Sunday Nights 2005

Posted by on December 30, 2004 under Bulletin Articles

Each of us lives in a world that considers devotion to God a low priority; that pursues pleasure, or materialism, or security, or success, or escapism as life’s purpose; that defines integrity differently from the man or woman serving Jesus Christ; and that subscribes to standards and values in genuine contrast to Christian standards and values.

Living daily among people and influences that do not regard God as life’s priority is hard! It always has been hard! In some societies it is hard because God is opposed with open hostility and physical danger. In our society, most Christians do not face open hostility and physical danger. Here the opposition is real but often subtle.

The fact that it is hard to follow God in a world that denies God as Creator, the Source of life, and the Eternal Destiny is not new. Two thousand years ago Paul wrote to Christians living in Thessalonica, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6). He wrote to Christians in Ephesus, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). To the Christians in the province of Galatia he wrote, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen” (Galatians 1:3-5).

How do we as Christians react to our godless pressures and influences? Some react by creating an artificial division between “real life” and “religious life.” Some create a “going-to-church” habit. Some define personal faithfulness on the basis of physical presence at a place. Some wrestle with temptations and fail. Some struggle with guilt. Some seek to exist in isolation.

Regardless of personal reaction, we all need encouragement. Sunday evening in the auditorium will be devoted to supplying the encouragement to live. It will not be a duplication of Sunday morning. Sunday morning is primarily devoted to praising God. Sunday evening will primarily be devoted to challenging us to live for God. It will be devoted to providing us strength to live for Christ in our real worlds.

We will seek to make it uplifting. We will seek to make it helpful in a daily walk with God as we follow Christ. We will seek to make it “times of refreshing” coming “from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Come Sunday evenings to be encouraged and challenged!

[This is not an attempt to attract those who attend classes, life groups, Kids for Christ, etc., to the auditorium. We are not in competition with each other!]

The Gospel According to Joseph

Posted by on December 26, 2004 under Sermons

Opening thought: "When you see a Nativity scene, what do you look for? Is there a certain individual you are drawn to? Do you want to see how the wise men, shepherds, or angels are portrayed?

The scene at the Nativity – (a pastiche of the many events, a homogenization of the various perspectives – and these days anyone can be a part of the Nativity! Santa, Frosty, Rudolph – even Looney Tunes!)

  • Joseph – He is sort of the forgotten presence. What is he doing there? Where is he to be posed? Beside Mary, greeting the wise men, sorting out the gifts, tending to the sheep. What useful thing is he supposed to be doing?

  • I think there is a tendency to ignore Joseph because his perspective on the birth of Christ reminds us of the shadowy side of the birth of the Savior. When Luke writes his gospel it seems sure that he told the story of Christ’s birth from Mary, and she kept many of these memories in her heart. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ is by far the most popular and most well known (with the exception of the Star which we get from Matthew).

  • For Joseph, Mary’s betrothed husband, the story of the birth is not about things he kept in his heart, but of things he struggled with in his soul. For Joseph, the focus is not on gifts and visits. It is on the trial of it all – on what appeared to be infidelity and his thoughts of a quiet divorce, the weight of the law, the shame of sin and a fear for his family. And though it is a much rougher, shadowy account of things, it is still very much a story of good news – perhaps one very appropriate for us because it is a testimony of the gospel light breaking into the darkness. And with the help of Matthew, I want us to give attention to the gospel according to Joseph.

The Feeling of Shame and Scandal
Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married. It is supposed to be a blessed time as the two prepare for life together. There is already a sacred covenant between them and before the community they have promised themselves only to one another. They are not yet married and the rules about their interaction are guided by the community. Joseph is soon to begin his career with his father’s approval and begin a family with his wife. Joseph and Mary are bound to one another, but Joseph will not take her home to live with him until after the wedding.

However, this time of ordinary happiness is spoiled by scandal. Mary is pregnant. It would be bad enough if Joseph were the father and they had shamed the expectations of marriage, but all Joseph knows at this point is that he is not the father. He is in turmoil. If he ignores what has happened, he will be ignoring God’s law, and the law is very clear –
If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

Joseph is a righteous man, but he is also a compassionate man. He loves God and God’s law, but he also loves Mary. He does not want to humiliate and expose her as a sinful woman, she would be rejected by the village and it would shame her and her father and she is so young. But worst of all it could lead to the death penalty. If the people were outraged, they could be brutal.

But he cannot marry her either. Joseph cannot simply forgive her and marry her anyway – that’s very storybook and soap opera romantic, but it is not reality in first-century Palestine – certainly not for Joseph. The law demands that he annul the marriage. This is how he shows his love of God and the people of Israel.

Joseph is seeking a way through his dilemma. Since he learned of the pregnancy he has been trying to figure a way out. He is righteous, but he is merciful. His best option – to fulfill his obligations to God and to Mary – is to give her a "quiet divorce." He can send her away to her relatives down in the hill country of Judea. She can go down there until the child is born and Joseph will prepare the divorce with a few trusted officials. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is the best that he can do – nothing else is possible.

The Dream of a New Possibility
While Joseph is trying to figure it all out, he has a dream. This dream is gospel – that is, good news.

  • Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife – the child is born of the Holy Spirit
  • Name him Jesus – for he will save his people from their sins

Now Joseph has a possibility that wasn’t there when he was trying to figure it out on his own. Matthew says that this fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7) that the virgin will be with child and give birth to a son and he will be named Immanuel – God is with us.

  • The first time that prophecy was spoken it was meant to convince King Ahaz to trust in God and not worry about Israel’s foes. To rely on God and not his own treaties. But Ahaz chose to figure it out himself; he preferred his own solution. He decided that he would rather not bother God with this business.
  • When Joseph awakes from the dream, he has to decide what he will do – follow his own solution, or accept the dream and the "God is with us"/Immanuel alternative. It won’t be easy to accept the dream. If he takes Mary as his wife it means that onlookers will say that he has been with Mary before the wedding or they will be ashamed because Joseph has ignored the sin. (There are also risks to come that he cannot yet imagine – the aggression by Herod and the need to flee, but God’s messenger is there for Joseph once again).

For Joseph, the dream is truly a gospel – good news. It means that more is possible than he would have ever imagined. It means the burden of the law has been lifted.

  • Can you sympathize with Joseph? He is a good man, a righteous man and compassionate. But he is faced with (what he thought was) sin and the law doesn’t just "allow" him to break off the betrothal – the law and honor demand it.
  • Haven’t we been there? That crossroads between righteousness and mercy? Even in our benevolence we know that we are helping, but the reason we must help might be the result of sin. How are we to be merciful without ignoring sin? In our church and in our family, we want to be merciful to those who lie and betray us who hurt us. We love them so much that we want to forgive and forget, but how can we, even in love, ignore the sin? How do we demonstrate our compassion and concern without seeming as if condone sin? What will people think? What will people say? What message will it send? In Joseph’s case he is comforted with the revelation that Mary has not committed a sin, but the people Mary and Joseph know will not have shared that revelation. And what do we do when we are in turmoil over those who have indeed sinned.What do we do then?

A New Possibility – "God is With Us"

O, how we need Immanuel – God is with us. How we need Jesus! He will save! Joseph receives the word of God in this dream as good news. He welcomes the possibility that this child is the Messiah – the Son of God. Yes, there will be scandal – not because of Joseph and Mary’s sinfulness but because of the sinfulness of humankind – but the possibility of the gospel that Joseph receives means that he and Mary and all their people will be saved.

  • Would you like to share Joseph’s dream?
  • Would you like to hand your struggle over to God and just be obedient?
  • Would you like to overcome the fear, worry, and shame and trust in God?
  • Would you like to welcome the possibility that God is with us and he is on our side?
  • Would you like to let go of the burden of finding your own solution to your problems and trust in God’s possibilities – things that you and I cannot even imagine?

Joseph did all of that. He relied on God and trusted in God even when it seemed difficult or questionable. Unlike King Ahaz, Joseph sets aside his very logical, pious, and reasonable solution and pledges himself to God’s risky, but amazing, solution.

The gospel according to Joseph is the good news that God’s works are greater than our limitations. We are sinful and the law is often not on our side, and even when it is it is a burden God is with us!

So when you see Joseph in a nativity scene look for a man who trusts in God, look for a man who’s been saved from a dilemma between righteousness and mercy. Look for a man whose dream came true – God is with us! He will save us!

Leave Sincere Christians Alone!

Posted by on December 19, 2004 under Sermons

(Open the assembly with reading of Romans 14:1-12.)

Please remember tonight’s lesson is a continuation of the thought in last Sunday evening’s lesson.

As a movement, we have deep roots in protest and confrontation. Our first layer of historical roots sink deep into the Protestant Reformation. In what I realize is an oversimplified observation, the Protestant Reformation was a religious movement that ultimately protested against the Roman Catholic practices in the late middle ages by rebelling against Roman Catholic control in Europe.

As a historical movement, the roots of the Church of Christ in America began just before 1800 as a number of people in a number of different places were distressed by the forms of control that were expressed in different Protestant churches. In different places, back-to-the-Bible movements began as a means of seeking unity. In time, most of these movements merged into a single outcry.

However, from early in the American back-to-the-Bible movement, there was strong disagreement. In time it became a part of the nature of the movement to be critical. In time the movement divided in three primary directions. One group became the Disciples of Christ. One group became the Christian Church. One group became the Church of Christ.

I say this to make a single point: it is in the nature of our back-to-the-Bible movement to be critical. There are some who believe being critical even among ourselves to be an evidence of faithfulness. Being critical is so ingrained in the basic character of our movement that we even form a concept of unity that recognizes and sometimes encourages confrontation among ourselves. It is literally impossible for some of us to realize that God gave much indication that He is not as critical as we often are. We expect every follower of Christ to be exactly like us. God does not expect every person in Christ to be identical.

Let me use a humorous illustration from this week in this congregation. Each morning this week our campus ministry has offered a free pancake breakfast to any student taking his or her finals at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith. John Priester and Patti Anderson were the cooks and greeters. Every morning this week the whole office complex was filled with the pleasant aroma of cooking pancakes! Every morning when I walked through I had to resist the temptation to eat free pancakes!

Each time I passed by, there was the hot griddle, the pancake batter, several breakfast beverages to go with the pancakes, and a line of toppings to place on your hot pancakes: syrup (okay), jelly (okay but questionable), and peanut butter (yuck!). You see, I am from “the old school”–where I grew up, you just did not eat peanut butter on pancakes. In fact, the first time I ever saw peanut butter offered as a topping for pancakes was this week!

Then I learned that people have been eating peanut butter on pancakes for generations! I may even be in the minority! It is possible that “the right way to eat pancakes” is not with syrup! The fact that I cannot imagine eating peanut butter on pancakes (and I love peanut butter!) does not exclude combining peanut butter and pancakes for breakfast!

Allow me to focus your attention on something far more serious.

  1. I am convinced that we have failed to realize the enormous conflict between first century Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians over the “right way” to approach and serve God.
    1. There were major differences in the ways Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians did things as children of God.
      1. Jewish Christians often looked upon the ways of Gentile Christians with disgust.
      2. In numerous ways Jewish Christians often tried to intimidate Gentile Christians.
    2. To illustrate how deep and serious this conflict was, consider Galatians 2:11-14.
      [I am quite aware that the illustration involves a confrontation between two mature Christians. I direct your attention to three things: (1) the conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians was significant and prominent; (2) Cephas [Peter] who knew God’s intent to save Gentiles let himself be ruled by fear instead of faith in God’s objectives. Romans 14 does not involve God’s objectives in Christianity. (3) Cephas [Peter] did the thing Romans 14 declares must not occur.]
      But when Cephas [Peter, the same Peter we discussed last Sunday night] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
      1. Paul publicly said, “Peter your are wrong in your behavior.”
      2. When Peter first came to Antioch, he ate with [had total fellowship including table fellowship] Gentile Christians.
      3. But, when a group of Jewish Christians came to Antioch from Jerusalem, Peter stopped eating with Gentile Christians–and he encouraged other Jewish Christians [including Barnabas!] not to eat with Gentile Christians.
      4. Paul declared this attitude to be hypocrisy!
      5. Why did Peter act that way in those circumstances? Because he was afraid of the Jewish Christians!
    3. This conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christ was the major reason that Paul sent the letter we call Galatians and an important reason for Paul writing the letter we call Romans.
      1. In the mostly Gentile congregations of Galatia, this confusion created a major problem.
      2. In the congregations in Rome, this confusion was an important problem.

  2. For a moment, allow me to focus your attention on Romans.
    1. The book falls into three obvious parts.
      1. The first part is contained in chapters 1-11.
        1. It focuses on God’s part in human salvation.
        2. In that part Paul definitely includes in that focus the fact that God always intended Gentiles to be saved in Christ–without converting to Judaism!
      2. Listen to two statements from Romans 11.
        1. First, to Jews including Jewish Christians: Romans 11:1-6–I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
          1. The fact that God extends salvation to Gentiles through grace does not mean that God rejected Israel.
          2. This is not the first time God opposed Israel!
          3. Do not interpret God’s love for Gentiles as abandoning love for Israel!
        2. Second, to Gentile Christians: Romans 11:17-24–But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
          1. If God grafted you Gentile Christians in the tree, He can surely graft Israelites who believe in Jesus back into the tree.
          2. Do not be conceited! Do not believe God loves you more than He loves them!
        3. I called Romans 11 to your attention for this reason: I wanted you to see this conflict between Jewish believers in God and Gentile Christians was a real, prominent problem.
      3. The second part of the book runs from chapter 12 into chapter 15.
        1. This section discussed how a person lived or behaved because he understood God’s actions in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        2. It is in this section that we encounter Romans 14, the first part of which you heard read as we began.
      4. The third section is the ending contained mostly in Romans 16.

  3. For a few moments, I want to focus your attention on Romans 14.
    1. I want to begin by calling your attention to the fact that Rome had very different groups of Christians.
      Some Jewish Christians:
      Religiously, complete vegetarians
      Religiously, observed special
      holy days: Sabbaths, Passovers,
      Pentecosts, etc.
      1. They were so fearful of idolatry and eating a meat that was used in a sacrifice to an idol, they ate only vegetables to be safe religiously.
      2. They were so conscientious in not wishing to offend God that they observed Jewish holy days as was Israel’s practice for generations.
        Some Gentile Christians:
        They ate anything (God sanctified it all–1 Timothy 4:4,5)
        To them, there were no holy days.
      3. A sacrifice to an idol was a sacrifice to nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4).
      4. Observance of holy days does not bring a Christian closer to God.
    2. It should be obvious that these two groups were fundamentally different.
      1. They expressed faith in God differently.
      2. It was because of their faith in God they behaved differently.
      3. One group literally did things the other group did not do–and for religious reasons!
    3. Today, who would we say were the most conscientious, the most committed?
      1. Those who were vegetarians, who refuse to buy meat from the market.
      2. Those who observed holy days to be certain they did not offend God.
      3. But Paul classified them as the weak!
    4. Today, who would we say were the least conscientious, the least committed?
      1. Those who ate anything.
      2. Those who said there were no holy days.
      3. But Paul classified them as the strong! Why? Because of the faith they had!

  4. Listen to Paul’s instructions:
    1. God did not save you to pass judgment on Christians who disagree with your position.
    2. God knows your motives, why you do what you do.
    3. God in Christ can and will make each of you stand–He can and He will!
    4. Your responsibility is to see that you do not discourage each other by judging each other!
    5. When a Christian is doing something to honor God, encourage him, do not find fault with what he is doing! He or she will answer to God, not to you.

As I said last week, this is a difficult time of the year for some. Honor your conscience in what you do, but do not pass judgment on your fellow Christian. God can and will make stand those who honor Him. You do not prove the superiority of your faith by confronting those in Christ who disagree with you.

Reality Check

Posted by on under Sermons

What is Real?

Have you noticed how reality shows aren’t really real? What’s real about lying in a Plexiglas box full of roaches or getting stranded on an island? What’s real about falling off a bridge on a wire or racing around the world with a little person? What’s real about spoiled socialites working on a cattle-farm? What’s real about a fictional millionaire dating 30 women in a week so he can get married? Why are we shocked when we find out that reality shows are staged, scripted, and edited?

Have you noticed how so much of so-called "real life" isn’t really that real? Have you noticed that I don’t wear the clothes I want to, but often dress the way you expect me to? Have you noticed that we don’t really tell each other about the movies we go see or the books we read, but we may talk a certain church talk that we reserve for our time together? Have you noticed how we sometimes don’t tell each other what we really think or feel but often give the answer we think someone else wants to hear? Have you noticed how we will not tell each other about the things that we need help with – the mismanaged money, the addiction to pills or something to drink or something to smoke, the need to visit certain websites "just out of curiosity," or the need to be accepted by others and to have someone like us, love us, or praise us. And even though we would love to be as honest as to share all of this sincerely with another person, have you noticed how we seem to manufacture an "image" for ourselves and others? Have you noticed that "real life" sometimes isn’t real?

Perhaps that is because we think that if others knew the truth about us, they might hold that against us. Maybe each of us is concerned that someone else might use us as a step ladder to get up on his or her moral high ground? Then again maybe some of us are just as real as we can be – when in reality we are angry, disappointed, and perhaps a bit cautious with all the other hypocrites in this so-called real world. However you put it, sometimes the world isn’t that real.

Keeping It Real

Don’t think for a moment that "false reality" is just a problem on TV or in the church. There’s plenty of hypocrisy in the world. In fact those who claim to be "keeping it real" are often putting up a rehearsed front. They are playing the part of the strong individual who doesn’t care what anyone or anybody thinks about him or her. If that’s so, then why do they make a strong point of this in everything they do? I am convinced that if you want to find reality and the type of person who is real and not just "keeping it real" you have to draw close to the people who are close to God …

Among all the saints in our cloud of witnesses, no one is more real than John the Baptist. (Read Matthew 3:1-12) With John, what you see is what you get. John’s a preacher, but he doesn’t dress up for anyone – except God. I have heard every joke about preacher’s being the first in line for a potluck (which has never been true in my experience). John’s a preacher, but he doesn’t have time for potlucks and dinner on the ground and church socials. And even if he did, you may not want him to come: "Oh look here darling, someone brought roasted grasshoppers drizzled with raw honey. I wonder who that would be." If John went to preaching school he missed the classes that taught you how to dress for success. It’s obvious as he preaches without a tie for his camel hair shirt and leather belt – unshaven, for days and the only bath his constant baptizing. John’s not much on communication either. He must have skipped the rhetoric and conflict courses. I don’t know about you, but I always heard that you don’t win over your congregation by calling them a "brood of vipers" in your sermon.

But that’s the irony. John does have a church – or a following, a called-out assembly. They are called out because John called them out. How is it possible that John could be breaking all of Dale Carnegie and Rick Warren’s rules for influencing people and purposely growing churches but he still be doing just that! How? I think it is because he is real! And more than that – his message is real! The people came to hear a prophet – no more than a prophet! This isn’t some fad in ministry or religion. This isn’t 15 minutes of fame. It is an honest to goodness, bona fide, word of God. Not some show. Not some rant. It is REAL!!!!!

The people of John’s age were drawn to that. In a world of hopelessness and disappointed dreams of a Messiah that would restore the glory of Israel they were drawn to what’s real. In a religious culture dominated by leaders who paid attention to personal piety but offered no hope or authoritative world of God for real change, John’s real message was so attractive that people went out to see this man who dressed like the prophets of old and ate the diet of the poor not because he had to but because he was fueled by the Spirit of God. People went out to see this man who spoke honestly even to their King because he answered to a higher authority. Even the curious Pharisees who were so busy "keeping it real" by the book were drawn to this one who was regarded as a prophet.

Doesn’t it make you wonder how a prophet like John the Baptist would fare in our world? I think we would also be drawn to someone with a message that is real. Just consider our weariness with trying to keep up appearances and our confusion over what it means to keep it real. Since the middle of the 20th century, we have become a most skeptical and cynical nation. Why? Because we have come to doubt whether anything is real and that has caused us to lose hope. We know that reality TV is a sham. We know that with every ad you have to read the fine print. We know that in politics that "is doesn’t always mean is" and intelligence is sometimes unintelligible. About the only thing we really know is that appearance can be deceiving. In our marketed, campaigned, televised, spin-doctored, plastic-surgery world something REAL would attract us.

The 1976 movie Network is a dark satire of our un-real world. It begins with a newsman who starts "telling the truth" in the crudest way. His honesty is offensive, searing, and condemning – but his ratings are through the roof. People want to see someone strange enough to tell the truth. The network begins to market him as the Mad Prophet of the Airwaves. He tells the truth, the Network reaps the rewards, and all is well until he tells the truth on the network. And soon the fad is over. Reality and honesty are attractive but for that to count we have to have the courage to change.

John’s Real Message = Repentance and Hope

1. Repentance: John the Baptist is a prophet; or as Jesus said about him, more than a prophet – a messenger of the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 7:24-28). He tells the truth for sure. He tells the truth, he is real, because he calls us to repent – to turn and to change. And the people were responding to his message! They were making a change in their lives and getting ready for the Lord and his kingdom. Even the children of Abraham, the chosen ones, were repenting and getting baptized – and baptism is something regarding for Gentiles. We have wondered how John’s message would be heard today in our world that craves truth, honesty and reality. You and I are hearing it and I think this is how we ought to hear his call to repent – to change …

  • John calls us to sobering self-examination and confession — demands that we look in the mirror at the reality of our lives, at the dirt and sin that separate us from God. "To be prepared to hope in what does not deceive, we must first lose hope in everything that does deceive." (Quote by George Bernanos)
  • In his life and in his message John is calling us to strip away the religious façade. Putting on the front of holiness and piety, trying to appear good is of no benefit. We need righteousness that bears fruit, which means it is real and makes change. The axe is at the root of the tree that looks good but doesn’t offer much. If we’ve been playing a religious game then its time to change. And don’t hear the message as simply for liars. Those who play the religious game are not just people trying to deceive others. It is also all of us who are trapped in a way of thinking that turns the church into an institution so that our highest goal isn’t bearing fruit, but maintaining the institution. Those who play the religious game are those of us trapped in a way of behaving that focuses on keeping the rules so that we resist change – not only church change, but personal change. Maybe we need a man in a camel hair coat with the smell of honey dipped grasshoppers on his breath to shake us out of our religious games.
  • Notice how John called even the Jews to repentance. They couldn’t play the "Abraham card" with John. It wouldn’t wash. They should no longer claim their kinship with Abraham as proof of their chosen-ness – that won’t work any longer. What is needed now is repentance – a turning back to God and willingness to bear the fruit of His love – His justice in their lives. Words will no longer be enough – having Abraham as an ancestor will no longer be enough. What will count is the depth of repentance -and the visible fruits that will be borne in the life of one who has turned towards God.
  • John wouldn’t let them play the bloodline card and he won’t let us play the church-card. The church is not infallible. Israel tried to claim that since they were descended from Abraham, they were above reproach, but they were wrong. We cannot claim that we are above reproach simply because we go to the right church. As individuals and as a church we are accountable to God and even church must confess sins and repent. John is calling us – as families, as a church, a community and a nation – to repent.

2. Hope. – John is a prophet, but he is not a mad prophet; neither in the sense of being angry or crazy. In fact, he is very likely one of the most hopeful prophets. That may surprise us because our typical understanding of hope (as a cheerful, optimistic attitude) isn’t the sort of hope that characterizes John and his message. John’s hope is a real substantial hope – not the sort of candy floss hope that melts away in the sunshine. What’s the difference? The hope that John speaks of is not centered in what we can do or be, it is centered in God and what he has done and will do. This sort of hope is real because it has power to change – even now!

Those who aren’t interested in the church, believe that the church is more interested in judgment than it is in salvation. We have perfected the art of judgment without pointing to the One who really does the judging, — who is, of course, the same One who does the saving. And so we’ve given the impression that our sinfulness is more powerful than the saving One, Jesus. John has hope in the one who comes after him. He understands himself and his own limitations. John knows what is real – – "The one who is coming is more powerful than I." All I can do is make you aware of the problem – I cannot solve it. All I am called to do is convict you of your sinfulness and your need to get cleaned up – He is the Lamb of God that has the power to take away the sins of the world! (John 1:29) That’s why John was so real. You and I can be as real because we have the same hope that John did. We are not the judge or the savior, we are the messengers. "The Kingdom of Heaven is near – and here! Prepare for the arrival of the Lord, make a straight path for him!"

Let the Reflections Begin!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Right about now daily life becomes so hectic that our focus is on surviving until December 25th, not on reflecting. Maybe that is a significant, contributing reason for the depression this time of the year. All the advertisements show smiling faces at smiling gatherings of families or friends or both. Yet, those advertisements do not depict many people’s reality. Too often this important commercial time of the year tries to remind people of what they do not have, not what they do have.

The same commercials deliberately (for commercial purposes) send a false message. The false message: (1) “Give people what they want and they will be happy,” or (2) “If you give this for a gift you can be sure the person will be happy.” The annual reminder arrives: happiness is not found in possessions. We often think “possessions” are a substitute for caring, loving “relationships.” How quickly “things” bore us. “Things” are a distraction with an extremely short life of effective distraction. Caring, loving “relationships” grow in meaning and often endure a life time.

Perspective is the engine of reflection. In recent days, a conversation, an e-mail, and a letter fueled my reflection. The conversation came from a missionary forced home because of a medical necessity. His comment: “For the first time, I am experiencing reverse culture shock.” Reverse culture shock occurs when you re-enter the home culture and feel like you do not fit. Why is he experiencing reverse culture shock? “Here this season is so commercial!” Its focus is on business, not on remembering!

The e-mail came from a Christian in another part of our world. In this region Christianity is looked upon with great suspicion. Powerful people regard Christians as evil people who are a dangerous threat to society. In simple eloquence, the person spoke of the hopelessness of many. They had only the here-and-now perspective. They struggled daily in a sense of personal desperation as existence became increasingly futile.

The letter came from a Christian friend working hard in an area so poverty stricken that the simplest medicines are unavailable. The average person cannot even obtain a Bible. In the past, he has written me often of the difficulty of helping people find hope in Jesus Christ when they do not even have a Bible to read.

This is a wonderful time of the year to show love. Please, never rely on “things” to declare your love. Show your love through your kindness and caring. Show your love through a living, continuing “relationship.” Because you are who you are in Jesus Christ, touch lives of others by allowing God to teach you how to love in every relationship. May it be evident in the way you treat others that God living in you through Jesus Christ makes the difference that cannot be ignored. May an accurate, grateful perspective on your countless blessings enlarge your perspective! May your perspective drive your relationships! Your memories and awareness are the fuel for your love!

Do We Understand What We “Know”?

Posted by on December 12, 2004 under Sermons

How many times have your been terribly mistaken when you were absolutely certain you were correct? You were so sure you were correct, that you defended your position. The more you defended the position, the more certain you became that you were correct. The more certain you became that you were correct, the more emotional you became about the matter. The more you argued about the matter, the more your face changed colors (until it was a truly red color!). To you it mattered more and more and more! It got to mattering so much it became a finger shaking confrontation. It mattered so much that it became a voice raising confrontation. It mattered so much that you concentrated on listening for and hearing weakness and mistakes. While you rarely listened to what the other person actually said, you were deeply frustrated that the other person was not listening to what you said.

[Pause] Then it happened suddenly, instantly, “a flash of lightening” realization hit you, hit you hard. Suddenly you realized that you made were not correct! It was like someone hit you in the stomach hard when you totally were unprepared for the blow.

I suspect every single one of us has been there! I certainly have! When that happened to you, what did you do? (1) Did you keep on arguing like you were right when you knew you were mistaken? (2) Did you start listening to the other person, or did you close your ears even tighter? (3) Did you admit you made a mistake? (4) Did you feel stupid? (5) What impact did it have on your view of yourself? (When I do that, I feel so dumb! I will not stop telling myself how stupid that was!)

May I ask you if you have noticed something? At some point, the confrontation becomes more about you than about the matter being discussed. With you, when does that point come? When do your realize that it is more about who you are than the matter being discussed?

No one likes to be mistaken. Too often, we do not like what being mistaken says about us. Personal observation and confession: in God matters and Bible matters, learning involves admitting our mistakes. Many times one correct understanding results in a whole system of “knowledge” tumbling down. That is why it is so critical that each of us places his or her faith in God rather than a system of “knowledge.”

This evening I want us to focus on the apostle Peter. I ask you to think as we study, and think as we make a specific application.

  1. First, lets remind ourselves of who Peter was.
    1. Peter was one of Jesus’ prominent disciples.
      1. Mark 1:16. 17 and Luke 5:1-11 indicate that Peter was on of the first men of the 12 that Jesus called to the discipleship–a fisherman whom Jesus taught to catch me.
      2. As one of the 12, Peter was one of the inner core–he was a leader of leaders, a man who had the confidence to lead .
        1. He was with James and John when Jesus raised the synagogue official’s daughter, and only those three witnessed that event (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51).
        2. He was present with James and John at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1).
        3. He was present with James and John near Jesus as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37).
      3. It was to Peter that Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19).
      4. It was Peter who felt so bold as to rebuke Jesus (Matthew 16:22).
      5. It was Peter who was so confident of his loyalty to Jesus that he made a special effort to declare that he would die with Jesus before he would deny Jesus (Matthew 26:33)–“the other disciples might stumble away from you, but not me!”
      6. It was Peter who denied knowing Jesus, and in grief and disappointment went out into the night weeping bitterly (Matthew 26:75).
      7. It was to Peter and the disciples (Peter was specifically mentioned) that an angel sent notification of Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:7).
      8. It was Peter who preached the good news of Jesus’ resurrection in Acts 2 (Acts 2:14-36).
      9. It is Peter who at the beginning of the Jerusalem church is the leader (Acts 5:3, 9, 15).
    2. This is the same man, an apostle, who did not understand that Christ came to save people who were not Israelites.
      1. Peter had to be prepared to go to Cornelius and tell him about Jesus (Acts 10:9-23).
        1. He had a vision through which the Lord told him three times was not to call something God cleansed a unholy and unclean.
        2. That vision profoundly confused Peter! (verses 17, 19)
        3. The Holy Spirit told Peter to accompany the men Cornelius sent without asking any questions.
      2. Yet, the next day when Peter went to Cornelius’ home, he did not understand why he was there.
        Acts 10:28,29 And he (Peter) said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me.”
        1. “I came even though I knew I was not to do this–the only reason I came was because I understand God wanted me to come.”
        2. “Please explain to me why I am here.”
      3. What Peter did was so unacceptable, so taboo, among Israelites, that he took six Jewish Christian witnesses with him (Acts 10:23, 45; 11:12).
      4. When Peter got back to Jerusalem, he found out quickly his action of visiting a Gentile home and eating with Gentiles stirred up a real hornets nest of angry Jewish Christian protest.
        Acts 11:2,3 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
    3. What Peter did was always God’s intent.
      1. Before Israel was a nation, God said to Abraham, Genesis 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
      2. Again to Abraham: Genesis 22:18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
      3. God said to Isaac: Genesis 26:4 I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
      4. God said to Israel (Judah): Isaiah 42:5,6 Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations.
      5. God said to Israel (Judah): Isaiah 49:6 He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
      6. Simeon, when seeing the baby Jesus at the temple presentation: Luke 2:29-32 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
      7. Paul, to the Jews in Iconium: Acts 13:47 For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.'”
      8. Paul before King Agrippa, Acts 26:22,23 So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
    4. Though God has not veiled his objective, Israel did not understand God’s interest in non-Jewish people; they did not understand that God intended Israel to be light to people who were not Jews.
      1. They were absolutely certain they had God figured out, and they were certain that God was not interested in non-Jewish people.
      2. They had been so certain of this that not even the apostle Peter could imagine why God could send him to a gentile!
      3. Finally Peter understood:
        Acts 10:34,35 Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”

  2. Christians are often certain that they have God and God’s concerns all figured out, and they can tell you quickly and certainly in no uncertain terms exactly what God wants in every consideration.
    1. This is a very difficult time of the year for some Christians.
      1. For them it is filled with conflict.
      2. It seems that they move from one conscience crisis to another conscience crisis.
      3. As they are caught in this journey, they become frustrated with many of their Christian brothers and sisters. [“I cannot believe you do that!”]
    2. Let me share with you a couple of stories about things I know happened.
      1. The first is personal–the situation occurred when I was a child in the 5th or 6th grade.
        1. I went to public grade school when the public school planned and presented numerous religious programs.
        2. My parents [at that time] opposed the singing of Christmas songs in December.
        3. One day not long before Christmas our principal called a general assembly.
          1. He wanted the school to practice Christmas carols before the school’s Christmas program.
          2. He was upset because the singing was so poor, so he sternly threatened anyone he saw who was not singing.
          3. I was not singing, so he was publicly upset with me.
          4. I did not handle the situation well; yet, I still remember the tension I felt.
      2. The second illustration is about someone I knew years ago, and actually I am talking about a couple, not an individual.
        1. I want to make it clear that these two people are very compassionate people and very constructively involved in congregational leadership today.
        2. When this couple was young years ago, they were convinced having a Christmas tree was a spiritual concern that definitely involved right and wrong.
        3. They had sincere objections to the Christmas season, Christians using Christmas trees, and in any way calling attention to the Christmas season.
        4. Their sincere views created a definite sense of crisis in the congregation.
    3. I want to make just one point: too often when we personally conclude exactly how God feels, we are concerned about matters that are of little or no concern to God.
      1. Peter was certain that he understood what God wanted and what God would stress, but Peter was mistaken.
        1. When Peter had the vision in which the Lord told him to kill and eat unclean things (Leviticus 11), Peter told the Lord, “I have never done that! I cannot do that! It is wrong! I do not care what you ask, I can’t do something wrong!” The Lord asked Peter to do something wrong?
        2. Even after the Lord clearly sent Peter to Cornelius, Peter had no idea of why he was there! Teaching the gospel to people who were not Jews was unthinkable!
      2. I challenge all of us to do three things.
        1. Learn! Never stop letting God teach you.
        2. As you learn, be true to your conscience. The Lord understands why you do what you do.
        3. As you are true to your conscience, do not impose your conclusion in a conscience matter on someone else.

We invite you to Jesus Christ. We invite you to learn from God. We invite you to be yourself as you follow God. We invite you to pursue God’s peace among those who belong to Jesus Christ. We invite you to put your faith in God, not what you “know.”

People Get Ready!

Posted by on under Sermons

O You Had Better Watch Out

This is the time of year when all parents have an ally in establishing their authority. I speak of course of the mysterious and ancient Northman in his red wizard’s cap who descends upon us flying through the skies from his cold and barren keep in the land of eternal night. He arrives swiftly and unseen; no barrier, no bolt or lock can hinder him in his mission to dispense justice. If you are good, you get rewarded, but if you are bad – you will be given a token of your sins – a chuck of black anthracite or a bundle of dry tree limbs! Beware these symbols for "they do convict ye of your sins!"

Don’t doubt it! The ancient texts confirm this. They are ominous and fearful in their apocalyptic warning – "O, you had better watch out! O, you had better not cry! You had better not pout, and I am telling you why! Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you are awake, he knows when you are bad or good so be good for goodness sake!"
These are the pleading words of the old prophet Gene Autry pleading with children to correct their ways before the night time approach of the wizened agent of justice. This annual judge who rains down blessings and curses – the first words of the text confirm it – "You had better watch out!"

In March or July warning a child that Santa is watching just doesn’t have much weight. But in December the threat of his arrival can leverage good behavior. I still get chills when I recall my grandmother warning us that if we didn’t improve our behavior very quickly then we could be certain that the long-bearded, red-suited agent of justice would deliver us a bag of switches and cornbread. (I never quite understood the cornbread part.) Perhaps you also recall such warnings?

Isn’t it strange that Santa, good ole Saint Nick, is still such a beloved figure after such a scary prediction of his coming? If you didn’t know anything about Santa and only had the words of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and the countless warnings of parents throughout the ages – wouldn’t Santa seem like a vengeful, fearful being? A powerful figure with an omniscient gaze; you do not want to entice his disfavor. Yet children aren’t that intimidated. They are hopeful and have great expectations of the morning after his arrival.

I find it even stranger and a little disappointing that we are less hopeful and optimistic about the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (And when you compare it to the arrival of jolly St. Nick it is by far the more substantial and important event worthy of anticipation, right?) There’s an irony in the comparison of the general anticipation of Christmas morning versus the general anticipation of Christ’s return. Try as we might it is nearly impossible to make the arrival of Santa something terrifying. Yet, as hopeful and joyous as we ought to be in our anticipation of Christ’s return, it is often a thought that fills the hearts of even the most faithful believers with dread and worry. Consider the words of this popular church song – "Jesus is coming soon! Morning or night or noon! Many will meet their doom! Trumpets will sound!" Certainly the judgment of the Lord is a terrible thing, but too often when we speak of his imminent return it is all doom and little or nothing is said of his mercy and the hope that his return inspires.

Is that really all we can expect of the Day of the Lord? If it is such a fearful and frightening event, if it seems that the best thing to do when Christ returns is to hide, then why did the first century Christians long for his return? Why did they pray, "Come Soon Lord Jesus?" Why is that day hoped for as the day that dawns when "the morning star rises in our hearts?" (2 Peter 1:19) The early Christians anticipated the second coming of Christ in much the same way that the people of Israel anticipated the first coming of the Messiah and the dawn of the Day of the Lord. In the preaching and teaching before Christ’s first coming and the second coming there is a consistent theme of getting ready and being prepared, but the message doesn’t end at "You had better watch out!" The preparation and readiness is a call to hope and something new and amazing.

People, Get Ready

But didn’t Jesus himself preach a scary vision of the return? Didn’t Jesus himself describe the last days as terrifying and ominous? That’s the way we usually hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36-44 … When I read a verse like this I instantly think of the rapture and end-time doom scenarios like you find in Left Behind. But here’s my problem – the setting and style of these Scriptures doesn’t fit with a tribulation view of the world. A theology of the rapture assumes that God’s people have it good, but it’s going to get really bad. But during the first century that was just the opposite. God’s people had it really bad – and they had no hope of things getting better. These images of separation, desolating sacrileges, and the like sound really eerie to us, but to oppressed people it’s just scenes from the "Nightly News."

Jesus isn’t trying to strike fear into the heart of the wicked. He wants the faithful to be ready! Not "You Had Better Watch Out!" but "People, Get Ready!" Jesus wants his people to know that the oppression they see all around them is not the way it is going to turn out. The worst things are never the last things! He wants them to know that when it looks bad and seems like the enemy is going to win, they shouldn’t give up and they shouldn’t lose hope. It is just the darkness before the dawn; it is just the cross before resurrection day. Just as he told Peter to be ready when they were coming to arrest him, Jesus is telling us to be ready because things may seem really bad. The readiness that Jesus calls us to is a hopeful, faithful readiness – not a hand-wringing, nail-biting, get ready to scream and hide beneath a rock readiness. New ways of thinking, living, and talking are called for because God is among us. His son lives with us and nothing can ever be the same again. Why? Because God has a future in store for us that is so grand it changes the way we live even now.

The conventional views of the end of time have missed the balance of hope and urgency that Jesus and the Old Testament prophets preached. With apologies to popular Christian writers in the 20th century, the greatest prophet of readiness in the 20th century was R&B singer Curtis Mayfield. He understood the balance between urgency and hope that calls us to do more than Watch Out! It calls us to Get Ready!
His song, "People Get Ready," was released in 1965, at the height of America’s civil rights movement, and was an immediate classic. The song makes clear that redemption is offered to all, except those who clearly don’t want it — but nevertheless asks us to feel for them anyway. The haunting moan that floats throughout balances the seriousness of judgment with the hopeful lyrics – lyrics that express the hopes of people who are urged to start living in anticipation of something better …




Hope: Anticipation and Preparation
I am not suggesting that there is no fear or urgency to be associated with the end of time, but our emphasis has been unbalanced. We should realize that there is more than a "You Had Better Watch Out!" event known as the Second Coming. Let’s balance the urgency and awe of Jesus’ return with hope, anticipation, and preparation.

Anticipation of something greater than the current state of affairs is central to the church’s proclamation. How can we share hope and good news if good news means nothing more than avoiding trouble? We believe and proclaim that God’s new heaven and earth is something worth dying for and living for! So we’re going to get ready!

Preparation – Our view of the coming of the Lord should mean more to us than just procuring insurance against the impending wrath of God. It means living today like it is already the Day of the Lord.

The coming of the Lord is not being pulled over by flashing lights, and grace is not simply getting a warning when we should have been fined. New ways of thinking, living, and talking are called for because God is among us. His son lives with us and nothing can ever be the same again. Why? Because God has a future in store for us that is so grand it changes the way we live even now. Hear again the message of Isaiah as he anticipates what it means when the Lord comes to rule … (read Isaiah 2:2-5 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.)

The goal of God’s Messiah is peace. There is a happy ending. Some might be determined to write themselves out of the story, but God’s ultimate vision is to establish His rule so that peace rules. There is an end to war and conflict. People are focused on those things that give life, not the manufacture of death and destruction. People do not have to be dragged before the Lord; they rush to His hilltop throne to receive instruction. Out of that vision, Isaiah encourages us to get ready by walking in the light of the Lord. In other words, let’s live now like it is already that day. "People, get ready!"

Discussion Guide

  • Read these Key Scriptures: Isaiah 2:2-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 24:36-44
  • What are the things we anticipate and expect this time of year? (parties? gifts? Santa’s visit? Bowl games?)
  • How much energy and excitement do we invest in these annual events? Are we usually satisfied by the outcome? What goes right? What goes wrong? How ultimately important is the outcome? (Family getting together – important. Winner of the Orange Bowl – ??? Right size sweater – ???)
  • After reading the Scriptures above, discuss – What are Isaiah, the Psalmist, Paul, and Jesus expecting? What do they look forward to? What is their hope?
  • Look again at Isaiah 2 and Psalm 122 – How important is the coming of the Lord to the world? How will it “really” change our lives? (No more war, peace, the light of God’s presence)
  • Look again at what Paul says in Romans 13 – How much energy and effort should we put into the day that is “one day closer” each day? How important is it?
  • Finally, what is Jesus’ message about the last days? Is this all gloom and doom? Look ahead to Matthew 25:34-40 and compare the context of Matthew 24 and 25 with Isaiah 2 and Romans 13. How is the return of the Lord something we ought to anticipate with joy and hope and gladness – not just “fear and gnashing of teeth”? What does it mean to be ready?
  • What is the connection between Matthew 24:44 (Be Ready) and Isaiah 2:5 (Come Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord)?

Life Is Transition!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

One of the songs sung in my childhood congregation contained the statement, “Time is filled with swift transition.” Many times this past year I was reminded the song is filled with truth! From driver’s license to high school graduation, to college, to marriage, to first full-time work, to beginning a family, to graduate school, to three children, to mission work, to stateside work, to age 64 and counting, my life is change! As people in every generation, I look back wondering how it passed so quickly. As I lived, it did not seem to be flying by — but now it seems to have streaked by.

Let me share with you two things now occurring in my life. Sunday night I talked about the shipment of medical supplies, Bible study aids, and Bibles we plan to send to Eugene Elangwe in Cameroon, West Africa, in January, 2005. We have almost $7500 of the needed $10,000 shipping costs. We no longer seek funds for medicines [though much needed, they are too expensive]. C.U.R.E. donated over a ton of medical supplies you boxed for shipment. C.U.R.E. will utilize their network for shipping the supplies. Seven different Wum clinics will use those supplies. We will meet urgent physical needs and present Christians as compassionate people. Some there are suspicious of Christians.

I asked you to look at home and contribute Bible study aids (concordances, Bible dictionaries, reference books, commentaries, etc.), and Bibles (English is one of the basic languages there). Bible House book store in Searcy, AR, is making a significant contribution to that collection. The objective is to supply the preacher training school with some materials and to provide Bibles to congregations. There is plenty of room to ship books regardless of size or weight. Thanks for all your help, time, and generosity!

In the past month, with MUCH technical help from Debbie and Ron Belote, I opened a personal web site, . On that site, free, are bulletin articles, adult Bible class materials with guides for teachers, and sermons. (In time this will include sermons from Oxford, MS, and West-Ark.) I also hope to have all of my out-of-print books on the site as well as writing new material for the site. If you know of anyone who can make use of any of these materials, please let them know they are available for use free of charge. Right now I need a few people to scan some out-of-print books to become part of this site. If you have interest, time, and access to a scanner, please let me know.

I hope the site will be useful in numerous ways. It is a mission outreach — people around the world have access to the material. It can supply help to small congregations experiencing difficulty having a regular minister. Hopefully, it will stimulate the thinking of preachers who read the materials. Hopefully, it will stimulate Christian individuals in their personal studies. Hopefully, it will be something God can use in His great and wonderful purposes.

Help for the Work of Eugene Elangwe

Posted by on December 5, 2004 under Sermons

In 1970-1974 Joyce and I did mission work in West Africa in the country of Cameroon. That country is about the size of the state of California, and at that time had a population of around five million people.

For about three of the four years I lived there, part of my work was teaching in a preacher training school. One of the students was Eugene Elangwe. Eugene also worked for Deborah Brown (now Wilson) and Nancy O’Brian. Since none of us had the machines and conveniences of this country, everything was done by “man power.” Eugene helped Deborah and Nancy by supplying some of that “man power” (manual labor).

  1. At the time Eugene was in the preacher training school, he was an unmarried teenager.
    1. Now Eugene is almost 50 years old.
      1. He has a wife and seven children.
      2. Years ago he moved to one of the northern regions of that country.
      3. He is just a little over 200 miles from the nearest American missionary–which in that area is a considerable distance.
      4. He has no vehicle, so everything he does is still dependent on “man power” (manual labor).
      5. Let me use the year 2000 as an example:
        1. His income for supporting his family was $400 a month.
        2. He was spending 75% of that income on educating his children.
        3. He had a work fund of $200 a month, which was insufficient to cover the expenses of his work.
        4. He was gardening to provide the basic food needs of his family.
        5. He spent 4 days a week traveling to villages for evangelism, and that included about 50 miles of walking (per month).
        6. There were 6 additional villages asking him to come to them and teach.
    2. Given his circumstances, I find the work incredible.
      1. He has begun 13 congregations in the area, and he has to visit several of them by walking.
      2. He realized the need to train church leaders, so he started a Bible training school.
        1. The school meets twice a year, two months in the spring and two months in the fall.
        2. The primary purpose of the school is to train leaders for the congregations.
        3. There are not enough Bibles to supply everyone in existing congregations with a Bible.
        4. There are no Bible study aids to provide the students in the school.
        5. Yet, with almost no supplies, the school graduated its first 5 students in September of 2003, after the students completed 42 courses of study.
    3. When Eugene completed our course work in his first Bible Training school, he did not stop his education.
      1. He has completed a 50-course curriculum from the International School of Biblical Studies in South Africa (by correspondence).
      2. His hope is to continue with a degree program.

    Eugene is doing things no American missionary could do as he shares the gospel with the people in Wum.

  2. Dr. Bob Fisher and Kevin Vaught report on the work of C.U.R.E. (Compassionate Utilization of Resources)

  3. One of the things that I most dislike in life is raising money–that was the aspect of mission work I least liked.
    1. The plans to help Eugene in his work have been developing for five years.
      1. I had two objectives in helping him.
        1. I wanted to increase his credibility and opportunity among the people.
        2. I wanted to send him some Bibles and Bible study aids to use in the preacher training school and in the congregations.
      2. C.U.R.E. is an extremely important part of helping me reach those objectives.
        1. It has contributed hundreds of pounds of medical supplies for the clinics in Eugene’s areas.
        2. It has arranged for the shipping of the supplies (hopefully in January 2005) to the area (permission for the shipment to enter Cameroon already has been received).
        3. The hundreds of pounds of medical supplies will be shared by 6 clinics in the area.
          1. The medical supplies are greatly needed.
          2. We hope this will allow Christians to be appreciated and respected as compassionate people.
        4. Enclosed in the shipment, with permission, will be Bibles and Bible study aids for the school and congregations.
          1. We hope this will supply Eugene with some much needed tools in his work.

  4. Originally we has hoped to send several requested medicines.
    1. That is not possible–it required much too much money.
      1. Everything we ship is a gift.
      2. Hopefully, we have raised the money for the cost of shipping. (As of 5 December 2004, we now have almost $6500 to ship the Gaylord container; it will take about $10,000).
    2. I cannot begin to describe to you the need for medical supplies in this area.
    3. I do need your help in collecting Bibles and Bible study aids in English.
      1. I ask you to look around your homes and collect Bibles or Bible study books to ship.
      2. The Bibles primarily will be used in the congregations, and the aids primarily in the preacher training school.
      3. The language they use in their studies and school is English.
      4. If you can drop these off at our offices, I will take them to the warehouse to be included in the shipment.

It is so simple to hear about Jesus and become a Christian in our society in America. It is so difficult to hear about Jesus and become Christians in so many other societies.

May we not only know our blessings, but may we respond to our blessings.

Recognizing Spiritual Gifts and Using Them to Glorify God – Part 2

Posted by on under Sermons

Paul outlines in Romans 12:1-8 the Christian way of thinking concerning spiritual gifts …read Romans 12:1-8.

Three practical suggestions may help you recognize and use your spiritual gift. Andto help you remember it I want you to think of 3-D. 3D is real and tangible, just as realand tangible as these three “D-suggestions:”

  1. Devote yourself to God in worship – (Romans 12:1-3) Offer yourself to God as aliving sacrifice, out of gratitude for His mercies to you. Think of what it means to offer,to devote a sacrifice to God …
    • Focus on Jesus and His Cross – Worship is the constant among us. All of usstand before God the same – broken people loved by our merciful Creator. Eachof us is offered a place in his kingdom, we are extended forgiveness, and we arecalled to participate in God’s spirit. (Scene from Passion of the Christ -Distinctions were faded as they came near the cross – Joseph of Arimethea,Mary, Mary M., centurion and soldiers – women and men, former skeptics andfaithful, Jew and Roman, rich and poor, rulers and ruled)
    • Spiritual Worldview: Transforming of mind – Only a renewed, transformed mindcan think of spiritual gifts as Paul has exhorted here. Our culture would convinceus to do the opposite of what Paul teaches. Paul warns us not to “overthink” andnot to “think of [ourselves] more highly than we ought to think.” The worldtells us we do not have a good enough estimate of our own worth. In the secularway of thinking, we need to think more highly of ourselves. Many tell us there areno limits placed on our abilities except those we impose on ourselves. Thesolution, we are told, is to believe that within us (not apart from ourselves,enabled by the Holy Spirit) there is unlimited potential for success andachievement. We are told that if we but think more positively, more highly ofourselves, then success is guaranteed–the higher our thoughts and goals, thehigher our performance.
    • The world looks inward to what is within man and finds unlimited potential. TheBible instructs us to look Godward, to look to the Holy Spirit and Hisenablement, to live our lives in a way that will sacrificially serve God andmen.
    • Spiritual gifts are not intended to be a mystery. The teaching of spiritual gifts isboth fundamental and elementary. If you do not know your spiritual gift andministry, God is not hiding it from you, if you are seeking to be obedient to Him.Try to see yourself, your abilities, your experience with a biblical worldview – across-eyed perspective on the world (Woolridge’s at Lake Jackson Church of Christ – brought it to God,then to the church – and God made it clear to them – it starts in worshipfuldevotion to God!)

  2. Develop Serious Relationships with other Christians (Nurturing &Growing) – Submit to others in friendship and accountability (Romans12:4-5) In verses 4 and 5, Paul calls Christians to think communally. Spiritualgifts must be understood and practiced in the context of the body of Christ. So itmakes sense that they would be discerned and discovered by others too. Thereare some Christians who have this gift of recognizing what others are gifted to do.(Christian Empowerment) Spiritual gifts mean that I am both weak and strong. Iam strong in the area of my gift; I am weak in the areas where others have beengifted. Thus, I must minister to the body of Christ and others out of my strength,and I am dependent upon the ministry of the rest of the body in my areas ofweakness.
    For the proper functioning of spiritual gifts, we must cease thinkingindividualistically and begin to think like a community. We cannot look atourselves as an island, independent of all others. That’s the spirit behind at leasttwo of our goals – (Increase in Love and Godly Behavior – Nurture SpiritualGrowth and Holiness)
    What’s Happening at West-Ark? – Talk to others, talk to minister, ask elders topray for you – try it!
    Who do you spend your time with? Think of the people you gather around you? Who do you pray with? In What’s Happening at West-Ark, you can look at theFAQ that says “How can I grow?” Get involved in these activities to grow and bespiritually nurtured and give it time.

  3. Dedicate Time Serving others – (v. 6-8)
    In verses 7 and 8, Paul urges those who have the speaking gifts to likewisedevote themselves to doing that which they have been gifted to do. But why tell ateacher to teach or a servant to serve? Isn’t it just natural? Our natural tendencyis to be self-centered and self-serving. Paul assumes two potential problemswhen it comes to spiritual gifts: 1) The first is not devoting ourselves to doing thatwhich God gifted us to do; 2) The second is using our gifts in a way inconsistentwith the grace of God.
    Using Your Gift to Glorify God – by speaking for God and serving others. Thiscan be mundane, not just miraculous! Look for needs, and seek to meet them.When a gift is used for God and to help others it is no longer mundane. Simplethings become great. What may seem routine medicine to us, is a mighty work inMedical Mission field. We tend to think that miraculous means defiance of thenatural laws, but I tend to think it means defiance of the natural way we humansdo things in this world. When a gift is given in the name of Jesus, it is wondrous- and perhaps in that way miraculous.
    • You might recognize your gifts in this way. It is a sort of spiritual “on the job training.” Look forthose who are weaker than you, and serve them from your strength. Spiritualgifts are given in order to meet the needs of others. Others needs are allabout us. We need but the eyes to see them and the obedience to respond tothem by God’s grace and power. Look in What’s Happening at West-Ark – Getplugged in! Watch the announcements each week.
    • Did you notice the section in What’s Happening at West-Ark the FAQ “How can Iserve others?” Use that! Take a look at our bulletin and notices each week. Who are those in need this week? What needs are going unmet in the church? Isthere a need for …? What gifts do you have to meet an opportunity? What if youhave a gift for which there is no “program”? Make a ministry! Someone will beserved by it. How do you think all of these works in What’s Happening at West-Ark got started? It just takes a person and people willing to do what God wantsthem to do. Talk to people who are serving. How did they get started? In What’sHappening at West-Ark the last FAQ is “Who Do I Contact About?” – One sectionon last page is “Staying Informed.” There is always an opportunity to serve anduse your gift(s).

I am convinced that the matter of spiritual gifts is not as mysterious assome suggest and as it might seem at first. If you have first given yourselfto God, and you are seeking to obey Him in the strength He supplies, youwill know what He has given you to do, and you will have the faith and thegrace necessary to do it.

Jesus said that the one that gives a cup of cold water. “And if you give even acup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”- Matthew 10:42. Maybe it’s just that simple.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 5 December 2004

Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others
Notes for the Sermon – “Recognizing Spiritual Gifts and Using Them to Glorify God” – Part 2
December 5, 2004

Recognizing Your Spiritual Gifts in 3-D:

    • D______________ yourself to God in w_____________.

    • D______________ n_____________ relationships with other Christians.

    • D______________ time and effort s_____________ others.
  1. D_______________ Yourself to God in W_____________. (Rom. 12:1-3)
    • F____________ on Jesus and the Cross

    • "Renewing of your mind" = Adopt a spiritual, biblical w__________________.
  2. D_______________ n______________ relationships with other Christians. (12:4-5)
    • I_____________ love and godly behavior

    • Nurture spiritual growth and h_________________.

    • What’s Happening at West-Ark? (How can I grow as a disciple of Jesus?)
      Answer these for later thought and discussion:

      1. Who mentors you? Who do you mentor?_______________________________
      2. Who do you pray with? _______________________________
      3. Who do you spend time with? _______________________________

  3. D________________ time and effort s__________________ others. (12:6-8)
    • R____________ your spiritual gift(s) and u______ it/them to glorify God by …

      • Serving others

      • L________ for needs and s_________ to meet them

      • What’s Happening at West-Ark?

      • "How Can I Serve Others?"

Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others
“Recognizing Spiritual Gifts and Using Them to Glorify God” – Part 2
Driving It Home Discussion Guide
December 5, 2004

  1. Read Romans 12:1-8.

  2. What does it mean to offer yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God?

  3. How does the encounter with God in worship change us? How does our submission to the Lordship of Christ change us? How do we demonstrate that when we gather to worship?

  4. Does worship contribute to your worldview? Give a specific example.

  5. Living the Lesson Application: Would you like God’s help to recognize your spiritual gift? Why don’t you ask for it in worship by coming before the congregation and before God? (Do we think that the "invitation" is only for baptism and reconciling "sinners?" Why do we think that? Is that valid?) Have you ever asked an elder, minister, or a Christian brother or sister to help you recognize your spiritual gift? If yes, how did that help you? In no, what prevents you?

  6. Who are the people that mentor you or have mentored you? How did they help you grow spiritually? How did they help you recognize your spiritual gifts?

  7. Living the Lesson Application: Did you get a copy of What’s Happening at West-Ark? Are you involved in a ministry that nurtures you? If not, how are you nurtured as a Christian?

  8. Who do you nurture? In what ways has God equipped you to build up other Christians? (Consider how even your mistakes and misfortunes can be used by God to help others).

  9. Read Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11. Why does God give us spiritual gifts? Who do you serve and what gift do you use?

  10. Living the Lesson Application: You can serve others in everyday ways. Would you like to get involved in a ministry serving others? Look in What’s Happening at West-Ark? Who do you need to contact and offer your help?

Go to and review any lessons in this series you
may have missed. Tapes are available through the office – 479-452-1240