the world keeps on going.
      3. Jesus said the key to being spiritual, the key to eternal success is being a servant, not being indispensable.

  2. May I direct your attention to two examples.
    1. Early in the book of Acts we read about a Christian whose name was Stephen.
      1. He was a very prominent Christian in the first congregation.
      2. The church in Jerusalem began with about 3000 converts.
        1. From that congregation’s beginning, we are told they had daily conversions (Acts 2:47).
        2. By Acts 4:4 we are told that the men converts numbered about 5000.
        3. Acts 5:14 says that multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.
      3. By Acts 6 this Jerusalem church numbered in the thousands, and they encountered their first major problem.
        1. In essence the twelve apostles said that it was not in Jesus Christ best interest to put them in charge of ending the problem.
        2. Instead these thousands of believers were to select seven men of good reputation who were full of the Spirit and wisdom.
        3. These seven men were to see the situation properly addressed.
        4. One of these seven men selected by these thousands of men and women who believed Jesus is the Christ was Stephen.
      4. But Stephen was not content just to help solve the first major problem confronting Jerusalem believers.
        1. He was useful in other ways also.
        2. Acts 6:8 says he was full of grace and power, he was a miracle worker among the people, and he did astounding things.
        3. Acts 6:9 says some specific people did not like what Stephen was doing and saying, so they started a public argument with him.
        4. But these people were not able to cope with Stephen’s wisdom and God’s Spirit in him.
        5. So these enemies secretly convinced some others to be false witnesses and tell lies about Stephen.
        6. The end result was that Stephen was executed.
        7. That began an open persecution of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and that resulted in many Christians leaving that city.
    2. I want you to notice the reaction by Christians to Stephen’s death.
      1. This was the reaction: (Acts 8:2)
        1. There was an enormous outpouring of grief at the burial of Stephen.
        2. The very public, emotional execution did not make them ashamed to express their enormous loss.
      2. This was not the reaction:
        1. “This church will never be the same!”
        2. “Stephen was indispensable!”
        3. “The church in Jerusalem will surely go into great decline now!”
        4. “What will we ever do?”
      3. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem church continued to be quite strong and was regarded as being the center of Christianity.
      4. Acts 21:20 says those living in Jerusalem who believed in Jesus Christ then numbered in the tens of thousands.
      5. Was Stephen extremely useful to Christianity in Jerusalem? Without question!
      6. Was Stephen indispensable? Absolutely not! Useful? Yes! Indispensable? No!
    3. I also want to call your attention to Paul’s death (he anticipates his death in 2 Timothy).
      1. It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact of Paul’s travels and teachings on the spread of Christianity.
      2. Was Paul the only person to evangelize for Jesus Christ in areas that knew nothing about Christ? No! Today we know there were others.
        1. There was the scattering of Jerusalem Christians in Acts 8.
        2. There was the evangelism of the apostles.
        3. There was also the work of men like Apollos, Barnabas, and Mark.
      3. We know more about Paul’s work as an evangelist because he wrote so much of the New Testament, and we know his work was extensive.
      4. When Paul told Timothy about the nearness of his execution, how much of the letter did he devote to discussing how indispensable he was? None!
        1. He concentrated his attention on encouraging and challenging Timothy.
        2. He did not say, “When I am dead, everything will collapse!”
        3. He said, “Timothy, you do the same thing for others I did for you–pass the message on, and do not let trying times stop you.”
        4. Was Paul useful? Extremely!
        5. Was Paul indispensable? No!
    4. God Himself sustains and continues His kingdom!
      1. Everyone of us can be useful to God’s purposes.
      2. None of us are indispensable to God’s purposes.

  3. We are dependent on God, but God is not dependent on us.
    1. There are many, many motivations for working in God’s kingdom.
      1. Some are God-centered motivations, and God-centered motivations are good.
      2. Some are me-centered motivations, and me-centered motivations commonly completely miss the point of service.
      3. For all of us (me included), serving in God’s kingdom is about God, not about us.
      4. The objective is to be God’s servant, not to attempt to make God my servant.
    2. Jesus made a statement in Matthew 6:1 that often rings in my ears as I reflect on my motives.
      Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
      1. Jesus used much of what we know as Matthew 6 to illustrate a simple truth: to God, motives are as important as deeds.
      2. When people do correct religious things for the wrong motives, God is offended.
      3. To me that understanding is very sobering
        1. If my motive for doing something that is right is a desire to receive people’s admiration, when people give me that admiration, I got what I wanted.
        2. Since I got what I wanted, God owes me nothing.
        3. I have been paid in full because I did not do it for God; I did it for me.

  4. Years ago I was privileged to be part of a unique friendship shared by three men.
    1. One day one of this trio of friends died at a relatively young age, and quite unexpectedly.
      1. The two of us left were in shock; it was difficult to believe it had happened.
      2. The first morning after the unexpected death, the remaining friend called me.
      3. On his way to work he drove by our dead friend’s house and on through town to his office.
      4. Very soberly he said, “I drove through town, and nothing has changed; everything is going on like nothing happened.”

None of us are indispensable. Enduring success is not found in being number one. All of us can be useful. Success is surrendering your life to God. Be useful to His purposes.

Hope In a Hopeless World

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1 Peter 3:14-16 “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but 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; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

In the past we were able to live in the isolation of “nothing bad will happen to me (us)” mindset. “Bad things” happened to others, but not “me” (“us”). “I” am protected! Being a Christian, or an American, or a Southerner, or a “law abiding citizen,” or an asset to the community protects “me.” “Our security is provided by ‘who we are’!”

When we felt a sense of security in the past’s “isolation,” our worlds were pretty simple. Every family in our neighborhood knew each other. Life was confined to work [always local], home, church, and community. Some even remember when little was locked, sharing was common, and most everyone knew the name of every family in the community. You were not afraid to invite a stranger in your home, pick up a hitchhiker [or be one!], and trust [without questioning] that someone was “down on his luck.”

Times have changed! Drugs and alcohol invade all our extended families. Laughable “pranks” were exchanged for deadly incidents of rage, hate, and greed. Businesses open in late night or early morning hours increasingly are robbery targets. Robbery easily escalates to murder. Jobs unexpectedly end. Careers are quickly redirected. A loved one has a life-threatening illness, or loses a job, or faces difficult times, or has his/her “personal world cave in.”

Seemingly the world gets smaller daily. American deaths in Iraq are on our morning news programs. Details of a suicide bomber’s moment of horror in the Mid-East are on at 5:30 p.m. Europe’s natural disasters are our headlines. Our loss of jobs is related to the economies of third world countries. Much of what we consume comes from places we have not visited — and never intend to!

Our hope is not some imaginary shield built by isolation. It is not based on the false confidence that “bad things” never happen to us. It is not obvious to our circumstances. It is produced by a risen Savior who teaches us that “now” is temporary but “after death” is permanent. We endure “bad things” when they happen to us with the assurance of hope and the patience most are unaccustomed to seeing.

From Christianity’s beginning, those who caused suffering were amazed. After the suffering, they asked, “How did you do that?” The Christian patiently, gently, respectfully explained Jesus Christ gave, nurtured, and sustained his/her hope.

Be ready to explain! Without doubt, we will have many opportunities!