The End of the World As We Know It (2 Pet. 3:1-13)

Posted by on August 29, 2004 under Sermons

[Read 2 Peter 3:1-13]
When Is The Lord Coming Back? Is He Coming Back?

  • Peter has warned the churches of the dangerous teaching of the false teachers (2 Peter 2). They live a life dominated by their lusts, because they believe the outcome doesn’t matter. When asked about the return of Christ, these teachers scoff. (Scoffing is more than doubt – it is denial and cynicism. An arrogant rejection of a position they believe absurd).
  • They say, "Christ is overdue. The apostles misunderstood. He is not coming back. He never was." And their evidence is the world around them. Nothing has ever changed, they say. The world has been the same since the time of our ancestors.
  • And in our own time, this has been one of the chief criticisms against belief in God. The supposed historical record of the earth that demonstrates long drawn out, slow change was for decades considered foundational to scientific explanations of the origin of earth and life. The constancy of the earth and its resistance to change was regarded as core. (Epicureans believed that the atom was constant and indestructible – now we know that is untrue).
  • Many of our contemporary cynics and scoffers are able to conceive of time and history in terms of billions and billions of years, yet Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov said that if Christ is coming back he’s 1900 years overdue. That’s ironic- what is 1900 years compared to ten million?
  • Obviously, these people were wrong. Jesus did not return for his disciples, nor at anytime since. We can therefore only assume that Jesus made a false prophecy, and he will not be returning for his Church at any time. – Web site author (Former Baptist, now atheist).
  • The view that the earth is unchanging and constant is falling out of favor. Of course Peter knew this centuries ago …

  1. The End of the Unchanging World (3:5-6)
    1. – In the beginning the earth was formless and void. And by the word of God, it became good and vibrant – teeming with life. That’s change!
    2. – Things were going along just peachy in the days of Noah (or so everyone thought) and this man Noah was saying it is going to rain. No one had seen rain, no one could imagine rain, so everyone believed this was outrageous. They were knocking on the door of the ark when "the sky began to fall."

    God is sovereign and his word shapes reality. That is sovereignty. Sovereign is defined as having supreme power and potency. [When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen – When God speaks, it becomes reality.]
    "By the same word, the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment."
    Things do not remain constant simply because nothing is happening, They remain this way because God wills it – by the same word that issued change and destruction, preservation and keeping are maintained.

    • The continuance of the world "as we know it" depends on God, just as "the end of the world as we know it" is by God’s will. His word creates, destroys (he holds back the chaos waters), and re-creates. The stability of the world and the permanence of the world cannot be taken for granted.

      • By his word and will God created heaven and earth
      • By his word and will God destroyed heaven and earth in the flood
      • By his word and will God restored the heaven and earth after the flood
      • By his word and will God sustains the heaven and earth until it will be burned with fire
    • Since God is creator and sustainer, God does not intend for things to remain as they are. He intends to eliminate evil from the world. He intends to purify it and renew it. So, why does he keep things as they are? Two reasons given:
      1. God’s perception of time differs from human perspective, thus the Psalm 90:4 statement (this is a reminder of the prophets words).
      2. God is slow to anger and patient (see Joel 2:12-13, Exodus 34:6; Jonah 4:2). God is holding off giving everyone a chance to change and be prepared to welcome the return of Christ. [This should erase any notion that God is waiting to catch us at our worst – like the high school principal. When we are at our worst, God is most merciful – but we dare not ignore the forbearance of God. This should inspire everyone to make ready for something wonderful – the home of righteousness!]
        • God keeps his promises. Whether it takes a thousand years or a day, he keeps his promise – he does not forget, he does not get tired, he is not impatient. In fact, he is extremely patient with us. He does not want anyone to perish.

    The Impatience of Humanity

    • The Cecropia Moths – May of 1999, caterpillars/June 1999 they wove cocoons/April 2000 I was trimming the bushes and cleaning out our overgrown flower beds and I thought, what shall I do with the cocoons. I spoke to Karen and said, "They might be dead." I thought that with all the pesticide and mosquito fogging that these bugs were lost. Karen said, give them a month, and then we can remove their branches. The very next day, I stepped out onto the front walk early to see two beautiful moths. They stayed for a few days and then they were gone.
    • What a shame if I had taken down their cocoons. I would have missed a miracle. My children would have missed the miracle. They would have missed the story. We still talk about the moths.
    • When the caterpillars were roaming around eating the trees, it was always a challenge to see whether they were still there – where were they hiding? Had a bird gotten them? But after the cocoon, there was no drama. We knew that one day they would emerge, but it became tedious to wait. And looking at the dead lifelessness of the cocoon, it was hard to believe that they might be alive.
    • Believers are not unaffected by the delay. We sort of think that life will go on as it always has. We don’t wait with anticipation. We don’t pray “Maranatha” as we should.
    • In our fast-paced world, we have become truly impatient. We await change. We want something to happen. And when it doesn’t, we assume it will never change. We give up. We are visionless. And that’s is very dangerous because: 1) we accept that the world we see is all there is and 2) we forget some very important promises.

  2. The End of the Unrighteous World (3:7-10)
    • There is current not only the view of a random creation (evolution), but also a random or accidental destruction (extinction event, biological/ecological/nuclear disaster). If the final end of the world is impersonal and senseless, then morals don’t really matter. Examples of impersonal, non-judgmental destruction: meteor extinction event, nuclear accident/war, ecological or biological disaster. The only moral imperative we can sustain is an impulse to avoid the destruction or to escape it somehow and preserve the continuation of the species or civilization.
    • If creation and destruction are impersonal and without judgments, then we assume that we are free to live as we like. But the beginning and end of the world, as well as every moment in between have meaning and purpose! The destruction is a creation – the end of unrighteousness and the beginning of the home of righteousness …
    • All things will be judged and only righteousness will prevail …
      • The destruction/breaking down of the elements is the pre-condition for the new heaven and new earth (see Rev. 21:1-22:5). It is like the refiners fire that melts gold and burns out the impurity – the destruction of the ore creates something beautiful.
      • Righteousness is worth maintaining even now because it is the final state of things. It is the reality that will prevail. It is the destination of the godly path and the fulfillment of the divine promise – the sharing in the divine nature.
      • On Jan 1, 2002 the 12 countries of the European Union switched to a new currency – the euro. The preparation for the currency change had taken years. For six weeks after Jan 1, the two currencies were in circulation together, but after the grace period all other currency would be worthless. Some governments planned to use the old currency as fuel in government building heating systems, some had plans to shred the old currency and use it as confetti in a carnival. Others planned to use the old money as compost material. Whatever they planned, for six weeks the two currencies operated together, but after the grace period only the Euro had value.
        1. The world as we know it – in which evil and unrighteousness sometimes seem to prevail, is ending.
        2. The home of righteousness is the only feature of the world to come that Peter cares to mention. All other features are set aside. This is the only detail that really matters – especially for the now! Debates about the details of judgment and the end of time miss the point. Whether the earth is burned up or burned over or whether there is a tribulation or rapture are ancillary concerns. They are possibilities – debatable issues.
        3. The focus ought to be on God’s will being set into motion and prevailing. By his word he created, and by his word he will dissolve it. He will judge and test all things. He will recreate and transform. He will fashion a new heaven and new earth. God’s will prevails – this gives us hope! And that shapes the way we live …

  3. The End of the Hopeless World (3:11-13)
    • We have made a mockery of the return of Christ. We have reduced it to a boogeyman tale to scare sinners and frighten children at Bible camp. In reaction to such a fantastic view or to the millennial controversies of past and present some leave the subject aside entirely. That’s also to our shame because the return of Christ and the meaningful, purposeful end of this age by God’s sovereign action is rooted in the gospel. It gives us hope of sharing in his resurrection wonder and the ultimate beauty of the world to come. That’s a greater motivation than avoiding punishment.
    • The Iraqi Olympians – Because Uday Hussein is dead, this is the first Olympics in which they are motivated to win the prize rather than avoid punishment.
    • The hope of Christ’s return and God’s will to establish the home of righteousness orders the way we live even now. There’s where we need to focus our energy and our attention!
      1. One day in 1789, the sky of Hartford, Conn. Darkened suddenly and ominously. Some of the representatives in the State Congress left their seats to glance out of the window fearing the end of the world was at hand. There was a clamor for immediate adjournment so that the representatives could leave and see to their personal affairs. The speaker of the House, Col. Davenport, rose up and said, "The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause to adjourn. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore, I wish that candles be brought."
      2. The Christian outlook should be one of hopefulness not fear and worry. We are not the people who fear the end and the return of Christ, we are those who welcome it and who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
      3. This is the idea in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. That’s not a maybe – that is an eventual reality and we as the pilgrims on the divine path ought to be inviting that reality to come soon!

Where Is the Joy?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Acts 2:46,47 “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.”

What happened? Something did! We cannot pretend a “before” and “after” did not happen! If we try to hide it, it haunts us. Things are different, and we know it–and it is more than disliked change! It is like being frustrated and (a) not knowing what to blame OR (b) blaming the wrong things.

Whose fault is it for changing life? We want things to be the same–but they are not. We prefer “life like it was”–but it is not. We prefer the old problems, not the new ones confronting us–but we cannot choose which set intrudes in our lives and forces decisions.

9/11 has been over-worked, over-analyzed, over-blamed, and over-discussed. It is not the “ghost in the closet” to blame all bad things on. It was a transition point, not a creator. It did not create the cracks. It merely exposed them by giving everyone x-ray vision. It put the stress and strain on existing fractures to transform hair-line factures into obvious breaks. Now we are forced to examine obvious ugliness honestly.

Before 9/11, when we were told the world was shrinking, most said, “It is the same size it always has been.” When we were told that evil was a real force in this world, most said, “No it’s not!” When we were told there were those who hated us so much they would gladly kill us, most said, “That cannot be right–we are the world’s good guys.” When we were told that some people regarded influence from American culture as disastrous, most said, “What are they talking about?” When we were told that societies devoted to religious rule considered us a society of atheists, most said, “Ridiculous! We have church buildings all over the place!”

Oh, how 9/11 changed the answers, not the questions! Had “in church” surveys been conducted prior to 9/11, members would say, “Our hope is in God and our dependence is on God!” After 9/11, we find ourselves trying to define hope and dependence. We do not like being forced to do that. Perhaps we are forced to acknowledge the unthinkable–we were more materialistic in our hope and dependence than we cared to admit. As long as our lifestyle, security, future, opportunities, and materialistic ambitions were intact, our hope was in God on Whom we depended. Placing hope in and dependence on God was one thing. Changing our lives is quite another issue! Before 9/11 the two subjects were minimally related. After 9/11 we wonder.

In a world filled with uncertainty, injustice, and poverty, the first people who understood God’s action in Jesus were filled with an incredible joy. Because the world was no longer uncertain? No! No longer unjust? No! Poverty was eradicated? No! Then why? They understood a purposeful God was active in the affairs of humans producing salvation. Their joy was not humanity-based, pleasure-based, possession-based, or money-based. Their joy was God-based. So, where is our joy? Is there a connection between being God’s light, salt, and leaven in an uncertain world and finding joy in God?

Transformation Illustrated: Christians in Ephesus

Posted by on August 22, 2004 under Sermons

I often grieve because I observe the tragedies created in people’s lives through misperceptions. These people do not know that the core behaviors of their lives are based on misperceptions. They sincerely think they are functioning on basic truths they hold dearly. Thus they function on a misperception as though it were a truth, and they are totally confused by the consequences of their behaviors.

Allow me to share a specific example. Suppose we randomly go into every neighborhood of Fort Smith. We ask a thousand people the same question, and ask for a simple, understandable answer. The question: “What does it mean for a person to be a devout Christian?”

Would you care to predict how many different answers would be given by a thousand people? Likely the most prevalent answer would be, “A devout Christian is a person who goes to church regularly.” “Regularly” might mean to some several times a week, and to some every Sunday morning, and to some one Sunday morning a month.

Some would answer that question by associating devoutness with belief in a theological perspective. “People are devout Christians if they believe … [the theological position would vary with the people answering.]

Let me give my prediction with what we would not hear. I would predict we would rarely hear an answer that would connect being “a devout Christian” with daily human behavior. I readily confess I might be wrong. However, I would be surprised if many of that thousand people would give answers that connected deep religious conviction with the way a person lived every day.

In the past few weeks we have discussed how much we lost when evil became a part of the human reality. We discussed what transformation is. We looked at some examples of transformation in scripture.

This evening I want to examine the Christians in Ephesus from the perspective of transformation. I want to begin by reading Ephesians 4:25-32.
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

  1. Before we talk about the text we just read, I want to call three things to your attention.
    1. First, I want you clearly to understand my objective. I want you to see “the forest” before you focus on “the trees.”
      1. I am going to do my best to challenge you to see the general picture before you get lost in details.
      2. I am convinced that is what commonly happens to Bible students.
        1. They become so absorbed in details that they get lost.
        2. They put things together that are not even discussing the same situation because they can call everything they put together “scripture.”
        3. Details are essential, but we need to see “the big picture” before we examine the details–or we will misinterpret the details.
    2. Second, I want you to notice two verses.
      1. Chapter four begins with this statement:
        Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called
        1. I, Paul–the apostle to the Gentiles, beg you to pay attention to the way you live.
        2. If you belong to Jesus Christ, it will change the way you behave every day of your life.
        3. If you have heard and accepted your calling to God, do not live in ways that shame and embarrass the call.
      2. Chapter 5 begins with this statement:
        Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children
        1. If you belong to God, you are attracted to God’s character and nature.
        2. You want to look like your Father.
        3. You regard yourselves to be His children.
        4. Just like a small child commonly seeks to imitate the Father who loves him, you imitate God.
        5. Live and act like you belong to God.
      3. Third, I call your attention to the structure of 4:17-32.
        1. Verse 17-19 talked about how people who do not belong to Christ lived–that is the way they used to live.
        2. Verse 20 declared that when they heard the message about Christ, they understood following Christ was not about continuing to live as they had lived.
        3. Verses 22-24 emphasized why following Christ produces a change in lifestyle.
        4. Verses 25-32 explained what they need to understand about their lifestyle as Christians.
        5. I ask you to recognize two things:
          1. There was a distinct way of living before they were Christians, a re-creation, and a distinct way of living after they become Christians.
          2. Note Paul intentionally, specifically coupled together these two things: being a Christian, and the way you live–that is fundamental!

  2. Now focus with me on the ways Ephesian Christians lives changed because they were Christians.
    1. Verses 25-32 contain a huge contrast.
      1. “This is how you used to live before you belonged to Jesus Christ.”
      2. “This is how you are to live because you belong to Jesus Christ.”
      3. These are fairly common problems among first century gentiles who lived in idolatry in societies that were controlled by idolatrous thinking.
      4. Note the contrast:
        1. “This is how people commonly act.”
        2. “This is how you act, and you act this way because you belong to Christ.”
    2. First, people who are transformed in Christ refuse to be deceitful liars.
      1. Why?
      2. Christ teaches you to see other people as created from God.
      3. People were made in God’s image; they do not exist for you to exploit them.
      4. You acknowledge and feel a bond with others, therefore you treat them with respect, not with deceit.
    3. You do not allow your anger to lead you into sin.
      1. How do you do that?
      2. While you will get angry, you will not give your anger a long life by nursing it along.
      3. Your anger will have a very short life.
    4. In Christ, you understand that keeping your anger alive just opens the door of opportunity to Satan.
      1. Our anger creates all types of evil opportunity for the devil.
      2. Hate begins with anger.
      3. Wrath begins with anger.
      4. Ill-will begins with anger.
      5. Vengeance begins with anger.
      6. Jealousy and anger are so intertwined it is impossible to separate them.
    5. Christians do not support themselves by stealing.
      1. Please note that some of the Christians in Ephesus existed as professional thieves prior to conversion, and some of them continued to steal as Christians.
      2. Paul said it is not possible to be transformed by Jesus Christ and to steal.
      3. Accept responsibility to support yourself honorably!
        1. Get a job! Work!
        2. In your work do what is good–do not just make money any way you can make it because “a person has to live.”
        3. In Christ the objective of your work is more than supporting yourself, more than prosperity.
        4. A primary reason for a Christian working is to help those who cannot work.
    6. Christians are careful about their words, are careful about what they say.
      1. They do not say things that insult God.
      2. They do not say things that hurt other people.
      3. People are built up by what these Christians say–their words help people.
      4. Christians say what is appropriate for the situation.
      5. The hearers receive grace from the words of a Christian.
      6. People are drawn to God through the speaking of a Christian rather than being led to resent God.
    7. Christians refuse to behave in ways that work against God’s influence in their lives.
      1. One of the purposes of the Spirit in our lives is to encourage us to surrender to God’s purposes and ways.
      2. If we act in ways that encourage evil in our lives, we grieve the Spirit which God gave us at baptism to encourage us.
      3. Christians refuse to make God’s work in their lives harder!
      4. Paul said to these first century Christians that possessing God’s Spirit was proof they belonged to God, and that God was serious in His commitment to redeem them.

  3. If the Ephesians Christians were transformed in Christ, what would their Christian life look like?
    1. First, they would not behave like people who did not know and had not come to Jesus Christ.
      1. They would not be a bitter people (resentment would not control their behavior).
      2. Wrath, and anger, and confusion, and slander would not be a part of their motives or their conduct.
      3. They simply would not be a hateful people who held anyone in contempt.
    2. Instead:
      1. They would be kind to other Christians (people who were not Christians might refuse them opportunity to be kind).
      2. They would be tenderhearted–their compassion and sympathy easily could be touched.
      3. They were always ready to forgive those who hurt them. They would not “hold something against” another Christian.
      4. Their example was nothing less than God Himself.
        1. Jesus Christ showed them God.
        2. Because of that, they did something very uncharacteristic for their age–they were as devoted to forgiving others as God was devoted to using Christ to forgive them.

Letting God call me to Him through Christ changes everything. It changes me as a person. It changes the way I live in an evil world. That is the essence of transformation. The purpose of being baptized into Christ is far more than developing a correct belief system. The primary purpose of being baptized into Christ is changing me and the way I live.

Back To School Blessing

Posted by on under Sermons


Church Newsletter article by Chris Benjamin, 19 August 2004
      Our God spoke the world into being. With his divine word, God made reality. Of all the creatures God spoke into existence, only humankind is gifted with the privilege of using words. How shall we use this incredible gift? How shall we live up to this awesome privilege?
      James shows us the inconsistency of blessing the Lord but cursing others (James 3:9). If we are God’s people, then the speech that flows from us will be a source of blessing to the world around us.
      We have the opportunity to share words of blessing to our students, teachers, and other school workers as they begin another school year. Learning and education are values encouraged by the Bible. Children and students of all ages are learning how to read, write, and speak. Worlds of ideas and systems of thought are being created with words. In this humble way we participate in the creative work of God. However, unlike God, not all our creative efforts are good. Our words sometimes create corrupted and negative worlds. Our words will be good and blessed when they are blessed by God. God blesses us so we will be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:1-4).
      During our worship this Sunday, August 22, we will initiate a ministry of prayer that will last through the 2004-2005 school year. The focus of our blessing will be all students of all ages (pre-K through college) from all schools (public, private, home) in our area. Additionally, we will focus on teachers, teachers’ aides, administrators, and everybody who works with our schools. The good news of prayer is that there is no limit! This Sunday we will explain how you can be a “prayer minister” all year long, but here’s what you can expect this Sunday: During the time typically reserved for the sermon we will give attention to God’s word from Genesis 12. As part of our lesson we will invite our students to come forward and stand on the elevated stage. One of our elders, Joe Pistole, will pray for them. (Parents should feel free to come forward with the younger children). After the students are dismissed, we will invite our teachers and school workers to come to the stage and one of our elders, Michael Cole, will pray for them. After we conclude the service with an invitation for anyone who needs a prayer for blessing or wishes to be baptized, we will be sent out with a prayer and a charge to pray for someone specific all year. As you leave someone will give you a magnet with a name printed on it. This will be the name of one of our students, teachers, or school personnel. I hope you will take that magnet and pray for this person. You may take more than one if you like.
      That’s the opportunity for God’s people to be obedient by praying for a blessed year in God’s name for our schools. Of all the creatures God spoke into existence, only humankind is gifted with the privilege of using words. How shall we use this incredible gift? How shall we live up to this awesome privilege?

This Sunday is our Back to School Blessing service. Our Scripture is Genesis 12 which includes God’s promise to Abram. God promises to bless Abram — to make him great and make a nation from him — but God’s purpose for blessing Abram is not simply for Abram’s sake, but for the sake of the whole world. God blesses Abraham so that he will be a blessing to others.

All of us, as God’s people, are called to be a blessing. God has blessed us in every way through Jesus Christ and we must continually rely on His blessings and share those blessings with others. We have been given the gift of speech and we must decide whether our speech and actions are those that bless others or curse them.

This Sunday we intend to recognize God’s ability to bless our students, teachers and school workers. This will also begin a ministry of prayer for all of our schools — home schools, private schools, Christian schools, and public schools in every city. This would be a great opportunity to invite school children, teachers, and anyone you know from your family’s school.

    The order of worship:

    1. Welcome and Prayer
    2. Songs
      • #2 – We Praise Thee O God
      • #3 – Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah
      • #74 – Praise the Lord
      • #72 – Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty
      • #364 – Come Share the Lord
    3. Communion [1 Cor. 10:16]
    4. Offering
    5. Song
      • #474 – Thank You Lord
    6. Back to School Blessing
      • Lesson by Chris Benjamin – Genesis 12:1-4
      • Prayer of blessing for all Students – [by an elder]
      • Prayer of blessing for all Teachers and School Workers – [by an elder]
      • Beginning a campaign of prayer (a charge to West-Ark)
      • Invitation for Prayer or Baptism
    7. Song
      • #828 – Instruments of Your Peace
    8. Sending Out Prayer

Genesis 12

God’s Promise to Abraham:
[Genesis 12] 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

  1. God blesses Abraham – God is the source of all blessings. God gives Abram a future and promises to make him great.
  2. Abraham will be a blessing – Abraham is blessed so the he might be a blessing to others. God isn’t favoring Abraham to the exclusion of all others. Consider how this promise fits into the context of Genesis: the first 11 chapters show how the sin has corrupted the world and caused it to be cursed. God reverses the curse with a blessing.
  3. Blessings and Curses – How others live in relationship to Abraham, the one that God blesses, makes a difference. But the way Abraham lives is also important! Pharaoh and Abimelech (Genesis 20) both suffer because Abraham does not live among them as he should.
  4. Blessed through you – Can we infer from this that how God’s people live among others makes a difference not simply for our fortune, but for theirs also? Can we see how we are called to intercede for the world and if we live in suspicion, fear, mistrust, anger or hatred we are bringing a curse on the world?

God’s people are called to be a blessing to the nations, not a curse. We are to be the salt of the earth, enhancing the culture rather than corrupting it. We are supposed to shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation. We cannot do so if we are committed to grumbling and complaining (Philippians 2:14-15). We have many opportunities to be a blessing to the world around us – this morning we focus on the opportunity we have to bless students and schools.

Jumping on the "bad-mouth bandwagon" will not help. Nagging about the ills of society will not help. Discussing the sources of cultural breakdown and the problems of families and schools seems worthwhile, but there is something much more effective. If we will humble ourselves and pray to God on behalf of our teachers and students, we will be accomplishing so very much. Praying a blessing is not something extra – something additional to the real work. It is the real work.

God blesses us so we can be a blessing to others. Perhaps the reason we sometimes don’t feel as if we can bless others is because we are inattentive to God’s blessing. We want pray that God bless our students this morning – not only for your sake, but so you will be a blessing to others …

  1. Elders and ministers were invited to assemble on the upper stage.
  2. Students of all ages were invited to come to the upper stage (pre-K thru college). A song was led during the transition.
  3. Once the students were gathered up front, Chris Benjamin offered the following blessing and charge to them …

(Directed to youngest children): You’re important to us. The people of this church care about you and look forward to watching you grow up. You are learning so many things in school. What you learn about there matters to us very much.
We also want you to learn about God and his son Jesus. We will help you. We want you to know that God and Jesus are important not just at church and on Sunday, but all the time. That’s why the people of this church are going to pray for you all the time.

(Directed to older children): We love you as you are. You are human just like us and capable of right and wrong. Yet, we challenge you to grow spiritually, to be like Christ. You are our hope for the future church – and you are servants and leaders even now. We believe in you. Faith is not just for adults, so we urge you to "Remember your Creator" during this time in your life.

(Explain the magnets): Someone will be praying for you this year when you are having fun at school, and even when you’re not having fun. Some one will pray for you when you are sick and can’t make it to school. Someone will be praying for you if others are acting mean toward you. And they may be praying for you when you’re not acting as nice as you should. Someone will be praying for you when you feel left out, and also when you have the chance to make a new friend.

Sometime this year someone will be praying for you when you’re taking a test, when you’re playing sports, when you’re performing. Sometime this year someone will be praying for you by name when people are saying bad things about you for no reason, when you’re on a date, whenever temptation is strong. Sometime this year someone will be praying when you are praying on a retreat, when you are reading your Bible, when you are thinking about your place in God’s church.

  1. An elder prayed for the students.
  2. Students were dismissed.
  3. Elders and ministers remained up front.
  4. Teachers and all school workers were invited to come forward.
  5. A song was led during transition.
  6. Once the teachers were gathered at the front, Chris Benjamin offered this blessing …

(Directed to Teachers and others): It’s an old joke, but you didn’t get into education for the money. In some way you answered a call to be involved in education. I hope you haven’t forgotten that. The world of the curse will deny that calling. It will try to corrupt your love for teaching with all sorts of pressure and criticism. The world of the curse knows only criticism. But you are not merely educators – if you are a child of God you are much more. You are Christians and you carry songs of blessings and words like apples of gold in frames of silver into the world. Your family of faith reaffirms your calling this morning. We want that calling to be blessed by God as you walk and talk like Christ. Our blessing carries this charge – "Be Christ for the schools!"

When we are all at our best, we are all, church and school, committed to a common goal – helping people mature into better people. Jesus said that he came into this world so that we might have life and live it to its fullest – eternally! (John 10:10) Our pledge to you is to work alongside you in that goal.
You are ministers and missionaries of a special sort. In every school, in every city, in every neighborhood, in every family, we call you to model the life of our Lord to the children.

This year both my sons go to school and I realize that another person has an influence in the life of my children. I now realize that I have two options: To bless her, or curse her – and to do nothing is essentially a curse, a curse of unimportance. I will pray for my son’s teachers and everyone at their school and as often as I can, I will "put feet" to my prayers!

We wish to bless you because you have such a wonderful mission. The one who gives a blessing must know that he/she is blessed. To all of you who serve as teachers, principals, school workers, counselors, and in many other ways I don’t even realize I offer you this pledge: someone will be praying for you when you have those victorious moments and the children "get it!" Someone will be praying when it seems they don’t. Someone will be praying for you when you’re convinced that this is your last year, and when it really is your last year. Someone will be praying when you wonder what you are going to do about a student in trouble. Someone will be praying for you when an opportunity to minister open up before you and you feel the awesome responsibility of the moment. Someone will be praying for you when a red-faced parent blames you for their problems, and someone will be praying when a student shares with you his or her dreams and thanks for what you have done for them. We will all be praying as a student gets closer to Christ because of your influence, whether you know it or not.

  1. An elder prayed for the teachers, school workers, etc.
  2. All were dismissed from the upper stage.

Chris Benjamin concluded with final comments that will:

  1. Charge the church to be in prayer.
  2. Give them instructions about the prayer magnets
  3. Give the invitation to prayer and baptism

Transformation Illustrated: Christians in Galatia

Posted by on August 15, 2004 under Sermons

What is the purpose of transformation? That may seem like an insignificant question, but it is a significant question that deserves an answer. It is much too easy to evade the question by focusing on the results of transformation instead of the purpose of transformation.

So, what is the purpose of transformation? Let me emphasize the purpose of transformation by first stating what it is not and then by stressing what it is. The purpose of transformation is not to make everybody else like “me.” I do not prove that I have been transformed by God through Jesus Christ because I like what you like, I do what you do, my life and your life are replicas of each other, and we approach things in the same way. Too often in the past we have decided if transformation was occurring by using ourselves as the measuring stick.

The purpose of transformation is to move everyone in Christ toward God and His nature. The physical influences and desires of this existence do not determine who I am or how I live my life. God determines who I am and how I live my life. That is very easy to say, but very demanding to understand. It is not a matter of talking, but of being.

This evening I want to try to deepen our insights into this process of transformation by considering the Christians in the Roman province of Galatia (the gentile Christians to whom Paul wrote the book of Galatians). I ask you to turn to Galatians 5. I want to read verses 13 through 26.

When we examine this text, we will look at the problem, the reaction, the way these people lived prior to conversion to Christ, the way these people were to live after conversion to Christ, and the continuing process of transformation.

  1. Let’s begin by calling our attention to Galatians 5:13-26.
    For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

  2. What was the problem?
    1. One cannot read chapter 1 and be ignorant of the fact that a serious problem existed.
      1. Paul obviously was upset–he did not even begin this letter with an word of encouragement often found in his other letters.
      2. Almost immediately he went to his deep concern: “I am amazed…” (Galatians 1:6)
      3. Then Paul made an emphatic statement he repeated: “No one, not an angel, not even me has the right to change the message I first gave you gentile Christians!” (Galatians 1:8,9)
    2. What was the problem that so upset Paul?
      1. Paul told gentile Christians (you and I are gentile Christians) that they did not have to adopt Jewish ways to become Christians, and Jewish Christians deeply resented Paul’s message.
      2. Many Jewish Christians said, “There is no way these heathen idol worshippers can be God’s people unless they learn Israel’s ways!”
        1. They worship stupid things–carved rocks, carved sticks, animals, insects, etc.
        2. They have not even known who the living God is.
        3. They get drunk, commit adultery, lie, steal, cheat and never even know such things oppose God.
        4. To prepare to become Christians, first they need the indoctrination involved in becoming Jewish proselytes.
        5. The only way to bring their heathen lifestyle to an end is for them to be converted to Judaism before they are converted to Christ.
        6. They cannot be Christians unless they first learn how to be like us.
      3. Paul said, “No! This never was God’s plan! God’s grace is the power to transform; gentiles do not have to yield to Jewish ways. They just have to learn God’s ways.”
      4. To Jewish Christians, what Paul said was downright unscriptural, was an unthinkable spiritual perversion.
    3. So this is what a group of Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem area did: they banded together to refute Paul’s gospel (good news).
      1. When Paul left an area, they sent a group of Jewish Christians to that area to teach Paul’s converts to Christ “things Paul failed to tell you.”
      2. These Jewish Christians from Judea would teach the new gentile converts that their baptism was meaningless unless they first were circumcised.
        1. “We have known God for almost 1500 years!”
        2. “God gave the law to us!”
        3. “God sent the prophets to us!”
        4. “We know how to do God-things in God-ways and you do not–so allow us to be your teachers if you are serious about being saved!”
      3. This is what had Paul so upset.
        1. These Jewish Christians were teaching gentile Christians that the grace in Christ that Paul taught them was insufficient.
        2. They told gentile Christians they could not be Christians unless they became Jewish proselytes first.
        3. Though both these Jews and Paul were Christians, there was a major theological disagreement between them about how a person who was not a Jew entered into Christ and how a person who was not a Jew stayed in Christ.

  3. What was the reaction?
    1. There was more than one reaction.
      1. If the gentile Christians believed the Jewish Christians, many of them turned to Jewish customs and Jewish ways.
      2. If the gentile Christians believed Paul, many of them looked with contempt on the Jewish Christians as they rejected them and their teachings.
      3. Some gentile Christians concluded that God did not care how a person lived and acted as long as that person believed in Jesus Christ.
    2. Paul rejected all three of those reactions.
      1. He did not want gentile Christians believing they had to be Jewish proselytes to be Christians.
      2. He did not want gentile Christians having bad attitudes toward Jewish people (see Romans 11, and note verse 18).
      3. He certainly did not want gentile Christians concluding God did not care how they lived.
    3. Paul wanted gentile Christians to understand that God in Christ provided them freedom from becoming Jewish proselytes, freedom from Jewish culture-tradition-law, freedom from Jewish ways, but the purpose of that freedom was not ungodly living.
      1. The purpose of their freedom was not to live as they pleased doing anything they pleased.
      2. The thrust of the ten commandments given to early Israel in Exodus 20 was to honor God and to honor people.
      3. You honored God by:
        1. Recognizing He is the only God, not one of many gods.
        2. Not worshipping or making idols.
        3. Not using God’s name lightly.
        4. Depending totally on God.
      4. You honored people by:
        1. Taking care of your older parents.
        2. Not murdering people.
        3. Not committing adultery with people.
        4. Not stealing.
        5. Not lying about people.
        6. Not allowing greed to make you want what belonged to another person.
      5. Paul said if you had the love that lay behind all these acts, you would behave in this manner (honoring God and honoring people).
        1. If you love, you will do the things the law instructed.
        2. If you do not love, you will destroy each other.
        3. Freedom was given to allow you to love others, not to indulge yourself.

  4. Before they believed that Jesus Christ was the resurrected son of God, how had they lived?
    1. This was the starting point, the essential understanding: they must understand the animosity between the flesh and the Spirit, between physical concerns and God’s concerns.
      1. It is as impossible to mix a fleshly focus and a Spirit focus as it is to mix absolute light and absolute darkness.
      2. They are natural enemies.
      3. Each is dedicated to the other’s destruction–they cannot coexist.
      4. A basic Christian understanding regardless of cultural background: forces which opposed God and God’s values and forces which champion God and His values are at war.
        1. They are not compatible and never will be compatible.
        2. Do not be deceived into believing that a Christian can use his or her freedom in Christ to endorse and support both sides in this war.
    2. When they were idolaters, they lived for the flesh (or, physical concerns and desires determined how they behaved).
      1. How did they live then? How did they behave then?
      2. Verses 19-21 enumerate some of the common expressions of the “works of the flesh”.
        1. I would classify what I call the first group (immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery) as insults against God and His holy nature.
        2. I would classify what I call the second group (strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying) as insults against other people.
        3. I would classify what I call the third group (drunkenness, carousing) as insults or abuses against one’s self.
        4. May I quickly add all three of these areas are inner-connected and inner- related.
        5. Paul would say that before you believed in Christ, your life insulted God, your life abused other people, and your life abused your own nature.
        6. In fact there is a powerful parallel with the emphasis in the Ten Commandments — before Christ your life did not honor God and did not honor people.

  5. After they believed in and accepted Jesus Christ, the focus of their life changed.
    1. No longer do they live selfishly, doing as they please.
      1. Believing in Christ resulted in a whole new understanding of God, and they will not use life to insult God.
      2. Believing in Christ resulted in a whole new understanding of other people, and they will not use life to abuse, intimidate, or exploit other people.
      3. Believing in Christ resulted in a whole new understanding of self, and they will not use life to indulge self.
    2. The entire focus of life has changed–they now exist to produce the fruit of the Spirit.
      1. Their life will give evidence in every area that God’s presence is in them, and who they are is consciously determined by a willing surrender to God.
      2. They are now committed to love, joy (not indulgence), peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
      3. These things properly represent God’s nature.
      4. These things change the way they treat people.
      5. These things change the way they treat themselves.

  6. Please note these changes occur because Christians want them to occur.
    1. This is a willful, willing change.
      1. It does not happen involuntarily because “something came over me, controlled me, and I could not resist.”
      2. It happens because I want it to happen, I encourage it to happen, I behave in the manner that allows it to happen.
    2. Those who belong to Christ crucify the flesh.
      1. Physical things will not define who I am or determine how I live.
      2. I choose “for” an existence that is dedicated to killing the control of desires and hungers in me that oppose God.
      3. When I belong to Christ, I choose to let the Spirit instead of the flesh direct my life.
    3. If the Spirit makes it possible for me to have life in God, I must also allow the Spirit to determine how I behave.
      1. The immediate evidence that I have surrendered to transformation is seen in the way I treat people–including you!
      2. I will not be arrogant!
      3. I will not exploit or abuse other people!

Transformation is more than a “one time” change. It is a journey in the direction of God. Are you on that journey?

Escaping Destruction (2 Pet. 2:11-22)

Posted by on under Sermons

Ali is a young man with little money and no wife. This is all the incentive he needs to take the ninety-minute bus ride from his village to Baghdad. As soon as he arrives, the 21-year-old Iraqi heads straight to Abu Abdullah’s. There it costs him only $1.50 for 15 minutes alone with a woman.

The room is a cell with a curtain for a door, and Ali complains that Abu Abdullah’s women should bathe more often. But Ali sees the easy and inexpensive access to sexual favors as a big improvement over the days when Saddam Hussein was in power. The dictator strictly controlled vices such as prostitution, alcohol, and drugs. The fall of the regime gave rise to every kind of depravity. In addition to brothels, Iraqis have their choice of adult cinemas, where 70 cents buys an all-day ticket, and the audience hoots in protest if a non-pornographic trailer interrupts the action.

Referring to all the newly available immoral activities, Ali grins and says, “Now we have freedom.” – – Christian Caryl, “Iraqi Vice,” Newsweek (12-22-03)

If freedom is genuine, then all choices have to be available. Unfortunately, some will choose to squander their freedom. To waste a second chance at new life is incredibly disappointing and anguishing. We grieve when we see people around the world trade in their freedom for false security or idle pleasures. We a sickened by those in our country who have opportunities to escape their circumstances but their own foolishness returns them to a life of misery. How often do we consider our freedom in Christ as a precious opportunity? How often do we stop and consider how freedom from sin and death has given us more than just an exemption from condemnation – it has given us a new life to be lived well!

Peter warns the church not to end up like the false teachers who are enslaved to their foolishness. The false teachers claim that freedom gives them power to do whatever they want, but Peter shows that they really have no freedom since their life isn’t conformed to that which is greater than ourselves …

2:10 – Being bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to slander glorious beings. 11 Yet even angels, although they are greater in strength and power, do not bring a slanderous accusation against them from the Lord. 12 These people, like irrational animals, are mere creatures of instinct that are born to be caught and killed. They insult what they don’t understand, and like animals they, too, will be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as punishment for their wrongdoing.

  1. Stupid Animals – [They do not recognize anything greater than themselves. Antithesis to the promise of God]
    • Disregard for the power of sin and evil – like a stupid animal. Dismissal of final judgment and the consequences of their behavior. They claim freedom over these.

    • Sin has consequences – It should not be treated lightly. It is dangerous and kills, it hurts and maims. (Harmless fun?) Don’t try this at home! Why? Despite appearances and the luck of stunt performers these acts are dangerous.)

    • Freedom does not give license to ignore consequences. (Yelling “Fire” in a theatre, joking about bombs in an airport terminal is not protected free speech because it is irresponsible.)

    They take pleasure in wild parties in broad daylight. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceitful pleasures while they eat with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they cannot get enough of sin. They seduce unsteady souls and have had their hearts expertly trained in greed. They are doomed to a curse. 15 They have left the straight path and wandered off to follow the path of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the reward he got for doing wrong. 16 But he was rebuked for his offense. A donkey that normally cannot talk spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s insanity.

  2. Stains and Blemishes – [They are a corrupting influence. Antithesis to the Path of godly living.]
    • Reveling in their deceitful pleasures – this is in your face behavior! Why? Why make it so obvious and direct? The need for acceptance and enablement. And we need to be careful because this is done in some subtle ways …

    • Sins like violence, greediness, irresponsible sexual behavior, drug use are glamorized to suppress the real human cost of the behavior. (We try and cover over the stain and blemish of sin.)

    • Sin distorts human relationships and others are viewed as people to be manipulated and used. (On the streets of London – everyone was someone to be used or exploited. Why did you take his money? Well he’s bad and uses drugs. So said the man who wanted me to buy him more liquor. So said the man who stole money from others.)

    • Balaam: We have wandered off the straight path. Balaam did not recognize that there was something greater than his greed. We have made the self the most sacred principle and we have denied ourselves the freedom that comes from knowing the source of power for Godly life …

    17 These men are dried-up springs, mere clouds driven by a storm. Gloomy darkness is reserved for them. 18 By talking high-sounding nonsense and using sinful cravings of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. 19 Promising them freedom, they themselves are slaves to depravity, for a person is a slave to whatever conquers him. 20 For if, after escaping the world’s corruptions through a full knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled and conquered by them, then their last condition is worse than their former one. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to know it and turn their backs on the holy commandment that was committed to them. 22 The proverb is true that describes what has happened to them: "A dog returns to its vomit" and "a pig that is washed goes back to wallow in the mud."

  3. Dried-Up Springs, Dogs and Pigs – [They are slaves to their sin. Antithesis to the Power for Godly living.]
    • How is the empty cry for freedom and liberation to be believed when it only promises more bondage? Dried up springs and wispy clouds look good, but they cannot offer life giving water to the thirsty and drought stricken.

    • (Hurricane Charley – How foolish it would be for those who escaped to rush back into the full force of the hurricane thinking they are safe because they "got out.")

    • How can you promise freedom when you are a slave? (The hopeless and empty solutions of the false philosophies of our age: examples.)

    • God does more than forgive – he cleanses, he heals, he frees us and then he leads us.

    • God has set us free. We have escaped the corruption of this world – what a shame it would be to squander the opportunity to share in the divine nature. – This present world, as corrupt and conflicted as it is, will pass away when the morning star rises and the Day of the Lord arrives.

This Imperfect World

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21, 22).

Certain statements quickly catch my attention as warnings. For example, I am in a first session of premarital counseling. Seeking to befriend the couple, I ask, “Why are you getting married?” As they look at each other with “goo-goo” eyes, this is their response: “We are in love!” Instantly, alarm bells sound in my head. Is love critical to an enduring marriage? Absolutely! Yet, hormones must not be mistaken for love!

In a similar way, I am very concerned when a person’s primary reason for being a Christian is “to eliminate problems in my life.” What problems? (a) If the answer is to eliminate guilt, accountability for past failures through forgiveness in Christ, hopelessness, and living for something more important than the here and now — excellent! (b) If the answer is to guarantee a good job, a desirable lifestyle, a trouble free existence, lots of pleasure, and the money one thinks “I need” — deplorable!

Christianity has never been about living what the physical world commonly considers “the good life.” We follow a King whose coronation was achieved through crucifixion and resurrection after a life of service, rejection, and surrender. He lived as a servant in poverty. He died as a servant in poverty.

Consider life’s key question. Is life about me or God? The answers to that question are extremely different. Being a Christian because of “me” provides one answer. Being a Christian because of God provides quite a different answer.

This society’s popular answer is this: being a Christian places the focus on “me.” Thus worship is commonly centered on what “I” find pleasurable. Ministry is focused on what “I” find plausible. Service is focused on “my” approval. The key evaluation of everything happening is “my take” on the spirituality of the situation.

In a spiritual climate that focuses on “me,” the message of a health and wealth gospel seems powerfully plausible and most appealing. Why shouldn’t those who belong to the Lord enjoy the best this world has to offer? Surely the “good life” should belong to men and women who belong to God!

Why should the “good life” belong to us? Christians exist as redeemed people in an unredeemed world. They dare to live between the tension and pulls of good and evil. They struggle with temptation as they live among forces that reject God. They get tired as they witness so much unrighteousness and injustice — they weary of being different, not belonging, not fitting. How can those who dearly love the Lord be comfortable in a world that either ignores or hates the Lord?

Those daring to follow God soon realize this world is no friend to the righteous. “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). We live to the praise of His glory. Life is about God.

Transformation Illustrated: Paul (Saul)

Posted by on August 8, 2004 under Sermons

This evening I want to call your attention to what I personally regard the classic illustration of transformation. Tonight I call your attention to Paul (Saul). I want us to look at him when he was convinced that Jesus was a fraud, that Jesus was not resurrected, and that the myth of Jesus’ resurrection was the greatest single, immediate threat to Judaism’s future.

One point I want you to grasp is this: the person in the New Testament who had the most to say about transformation was the person who experienced/permitted radical transformation. In the terminology of today, “He had been there, done that, and understood what it was.” He knew “what he was talking about” because he experienced transformation. He knew the difficulty of change [he knew it was hard!], but he also knew the importance of change–transformation is not an option Christians can pursue if they want to!

This is the man who said:

To Christians in Rome: 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.

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

To Christians in Ephesus: Ephesians 4:22-24 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.

To Christians in Corinth: 2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Paul knew that with God’s help transformation could occur and must occur in every man and woman who became a Christian.

  1. First, I want you to see clearly who this man was when he thought Jesus was not the Christ and was not resurrected from the dead.
    1. Acts 8:1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
      1. This statement is made at Stephen’s execution [the first Christian put to death because of his faith in Jesus Christ].
      2. Paul was not only there, but Acts 7:58 states that the witnesses who testified against Stephen and started his execution by stoning placed their outer garments [robes] at Paul’s feet–he kept their robes safe as they executed Stephen!
      3. He was fully in agreement with killing Stephen!
      4. That death began a persecution against Christians, and quickly [if not immediately] Paul was involved in inflicting physical harm on Christians.
    2. Acts 8:3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
      1. Pay attention to the words of contempt and hostility describing Paul’s actions:
        1. “Ravaging the church.”
        2. “Dragging” men and women out of their homes.
        3. Putting them in prison.
      2. Jewish men and women who believed that Jesus was the Christ deserved no respect!
        1. Jewish Christians as the church deserved no respect!
        2. Jews who dared believe Jesus was the Christ deserved abuse and pain!
        3. Jewish men and women who believed Jesus was resurrected deserved to be prisoners!
    3. Acts 9:1,2 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
      1. Paul told people who followed Jesus Christ, “I will see you dead!”–and he meant it!
      2. He did all in his power to destroy those who followed Jesus–his hate for Christians was not restricted to Palestine!
      3. He must have been highly respected by the Jewish enemies of Jesus.
        1. He had access to the high priest, and not just anyone could walk into the presence of the high priest.
        2. He could make a request of the high priest and get a favorable response.
        3. He could ask for and receive authority to go to Jewish synagogues in a major city of another nation and arrest Jews who followed Jesus.
        4. He could place such believers under arrest and march these people 4 to 6 days (150 miles) to Jerusalem for trial by the Jerusalem Sanhedrin.
        5. Can you imagine hating someone so much that you would walk 300 miles to arrest them?
    4. Listen to Paul’s self description at the point in his life when he hated those who believed in Jesus:
      1. Paul made this statement as he defended himself before Agrippa in Acts 26:9-11:
        So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
        1. Note Paul did things “hostile” to the “name of Jesus of Nazareth.”
        2. Note Paul took Christians in Jerusalem to prison with authority received from the high priest.
        3. Note Paul used his influence to encourage the execution of Christians.
        4. Note when Paul found Jewish Christians in synagogue, he abused them in an attempt to make them blaspheme Jesus.
        5. Note Paul was “furiously enraged” at Christians–we would call him a man out of control, a man filled with hate!
        6. Note Paul hated Jewish Christians so much that he would go to other countries to pursue them.
      2. Paul made this statement to Christians in the Roman province of Galatia in Galatians 1:13, 14:
        For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
        1. Paul said he used to be an extremist in persecuting the church of God.
        2. Paul said his intent at that time was to destroy the church of God.
        3. Paul said at this point in his life he was Israel’s ” rising star”–he was going places! He had a bright future in Judaism!
        4. Paul said he was “extremely zealous” for Judaism’s ancient traditions–he knew those traditions, he followed those traditions, and he defended those traditions! He was a devoted, committed man!
      3. Paul made this statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy l:12-14:
        I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
        1. God through Jesus Christ transformed a blasphemer into a Christian missionary.
        2. God through Jesus Christ transformed a persecutor of Christians into a Christian missionary.
        3. God through Jesus Christ transformed a violent aggressor into a Christian missionary.

  2. How did this happen?
    1. Let Paul tell us as he defended his Christian actions before Agrippa:
      Acts 26:14-18 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect [Aramaic], “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” And I said, “Who are You, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
    2. When Paul understood Jesus’ true identity, everything changed for Paul.
      1. The pivotal understanding that everything Paul understood depended on the identity of Jesus Christ.
        1. If Jesus was a fraud, the myth of his resurrection was extremely dangerous.
        2. If Jesus was God’s resurrected son, Jesus’ resurrection was the hope of all people in all nations.
        3. When he knew that Jesus was the resurrected son of God, that changed his understanding of everything.

  3. How much change occurred in this transformation of Paul?
    1. I want to read some verses from two letters Paul wrote, and I want you to listen for yourselves.
      1. The first is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8:
        For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness–nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
        1. How much transformation occurs when you go from being a violent aggressor who dragged men and women out of their homes, put them in prison, and encouraged their execution to a gentle man who lovingly works for the faith he hated?
        2. How much transformation occurs when you go from being a violent, hate filled man to being a man filled with love who will die for the faith he hated?
      2. The second statement I want to read to you is found in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
        Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.
        And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness’, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weakness’, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
        1. How much transformation occurs if you go from willingly inflicting pain on other people to willingly enduring pain inflicted on you?
        2. How much transformation occurs if you go from being totally self-reliant and self-confident to being totally dependent?
    2. I want to conclude these thoughts by asking you some questions.
      1. How has belonging to Jesus Christ changed you as a person?
      2. Would you be any different if you did not believe Jesus was the resurrected Christ?
      3. Can someone who has known you for years look at your life and see the ways Christ has changed you as a person?
      4. Is it very obvious in the way you behave that Christ is in control of your life?

The objective of living as a Christian is to be transformed.

God Knows How (2 Pet. 2:1-10)

Posted by on under Sermons

"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) — if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority."

  1. Destructive Heresy. – Peter has assured us that he is a reliable teacher and preacher. He is a witness to something greater than himself. What he experienced confirms the prophecy of Scripture. It is no myth. And this matters because Peter has taught the churches and has passed on to us the truth about living godly – participating in the divine nature.

    By contrast, there are unreliable teachers. Their teaching and the foundation for their teaching is different from Peter’s. As a result, their teaching does not lead to participation in the divine nature. Rather, it encourages the impulses of the sinful nature. Their teaching is based on false conclusions and as a result there is no motivation to live a godly life.

    We dare not affix the label of false teacher too easily. We have done so with everything from forms of worship, use of church property, to the administration of funds for the poor. Ascribing the label of false teacher too casually can desensitize us to the truly destructive and unhealthy effect of bad teaching. Scripture recognizes that there are disputable matters, and conflict over disputable matters can make us very anxious. But the sort of false teaching that Peter describes is much more insidious than conflict over disputable matters. It is dangerous because it tampers with the foundation of faith (1:3-5) that is the power for godly living.

    Those whom Peter calls false teachers are doing far worse than voicing a dissenting opinion or holding to a belief without fully understanding it. Their activity and teaching is much more destructive and sinful.

    A Dangerous Alternative: A heresy is more than a different viewpoint or dissenting opinion. It is more than a measure of doubt. A heresy is a school of thought so different that it represents a alternate faction or school of thought and practice. Peter says that the false teachers have rejected or denied the God who ransomed them. That’s a serious alternative – so serious that it forms an alternate faction, or heresy – and since the foundation of truth and the power to save has been rejected, the heresy will result in destruction. Destruction and ruin are the inevitable products of this orientation toward the sinful nature, just as godliness and love are the products of the orientation toward the divine nature.

  2. God Knows How To. – Peter is taking the opportunity of his final testimony to warn believers to avoid the destruction that will result by adopting the orientation of the false teachers. To do this, he draws our attention to the "big picture." There is right and wrong not only in our everyday choices, but also on a cosmic and historical scale. Even the angels are held accountable to the rule of God and they cannot claim special privilege simply because they are from heaven. Even the people of the ancient world were held accountable to the rule of God and no one can say that the people of olden times are right simply by virtue of being part of the past. In every time and in every dimension of reality, God knows how to rescue godly people from their trials and to hold unrighteous people for punishment on the day of judgment.
    Why so hard on sin? Why is God so judgmental?

    1. The false alternatives are dangerous and destructive. They are destructive, poisonous seeds of death. They germinate into corruption.
      God’s opposes the heresy with zero tolerance because such rebellion and predation must end. Wouldn’t we be against an alternative that leads to destruction … (The ship wreckers and mooncussers – For the sake of profit, the mooncussers lured merchant ships to destruction with false lights).
    2. Redemptive Intervention. God’s judgment is actually a gracious thing. It is redemptive. Without being intolerant of destruction and divisiveness, without being intolerant of the sin there cannot be conversion and restoration. God did not establish law prophets and Jesus in order to populate hell. That is not his purpose. Judgment is an aspect of Salvation. Like an intervention. Interventions = they are intolerant because they are for the saving of one who is destroying his/her life.
      If we share in Christ’s nature, then like him we will also regard our presence in this world as redemptive. That becomes our mission.

  3. The Faithful Minority. –
    There is no virtue in damning the lost so we might be assured of our salvation. That was never Jesus’ message nor mission. We wait for Christ’s return to this world – his first coming into the world was not to condemn, but to save. His second coming will also be a saving event. He will come to restore all things as they were before the corruption of sin.

    Remember how God saved Noah and Lot? In opposing the destruction of wickedness God remained faithful to the righteous. Remember that God was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were more righteous – that’s what he promised to Abraham. Even if we are in the minority, we can be assured of God’s faithfulness and his power to rescue us from sin and unrighteousness.

    If we had a greater grasp of the awesome danger of sin and the wonderful mercy of God would they change the way we live among others; would we be more trusting of God’s power to save us and others as well?

    July 4, 1854, Charley Peace, a well-known criminal in London was hung for his crimes. The execution was performed with formal ceremony. There was a priest present who read the formal prayer prescribed for executions. As Charley was marched onto the gallows a priest read these words from his book: "Those who die without Christ experience hell, which is the pain of forever dying without the release which death itself can bring."
    At the reading of these chilling words, Charlie Peace stopped, turned to the priest and shouted in his face, "Do you believe that? Do you believe that?"
    The priest, stunned by the verbal assault, stammered for a moment and then said, "Well I suppose do." "Well I don’t," said Charlie. "But if I did, I’d get down on my hands and knees and crawl all over Britain, even if it were paved with pieces of broken glass, if I could rescue one person from what you just told me."

    God forgive us for thinking that we are more righteous if we condemn rather than save. As we get pushed more and more to the margins and out of the majority we may grow angry and hopeless and that will lead us to an attitude of negative condemnation.

    God has quite a bit of experience in saving and judging. God knows what he is doing. It is his nature.

    And it is about time we started acting like "Gods knows how" and get away from the mistaken notion that we know how to do everything ourselves. We have come to understand "work out your own salvation" to mean that it is all up to us. But Peter is calling the faithful to place their confidence in God’s ability to save.

    [Ironically, if we are at all doubtful that we might be saved and certain that condemnation is all we can expect, then chances are we will act on what we are most confident about – condemnation. And we will judge others and condemn them.]

    Trust God to judge and save – that’s Peter’s gospel and it is ours, too. God knows what he is doing! All we need do is offer the light of the lamp shining in the dark. The light of the morning star.

    You don’t have to condemn before you can save others! Just this: Keep yourself in safety and snatch others from the fire (Jude 21-23). The only way we are going to be able to help save others is if we trust God to save us. If we really don’t believe what we say, then no wonder we are ineffective in calling many more to participate in the divine nature. And we certainly won’t help anyone if we ourselves do not participate in the divine nature. [If the people who follow the teachings of Christ do not demonstrate a code of ethics and behavior different from the world around them; Barna shows this is the major hindrance to Christian witness today – add citation].

Your salvation is not simply exemption from Hell. If you possess the virtues of the godly life, your life is effective and productive. It is a witness to those who might otherwise die without Christ.

The Christian’s Use of Painful Situations

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1, 2).

One of the greatest deceits in the American social/cultural/political perspective: “God wants me to be happy.” Of course, “I” decide what will and will not make “me” happy.

  • My feelings define happiness. [I feel sad, not happy!]
  • I demand instant gratification. [This is not fun! I want fun now!]
  • I want to be where culture says I should be. [Stop wasting yourself!]
  • I want to satisfy greedy ambitions. [If I had ___ or did ___, I would be happy!]
  • I become a selfish person who places life’s emphasis on “me.” [Nothing is as important as my happiness!]

(Please understand happiness is an extremely difficult, complex discussion. This is a discussion of a general principle, not an unusual situation.)

Consider one point. Begin by noting (and confessing) our arrogance as a culture and a nation. What people are so arrogant as to put in their constitution the right to pursue happiness? (Have you wondered how much that perceived right factors into personal expectations?) What country dares to be so arrogant as to determine its political policies on this basis: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” (We are to determine what is best for a nation on the basis of subjective personal desires?) Thus, if we do not have everything we want, an undefined someone else is to blame.

God’s goal is to move us in His direction. Satan’s goal is to move us further from God. In the beginning God provided for our ultimate desires and needs. Near the beginning Satan deceived us with promises of pleasure. Suffering was not part of God’s provisions. Satan’s deception produced suffering, enormous loss, and pain.

Even though pain was the consequence of deception, our incredible God uses deception’s consequences (pain and suffering) to guide us back to Him. The greatest blessings in our past came through the honesty of pain, not the deceptions of pleasure.

Our most valuable lessons learned from experience are lessons we learned through pain. That does not mean we want to visit those painful circumstances again. It means we learned life’s choice lessons from that pit of suffering. It means our pain and suffering can become God’s constructive tools.

The greatest blessings we have in life (mercy, grace, forgiveness, redemption, purity) were produced by God through suffering — Jesus’ experiences in death. The greatest hopes we have in life (physical death not being “the end” and the joys of a world of righteousness) were produced by God through resurrection — God through Jesus is more powerful than physical death.

The issue in suffering and pain is not, “How can I be happy and endure this?” For the Christian, the issue in pain and suffering is, “How can my pain be God’s helpful tool?”