It is God’s Mission: the Church Gathered and Sent

Posted by on January 30, 2005 under Sermons

What do falling towers, clay jars, a shifty money manager, and a Scottish King have to do with one another? It sounds like the start of a bad joke or a mysterious riddle. If you have been following the preaching of the word through January, then you know that each of these objects tells a story that enriches our understanding of God’s mission to rescue the world. They refer to biblical teachings that indicate how we are not only participants in the mission but also recipients of that rescuing mission.
These four images and the principles attached to each one summon us to focus our attention on what God is doing in the world, in the church, and in our lives.

It is God’s mission and we have been called to participate in it.
Luke 13:4-5 – "And what about the eighteen who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish."
Natural disasters and crises in the world (9-11 and tsunamis) may cause people to ask questions about God, his protection, and our sinfulness. But whether the tragedies and crises in this world are the work of humanity’s sin or the result of nature the call to each of us is the same – turn toward God. Towers fall because this is a fallen world. God has a rescue mission to save it. Not simply to save us, but to redeem all things and to bring forth a new heaven and earth. We have been called to be a part of that. We are invited to enter into the kingdom of God. But before any of us can participate in God’s mission, we must realize that we are first and always recipients of his missional activity. To make disciples we must be disciples. We are called to worship him and at the same time sent out to serve others in his name. That means that the knee that bows is part of the same leg that walks a life worthy of the gospel. It is all part of repentance – which not only means turning away from sin, but turning toward God and aligning ourselves with his mission. It is God’s mission and we have been called to participate in it.

It is God’s mission and we are empowered to live in it.
2 Corinthians 4:7 – "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us."
It may seem intimidating to participate in such an awesome mission. We are right to ask, "Who could ever be worthy of such a task?" And we would be right to answer, "None of us!" But the good news is that we are not left to our own power and ability. This is good news because the Bible affirms that the mission is not a problem we have to solve alone by working harder, doing something new, raising more money, or generating more anxiety. We believe the word of God that He is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. (See Ephesians 3:20.) We do not believe the old saying that "God has no hands but our hands" to do His work. In fact, quite the opposite, we are God’s handiwork and our ministry and good works are God’s hand at work among us. (See Ephesians 2:10.) We are simply containers, humble clay jars or cardboard boxes, that carry the wonderful gospel treasure that God deposits within us. It is God’s mission and we are empowered to live in it.

It is God’s mission and all our powers and resources shall conform to His rule.
Luke 16:13 – "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
The parable of a clever money manager reminds us that the children of this age are more cunning and creative in achieving their objectives than the children of light are with the mission. If a devious and self-serving embezzler is able to use the power and money available to him to save his own skin, shouldn’t we, the recipients of God’s mission, apply of all our powers and resources for the saving of the lost? Someone might say, "But wait, didn’t we just affirm that God empowers this mission?" Exactly! And what powers and resources do we have that we think weren’t given to us by God in the first place. We are not saying that we offer God something he didn’t already have or cannot claim without our consent. Rather, we are redeeming the various resources, privileges, and powers that we have access to by conforming them to God’s rightful rule over all things. The way we use these powers and resources determines our master: We give them to God or they master us. God is our Lord and we shall be faithful even in the little things, the simple everyday resources and the everyday decisions we make about the way we use our time and money. We shall be faithful with the simple authority and influence we have whether as a neighbor, a relative, a co-worker, a supervisor, a subordinate, a salesperson, a shopper, a professional, a politician, a customer, or a clerk. It is God’s mission and all our power and resource – as individuals and as a church – shall conform to His rule.

It is God’s mission and we have been united for a common cause
The story of Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, is the one image not drawn from Scripture. But perhaps this parable taken from history about a King that united a divided people against a common foe will remind us of Jesus’ prayer for us.
John 17:23 – "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
It is tempting in this age to want to be served rather than serve. It is tempting to claim our status as a paying customer, a taxpaying citizen, or a faithful contributing church member and so demand our rights. It is tempting to focus on our individual needs and our personal relationship with God to the exclusion of our relationship with his people. But these are the lure and bait of the enemy who would keep us divided so that we do not recognize the joy and blessings of being gathered up by God into a community of those who are being saved. The enemy does want us to see the world from the vantage of God’s mission and so imagine ourselves related to one another and even to the world through the love of God. Unity is the prayer of our King, Jesus Christ, and the purpose of our unity in worship, fellowship, and ministry is that the world may know God. It is God’s mission and we have been united for a common cause – his mission to save the world he loves (which includes us).

The sum total of all these is that God is to focus our attention on what God is doing in the world, in the church, and in our lives. Believing that God is actually doing something in the world, the church, and our lives is no small thing. Even Christians can become conditioned to act, speak and think as if we can only trust in what we humans can achieve by our own will, our own power, our own resources, and our own organization.

It is (just) our mission.
Quite often we think that the mission is something we do. We may not do this consciously, but, as good Americans, we think that the effort is all up to us. We are a "do-it-yourself, get-r-done" type of people and have been so for many generations. Our problem is not that we are hearers and not doers of the word. Often we are doers but we haven’t heard a thing! When we think of mission as "our mission" or "the mission of the church" without placing it in the context of what God is doing our view of mission becomes flat, two-dimensional, and disconnected from the source of mission.

We view it like this: God is up there, and the world is down here. God’s effort is to establish the church, but once he has done so, the mission is delegated to the church. There really isn’t any point in God remaining in mission because the church must do it. Now the church, if it is to be faithful and survive, must go out into the world and bring in new members. That is how it grows and expands.
Problems with this view: This is ecclesiocentric or church-centered. It really doesn’t seem all that wrong and it isn’t wrong, it is just so incomplete. Mission is church recruitment. It is a program of the church among many efforts that the church and members can select and choose. It is always outside the church. And there is no sense of internal mission to those who are being save (1 Corinthians 1:18).

It is God’s mission and we are gathered and sent. I believe we will be refreshed and have a new sense of joy and hope when we perceive mission as the mission of God toward us and the world rather than a program of the church. Drawing from the biblical worldview let’s view it like this: Begin with God and the world. God’s desire is to reconcile with the world. He is a reconciling God. This is his mission. Implication: Mission is more than just an adjunct activity of the church. God sends Christ. He establishes the rule of Christ over all the earth. There are not two realms – one where Christ is Lord and one where he is not. He may not be recognized as Lord, but that does not change the reality of kingdom and authority. Where he is confessed as Lord there are a worshipping/ministering people who are the recipients of the mission and a visible witness of what God is doing to rescue the world – the church! The clay jars full of valuable treasure, the unified people who have been redeemed and aligned their purposes with God’s purposes. This people, the church, come up from the cultures of the world, but are transformed within the culture. Since they remain in the world (though not of the world) it would not be accurate to draw a tight circle and declare it the inside and the world is then the outside. Instead, this mission/worship shaped community exists in the world and has a dynamic relationship with the world that is in synch with God’s relationship with the world. God’s mission defines this relationship with the world by gathering people into the church and sending the church into the world. Please note that the sending and gathering are not solely the work of the church. Sending and gathering are part of God’s activity in the world, in the church, and in our lives.

End with John 20:23 – The Church Gathered and Sent. God sent Christ, Christ sends the church. More on this next week. Do you know Jesus? We believe he is risen and he is doing something in this world, this church, and he is able to do something in your life.

Agenda — God’s or Mine?

Posted by on January 27, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

Unfortunately, Christians allow that attitude to explain much that happens among ourselves. If “I” do it, “my” reason is noble. However, if “you” do it, “you” are up to something. This attitude too often is adopted by Christians for numerous reasons. (1) There are con artists that use religion to work their cons. (2) Often people have “hidden agendas.” (3) Spiritual maturity is a demanding (often disturbing) journey-it is a journey, not a destination. (4) Maturing requires growth, and growth produces change. (5) Forming “emotional attachments” frequently attacks understanding. (6) It is hard to accept previously unknown information.

The pursuit of God’s will is a humbling, demanding challenge. The human finite mind will never fully comprehend the infinite God. That reality is distressing! The more we understand God, the more we are challenged. The more we are challenged, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more we confront the need to develop. As we spiritually develop, changes produced by improved understandings are certain.

As a result, the question, “What are they up to?” is horribly inadequate. Quite frequently, all that “they” are “up to” is allowing God’s will to transform them. That dedication often leads Christians to what other Christians declare to be the unthinkable.

Consider a first century example. Commonly, devout Jews did not approve of idol-worshipping Gentiles becoming 100% children in God’s family without converting to Judaism first. This disapproval was a major problem in the early church. Even Jewish Christians said, “Gentiles (1) have the wrong ancestry; (2) are not covenant people; and (3) come from the wrong moral/ethical background!” Justice is done to their concerns with these statements: “God would not do that! God does not think that way! God is upset! We demand things be done our way!”

Yet, it was God’s intent to bring all people to Him through Jesus Christ. While that is a common understanding to most of us, it was a radical, unthinkable, preposterous suggestion to first century Israel who were “the people who belong to God” for almost 1500 years. They were certain they understood God’s thinking, but they did not. May we accept the challenge to pursue God’s agenda and never call God’s values preposterous.

Little Children, Love One Another: Mission and Unity

Posted by on January 23, 2005 under Sermons

How do you overcome an enemy that is stronger than you? How do you defeat a force that seems able to easily overpower you? How do you even gather up the courage to do anything when your foe is better equipped, better trained, and you have nothing but failure?

These questions could apply to many different conflicts and struggles; real battles, spiritual struggles, and personal crises. As we consider how we’ve been gathered up into God’s mission, we have to the realization that aligning ourselves and our congregation with God’s mission and kingdom rule puts us at odds with other forces and powers. Declaring allegiance to God means that we suddenly have an enemy. Peace treaties or non-aggression pacts with these enemies aren’t an option, even though we may be tricked into thinking that is the case. Commitment to the mission of God means facing our common foe. If we have any hope of overcoming that enemy and participating in God’s mission, then we must be united …

Robert the Bruce - King of ScotsMany years ago I took a trip to Scotland and noticed this statue of a proud knight upon a war horse. I learned that there was an inspiring story behind this monument that took place on the field where I was standing. It is a story about the many people of Scotland and a would-be king who challenged an enemy that was much stronger. It is a true story but I hope you will hear it as a sort of parable taken from history …

The knight on the horse is Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots. He was crowned in 1306, but accepting the throne of Scotland made him an enemy of the King of England, Edward I, who claimed to be the rightful ruler of Scotland. For another year, Edward hunted Robert the Bruce to punish him for treason. He captured Bruce’s family and held them hostage. Before Edward died in 1307 he commanded his son, Edward II to continue the fight until Scotland was subjugated and he ordered that his cremated bones be carried in a box before the armies of England in their final assault on Scotland.

Robert the Bruce didn’t have much to work with. Scotland at that point was seriously divided. The clans in the North Highlands were ruled by local chieftains and they were mostly occupied with the ancient feuds with one another. The lands in the south were ruled by noblemen who were related to the royal families of England and Europe. Scotland’s last king had died without an obvious successor to the throne. The noble families were at odds with one another as they contested over who should rule Scotland.

King Edward I of EnglandIn the midst of Scotland’s division, Edward I of England graciously offered to judge between the claimants, but in the process he kept Scotland divided and eventually claimed the throne for himself. He was able to hold onto his rule over Scotland as long as he kept the people at odds with one another. They were so busy fighting each other that they could not stand against England. Edward kept the leaders of Scotland subdued and earned his nickname, the Hammer of the Scots.

William WallaceThere was one exception. William Wallace, the subject of the movie Braveheart, was the guardian of Scotland during this period. He refused to compromise with Edward. He fought until he was captured and executed. His single-minded leadership set the way for Robert the Bruce, who was one of the claimants to the throne.

After crowning himself king in 1306 and so defying Edward, Bruce was on the run. Along the way and through his many trials he made allies throughout Scotland and imagined a united Scotland that could stand together against a common foe. Eight years later, King Robert Bruce was finally prepared to confront the army of Edward II of England. In June of 1314, Bruce’s rag-tag army of 5000 comprised of knights, peasants, nobles, commoners, and assorted Highland clans camped at the field near Bannockburn and waited for the advance of the English Army led by Edward II and the cremated bones of the Hammer of the Scots. The English army outnumbered the Scots 4 to 1, they were better equipped, had better armor, had more specialized weapons, and better training. And yet, the smaller Scottish army won the Battle and secured their freedom from England. Robert the Bruce’s long mission had borne fruit at last. Bannockburn is a significant victory not only because Scots won, but they overcame their real enemy. As one of Scotland’s 20th century writers put it: Scotland’s fatal weakness has always been — and Wallace, and later Bruce, both sought to counter it — a preference for hair-splitting and squabbling amongst ourselves, forgetting the great objectives in the means thereto – (Nigel Tranter)

Battle at Bannockburn
Battle at Bannockburn

Just as Edward’s strategy was to keep the clans and nobles of Scotland divided, so it is our enemy’s strategy to keep us divided. Like the Scots, our preference for hair-splitting and squabbling amongst ourselves distracts us from the greater objectives. If King Robert the Bruce could unite the factions of Scotland at Bannockburn, then I should think that our King, Jesus Christ, can all the more unite us and assemble us for his mission. Unity is Jesus’ strategy also. On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus prayed for his disciples in these words recorded in John 17 –
18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25"Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

Unity and Mission – The petition of Jesus, the purpose of the prayer and the teaching is that we might be one with God, Jesus, and with one another. The purpose of this unity is not simply that we might feel good or the avoidance of conflict – it has a purpose that is directly connected to the mission: That the world might know God. Jesus intends to call us together as a unified church so that lost people he loves will come to know God. He prays for us because our unity is essential to our participation in his mission. The question for us is not whether Christ shall succeed – he shall! Rather the question is whether we will be his partners in that mission or whether he fulfill without us. Since unity is that important, you can imagine how the enemy will make every effort to destroy unity. Since many of our internal squabbles and issues have nothing to do with God’s mission, if the enemy can keep us divided, then we are not on mission

I see two extremes that threaten our unity. First is a tendency toward unchecked anger and frustration. There is no sin in being frustrated with others or even with the things that are happening in the church. There’s no sin in disagreeing with the way some things are managed. Sometimes the leaders of an effort or a ministry are themselves frustrated about it because in our imperfect world things don’t always go as we intend. Imperfect people and imperfect plans are bound to upset us. But each of us is responsible for the way we handle our frustration, our disappointment, our anxiety, and our fear. We read in Genesis 4 that God did not condemn Cain for being angry and upset, rather he encouraged Cain to master the sin that was crouching at his door because it wanted to consume him. God is warning Cain to preserve love and unity, but if he gives in to his anger then the enemy will have his way with him! Cain did not resist the enemy at his door. As a result, he lost a brother and God found himself in the unfortunate position of punishing one of his beloved children in order to seek justice for another beloved child now dead. Giving in to the enemy by not managing our anxiety and frustration gives the enemy an advantage and it grieves our Father. You don’t think he wants to judge between his children, do you?

A second tendency that threatens our unity is the extreme individualism of our culture that has even affected the way we view our relationships within the church as well as outside the church. We have reduced faith to the point that it really means nothing more than my personal relationship with God – and in our culture God means "the god of my understanding." Don’t misunderstand, I do believe that all of us have a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t end there – there is so much more. God’s vision of salvation is more than just an amnesty program that gives everyone who will listen a chance to pay their dues before the deadline arrives. God is interested in saving each of us, but he also wants to redeem our relationships with one another. God intends for us to live together in peace with each other and with the creation. Isaiah shares the Lord’s vision of the kingdom of God with us. God speaks of that age saying, "They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:9). If we are full of the knowledge of the Lord, in other words if we are as one with God and Jesus as Christ prayed we should be, then we are compelled to love one another. We cannot be indifferent and exhibit the apathetic tolerance of our age that says, "Well to each his own, and I have to do what is right for me." Jesus did not die on the cross because it was right for him. He died for the sake of the world "that God so loved." Let us no longer reduce ourselves to religious consumers shopping for the church or synagogue of our choice. Likewise, let’s not reduce this congregation to a spiritual supermarket, a sort of Wal-Mart of religion, trying to please the customers with user-friendly services and goods for people of all generations and tastes. That’s not a good model for the church because if all of us show up as customers wanting to be right, then who plays the role of the service managers who are aimed to please: the elders, the ministers, bible class teachers, song leaders, everyone other than you? It just doesn’t work. We cannot market the gospel and we cannot market a loving unified community.

Robert the Brucebattle map

Unity doesn’t mean we are all exactly alike, in fact it means quite the opposite. If we want everyone to be just like us then that’s uniformity. Robert the Bruce’s army on the filed of Bannockburn was not uniform. That was the strength of the King of England who commanded over 20,000 troops comprised of 2500 cavalrymen each decked out in the finest heavy armor and equipped with a 12-foot lance and battle axe in addition to shield and sword, 3000 well-trained Welsh archers who could each launch 5 arrows at a time, and over 15,000 foot soldiers uniform in perfect formation with their quilted coats, steel helmets, and armed with shield, sword and spear. King Robert’s army was only 5000 and they were in truth a sort of conglomeration of smaller armies drawn from all regions of Scotland. The commanders of these troops were landowners or city officials who fought alongside poor peasants from their region; sometimes on horse but often on foot. Since they didn’t have the wealth of their English enemy, they fought with whatever deadly instruments they could find or improvise and their armor, if they had any, was a patchwork of pieces taken as spoils from previous wars. The King himself commanded the largest of four divisions made up of about 2000 troops gathered from the Highland clans who had muted their ancients feuds beneath the watchful eye of their new monarch. All of his troops were accustomed to rough conditions and they were hard fighters but his greatest challenge would be getting them to work as a collective rather than charge wildly into battle hacking and spearing anything around them.

Robert the BruceThey were hardly uniform, but Bruce knew the common cause that gave them unity. On the night of June 23, 1314 Robert the Bruce assembled his mean and spoke to them: "Our enemies are moved only by desire for dominion but we are fighting for our lives, our children, our wives and the freedom of our country. And so I ask and pray that with all your strength, without cowardice or alarm, you meet the foes whom you will first encounter so boldly that those behind them will tremble. See that your ranks are not broken so that when the enemy come charging on horseback you meet them steadfastly with your spears … You could have lived quietly as slaves, but because you longed to be free you are here with me, and to gain that end you must be valiant, strong and undismayed."

What does this lesson in unity from a Scottish king have to do with us? Our weapons are not spears and swords. Our fight is not with flesh and blood.

1) Unity and a common foe: The enemy is Satan. The enemy is the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our struggle is against the principalities and powers. May God give us eyes to see the spiritual realities so we may see the battlefield where the very souls of men and women are at stake. We will unite in the face of such powers and lay aside our personal quarrels.

2) Unity and Love as our strength and our Freedom. During President Bush’s Inauguration speech I heard a definition of liberty and freedom that is rarely heard in America today: "Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love." That’s quite a unique perspective affirming that we do need each another and we need to be united. Voices from conservative and liberal corners have often characterized freedom as something very personal and individual. I hope this better definition catches on. It ought to be the standard in the church if not America … We cannot truly preach Jesus and his gospel if we are not united with one another and with the Father. If we are not united, then the world cannot know Jesus through us because we do not know him.

1 John 3:23-24: And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. Jerome says, that when John was an old man in Ephesus, he had to be carried to the church in the arms of his disciples. At these meetings, he was accustomed to say no more than, “Little children, love one another!” After a time, the disciples wearied at always hearing the same words. They asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord’s command,” was his reply. “And if this alone be done, it is enough!”

Words of Jesus – His prayer. All will know you are my disciples if what …? If you love one another. (John 13:35) Don’t let your ranks be broken!

Discussion Guide

  1. What is the connection between unity and mission? Why is unity so important?
  2. What often compromises our unity? What about the two tendencies mentioned in the sermon: (unmanaged anxiety and frustration; individualism)? Can you think of other ways the enemy divides us?
  3. Why are we so consumed with being consumers? How can we resist the spirit of the age that urges us to be individuals at the expense of community?
  4. How can we promote unity in the congregation? What are some well-intentioned ways we actually create isolation from one another?
  5. What does our relationship with God and Christ have to do with our relationships with one another?
  6. Key texts to read: Psalm 133, I John 3; John 17

When God’s People Value That Which God Does Not Value

Posted by on January 20, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

On occasions Jesus condemned the motives and desires of the most prestigious in Israel’s religious ranks. Jesus’ statements concerning these religiously prestigious persons was so unthinkable that his closest disciples were astounded. (See Matthew 15:12.)

Matthew 23:12 is among Jesus’ most critical statements of these people known as the Pharisees. Please note three things. (1) When they read scripture (i.e., “sat on Moses’ seat”), they should be heeded. They shared God’s instructions, not theirs. (2) Yet, they had no concern for people. They were judges of others’ weaknesses or failures. They were unconcerned about encouraging or helping. They enjoyed making loads heavy, not assisting in carrying loads. (3) They loved occupying positions of prestige. They were certain of their significance! They loved others confirming their significance.

Jesus’ directive is chilling! When they speak from scripture, listen. However, do not act like they act. God’s key to spiritual greatness is found in humility, not in prestige.

It is easy to criticize the Pharisees. It is equally easy to repeat their mistakes. God was humble enough to care about us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). God was compassionate enough to send His son to us to direct us to Him (the way, the truth, the life-John 14:6, 7). God was (is) forgiving enough to cleanse us even when He knows we will fail again (1 John 1:5-10). None of us stand approved before God because we are so good, but because we are sanctified and justified in Jesus.

It is quite humbling to realize this: what God through Jesus Christ does for me each day He does for every other man and woman in Christ each day. No Christian is given the prerogative of judging those in Christ. Every Christian has the privilege of encouraging those in Christ. May the Lord say of each of us, “Follow his/her example.” Never let Him say of us, “Do not behave like he/she behaves.”

A Focus on God’s Nature

Posted by on January 16, 2005 under Sermons

Order of Worship

  • reading: Acts 17:16-31
  • prayer
  • songs
  • introduction to Islam
  • sermon

    I want to begin by doing two things. First, I want to remind you of the reading from Acts 17:16-31 that opened our assembly. Paul spoke to the elite minds in Athens by invitation to the Areopagus. Paul was surrounded by the evidences of active idol worship. He began his remarks to these elite minds by discussing the basic nature of God.

    Second, I want to share with you a second reading, from Romans 11:25-36. Please read with me.
    For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery–so that you will not be wise in your own estimation–that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

    “The Deliverer will come from Zion
    He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
    This is My covenant with them,
    When I take away their sins.”
    From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

    Paul’s basic point in Romans 11 is that Jewish Christians have a concept and understanding of God that is much too small. To most Jewish Christians, it was unthinkable that God could save gentile people without those people first becoming Jewish proselytes. To them, idolatrous gentiles had to convert to Jewish ways before they could become Christians. Paul, who would have agreed with that view prior to conversion to Jesus Christ, said the reason these Christians thought as they did was that their concept of God was much too small.

    This is the basic point I want to call to your attention: If a person is going to be transformed (his/her life truly changed), he/she must change his/her understanding of God. That includes everyone of you. That includes me. That includes everyone we know. We will not possibly understand God’s intent in Jesus Christ nor will we properly understand Jesus Christ if we do not first change our view of God.

    1. Every horrible thing you can imagine has been done in the name of God.
      1. More people have been killed or severely hurt in the name of God than in any other name or cause we can identify.
        1. Wars have been declared in the name of God (God is often the first recruit on both sides when war is declared!).
        2. Persecutions have murdered–in the name of God.
        3. People who profess to belong to God destroy people who profess to belong to God–all in the name of God.
        4. As long as humans can justify their thoughts and actions by sanitizing those thoughts and actions in devotion to God, they can do anything–no matter how ungodly it is–as long as they think God sanctions it.
      2. Before you are tempted to get self-righteous in a sense of moral indignation, be honest enough to admit we do some awful things in the name of God.
        1. In the name of God, we divide congregations.
        2. In the name of God, we brand men and women in Jesus Christ as false teachers.
        3. In the name of God, we feel hostility toward men and women baptized into Christ whose preferences differ from our preferences.
        4. In the name of God, we knowingly and deliberately ruin a Christian’s reputation because we consider him or her dangerous.
        5. In the name of God, we pass judgment on brothers and sisters in Christ.
        6. Sometimes people cannot see the good things we do in devotion to God because they cannot get their attention off the bad things we do in the name of God.
      3. To us, the crusades are just a forgotten footnote in history, and they in no way represent true Christianity.
        1. To many people in Iraq and the Arabic world, the crusades are very much alive and a current truth in the real world.
        2. The crusades exist as the living evidence of just how evil and vicious anything that calls itself Christian is.

    2. What is the biggest difference in Christian faith and Islamic faith?
      1. I realize there are many, but what is the biggest and most basic difference?
        1. If you suggest that the biggest difference is to be found in their concepts of morality and concepts of ethics, I would disagree.
        2. If you suggest that the biggest difference is to be found in their concept of Jesus, I would disagree.
        3. “Then what would you say is the biggest and most basic difference?”
          1. I would say the biggest and most basic difference begins with Christianity’s and Islam’s view of God.
          2. Parts of their view of God is quite correct–they have a much deeper sense of God’s holiness than do many Christians.
          3. Parts of their view of God is held in common with devout Christians.
            1. The way we view God must affect our behavior.
            2. The way we view God must affect our relationships.
            3. The way we view God must affect our motives.
        4. However, in a truly fundamental way, the way a devout Islamic views God’s nature and the way a devout Christian views God’s nature has some significant, basic differences.
          1. It is from the nature of God that the Christian understands redemption.
          2. It is from the nature of God that the Christian defines forgiveness.
          3. It is from the nature of God that the Christian understands the concepts of mercy and grace.
      2. Do not reduce these critical differences to the mere statement, “They call God Allah–and that is the wrong name!”
        1. The word ‘Allah’ simply means God.
        2. If you are a missionary to an Arabic people, you will use ‘Allah’ for the English word ‘God’ because that is the word for God.
        3. The earliest names for the living God are found in Hebrew, not English.
          1. The Jewish people called the living God by more than one name:
            1. Jehovah, the Self-Existent God [Jehovah is the English word that comes from a Hebrew word regarded as too holy to say]
            2. Jehovah Roi, the God Who takes care of us
            3. El Shaddai, the God who supplies our needs
            4. El Elyon, the God to Whom heaven and earth belongs.
            5. El Olam, the Everlasting God
            6. El Gibbor, the Mighty God
            7. Jehovah Melek, God Who is the King
            8. Adonai, the Master or the Head [actually a title rather than a name, the title of Lord].
            9. Elohim, the Source of all that exists
          2. In English we commonly combine all those names and titles that deal with God’s nature into one small three letter word.

    May I assure you, the more accurately we understand the nature of God, the more radically our lives will change as we serve Jesus Christ. I also assure you that the better we understand God’s nature, (1) we will stop doing some of the things we do to others, and (2) we will do things in service to God through Christ we have never done before.

  • invitation song
  • dismissal song

  • Management Training

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Last week we affirmed that the mission of the church can only be God’s mission. We have noother mission than God’s mission. We affirmed this: that this is the church of Christ and he mustbecome greater with no emphasis on us. All that we do and all that we are is by God’s handmoving among us. He secures our future, he saves – we are merely servants of the gospel.

    Now, if that is the case. If we are truly striving to be about his mission in every way, what on earthshall we say about the various ways that we spend our money and time? What shall we say aboutthe many wonderful resources that we acquire and manage? How do we manage earthly mattersand spiritual matters at the same time – especially if everything is mission?

    Read Luke 16:1-13

    If you have ever heard of the hard sayings of Jesus, then this is one of them. This story iscontroversial in the history of the church. It is a tale of thieves and scoundrels. And in itsconclusion, Jesus seems to be noting that there’s some worthy lesson in the action of the clevermanager. [Stories about clever rogues are not unique. Everybody loves Robin Hood because hesteals from the rich and gives to the poor. But however heroic we make him, he is stealing. Heis breaking the law.] The commentaries give so many different views on this text that it is nearlyconfusing. There are attempts to clean this story up, but they always seem to miss the point …

    The point is in verses 8 and 9 when Jesus says, “For the children of this age are more shrewd indealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Jesus is taking a tale about thechildren of this age and placing it in contrast with the kingdom. If the scoundrels, rascals,tyrants, and desperate citizens of this present age have the imagination and determinationto further their causes, then how much more imagination and determination should we havefor the cause of the kingdom?

    The controversy about this text mirrors the controversies we have about use of resources andwealth. This saying may be a hard saying not only because it seems that Jesus is applauded ashady character, but because this parable calls us to a singular devotion and commitment thatseems radical and extreme against our thinned out religious traditions. That happens when weview our faith as static and completed rather than viewing it as mission and journey. WhenChristianity is a matter of correctness and formality it becomes a bureaucratic game that attemptsto balance the status quo. It becomes nothing more than a set of rituals that really do not makea difference …

    [William Wallace became a thorn in English King Edward I’s side because he didn’t subscribe to the legalformalities of warfare. For him, this wasn’t a game for nobles and lawyers. Wallace wasdetermined to win freedom from England at all costs and would not stop until they executed him. There were no compromises.]

    Our controversial little story from Jesus is intended to stir us to thought and press us to makesome important decisions. The story raises two key questions that force us to align ourselvesin the kingdom or the world …

    First question – Who do you serve? We need to be clear and certain in this choice. In urgenttimes we cannot be patient with split decisions or wavering. “No one can serve two masters. Foryou will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannotserve both God and money.” – v. 13

    For all the shame of it, the dishonest manager was clear about his master. His “boss” in the storywas a means to an end. Don’t assume that this manager was in any way particularly loyal to thiswealthy lord. No, the manager’s “lord” was his own self. He serves “mammon,” and even if theBig Boss was going to fire him, then he was going to use the Big Boss to provide for his future. As a servant of mammon [or his own selfishness] he will do whatever it takes to fulfill his causeand other “so-called lords” will not deter him. He is undistracted!

    Kingdom ethics are very different for the children of light, but we need to have a higher level ofloyalty for our Lord is much greater and more worthy. The parable calls upon us to move from thelesser to the greater: If the children of this age are so determined and undistracted in their serviceto a false Lord, why aren’t we, the children of light, all the more determined and undistracted inour service to THE Lord?

    Second Question – How will we use the resources we have been given? If our answer to thefirst question is that we serve God, then that determines how we will use what we’ve been given. It is an issue of faith and trust. Listen again to the little proverbial statement Jesus makes and hisapplication: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoeveris dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthyin handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (v. 10-11)

    Sometimes you have to appreciate the enemy’s style. (When an opposing team scores in abrilliant way you have to tip your hat).
    The crooked manager is good at something. He’s a good embezzler. Why didn’t he just take themoney and run? Because he sets up a situation in which he cannot lose. If the Big Boss kickshim out of the house, he has new friends who owe him favors. Yet, by being generous andforgiving debts to the Big Boss’ clients he has won their favor for the Big Boss. The Boss hasgreat honor and satisfied clients. He stands a chance of getting in good with the Boss – and if theBoss cans him, then the Boss loses honor and favor among his clients. When the little plan isover, the Boss decides that he wants someone this clever on his team – even if it means riskinga little embezzlement.

    Again we are called from the lesser things (little, filthy lucre) to the greater things (much, trueriches): If the children of this age know how to be creative, imaginative, and bold in usingresources for their unrighteous efforts, how much more creative, imaginative, bold and risky shouldwe be for the sake of the kingdom? Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying we should adopt theethics or the tactics of the children of this age, rather I am saying we should outthink them, out riskthem, and outwork them. We can develop our own creative ways of using “stuff” for God’smission.
    Too often our concerns are not about ethics and mission. We are more frightened about makingmistakes. We are more concerned about offending our sensibilities. We are limited in our visionand stalled to comfortable inactivity because we think that God has no hands but our hands to dohis work on earth – or we think that God has no pocketbook but our pocketbook. This lack ofimagination and action allows the children of this age to outdo the children of light.

    I recall a conversation in the mid-1990’s with church leaders who were certain that the Internet wasa passing fad. One lone voice was trying to convince them that they needed to see the kingdomopportunities with this new form of communication. I would say that the lone voice won out. Idon’t think that conversations like that happened among the opportunists in the porn business. One of the first industries to make major use of the Internet was the porn industry. Some of thechildren of light avoided the Internet because of it.

    Why do we let them claim turf that rightfully belongs to our master? Why aren’t we bold enoughand determined enough to establish our Lord’s presence in the midst of hell’s territory? Are wetoo timid or effete? Do we think that it would scandalize God or send the wrong message? Godoffended the sensibilities of religious nobles when he set up shop at the intersection of Sin andShame and chose a cross as his sign. . . his message was clear!

    William Willimon tells the story of a Florida church that had once been a great congregation in theheart of the city. But the city changed and the neighborhood declined. The congregationdwindled and the membership was made up of those who commuted from the suburbs. Thecongregation soon had a problem with vagrants and homeless men around the old churchbuilding. They dirtied the place up and on a few occasions they broke into the church building. The congregation put locks on the doors but the vagrants broke the locks. So a meeting was heldto discuss better security and bigger locks. What could they do to keep these homeless peoplefrom damaging their building?

    One person said, “I’m bothered by the church locking people out, especially to those in need?”

    One of the church leaders replied, “Well what do you want us to do, just throw the doors open andtell them to come on in and help yourself?”

    From the back of the room a voice piped up, “Why not?” It was one of the oldest members of thecongregation “We’ve been having a tough time attracting folk to this church. Here are people soeager to get into the church that they break down the doors and we’re putting locks on them! Let’slet them in!”

    Someone moved the question to a vote and that night they left the doors wide open. Twentyhomeless men showed up. There were all sorts of problems – the kind that require creativethinking and imagination and clever action I am sure – but in time the church worked with thesehomeless people and people realized how new life had come to this church.

    Jesus said, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, youwill be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (16:9)

    In our service to God’s mission as saved people how are we going to be faithful with the lesserthings? Will we be distracted by our sensibilities, our traditions, our nostalgic past or ourpresupposed future? Will we be distracted by our allegiance to comfort or fear? Or will we befaithful in the things of this world that all belong to God – yes even what is in our own bankaccounts, every penny of it – and will we serve our God so faithfully, creatively, and boldly thatsome of the children of this age may just be drawn to the light of reflected off his children.

    Artificial Differences vs. Real Differences

    Posted by on January 13, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    Jesus made this statement to the 12 Jewish disciples who had likely spent their entire lives in a Jewish community in a Jewish household as members of Jewish families. He said this to men who knew Jewish tradition and Jewish customs in the heart of Jewish culture.

    Perhaps you ask, “David, why all this emphasis on ?Jewish, Jewish, Jewish’?” For this reason: it was too easy for them to place confidence in the fact that they were Jewish. “We are the right people! We do the right things! That is what makes us God’s people!”

    Jesus said, “Wrong! There is an artificial distinction, and there is a godly distinction. To place spiritual confidence in ancestry and procedures is artificial. Rightful confidence comes from allowing God’s nature and character to become our nature and character. When we allow God’s nature and character to determine our nature and character, we will be different. It will not be produced by isolation, ancestry, or unique customs!

    “Even the people you regard to be the height of wickedness (Jewish tax collectors collecting for Roman interests; idol worshippers)-even they like people who like them and greet people who approve of them. If we are kind only to people who like us, how are we different from people we regard to be wicked?

    “Do we not realize that God is not that way? He lets the sun shine on and the rain water the crops of those who do not even acknowledge His existence. Let God be our guide and example! Let God determine how we act! Do not place confidence in human identity! Who we are is important, but what we are is even more important!”

    How is Jesus’ statement relevant to Christians today? It is scary to see how may of us place our confidence in “where my membership is.” It is scary to see how often we allow the foundation of our faithfulness to stand on our preferences or on identity marks that are rooted in our past and not in scripture. It is scary to see how often we make scripture fit our convictions rather than allowing scripture to determine our convictions. It is scary to see how often we use only scriptures we are convinced support our convictions.

    Jesus told the 12 not to do such things. Allow God’s nature and character to be your guide and example. That makes you radically different! Different enough to treat enemies with a kindness that rises from love! That’s hard! The objective of being Christian is to reflect God in whom and what we are. That’s hard! We praise God because He gives us this opportunity in Jesus Christ! Accepting that opportunity is demanding! It is easy to rest on the past! It is demanding to be a spiritual being!

    The Grace/Works Challenge

    Posted by on January 9, 2005 under Sermons

    Order of Worship

  • reading: Colossians 3:1-11
  • prayer
  • songs
  • reading: Matthew 25:14-30
  • prayer
  • sermon

    Spiritually, what are you afraid of? Let me see if I can guess what some of the answers might be.

    (1) “I am afraid of God–the thought of facing God scares me to death!”

    Now let me get this straight: your biggest fear is being terrified of God? The God that loves you so much that He gave His son to die for you, the God Who used the blood of His son to atone for all your sins, the God Who resurrected His son from death to prove to you that He can raise you from the dead–THAT God, and He is the greatest dread and terror you have? Does that make sense to you?

    (2) “I am afraid of judgment–the thought of being accountable to God for the way I live my life scares me to death!”

    Again, let me get this straight. God let Jesus be crucified for us to give us hope. In that hope we are assured we do not need to fear dying (in fact Jesus died for us to remove the fear of death–Hebrews 2:14, 15), but you are terrified about the very things that God gave Jesus in order to give us hope and peace. Does that make sense to you?

    (3) “I am afraid of hell–the thought of hell scares me to death.”

    Still again, let me get this straight. The spiritual reality that scares you the most is the same reality that Jesus’ death was God-designed to remove. In Paul’s words, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

    May I ask you some questions? I want you to answer in your heart of hearts to yourself alone. Do not lie to yourself. Do not deceive yourself. You are just talking to you! No one else will hear you! Be very honest with yourself!

    My questions:

    (1) Can you be good enough to be saved? Is your answer to yourself, “No”?
    (2) Can you be so obedient that God owes you salvation? Is your answer to yourself, “No”?
    (3) Can you live your life without ever making a mistake, without ever being ‘wrong’? Is your answer to yourself, “No”?

    If your answers to those questions is “No,” then you are in quite a mess, are you not? You are scared to death of God, or of judgment, or of hell, or of two of those, or of all three of those … BUT:

    (1) You cannot be good enough to be saved.
    (2) You cannot be obedient enough to saved.
    (3) You know you are going to make mistakes and at times be wrong.

    May I ask some more questions.
    (1) Why would anyone be attracted to the God you follow?
    (2) Is your message to the people around you, who really know you, “Please be a Christian so you will be as miserable as I am”?
    (3) Is your invitation to your friends, “Please let me introduce you to some people who are as depressed and scared as I am”?

    1. Please read with me Ephesians 2:1-10.
      And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
      1. Let me call your attention to some obvious things in this reading (you do not need a Ph.D., or be able to read Greek, to do a detailed diagram of this passage to see the obvious).
        1. Obvious reality one: prior to becoming Christians, these were horribly sinful people!
          1. They were so deep into sinning they were dead–sin had killed them in their indulgence–you do not get any worse than “dead.”
        2. Obvious reality two: their salvation was the result of an act of God, not a result of their goodness–they did not become wonderfully good people, but they trusted what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection!
          1. Their salvation was the act of a mercy-rich God!
          2. Their salvation was the act of a loving God!
          3. Their salvation was the act of a God who gave them the gift of grace!
          4. They did not earn salvation–it was a gift!
        3. Obvious reality three: this gift also contained two responsibilities.
          1. First, if you accept the gift of God’s salvation, you will cooperate with God in remaking you to serve God’s purposes.
          2. Second, if you accept God’s gift of salvation, you will live your life doing the things God wants you to do.
      2. We say, “Thank you,” for the gift of salvation by being obedient to God’s will and purposes.
        1. The motivation for Christian obedience is not “earning our salvation.”
        2. The motivation for Christian obedience is gratitude!

    2. In most Churches of Christ we have a huge problem that has dissected and taken the life out of too many men and women.
      1. Please do not say, “We do not have any problems!”
        1. We do!
        2. Just look inside yourself–are you ready to be the poster board picture for the ‘ideal’ member of the Church of Christ?
        3. The tragedy is this: more people outside the Church of Christ see our problems than we see our problems.
      2. “What is this big problem that concerns you?”
        1. At some point in our development we adopted this attitude:
          “It is better to do nothing than to do something and be ignorantly wrong.”
        2. What is so hurtful about that attitude?
          1. It says the safest course of action to take spiritually is to do nothing after we are baptized.
          2. God will not condemn us if we do nothing.
          3. But God will destroy us if we do something and that something is not precisely right.
        3. Why is that attitude so hurtful?
          1. Because it is a deceiving lie!
          2. It has never been true that God was pleased because His people did nothing!
          3. Surely we stir God’s anger if we knowingly, willingly, deliberately rebel again God.
          4. But God’s grace says, “I have you covered–so do not be afraid to try as you serve me!”

    Before we started thinking together, we read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. A talent was a huge some of money–more than a slave would ever accumulate! The master gave huge sums of money to three servants. Only one servant made the master angry. He made the master angry for two reasons: (1) He did not know his master; (2) He did not try.

    This week, come to know your God better, and because you know God, try!

  • invitation song
  • dismissal prayer

  • Who Is Equal to Such a Task?

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Introduction: Who Is Equal to Such a Task?

    As another week goes by our news continues to focus on the efforts to help those who suffer following the tsunami in Asia. This week our elders considered the best ways that all of us could participate in relief. One of our local news channels hosted an all day telethon that raised nearly $200,000. Some of you helped out with that. That news channel spoke to Kevin Vaught about CURe and their work to supply material for other relief agencies. On our website we have listed four different Christian agencies that are working with people in Asia. We encourage you to lend your support to them.

    Partners In Progress
    P.O. Box 150
    Little Rock, AR 72203
    White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ
    3201 N. 7th Street
    West Monroe, LA 71291
    Rapha International
    402 Blue Smoke Court West
    Fort Worth, Texas 76105
    Healing Hands International
    455 McNally Drive
    Nashville, TN 37211

    There’s a lot of great work going on. It is heartening to see the compassion of good people and an incredible sense of unity. And yet, I have one recurring thought in all of it: Is it enough? Can all our efforts match the scale of this disaster? Will we be able to do enough soon enough? Don’t misunderstand! This isn’t a criticism of the work and efforts that all of us are involved in, it’s just an expression of humility in the face of a daunting mission. Alone none of us could do anything to make much of a difference. United we have a chance at making a difference – and it is still a lot of work. Who is equal to such a task?

    It reminds me of the church’s mission to evangelize the world. Faced with the realities of a lost world, a church that is often stymied by conflict and lack of resources, how do we think that we can make a difference? Perhaps we are emboldened by the impossibility of it all. Like Don Quixote we dare to dream the impossible dream and we fight windmills in the misguided belief that they are dragons and we are knights. Perhaps we decide to leave mission work for the experts and those with the resources to do it. Perhaps we decide to leave local evangelism to the professionally trained and those who have the gift for it. The rest of us get to work providing the support structure and the organization wherewithal to indirectly support the Great Commission. After all, "God has no hands but our hands" to do His work on earth." Really? But who is equal to such a task?

    The Apostle Paul posed that question to the church in Corinth. He wants them to know that his ministry is no easy thing. He and his fellow messengers of the gospel are pleasing to God, but there are some who receive him like a welcome fragrance and others who reject him as the stench of death. Service to God combined with reception and rejection – "Who is Equal to a such a Task?" (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). So how does Paul do it? How does he continue in the face of such rejection and uncertainty?

     By ourselves we are not qualified to claim that anything comes from us. Rather, our credentials come from God, who has also qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant – (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

    Paul’s answer – It isn’t OUR mission. Because God’s mission has placed us where He wants …

    Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom.  18  As all of us reflect the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, we are being transformed into the same image with ever-increasing glory by the Lord’s Spirit.   Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown to us, we do not get discouraged. 2  Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful ways. We do not use trickery or pervert God’s word. By clear statements of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. – (3:18-4:2)

    We are not the initiators of the mission; we are the targets of the mission just as much as anyone else. We are not the rescuers, we are the rescued. We are not the healers, we are the healed. We are not the senders, we are the sent.

    We are just vessels and containers for this good news treasure. We are just clay pots, vessels, garbage bags filled with treasure. (4:7)

    For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as merely your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars to show that its extraordinary power comes from God and not from us. In every way we’re troubled but not crushed, frustrated but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:5-9)

    Paul’s answer to the question "Who is equal?" is that none of us are; but rather than drive us to despair, this honest realization that the mission and the power behind the mission belongs to God gives us new hope. Think about it like this, when we thought that evangelism, the mission, the Great Commission was all up to us we get frustrated and feel guilty. One writer noted that this has been the case …
    "Too often calls to evangelism overlook the most important element: the empowering of God. We are asked to operate in our own power. When we find that we lack that power, we become frustrated and guilt ridden." – Tony Ash

    When we consider, as Paul does, the empowering of God, then we shift the focus and locus of mission off of the church, off of ourselves. This not only relieves us of our burden of guilt and frustration, it empowers us and primes us to do more as participants of that mission than we ever could have imagined. Notice that we actually do more, not less; this isn’t simply checking out and saying "It’s all in God’s hands." But neither are we saying that "God has no hands but our hands." Maybe a better way to put it is that we see the hand of God at work among us and around us. We believe it and we are telling others about it. (2 Corinthians 4:13-14) …


    As we look ahead to 2005 and consider the mission of God that has become our mission – I could start the year by telling you what we need to do. I could even try and cast a vision for what we can do FOR GOD. (As though God has no hands but our hands.) But none of that would be appropriate. Rather we should 1) have a vision for what God is doing (what He has done, is doing and will do) and we should 2) pray that God will work within us. Rather than state that God has no hands but our hands, it is better that we should say that “we shall have no mission but His Mission.”

    Since this is true, then all that we do and all that we are is God at work among us. We are the visible evidence of His mission. We are an example of His work. We are the model home for the heavenly mansion estates that are under construction and will be completed soon. Our efforts to maintain an organizational structure must never eclipse the mission. One of the identifying marks of the church is its "sent-ness." You can tell the church by its "sent." "Being here" must never overshadow "being sent." In fact, being here is part of being sent. The distinction between those who stay and those who go is false. The distinction between internal programs and external programs/nurture and outreach is false. If the mission is initiated and controlled by God, then everything is mission. Everything we do is a part of the mission. Every member, every program, every budget, every minister, every ministry is just another clay jar, plastic tub, metal can, or paper bag holding the same glorious gospel treasure.

    Here is the one thing that we affirm today and for 2005 and beyond. May this be so in all that we do: Christ must become greater with no emphasis on us. If we really believe that we are the church of Christ then we must believe that this is Christ’s church – not ours. This must be our core belief at West-Ark: that everything we do is in the name of Jesus and it flows from the precious treasure that we carry within us – the treasure of the gospel. Everything from our worship and preaching to the coins, checks and bills we drop in the plate must be about Christ and His power to save. We must believe and speak like we know that’s the real power around here; we’re just a cardboard box to carry it in. Every program from education to budgeting for new carpet must be about Christ and His power to save – we mustn’t give in to the worldly thinking that there is secular business and religious business around here. Rather we must believe and speak that it is all about Christ and we are just a burlap tote sack for carrying His powerful gospel.

    The mission is God’s. God so loved the world that He sent His only son and whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life. Jesus Christ was crucified, He was buried, but God raised Him to eternal life on the third day and exalted Him. He is Lord, and just as the Father sent Him, He sends us (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15, John 20, Acts 1:8).

    This is what we believe. This is what we speak. I want to share with all of you who hear this message and read this message the treasure that was shared with me. It is not something that I or even this church can hoard – we are just the container. God can fill you with the treasure of hope and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He can raise you just as He raised Jesus. Trust Him. We believe that if we have buried with Him we will also be raised with Him. Give everything to God – believe it, speak it, submit to it in baptism and let God fill you with new life.

    The Astounding Turnaround!

    Posted by on January 6, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    In one of the most remarkable “turnarounds” in Jesus’ ministry, Peter went from the disciple to whom God revealed Jesus’ true identity (Matthew 16:18, 19) to the disciple used by Satan to tempt Jesus. Astounding! One moment he was a recipient of God’s special revelation declaring Jesus was the Christ. The next moment he was used by Satan as a means of tempting Jesus. In back-to-back incidents, he was used by God in a special way and then by Satan in a special way. That alarms us! The fact that God made use of him did not mean that it was impossible for Satan to use him!

    One special insight is provided by the Greek word translated “stumbling block.” It literally means “a bait stick in a trap.” The common form of traps for animals in ancient times was a snare. For the snare to be effective, the animal must be lured inside the snare. Thus a stick was scented with a smell that either appealed to the animal or incited the animal’s curiosity. When the bait stick deceived an animal and lured it by smell into the snare, the animal was trapped and eventually lost its life.

    It is fascinating that the person deemed fit for God’s special revelation was also deemed fit to be the “bait stick” (the lure) into a snare Satan set for Jesus! After Peter declared Jesus was the Christ, Jesus began to explain to the twelve that he would suffer, be killed, and be resurrected in Jerusalem. To Peter it was unthinkable that God’s promised Christ would suffer and be killed! He responded to Jesus’ information with, “This shall never happen to you.” At that moment, Satan used Peter as a “bait stick in a trap.” Satan through Peter said, “There is a route to being Lord that does not include suffering and crucifixion.” To Jesus, that possibility had appeal. Though Peter did not comprehend the significance of what he said, what he said was a deadly temptation to Jesus.

    This world, temporarily under the control of evil, is filled with snares set for the righteous. It is easy for God’s man or woman to be deceptively lured into those snares-by materialism, by consumerism, by pleasure, by security, by fear, by ignorance, by arrogance, by pain, by jealousy, etc. We need each other’s help and encouragement as we walk through a life filled with snares.

    Just as with Peter, the fact that God uses you for His purposes does not mean that Satan cannot use you for his purposes. We need each other! It is so easy to be deceived by evil! It is so easy to think evil is good! It is so easy for curiosity to destroy us! It is so easy for the “present moment” to blind us! It is so easy for us to substitute our expectations for God’s priorities!

    We need each other’s spiritual encouragement. We need each other’s spiritual eyes and spiritual values. We need to help each other see the snares and avoid the “bait sticks.”

    Please do not let Satan use you as his “bait stick”! Dare to be God’s encouragement!