God’s Patience

Posted by on April 28, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

To me, one of the powerful evidences of God’s character distinctiveness is His patience. God is incredibly patient–determined, tenacious, and patient! Humans are not! Our commitment begins strong and decreases fast. Few humans “follow through.” We much too quickly give up! We much too quickly justify failure and discouragement! We much too quickly blame something or someone else!

Not God! He is determined! What He promises becomes fact! No human discouragement diverts Him from His intent!

Consider! From the moment Adam and Eve surrendered to the deception of temptation, God was determined to reclaim His creation. The fact that Cain killed Abel did not result in God’s surrendering His commitment! For God, it got worse! People became so evil they did not even think a decent thought (Genesis 6:5). Though God was grieved deeply, He did not quit! Even when God began again with Noah, even when Noah proved such a disappointment, God did not quit.

In fact, God’s purposes were enormous. He promised nothing less than being a blessing to all families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). Incredibly, God produced a nation from the childless Abraham. When those delivered people were unimpressed with all God did for them (Exodus 32:10), God did not think of quitting–He thought of starting over!

For centuries, Israel disappointed God repeatedly. Finally, Israel offended God so deeply that He could tolerate their rebellion no longer. Yet, when He announced this through His prophet Hosea, His declaration of accountability turned His stomach. Listen:

Hosea 11:8, 9 How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled. I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, And I will not come in wrath.

Though Israel of old gave God no option, God did not want to give Israel His wrath.

Consider God’s incredible patience. For a long period, much over 2000 years, God was determined to send the Christ. In spite of centuries of rebellion, He did! For almost 2000 years after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, God patiently has waited for people to claim their promised blessings. Human wickedness has not destroyed God’s forgiveness. Human imperfection has not destroyed God’s sanctification. Human failure has not destroyed God’s redemption. God will do everything for us He promised. God will bless us in every way He intended. If what? If we let Him. We, not God, are the problem. Do you use your life to bless God’s patience or to try God’s patience?

Earning, Income, and Credit

Posted by on April 24, 2005 under Sermons

Review: Jesus is Lord and we believe he is Lord over every area of our lives. This is challenging and it is the reason why we need be changed through worship and prayer to surrender all things to the Lord. This is why we have spent some time learning from our Lord; hearing his teaching and his word about money, wealth, and trust.
      We live in a market-driven culture. It is a consumer culture. Because of that, our lives are often centered on finances. This is true for the poor, the rich and everyone in between. Our economy and culture create a "Cash Values" lifestyle and regardless of our financial health we need to conform to the Lord’s teaching on money.
      I want to say a special word to those of you who may be struggling financially or may have questions about your money and how to manage it. Financial struggles are a source of stress and a distraction from life in the kingdom. The solution to financial troubles is not more money, nor should we assume that God is a genie in the sky who blesses us if we learn the secrets of how to get rich God’s way. Yet, I am not saying that we as the people of Christ cannot work with one another to overcome problems created by debt and wealth. In fact, it is very biblical for us to do so and it is critical we do so because of the age we live in.
      There are many people in this congregation that we can all learn from when it comes to managing our finances. Don’t be afraid to ask around. You may have noticed in the announcements that there is a financial workshop planned Saturday, May 7. There are many people in this congregation that we can all learn from when it comes to developing a spiritual view of wealth and money.
      What I want to say to all of us is this: We need to be dealing with this matter in many ways and in many settings and we cannot limit it to three sermons. How we use money and the way we shape our lifestyles are not issues outside the scope of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. This is a vital teaching in the Scriptures and it was a matter Jesus addressed often. And for good reason, because as we have said already …

  1. Money is not a neutral, secular commodity. It is a power that operates like a god; if we surrender and submit to this power and give it our heart and let it cloud our vision. Rather than use God in the service of money, let us use money in the service of God.
  2. Rather than quibble about tithes and funds and how we spend the Lord’s money, let us give beautifully and understand how our discipleship and giving are matters of the heart and not just line items in our check registers or church budgets.
  3. As Americans living in the materialistic, consumerist culture of our age, we need to hear the word that Moses preached to the Israelites as they entered the promise Land. It is a message that Jesus exemplified in his life and teaching …

Read Deuteronomy 8.

      Moses’ words are for a future generation that knows only prosperity. They didn’t live through the depression years of the wilderness trek. When you live through the wilderness you realize how much you depend on God. Manna falls from the sky. Water comes from a rock of all places. Quail show up to provide proper nutrition for a wandering people. The wilderness days are tough going lean years but somehow folk just happen to make it. They keep on living and keep on moving. They overcame the danger of snakes and scorpions. Even their shoes and clothes hold up during the journey. They just seem to survive the hard times, but those who saw the waters open up so they could cross over on dry land tell it to the rest. God provided and he still provides. He rescued us with a mighty hand and he sustains us with a mighty hand.
      Now Moses is making this testimony a part of his last words because the generations to follow won’t have first hand experience of the wilderness. They won’t recall what it was like to be slaves and be rescued. They won’t recall what it was like to walk through the sea. They won’t remember what it was like to collect the morning manna. They won’t remember how the quail gathered or how the rock, of all things, started spewing water. All they will know is what it is like to earn a living on the good land and enjoy a decent income from their work. And when they forget about God, who will get the credit for their blessings?

In the classic western movie Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart stars as Charlie Anderson, a Virginian farmer trying to keep his family out of the Civil War. With one empty place set for his dead wife and his children gathered around the supper table, Charlie begins a litany they obviously have heard before: “Now your mother wanted all of you raised as good Christians, and I might not be able to do that thorny job as well as she could, but I can do a little something about your manners.”

He gestures that they all should bow their heads and continues: “Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. We wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-boned hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.”

At least Charlie Anderson paused to speak the name of the Lord. At least he thanks the Lord "just the same." He makes some sort of connection between God and his earnings – even if it is the wrong one. Because of the materialistic, consumer-driven age we live in, we have effectively removed God from any discussion or thought about our ability to earn and our income. Because we live in a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking we too easily forget to bless the Lord our God for all he has given …

Citation: 2000 Phoenix Wealth Management Survey; USA Today “Snapshots” (11-13-00), B1
Percentage of senior corporate executives with a high net worth (defined as having a net worth of $1 million or more, not including primary residence) who credit their current financial status to …
Hard Work – 99%
Intelligence and good sense – 97%
Higher-than-average I.Q. – 83%
Being the best in every situation – 62%
Luck – 32%

If we are pressed on the issue we would surely all agree that it is God that makes it possible for us to earn a living. We would surely all agree that God not only created the opportunity for us to earn a living and enjoy an income, but that he also sustains us. If we were pressed on the issue we would absolutely give God the credit.
But why must we be pressed on the issue? Why? Because it is so easy to forget what it was like in the wilderness. Some of us don’t even know what it means to live in the wilderness. And so we forget and though we don’t intend to say it, we begin to say "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." Perhaps we don’t say it so boldly, but there are other, more subtle ways to say it and live it.
Who remembers the old TV ad of actor John Houseman speaking on behalf of the financial firm Smith-Barney? At the end of the ad Houseman confidently spoke to the camera saying that at Smith-Barney they earn money the old fashion way – "We earned it!"

Moses warns a prosperous generation, whether they are in Israel or America, to be careful not to forget. Not because God deserves credit (the Lord’s ego is intact), but when we forget to bless the Lord we are vulnerable to other powers and other Gods. Notice the warning: If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. Hold on a second! Where did the worship of other Gods come into this? I thought this was a warning against being arrogant and prideful. It is and we would do well to pay attention to the link between idolatry and materialism. The gods and powers that would seek to rule us do not have to be cast in stone or wood. They may exist in the culture around us like the air we breathe.

We live in a world that judges us on what we do. We describe our earning potential as if it is something genetic. We value ourselves and others on the basis of income and it is a power that can determine things as basic as where you live. Right now I am being evaluated and the decision of a mysterious, faceless "underwriter" will influence something as basic as where I live and maybe even where my children go to school. How am I being evaluated? In terms of my faith – no, that is not allowed and it seems un-American and unfair to suggest that a decision would be made in terms of faith. (Discrimination on the basis of faith isn’t attractive, but what about the reverse? When is the last time you took out a loan based on a binding oath before the Lord?) So, how am I being evaluated? In terms of numbers! Earning and debt percentages! Income amounts! Credit scores! Now this is simply just the way it is and I am not saying it is all wrong (nor am I saying it is all right). But I have a choice to make in this land that is influenced by so many forces. Will I pledge my life and devote my time to "the numbers" or will I bless the Lord God? I can give credit to God but still drive myself to trust in "the numbers."

What shapes our lives and our identity – as individuals and as a people? Is it the numbers? Or is it the word? And if it is the word, is it the Lord’s Word? Have you lived in the land so long that you’ve forgotten the Lord’s presence in the wilderness? Or maybe you are in the wilderness right now? The story of the exodus and the story of Jesus are our stories that makes sense of the humbling wilderness and we must never forget the story – even when we occupy the land.

God’s Quilt

Posted by on April 21, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

Times changed. Houses commonly were well insulated. Central heat became common experience in most homes. Thermostats kept an even, stabilized level of heat on most cold nights. While quilts still “felt good,” they were no longer the key to surviving a bitter winter night.

As times changed, quilts went from a means of surviving a cold night to an art form. We have a quilt given to us as a gift from one of my aunts (now deceased) that came from her hobby. She bought and coordinated material to produce specific quilt top patterns. Then she hired someone to quilt the “top” she made. She had no specific purpose for making her quilt tops — she merely enjoyed her hobby. She was not motivated by necessity, but by a good feeling from an art form.

God is a quilt maker. If He had His way, He would make a quilt that would cover every person in the whole world. Under His quilt would be eternal survival. This very special quilt is designed not only to preserve life but to give life. In its life-giving warmth all the covered live in joy, hope, and peace. All who enjoy the life and warmth granted through God’s quilt know this quilt is an undeserved gift of love.

God’s quilt is unique. No other quilt is like it. No other quilt can give what it gives. In the center of its top is a unique piece beyond duplication. We come to God’s quilt for the warmth of life. Then we become a part of the quilt, sharing warmth and life with others.

The center piece is made from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By design, every other piece on that quilt top is connected to Jesus Christ (the connection is obvious!). The ragged and worn make the top. Ruined lives are its theme.

No one is “too far gone” to be in the quilt. Though it is made from the ordinary and worn, it is beautiful! It is both highly functional and incredibly beautiful!

God’s quilt is “a work in progress.” Time strengthens it rather than decaying it. As long as time continues, God adds pieces. God wants to include your life as a piece in His pattern — if you let Him. Find warmth, life, and acceptance under God’s quilt! Serve God as a piece in His quilt!

A Beautiful Thing

Posted by on April 17, 2005 under Sermons

You really have to respect the high priests and the scribes. They know what’s right and they know what’s wrong, but most of all they have that special gift that makes them exceptional religious leaders – the gift of timing. When anyone else would just arrest Jesus and kill him whenever they wanted, the high priests and scribes have the decency not to do it during the Passover feast. They don’t have a problem arresting him or killing him, they just want to avoid a riot. Now that’s class. That’s brilliance and genius. It’s all about timing and execution. Arrest Jesus during Passover and there will be a riot – and after all no one wants to ruin the holidays. Arrest Jesus later and the crowd will be on their side.

You really have to admire and respect their calculation. They’ve thought through everything and have engaged Jesus in clever debate. First there was the question about his authority. That was simple and straightforward, "Just show us your credentials Jesus." Then they made it a bit tricky – "Is it right to pay taxes?" That question would test Jesus to see how quick he is: if he says yes, then he supports the blasphemous worship of the emperor, but if he says no then he supports rebellion. Next, they test him with some controversial and complicated theology. Most questions along these lines involve the future and the afterlife and this one is no exception. They test Jesus with a scenario involving a woman who is married to seven different brothers. She marries and then they die and on it goes. Now in the resurrection who is she married to? You have to respect the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees: they pay attention to the details and they aren’t afraid to tackle the tough topics.

Jesus must have appreciated the chance to get out of Jerusalem and enjoy a good meal at Simon’s house. Simon didn’t get many visitors. He’s a leper and lepers just do not have much of a social agenda. There’s a certain, poetic timing to the gathering in Bethany that’s different from the calculating and reasoned timing of the religious leaders: it was the holiday season – Passover. Everyone was remembering what God had done for the people of Israel. The story of Moses and the plagues and crossing the Red Sea were told. Typical of the holiday season, the poor and the unfortunate were given special attention. Perhaps Simon was celebrating with Jesus and his disciples out of appreciation for what God had done for him through Jesus.

Calculation and timing are the last things on the heart of the weeping woman who barges into Simon’s house without an invitation. Jesus and his disciples are lounging around the meal spread out on the floor. She ignores custom and decorum and barges into the gathering for the menfolk. She brings with her a jar of imported perfume. Both the jar and the oil inside are the works of artists. Rather than treat such fine artwork delicately, she breaks the seal on this exquisitely crafted alabaster bottle and ruins it – (they didn’t have caps – you break the bottleneck to open it!) And she pours out all the pleasant scented liquid on Jesus’ head. Not a little, not a dab – all of it. And they can tell that this was high priced, luxury product because the aroma fills the room.

The woman is anointing Jesus. It is her way of showing her gratitude. It is her way of honoring Jesus. She doesn’t over think the giving of this gift. She doesn’t deliberate this act of worship. She doesn’t ask permission to enter the house and make this offering. She simply does what Jesus calls "a beautiful thing."

Pay close attention to what isn’t described in this text. We don’t know her name. We don’t why she did this. Yes, it is common to assume that this is Mary Magdalene and that she is showing gratitude to Jesus because she was a prostitute and Jesus forgave her. That might fit, but none of that is in this text. Nevertheless, Jesus says that this woman will never be forgotten. Mark and Matthew have done us a favor by not giving us too many details, because they know that we, like Jesus, should simply appreciate the beauty of her gift which comes from love and devotion, not reason and obligation. When we dissect the giving of the gift we make the same mistake of the disciples …

"Why such a waste!?" they cry out. "I mean anointing Jesus is good, but why not get some perfume that’s a little more reasonably priced. These are hard times and we need be good stewards of the funds. Let’s ask Judas how much we have in the budget then take bids on perfume and go with the best value. After all it’s the Lord’s money. And besides that does he really need to be anointed?"

"Let’s think this through because this really could have been used to help the poor – and we do need to be thinking about how we can finance the cause in Jerusalem …"

"Lady, what were you thinking?" "Do you have any more of that ointment – I am sure that Jesus would like to see it put to better use than just grooming his hair."

You have to respect the disciples. They know what’s right and they know what’s wrong, but most of all they have that special gift that makes them exceptional religious leaders – the gift of timing. If the woman had just come to them first, they could have managed her anointing a little better. They could have given her time to calm down and stop crying. They could have helped her see that a gift given to the poor honors Jesus just as much. Then the expensive perfume, truly a work of art, wouldn’t have been wasted. You have to respect their sense of decorum and timing. You have to respect their sense of propriety and their ability to calculate what is the most worthwhile and effective course of action.

And then there’s Jesus who has had about all he can stand of calculating, reasoning, thinking it through, propriety, and doctrine. Jesus sees his disciples acting like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes and so he speaks …

"Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done something beautiful and you missed it. I’m glad you’re concerned for the poor and you ought to help them as often as you can – and what she has done is not preventing you from doing so. It’s not as though you won’t have the opportunity to help the poor again. But as for me, I’ve been trying to tell you all that’s going to happen and you just don’t get it. At least what this woman has done has prepared me for my burial. She understands the good news. And whenever the good news is told – what she did will be told so that she will be remembered too."

Why do we need to remember her? I think we need to remember her because the living Jesus still sees his disciples acting like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes, especially when it comes to service and giving gifts. We "lay by in store" and we "give as we have been prospered," but are we able to do a beautiful thing? Let’s cherish and obey the teaching on giving and devotion but let’s not forget this woman who gives extravagantly and excessively. There’s an old saying, "Duty makes one do things, love makes one do things beautifully." Jesus appreciates the gift. We can too. Let’s cry, smile, cheer or shout "Amen!" when we remember this unnamed woman and let’s appreciate those who come after her who strive to do a beautiful thing for Christ. Jesus doesn’t just give an embarrassed nod and say "Thank you kindly." He praises this woman. She is not just asking about the greatest commandment or thinking about it- she is acting it out – "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind!" And though some would call her behavior inappropriate and excessive, Jesus knows/sees her heart and declares that she does a beautiful thing!

How can we as disciples eager to do good works do our work beautifully? Remember this woman …

  1. What she does is beautiful not because it is calculated and discussed: Don’t misunderstand, there is a place for thinking and counting the cost, but at some point we have to go beyond logic and policy. The disciples saw giving as something to quibble about. They were focused on the "business" of helping the poor. They saw giving as an obligation and seasonal activity. But they miss the beauty of this woman’s gift. If they had been paying attention and not just following routine or their own expectations they would have known what was ahead for Jesus. As we remember this woman, we are reminded that giving and doing good are not important simply because we can prove how it is reasonable and expedient. It can be beautiful – and that can be enough.
  2. What she does is beautiful because it is an expression of love: What the woman does and gives is an extension of her love for Christ. When our works and service are simply an extension of who we are in Christ they become a lot like the gospel. Have you ever experienced a well-timed gift of grace? It may have been something as simple as a cheerful word on a rotten day or a sign of hope in the depths of tragedy. My guess is that those who were the agents of those beautiful things were just being themselves. I doubt this woman had any thought what was about to take place. She just wanted to honor the one who had blessed her. Notice that I am not saying you have to be a naturally cheerful or hopeful person. We don’t know if this woman was naturally optimistic or had been bitter for years. All we know is that she loved Christ and she wasn’t afraid to act on that love.

This unnamed woman becomes part of the story because she loves Jesus. She gives her fortune away because she loves Jesus. She experienced the gospel and she was responding with thanksgiving. She knows how the story ends and she isn’t afraid to be part of it.
The disciples and religious leaders cannot see the beautiful thing because they have written their own ending to the story and they hold on to that. They have their own agenda. But this woman came without the desire to control or convince. She was not thinking about what the Lord could do for her, but how much he had already done. She wasn’t focused on how to get him to forgive, but how he had already forgiven her of so much. She gave Jesus all she had to give without regard to herself.

In Spite of Everything, It Is Happening!

Posted by on April 14, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

“If the prospect of having decent health insurance is so wonderful, what do you not like?” I do not like what age is doing to me. At least at this point for me, aging is the incredible journey that constantly discovers “what you cannot do any more.” One question I never had to ask myself as an adult was, “Can you do that?” In the past, if “it” needed doing and opportunity existed, I did it. No more! Now everything is prefaced with that awful question, “Can I do that?”

Now my key word at this point in life is “transition.” In the past I told myself, “If I need to, next year I can ?” Surely I was aware of life’s uncertainties, and hopefully I took little for granted. However, even with uncertainties I had options and opportunities. Today there are question marks, and they keep getting bigger! Even with life’s uncertainties, I liked options and opportunities much better than question marks!

In this time of transition, I constantly find a challenge that was totally unexpected. “What challenge?” The challenge to faith. As I look over things in my past, I always leave moments of reflection with the same question: “Did I do that because of faith in me or because of faith in God?”

I constantly find myself tested with this question: “Can God use this to accomplish His purposes?” That is not a new question or an age question. Many Christians encounter the same question with a health crisis, a disease crisis, a relationship crisis, a family crisis, a career crisis, or [in fact] a genuine crisis of any kind.

The faith issue for a Christian is quite simple: “Can God use adversity as well as blessing to achieve His purposes in human existence? Or, is adversity blessing us?” Somehow that sounds very un-American. However, it sounds very God-centered. The God who used a cross to provide me a perfect Savior can use my challenges and transitions to strengthen my salvation in Jesus Christ. The focus is not “do I like it.” The focus is God can use any human experience to achieve His purposes.

Ephesians 3:20, 21 “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

The Path To God

Posted by on April 10, 2005 under Sermons

This evening I want to challenge all of us to think in depth about a huge temptation each of us confronts. The temptation focuses on our personal concepts and personal definitions concerning “the path to God.”

Your initial reaction may be, “David, the path to God cannot possibly be a temptation to all of us! We decided long, long ago what the correct path to God is! All my life we have challenged people to trust the path, or to take the path, or to walk the path–we have never asked people to define the path! We need to emphasize the importance of the path, not dwell on the definition of the path!”

If you are tempted to think that we have correctly defined the path for a long, long time, allow me to focus you on the temptation that confronts everyone of us. Let me focus you by asking some questions.

  1. How many people did Jesus die for?
  2. Was Jesus an American?
  3. Is the best way to express Christianity in its nature and objectives to do it in terms of the American society and American culture?
  4. If believers in Jesus Christ who have been baptized by immersion in other cultures and societies do things in ways that are not American, are they genuinely Christian?
  5. If believers in Jesus Christ who have been baptized by immersion in this culture and society do things in ways that differ from the way you do them, are they genuinely Christian?
  6. In this society, what “kind” of people make you uncomfortable?
  7. Can baptized believers who make you uncomfortable genuinely be Christian?
  8. Can they worship with you?
  9. Can you be brother and sister to them?
  10. Can you be in a mutual relationship of encouragement with such Christians?

Let me approach this temptation in another way.

  • How big (in attendance) would you like this congregation to become? 1,000 worshippers? 1500 worshippers? 2,000 worshippers?
    1. Do you mean you would like for this congregation to grow in number if everyone new was just like you at about the same point of spiritual development you are?
    2. Or, do you mean you would like for this congregation to grow in number even if the new people were not just like you?

Do you see the problem? Do you acknowledge the temptation? Do you realize that God’s love for a person is not dependent on your personal likes and dislikes?

This very difficult, hard problem is not new. In fact, it existed from very near the beginning of Christianity in the first century. Many Jewish Christians had a very hard time trying to understand that God loved people who were not Jews just as much as He loved Jews. Many Jewish Christians had a hard time understanding that God sent Jesus to the world, not just to the nation of Israel. Now if people who were not Jews accepted Jewish traditions and way of doing things, Jewish Christians were okay with that. But they were very uncomfortable if people who were not Jews did not accept Jewish traditions and ways. In fact, sometimes some Jewish Christians said the baptized believers in Jesus Christ were not genuine Christians, were not saved, and did not belong to God. That attitude created a huge problem in the first century church.

Tonight I want to illustrate the problem confronting all Christians. Hopefully, you will have a better understanding of the problem, the temptation facing all of us.

  1. I want to begin by having you picture a spectrum that goes from total black to total white.
    1. In this spectrum, black fades into dark gray, dark gray fades into medium gray, medium gray fades into light gray, and light gray fades into tones of white.
    2. I think this is an appropriate analogy for what I want to illustrate.
      1. Scripture often uses black or darkness to describe evil.
      2. It often describes righteousness as light.
      3. Conversion involves the process of repenting–leaving the darkness and coming to the light.

  2. Honestly look at this spectrum and decide for yourself what your starting point was when you first began seriously thinking about coming to Christ and becoming a Christian.
    1. I am quite serious–I will not ask you to share with anyone your decision–but I want you to locate your starting point on this spectrum.
      1. I want you to say to yourself, “That is where I was when I started to seriously think about turning to Christ.”
      2. Have you done that? Good! Remember what you picked as your starting point and hang on to it.
    2. Now allow me to ask you some more questions.
      1. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive a prostitute? If your answer is “Yes,” where on that spectrum would you place his or her starting point?
      2. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive homosexuals? If your answer is “Yes,” where on that spectrum would you place his or her starting point?
      3. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive a drug addict who has lost everything for the sake of his or her addiction? If your answer is “Yes,” where on that spectrum is his or her starting point?
      4. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive an alcoholic who has lost everything for the sake of his or her addiction? If your answer is “Yes,” where on that spectrum is his or her staring point?
      5. Can God in Jesus Christ forgive a violent criminal who has physically hurt another person? If your answer is “Yes,” where on that spectrum is his or her starting point?
      6. Compare all those starting points. What is the likelihood all of us will be at the very same point of spiritual development at the very same time?
    3. Allow me to advance this illustration by using two extremes.
      1. The first extreme is a person, man or woman, who grew up with no spiritual or religious influence in his or her life.
        1. His or her family never owned a Bible–he or she never saw one, never touched one.
        2. Sundays were “free days” to be used pursuing pleasure in any way you could indulge yourself. No one in his or her family ever thought about worshipping God.
        3. He or she never saw the inside of a church building, never personally knew a preacher, and felt a deep sense of disgust with all Christians.
        4. He or she never knew any of the Bible characters or Bible stories.
        5. He or she was 10 years old the first time he or she was drunk.
        6. He or she was a drug addict by the age of 11.
        7. He or she was sexually active before he or she reached the age of 12.
        8. He or she had been married and divorced by the age of 18.
        9. As a pre-teen, his or her cursing vocabulary was incredible!
        10. For the sake of illustration, let’s place this person’s starting point in the black.

      2. The second extreme, man or woman, is a person who grew in a genuine Christian home–no pretense, no hypocrisy.
        1. The first place the parents took this person after birth was to church.
        2. The congregation presented him or her a Bible before he or she was a year old.
        3. He or she was a part of all the children’s classes and programs, an active part of the youth group, participated every year in LTC, a part of the college group when at home, and went to a Christian college.
        4. He or she grew up with devotionals almost every day in the home and had two wonderful role models full of love.
        5. By age five he or she knew the main Bible characters, before the age of 10 he or she could quote lots of Bible verses, and by the time that he or she was a teenager, he or she had a growing understanding.
        6. He or she was never drunk, never experimented with recreational drugs, was never sexually active, and knew very few curse words.
        7. This person grew up truly loving God with an absolute commitment to Jesus Christ.
        8. For the sake of illustration, let’s place this person’s starting point in the light gray.

      3. These two people lived in totally different worlds with totally different experiences.
        1. The discussion about believing will not be the same discussion–one always has believed (there was never a time when he or she did not believe in God and love Jesus) and one knew nothing about God.
        2. The discussion about repentance will not be the same discussion–one has some devastating experiences to repent of, and one has little to turn from.
        3. The discussion about baptism should not be the same discussion–one genuinely needs a new beginning, and the other never has consciously rebelled against God.

      4. Therefore, the path to God is not the same for these two people.
        1. If the objective is to get these two people into the baptistery for an immersion regardless of what they understand, we make a poor decision.
        2. While both need to be baptized into Christ, both need to realize they are committing to a lifestyle for a lifetime.
    4. Which one needs:
      1. Forgiveness? They both equally need forgiveness.
      2. Grace and mercy? They both equally need grace and mercy.
      3. Dependency on God? They both equally need total dependence on God.
      4. A life of commitment? They both equally need a life of commitment.
      5. What do they have in common? Excluding Jesus Christ, probably very little.
      6. Are they both God’s children? Absolutely.

  3. I want us to read together two scriptures and each of us reflect on the teaching of each scripture.
    1. First, read with me Luke 15:1-10.
      Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
    2. Second, read with me Luke 18:9-14.
      And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

May God lead us to be as patient with others as God is with each of us!

Cash Values

Posted by on under Sermons

Matthew 6:19-34

In the news this week we have been given a rare look into the treasures of the Vatican. The museums of the Vatican are filled with artwork by Giotto, Caravaggio, Michaelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael among others. The libraries of the Vatican hold ancient manuscripts of the Bible and other literature – in some cases the only copy of a certain work. The buildings of the Vatican, especially St. Peter’s Basilica are ornamented with gold, silver, precious stones, and fine marble. Some say that it is impossible to calculate the value of the immense wealth in the Vatican, but it has been done. What would be the value of these treasures? According to its official books, all of the artwork and the ornate, grand buildings (including the Sistine Chapel) are valued at $1.29 (or 1 euro). How is that possible? The Vatican can never sell its masterpieces and these treasures are held in trust for all humanity. Add to that the fact that it would be impossible to assign them a market or replacement value because no amount of cash can replace the significance of these treasures. It is the Vatican’s way of indicating that it prizes the religious and artistic significance of the treasures over their financial worth. Just another of looking at it right? Of course, but then why do we often tend to look at such objects in terms of their monetary value?

We live in an age of cash values. The author of the book “Cash Values” (Craig Gay, p. 17) says that money has become one of the most important measures in determination of value in our world. The very idea of what something is “worth” is often expressed in terms of money. This “money metric” has given us what we assume is an objective standard in calculating value and worth. This supposed objective, secular standard enters into our lives at so many levels and we may think that we live in a rational, calculated, and enlightened society than doesn’t give into emotionalism, fanaticism, or subjectivity but in fact we are being seduced by powers and influences that we may not recognize because we are too close to the situation to see correctly.

For example, what makes for a good book these days? Often we are told it is the #1 book on the “best-sellers” list. We are interested in movies or music when they are box-offices hits or win an song title goes “gold or platinum.” What do these mean? How are we determining the value of a movie or music? Have you ever noticed how interested we seem to be in how much it takes to make a movie? We are amazed when a movie becomes popular and we find out that it was made with a budget less than $10 million. Does more money mean a better product? A report came out the other day stating that the average baseball pro makes $2.6 million. First of all, why do we care what they make? Second, has it improved the game?

Outside the sphere of entertainment and sports (which can be a bit extreme) we find the same forces and powers at work. Our rational, unbiased, secular standard of calculation has changed the definition of justice. Often cases that cannot be settled in a criminal court are now settled in a civil court. Justice may not be served but a huge check may be. Politics is influenced by this rational, impartial standard so that we have been told by politicians and spin doctors in no uncertain terms that “It is the economy, stupid.” Two of the key issues facing politicians right now have to do with money – the rising “cost” of health care (notice that it isn’t the quality) and social “security.” And what is it that makes one socially secure? Money! Homeland security is something else, but social security is really about money. Think about the words and images we use when we talk about it: most interesting of which is the social security “lock-box.” Don’t you picture this big huge treasure box somewhere in Washington with a padlock on it. Can’t you se someone going up to it with an iron key and popping the lid open only to see a spider web in it and a moth fluttering out?

Maybe there’s a lesson in that image about this so-called impartial and rational measure called money and the way it lulls us into misplacing our trust, our sense of security, and our devotion. I want to proclaim today that money and cash values are not secular and impartial. It is a force and power that demands our attention and wants to rule us if it were a god – and it often does. This is the word that Jesus proclaims in Matthew 6:19-33 … [read text]

There are three images here that Jesus is using to open our eyes so we can get beyond the cash values that prevent us from seeing real value and worth. It leads up to his final statement in verse 24 that we cannot serve two masters. Money is more than dollar and cents it is mammon, it is the Almighty Buck that will rule us in place of Almighty God!

The first image is treasure. Maybe it is good that social security has been portrayed as a lock box because one of the truths we all learn about treasures and wealth is that they are never secure. There’s always a problem with moths, rust, and thieves. In ancient times a bride’s dowry was a roll of exquisite fabric, but what tragedy when the bride unrolls the fabric only to find it full of holes and worms. In ancient times a family’s wealth could be amassed as coins or precious jewelry, how tragic when a thief finds these wonderful heirlooms and simply takes them away. In a moment the treasure of generations is simply gone. So, it made sense to hide the treasure, to lock it a strong box and maybe even bury the box in a secret location. But even then it could be tragic when the wealth that has been stored and saved for ages is needed and after the box is dug up and opened the metal is crusted with orange build-up and brittle to the touch. The treasure is transformed into trash.
We are so much more sophisticated these days however. Our treasures are much more permanent. We have stainless steal bank vaults with humidity controlled air conditioners. We have encrypted passwords and secure servers to save our virtual treasures that are really nothing more that numbers and lines of credit. Our treasures and treasure boxes are much better. And yet we have hackers and dishonest managers who can steal these treasures away and consume them even better than thieves and moths. Rust is only one force of nature we have to contend with and even if we can guard against it we have to deal with its kin that come in the form of tornados and tsunamis.
Yet, we still store up treasures on earth … or at least “stuff” on earth …
One of the signs of our times is the prevalence of TV shows, books, and services that help people with the problem of having too much. Have you ever seen these? A group of people come into a house that is about to pop at the seams because the family has too much stuff. This team helps the people get rid of their excess and it makes for good drama because inevitably someone, an adult, will be crying or upset because they don’t won’t to let go of a limited edition Star Trek Barbie doll that they bought on eBay. And when the potential monetary value of the item fails to be convincing the next strategy is to cite the sentimental value. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The false god named mammon, the Almighty Dollar, demands your heart! It will take your heart and lock it up in a treasure box or a stainless steel vault or a 16-layer secure digital encrypted server. Jesus calls us to give our heart to God and give these things away. Have a lighthearted attachment to the treasures of earth and a whole hearted devotion to the treasures of heaven.

The second image is the eye. The ancients knew more about eyes than we seem to with all of our modern science. They understood that the eye was about more than seeing. We still have that wisdom if we will pay attention to it and it shows up in some of the most uncanny places. Have you ever seen a cartoon where a character’s eyes fill with dollar signs? That’s the opposite of the good eye or single eye that Jesus speaks about. What catches our eye? What symbol of cash values clouds our vision? Money is a spiritual force, not a secular force and it can give us a sort of spiritual glaucoma that keeps us from seeing people and the world the way he sees it. It makes us miserly and stingy. It makes us worry about not having enough to eat, to drink, or to wear. It gives us anxiety about the future because we cannot see the light of God’s goodness and hope.
The Almighty Dollar will cloud your eyes! It will skew your vision so that you see all things through dollar shaped lenses, and such a darkened vision will extinguish the light of the body. Don’t live a darkened, worried life anxious about the future. Let the light of God open your eyes and fill your soul.

The final image is that of a master. Mammon is an Aramaic word. When Jesus uses this word for money he personalizes it. He lets us know that money is not just something we use but that it is something powerful enough to use us if we let it. Maybe we don’t speak Aramaic, but we have ways of personalizing the power of money: Dead Presidents, Benjamins (my name is now slang for money), bread and cabbage (our slang for money is attached to food, the basics of survival). The divine power of money is best reflected in our slang “The Almighty Buck.”
We would do well to pay attention to our slang. It should remind us that the Almighty Buck not only demands our heart and our vision but it also wants us to bow our knees. How much of our energy and effort is devoted to the Almighty Buck and much of it is devoted to Almighty God? Think carefully about this – which master sets our priorities, determines our choices, and schedules our time.

Our master determines what we use and what we serve. If God is our master, then we serve him and others and we use money. If money is our master then we use God and others and we serve wealth. These change our values and it isn’t just an individual problem. We live in a conflicted culture that is divided between two masters. Even if you declare that God is your master and Lord, this week someone has tried to convince you of what is truly valuable. Maybe you heard the truth or maybe not. Someone or something may have tried to convince you of what you are really worth. Maybe you heard the truth or maybe not. Money is still a force in our lives and we encounter it daily. Don’t treat money as if it is just material and secular and so acts as if it is nothing. Treat it as if it is spiritual and powerful and then treat it like nothing! That’s how we break the power of worry and wealth. We need Jesus to teach us how to treat wealth in a godly way — to use it rather than be used by it.

Trust in God and Give! Jesus your heart, your eyes, your energy and mammon will be left empty-handed. Give your wealth away generously and it cannot control you.

How Will God Use My Struggles?

Posted by on April 7, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

The history of Israel’s story and early Christianity’s story is filled with people who experienced struggles because they followed God. From the perspective of “here and now,” that appears to be a bad choice. Why make that choice when their world had no respect for their decision? Speaking of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, the author of Hebrews said this in 11:13-16:

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

Two reasons for their decision: (1) They understood God planned something special. (2) They understood that they did not belong in a world unconcerned about righteousness.

The something special God planned was Jesus. Because God agreed the righteous did not belong in an unrighteous world, He is preparing a place in which they do belong.

Physical existence without struggle is not an option-not in Christ, out of Christ, or sometimes in and out of Christ. Struggle is part of physical reality. God uses human struggle to accomplish eternal purposes. He always has, and He always will.

The issue is not, “Will I endure struggle?” The issue is, “Will I surrender my struggle to God and allow God to produce eternal good from the difficulties I experience?”

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

Even Jesus, God’s own son, endured stress and surrendered to a cross!

Engaging the Culture: The Context of Worship

Posted by on April 3, 2005 under Sermons

In recent years there has been a lot of discussion about the "worship wars." This refers to the conflicts among churches over the style and order of worship. Some congregations have gone to two or more worship services to allow for different styles of worship – styles that some people want and styles that other people do not want. There are many reasons given for the cause of the worship wars: generational conflict, the rise of contemporary Christian music, the breakup of denominational structures, the influence of mass media and an entertainment culture. All of these have some validity, but I want to lay my cards on the table and tell my view. This is just my view and I invite discussion of other viewpoints: I think that many of the reasons I stated describe some of the reason for the worship wars, but the core reason we are in the mess called the Worship Wars is that we have made too much distinction between private worship and public worship. Or another way to put it is this: We have pushed worship to the margins of human experience and allowed it to be judged ultimately as a private and personal experience rather than a collective, communal experience. The blame cannot go completely on the church – it is a symptom of our age and our American culture.

For instance, in the case of Terry Schiavo, much can be said about this situation in terms of medical science, ethics, sanctity of life and quality of life. But one significant development has been the distinction between public policy and private choice. What do we do when public policy and private choice are in conflict? I agree with the President that perhaps we should err on the side of life. I wish our public policy always did so in all cases and not just in terms of euthanasia rather than simply give in to partisan preference on media-driven hot topics. But consider how the conflict between public policy and private choice is often at the root of our legal and political debates. How should the needs or desires of the individual be weighed against the needs or desires of the community?

We have played this question out in church as well. How do you balance the needs and desires of the individual member against the needs and desires of the church? Biblically, we are taught to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11; see also Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 1-4). If each of us is seeking the good of the other, just as God seeks our good, then we are at peace. This has never been easy, not since the time of Paul when he pleaded with Euodia and Syntyche at the church in Philippi to agree with one another (Philippians 4). Even before that Jesus was often settling conflicts between his followers by showing them how to take on the role of a servant (John 13).

In some ways it is even harder for us to have the mind of Christ and seek the good of others because we live in a culture of individualism and consumerism. The spirit of consumerism teaches us that the "customer is always right." I have heard people twist the teaching of Jesus to be a servant by approaching church leaders and imploring them to give into their concerns because they are the weaker, offended member and elders and minister are supposed to be their servants (or in this case customer-service managers)! That attitude of "demanding my rights as an immature Christian" is completely foreign to the mind of Christ. Christ did not call us to be servants so we would capitulate to immaturity and consumerism. [Of course this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever go to our leaders with our problems, but let’s go to them to seek their help in managing ourselves rather than managing others. Paul urged the church leaders at Philippi to help their feuding factions to work out the differences – Philippians 4.]

The spirit of individualism has had an effect on church life and the worship in a much more subtle way. The spirit of individualism has taught us to view worship and discipleship as a personal and private matter. We cannot simply reject that. It is true that we must have a personal faith and there is an element of our worship and faith that is very private. What we must reject is the notion that worship is completely or totally personal and private. In fact, Jesus teaches us how to be persons who relate properly to others. However, there is a strong tendency in our culture to push matters of spirituality and faith completely into the realm of the private. In the private realm one avoids offended others with their own personal preferences and avoids intolerant conflicts or disagreements. (Stephen Carter calls this a "Culture of Disbelief.") So, any public expression of worship must be tame and bland. It should be safe for all and not disturbing. This is sort of the "social contract" we have developed so that "We can all just get along." The irony is that most of us are crying out for something to be passionate about, something to stake our lives on, something inspiring – even if have different opinions on how to get there. Such a "truth worth dying for" or a "God so awe-inspiring" cannot be limited to the private realm. In fact, many of the cultures in other places and other times who are not hindered by consumerism and extreme individualism realize that this is something that has to "go public." If you examine the history of worship (and not only Christian worship) we find that it is in fact a public act that calls the individual to something greater than himself or herself.

Just by its nature such worship is very public. For example, ancient worship, in Israel and elsewhere, often involved sacrifice. Can you imagine a pagan worshipper describing the sacrifice of an animal as "a very intimate and personal experience?" The festivals and events that mark ancient worship are very communal and they shape the identity of a people. They are not separate and apart from politics but intimately wed to politics – to war and government. In many cultures, the ruler was a sort of deity! They are not separate and apart from the private lives of families but they are intertwined with family issues as intimate as fertility! Pagan worship can be criticized and condemned on many levels but there is one thing that they did not do that we do: they did not compartmentalize human experience into artificial categories called religious and secular. Instead, they understand how "the religious" and the "everyday" are intertwined and interconnected. I think we would be better off if we understood that life cannot and should not be compartmentalized into boxes labeled "spiritual" and "material," or "church" and "business," or "private faith" and "public work." It doesn’t fit with what we believe about God. [Observe that in the Terry Schiavo case it is not an issue that one can easily separate from faith. Some will try, but this issue goes to the core of what is of ultimate worth and isn’t our worship the focus on what is worthy?]

Scripture will not allow such a distinction between our worship and our life. (Amos 5:21-26) Adapting this OT text for our age, we should agree that God is speaking through Amos to make it clear that our worship on Sunday cannot be separated from our life on Monday through Saturday. Worship of God turns us inside out. The test of worship is not "Did we follow the book with decency and order?" The test of worship is not "Do I feel better and happier?" The test of worship is "Have we allowed God to shape us into a people who are happy to live by his word and are better at bringing decency and order to our world?" Worship, according to Amos, is the source of a mighty flooding river that brings justice and righteousness to a parched land.

In the Old Testament, the faith of the Hebrews was public. It had to be! This was what shaped them as a people. [Exodus 8:1] When they were slaves in Egypt, Moses went to Pharaoh and said "Let my people go!" God had a purpose for their release – "So that they may worship me!" That is public and it is the mission of God connected with worship. The Almighty God is confronting the lesser god known as Pharaoh. This is a fight and it is public. The result is the plagues. Not private, personal plagues. The result of the plagues is not a bland secular statement that tolerates religious freedom. This is a conflict! Think about the worship of the Hebrews when they ate the Passover lamb dressed in their traveling clothes and eating bread baked quickly. They painted their door posts with blood. This is all very public and "in the open." Not to be spectacular! Not to be showy! But because it is real and the power of God and the mission of God involve shaping a people and saving the world. Now if the mission of God is so universally public, why do we think worship is somehow private and hidden?

I don’t want to suggest that the public worship of the people of God is always at odds with the culture. I only suggest that it ENGAGES the culture and that engagement can happen in many ways. In the book of Acts we have a brief description of worship that shows how the public worship of the church is attractive to the larger community. (Acts 2:42) The early church is worshipping daily in the temple and in their homes and their public worship invites those in their context to worship with them. The worship in Acts often transforms culture.

Review the Layers of Participating in WorshipEngaging the Culture: The inner layers are unchanging and fairly set (especially the inside). The outer layer is the most variable but not “anything goes.” In order to engage the culture we have to pay attention to the way the content and structure of our worship engage our cultural context

The engagement with culture in worship is complex: There are aspects of the culture we will embrace, but some we must reject. There are aspects we might transform and change and some we might adapt. (For more discussion see Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People, p. 176.) This is an on-going process because our context is fluid; the culture changes even though the gospel does not. (For instance, Paul told believers in Rome that the ruler was God’s agent, but John in the Revelation describes the ruler as enemy. Did the truth change or did context change?) Christianity is able to move into many different cultures and languages and thus it is viable in all contexts (unlike some belief systems). But the engagement with culture is always public as well as personal.

Our cultural context is going to play a part in determining the styles with which we worship. Not absolutely, but there’s no way to avoid it. Let me tell you some of the ways our cultural context is involved in our worship: We use English, I am not wearing special garments, our auditorium is arranged with the pulpit at the front center, we are used to the auditorium, we sing mostly songs that harmonize different parts, we serve the Lord’s Supper from the front and not sitting around tables, we worship on Sunday morning rather than only Sunday evening or afternoon, we feel it is important to dress well for worship as a sign of respect (you may say that is not just cultural) perhaps, but the clothes we determine as those that show respect are culturally based. [How many of our women are wearing gloves and hats? How many of our men are wearing tuxedos?]

If you think that my message is that these things are unimportant and to say that they are just culturally means that they are trivial then you misunderstand me. That is not what I am saying. I am saying that we should be thoughtful and intentional about the content and structure of our faith and how it should interact with our context. This will allow us to avoid the worship wars and focus on God and even call the public to focus on God because we are worshipping publicly in a way that engages our culture effectively and appropriately. I am not saying this is trivial. Certainly there are some things that venture on the edge of minutia and it is unfortunate that churches have split and disgruntled members have left congregations because someone used Good Value brand grape juice instead of Welch’s in the communion. Those are things we can talk about and the rule of love should guide us. But there are issues that have to do with our context that demand we are very thoughtful about the way we engage our culture in worship – especially if we are going to be true to the content of our worship

Case in point: In the summer of 1907 in Bellwood, Tennessee, the church of Christ there experienced a sort of "Worship War." The matter was quite public and it had to do with the way the people of faith engaged their cultural context. S.E. Harris, a member of this church, wrote to E. A. Elam, another member and an editor of the Gospel Advocate, to protest about an African-American girl who attended worship with Mr. and Mrs. Elam. The girl was essentially a member of the Elam and family and they raised her from infancy. Harris indicated to Elam that the girl’s presence was disturbing to some of the members of the congregation and asked Elam to see that the girl should worship with the "colored church" in town for the sake of peace.

The correspondence between Elam and Harris on this issue continued in the pages of the Gospel Advocate. It was public. Harris pointed out that the members who were sensitive to the girl’s presence had to take responsibility for their feelings and sensibilities and that Scripture obligated them to work for the sake of peace also.

Finally, David Lipscomb, the long-time editor of the Gospel Advocate and the most respected leader in the churches of the time, weighed in on the matter. Siding with Elam, Lipscomb stated that: "No one as a Christian or in service of God has the right to say to another "Thou Shalt Not" because he is of a different family, race, social or political station. While these distinctions exist here (in the culture), God favors or condemns none on account of them … To object to any child of God participating in the service on account of his social or civil state, his race or color is to object to Jesus Christ and to cast [Christ] from our association. It is a fearful thing to do."

The downside of what could have been an even more heroic and Christ-like engagement with the culture of that time is that Lipscomb and other church leaders of the time conceded that Scriptures did not teach very much on social conditions and that segregated congregations were inevitable and unavoidable. This concession to the culture permitted Harris to reply to Lipscomb: "If it was right to build a house for the Negroes to worship in, then is it wrong to ask a Negro to go to that house after it has been prepared for them?" [Ultimately, Lipscomb declared his position that churches built upon racial lines of discrimination were contrary to the New Testament teaching. – Narrative Source: David Lipscomb & E. A. Elam, Gospel Advocate 49 (1907): 424-425, 488, 521.]

Perhaps this story illustrates why it is important that we intentionally, seriously, and publicly engage the cultural context in which we live in a way that is formed and shaped by the content and structure of our worship with God. God is engaging all cultures and we, the church, are those who have responded to his engagement with us.

Discussion Guide

  1. What sort of issues have you observed as part of the “Worship Wars”? Why do these issues create conflict?
  2. What other issues besides the Terry Schiavo case involve the tension between private choice and public policy?
  3. Do you think that Christian faith has been marginalized in our culture? Do you think that our culture wants to reduce faith to a private matter with no impact on culture, politics, or society? If so, name some ways you have observed this. If you disagree, show how faith is intertwined with our culture and politics.
  4. Read Philippians 2:5-14 and Philippians 4. When we find ourselves in the middle of a “worship war” (or any conflict) how should we manage it? How should we manage ourselves?
  5. Do you agree that consumerism and individualism have influenced the way we associate with one another? Comment on these common phrases: “Worship at the church of your choice,” “Church-shopping,” “Needs-based evangelism,” “Jesus is my personal savior,” “User-friendly church,” “Seeker-sensitive church.” How are these phrases shaped by consumer ideas and individualism.
  6. Consider the texts used in worship today (Amos 5:21-27, Exodus 8:1, Acts 2:42-47): How do these texts help us erase the overdrawn distinction between public and private faith? Can you think of some ways we can be personal and public in our faith?
  7. What aspects of our culture do we need to engage with the gospel (the content of our worship)? Which ones should we embrace? Reject? Transform? Redefine?
  8. Faith and spirituality are growing in interest in our culture. The death of Pope John Paul II has placed public faith at the center of our attention worldwide. What does this mean for the practice of our faith? For the mission of God? For our worship?