Famous Last Words, Eternal First Things (2 Pet. 1:1-15)

Posted by on July 25, 2004 under Sermons

Veronica Hynes has a message that is very precious to her. The message is from her husband Capt. Walter Hynes of Ladder Company 13, New York Fire Department. Capt. Hynes and his crew were heading for the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The second hijacked jet had just flown into the south tower. He called home and left a voice mail message: "Honey, it’s real bad. I don’t know if we’ll make it out. I want to tell you that I love you and I love the kids." Veronica Hynes takes comfort that she has these final words from husband. It comforts her to know that he was thinking about his loved ones in his final moments.

If you knew that death was near and you had a chance to leave behind a final message what would you say? Who would you say it to? It is interesting that most last words focus on first things – those things that are of ultimate importance. There is no stunning revelation expressed in Capt. Hynes message; not really anything that his wife or children did not know. But his message was one that needed to be shared. Last words tend to focus on those things that are most important.

The letter we call Second Peter represents the last words of the apostle. For his farewell testimony, Peter does not offer any new revelation or a long held secret he needs to reveal. There is no attempt to reconcile a long held grudge, rather he holds out one more time the basic message to which he has preached and taught since Christ called him. He admits that his readers will know all these things and are probably quite devoted to these principles. Peter chooses to make the first things his last words.

12 Therefore, I intend to keep on reminding you about these things, even though you already know them and are firmly established in the truth that you now have. 13 Yet I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I am living in this bodily tent, 14 because I know that the removal of my bodily tent will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me.15 And I will make every effort to see that you will always remember these things after I am gone.

Peter is interested in the believers remembering these first things and keeping them in the center of their lives. Knowing that his days are few he intends to spend them in an effort to emphasize the importance of these first things. Peter is establishing a legacy. He intends for this testimony to continue beyond his life. As we study these "famous last words" let us be aware that the apostle intends for us to remember these first things that are foundational to our faith. What are these first things? Peter discusses these in the opening of the letter.

The Power for Godly Living [2 Peter 1:3-4]
1 From Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith that is as valuable as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 2 May grace and peace be yours in abundance through the full knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the full knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, seeing that you have escaped the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires.

Everything Peter has to say is based on the power of God. It all begins with God! Before any of us did anything, God has already acted.
There is a troublesome idea that too often circulates among Christians. It is the idea that God is the all-seeing eye waiting and watching everything we do and then, when the moment is right (or wrong depending on how you look at it) he reacts to our actions. It is as though God is a patrolman waiting to catch those of us you break life’s speed limits. Or he is the school principal who always seems to appear when you break the rules. This view of God is childish and unbiblical. God is not waiting to react to our actions. He has acted, he sent his prophets, he visited us in Christ, he has given gifts, he has blazed the trail, he has sent the Spirit, he has prepared the future and after all this action we are the ones who must react!

Why do we live right? Because God gave us the power to live right and he has invited us to live a life better than any other. He took the initiative to save us. God has a vision for our lives that breaks away from a hollow, meaningless life marred by sin. His vision is a life in which he empowers us to participate in his divine nature. It seems like a huge challenge, but remember that God has already equipped us with everything we need to make the journey …

The Path for Godly Living
There is an old saying that says the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The wisdom of this saying invites to look at life as a journey of growth. In between the blessings of divine power and the promises of divine nature are the virtues of godly living. There is a "path" that we follow as we grow and mature in Christ. The Christian life is a journey in which the things we know are more than just knowledge – they become virtues. The faith that we might so eagerly contend for is not so much a legal code as it is a transforming truth that bears fruit in the lives of those who accept it. This is certainly Peter’s outlook as he envisions a path of growth for those who begin with faith …

5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to supplement your faith with moral character, your moral character with knowledge, 6 your knowledge with self-control, your self-control with endurance, your endurance with godliness, 7 your godliness with brotherly kindness, and your brotherly kindness with love.

There’s much we could say about the process from faith to love. Faith leads to virtue and in time we come to know more about God as we live virtuous lives and the knowledge of God gives us discipline which enables us to endure temptations and hardships and that perseverance then builds more character in the form of godliness and that then changes the way we relate to others first by enabling us to love better those who are dear to us and then, ultimately, blossoming into the kind of love we see in Jesus – the love of God. This love is the goal of God’s word. Paul described it as the most excellent way and said that love is the highest quality of all – even higher than faith and hope. Without love, all other good things and good deeds are lacking something (1 Corinthians 12-13).

The Promise of Godly Living
The path of godly living is not a process for obtaining the promises of God as though it were some sort of contract that puts an obligation on God. That kind of thinking is not consistent with the mature knowledge that Peter describes. The path is a lifestyle that is really a foretaste and glimpse of what is to come. (Traveling to Branson – The destination influences the path – Look at what has happened to Hwy 412 and Hwy 65.)

Peter says that if we follow the path toward the promises of God then that future life we look forward to will seep into the present time.
8 For if you possess these qualities and they continue to increase among you, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in attaining a full knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For the person who lacks these qualities is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing that he has received from his past sins. 10 So then, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election certain, for if you keep on doing this you will never fail. 11 For in this way you will be generously granted entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  1. God has given us the power to grow in Christ. (v. 8) – The increase of virtue = success in knowing Christ. Peter says that our lives are going to count for something. Our lives will not be ineffective and unproductive. Get this, as you come to know Jesus your life will become more meaningful. There is no such thing as a person who really knows Christ whose life is meaningless. Paul disregarded everything he strove for in his life (and he had quite a resume) and his only point of pride was that he might know Christ ever more and be more like him (Philippians 2).
  2. We are promised new life. The old life is gone. We have been cleansed. These promises are certain and guaranteed. Those who lack the virtues of the divine nature have lost their sight/vision. We can live godly lives! That’s a promise! (But isn’t that presumptuous? Sure if you are relying on yourself – but Peter’s confidence isn’t on self – it is on God.) We can look back to our baptism and we understand how it was a turning point. In his first letter, Peter says that we were born again, not of perishable seed, but imperishable (1:23).
  3. Since that is the case, we need to live up to our Christian calling. We are invited to participate in the divine nature. Simply staying the course is success because it is God who opens the way to the kingdom – not our own righteousness. Too often we falter on the journey because we get distracted by our own inadequacies or fears. The problem is, we think we’re trailblazers – and we’re not. Jesus is the pioneer and he has blazed the path ahead of us. The outcome is not uncertain. We have free will, but the promise is secured by God – you cannot get a better backing! Entry into the kingdom is not something we secure. We have been invited into the kingdom. We trust the one who shares the divine nature with us. We are brought in as partners. We are shareholders in the divine nature [The role of a shareholder]

So, what is holding you back? What would you do differently if you weren’t afraid of failing? God will ensure success in his way. Just stay the course!

Among the many last words spoken by those who perished on Sept. 11 there is this one: A husband in one of the hijacked jets left a message for his wife saying, "I want you to be happy, I want you to carry on, See you when you get here."

Peter’s last message for the church tells us that we will find true happiness if we rely on God’s power and live a godly life. He wants us to continue on the path of godly living so we can obtain the promise of that sort of life. Peter wants us to strive for the life that is to come in the new heaven earth. In a sense he’s saying, "Stick to the path, trust in the promises and I’ll see you when you get here!"

Christians, Don’t Let Weariness Make You Give Up!

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“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:9)

All of us “have been there.” We helped, and helped, and helped until it seemed there was nothing left in us to be helpful. Or, we gave, and gave, and gave until it seemed obvious our giving changed little. Or, we sacrificed, and sacrificed, and sacrificed until something occurred that made past sacrifices meaningless. Or, we worked, and worked, and worked and changed nothing. Or, our behavior set the example of God’s light; we did “the right thing” constantly; and we were conscious of our influence, but even our family preferred the darkness. Or, we understood scripture, and understood scripture, and understood scripture only to confront (again) our ignorance “face to face.”

To follow Jesus Christ to God is to swim against the tide! Swimming against the tide of culture and society is hard! Tiring! Exhausting! To help 24/7 is demanding! To give 7 days a week is relentless! A lifestyle of sacrifice is numbing! Serving God constantly winds us! To be God’s influence daily is overwhelming! To seek to understand scripture only to discover how little you know is disillusioning!

The apostle Paul knew the feeling! He took a mission journey into the province of Galatia (a Roman Empire province). Most of the converts to Christ were Gentiles. Paul established many Gentile (non-Jewish) congregations. As soon as he left that area, some Jewish Christians (known as Judiazers) came to those congregations insisting that Paul deceived them. Unless new converts followed Jewish customs and traditions, their baptism was meaningless. These Jewish Christians were so convincing that many Gentile Christians believed them, let them be teachers, and did as they were told!

Paul was astounded and heart-broken! He could not believe these Gentiles received Christ’s freedom, then turned from that freedom. In response to the crisis, Paul wrote Galatians. He was so upset that he did not begin his letter (as was his practice) with encouraging statements. In essence, he said, “I cannot believe what you did and continue to do!” (Galatians 1:6-9.) Paul was so disturbed by their situation that he feared he wasted his time and effort (Galatians 4:11). Swimming against the tide was one thing! Doing it while dragging an anchor was quite another!

Was Paul discouraged? Yes! Did the Gentile converts’ decisions upset him? Absolutely! Did Jewish Christians’ teachings and actions distress him! Mightily! Did he quit swimming against the tide? No! He could not be who he was in Jesus Christ if he quit.

If you belong to God through Christ, do not let weariness stop you from swimming against the tide! Weariness is a “when,” not an “if.” You will get tired if you allow Christ to lead you toward God! Anyone daring to move toward God swims against the culture’s values and society’s norms. Christian lifestyle begins as a wondrous challenge, continues as a grueling marathon, and ends as a matter of endurance. So why “hang in there”? God’s promise will not fail! The reward far exceeds the demands! The harvest is unquestionable! Only fainting can rob us of God’s blessing!

Who Is the Greatest In the Kingdom of Heaven? (Matt. 18:1-6)

Posted by on July 18, 2004 under Sermons

Read Matthew 18:1-5

Quite often during Jesus’ ministry, there were arguments among the disciples over who was the greatest inthe kingdom. On one occasion James and John even had their mother campaigning for the top positionsin the kingdom. It is another such occasion – a moment when the disciples are concerned for status,importance, power, and influence – that begins our text.

Jesus replies by showing them that the way to greatness in the kingdom is to change and become likechildren. Now what seems odd to me is that the disciples seem to be acting very childish already wouldn’tyou agree? They are arguing over “whose the boss” and “who Jesus likes best” – isn’t that what children do? So why does Jesus instruct them to change and become like children?

We may mistake Jesus’ teaching if we think that Jesus is instructing the disciples to take on the qualities andcharacteristics of children. Jesus is not calling for “childish behavior or childish mentality.” Notice that inverse 4 he says that the greatest in the kingdom takes a humble place – like a child. In the kingdom ofheaven, “the little ones” have importance and value.

In the world of the disciples children were the lowest ranking members of society. Some of it was for logicalreasons – children are dependent on adults after all. But some of it was for rather brutal and cold reasons- children are the weakest members of society and were seen as a sort of commodity – their value aspotential adults was their only value.

That may be a bit difficult for us to grasp because in our culture we value children – at least we say we do. I wonder if as a culture we truly value children simply because they are children?

There are few places in our culture where children are valued for being children. Maybe it is only the churchand Chuck E. Cheese where a kid can be a kid. And I hope the church never abdicates it all to Chuck E. And let’s be careful, because even in the church we can get the wrong idea about what it means to valuechildren and to be like children.

Take George Barna for an example. Barna is a churchman and believer. In his book, “TransformingChildren into Spiritual Champions” he confesses that he missed the mark when it come to children and thechurch: “In my mind, children had always been part of a package deal: we want to reach adults with thegospel and then help them mature in their faith in Christ, so we have accepted the kids as a “throw in.” … Like most adults I have been aware of children, fond of them, and willing to invest some resources in them,but I have not really been fully devoted to their development, In my mind that were people en route tosignificance – i.e. adulthood – but were not yet deserving of the choice resources.” (pp. 7-8)

There’s a lesson here for the way we regard and minister to children …

In the kingdom of heaven, we don’t serve people based on what they can do for us. Nor do we target peoplebased on what they can do for the church. In other words, there are no prize “catches” in ministry. That’sworldly thinking. It is the sort of thinking James discourages when he warns the church not to showfavoritism between wealthy and poor people (James 2:1-4).

When Jesus speaks of the little ones and the child-like he means more than children, but don’t think that hedoesn’t mean children also. The disciples must have thought Jesus teaching was metaphorical – or theydidn’t get it. For later, they are turning children away from Jesus. Why would they do that? Well in theirmind Jesus has important business. He has a messianic movement to plan he has an army to equip anda government to establish. And yes, kids are important but they can’t fund your movement, they can’t fightin your army, they can’t provide wisdom and counsel. So you folks leave the teacher alone, he’s had a hardday and he doesn’t need all these kids clamoring about. “Let them come near me!” shouts Jesus. “Thekingdom of heaven belongs to them too!”

In the kingdom, children matter simply because they are children. I am afraid that as much as we lovechildren we might segregate them too much. I know they need some special attention – I realize that. Butdo we have assumptions that children have to have “their own kind of church” and we have to have another. Well what a disappointment it must be to turn 18 and have to enter into the boring adult sector of thekingdom of heaven. Some good soul with a clipboard and manual greets you with a manual and says “Nowfrom this point on there’s no more of that clapping, laughing and joyousness. And forget about retreats andgames, you’ll have too many meetings for that. Give your offering, stay out of trouble and by all means findsomething to worry about.” I hope that when we get like the disciples and make their well-intentionedmistake of throwing up barriers between children and adults that Jesus will knock them down. Let’s help himdo that – and let’s do more than just get involved in children’s ministries, let’s invite them into some of ours. Could we get children to participate in some of our so-called business meetings? Could we ask them whatthey think about the way we adults do things? Maybe we could invite them into our gatherings and shareourselves with them? I know it seems odd, probably because it challenges our assumptions about control,status, and importance …

There’s a lesson here for the way we regard status – and thus the way we behave in the kingdom …

Just after Jesus blessed the children, Jesus met a rich young man – some say he was a ruler of some sort- a man of authority. I know those “kingdom-minded” disciples must have been considering what this fellowcould do for the movement. Here’s a wealthy fellow, young and strong, and moral and upstanding too – whyhe’s kept the commandments faithfully. But there’s just one hindrance to his entry into the kingdom saysJesus, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will havetreasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”

Jesus asks him to become like a child – dependent on the father, trusting in his riches, not our own. Jesusasked this man to change and become like a child.

Do you want to be perfect? Do you want to enter into the kingdom of heaven?

How Long, Oh Lord? (Psalm 94)

Posted by on July 11, 2004 under Sermons

My text for today is Psalm 94 …

    1 O LORD, the God to whom vengeance belongs,
           O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice be seen!
    2Arise, O judge of the earth.
            Sentence the proud to the penalties they deserve.
    3How long, O LORD?
           How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?
    4Hear their arrogance!
           How these evildoers boast!
    5They oppress your people, LORD,
           hurting those you love.
    6They kill widows and foreigners
            and murder orphans.
    7“The LORD isn’t looking,” they say,
           “and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.”
    8Think again, you fools!
           When will you finally catch on?
    9Is the one who made your ears deaf?
            Is the one who formed your eyes blind?
    10He punishes the nations–won’t he also punish you?
           He knows everything–doesn’t he also know what you are doing?
    11The LORD knows people’s thoughts,
           that they are worthless!
    12Happy are those whom you discipline, LORD,
           and those whom you teach from your law.
    13You give them relief from troubled times
           until a pit is dug for the wicked.
    14The LORD will not reject his people;
            he will not abandon his own special possession.
    15Judgment will come again for the righteous,
           and those who are upright will have a reward.
    16Who will protect me from the wicked?
           Who will stand up for me against evildoers?
    17Unless the LORD had helped me,
           I would soon have died.
    18I cried out, “I’m slipping!”
           and your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me.
    19When doubts filled my mind,
           your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
    20Can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side–
           leaders who permit injustice by their laws?
    21They attack the righteous
            and condemn the innocent to death.
    22But the LORD is my fortress;
           my God is a mighty rock where I can hide.
    23God will make the sins of evil people fall back upon them.
           He will destroy them for their sins.
           The LORD our God will destroy them.

My secondary text for today is the Southwest Times Record
(July 11, 2004, edition)

  • “At Ramadi’s hospital a child caught in the crossfire [between Marines and militants] moaned inagony.” (Marines, Militants Clash, page 8A)
  • “They shot him in his house. They blew her apart with a bomb. They cut him to pieces withswords. They dragged her into the desert and raped her. As the world’s attention was turned tocrises in the Middle East, a slaughter has raged for 17 months in Sudan’s Darfur region. ‘We arelate in Darfur. We have to admit that,’ U.N. Under-Secretary-Generral for Humanitarian AffairsJan Egeland said on a visit last week.” (Systematic Slaughter Unfolds in Sudan, page 10A)
  • “A 16-month-old boy was released unharmed Saturday after being taken by his father, who hadshot the mother of the boy and her brother-in-law late Friday, the Benton County Sherriff’s Officesaid.” (Benton County Shooting Wounds Two, page 4A)
  • “A 20-year-old man reported that he turned and saw a male acquaintance at the wheel of a sportutility vehicle that had pulled up beside his vehicle. The acquaintance then told the 20-year-oldman to tell a mutual acquaintance that he is “dead” because “he killed my homeboy,” the 20-year-old man told police. The 20-year-old man said he then looked forward and heard a loudbang and breaking glass. He then drove away, and he last saw the sport utility vehicle travelingsouth on Massard.” (Drive-By Shooting Suspects Arrested: Incident Occurs on Rogers Ave.,page 2A)

In Psalm 94, the Psalmist refers to “evildoers.” The term seems a bit dramatic. The Presidentused the term after 9/11 and has received some criticism. Evildoers? That would seem todescribe characters like Doctor Octopus or Darth Vader!

But all it takes is a daily recap of the headlines to remind us that there is evil in the world – andthere certainly are evildoers in Sudan, the Middle East, Arkansas, and Fort Smith.

Like the Psalmist, we are disturbed by such evil because of the arrogant and foolish attitude ofpeople who seem unconcerned with the ugliness of their deeds. We feel restless and angrywhen we see innocents – our loved ones, even – oppressed by such evil and no one seems tonotice.

Christians, women and children, are being slaughtered and tortured by military in the Sudan andthe government there is not held accountable by the U.N. or other nations. This goes onearound the world, but even here within America we witness the impact of evil and the harm ofinnocents …

Even in our own neighborhoods young men and women sucked into a life of conflict, drug abuse,and conflict settle arguments with gunfire. They boast about killing. They threaten the lives ofeveryone around them, and they seem proud about it. And they threaten our loved ones too.

Last week 18-year-old Amelio Romero was killed on the street in what seems to be related to arecent series of shootings. (www.swtimes.com/archive/2004/July/05/news/shooting.html)Sounds like just another story of violence – I tried to dismiss it as such, until I realized that it tookplace in Dick and Mary Broyles neighborhood.(www.thehometownchannel.com/news/3497478/detail.html)
I know them. They are members of this church. I love them. And I am tired of those I lovebeing threatened.

I think I know why people want revenge. I admit that I would support drastic action to fix theproblems of our neighborhood. And I confess that in my own mind and heart I have ideas abouthow we can end the problem – but my ideas are really worthless. They simply involve bringingout a bigger club than your enemy wields, which leads to more violence and more oppressionwhich creates even more arrogance.
I thank the Lord for his discipline and his instructions, for they cause me to realize that if I try tostraighten out the mess I am part of the mess! I am not qualified to dispense justice becauseI am unjust myself. I meditate on the teaching of Jesus – the anger that I feel in my hearttowards others – even the evildoers – is the seed to murder.

And even though we know we are unqualified to take matters into our own hands, wehave to ask if there is something that can be done. We have to ask can we do anything atall.
Psalm 94 shows us that something can – and is – being done. And it points us in the directionwe should go to do something:

When our anxious hearts pray, “How long, O LORD? How long will the wicked be allowed togloat?” We might also raise the question the Psalmist raises, “Who will protect me from thewicked? Who will stand up for me against evildoers?”

The creator of eyes and ears sees and hears what is going on. It may seem to us that aresponse from God is slow in coming, (and we will address this in the weeks ahead as we hearthe word of God for the last days in 2 Peter) – but even if final judgment seems delayed,God’s help is ever-near. We have relief through troubled times even as a pit is being dug forthe wicked.

Yesterday I was exploring rock cliffs and caves. When you come down the side of the mountainthat falls off steeply, moving is a sort of series of intentional slipping and sliding. Your feet neverreally hold on to anything because everything beneath you (pebbles, dirt, leaves) slips. But yourest when you come to a flat surface – like a large rock.

God is our Rock – our place of refuge in the slippage of an evil world. When we are indanger of falling, we can cry out and the unfailing love of God supports us. When we aredistressed and our hearts and minds grow restless, we are encouraged to know that God renewsour hope and cheer. The Psalmist doesn’t just look forward to this – he has experienced it.

Nothing gets by our heavenly Father. He takes care of us – and only he is qualified todeal with those who are foolish in their wickedness …

Some weeks ago I experienced everything the Psalmist is saying just walking to our van in aparking lot. All of us were leaving the store and suddenly two high-powered, souped-up carscame roaring toward us. My first thought was for the safety of my family, so I commanded mychildren to get to the van quickly. My second thought was outrage at the arrogance of thesereckless fools – and I confess I did a stupid thing – I yelled at them. I did not curse them. I justyelled at them to slow down. But they had already turned and were probably off to terrorizesome other parking lot. My third thought was for my children and the example I set for them -Daddy is always saying, “Don’t yell at each other.” And of course the boys are stirred up at thispoint: “Who were those guys? Are you going after them? Are they coming back?” And myfourth thought was how the arrogance of evil and my inappropriate reaction had injected just alittle anxiety into my sons’ world. So I tried to restore hope and cheer, “It’s alright, those are justsome reckless fools who are driving dangerously. You just sit down and be good and let mehandle anything that comes along.” And my five-year-old son expressed the idea of the Psalmistquite well to his older brother. “Okay, let’s be good and let Daddy fight the fools.”

God will make the sins of evil people fall back upon them. He will destroy them for their sins. TheLORD our God will destroy them.
Our Father in heaven will fight the fools. God will take care of this, not us. The Psalmistexpresses a confidence that God will deal with the foolish, arrogant evildoers. Their own sins willfall back on them. This confidence is not only expressed at the end of the Psalm, but also in thebeginning when he addresses the God of vengeance. It is an old teaching in Israel – vengeanceis mine says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35). “Let me handle it,” says God. (And remember that we arenot qualified!) The old teaching is found also in the New Testament. …

Romans 12:16-21 – Do not think that you are wiser than you really are. Do not pay anyone back evil for evil, but, focus your thoughts on what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in peace with all people. Do not take revenge, dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me. I will pay them back, declares the Lord.” But “if your enemy is hungry, feed him. For if he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will pile burning coals on his head.” Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

If our Father is going to handle the evildoers then the best thing we can do is be good! And thismeans more than staying out of trouble – it means conquering evil with good.

That’s what Dick and Mary Broyles are doing in their neighborhood. Dick told me that the youngman, Romero, knew he was in trouble and had been in hiding. When he came back to town, hetold his mother the first thing he needed to do: “I need to see Mary – she will pray for me.” Andthe Broyles will continue to pray for the young people and families in their neighborhood. Theyare not going to be conquered by evil, they are going to do good and let God deal with the evilonce and for all.

Now that’s the sort of fight I want to be part of. I am thinking about ways I can pray for myneighborhood – to do good and try to be a blessing in a cursed world. Why don’t you pray aboutsome ways you can be good. Perhaps we can do a lot together.

There’s a lot of evil in the world – why can’t there be just as much good?

For Your Thoughts

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

“How do I help?” Likely that is a question we each ask ourselves many times. That question does not focus on the desire to help–the desire is there! The question focuses on being helpful to the need and the situation–“I want to help, but what do I do to be helpful?” The issue is not the desire. The issue is the what.

In the early 70’s, Deborah Wilson, Joyce, and I worked as part of a mission group in a country in West Africa about the size of California. Deborah Brown Wilson had not yet met Jim. She, as a single lady, worked as a nurse with the mission group’s mobile clinic. She also taught numerous ladies’ Bible classes. Joyce and I, with our children, worked as a family unit in the teaching and evangelizing portion of the mission group. Much of my work focused on stabilizing newer congregations–those were times of rapid growth for the church in that country.

Those were also turbulent times in that work. Within the first two years of our time there, for numerous reasons the number of known congregations grew to be almost 100. Most of the congregations were small in size and rural in nature. In this same period of rapid growth there were few national preachers/teachers. At its full strength, the mission group numbered no more than six families. If fully staffed, we had only two single nurses. The need for teachers and preachers far exceeded the available preachers and teachers within the mission group.

For that reason plus other reasons, the mission group began a preachers’ training school. Most (not all) of the students were teenagers. One of those teens was Eugene Elangwe.

It has been over 30 years since that school started. Eugene finished his training, and some time later moved to a remote area of the country–where he continues to work today. He has a large family, serves numerous congregations (at times his circuit takes a month to visit, and he walks), and has little resources available for the work. Yet, he has begun a school to train others to help teach and preach.

The question I face is the same one you face. The desire to help is there, but what do we do to help? With the aid of the C.U.R.E. program and the help of Bob Fisher, we plan to send a large container of medical supplies (greatly needed!) to the medical clinic in Eugene’s remote area. With those supplies we plan to send Eugene some Bibles and some basic reference books. In this way we hope to (1) increase meaningful opportunities for Eugene’s work, (2) address some urgent medical needs, and (3) supply some basic Bible study aids to those studying with Eugene.

As plans come to conclusion, we will seek the help of anyone interested. Everything supplied will be a gift. Our costs for shipping and for a few of the medical supplies must be raised. We will keep you informed of the situation as needs in collecting the gift become specific. I would much appreciate you putting this effort and Eugene in your prayers.

Transformation Illustrated: Tax Collectors

Posted by on July 4, 2004 under Sermons

This is the fourth lesson in an emphasis that challenges you to deepen your understanding of transformation. In the first two lessons we dealt with the fact that what humans became after rebelling against God in no way compared with what God intended when He created us. We are nothing like what God intended for us to be.

In the third lesson I focused your attention on the fact that the objective of transformation in Christ is on radically changing ourselves as persons. The goal of Christians is to journey toward the intentions of God when God made us. Jesus Christ is our guide. We know we are journeying to the highest good known to humans.

For two or three weeks I want us to focus on specific illustrations from scripture that reveal and stress the nature of transformation. Tonight I want to illustrate the meaning and nature of transformation by focusing on the tax collectors.

  1. Let’s begin by going back to the first century world of tax collecting in Jewish society in Jewish Palestine.
    1. In the world of right now, today, most people do not like to pay taxes.
      1. I had my truck worked on recently, and $63 of the bill was taxes.
        1. That was not the business’s fault–they had to charge the $63.
        2. That was not the mechanic’s fault–it cost what it cost to do the work.
        3. It merely was the cost of living in Fort Smith and in this nation.
        4. Though I greatly enjoy living in Fort Smith and cherish living in this nation, I do not enjoy paying taxes.
      2. My Dad hated paying taxes–he almost regarded it as something dishonest which was trying to steal his money.
        1. He died of complications created by Alzheimer’s about a decade ago.
        2. One of the last things he forgot was the quarterly due date for paying his taxes.
        3. Even sick, he would get so upset around the time to pay quarterly taxes that we feared he might have a heart attack.
        4. He really, really hated to pay taxes, and his dislike of taxes grew after he retired.
    2. The first thing we need to understand is the Jewish attitude toward tax collectors in first century Jewish society had little to do with a general dislike of taxes today.
      1. With us, we do not like giving our money to our government.
      2. With Jewish society in Palestine, there was much more involved.

  2. Why did the Jews in Palestine dislike paying taxes so much?
    1. The first thing is that the tax collectors mentioned in the gospels were not collecting taxes for the Jewish state, but for the Roman Empire.
      1. Their taxes were not going to support a Jewish cause, or Jewish society, or to help the nation of Israel–they were supporting a gentile government and occupation force.
      2. It is very difficult for us to understand how offensive it was to Jewish people to support a gentile empire.
        1. Their intense desire was for Rome to leave them alone, to get their troops out of their country, and to let them govern Israel as they wished.
        2. Jewish law always had been very generous in Jews helping Jews, and in Jewish society taking care of its own.
        3. Consider just the first 11 verses of Deuteronomy 15.
          Deuteronomy 15:1-11, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed. From a foreigner you may exact it, but your hand shall release whatever of yours is with your brother. However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’ “
      3. Note: that was to be the Jewish attitude toward Jewish people in the society.
      4. To give support to gentiles who are hostile toward the Jewish people of Palestine was quite another matter!

  3. Second, there was a radical sect within first century Jewish people who regarded any kind of support to a government other that Israel as an act of treason toward God.
    1. They were known as Zealots.
      1. In their view, the only One who has the right to rule Israel was God.
      2. To support an idolatrous empire to supplant God’s rule in Israel was a rejection of God, an act of treason against Israel!
      3. They were so convinced this was absolute truth that they felt it was an act of faith in God to kill a tax collector!
    2. To them, giving money to tax collectors was a religious issue to be dealt with through an act of faith in God!
      1. They realized that the average Jew was helpless when he was assessed by a tax collector.
      2. They also realized that their responsibility was to express contempt when they were convinced they could escape.

  4. Third, the Roman system for collecting taxes lent itself to excess, exploitation, and corruption.
    1. Consider the structure.
      1. The Roman government “bid out” the right to collect taxes in a region of the empire.
        1. The Roman government would say, “We need X revenue from this region of the empire.”
        2. Wealthy people would bid on the right to collect taxes in that region.
        3. Anything they collected above the government’s demand was their profit.
      2. These regional collectors often would hire managers in specific districts of the region (like Zacchaeus).
        1. The man would have a specific sum he must collect in the district.
        2. Anything he collected above that sum was his.
      3. Often these managers would hire local people in the district to do the actual collecting.
        1. It was their job actually to collect the amount assigned by their manager.
        2. If they collected more than the manager requested, the amount they collected above what was required was theirs.
      4. It does not take a genius to see that the system lent itself to opportunity for abuse.
    2. This is not to suggest that every tax collector was dishonest, but it acknowledges that tax collectors were commonly associated with dishonesty.
      1. First, they were considered “unclean” by the “faithful” in Jewish society because they had unacceptable forms of contact with gentile people.
      2. Second, they were regarded to be thieves because they were often fraudulent and extortioners.
      3. The common attitude toward tax collectors easily is seen in the way they are referred to.
        1. Often in the gospels the Pharisees associated them with sinners: “Why does Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (see Matthew 9:10-13)
        2. At times the chief priests and elders denounced them by associating them with prostitutes: Jesus noted that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the kingdom before the chief priests and elders did. (See Matthew 21:31)

  5. Keeping in mind the contempt that faithful Jewish society had toward local Jews who collect taxes for the Roman Empire, consider these matters.
    1. Consider the “unthinkable lesson” Jesus gave in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
      1. Briefly review this “prayer story.”
      2. The Pharisee would symbolize the ultimate righteous man in their society.
      3. The tax collector would symbolize the ultimate unrighteous man in their society.
      4. The end result was the exact opposite of what that religious society expected: God heard the prayer of the tax collector, not the Pharisee; God forgave the tax collector, not the Pharisee.
      5. Jesus’ point was incredible!
    2. Consider the “unthinkable lesson” Jesus taught in his visit to the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).
      1. Briefly relate the story about Jesus’ visit.
      2. Of all the homes in Jericho to visit, why go to the chief tax collector’s home?
        1. To bring salvation to Zacchaeus!
        2. As a Jew, he had every right to hear Jesus!
      3. Jesus desire to “seek and save the lost” was incredible!

  6. Jesus had contact with Jewish tax collectors, which was forbidden!
    1. Jesus called Matthew (a personal invitation!) to follow him and selected him to be one of the twelve (Matthew 9:9).
    2. Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors (Luke 5:29-32).
    3. Jesus used a tax collector to teach a God value (Luke 18:9-14).
    4. Jesus visited Zacchaeus (19:1-10)

  7. When tax collectors followed Jesus as a disciple, did they continue to be fraudulent people who extorted others?
    1. No! Jesus pursued them as the lost!
      1. Accepting him meant transformation, a commitment to change!
      2. His love for them changed them!
    2. That is a difficult, hard lesson for us to learn.
      1. We are more prone to seek people we like instead of seeking people Jesus died to save.
      2. We find it hard to believe people can redirect their lives.
      3. We find it difficult to call people to change by leading the way in changing our lives.

May our attitudes not be kindred to the attitudes of the Pharisees. May our attitudes be committed to transformation, and may our willingness to change give hope to those who need Jesus!

If You Would Just Listen To Me (Psalm 81)

Posted by on under Sermons

Today is Independence Day. Every year we observe this festival with the same sort of celebrations – feasting, vacation time from work, getting together with family (or in some cases getting way from family), and then of course there are the shopping sales and special events that often take advantage of the vacationers. And these sort of celebrations are about the same as any of our American summertime holidays. Memorial Day likewise is often a good "go to the lake/lawn chairs and ice cooler/cookout" holiday.

On our American holidays, I think of Col. Clinton Taylor. He is a veteran of World War 2. I met Col. Taylor in Lake Jackson. I have known many veterans – and all of them are distinguished – but Col. Taylor is distinguished among veterans.
I think of him on these holidays because I know that on every patriotic observance Col. Taylor is involved in some honorable way remembering the true reason for the holiday. Only once did I hear him lament, in his quiet measured tone that everyone seemed to enjoy a day off on Memorial Day or the 4th, but few made time to honor those who make these festivals possible.

Perhaps that’s the nature of freedom and independence. We enjoy our liberty – but mainly for the pursuit of happiness. Not only with the patriotic holidays, but with others – even Christmas – there are just a few voices among us who speak up trying to remind us of the "real reason for the season." And if we listen we consider it just before we return to our own life and pursuit of happiness. For a day off is a special liberty – a sort of reprieve.
          And perhaps it is our nature to lose sight of the "real meaning" of the holidays in our ritual and routine because we have good practice doing so every Sunday. Yes, even on Sunday we gather out of routine and we hear the call to worship like a conductor rapping his stick on the podium. Then we lift up our song books and sing out or hymns – three to four at the most – we do our communion, give our gift and now that our duty is done we may listen to a sermon – if we have time, after all this is a day off.

I realize the title of this sermon sounds like my frustrated plea. I don’t intend to complain because no one listens to my sermon that I have worked on and prepared all week. But what if the preacher making this statement was God?

That’s the way this Psalm is presented – Israel has assembled for a special holiday and they are keeping the festival just as the old law decreed. The Psalmist is the worship leader and he has called them to make their music and reminded them of the proper time and day and shown the Scriptural basis of it, and now that they have done their duty it is time for the sermon – and they hear the voice of one they do not expect to hear. An unfamiliar voice. There’s a guest speaker. God is the preacher at this festival praise service and he is anxious for the worshippers to listen.

God’s text for His sermon is the first commandment and the story of the Exodus. 6 “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I rescued you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.”
He is bringing them back to the "reason for the season" but he is speaking of it in a personal way rather than citing the legal decree to worship. "I saved you. I worked to win your freedom from slavery and oppression.” But now things have changed and the people have not listened to the voice of God – in fact his voice comes as one they do not recognize. 8Hear, O my people, while I admonish you; O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

Preachers of old might call this the "toe-stompin’" part of the sermon. God is calling out the sin. But this isn’t condemnation. It is lament – God’s lament; because just as the Psalmists have lamented before God, now God also has a lament. They haven’t listened.
9 “There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. 10 I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it. 11 But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.
They have pursued their idols of happiness, but they are not happy. They have declared their independence, but they are not free. How could such a thing happen? How could it happen to them? How could it happen to us?
It is because God is punishing us, yes? It is because God wants to condemn us and kill our joy and take away our happiness, right?

Strangely, there is never a tone of condemnation in this sermon from God. God does three things in this sermon: First, he rescues us. We have noted that. It is the "reason" for our celebration. For Israel it was the Exodus. For us it is the cross and the empty tomb. God saved Israel by leading them through the waters of the Red Sea. He saves us by bringing us through the death, burial and new life of baptism in Christ.

The second thing God does is thisWhen we declare our stubborn independence from Him, He gives us everything we wanted. 12So I let them follow their blind and stubborn way, living according to their own desires.
The most chilling expression of the wrath of God is not fire from on high, earthquakes, pestilence or a flood that covers the earth. No, it is that God would give us everything our bull-heads could imagine and everything our stubborn heart’s desire.

Paul describes the action of God’s wrath this way: "So God let them go ahead and do whatever their hearts desired." (Romans 1:24.) Some expect the wrath and judgment of God to descend on America any day. I think we can understand why. Especially as we as a nation fail to listen to him and as we forget the virtues that exalt a nation. But those who expect the wrath of God in a dramatic way might be surprised. What if God gives America everything it wants. What if God gives us homosexual marriages, what if he gives us easy access to pornography and cultural tolerance of alternative lifestyles of every sort? What if God gives us freedom from personal responsibility and allows us to worship greed? What if God gives us the opportunity to define holiness by prosperity? What if God allows us to justify our discomfort, fear, and hatred of people from other nations, people of other races, people in a different economic bracket so that we are able to say "These differences are just the way it is and it is just a secular issue." What if God allows us to take his word – his revelation of himself – and turn it into a legal rule book so we can "cut to the chase" and simplify the gospel down to easy slogans so we can get busy and restore the church for ourselves.
That, I think, is more frightening and more oppressive than fireballs and meteors striking the earth. How chilling is it to think that we might create and army of idols and wake up one day realizing that we have been invaded? How chilling it is to think that we might tune out the voice and truth and ruin our hearing with the blaring music of deception so that we suddenly find that not only have we become spiritually deaf, but mute as well and we cannot speak the truth to anyone anymore – including ourselves.

No wonder God laments. It is a heart-rending thing to let your children have what they want – even though you know it will hurt them. But this isn’t the end of God’s sermon. Listen to His lament – listen carefully! 13 O that my people would listen to me, that they would walk in my ways!
If our stubborn idolatry and spiritual deafness leads to oppression and horrible consequences, then listening leads to something hopeful and promising. And just as the lament of the Psalmist turns to hope trusting that God will hear – so also God’s lament turns to hope if we will hear … 14 “Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes. 15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever. 16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you!"

When the Congress of the United States signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they were dissenters. They separated themselves from king and homeland, breaking bonds of connection. But in the final line of the declaration they affirm a reliance on Divine Providence.

This is the third thing God does – He conceives of a new reality despite the sin. God’s hope, should His people listen, imagines protection from enemies – God will topple with the swat of his hand the armies of idols that have invaded his people and oppressed them. His mere presence will shrivel and repel the lies and deceptions that detest God.

And God imagines providence. [And forgive me but I think that God’s image of providence is just a bit richer than Thomas Jefferson’s mention of providence as a stand-in for the presence of God.] For God describes providence as a feast at His table and He Himself is serving up fresh-baked, steaming hot rolls and slathering them with pure honey dripping off the honeycomb.

That’s how God envisions worship. That’s His standard for communion and I’m sorry but I think that vision just rises a little higher that doing the five proscribed acts at the proscribed time – not that there’s anything wrong with such decrees – but would you rather eat a recipe for hot rolls or the fresh bread that the recipe bakes!

James warned the church about being hearers but not doers of the word. I fear that sometimes we are doers – busy bees – but we never hear. We don’t listen to God.

And the way into the God’s kingdom – into his presence where there is provision and protection – is a way of listening.
"Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart as we have all done in the past." – (Psalm 95:7.)

Open your heart, walk in His ways, and worship Him. Declare your dependence on God!

Hard Decisions, Not Half-Hearted Promises

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Matthew 7:24, 25 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.”

Jesus’ coming into this world involved numerous hard decisions. Either he would or he would not be a human being. That cannot be a maybe decision. (See Philippians 2:6, 7.) To say “No!” to the rule of Satan was an “either/or” decision, not a perhaps decision. (See Matthew 4:1-11). To assume the role of a poor servant in his ministry involved a definite commitment, not a “wait and see” attitude. (See Matthew 20:28.)

Jesus’ commitment involved being misunderstood by his own followers, rejection by the people he came to help, resentment from those he tried to redirect, and criticism from those who were certain “we know God better than you do.” When we carefully consider his Gethsemane prayers, his suffering prior to and during death, and his willingness to become a cold, dead body, we know those involved hard decisions.

He did not say to God, “Maybe we will do it your way.” He did not say, “I will suffer some — but I say when enough is enough!” His decision to die was a non-reversible decision! Jesus did not live with “one foot in evil and one foot in godliness” — just to be on the safe side. He decided for God, and he followed through on his decision.

Could it be, in the past, it has been too convenient to be a Christian in this society? There was a time when society’s values commonly were Christian values. Christians often did not have to make a decision! However those days are gone.

Today, society’s values and God’s values often are in contrast-unless we redefine God’s values. It seems we can transpose any ungodly pursuit into godliness if we alter God’s definitions a bit. By altering God’s definitions we can be a little bit sexually active outside of marriage, a little bit dishonest, a little bit untruthful, a little bit greedy, a little bit vulgar, a little bit against God, a little bit selfish, a little bit hypocritical, a little bit …

Often we create the impression that Christians can be converted when conversion suits their immediate desires, serve when it is convenient to serve, make God their priority when it suits the moment’s purposes, honor Christ when it is the thing to do, and live for God when we are surrounded by those who live for God.

Jesus becoming our Savior involved hard decisions. Following Jesus as our Savior involves hard decisions. Just as becoming the Savior involved being misunderstood, rejected, resented, and criticized, being the Savior’s disciple often involves being misunderstood, rejected, resented, and criticized. We follow Christ or we do not.

After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:16, 17). The storm is gathering!