God and Chaos

Posted by on December 28, 2003 under Sermons

This morning I want to begin with a word association. The word I want you to think about is the word “chaos.” When you hear the word “chaos” what other word or words instantly come to mind?

The two words that most commonly come to people’s minds when they hear or think about the word “chaos” are the words “confusion” and “disorganization.” Where chaos is, there is incredible, unbelievable confusion. Chaos is the exact opposite of organization. Where absolute chaos exists, there is zero organization.

Perhaps some of us would describe some situations that involved us the past few days as truly chaotic! It is quite possible that you have been in some situations the past few days in which confusion reigned supreme! Everything you experienced for at least a few moments, everything you saw for at least a few moments was nothing but confusion. The sound level, the movements, the scene all screamed, “Nobody is in charge here! Nothing is under control here! There is no order! The only thing in existence at this moment is mass confusion! Everything and everybody is out of control!”

Most people do not like true chaos. Do you?

  1. Let’s begin by doing some reflecting. (This is personal reflecting–I genuinely want you to think about your own life.)
    1. In the past twelve months, when you think about this year of 2003 month by month, how many times of chaos do you recall in your personal life?
      1. How many times do you recall when your life was “out of control”?
      2. Or, how many times do you recall when your life was totally disorganized?
      3. Do you associate those chaotic moments with neutral experiences (neither good nor bad), with wonderful experiences (you truly wish you could experience that moment all over again), or with horrible experiences (you hope you never have to live through anything like that again)?
      4. Do you really enjoy moments of total confusion when there is no semblance of organization?
    2. As you consider the twelve months ahead, how much of that chaos do you plan to occur in your life in the year 2004?
      1. Do you say to yourself, “I really thrive on all that uncertainty! I want as much chaos in my life as possible!”
      2. Or, do you say to yourself, “When the year 2004 ends, I would be thrilled to look back over the past twelve months of my life and not recall one single moment of chaos!”

  2. For just a few moments, I want you to think about God and chaos.
    1. Let’s begin by reading Genesis 1:1, 2.
      In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
    2. Allow me to call your attention to what I consider to be a powerful contrast in the first chapter of Genesis.
      1. It is a brief chapter that contains only 31 verses.
      2. In those 31 verses we have presented to us three major things.
        1. The first is what things were like when God was totally absent.
        2. The second is the creative activity of God which transformed complete chaos to organized life.
        3. The third is what things were like when God was totally present.
      3. When God was totally absent, there was chaos.
      4. As God increasingly became present, chaos disappeared and order appeared.
      5. When God was totally present, chaos completely disappeared, and God Himself looked at what he had made and declared it to be very good.
    3. In chapter three, as the presence of God diminishes, situations become increasing chaotic.
      1. Isn’t that fascinating?
      2. God and chaos are enemies–where one is, the other cannot be.
      3. Increase the presence of God, and the presence of chaos is decreased.
      4. Increase the presence of chaos, and God’s presence is decreased.
    4. The first chapters of Exodus declare the same thing–to the degree that the presence of God increases, the presence of chaos decreases.
      1. Exodus begins with slaves that were to become a nation, God’s people (they were descendants of Israel, but not a nation).
      2. The kind of slavery they endured can only be called chaos.
      3. Consider just two of the realities of these slaves’ existence:
        Exodus 1:8-22 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel. The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them. Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.”
      4. They had no control over the harshness and difficulty of their work.
      5. They had no right to keep their babies alive.
      6. If that happened to you, would you call that life a life of chaos?
      7. In the truest sense of the word, the lives of these people were considered to be nothing.
      8. What did God do when He delivered these people from their slavery?
        1. God took them to Sinai.
        2. And what did God do at Sinai?
        3. He gave them a law that instructed them:
          1. In how to honor God.
          2. In how to treat each other.
          3. Thus an existence of chaos was replaced with an existence of order brought from God.
      9. In other words, God ended the confusion and organized them.
        1. God made a nation out of them.
        2. The more they allowed God to bring His presence into their lives, the less chaos they endured.
        3. When they allowed God to be present in them, things were good.
        4. When they refused to allow God to be present in them, things were bad.

  3. Now I want to share two readings with you that focus on what God intends in the lives of those who commit to Him through Jesus Christ.
    1. Ephesians 2:1-7 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
      1. That is what you were before you belonged to Me through Jesus Christ.
      2. Listen to the descriptive words and concepts of what they were before they were Christians:
        1. Dead in rebellion against God.
        2. Living an existence that followed demonic forces, forces that opposed the very presence of God.
        3. Slaves to their physical lusts, their physical desires, their trust in themselves.
        4. Doing the things that invited God’s wrath.
      3. Even when they lived and acted in those ways, God loved them enough to do something about it–He showed His grace by sending Jesus.
    2. Ephesians 4:20-24 But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
      1. Jesus did not teach you to live a life that rebelled against God and indulged self’s desires.
      2. When we were dead, and God still reached out for us, what did God have in mind for us?
        1. He wanted us to put away the old, rebellious, corrupt life.
        2. He wanted us to allow Him to create us anew.
        3. He wanted us to be dedicated to His nature–righteousness and holiness of truth instead of the old deceived, selfish nature.

  4. Do you see the parallel? Again, God created to destroy chaos. Again, God made those who were slaves His people.
    1. Be real honest with yourself–do not look at others, look at yourself.
      1. Let me ask you to do something very scary.
      2. Look in your own life and your own heart, your own attitudes and emotions.
      3. Look at your chaos in every dark corner of your life.
      4. Look at it straight in the “face,” squarely “in the eye.”
    2. As you stare your chaos “straight in the eye,” ask and answer a question with absolute honesty.
      1. Where is God?
      2. When you stare at your chaos, is God anywhere around?
      3. Why is He not there?
      4. Simply put: where each of us let chaos live and reign in our lives, God cannot be present.
      5. Why? God and chaos are enemies–always have been, and always will be.
      6. Why? Where God is, there is peace within oneself; where Satan is, there is chaos within oneself.
      7. And we decide. We either let the forces of God reign in us, or we let the forces of chaos reign within us.

In a year from now, if we continue to live, we will be at this very same place in life. We will be looking back over twelve months to see what we can see. In twelve months from now, who will be in charge of your life–God through Jesus or Satan through chaos?

There are a lot of things I cannot tell you about life. But there are two things I can you about life. If chaos rules and controls me internally, it is because I allow it too. If there is less chaos in my life in 2004 than there is today, it will be because I gave the areas of my life that chaos controlled to God, and the presence of God in my life drove chaos out.

So who will control you in 2004, the peace of God or the chaos of Satan?

Light and Shadows

Posted by on December 21, 2003 under Sermons

How long had old Simeon been waiting to see the Messiah? When he heard the Holy Spirit’s promise that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Anointed One, what did he expect?

  • Perhaps he expected that in his lifetime he would see the triumphant warrior-king of God take over the throne of Israel and restore the glory of David’s kingdom.
  • Perhaps he thought that he might serve the king as a faithful son of Israel in his prime.
  • But as the years rolled on and there was no sign of a Messiah, Simeon must have had moments of doubt.

Anna waits too. She’s a godly woman. She is well-respected and comes to the Temple daily – often she stays from sunrise to sunset. She has the gift of prophecy and that is exceptional. In a society where women are not given much respect, it is astounding when a woman claims to speak for the Lord God. Anna’s manner of life is above reproach and that lends to her credibility.

Anna’s from the North country, but she and Simeon have a lot in common, these two aged Israelites. They are both quite old and their lives span almost a century. During that century they have seen dark days.

  • The Roman invasion and subjugation of Judea
  • Ever increasing taxation
  • Moral decline, beginning with Herod – the king who claimed to be a Jew.
  • Samaritan attacks and the desecration of the temple.

Simeon hopes for the day that Israel can be comforted.
Anna has taught her students that despite all the difficulties of the age, God will keep the promises he made to Abraham and rescue Israel – he will make this declining nation into something wonderful.
Simeon and Anna are waiting for a ray of God’s light to pierce the darkness.

So, when the aged Simeon with his wrinkled, crippled hands holds this six-week old child his hope is fulfilled. All the years of waiting and praying, the recommitment to believe the Spirit’s promise all pays off in this one simple moment – he has seen with his own eyes the salvation of Israel. Now Simeon is at peace. His wait is over.

Simeon has spiritual insight. Chalk it up to the power of the Holy Spirit and years of waiting to see what God has promised. Though he is old, Simeon’s spiritual vision is keen and sharp. He knows that though he has waited for years to see the Lord’s savior and receives this as a blessing, he knows that some will not be so receptive. And so his blessing for Mary and the child speaks of the grand destiny of the child Jesus – yes, Jesus represents hope and salvation, but that which makes Jesus a hope for many also threatens others.

"This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

Simeon’s blessing has a shadow in it. Some will fall and some will rise. Some will accept the sign and others will speak out against it. Why? Because the inner thoughts and motives of all will be revealed. . .

  1. Rejection: Simeon knows that the sign to be opposed and rejected threatens what is already there. Everything is not a-okay until Christ arrives and makes it difficult. No, the pain and disease is under the surface and eating away on humanity and the world. The light of Christ simply uncovers it all and makes it known. When you turn on the light, it creates shadows. Some things reject the light.
      Illustration: Thomas Kincade’s portraits. Shadows are absent. We may try to connect Jesus only to that which is positive and cheerful, but there is a bitter assumption for the good news. Jesus is a savior and needing a savior assumes that there are people who need saving. A doctor is a worthy profession, but there would be no doctors if there were not sickness.

  2. Renewal: Change and renewal are not always embraced. The experience can be painful and demand sacrifice and even loss. Resurrection follows a death. This is why we must reflect and count the cost of discipleship. There is an investment – a costly one. When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die. Hope is made possible but only through sacrifice. But some would rather remain in the cold shadows than risk the challenge of renewal. They would rather deny than decide.
  3. Decision: Jesus will bring the truth to light – and that is risky. Revealing the truth calls those who confront truth into a crisis of decision! You have to decide. You cannot remain unaffected. You can reject, but you cannot be unimpressed if you really understand what Jesus’ presence and mission really is!
  4. Simeon and Anna stand apart from those who reject Christ because they realize that the very old promises of God can be kept in new and unexpected ways. They decide to receive the child rather than reject him. And they are renewed!

After Simeon’s blessing, Anna steps up and places a hand on Mary’s shoulder. She smiles and looks at the child. Her students have gathered around and she tells them though she is not certain if she will live to see it, that many of them will see with their own eyes God’s redemption of Jerusalem. They will see the rule of God spread out from Jerusalem and into the far reaches of the earth. This child is the light of the world!

It’s been centuries since old Simeon and Anna saw the Light of the World come into the world. Simeon died in peace. Like all righteous men, he longed to see God’s work done on earth. When he saw Jesus, he had all the hope he needed.

Since the time of Simeon and Anna, the great battle was won too. The enemy is defeated, but he has not conceded. He will never concede until Jesus brings his light into the world once more. Wouldn’t it be great to see that before you die?

You don’t have to be old to be like Simeon and Anna. If you’ve just had enough darkness and are looking to see a ray of light. If you want peace in your heart – having no fear of death or darkness. Then you are Simeon. You are Anna.

When you see the child laid in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, do you see a holiday scene – or do you see a sign from heaven? Do you see a savior wrapped in funeral clothes and laid in a tomb?

When you see the child raised up in Simeon’s old arms and blessed – do you see an ancient custom, or do you see a glimpse of the Christ raised up from the dead by God and invested with all authority? Do you see the king of heaven and earth who is away preparing for his return?

Will we wait as faithfully as Simeon and Anna to see the salvation of God’s creation?

Keep watch! Keep praying! You may yet see the Light of the World shine forth ever brighter in your lifetime!

Great Expectations

Posted by on under Sermons

Our depictions of the birth reveal something of about our assumptions and expectations.

  • Who’s in the picture and who’s not? Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Wise Men?
  • Where’s the child? Cradled? Set apart? Halo or Non-Halo?
  • Angels: Male, female, ghostly, chubby babies?
  • Joseph: Old or Young?
  • Mary: Motherly, Young, Ordinary or Halo?

  • It is possible to place our assumptions and expectations onto the Kingdom . . . and the King

Our American heritage, which rejected kings and royalty, cannot adequately comprehend the importance of Jesus’ birth story. The result is the story of his birth is a sort of birthday story. And the remembrance of his birth in America has been transformedinto a birthday celebration for Christ. But the biblical proclamation about this birth announces that expectations are going tochange because reality is going to change. In fact, it is a proclamation of the birth of the king – it is good and it is news!

  • Isaiah 9 – The birth of the child that changes the order of things that is assumed or is expected. But even though theKing is expected, he doesn’t always meet expectations!
  • Certainly not at his birth – this was no ruler born in a fine palace.
  • Not even in his ministry – his disciples didn’t always get it and wondered when the war would break out.
  • And even his family’s expectations were challenged.
  • Including his cousin and the preacher who prepared the way. Even he had a moment of failed expectations . . .

John the Baptist: The Disappointed Prophet – Matt. 11

John the Baptist was having a weak-kneed moment. He is tired – a heaviness of heart. One of those moments where hewonders – has it all been worth it? Was it all for nothing? Have the choices that brought me to this point been worth it?

  • When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing . . . John followed the script for his life. He made the toughchoices to be responsible. And that denied him of some of the simple pleasures of life: No wife, no family, no inheritance. Just the wilderness.

  • But Jesus seems to be off the script. Where’s the fire? Where’s the vengeance of God? Where’s the terriblerecompense? Where’s the winnowing fork and the axe on the root? Where’s the burning of the chaff? John had calledpeople to repent and get ready, now he had to know was Jesus going to do his part? Maybe Jesus isn’t the one. MaybeJohn wouldn’t see the kingdom of God break in. John needs to know that the Lord has come!

    Jesus answered John’s disciples,“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, thelepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed isanyone who takes no offense at me.”

      Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me. On account of Jesus? I can understand fallingaway because of sin, doubt, and laziness. But because of Jesus? How do you fall away on account of Jesus? Expectations . . .

    Great Expectations. According to John, Jesus was off the agenda. John is about to lose his head and Jesus is just teachingand preaching – there’s work to be done! John had said that he wasn’t worthy to be Jesus’ slave. Now he wanted to see someof that worthiness. John had great expectations for the kingdom, but he was worried that they might be failed expectations. . .

    Failed Expectations. Have you been where John was? If you’ve ever known failed expectations, then you’ve been there. Ifyou have known broken dreams, then you have been there. Have you ever thought about the things close to you, the importantthings – your family, your work, even the church – and asked “What if this is as good as it gets?” Even those who’ve gotteneverything they always wanted sometimes don’t live happily ever after. Why? Their expectations failed.

    Wrong Expectations Jesus understood the problem of failed expectations. And he showed us that we really set ourselves upfor it by having the wrong expectations. This generation always expects the opposite – “Jesus should have attended morefunerals and John should attended more weddings. John could have smiled a more and Jesus could have scowled a littlemore.”

    We expect to see it all go our way. We think that being a Christian means certainty and safety. We think that Jesus isinsurance against pain and suffering. We think that worshipping God means a better salary, well-behaved kids, a comfortableretirement, no disease, a healthy marriage with no arguments and continual happiness. So we attend church faithfully and givea tenth and work hard in every available ministry – and yet we still get disappointed because all our expectations are unmet.

    Diagnosis: We had a plan that Jesus never approved. Sure we had the right ideas, but we placed OUR expectations on theKingdom and the King. But the King is the King. He determines the plan. He sets the standards (Illustration: In the MiddleAges standards of measurement were based on the KING).

    OUR Great Expectations, sometimes become failed expectations, only because we had the wrong expectations!

    So What if We Trusted Our King and Changed Our Expectations?

    [Illustration: “The Return of the King” – With a king, despair and fear is changed to hope and courage]

    Remember Jesus’ word of hope to John’s disciples: What Did You Go out to See? (What did you expect?) A shaken reed? Asoftie in plush robes? Answer: A Prophet. John is a tough one. He is the greatest. But that’s nothing compared to the least inthe kingdom.

    [Isaiah 35] In the kingdom, there’s a new reality a new system of expectations. There is water in the wilderness. There ishealing and refreshment. The dangerous animals are gone. The desert doesn’t disappear, but a highway runs through it. It is ahighway made for God’s people. A gushing stream pours through it. And the people are pure and charged with holiness. And(here’s the really good news) even the fools will not wander off it. Hope and good news for dummies!

    Who’s King? Who rules? Our expectations? Our Script? Or Jesus Christ. I hear of many problems with our church and ourlives. But every problem has the same solution – making Christ King! I may not be able to plan for every circumstance,but I am blessed as long as I don’t give up on the true King! If my expectations are my crowns, then I must lay them downbefore the KING who has authority and power to both MEET and CHALLENGE my expectations. He is able to doimmeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20)

    Our king was born in Bethlehem of Judea. His birth marked the arrival of God on our earthly shores. His life was dedicated tothe saving work of God and his life threatened the powers that separated humanity from God. Though the life of our king wasall about reconciliation with God, the powers that opposed God killed our king rather than accept God’s love. But one does notsimply kill the King sent by God. God raised Jesus from the dead and his rule continues even to this day and he is comingback. When our king returns everything will be made right. You can expect that. You can count on that.

    Our king, Jesus, is not far away. He welcomes all who receive him.

    I want you to be happy when you meet your king. He is your king whether you accept it or not. The good news is that he givesus the right to be called children of God. If you believe in his name. If you receive him. If you will meet him in the waters ofbaptism. He welcomes you.How do we welcome him?

    Our song [Come Thou Almighty King] is an invitation on many levels: For all who will sing this song, pay attention to the words. It invites our Lord to come and rule over us. It invites him to hasten his return. I think this is the song we need to be singingwith words and deeds so that we will encourage one another and the world around us to expect his return – always!

    You are invited to bring your expectations that need to be changed. You are invited to bring good news of God’s saving work,to pledge your life to him and to be forgiven and blessed.

  • What Is In Control of Me?

    Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

    Ask this question of the man or woman who does not belong to God. Then ask this question of the man or woman who truly belongs to God. The result: it is as though two unrelated questions were asked.

    Those who do not belong to God present numerous answers. It may be money. It may be power. It may be pleasure. It may be “success.” It may be image. It may be status. It may be control. Do those answers have a common denominator? Yes — “me!” Whatever delights “me” as “I” seek “my” gratification controls “me.”

    The answer is singular from those who truly belong to God — “God!” I exist for God’s benefit and purposes. He controls who and what I am. Why? I came from God. I am God designed. Left to myself, I am destructive to me as well as others. I become the most significant person I can be when I allow God to teach me who I am and my purpose for existing. I learn God’s values now so I can live with God later.

    In Paul’s words of Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

    The problem is seen in the struggle. It is one thing to say God is in control of who I am. It is quite another deliberately to place God in the position of controlling who I am.

    Why? The majority of Christians take the “down the road” view of existence. “I am afraid that I will not overcome that problem.” “I am afraid suffering will destroy my faith.” “I am afraid my death will terrify me.” We are good at killing ourselves with “what if” questions.

    The primary issue is not a matter of “what will I do in the future.” Tomorrow is not the issue. Today is the issue. We cannot conquer tomorrow’s troubles — tomorrow is not here. We can only conquer the troubles of now. Only they are here.

    How can I let God control me? I place Him in charge of my emotions, motives, behavior, and attitudes today. Why? Simple! Each day has enough troubles now to overcome. I never need to borrow tomorrow’s troubles because today has enough troubles of its own.

    Thus, I place God in control of today’s emotions, motives, behavior, and attitudes. If I focus on placing God in control today, I will continue to place God in control when tomorrow becomes today. Do not look at the future and intend. Place God in control now. Only by having the faith and courage to place God in control of today are you prepared to place God in control of tomorrow.

    Where Do I Belong?

    Posted by on December 14, 2003 under Sermons

    People often suffer from massive identity crisis in the American society. Our laws often tell us that we have all rights as a person. We are important, and we cannot be deprived of our rights. We however are often involved in situations that deliberately deprive us of some of our rights, and we get the clear message. The message: “If you pursue your rights, you will pay severe consequences.” In those situations, people often face a stressful decision: is my priority rights or survival. Who am I, and what am I about?

    Sometimes that identity crisis is reflected in peer pressures. Who we are is decided by other people. We do not decide who we are. They decide who we are. Whether we are “in” or “out” is determined by them. And if “they” do not say “I” am in, “I” lose a sense of self.

    Advertisers play on our identity crisis. “Buy our product and you will find a new identity.” “Buy our product and you will know who you are.” “Buy our product and make a statement to the whole world about who you are.” “Our product allows you to make an important statement about who you are to all those who matter.” A large amount of buying occurs in our society because people are searching for an identity.

    This crisis of personal identity manifests itself in many ways in our lives. It manifest itself in our relationships. May I share two examples. The first: a common component of husband-wife crises in marriage is “not knowing who I am and what my life is about.” So “I married you because I was confident that you can make me know who I am.” The second: a common component of abuse is the frustration of not knowing “who I am.” Thus many people abuse someone because “I am angry because I don’t have a solid sense of who I am,” or because “I will use you in an attempt to gain a sense of who I am.”

    To me, there is even a more serious impact of our all too common identity crisis. To me, the most serious impact of our all-to-common identity crisis is spiritual. Becoming a Christian is a redefinition of who I am and the purpose of my life.

    My I call your attention to I Peter 2:11-17? Read with me.
    Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

    1. The first thing we must understand is that today’s life and the American society is radically different to the everyday society and world the people of the first century lived in.
      1. Most of us have no concept of what it is like to exist in a society where there are no human rights.
        1. Allow me to share with you three examples.
        2. I once lived in a country where everything operated on the “gift” system.
          1. As an illustration, take acquiring a driver’s license.
          2. To receive the form on which you made application for a driver’s license, you had to give a gift of money to the person who controlled the forms.
          3. When you completed the application, you had to give a gift of money to the person who received the completed forms.
          4. When you took your driving test, you had to give a gift of money who gave you a road test.
          5. Finally, you had to give a gift of money to the person who issued you the license.
          6. Can you imagine that process in acquiring a driver’s license?
        3. Second example: police road blocks.
          1. Imagine this situation.
          2. The temperature in the sun is much over 100 degrees.
          3. A series of police roadblocks within sight of each other are set up on the same road.
          4. The police stop a load of citizens and ask everyone to produce the documents they are to have with them at all times.
          5. After the check of documents, the police have the people set in the sun until they give them enough money to buy beer.
        4. Third example: documents.
          1. Every person in public must have his or her personal documents on them at all times.
          2. What kind of documents?
            1. Documentary proof that you have paid your taxes.
            2. Documentary proof that you have the right to travel.
            3. If you have a radio with you, documentary proof that you have the right to own a radio.
          3. You are subject to producing these documents (and others) at all times.
          4. Failure to have those documents subjects you to immediate arrest and fines.
      2. That is happening today in numerous countries of the world.
        1. Many of us have a hard time grasping those “now” circumstances.
        2. In the first century some circumstances make those things seem like freedoms.
        3. Life was cheap.
          1. A person could become a slave more easily than most of us care to imagine.
          2. Popular forms of entertainment commonly included human death.
        4. Very few people had rights.
          1. What you and I regard as corruption was a common occurrence in living.
          2. Injustices were so much a part of daily life that common people expected them to occur frequently.
        5. Most people were poor.
          1. Life was hard.
          2. For most people the primary concern of life was literally survival.
          3. You or some member of your family could starve to death, be caught in the middle of a war, be captured and sold as a slave–there were no guarantees, no recourses.

    2. In the reading from 1 Peter 2:11-17, I want to call you attention to key words.
      1. The words are “aliens” and “strangers.”
        1. Those two words do not have to same force in our western American society of today that they had in the first century world of the Roman Empire.
        2. Today the first thought that comes to many minds when we use the word “aliens” is some unusual life form that has human characteristics that comes from some place other than the earth.
        3. To us a “stranger” is someone we do not know–he or she may be from right here in Fort Smith, but he or she is a “stranger” because we do not know him or her.
        4. In that age, those two words labeled people who did not belong to the area.
          1. Those words referred to people who did not belong culturally.
          2. These people were “not of the place.”
          3. Let me illustrate this concept in a way that many of us can quickly identify with.
            1. Recently I shared with you that my family moved to a rural area near Crossville, Tennessee, when I was 7 years old.
            2. When we moved to this rural community, my father was known as and called “Mr. Chadwell.”
            3. In no way was that disrespectful, but it was a way of acknowledging that “you moved here; you are not one of us.”
            4. When my father died at 83 years of age having lived in the same house on the same farm for decades, he was still “Mr. Chadwell.”
            5. That is the concept of an alien and stranger: “You do not belong here because you were not born here.”
      2. Peter gave them a serious reminder.
        1. “Never forget who you are.”
        2. “Never forget you do not belong to your community or in this world.”
        3. “Always remember that you belong to the Lord.”
        4. “Always be aware of the forces that fight against the Lord’s presence in your life.”
      3. “If I do not belong to this physical existence and environment, if I belong to the Lord and not the world, how am I to behave in this physical world?”
        1. There are a lot of options.
          1. I can live a bad attitude existence: “I belong to the Lord, not to this place, so forget you! I will not allow myself to have any concern for you! You have no influence on me! I will not respect you because I belong to the Lord! I exist to condemn and I will condemn every chance I have!”
          2. I can have the compliant existence: I act so much like every one around me who does not believe in God that people cannot distinguish between me and everyone else.
          3. I can have the pragmatic existence [the “what works today in this situation” existence]: if I am among Christians, I act like a Christian; if I am among people who do no believe in Christ or God, I act like a person who does not believe in Christ or God–my behavior is determined by the behavior of those I am with.
        2. The question, “how do I behave in this physical world?” is an excellent question that goes to the core of Christian existence.
          1. It deserves an answer!
          2. It deserves an answer that comes from God, not from human ethical struggles.
      4. Focus your attention on Peter’s answer, and remember that these people lived in a truly evil society dominated by idolatry.
        1. Answer one: recognize the internal forces that attack God’s influence in your life.
          1. The standards and values that allow ungodly emotions and behavior cannot be the standards and values that determine our emotions and behavior.
          2. A Christian never forgets that “I represent God in an evil world, and I want people who do not know God to be exposed to Him through me and honor Him for good.”
          3. Thus I will make a special effort to allow godless people to see God’s kindness, grace, and mercy in my behavior.
          4. They may talk about what a bad person I am, but my life constantly demonstrates God’s goodness in me.
        2. Answer two: I will not act like an obnoxious rebel.
          1. For the Lord’s sake I will not act like a godless, undesirable person.
          2. I will show respect for human institutions.
          3. Even though the king thinks he is god and worships idols, I will show respect for his authority.
          4. Even though the governor in my district abuses his position, indulges himself for the sake of pleasure, and worships idols, I will show him respect because I understand God’s purpose for government is to punish those who do evil and honor those who do good.
            1. I want authorities to see that Christians do good deeds.
            2. I will silence ignorance by doing good.
            3. Though God freed me, I will be God’s servant.
          5. No matter where I am or who I am with, they will see respect and good deeds in me.
            1. I will treat all people like people; I will love other Christians; I will hold God in reverence; I will give the king the respect he should receive.
            2. I will not do this because everybody agrees with me.
            3. I will do this because that is what God wants, and I belong to God.

    We cannot eliminate the tension that will naturally occur between living in a physical world and belonging to God. We can make God the greatest influence in our lives.

    Godliness: The Necessity of Choice

    Posted by on under Sermons

    A common human responsibility in following God in all generations throughout the Bible is the responsibility of choice. In every generation, as long as people have existed, the people who followed God were the people who chose to follow God. Following God was what they wanted.

    1. Consider the great Israelite leader, Joshua.
      1. Joshua was an exceptional man of God.
        1. He was one of only two adults who left Egypt and lived to enter Canaan–not even the great man Moses did both those things.
        2. He was one of the two spies who believed God could give Israel Canaan the first time they came to Canaan’s border [about a year after they left Egypt].
        3. This was the man hand picked by God to lead the nation of Israel in the conquest of Canaan.
        4. The period of Joshua’s leadership was one of the godliest periods in Israel’s history.
      2. Listen to a statement Joshua made to Israel when he is at the end of his leading:
        Joshua 24:1-3 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God. Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him through all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.
        1. This is just the beginning of Joshua’s statement.
        2. In his statements that follow this opening, consider his emphasis.
          1. He talked about how God took the one man Abraham and made a huge people.
          2. He talked about the plagues God produced in Egypt to deliver this people.
          3. He talked about God’s rescue of this people at the Red Sea.
          4. He talked about the ways God protected this people in the wilderness.
          5. He talked about the ways God used to give this people Canaan.
        3. Listen to Joshua 24:12, 13:
          Then I sent the hornet before you and it drove out the two kings of the Amorites from before you, but not by your sword or your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you have lived in them; you are eating of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.
        4. Now listen to Joshua 24:14,15:
          “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
          1. “Make up your minds who will be served and honored as God in your lives.”
          2. “If you go back far enough, some of your ancestors worshipped idols.”
          3. “Right now decide who you will serve and follow as God.”
          4. “If the choice is someone’s idols, it does not matter what you choose–idols can be from your past or your present–one is good as another.”
          5. “As the leader of my family, I have already made the decision, and my family agrees: we will serve the only God Who brought us out of Egypt, Who took us across the Red Sea, Who sustained us in the wilderness, and Who gave us Canaan.”
      3. Joshua said, “You must make up your minds; you cannot escaping choosing.”

    2. Not even God’s own son could escape the necessity of choice as a human who perfectly did what God wanted done.
      1. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus endured a major conflict.
        1. His human will did not want to face the cross.
        2. The suffering and responsibility were too great!
      2. Three times he prayed, and in his prayers he endured such conflict, such agony, such suffering that he sweated profusely.
        1. Yet, each time he prayed the same prayer.
          Matthew 26:39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
        2. The time of choice was right there right then–and Jesus knew it.
        3. He clearly understood that he could not evade the choice–either God’s will was supreme in his life, or it was not–even if it was an unjust death for him.
      3. If you want to see the effect of choosing to surrender to God’s will, look at the difference in Jesus as he uttered that prayer, and Jesus’ behavior after that prayer.

    3. Though Paul was an extremely religious man prior to following Jesus Christ, he had a major choice to make.
      1. He had a horrible opinion of the dead Jesus.
        1. He guarded the clothes of those who stoned the Christian Stephen to death (Acts 7:58).
        2. He led a Jerusalem persecution against Christians in which he dragged men and women out of their homes and took them to prison (Acts 8:1,3).
        3. He saw the dead Jesus as one of the greatest threats facing the nation of Israel.
      2. He hated people who followed Jesus Christ so much that he went to the Jewish high priest and obtained permission to go to a synagogue in another country, arrest Jewish men and women who believed in Jesus, and bring them bound back to Jerusalem for trial (Acts 9:1,2).
        1. On that trip, the resurrected Jesus appeared to Paul.
        2. Suddenly Paul the enemy of Christianity was aware that Jesus was the resurrected son of God, not an impostor who was Israel’s great threat.
      3. Years later in a court appearance, Paul stated what the resurrected Jesus stated to him that day.
        Acts 26:15-18 And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
        1. “Paul, now you understand who I really am.”
        2. “Now you know I am not an impostor, but the resurrected son of God.”
        3. “I have appeared to you to commission you.”
        4. “You have a choice to make. If you chose to follow me, I will send you to both Israelites and people who are not Israelites to give all of them a choice to make.”
      4. The moment you understand who Jesus is, you have a choice to make.

      [At this point we sang 4 songs, then had Communion together.]

    4. There have been some profound changes in our society in the last 50 years.
      1. Some of those changes are beneficial and welcome.
        1. Some things are really different from my childhood–and I regard them as good changes.
          1. I really like hot water.
          2. I really like having a steady water supply, and never having a well go dry.
          3. I really like daily warm showers.
          4. I really like microwaves.
          5. I really like heated houses that do not rely on a stove in the living room.
          6. I really like houses with good insulation.
          7. I really like air conditioning.
          8. I really like having so many foods available.
        2. In 50 years the average person’s lifestyle has changed incredibly.
      2. But there is one change that we need to wake up to and realize that it has occurred, or it will destroy us before we know it.
        1. Most of us who were alive 50 years ago lived at a time in this society when it placed a high value on Christian principles.
        2. In those days, our laws, our local governments, our state governments, and our national government favored Christian principles.
      3. I want to speak to you as a person, as a Christian individual, and my concern involves a spiritual focus, not a political focus.
        1. Observation one: those days are gone; we do not live in a society that places a high value on Christian principles.
        2. Observation two: I personally doubt that those days will return to this society–we doom ourselves if we live in the past or wait until those times return.
        3. Observation three: the fact that those days ever existed in this society likely did us far more harm than good.
          1. Please understand that I personally really like things easy, convenient, and unstressful.
          2. Christianity did not begin in favorable times.
          3. For almost 300 years Christianity existed in extremely stressful times.
          4. For a long time, the people who were Christians were people who chose to follow Christ.
        4. For almost 150 years in this society, our society favored Christianity.
          1. We became so used to that situation, that we became convinced that Christians should be in control of society.
          2. We became so used to that, that we substituted championing or endorsing favorable laws for being salt of the earth, light of the world, and yeast that spreads by contact.
          3. We became so used to that, that we looked at the Bible as a rule book instead of a way of life.
          4. We became so used to that, that we became spoiled and lazy, thinking there were few choices to be made between society’s values and godliness.
      4. In my judgment and opinion, we desperately need to wake up.
        1. The time of choice is here, has been here, and is reality.
        2. Society is not going to favor us.
        3. If we follow God, we will chose to follow God.
        4. We will not make that choice just by coming to church assemblies.
        5. We will make that choice by personal commitments to be godly persons.

    5. As we each make our choices, we need to allow a basic Christian reality to sink so deep within us it is always a part of our outlook.
      Romans 12:17-21 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
      1. The key to defeating evil in yourself is by doing good.
      2. The key to defeating evil in your relationships is by doing good.
      3. The key to defeating evil in your associations is by doing good.
      4. The key to defeating evil in our society is by doing good.

    How are you defeating evil in your life? Have you ever made the choice to defeat evil, or do you try to keep one foot in evil and one foot in Christ?

    When You Look At Me, What Do You See?

    Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

    Matthew 5:13-16: You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

    A question that should be on the minds of all who belong to God: “When you look at me, what do you see?” Everyone who looks at any Christian sees something. The question: What does he or she see?

    Do they see only a body, but not a person? Or greed? Or arrogance? Or selfishness? Or a lover of money? Or a lover of things? Or someone deeply impressed with “me”? Do they see someone who looks like all ungodly people? Do they see a sensual existence? A pleasure-centered life? A self-indulgent existence? An addictive life? A self-centered person? A shallow person? A “take but never give” person? A fanatic? An angry person? A bitter person? A hate-filled person? An unreasonable person? A “hard-to-get-along-with” person?

    Let’s be quite honest. Do they see things characteristic of Satan or things characteristic of God? What are the obvious influences on our lives? Things characterizing those unconcerned with God? Or, things centered in God?

    When others examine our relationships, do they see godlessness or godliness? What do they see when they examine our values [the things that thrill and fulfill us]? Our priorities [matters we consider important]? Our standards [the means we use to determine right and wrong, good and bad]? Our purposes [the concepts that determine why we live life]?

    Is God’s influence on us obvious? Is it obviously a good influence? Are society, family, friendships, occupations, and neighborhoods better because God influences us? Are our “works” good? Based on others’ observations, why should they want God to influence them as He does us?

    Will everyone value God’s influence on the godly? No! Those who despise God resent it! But there are those who long for a godly existence.

    The Christian’s objective may be explained in these ways. (1) Those with empty but open lives are impressed with God’s influence. (2) Those with empty but closed lives find it necessary to explain the godly. Be the kind of Christian that attracts the open to the God who gave us Jesus, and who must be explained by the closed! May our strength to live come from the God who gave us Jesus!

    “Lord, That’s Hard!”

    Posted by on December 7, 2003 under Sermons

    This evening I want to begin with a reading of 1 Peter 2:1-10. Please read with me.
    Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,” and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

    1. Chapter 2 begins with a powerful emphasis on the new birth.
      1. They must live in the awareness that their baptism was about a birth, a new beginning, a bringing into existent a new being [person] who never previously existed.
        1. In this new birth, Peter emphasized a reality Paul emphasized several times.
        2. This new birth is not about a “membership” in some Roman society or trade guild society or about a “ritualistic rite of passing.”
        3. It is about a new beginning.
          1. There was a “past existence.”
          2. There was a “new birth,” a being “born again.”
          3. There was a “new existence” that starts at the new birth and characterized the person’s life on a continuing basis.
        4. It was a conscious change of kingdoms.
          1. The word “kingdom” does not exert the same force in our awareness as it did in first century awareness.
            1. Governments then were kingdoms.
            2. They were not democracies as we know democracy that is based on an acceptance of the rights of a person.
            3. The kingdom was important in that world, not the person.
            4. Those people had a ruler, usually some form of king, who exerted absolute control as he considered best for his rule and kingdom.
            5. The citizen existed for the good of king’s purposes expressed in the nature of his kingdom.
            6. The citizen’s voice was insignificant; the voice that mattered was the king’s voice.
          2. They had been citizens in Satan’s kingdom in their past life.
            1. Their behavior was consistent with Satan’s purposes.
            2. Their attitudes and hearts were consistent with Satan’s rule.
            3. If people looked at their lives, listened to their voices, examined their attitudes, they saw Satan. [Many would not have recognized what they saw as Satan or thought what they saw was bad.]
          3. God gave them the choice of changing kingdom’s–a choice unheard of in their world [commonly people did not have a choice to or not to be part of the Roman empire!].
            1. However, the choice involved a birth, a new being [a new set of responsibilities].
            2. It was not a just a matter of changing sides, but of choosing to become a different person.
            3. By choice the man or woman who experienced this new birth was becoming a new person.
          4. After that birth, they wanted to grow and mature in being a citizen in God’s kingdom.
            1. That meant their behavior would increasingly change as they better and better understood God’s purposes.
            2. That meant their attitudes and hearts would increasingly become consistent with God’s rule.
            3. That meant when people looked at their lives, or listen to their voices, or examined their attitudes, they saw God–not Satan!
      2. Look carefully; I want you to see for yourself what Peter said.
        1. When this new birth occurs, what do you want?
          1. You want to live, you want to exert your energies to live for God–you cry out for the pure milk of the word.
          2. In Satan’s kingdom they lived for the material.
          3. In God’s kingdom they have this great inner drive and desire to live for the spiritual
          4. Why?
            1. They have tasted the Lord’s kindness [the Lord let them chose to change kingdoms!]–the Lord is kind, Satan is not kind; the Lord helps, Satan exploits.
      3. The result: they changed behaviors because they have acquired a new purpose, God’s purpose.
        1. Thus they not longer allow the controlling forces in their lives to be ill-will [malice], deceit [guile], insincere pretense [hypocrisy], desires to have or be what others have or are [envy], and putting others down to destroy them [slander]–those represent Satan’s purposes and reflect evil.
        2. Will everyone admire their change? No! Many still live by and cherish the values that reflect Satan and the purposes of Satan’s kingdom.
        3. This change that resulted in their new birth began was based on a completely new understanding of Jesus Christ.
          1. Most people then saw Jesus as a trouble maker who was executed by Roman authorities in a contemptuous, heinous manner–he was a lifeless field stone to be rejected as of no value or use.
          2. But those who chose the new birth saw in Jesus something entirely different.
            1. Jesus was God’s resurrected son.
            2. They chose to come to him because he is the source of life.
            3. They were dead field stones–he made them living temple stones.
        4. Peter then combined several images that were not commonly combined in that world.
          1. God would make these Christians His temple [which means little to us but meant a lot to them].
          2. At the same time He made them His holy building, God made them priests who ministered in that temple—the power to do that come from the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
          3. The temple would be built around Jesus Christ, the most important stone in the building.
          4. Faith in Jesus would allow the Christian to be part of the temple.
            1. For those of faith, Jesus would be the central temple stone.
            2. For those that rejected Jesus as a lifeless field stone, He would be something they tripped over.
            3. The critical difference was found in believing Jesus Christ was God’s gift, or not believing that Jesus Christ was God’s gift–acceptance of that led to obedience, or rejection of that refused to change kingdom’s.
      4. Then comes an incredible declaration of what God made those who placed their faith in His son.
        1. They were a chosen race [the real Israel of God].
        2. They were a royal priesthood.
          1. They were part of the king’s family and a priest who ministered to God–just like Jesus Christ!
          2. This combination was not to happen in the physical Israel of the Old Testament! Thus they become something that God had never before sanctioned!
        3. As Christ’s kingdom, God’s kingdom, they were a holy nation.
        4. They were a people exclusively owned by God–their bodies not only belonged to Him; their whole person belonged to Him.
      5. Then there is a straightforward declaration of their purpose in God’s kingdom.
        1. Their purpose of to show [declare] how excellent God is, the God Who let them chose to change kingdoms, the God Who let them begin again with a new birth, the God Who took them out of Satan’s darkness and allowed them to exist is His marvelous light.
        2. God took people who had no identity and made them His people.
        3. It all happened because God is a merciful God–He gives Christians who believe in God’s mercy.

    2. I have some questions I want you to reflect on.
      1. Where you baptized as a choice to change kingdom’s–leave Satan’s and be born into God’s?
      2. When people examined your life prior to becoming a Christian, they saw Satan. When they examine your life now, do they see God?
      3. Do you realize what God made you?
      4. Does your whole life now have a new purpose as you constantly grow in an understanding of God’s purposes?

    Being a Christian is much more than a concern for membership. Being a Christian is about total existence as God’s person. That existence is as big as life. A difficult responsibility? Yes! However, the end result of this responsibility is eternal joy. The end result of living in Satan’s kingdom is eternal death.

    The Valley of Darkness

    Posted by on under Sermons

    I have a deep, personal appreciation for the person who takes an everyday, common occurrence and uses it to help me see God. I am richly blessed in my life to know a few such people. They can use a simple, common thing to help me see God. Once you see Him, you realize that not only does God have His fingerprints on the situation, but that He is the dominant figure in the situation.

    A lot of people in our world have never seen, touched, or read a Bible. They would not know what it is if they saw a Bible or heard something read from it. They never heard of Jehovah God. They never heard of His son, Jesus Christ. They know absolutely nothing of God’s Spirit.

    For a moment pretend with me. Suppose you visited a place in this world where people do recognize Bibles if they see or heard one. Suppose in some private context you are asked to read some scripture that these people would recognize as scripture.

    You select the scripture. You do the reading. The only request: it is to be a scripture that likely everyone recognizes as being from the Bible.

    What would you select? What do you regard the most recognized scripture in the entire Bible?

    Many of us would select a scripture from the New Testament because scriptures from the New Testament are familiar to us. But my understanding is that the most recognized scripture does not come from the New Testament. I am told that the most recognized scripture from the Bible is this:

    Psalm 23:1-6
    The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

    1. In Psalms 23, David did what I appreciate and admire.
      1. He took a common, everyday occurrence in typical life, and used it to cause people to see God.
        1. He did that very successfully.
        2. Nothing was more common in David’s world than a shepherd and his sheep.
          1. Sheep were extremely important to people’s survival in that time.
          2. It was an agricultural world.
          3. Even in the villages, it was quite common to see a shepherd leading a flock of sheep out to graze or drink.
          4. If a person traveled through any area, very likely he saw a shepherd and his flock of sheep several times on his journey.
      2. David took what people saw every day and caused them to see God.
        1. For almost 3000 years, David’s simple analogy on something commonplace has spoken to the hearts and minds of people.
        2. Many of us infrequently or never see a flock of sheep in our travels.
        3. Many of us have never seen a shepherd in the Middle East.
        4. Even though that is not our daily experience, what David said still speaks to our minds and hearts.
      3. David used a very simple analogy.
        1. God was the shepherd.
        2. David was the sheep.
        3. The basic relationship between the shepherd and the sheep was used by David to define his daily relationship with God.
          1. That basic relationship was one of absolute trust.
          2. It was the trust that is the soul of what you and I know as faith.
          3. Fundamentally, faith is trusting, trusting enough to take action.

    2. This morning I want to focus your attention on one statement in Psalm 23 found in verse 4.
      Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.
      1. The phrase, “… though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil …” also can be accurately translated “… though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I fear no harm …”
        1. It was demanding, difficult work to find water and pastures for a flock in the open range of the Middle East.
          1. When we think of pastures and water, we are more likely to think of lush, green grass and either slow running streams or still ponds.
          2. In David’s time, an abundance of water and fertile soil was not commonly used for pasture, but to grow grain.
          3. Pasturing sheep commonly included a lot of traveling because grass was thin and scattered.
          4. The shepherd constantly thought, “Where can I next take my flock when they have nothing left here to graze.”
        2. In 1980 I had the joy of being with my father in Palestine on a tour.
          1. One day as our tour bus was in the wilderness of southern Palestine, we passed a shepherd and his sheep.
          2. The sheep were scattered among the boulders on the hillside grazing.
          3. The grass was so sparse you could not see it.
          4. In fact, all you could see was brown ground, brown rocks, and brown boulders.
          5. My Dad loved farms, pastures, and cattle.
          6. He looked at that scene for a few moments, wondering what the sheep found to eat, and said, “When I get home, I am going to tell my cows how good they have it.”
        3. It was common for sheep to graze in low areas–where the grass grew and the water flowed.
          1. Often those low places were surrounded by high cliffs.
          2. The only way to go from one area to another was to pass through a narrow pass between the cliffs.
          3. The cliffs were so high that the pass was deep in the shadows.
          4. It was the perfect situation for an ambush–all kinds of wild animals might lie in wait in the shadows.
          5. The deep darkness of the long pass might quickly become the valley of death.
        4. No sheep would choose to enter such deep darkness with its possible hidden dangers.
          1. The sheep would travel through such darkness and uncertainty for only one reason: they trusted the shepherd.
          2. What would have been a terrifying situation became a situation in which there was no harm for one reason: the sheep trusted the shepherd.
          3. The shepherd would take care of them, so they followed him into the deep shadows.
        5. Please note they followed the shepherd.
          1. The sheep chose to walk through the deep shadows.
          2. The shepherd did not drive them through the pass forcing them to do something they did not choose to do.
          3. The shepherd did not make them go through the pass, but they chose to follow him through the pass because they knew he would take care of them in the dark valley pass and beyond the pass.
          4. The shepherd knew where he was going, and there would be grass and water there.
      2. When God is our Shepherd, He will lead us through places we would not go without His leadership.
        1. Let me take just one example from David’s life, probably the example you know best.
          1. Why did David fight Goliath when David was probably a teenage boy and Goliath was a 9 foot tall man?
          2. For forty days Goliath defied the army of Israel, and not one man in Israel’s army answered Goliath’s challenge.
          3. If none of the men answered the challenge, why did David?
          4. Allow David to answer for himself.
            1 Samuel 17:26 Then David spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?”
            1 Samuel 17:37 And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you.”
          5. The basis of David’s willingness to respond to Goliath was the fact that this man insulted God, and that simply could not be.
          6. David trusted the Lord to lead him through the dark shadows, and because of the Lord he was not afraid.
        2. Jesus’ trust in God allowed him to follow God through the deep shadows of crucifixion.
          1. Why?
          2. Jesus knew life and death was about God, and not himself.
          3. If following God meant accepting a cross, he would accept the cross and place his trust in God.
        3. We who are Christians understand the same thing.
          1. Life and death are about God, not about self.
          2. Interestingly, after Paul contrasted the deeds of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, he wrote this statement:
            Galatians 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

    3. The simple question we each face every day is this: “Where are the lions hiding?”
      1. Most of us do not want to risk losing life, so we are very interested to know where the lions are hiding.
        1. It is easy for us to conclude that the lions are lying in wait to destroy us in the deep shadows where God would lead us.
        2. The lions are not to be found in following God.
      2. There are lions; they are hiding; and they seek to destroy us.
        1. But the lions are hiding in the shadows of materialism, not in following the Lord.
        2. The lions are hiding in the shadows of addictions, not in following the Lord.
        3. The lions are found in the shadows of selfishness, not in following the Lord.
        4. The lions are found in the shadows of arrogance, not in following the Lord.
        5. The lions are found in the shadows of godlessness, not in following the Lord.
        6. When you follow evil’s forces, you are on your own, and the lions will destroy you.
      3. Consider Hebrews 11:32-12:2:
        And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

    Only God can led you to life beyond death. Do you trust Him enough for Him to be your Shepherd?

    Faithless Christians

    Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

    Romans 4:1-5: What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness …

    For the sake of focus, let me begin with some disclaimers. What I now share is not about a “faith only” concept, not about a “mental affirmation” faith, and not about the transition from Satan’s kingdom to God’s kingdom. Paul wrote the above statement in a letter to Christians in Rome, not to those ruled by Satan.

    Of all people, Christians should be faith-filled. Those in Jesus Christ have greater reasons for faith than anyone else. Faith in Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement began our journey from Satan’s rule to God’s rule. Faith in what God did (does) through Jesus allows us to be recreated by God Himself. Faith in God’s work through Jesus leads us to change our emotions, our minds, our behaviors, our purposes, our values, and the nature/character of our relationships. Faith leads us on our journey through life. Through faith we come before God as part of His family in judgment. Faith is the heart and soul of a Christian’s nature, existence, and commitment. Without faith, there cannot be a Christian man or woman. If you destroy faith, you destroy who we are.

    THE question: faith in what? My accomplishments? A system? Compliance with a few commands? Membership? A performance imposed on me? Compliance with others’ expectations? A movement? Traditions? Human reasoning? A select group of people?

    Scripture urges none of those. Scripture urges faith in God. People can be good influences on us, but God is the focus of our faith. Jesus teaches us how to do good, but God is the focus of our faith. Scripture enlightens our understanding, but God is the focus of our faith. When we are Christians, we are part of the church, but God is the focus of our faith.

    Why? God promised Abraham to bless all families through his descendants (Genesis 12:3). Because of Abraham’s faith, God accepted him as righteous (Genesis 15:6). God sent Jesus. God sacrificed and resurrected Jesus. As Jesus died, God allowed our sins to be placed on his body so we could become righteous (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21). God resurrected the dead Jesus and enthroned him at His right hand (Ephesians 1:20) to be Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36) until Jesus returns all things to God to restore Him to the position of the “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

    Faith in God saves, not faith in the church, not faith in our deeds, not faith in a movement, not faith in a religious system, not faith in traditions, not faith in human endeavors. When our faith is focused in God, the power that resurrected Jesus protects us as God’s property and designs us to live eternally (1 Peter 1:5). Place faith in God!