The Hand of God (Psalm 77)

Posted by on June 27, 2004 under Sermons

The Questions That Keep Us Awake At Night:

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought theLord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I rememberedyou, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; Iwas too troubled to speak.

If we can be perfectly honest, most of us would admit to asking questions that keep us awake atnight. We might call it stress or too much coffee, but there are terrors, fears and doubts that strikein our most vulnerable hours. We pace the floor or lay awake with our eyes wide open staring intothe empty dark. The quiet intimidates us. We find it difficult to even name our feelings or the exactreason why we are distressed. It is there, but we cannot speak about it.

3,000 years after the Psalms we have available to us a variety of remedies: The “quick-fixes” of ourage – some of them are socially unacceptable (alcohol, drug abuse, pornography). Some are lesscontroversial (anti-depressants, TV, chocolate and carbs). Yet, the “quick-fixes” of all sorts have atendency to fail – if we can be perfectly honest with one another. Even the religious “quick-fixes”fail us – these are the pat answers that attempt to repair our grief and distress:

    When minister, William Sloane Coffin, lost his twenty-four-year-old son, Alex, in a terribleautomobile accident, he said he received letters, cards and telephone calls from manyfriends and acquaintances, all of them well-meaning, but very few of them helpful. He saidsome of the worst of them came from my fellow ministers who proved by what they said thatthey know more about the Bible than they do about the human heart. “I know all of the rightBiblical passages,” said Coffin, “Blessed are they who mourn. Weeping endures for thenight, but joy comes in the morning. I know all of that. But the depth of my grief made thosewords unreal.” (see Thomas Long, “Through the Churning Waters,” at 30 Good Minutes

It’s hard to know what to say to those who hurt – (sometimes I think we err to the other extreme bysaying nothing at all – thus alienating those who hurt.) But, if we are perfectly honest with oneanother, we all hurt, don’t we? Now I know that it is considered presumptuous to say to thegrieving – “I know how you feel” when in fact we cannot ever know exactly how someone else feels- and it is meaningless to say “I know how you feel” it doesn’t really do any good. But “everybodyhurts, sometimes.” Right?

The Psalms are not an attempt to fix the hurt. They are the perfect honesty of God’s people who areexperiencing grief, fear, doubt. They are a proclamation that those who hurt are not alone. We haveseen how each psalmist pours out his heart in anguish and despair. He doesn’t express it simply forone verse or two verses or three verses, he goes on and on and on with his grief. But more still, thePsalms are perfectly honest before God.

In Psalm 77, the perfect honesty of the hurting soul gets right to the core of matter – Has Godturned against me? “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has hisunfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to bemerciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Then the moment of perfect honesty: I will say it, “What really wounds me is that the righthand of God Most High (El-Elyon) has changed.” – 77:10 [In my opinion, the NIV translation of thisverse (v. 10 in English, v. 11 in Hebrew) does not communicate the sense of the Hebrew, which communicateshonest disappointment and hurt (chalôthî) and concern that the Right Hand (yemin) of the Most High (Elyon) haschanged (?enôth). See the Contemporary English Version translation of this verse.]

Right Hand of God Most High: God is supposed to be watching over us with his strong right handof power. He is the Most High – the ultimate power. But it seems like all that has changed. That’snot right. It seems disrespectful, we ought to know our place – but the question is “Is God in hisplace?”

And ironically, false humility cannot do what perfect honesty does: the honest admission – the angerand disappointment with God opens a door to a new hope. It is as if there is a breakthrough in therelationship.

    Like a couple who have been in a “cold war” for years, their relationship only has a hopeof being healed when the partners decide to be perfectly honest – rather than avoid conflict,they face it head on and all the past comes welling up.

The Psalmist also decides to dredge the past – to remember who God is and what God has done inthe past. He pulls out the old albums and scrapbooks of his memory … I will remember the deedsof the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your worksand consider all your mighty deeds.

The Faith that Gives Us Hope Day and Night

Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.

The movie, “The Story of Us” is about a couple planning to divorce. In the end they resolve to staytogether because they have a story – they have a history both good and bad and they just can’t startover with someone else. For no one else shares their story. (For more information see Note: “The Story of Us” is rated R by the MPAA. Do not assume that mention of this movie or the SmartMarriages Impact award constitutes anendorsement of the film. You are urged to use your own judgment in deciding whether to see thisor any movie.)

The movie realizes something so often missed in the real world: that knowing someone involves alot more than just being happy with him or her. Knowing someone involves much more. It involvestime, trust & faith.

Relationships – How do we really know someone? [To explore the concept of knowing God, I recommendPhillip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).] It takes time. Taking someonefor granted seems bad, but there is something wonderful about the stability of a long term relationshipfor it is the unnoticed, ordinary, everyday things that make all the difference. These are the coresubstance of the relationship. Certainly we always want to honor and show grace to those we love(because we certainly need it! – and this is where trust is important), but what sort of a relationshipis built on having to continually make progressive effort to maintain it lest it collapse – with that inmind it will at some point break down – because we are breaking down!

Now, if even our best human relationships are built on time, trust and faith, then isn’t that true ofour relationship with God?

If we are perfectly honest as we look over our history with God we see that there is much we havetaken for granted. Things we may not have noticed that are in fact the substance of the relationship. We discover all over again that God’s ways are holy and there is no one else like him – we just don’thave a story or history with any other God.

Ok, but relationships change and what if God has changed? The days of miracles and power haveceased, right? – What if we really just cannot expect much from God anymore? That’s the tragedyof it isn’t it. In our effort to make faith reasonable and then to prevent God from being the magicpower of hucksters and well-intentioned people who want to put a claim on God so he will grantthree wishes – maybe we reduced God to a code of ethics or an overseer of standards and practices. But this extreme is no better than the one we tried to avoid. If God is limited then is he still God? If we cannot expect greatness and power from God then is he still God? Is he God for us? Magnifying the problem of trust and faith is the fact that God isn’t seen. Couldn’t he show up a littlemore often like he did in the old days? Doesn’t all of it mean that he changed on us – and notnecessarily for the better? I have heard the argument that “this age of reason” is better than “the ageof miracles” – but I have never bought it (I would give up ten principles about God for one burningbush, wouldn’t you?) – after all God was more visible and near in those days . . . or was he? Was itreally all that different? Then and now …

Was he really all that visible during the Exodus? The Psalmist says that he was still unseen and hisfootprints were unseen. What was seen was the influence of God’s hand that parted the sea andguided the Israelites through Moses and Aaron.

Was God so visible at the cross? To many it seemed the end, they abandoned Christ. They left him. They insulted him. Even at the resurrection there were those who doubted and others whodisbelieved despite the evidence – What was seen was the influence of God’s hand that shook theearth and raised Jesus from the dead and opened the tomb.

When God seems absent, his influence is there – even as he chooses to remain hidden. The way thepsalmist puts it is: in the middle of the churning waters, your footprints were unseen. God was therehealing, bringing redemption and hope, but God could not be seen.

To be perfectly honest, God is even nearer than before. He is just as active as always – even moreso now that Jesus rules. His fingerprints and footprints are everywhere – and they are fresh! Maybethe absence of God is due to our lack to be perfectly honest with ourselves and others.

We are using the wrong senses to experience God. When we look for God with reason or doubt weare looking with the wrong senses. It’s like trying to feel red, touch sour, taste loud. And this isn’ta touchy-feel cop-out. For the scientists among us: It is not just that God is at the edge of oursensory range – but we have to keep in mind that this isn’t a laboratory experiment – we areparticipants, not observers – we influence the outcome. God is perceptable to a sense for which wehave no name – that closest we come is to call it spirit. It is more than intellect and action. It is morethat a sterile, non-participatory gaze.

This sense is honed and developed in relationships of perfect honesty: Relationship with Godand with one another. We affirm to one another the experience of the hand of God. Not just all ofus here, but the Scripture is the deposit of faith passed on to us – the Bible did not fall out of heaven- no it is inspired of heaven but it has been passed on to us through our cloud of witnesses. Peoplesuch as Asaph who, like us, have been so disturbed that they stayed awake all night – but in his nightmusing he beheld the hand of God.

And we also need people like you and me. We need to be perfectly honest with one another – and Iregret that we sometimes are not. We put on more than our best clothes for church. And none ofus wants to draw undue attention to ourselves – that’s a good characteristic. But maybe we are lessthan honest with God and one another because we are not honest with ourselves.

We are concerned with the problems of burdening one another or fearing what happens if we speakup. Our only category for the invitation is penance and public confession -other wise we bear upprivately. But what do we miss if we aren’t perfectly honest? Would Psalm 77 be inspired if Asaphhad held back and said everything fine? When we are not honest, we miss the opportunity toexperience the hand of God in the past, present and future.

We believe that the hand of God is as powerful and as mighty as ever – Why? Jesus is risen, he isliving in his church. Now more than ever God is strong and powerful to save. You don’t want yourstory with God to end with the questions that keep you awake at night – do you? Rest in the Handof God!

The Courage to Let Faith in God Guide

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

John 1:9-13 “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Rarely, if ever, do human beings comprehend Jesus’ courage! Jesus trusted God at every turn in life, in every circumstance. For us to declare that we comprehend how much faith Jesus had in God probably is a commentary on how little we understand faith. To have great faith in God requires enormous courage. Without courage, there is little faith.

Jesus had the courage to be rejected by those who claimed to have the greatest understanding of God. Enduring rejection is traumatic. Enduring rejection by those who hate and despise us is disconcerting. Enduring rejection by those who should understand and encourage us is devastating. Jesus had the courage to endure the rejection of those he could not “amen.” These people mistook faith for rebellion.

Jesus had the courage to renounce injustice. Matthew 8 and 9 reveal he healed lepers, Gentiles, demon-possessed people, paralytics, and the blind. He called a tax collector to follow him and associated with sinners. Those were the wrong kind of people! Either they suffered because of their evil past or they rejected the “known ways of God!” When the religious questioned his priorities and actions, he said, “The sick need the doctor. You need to learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6, ‘I desire compassion, not sacrifice.'”

Jesus had the courage to be lonely. After his “flesh and blood of life” lesson in John 6, many of his disciples deserted him never to follow him again. This withdrawal of disciples was so severe that he asked the twelve if they also were leaving. A following of twelve is not a big following!

Examples could be multiplied: he had the courage to surrender living to God; he had the courage to do what was right when no one understood; he had the courage to suffer for God’s values; he had the courage to die for God’s will; he had the courage to trust God to raise him from the dead. Jesus had great faith which demanded great courage.

What about us? Often we disassociate faith in God from courage. It takes courage to redirect life. It takes courage to leave less accurate understandings and grow toward more accurate understandings. It takes courage to face raging personal problems that control our minds, our actions, or both. It takes courage to help those suffering as a result of injustice. It takes courage to understand and submit to God’s values and priorities. It takes courage to die to self in order to become alive to God.

How is your faith in God? Do we have the courage to live by faith in God?

Thankfully, God Calls Me To Change

Posted by on June 20, 2004 under Sermons

This evening I want to begin with two readings. I deliberately want to make connection with our thoughts from the past two weeks. I want these readings to focus our thinking.

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

Philippians 3:17-21 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

In the past two weeks I called your attention to this truth: the way God defines humanity and the way we humans define humanity is different. (1) God’s definition is based God’s intent and purposes for us when He made us. (2) The human definition is typically based on influences that have nothing to do with God, that often even deny God is our origin.

God’s objective in Christ is to change us into what God intended for us to be when He brought us into being.

  1. Let me begin with a warning.
    1. Typically the religious world that declares it defines itself by acceptance of Jesus Christ [and that includes far too many in the Church of Christ] does not stress transformation.
    2. Typically what is stressed is grace to the exclusion of transformation.
      1. Often it is suggested in one way or another that God’s grace makes transformation unnecessary.
      2. Often, in some way, this seems to be the current stress: “Because God knows your heart, how you behave is unimportant.”
      3. Too often we at least create the impression that transformation is the enemy of God’s grace instead of God’s grace being the opportunity for transformation.
    3. The result is that too often we become addicted to what often is called “cheap grace.”
      1. What does the term, “cheap grace,” mean?
      2. It means “I cannot earn salvation” [true], “I cannot deserve salvation” [true], “I cannot place God in my debt” [true], so “How I live and behave is unimportant” [false].
      3. It is the concept, “God’s grace will cover everything, so I can just live as I please because I am in God’s grace.”
    4. The motive for Christian obedience has nothing to do with earning salvation, deserving salvation, or placing God in my debt.
      1. Grace gives me the opportunity to make the journey of changing the person I am.
      2. No matter how evil my past has been, I can be a different person.
      3. Transformation is my way to say, “Thank you!” to God for the grace that made my forgiveness possible.
      4. As a Christian, I cannot make transformation’s journey without changing my life.
      5. My salvation is not all God and it is not all me, it is God and I in partnership–God doing for me what I cannot do for myself [forgiveness, etc.] and me showing my appreciation to God by wanting and agreeing to transformation.

  2. Let me continue with a question: “Do you like change?”
    1. Your answer to that question will depend on your environment factors at the moment you hear the question.
      1. Some would respond, “No! I do not like change! Change is terrible!”
        1. “I wish gas prices could go back to the levels of 50 years ago!”
        2. “I wish cars did not cost more than my first house cost!”
        3. “I wish marriage was like it used to be!”
        4. “I wish parenting was like it used to be!”
        5. “I wish you could have a lifetime job or career like we used to!”
        6. “I wish we could go back to a time when cars did not use computers, when businesses did not use computers, when homes did not have computers, when banks did not use computers–every time you turn around, you have to deal with another computer!”
        7. “I wish the church was what it was 50 years ago!”
      2. Some would respond, “Yes! I am glad change can occur! Change brings blessings!”
        1. “I am glad that you do not have two year olds for life or teens for life.”
        2. “I like microwaves, hot water “on demand”, tubeless tires, power steering, power breaks, power windows, something beside a coal or wood heaters to heat your home with, air conditioning, and comfortable mattresses.”
        3. “I like knowing who won a political race immediately after the vote instead of two weeks later.”
        4. “I like the new medicines and medical procedures that add years to life.”
        5. “I like cell phones.”
        6. “I like having variety in what I eat.”
        7. “I like the availability of college educations.”
        8. “I am glad we can know so much more about scripture and the will of God today.”
    2. Whether we realize it or not, life involves change, and it always has.
      1. Aging is a change process–not just physically, but hopefully in wisdom as well.
      2. Experience is a change process–only an extremely foolish person refuses to learn from experience.
      3. The entire process of education is a change process–in mind and understanding that results in changes in life.
      4. While we all hate death, I hope we realize that the ability to age but the inability to die would be a curse right now in this physical world.

  3. Conversion to Jesus Christ produces change, a change scripture calls transformation.
    1. Allow me to call your attention to some statements found in scripture.
      1. The first is this statement from Peter in 2 Peter 1:2-4 which occurs just before what is typically called the Christian graces.
        2 Peter 1:2-4 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
        1. Let me point out some things in this reading we really like.
          1. We like the thought of the multiplication of grace and truth–that is good stuff!
          2. We like the divine power that grants us everything pertaining to life and godliness–that is good stuff!
          3. We like precious and magnificent promises–that is good stuff!
        2. Let me point out a couple of things that strike many as less than desirable.
          1. God expects us to partake of the divine nature–“if I do that I won’t fit in.”
          2. God expects us to escape the rottenness produced through ungodly desire—“but I like some of those ungodly desires, and I would debate the idea that such desires cause rottenness.”
      2. “Oh, David, you are exaggerating!”
        1. “Partake of the divine nature–that is a stretch!”
        2. “Ungodly desires do not produce rottenness–they produce pleasure, and I like pleasure.”
    2. Consider Paul’s statement in 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. If we put this statement in its fuller context, it is about transformation
      2. Paul said, “This is the kind of persons you were before you became Christians.”
      3. “This is the kind of persons you are to become because you accepted Christ.”
      4. “There is to be a ‘before and after’ because God, with your permission, changed you–your reason for coming to Christ was to put off the old self and put on the new self.”
      5. “You committed yourself to becoming a person created in the likeness of God, a person created in the righteousness and holiness of truth (Jesus Christ).

  4. The word Paul used for transformation in Romans 12:2 is the same Greek word that gives us metamorphosis. butterflycaterpillar
    1. Metamorphosis is the word used to describe what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
      1. Now, that is change!
      2. They neither look nor function alike!
    2. God’s intent with Jesus Christ in you is to change you!
      1. Not merely a superficial change is a few habits and behaviors that allows you to do the “going to church” thing.
      2. But a radical change, a change of who you are as a person.
      3. God wants it to be evident in you that this change occurs as a continuing process because you are in Christ.
    3. Please note how this change occurs.
      1. It is a change you want to happen, that you cooperate with God through Christ to make happen–it is not some mysterious happening that occurs against your will!
      2. First, you change the way you think–God teaches you a new way to think.
      3. Second, you begin a search, a continuing study to prove what is God’s will–you do not wish to live your life on your assumptions, but you wish to live in an understanding of God’s purposes and priorities.
      4. The end result:
        1. You adopt God’s definition and concept of good.
        2. You change your understanding of what is acceptable.
        3. You want God to form your concept of perfect or complete.

Is that what is happening in your Christian existence as a man or woman who has, by choice, placed yourself in Jesus Christ?

Where is God? (Psalms 42 and 43)

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Psalm 42 As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and stand before him? Day and night, I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, "Where is this God of yours?" My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks- it was the sound of a great celebration! Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God!

Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember your kindness- from Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar. I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. Through each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. "O God my rock," I cry, "Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?" Their taunts pierce me like a fatal wound. They scoff, "Where is this God of yours?" Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43 O God, take up my cause! Defend me against these ungodly people. Rescue me from these unjust liars. For you are God, my only safe haven. Why have you tossed me aside? Why must I wander around in darkness, oppressed by my enemies? Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God-the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God

Do you remember a really special worship service? What we might call a mountain top worship? I do.

  • I remember a service one Easter Sunday at University Church of Christ in Abilene. It was so moving and stunning. It had the same effect on me that the Passion of the Christ has had on so many others.
  • I remember a special retreat with fellow ministers where we gathered around the Lord’s Supper. Rarely am I moved to tears in worship but I do remember the depth of emotion this worship stirred in me.
  • I remember a Wednesday night prayer service in Lake Jackson. It started as a routine fifth Wednesday combined worship, but when a struggling couple came forward to seek the prayers and encouragement of the church and the healing comfort of God we were all rejoicing and weeping as a family of believers.
  • I remember the first time I worshipped with this congregation. I felt honored to preach here and I had a sense that if I never preached another sermon here, the Lord had called me to preach that one sermon – and that was enough.

All of the mountain top experiences have something in common: I was sure I was in the presence of God.
Worship was good not because it was entertaining or emotional but because the spirit of the Lord – his grace, mercy, and mysterious majesty surrounded the assembly.

The psalmist remembers mountain top experiences – They were celebrations! He led groups of people to the worship singing songs of thanks! They were marching up the hill singing songs of joy. They were on their way to God’s house. Those were special times – but the psalmist is singing a different song today. Today his heart is broken because worship isn’t much of a celebration. He’s not on the mountain top and he doesn’t know where God is.

We always want mountain top experiences to last, but they don’t. Just as you can remember really special worship services, maybe you also know about times of worship that seem routine and stale. Maybe you even remember days you didn’t bother to worship because you just didn’t have it in you. Not that you were lazy or wanted to do something else – no, you just felt numb and cold inside. No matter how loud you sang or how catchy the songs – even if the preaching was better than usual – something was missing. You felt like a deer, panting for water and unable to find even a trickle of a stream to quench your thirst.

That’s the way the psalmist describes it. He is dry and parched. He longs to be near God but instead of the mountaintop – he’s in the desert. No songs of praise come from his parched lips. His swollen, red eyes see no sign of God’s face. He is only blinded by the sun. And there isn’t even an edifying voice of a fellow worshipper speaking a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song to spur him on to love and good works.

In the desert, he faces questions about God – "So, where is your God? Why do you think he abandoned you like this? Maybe it is something you did? Maybe there is some unresolved sin or pride in your life? What is God trying to teach you through all this suffering? How is it you have fallen out of favor with him? If you don’t feel close to God, then who moved?"

That last one is a good question. If you ask the Psalmist he might surprise you and say – well it seems to me that God did!

The psalmist feels abandoned and forgotten. Being forgotten is one of the worst feelings: rejection can hurt worse than punishment. Being forgotten means being alone – defenseless before enemies and the forces of nature. Being forgotten means losing stability and security – nowhere is safe, darkness surrounds.

      Military remembrance – Never Forget – The only thing worse than dying is being forgotten in death, as if our sacrifice was meaningless, as if our life meant nothing – As if we had a throw-away life.
      The hostages in Saudi Arabia and Iraq – The terror of being a hostage is additional to the threat of harm and death. It is in part the fear that you will be forgotten. Waiting for a rescue that never comes. Waiting for the tables to turn on your captors – and it never does. What if no one cares? What if your life isn’t much to bargain with? What if you have a throw-away life?

The psalmist wants to know why God has thrown him aside. He is lost in darkness, enemies have taken advantage of his misfortune. And he feels shame – an embarrassment for God. He has praised God like an adoring child praises a Father – confident in the Father’s goodness and boasting that the Father can do anything! "My dad is stronger than your dad!" And then in the moment he is needed most, the Father isn’t there. And the child is – abandoned. All the praise and boasting about the Father becomes embarrassing.

Whose Psalm is this? Who are the children of Korah? Maybe they are among us. Maybe our names, along with the names of Job, Jacob, David, and Jesus belong in that title line. Any of us who feel thirsty for God’s presence.
Those who hear people say "Where is Your God?" because something terrible has happened and they are put to shame by it. It calls into question their relationship with God. Those who find themselves in oppressive surroundings as family members or co-workers insult them for their faith. And those who feel stressed and disappointed because God hasn’t seemed to do much to help them out of a difficult situation.

This song is for the thirsty, parched souls who long for God – those who long to be immersed in his mercy and rescuing grace. The chorus of the song doesn’t appear in our contemporary song "As the Deer" – but maybe you will remember it from now on. It is a chorus that admits to the sadness and despair we feel. It starts off with a little self-talk …
Why am I discouraged? Why so sad?
(Despair is a vicious thing. It is a sort of auto-immune disorder of the soul. It attacks your soul then turns your soul against you for feeling sad.)

But the chorus caves in to hope. The thirsty soul in the desert decides to become a pilgrim. He calls for God to send the light from his mountain. To lead him out of the darkness. To bring him to the source of his joy. Like the deer he is going to sniff out the source of water. He will trace it back to the head waters and his hope is that he will be plunged into the deep!

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God!

Being a pilgrim means accepting the wilderness, but settling for nothing on the journey except the deep waters of God. That’s why we need this song – to send us on our pilgrim journey. Too many people settle for poison in the wilderness. "Feeling better has become more important to us than finding God.”

      In his autobiography, "When You Can’t Come Back," Dave Drevecky (pitcher for the San Francisco Giants lost his pitching arm to cancer – says that he "learned that the wilderness is part of the landscape of faith, and every bit as essential as the mountaintop. On the mountaintop we are overwhelmed by God’s presence. In the wilderness we are overwhelmed by his absence. Both places should bring us to our knees; the one, in utter awe; the other, in utter dependence."

Jesus once spoke to a thirsty woman in the wilderness of Samaria (John 4). She felt far from God and so it isn’t strange that she asked "Where is God?" She had heard from her family – the generations before her – that God is on his holy mountain – Mount Gerazim. But she’s heard from her enemies that God lives in a big house in Jerusalem. Where is God? She’s thirsty. Jesus isn’t surprised by the fact that she’s had five husbands and the man she is with now isn’t her husband. Like many of us who long for God, she’s turned to other people to satisfy what only God can. She is thirsty and so when Jesus speaks of living water – deep water – that not only satisfies thirst but taps a spring of gushing water in their soul – she wants it! Like a deer panting for water!

To those who are in the wilderness aching with thirst: You are invited to join the pilgrim journey. There is a beam of light we are heading for – it leads to God’s mountain. The source of his kindness and joy is there – deep waters to wash over us and soak us. On the journey we sing the song left to us by the sons of Korah …

Why are you so discouraged? Why are you so sad? Put your hope in God! You will praise him again – your Savior and your God!

There Is No Substitute For Faith In Jesus’ Identity

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Luke 24:25-27 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

The above words came from the newly resurrected Jesus. He spoke to two disciples traveling to Emmaus. Likely they were going home after an event-filled Pentecost in Jerusalem. They went with great expectations because of Jesus’ successful recent activities (Lazarus’ resurrection; his triumphal entry; his public teaching in the temple area). They returned home confused, bewildered, and directionless.

They knew Jesus was dead. They heard he was resurrected. Yet, they were grieved. Things occurred so suddenly! They knew Jesus was God’s mighty prophet. They hoped he was God’s means to redeem Israel. When Jesus joined these sad men on that road, they were amazed he was unaware of all that happened in Jerusalem the past few days.

How ironic! These men who knew Jesus by sight, who knew Jesus received his power from God, who hoped Jesus was Israel’s redemption, did not understand God’s redemption. They heard Jesus’ resurrection occurred. Yet, it meant nothing. How could God possibly use a man raised from the dead to deliver Israel from her enemies? His resurrection was fine, but it could not solve their problems or meet their needs.

Jesus, unrecognized by them, called them foolish. Beginning with Moses he explained the Scriptures concerning him to these men. They, who had God’s redemption “figured out,” learned how little they knew. Their concern was Israel’s redemption. God’s concern is the world’s redemption.

The essential key to understanding redemption is understanding God’s intent in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. No faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection always means no understanding of redemption. There was no substitute for faith in the resurrected Jesus.

All my life, with other Christians, I have played the human game, “If only…” In the 60’s I worked in a congregation with pitiful children’s educational facilities. “If only…” In the 70’s I was in foreign missions. There was nothing–no secretaries, no offices, no machines, no literature, and in many instances no Bibles. “If only…” In the 80’s I was part of a congregation whose facilities were too small for worship or education. “If only…” In the 90’s change was rampant throughout our society. Transition took a toll on a church living in the past. “If only…” After 2000 I am part of a church who dares to seriously examine itself. Self-examination through scripture takes a toll. “If only…”

Always, in every decade, there are relevant “if onlys.” Always in every lifetime there should be faith in Jesus Christ. We always will need the material. Yet, the material never will substitute for faith in the resurrected Jesus as the Christ. People with much less and much more can live by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus once asked, “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

My Objective in Letting God Teach Me To Be Human

Posted by on June 13, 2004 under Sermons

Last Sunday evening I called your attention to the fact that there are two basic definitions of what it means to be human.

First, there is God’s definition, His intent for us when He brought us into being. When God created us, there was a specific existence, character, and nature that He envisioned for us. For a period of time [we are not told how long] humanity fulfilled God’s vision.

Second, there is humanity’s definition of what it means to be human. We form our definition of what a human existence, character, and nature should be from many different sources. Human cultures, human societies, and human politics have powerful, basic influences on our definition of humanity. Also need, stress, and possessions can powerfully influence that definition. Sometimes greed, destructive attitudes [hate, jealousy], and selfishness powerfully influence the definition of humanity. Depending on the situation, there are lots of sources we humans use in allowing humans to teach us how to be humans.

This is my central point: God’s definition of what it means to be human and humanity’s definition of what it means to be human are fundamentally different. It is in that difference that Christians struggle with a basic, never ending tension: “Will I allow God’s definition of humanity to determine who I am, or will I allow humanity’s definition of what it means to be human to determine who I am?”

The basic objective of being a successful Christian is not found in “measuring up to God”–none of us ever “measure up to God.” It is impossible to place God in our debt. It is impossible to make God “owe us.” It is impossible to make God dependent on us. That is not even the goal.

The basic objective of being a successful Christian is found in journeying toward God’s nature and character. Our conscious objective is to adopt God’s character, values, and priorities as our human character, values, and priorities. Why? We realize that adopting God’s character, values, and priorities is the greatest form of good and the highest level of humanity that exists.

  1. Allow me to begin by noting that God’s definition of being human and humanity’s definition of being human are fundamentally different.
    1. I wish to illustrate this truth with an example that came from highly motivated religious people.
      1. Jesus was the spokesman.
      2. He spoke to people who regarded these religious people as being God’s ultimate representatives on earth–yet Jesus said they were not!
    2. The illustration I call your attention to is found in Matthew 5:43-48.
      You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
      1. Humanity does not define being human as showing kindness or compassion to an enemy.
        1. If a soldier shows an enemy kindness and compassion, it is interpreted as aiding the enemy.
        2. Prisons are not noted for prison keepers showing kindness and compassion to the imprisoned.
        3. Just stop and think: when do people in general think it is appropriate to give kindness and compassion to someone who truly is an enemy?
      2. The way God defines what is human and the way even the religious defined what was human was distinctly different.
        1. Even the religious said, “Love your friends and hate your enemies.”
        2. Jesus said God’s focus included loving your enemy.
        3. What were the circumstances when Jesus made this statement?
          1. Israel was an occupied people living in their own country while it was controlled by Roman troops.
          2. A system of conscription was in force–a Roman soldier could compel a Jew to carry his pack for a mile just by ordering him to do it (how exasperating and inconvenient!).
          3. The people to whom Jesus spoke had real enemies–not hypothetical enemies!
      3. What did loving your enemy involve?
        1. It involved praying for those who persecuted them.
        2. And I do not mean praying that God would swallow them up in hell or that the enemy would “get what was coming to him.”
        3. They were to request their blessing and benefit!
      4. Why would they do that (even we have real difficulty with that!)?
        1. They did that to imitate God their father; they did that to be sons of God, in God’s family.
        2. God gives the blessing of the sunshine to everyone–even those who do not deserve it (in an agricultural society the gift of sunshine is essential!).
        3. God gives the blessing of the rain to everyone–even those who do not deserve it (in an agricultural society the gift of rain is critical!).
      5. God’s people are as unique as is God!
        1. Everyone, even the ungodliest person and the atheist, knows how to love people who love them.
        2. Where is the reward in being kind to people who are kind to you? You are just reacting to their kindness!
        3. God defined humanity does more than merely react to kindness received!
        4. God defined humanity uses God Himself as the standard!

  2. Allow me to use some visual illustrations on our screen to challenge and increase our understanding.
    1. First, consider a basic Christian understanding.
      1. The “C” stands for creation when God brought us into being.
      2. For a while [scripture does not say how long] the people God made were what God intended humans to be.
      3. Then Adam and Eve rebelled against God and humans were no longer what God intended us to be–that commonly is referred to as the “FALL.”
      4. Once we ceased being what God intended us to be as humans, we never again placed God in the role of being Who He should be as our Creator.
      5. The “J” stands for judgment when all who have ever lived will appear before God, and God will be restored to the position He rightfully should occupy.
      6. At that time God will again be the “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
    2. Second, let’s look at the same basic understanding from the perspective of what should have been true.
      1. God always should have been honored as the Holy God Who brought life into existence.
      2. There should have been no “FALL.”
      3. There should not be a need for “JUDGMENT.”
      4. God always should have been in His rightful role as Creator.
      5. There should have been no need for God to be restored to His position as the “all in all.”
    3. Third, I want us to consider our second opportunity as human beings.
      1. Jesus came to do more than provide us redemption and salvation.
      2. While he came to redeem us and save us, he also came to teach us how to be human by God’s definition.
      3. When we respond to Jesus’ cross, we respond for three basic reasons.
        1. We respond to declare our faith [our trust, our confidence] in what God did in Jesus’ death–we really believe in the redemptive power of Jesus’ blood (Ephesians 1:7); we really believe he died carrying our sins in his body (I Peter 2:24); we really believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24).
        2. We respond because we want redemption and salvation.
        3. We respond because we want God to teach us how to be human.
      4. When we come to Jesus’ cross, we come to two things.
        1. We come to salvation.
        2. We come to learn how to be the humans God always intended for us to be–that is the basic focus of transformation.
        3. By responding to Jesus and his cross, we begin a journey toward “JUDGMENT,” toward being the human God originally intended for us to be, to placing God in His rightful position in our lives.

  3. To emphasize that our objective as Christians is to journey toward the humanity God intended to characterize us [before sin was a human reality], I want you to read with me Romans 12. Listen carefully or read with me as I read without comment. Take careful note of the new humanity of Christian existence.
    Romans 12:1-21 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 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. If we are in Christ, note what we embrace.
      1. We embrace personal transformation.
      2. We embrace a sense of togetherness with all who are in Christ.
      3. We embrace a different way of looking at each other and treating each other.
      4. We embrace kindness expressed toward people who are not Christians.
      5. We embrace a complete unselfishness.
      6. We embrace God’s way to defeat evil. [The expression of power is not in controlling others, but in letting God control who we are.]
    2. The question: is that what you are doing in your life as a Christian?

As the Christian matures spiritually in Christ, being a Christian involves much more than accepting the benefits of salvation. It also involves allowing God to transform us into the person God intended people to be as creation.

The View from Worship (Psalm 73)

Posted by on under Sermons

Orientation – The Way it is Supposed to be (principle)
v.1 – Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

Now surely …

  • If we do well in school, treat others as you would like to be treated, always tell the truth, be honest in your business dealings, respect authority, respect yourself and others with modesty and good manners, help those in need then we will be blessed – surely.
  • Those who do these things will succeed in life, surely.
  • Those who do these things will be blessed by God, surely.
  • Isn’t this what we were taught?

Disorientation – The Way it really Seems to be (experience)
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

But I …
1. 12 This is what the wicked are like- always carefree, they increase in wealth.
Why do good things happen to bad people? (vss. 4-11)

  • Why are the crimes of the worst politicians ignored by justice?
  • Why are athletes and celebrities who commit acts of violence more popular than the ones that play fair? Why do they continue to get the endorsements? Why do they get to play the game?
  • Why is it that young girls – celebrities – get rich and popular – by acting crude and nasty and get applauded as role models and pioneers for women?
  • Why do Enron traders get incredibly wealthy and seem to skate past justice by cheating customers in California? We have caught a few, but how many more are out there and how did they get to be so powerful?

Why do good things happen to bad people? Is God paying attention?

2. 13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
Why do bad things happen to good people? (vss. 14-15)
I have done my best to keep the rules and be honest and I have suffered. Maybe living by the principles we were taught is a waste of time.

My life isn’t carefree. In fact it is more difficult because I am trying to do the right thing. And additionally, there is the burden of worrying about what others think – especially our children. Some days the only thing that keeps us from doing the wrong thing is that we think about our children.
Maybe we should assert ourselves by any means necessary if our cause is just? Can that be right? This is just too difficult and it is hard to know what’s right.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Is God paying attention?

New Orientation – The Way it Will Be (Hope)
16 When tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

Now surely …
1. 18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.

  • The “wicked” have no foundation – They cannot escape death. When terror strikes, the carefree lifestyle and wealth of the rich is worthless.

Do you remember "the news" before 9/11? Here’s what Larry King Live was zeroing in on before 9/11 – Can John Edwards speak to the dead? Oprah Winfrey’s success, Gary Condit and the Chandra Levy scandal. After Tuesday, September 11 many of these side-show attractions seemed to disappear – why is that?

  • Am I judging others?we are the ones who ought to be judged because we give in to the spirit of the age that makes us envious of one another – the spirit of the age that turns success into an idol – we try and justify it, but we still give into it. We lose perspective and act like animals growling and clawing for our territory or a morsel of food. We get bitter and lose our sense of identity, our sense of community, our sense of spirituality – Our attitude needs to be as mature and confessional as Asaph and Chesterton …

    G. K. Chesterton, the famous philosopher/theologian, after seeing a series of articles on “What’s Wrong with the World?” Chesterton sent a short letter to the editor. “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton.”

But I …
2. 23 But I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

We have something great even in distress. When we tune in to our internal desire for something that this world cannot offer we get a glimpse of the big picture.
Now where do we get such a perspective? What high ground gives us that kind of view?
16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God …

Only in worship do we get a view of the big picture.
In worship – in the presence of God – we bring both our principles and our experience.
In worship there is a place for the lessons we’ve always been taught and the reality that never seems to match up to those lessons.

  • Note that the Psalmist never apologizes for his envy and confusion – he admits it – but he brings it right up to God’s table.
    In worship, if we are honest before God, with one another, and with ourselves we get a new perspective – the view from worship – in which we see that God is paying attention! We are the ones who’ve been distracted.
    • God has been there even in distress – holding our hand and guiding us. He’s going to be there later making everything the way it ought to be. Our hurt and hope can live together in the presence of God.
    • And the Psalm makes it clear to us that good worship isn’t about us – 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

    There is no apology for this weakness here. It admits that that God is something we cannot find anywhere else.
    God doesn’t need us to come worship – We need it! We need the high ground of worship so we can get the view of the world from worship!

    In the weeks ahead the Psalmists will be our worship leaders. They will help us develop language that is honest before God. Language that might seem inappropriate to us – but language that probably expresses feelings we have all felt.

    The good news is that God invites us to speaks so boldly in our confusion and hurt. Why? Because this sort of honesty and openness before God takes him seriously – much more seriously than treating God like a mathematical premise or a warm fuzzy feeling. The one who takes a complaint to God takes him more seriously than those who offer pious lipservice and legal relationship.

    The view from worship is based in a relationship with the Almighty in which we know our place – and our place is as near him as we can get …
    28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

  • Trying to Grasp the Unimaginable

    Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

    “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.” (Luke 16:25 – from Jesus’ parable/story of the rich man and Lazarus.)

    In a recent article Ronald J. Sider drew pictures of the poverty existing in much of the world. There was the 9-year-old boy who could not go to school because his father could not buy his books–which cost less than one evening of entertainment here. He spoke of an infant daughter dying as parents helplessly watched, unable to afford what we regard as common, inexpensive medications.

    He spoke of the poverty circumstances of 1.3 billion people: no furniture (except used blankets, a table, a wooden chair); one change of clothes and pair of shoes (except no shoes for children or women); no appliances; a kitchen furnished with a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar, some salt; no bathroom; no running water; no electricity; no house–just what we would call a shed.

    There is no reading materials (magazines, newspapers, books)–just a simple radio; no government services; a two-classroom school 3 miles away; a clinic with a midwife 10 miles away; no postman; no firemen. Most of these 1.3 billion people exist on less than $1 a day. Over half the world’s population exists on less than $2 a day.

    Unimaginable! I remember my father’s first impression of our pictures of rural West Africa. He said, “I would not live that way! I would take my hammer and nails and build something different!” I asked, “What if you had no hammer and no nails were available?” Dad simply could not grasp such poverty–he had never seen it! His shock and our shock are quite similar.

    The significant question: how do we “handle” wealth? Do we let it make us feel arrogant, or superior, or guilty, or selfish, or just not feel? Do we think our blessings prove God loves us more, or we are more deserving, or we are more focused on God’s ways? Are we our god, are our possessions our god, or is the Father of Jesus Christ our God? Are we blessed to be indulgent, or blessed to be a blessing? Where is the balance between having and helping?

    American missionaries living in third world countries confront an unfamiliar inner tension. Commonly they left an amazing living standard to teach people in a stark existence. After learning a shocking truth [“money is not the answer”], they must deal with their prosperity as they live in the midst of dire poverty. The comparison is never with what they left, but always with what they see. I have never known a conscientious missionary who did not struggle with the tension of possessing. It is not as simple as giving wealth away. The eternal question: “What is helpful?”

    For us, the issues are always these: “What is life’s purpose? Who am I? What do I do?”

    “Who Is Your Teacher?”

    Posted by on June 6, 2004 under Sermons

    Have you considered the extremely important role teaching plays in our lives? There is little that occurs in anyone’s life that is not dependent on being taught. In fact, we all regard the lack of teaching as being a legitimate reason [not an excuse!] for the inability to do something. When it is proven that a person was never taught to function in a particular way, we commonly accept the lack of teaching as a legitimate explanation of the person’s failure to function.

    Have you ever thought about the importance of teaching in your life? Let me call to your attention a few high points to illustrate the importance and power of teaching.

    Someone taught you to walk.
    Someone taught you how to speak.
    Someone taught you how to eat your diet–and cultivate a taste for it.
    Someone potty trained you.
    Someone taught you the alphabet.
    Someone taught you to read.
    Someone taught you to count.
    Someone taught you how to play the sport or sports important to you.
    Someone taught you to drive.
    Someone taught you how to spend money.
    Someone taught you how to save money.
    Someone taught you how to use credit.
    Someone taught you your job skills.
    Someone taught you your concepts of personal Christianity.
    Someone taught you “how to do church.”
    Someone taught you how to give.

    How many things can you name in your life that absolutely no one taught you anything important about it? There are many ways to be taught: environment, a mentor, experience, inquiries, an instructor, a test, a book, a visual, motion pictures, an illustration, etc.

    This evening I want you to think about your life as you answer a question.

    1. Who taught you how to be human?
      1. Your response many be, “That is a ridiculous, stupid question that does not deserve an answer!”
        1. “Nobody has to be taught how to be human!”
        2. “Everybody just knows how to be human!”
        3. “All of us where born knowing how to be human! All we had to do is just survive! If we survived we were human!”
      2. Really? You really think the question is that ridiculous? You really think everyone just knows how to be human?
        1. Do individuals in gangs know how to be human?
        2. Do drug dealers know how to be human?
        3. Do people who lie, or steal, or murder, or abuse, or rape know how to be human?
        4. Do addicts know how to be human?
        5. Do materialists know how to be human?
        6. Do power crazed people know how to be human?
        7. Do suicide bombers know how to be human?
        8. Do terrorists know how to be human?
      3. Many in this congregation have visited other countries.
        1. Some times we stay only long enough to be tourists.
        2. If we stay long enough to do more than “uhhh and ahhh” over the interesting sights, we quickly become aware that we are surrounded with people who have distinct differences in definition about what it means to be human.
        3. At the foundation of cultural differences are the differences in what it means to be human–that is one of the reasons that cross-cultural marriages find it so difficult to succeed [there are basic differences in understandings about what it means to be human].

    2. Let’s get very practical and pragmatic in each of our lives.
      1. Who did you allow to teach you what it means to be human in your marriage?
        1. Who taught you what a good wife does?
        2. Who taught you what a good husband does?
        3. Who taught you the values that make a marriage strong?
        4. Who taught you the standards that show respect and appreciation in marriage?
        5. For a long time the divorce rate in first marriages has been around the 50/50 mark in the American society.
          1. That means for every couple who knows how to keep a marriage together, there is a couple who does not.
          2. However, that is deceiving.
          3. Even among the 50% who stay together, far less than half of them are happily married [their reason for staying together has nothing to do with being happy with each other].
      2. Who did you allow to teach you what it means to be human in child rearing?
        1. Are your children truly blessed to have you as a Mother because of the human being you are?
        2. Are your children truly blessed to have you as a Father because of the human being you are?
        3. Will your children see what good human beings are because they have you as a Mother and Father?
        4. Do you realize that one of the greatest disadvantages some children have in life are their parents?
          1. Their parents are so self-centered that they almost always think of themselves before they think of their children.
          2. Their parents are so preoccupied with things other than their children that their children are rarely of first importance to them.
          3. In this society, child abuse is a growing, escalating problem.
      3. We could focus on the meaning of being human in a lot of areas of life: concepts of being an employee, concepts of being a boss, concepts of being a friend, concepts of being a neighbor, concepts of compassion and mercy, concepts of kindness, concepts of forgiveness, etc.
        1. But the bottom line in all these considerations basically begins with the same question: who do you allow to teach you how to be human?
        2. When it comes to being human, someone has to teach you–who is it?
        3. There are lots of teachers:
          1. A bad past or an enjoyable past.
          2. Bad experiences or enjoyable experiences.
          3. An empty life or a purposeful life.
          4. Culture.
          5. Movies and television.
          6. What the people we see and know are doing.
          7. Our focusing interests and passions.

    3. Why did God send Jesus to this world?
      1. Most of our answers center on the truth that God sent Jesus to lead us to God.
        1. Jesus came to give us mercy and grace so we could belong to God.
        2. Jesus came to show us the way to walk with God.
        3. Jesus came so we could have salvation.
        4. As Jesus said the night before he was crucified,
          John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
        5. He absolutely came to lead us to God the Father.
      2. May I suggest to you that God sent us Jesus for more than just one reason. May I suggest that God also sent us Jesus to teach us how to be human.
        1. What would a person be and act like if he or she had no sin and were not influenced by evil in any area of life?
        2. He or she would look like, think like, feel life, and behave like Jesus did.
        3. Why? Because he was a human in whom there was no evil, who belonged exclusively to God.
        4. We as Christians have a tremendous need to understand that there is humanity as God created and defined it, and there is humanity as humans envision and define it.
      3. Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 is filled with powerful contrasts between the emphasis of religious humans and God’s emphasis.
        1. Religious humanity said control murder with justice, but God said control murder through good relationships.
        2. Religious humanity said control the act of adultery, but God said control the heart and there will be no acts of adultery.
        3. Religious humanity said divorce correctly, but God said do marriage correctly.
        4. Religious humanity said do vows correctly, but God said be so honest that a vow is not necessary.
        5. Religious humanity said exact justice carefully, but God said replace justice with mercy.
        6. Religious humanity said hate your enemies, but God said love your enemies.
        7. Religious humanity said practice righteousness to get people’s attention, but God said practice righteousness for Me and Me only.
        8. Religious humanity said invest in the here and now, but God said invest in eternity.
        9. Religious humanity said focus on everyone else’s mistakes, but God said focus on your own mistakes.
        10. Religious humanity said all that matters is appearances, but God said who you are is as important as what you do.
      4. Listen to this statement from Paul to the Christians at Colossae in Colossians 3:5-11.
        Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him– a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

    When it comes to humanity, who teaches you how to be human? God through Jesus, or something else?

    Tell Me a Story (Deuteronomy 6)

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Three years ago when my family traveled to New York state we were prepared to see some of the well-known sights along the way. We were prepared to go to Hershey, Penn., Gettysburg, even the Cane Ridge Meeting House where Barton W. Stone preached. But these were not the sights I was most excited to see. Most of all I enjoyed touring my father’s hometown and having him point out to me the house where old man Pussyfoot lived. I wanted to see the porch where he would jump out stomping mad after the neighborhood kids had egged his window. I wanted to see the house of the lady next door who was so scared of ghosts and called him up exasperated one night because the gang of kids had put one of their friends in a sheet and stuck him in her window. I wanted to see the field where they had left Pussyfoot’s Nash Rambler after shifting it into neutral and rolling it down the hill with a nail stuck in the horn. And I wanted to see the old church building – yes, the old, old chapel. Not that it was a place of our family’s faith – no, I wanted to see the roof of the old church building where my grandfather and his friends had left the sheriff’s Model T after hoisting it up there one Halloween night.

    These places had been real to me for over 20 years, but I only saw them with my own eyes three years ago. How is that possible? Because these places were real and living to me – I was connected to them through my father’s stories.

    Stories invite us to participate in community – stories connect us over the generations.

    • Stories are more than entertainment and trivia.
    • Stories can communicate truth much more effectively and powerfully than "facts" because stories appeal to our experience of life.
    • Facts engage our intellect, but stories involve our intellect, imagination, experience, and senses.

    Think about it: Even a made up story can speak the truth. For over 25 years, Garrison Keillor has been telling the stories of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. People listen and say, "I know these people." But how is that possible when Lake Wobegon is an invention of Keillor’s imagination? Perhaps it is because Keillor’s stories contain universal truths of human experience?

    Some of us had the privilege and benefit yesterday of attending the Marriage Seminar at the Convention Center. We were there to learn about marriage and how to communicate effectively and even thought the speakers presented a few principle statements, the bulk of the presentation was stories. Now why did they do that? Why spend all that time telling stories about their own families and their own experiences and mistakes? (Well, perhaps they do that so you will come away saying, "Well at least we’re not that bad off!") Perhaps it is because their story connects with our experience and that invites us to imagine ourselves in similar situations. Through connection, we learn and grow.

    From the lesser to the greater:
    If married couples can be connected to core principles by listening to the stories of a marriage counselor …
    If people across our nation can feel connected to something universal by listening to the stories of Garrison Keillor …
    If I can feel connected, rooted, and inspired to my family by the simple stories of my father’s hometown and his misadventures …

    Then shouldn’t we be all the more connected, inspired, and formed by the stories of God and his mighty acts?

    • This is the message of Deuteronomy 6: Our community of faith, our identity, is formed by the story of what God has done. We are connected to the people of God through this story and most importantly we are connected to God.
    • When I refer to Scripture as story, I do not mean to suggest that it is unreal or untrue. Quite the opposite.
    • When Moses instructs the Israelites to tell their children the story of what God did to save them, he is suggesting that this story is the basis for what the people do, what they believe, and what they shall do.
    • The story of what God has done is rich and thick. It cannot be reduced to a simple motto or slogan. Mottos and slogan cannot give us a sense of rootedness and belonging.
    • The story of God’s acts is not something that comes to us as antiseptic sterile facts. You cannot scroll them across the bottom of a news channel broadcast. They cannot be reduced to four spiritual laws or five simple steps. No, says Moses, they must be proclaimed in word and deed. You have to write them into your life. This story has to be part of your family life – it is part of everything you do. (When you are getting up and traveling) It is written into the way you order your home life. (Inscribed on the walls and doorposts.)

    We must be vivid and capable "storytellers" who live by the script God writes. Only by entering into the story of God’s mighty acts (for Israel it was the Exodus, for us it is the cross) will we live in such a way that the next generation will ask the really important questions.

    Have you ever been around a real storyteller? My great-grandfather was known for that.
    He could tell stories in ways that would command attention. Everyone would get quiet when he would sit there with his Styrofoam spittoon and say ”this is like the day up near Huntsville when the sawmill blade got loose" -and you were hooked! You listened and weren’t distracted when he told you how the blade sawed right a house at dinner time and cut the steaks in half. These were living tales – but more than that they made connections and they created community.

    Stories command our attention and connect us …
    The failure of our news/reality show age is that it has nothing to do with what happened yesterday and has very little to say about what’s possible tomorrow. And such disconnected blurbs of "info-tainment" cannot connect us to one another and certainly don’t do much to connect us to the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever …

    The stories of God we tell our children are "connected" stories and they answer the WHY questions. What do we mean by "connected" stories – the are connected to our life (the way we live), the things we do, they are connected to church, family and world (throughout time – past and future), and most of all they are connected to God.

    1. Why do we eat crackers and grape juice?
    2. Why don’t we go to the lake every Sunday?
    3. Why are those people going far away and leaving their home here?
    4. Why ado we sing and smile when those people come from behind the pulpit dripping wet?

    An explanation might placate a child’s curiosity, but a story invites them into the tradition and practice of real faith. It invites them into a future, a life, in which our God is their God too and they will know him as we know him.

    Our children want us to Tell them a story Can we tell them a story of God and what God has done Or are we going to give them a doctrinal proposition about God?

    Dedicating our Children to God demands that we be dedicated also. Are the stories, commands, statutes, teachings of God written on our hearts? Do we wear them on our sleeves? Are the so written so clearly on our heads and hands that everything we think and do is guided naturally by God’s ways? Do the stories written into our homes tell about our faith? What about the stories written into these walls here at West-Ark? Is there enough there to invite a child to ask us "What’s this all about?"

    And will we be able to answer:

    "We were slaves to sin and God powerfully intervened and got us out of sin. We watched and listened as God did miracles and wonders through his Son Jesus Christ. We were amazed that he suffered on the cross. We were grieved when he was laid in the tomb. We were stunned when he rose from the dead. And now that he rules over heaven and earth, he pulled us out of the dominion of sin so he could bring us into his rule. That’s why God instructs us to keep his feast and share his good news and to sing with gladness and to share our blessings. He gives us everything good in life and it just makes sense that we should do what he says"