Sending a Messenger (Malachi 4)

Posted by on May 29, 2005 under Sermons

Israel had sued God. They had taken Him to court. As is common with such breakdowns in arelationship, they dredged the past and brought a lot of old garbage to the surface …

Lord, where were you when the Edomites profited from our exile?
Lord, why haven’t you done anything about them?
Lord, you always say you are for righteousness and justice, but you really are not!
Lord, you said you would provide for us and protect us, but you don’t seem to be doing it!
Lord, we come to worship to give you what you have asked, but you never seem happy with it!
Lord, we might as well do what’s wrong because doing what’s right doesn’t seem to be any good!
Why don’t you keep your promises God? Why don’t you love us anymore?

God goes to trial and makes His defense. He has His own perspective on the matter.

I love you and I always have!
You have despised and dishonored me with your half-hearted, apathetic worship!
I am tired of your “by-the-book, rule-keeping” attitude when you really don’t care about me atall!
I am tired of you giving me your leftovers and your excess and walking away from worship proudof what you have done for me!
I am tired of you claiming that you are my people and talking about the privilege of knowing thetruth when you don’t live by it!
I have had it with the way you break your promises with one another so easily. I have had it withthe way you mistreat one another and betray each other!
I am so tired of the way you use words to excuse your motives and your actions! I am tired ofthe way you try to redefine what’s right and wrong so you can do what you want to do instead oftrusting in me!
I am tired of the way you claim everyone else does what you do but you won’t own up to ityourselves!
I love you and I always have, and it hurts me that you claim I haven’t!

And that’s how the trial with God has gone. God ended the trial and assumed the role of judge. He passed sentence: God’s people need to return to him. But how do you do that with all thisslimy, smelly garbage dredged up from the past and it fills the room?

Have you ever had one of those arguments that seems to leave an indelible mark on therelationship? You know the sort. Some word is used that can never be forgotten. A mistake ofthe past is brought up like case law to justify lack of trust. Old hurts are taken out of the damp,moldy box they have been stored in for just a time as this. Cruel jokes or unkind statementsbecome shields that protect us in our fear of being disappointed.

These sort of arguments that dredge up the past leave the room filled a silence in which wewonder if the relationship can ever be repaired. The unspoken question is “Well now what?” You know these arguments. They happen in friendships, in marriages, in the workplace, inchurches, and even among nations.

What do you do with the past that has been dredged up?

God takes the first step at reconciliation and restoration. He has faith that a better day is coming. He ought to, because it is they day he is working toward – the day of the Lord … Read Malachi 4

All through the preaching of the prophets, the day of the Lord is spoken of as great and glorious. It is a day to be feared and hoped for at the same time. On the day of the Lord, justice will prevail… “For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done toyou; your deeds shall return on your own head.” – Obadiah 1:15 The day of the Lord is the turnof the ages. The age of corruption is burned up and the new age of righteousness begins.

For the wicked and evildoers who prefer the cover of night, it is the end of their rule. For thosewho welcome the dawn of the sunshine of righteousness, the day is the beginning of the world asit is supposed to be.

And for God, burning up the wicked isn’t as easy as scraping off old wallpaper … The destructionof the age of wickedness and corruption means that some of the people God loves who haveinvested themselves in the darkness are going to perish with it. Like a tree that is completelyremoved by a wildfire – neither root nor branch is left. It will be as if they never existed. Therewill be no future for the wicked in the home of righteousness, and there will not be a past todredge up.

God wants his children, all of them, to withstand the day of the Lord. He wants them to havedeep roots and strong branches. He wants to provide past and future for them.

Past – Remember the teaching of Moses. The commands and the law are a source of orientation. We have a great tradition of faith that nurtures us. They are deep roots that feed us and nurtureus and will nurture generations to follow. The speaker at the seminar I recently attended said hesat in a class and the speaker said “Forget everything you learned in Sunday school.” Heapproached her and said, “You didn’t really mean that, did you.” We don’t really mean it when wesay we need to chuck out the past and start over again, do we. We have learned some greatthings in Sunday school and when we were young. We have learned some important things fromour past – not just our past but THE past. We learn that God loves us, that Jesus is the Son ofGod, the Holy Spirit gives life and gifts for living to the people of God, that the church is thewitness of God is doing on earth. Where did we come up with this? When did we come up withit? This comes from a tradition of 2000 years, some of it even older than that. We dare notdispose of the past or tradition! It is our root system.

But when people say forget everything you learned in Sunday school, they do not mean tradition,they mean traditionalism. They mean the dead faith of living people, not the living faith of deadpeople. Traditionalism is the encrusted cake of ideals that cries out “The Old Paths are best” butinstead of walking the old paths into the future, they call a little cul-de-sac the Old Paths and theywalk around in a circle. That’s not the Old Paths; that is the Old Rest Home. The Old Pathscontinue into the future. The ancient commands are made new everyday by the mercy and love ofGod.

Notice that God calls up another figure from history – Elijah. Elijah is the prophet of prophets inIsrael’s memory. The prophet keeps the law of Moses from becoming old and tired. He brings itto life for each generation. Even in our time, we cannot rest lazily on the work of theRestorationists or of a generation ago. Every generation has the need to live out the word of God- right here and right now. We can look back and see what our parents did in their generation, orwhat the pioneers did 200 years ago, we can see what the first century church did and what Israeldid. But they will ask us, like good witnesses, now what will you do?

God is sending a messenger so that his people will be aroused from the idea that God did nothingmore than leave us a book. God is not interested in building a “by-the-book” bureaucracy. Hedesires a family in which the parents and the children, every generation, is connected with aheartfelt faith that keeps alive the message of the messenger.

    This is the hope for the future that God gives us after the past has been dredged up. The day ofthe Lord is yet to come, but the messenger has arrived. If the folks who put the books of theBible together in their current order had been paying attention, the first gospel would be Mark,not Matthew. Mark’s gospel opens where the last book of the Old Testament leaves off … “See, Iam sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying outin the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ “

    The messenger, the Elijah, was John the Baptist and his message was about the one who cameafter him, Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh come to save us, but also to form a relationship with us. We are called to know Jesus (not just know about him, but know him). Jesus, the Son of God,can turn our hearts back to our heavenly Father as he himself is the turning of Father God’s heartto his children.


Posted by on May 26, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

A few mornings ago I took an early morning walk. As I traveled my usual route, I noticed something ahead of me in the road. It just was daylight, and I could not make out what I saw. I see lots of different things in the road on my morning walks-squirrels, possums, skunks, raccoons, a variety of fast food containers, and beer bottles. However, the shape of this object was different. It seemed much too still to be a living creature.

As I drew closer, I saw a large turtle just beginning its journey across the street. By the shape of its shell and its movements, it seemed to be the kind of snapping turtle I saw around lakes in my boyhood days. A golf course pond was behind it-I assume that is where it came from. Who (but it) knew where it was going-on the other side of the road is the beginning of a very large hill with no lake or pond.

Suddenly, a strange drama began unfolding. Early morning traffic picked up. A couple of cars dodged the turtle, and other cars slowed down to make certain they missed it. Would the turtle live to see the other side of the street?

Several things occurred to me. Only the turtle knew why it was going. I am sure that to the turtle its journey made sense, but from any other perspective the turtle’s journey was just plain stupid. Second, the turtle did not have a clue about the danger it was in. In the blink of an eye, the turtle could go from very alive to very dead. Third, the turtle would regard any attempt to help it as an attack. I quickly thought better of my inclination to remove it from the road.

I realize how much we are like the turtle. We think we know what we are doing, but we don’t. We think we know where we are going, but we don’t. However, we are certain we must get there-until we arrive. Too often we regard any attempt to rescue us from danger we do not “see” with indignation. When we are determined, a caring act is perceived as a hostile attack. Too often we mistake our journey with life itself.

One of life’s essential lessons learned only with great difficulty: our journey must not consume our existence. Who we are is more important than where we are. If we take proper care of who we are, we avoid many predicaments. The nature of our journey is never as important as who we are. Where we are is important only when it affects who we are. Who we are impacts our eternal destiny far more than where we have been.

Oh, by the way, when I walked back by, the turtle was nowhere to be seen. Only it knows where it is and why it went-or maybe not even it knows.

A Function of Loving Each Other

Posted by on May 22, 2005 under Sermons

Read Matthew 8:5-12.

One of the hardest, most demanding challenges in life is to love another person. Love opposes selfishness, arrogance, pride, and self-centered existence. Love champions kindness, placing self second, valuing someone else more the you value yourself, and service. We Americans often find love extremely challenging.

The more an adult child differs from Mom or Dad’s values, the more obvious the demands of love become. Quickly we learn we can love the child and reject the values.

One of the hardest, most demanding challenges among Christians is to love another Christian who differs from you. Among Christians, love makes our personal selfishness very evident. Love makes our personal arrogance very evident. Love makes our personal pride very evident. Love makes our personal self-centered existence very evident. When we need to be kind, caring, encouraging, and to value a Christian with whom we disagree, love becomes extremely challenging.

The more Christians differ with each other, the more the demands of love become evident. Quickly we learn (or need to learn!) that we can disagree significantly, but still love each other.

As a companion reading to Matthew 8:5-12 that we read at the opening of our assembly, I want us to read together John 10:7-16.
So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”

  1. Several times Jesus declared plainly that simply being an Israelite was not enough to make a person a part of God’s kingdom.
    1. Often those statements slide by us because we are not first century Jews.
      1. I seriously doubt that Jesus’ statements slide by his Jewish audiences.
      2. On several occasions, like the limited commission in Matthew 10, he referred to the first century Jewish people as “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
      3. In the two readings we shared this evening, Jesus said:
        1. A gentile Roman solder demonstrated more faith than he has seen in anyone in Israel.
        2. Non-Jews would come from all over the world to share the eternal feast (their understanding of what we refer to as heaven) with the Jewish forefathers while those Jewish people would be rejected.
        3. He had sheep who were not Israelites that he would bring to himself.
    2. If you would like to get a “taste” of what Jesus said, consider this.
      1. That is like Jesus saying to us that he has seen more faith in a Muslim than in any member of the Church of Christ he has met.
      2. That is like Jesus saying to us that people from denominations will enter heaven, but the Church of Christ will be rejected.
      3. That is like Jesus saying that he has disciples who never heard of the Church of Christ that he will bring to himself.
    3. Do you think statements like that would slip by you?
      1. Absolutely not–that would get our attention fast!
      2. Those statements got Israel’s attention fast, also.
      3. How would you like for Jesus to refer to us as the lost people or say he found more faith among the people that we say have questionable spirituality than he ever found in us?
      4. Those Israelites were not stupid!

  2. When Jesus made statements like that, the statements either infuriated prominent people or confused many people.
    1. We should not have any problem understanding that!
      1. Those Jews could say (and likely did), does not scripture say, “God used His strong arm to deliver our forefathers from slavery in Egypt.”
      2. They could say (and likely did), does not scripture say, “God sustained our forefathers in the wilderness.”
      3. They could say (and likely did), does not scripture say, “God gave our forefathers this land.”
      4. They could say (and likely did), does not scripture call this nation the people of God?
    2. In Jesus’ declarations what he said in these matters simply did not make sense to them.
      1. Israel was synonymous with spirituality!
        1. God delivered them!
        2. God gave them the written scripture!
        3. God sent them the prophets!
        4. God called them the people of God!
        5. They were the people God promised Abraham!
        6. Surely some of their forefathers made horrible mistakes, but they had corrected the mistakes.
        7. They knew the right God!
        8. They belonged to the living God!
      2. God is going to take people who are not Jews into heaven and leave first century Israel out?
        1. That cannot be right!
        2. In fact, that idea is just plain stupid!
        3. Jesus simply does not know what he is talking about in these matters!

  3. It was the unquestioned understanding, “God loves us best! God loves us too much to save people who are not Jews! God could never reject us! Look who we are! Look at our history!”
    1. They had thought for so long that they were God’s people that they could not think any other way.
      1. Yet, what Jesus told them was the truth.
      2. However, they were certain it was not the truth.
    2. Their problem: they placed their confidence in “who we are” and in their ancestry, not in the fact they followed God’s will and purposes.
    3. If we are not extremely careful, we can duplicate their problem: we can place our trust in our identity and our association with the American restoration movement.

  4. I hope you can see clearly one of the mistakes first century Israel made, and see how they were out-of-step with God’s purposes first promised to Abraham, “And in you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3)
    1. I want to challenge you to think with me.
      1. I have been preaching and teaching for over 50 years.
      2. In that time I have seen and experienced a lot of changes in the church.
        1. Most of these changes have been neither good nor bad.
        2. They have just been changes.
        3. Without doubt one of the biggest challenges I have faced in all the changes is learning that there are many different ways to learn, many different ways to spiritually develop–not everyone learns and grows in the same way!
        4. For example, when I began preaching, in my area most church buildings were just one room.
          1. There was no education department.
          2. There were no class rooms.
          3. There were no youth furnishings.
          4. In my home congregation, for a long time we divided everyone into three groups: adults up front, grades 1 through 6 in one back corner, and grades 7 through 12 in the other back corner.
        5. In contrast, it took me 3 months to learn my way around this building, and I may not have been to every room yet.
      3. With all that has changed, what is the goal?
        1. Why do we have class rooms? Youth programs? Teaching aids? Classes for age groups?
        2. Is it just to have them? Or to have a sizable building? Or to keep up with other religious groups? No!
        3. The purpose is spiritual growth.
        4. If a 7th grader was in a 1st grade class, he would be and should be bored.
        5. If a 1st grader was in a 7th graders class, he would be and should be mystified.
        6. No matter what the age, the goal is the same–spiritual growth and development.

  5. We are a congregation with lots of diversity.
    1. We have people with all kinds of religious and social backgrounds.
      1. We face all kinds of challenges each week.
      2. We face all kinds of temptations each week.
      3. Some by necessity work in environments that pretty well beat them up every week.
    2. When we assemble on Wednesday nights, several things occur simultaneously.
      1. In the Family Life Center, “Peak of the Week” meets–it is a singing, praying, discussion-oriented group.
      2. A large class meets in this room–it is a text centered class that is mostly lecture with some interaction.
      3. Typically there is an adult class upstairs–I think Gary Brown is leading that class this quarter on the Holy Spirit; it usually is a subject study.
      4. The youth group meets to address the challenges of teenagers today.
      5. The college group meets to address the challenges of the college student today.
    3. And it is all okay–we just want teens and adults to be somewhere that encourages them to grow and spiritually develop.

  6. We want the same thing to happen on Sunday evening.
    1. For the summer months, some of the small groups will combine here at the building and continue their discussion study until the fall.
    2. We will continue here in the auditorium to have a lecture focused on the text.
    3. Kids for Christ will continue to meet upstairs.
    4. The youth group will continue its classes and focus.
    5. The college group will continue its classes and focus.
    6. And it is okay–because the objective is spiritual development.
      1. Where people go is their choice.
      2. We just want everyone to go somewhere!
      3. It is not a matter of acceptance or rejection–it is a matter of growth!
      4. It is not a matter of faithfulness or unfaithfulness–it is a matter of spiritual development.
      5. Do not measure people by your personal preferences; encourage everyone to grow.
    7. Being diverse is okay! Encourage! Accept the challenge to love!

I want to issue a challenge to all of us. When we conclude on Sunday evening, do not rush off. Do not see how quickly you can leave. Circulate! Meet and talk in the foyer and halls. Meet and talk in the family life center! Make it your goal to help everyone feel loved, appreciated, and a part!

As we see people growing closer to God, rejoice! If you are growing closer to God, I am not going to complain!

Thanks for Going to Macedonia!

Posted by on May 19, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

This verse always floods my mind with Cameroon memories. When Joyce, our three children, and I were in West Africa, never was there more than six American families where we were. One or two of the families were led by medical doctors. With the help of single nurses (our Deborah Wilson was one of them!), the doctors conducted mobile clinics.

They maintained routes to larger villages with no access to medical treatment. Several times weekly the doctors and nurses loaded a long-wheel base, four-wheel drive Land Rover and traveled to a village on their route.

Few paved roads then existed in that area. Travel was slow and tedious. The people were a gracious, gentle people-unless a vehicle hit a person or an animal. When that happened, volatile emotions erupted, and the reaction of the crowd was unpredictable.

One of the clinic’s routes traveled through the village of Kwa-Kwa weekly. As the doctors and nurses approached Kwa-Kwa one morning, the road disappeared into a massive crowd of people.

Immediately the doctors and nurses wondered aloud if they unknowingly hit an animal when they last passed through. Quickly the vehicle was surrounded by a throng of people pressing close to the Land Rover. Just as the medical team feared the worse, a small man named Nusudo stepped out of the crowd, handed a doctor a note, and the crowd immediately opened to create a path for the Land Rover to continue its journey.

The note simply said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”

Nusudo, not as tall as my seven-year-old son, was converted and became the village’s preacher. Soon Kwa-Kwa had a thriving congregation because someone “came to Macedonia” and taught them.

This week a large shipment of Bibles, books, and medical supplies began the journey to a remote area in Cameroon. Seven clinics and hospitals in the Wum area will receive a huge shipment of medical supplies. A preacher training school will receive books for its library. Congregations (some quite new) will receive Bibles. Eugene, once a teenager in the preacher training school who is now over 50, will receive a bicycle to assist him as he travels to remote areas to teach.

Thank you! For your generous gifts, for your countless evenings of work, for your interest and encouragement, thank you! Thanks to Bob Fisher for his patience in finding as many supplies as possible! Thanks to Kevin Vaught for “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” as he coordinated the work! Thanks to Ron Moreton and Jim Selig for driving trucks far and wide to gather and take supplies! Thanks to all the volunteers, the women who packed and made manifest lists, and the contributors who made it happen. All of you “went to Macedonia.” On behalf of those who will never see or know you, thanks!

The Bible’s Story: From “A” to “Z”

Posted by on May 15, 2005 under Sermons

This evening I want to attempt to do something that is quite difficult for the situation and for a thirty-minute presentation.

I need your help. I want you to stay with me, and I want you to think. I do not want your thinking to stop when we finish this lesson. I want you to think about this for at least several days.

I fully realize what I share with you this evening is an overview. In may ways it is an oversimplification. Hopefully, it is an accurate concept and continuum.

Let me begin by sharing a perspective. I think many in this audience know the basic Bible stories. However, I also think that we often have failed to connect the Bible stories we know to the overall story of the entire Bible.

Let me try to illustrate the problem and the need. I am not going to ask you to say anything, or share anything, or take a test. I just want you to raise your hand.

  • Everyone who thinks you could tell the story of Adam and Eve, raise your hand. (Thanks!)
  • Everyone who thinks you could tell the story of Cain and Abel raise your hand. (Thanks!)
  • Everyone who thinks you could tell the story of the flood raise your hand. (Thanks!)
  • Everyone who thinks you could tell the story of how the nation of Israel came from Abraham, raise your hand. (Thanks!)

Many of us could tell those stories. Now let me ask you more difficult questions. DO NOT raise your hands–just think seriously to yourself.

  • How does the story about Adam and Eve connect to what God did in the cross of Jesus? Is there any connection? If there is, what is it?
  • How does the story about Cain and Abel connect to God’s actions in the cross of Jesus? Is there any connection? If there is, what is it?
  • How does the story of the flood connect to Jesus’ cross? Is there a connection? If there is a connection, what is it?
  • What is the connection between the formation of the nation of Israel and Jesus’ cross? Is there any connection? If there is, what is it?

  1. I want to begin by giving you a real simple overview slide.
    1. There are two purposes to this simple overview slide.
    2. The first is to give you some idea of where we are going in the next few minutes.
    3. The second is to call your attention to the fact there is no change in God; we have the problem that needs fixing, not God. God is the same – from creation to the cross to the judgment.

  2. Let’s start where the Bible starts–with the creation, with the declaration that God is the origin of all things.
    Genesis 1:31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
    1. I have no idea of how long Adam and Eve lived in the ideal circumstances of the Garden of Eden.
      1. Genesis does not say.
      2. How long they were there is not really the point–the point is that there was a period when everything was ideal and human life dealt with nothing evil.
      3. However, when Adam and Eve were deceived by temptation and rebelled against God, everything changed immediately.
        1. Adam and Eve no longer could live an ideal existence.
        2. Their rebellion produced profound consequences.
        3. Their act did not merely destroy their relationship with God–their rebellion perverted God’s good creation.
      4. I do not know how many children Adam and Eve had–Genesis does not say.
        1. It just tells us that Cain, Abel, and Seth were three of them, and were quite significant in human history.
        2. In less than one generation people went from total good to murder!
          1. Seth is both the person and the symbol of people who were sensitive to God and wanted to listen to God.
          2. Cain is both the person and the symbol of people who wanted nothing to do with God.
          3. There was a group of people who were sensitive to God until the group intermarried with people who wanted nothing to do with God.
          4. After the intermarriage, the decline into the pits of evil continued until there was complete evil and the absence of good.
            Genesis 6:5,6 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

  3. The flood occurred because God, Who is filled with grace and mercy, wanted to begin again with people who would listen to Him.
    1. It did not work.
      1. Nothing short of God sacrificing His own son would work.
      2. So God began preparing to send His son well over a thousand years (perhaps 2000 years!) before Jesus came to be the Messiah, the Christ.
      3. God began with these promises made to the man Abraham.
        Genesis 12:1-3 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

    2. God started with the childless Abraham and brought into existence the nation of Israel by giving Abraham and Sarah a child named Isaac, the child of the promise.
      1. But the nation of Israel was a constant disappointment to God from the moment He secured their freedom from slavery.
      2. With the exception of the leadership and time of Joshua, the people of Israel struggled with two problems:
        1. Problem one: they gave credit for God’s acts to nonexistent gods, or idolatry.
        2. Problem two: they placed their confidence in their identity and traditions instead of placing their confidence in God and His purposes.
      3. With all God did for that people, things went from bad to worse.
        1. The Assyrian captivity did not end the problem.
        2. The Babylonian captivity did not end the problem.

  4. Yet, incredibly, God persisted.
    1. With all the discouragement and failures in Israel, God still sent the Messiah (Christ).
      1. God still provided all people [just as He promised Abraham] with a choice.
      2. The choice: continue the decline into the pits of evil or direct yourselves toward God’s acceptance in judgment.
      3. God could provide the world that choice because of what He accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      4. Only because of what God did in Jesus Christ could the world be given a choice.
      5. Our salvation has never been based on humanity’s goodness.
      6. Our salvation always has been based on God’s goodness expressed in His mercy and grace.
        John 1:17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

  5. We must grasp and cling to a basic understanding.
    1. Grace and mercy are available to us in a form that will produce salvation because of what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      1. Only because of what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection do people have a choice.
      2. Never should we be so deceived or so arrogant as to think that we can [through our own efforts] return to the goodness that existed when God created.
      3. Our goal is simple: we seek God’s acceptance in judgment.
        1. However, that can only happen because we accept God’s mercy and grace.
        2. It is only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can choose to redirect our lives.
        3. Because of Jesus Christ we can be saved, but because of our sinfulness and weakness we can never be good.
    2. Left to ourselves, we plunge deeper and deeper into evil–and often do not even realize it!
    3. I want you to listen carefully to a statement made by the author of Hebrews in the last of Hebrews 7 and the first 12 verses of Hebrews 8.
      1. The statement is based on a comparison of the Jewish high priest and our high priest, Jesus Christ.
      2. The work of a high priest was to do two things:
        1. The first: to represent the people before God.
        2. The second: to offer a sacrifice for the forgiveness of the people he represents.
        3. Read with me, and listen with your heart as we focus on Hebrews 7:26 through 8:12.
          For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.”

The Bible is not a comprehensive declaration of all God did in ages past. It is the record of how the God of goodness would not allow human failure to destroy His purpose. It is a record of how the good God with great determination and sacrifice restored our choice. It is the record of how the good God who created all things good will return all who follow Him to that goodness.

Do not place your confidence in our religious identity. Place your confidence in the God who gave us Jesus as a Savior.

Learning the Lord’s Language (Malachi 3)

Posted by on under Sermons

        Last week a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called me to ask if I ever thought about the words and phrases we use in the church. She wanted to know if I struggled to communicate when some of the language we use as the church seems like religious jargon. (The article was published in the May 14, 2005, issue of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette religion section).
        I welcomed this conversation because it is something I have thought about for quite some time. The words we use and the way we define things matters. This isn’t just hairsplitting or quibbling over semantics; I do not mean the clever word-smithing or doublespeak of politicians. What I am talking about is something we all experience – words shape reality. They become ways of forming community and relationship. Naming things is important. Words that once meant one thing now mean something completely different. Words like "gay and queer" were once very common words but now they have a very specific meaning and the way they are used may define how one stands on the issue of homosexuality. Naming things is important and words create relationships. In the military, there are proper and improper ways to speak to one’s superior officer given the circumstances. Why? Words create relationships. They shape reality. Polls show that many Americans, an overwhelming majority in fact, believe in God. But what do they mean by God? Some may ask, "Does it matter?" Considering that God tells Moses that his name is "I AM," meaning that he defines himself, I would say it does matter.
        Words are very important. We have the ability to use words the way God does. We have the ability to learn the Lord’s language. Or we can wear God out with our words. This is the charge that Malachi lays upon the people of Judah during their court case with God … Read Malachi 2:17 – 3:15

        They have wearied the Lord with words. They have changed the "terms" of their relationship with God. Terms – in the sense of words! God is too nice to judge. God is not paying attention to evil and those who do what is wrong get away with it so there really is no point to doing what is right. Maybe what we have called "wrong" really is "alright" and maybe what we have called "right" is really "too strict." They have changed the terms. They are renaming things and reshaping reality on their terms – but not God’s terms.
        "Yes, I’m on my way to visit you with Judgment. I’ll present compelling evidence against sorcerers, adulterers, liars, those who exploit workers, those who take advantage of widows and orphans, those who are inhospitable to the homeless-anyone and everyone who doesn’t honor me." God will use his words. He will announce his terms. He will speak up and be a witness. Those who engage in sorcery will hear God’s terms. Those who are involved in adultery will hear God’s terms. Those who lie and those who oppress the poor and their own workers will hear God’s terms.
        But before that happens, God is going to send them a speech therapist. He is going to send them a translator. God is going to send a messenger who will teach the people God’s terms. It will be a process of purification and refinement. It will be hard, but if God arrives before they are ready then none of them will be able to stand up to the test.
        God is now appealing the Case on behalf of Israel. He has moved from defendant to prosecutor to judge but now he becomes defense advocate. God the judge is withholding the sentencing to give the people time to change. He wants to delay so that they will return to him and learn how to speak of the world as he does. He wants to give them time to cease their sorcery and adultery and to reverse their oppression. 3:6 For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. 7Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, "How shall we return?

Purification and Preparation – Isn’t this the question before us also? Isn’t this question before our culture?

  • We don’t have too many sorcerers, but we do have our own techniques of gaining control. Sorcery and magic were ancient methods of influence with words. Think about the ways we try to influence others. We place our hope and trust in these methods of influence. And we justify doing so by changing the terms. How do we describe a successful person? With whose terms? We use words like secular to describe our finances and politics. Why are we doing that? Do we trust in God or do we depend on our party being in power or our business succeeding at any cost? Like the sorcery of ancient times, we have our science, wisdom, influence and resources that we like to control and we need to be careful that we do not rely on the language and the reality created by these words instead of learning God’s terms. Have we wearied God with our use of words?
  • Perhaps adultery is more common to us. But how do we define it? How do we define all immorality? Do we look for strict definitions so that we can create loopholes? Pornography isn’t sinful, some say, it is just natural and normal. (Perhaps an initial curiosity is understandable, especially among the young; but a continued engagement isn’t). Really? How did Jesus define adultery? (Matthew 5) According to Jesus, isn’t adultery also a matter of the eyes and the heart and not just the reproductive organs? In our age we have defined sexual immorality with such strict definitions and particular words so that we excuse certain forms of physical behavior. Some say, "It isn’t really sex if we don’t take it to a certain physical level." Have we wearied God with our abuse of words?
  • Consider how oppression takes place. Words are used to justify it. We choose to believe certain things about the poor and the weak so we can insulate ourselves from their world. There was a time in this nation when slavery was declared to be God’s will. The segregation of the church along racial and economic lines is still justified because of the way we use words. "Some people prefer church with their own kind." What does that mean? In Christ Jesus there is only one kind! One kindred people! (Galatians 3:28) Pay attention to the terms we use and pay attention to the language we are using – is it God’s language that creates our reality and relationships? Or is it our own corrupted language?" Have we wearied God with our abuse of words?

Returning to God – Learning the Lord’s Language (Living with God’s Terms)
        Let’s be honest before God, living in a culture that is good at warping words it is easy to find ourselves speaking our own language and living on our own terms. That’s when we have to ask, "How do we return to God so he might return to us?" The simple answer is we need to trust in God and keep our covenant with him.
        God called upon Israel to stop robbing him. They were withholding their tithes. Why? Because they didn’t trust him! They wanted to manage their resources on their terms. Notice that the people have said harsh things about God because to them keeping the covenant is all a matter of profit and gain. (3:14) What’s in it for us? Why serve God? It really seems like a waste of time because the people who really succeed are the proud, the arrogant, and the rich.
        It is in the simple things that we return to God. That’s how we practice trust and covenant. How do we regard our resources? Even if we give 10% how do we use the 90%? Do we view that as the Lord’s money, (one of our church terms) or is the Lord’s money just the allowance we give him each week? How do we view our faith? How do we talk about it? Is it a means to an end for our spiritual life? Or is it all a part of who we are?

God Taking Names – Read Malachi 3:16-18
        Here is hope at the end of this difficult trial when God was sued by the people he loves. Some of them listen to hims and try to imagine a new way. They love to think about God and the respect his covenant.
God takes down their names and then he names the people in the book. "They are mine!" he says. "These are my kids!" And that makes a difference. Words shape reality and create relationships. How you name things matters. And God is going to show us how that is done.
        The article in the newspaper ended on a good note. I people will pay attention to it. I was talking with the writer about the fundamental teaching of the Scriptures that God creates the universe with words. It is a very important teaching and it is unique in creation stories. Here’s what I said: "God speaks and that sets the creation story apart. He allows man to name creations. And in naming them, we define them. We have this gift of speech and language and it is not unimportant."
        Of all creatures in creation we are they only ones who use words in that way we share in Gods’ creative power. According to the traditional church calendar, today is the day of Pentecost. On the Pentecost Sunday after Jesus resurrection and ascension to heaven, God’s spirit enabled his messengers to speak and to be understood by the crowds in the temple. The miracle of Pentecost is not that the apostles spoke in tongues – it is that the people understood the word they were preaching. Instead of confusion, there was clarity and the world was learning to speak the Lord’s language. This is the dawning of the day that Malachi anticipates.
So, will we weary God with our abuse of words or will we learn to praise Him with our words/mouths? Will we let His spirit teach us how to use words and to name things and how to create relationships on God’s terms? Everything else in the universe speaks on God’s terms and praises Him. Can we, the creatures who use words, praise Him?


Posted by on May 12, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

Many years ago I heard a statement made many times in numerous ways. In some form, the statement declared, “It is a shame that youth is wasted on the young.” Never was the statement uttered as a ?slam’ on young people. It was a statement of regret made by an older person as a commentary on the way he or she lived in his or her past.

There was a time when we thought nothing would ever change, nothing bad would or could happen ?to me.’ We could go day and night if we chose to do so. Everything was a challenge-not an impossibility or a ?ridiculous undertaking.’ We were focused on ?proving something’-what we were trying to ?prove’ was never clear, but we thought it needed no explanation. With some of the ?dumb’ things we did, it is amazing that half of us are still alive! Yet, not for a moment did we think in terms of ?dangerous’ nor did we associate any consequences with our acts. We were full of life, and always would be!

When I was in high school, seniors received special privileges the last week of school. My high school was extremely small with very small senior classes. (I think there were 19 in my graduating class.) Very few students owned or had access to a car. That year, 17- and 18-year-olds filled with excitement draped themselves all over a car-sitting on fenders, standing on bumpers-as they took a rural celebration cruise. They wrecked. Several spent weeks in the hospital. A few were maimed for life. The impossible was more than possible. Consequences were real-something could happen ?to me.’

For years I served as a camp director. I quit when my awareness of all the bad things that could happen outgrew my possibility thinking. When your fears grow bigger than the possibilities for good you see, you need to stop. It always needs to be a matter of possibility, not a matter of control. No one has the energy for good as do the young!

Being afraid of everything is not good. Knowing when it is appropriate to be sober is good.

As Paul neared the end of his life, what a view of his past he had! Outstanding student, a man ruled by hate, a man ruled by love, a man who knew he never was in control of anything. Even as he approached death, he was like spilled oil and wine. His final tribute to God-only God was in control. His life was nothing more than a drink offering. However, it was okay-he had absolute confidence in God and His promises.

When Paul looked over his life, I wonder if he thought youth was wasted on the young? In his case, absolutely! What about you? It is okay-if you have total confidence in God and His promises! Only He-not you!-is in control. Be a drink offering, not a control freak!

Disappointment or Something Better?

Posted by on May 8, 2005 under Sermons

I want to begin by asking you to take a Bible and turn with me to two texts.

First I ask you to turn to Matthew 11:20-24.
Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”

  1. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are Jewish cities.
  2. Tyre and Sidon are gentile cities noted for ancient idolatry.
  3. Sodom was a symbol of ungodliness and sexual immorality.

Now turn to Matthew 23:37-39.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “

  1. Jesus could not do what he wanted to do–the Jewish people in the Jewish capitol would not let him!
  2. The people of Jerusalem would endure the consequences of refusing to allow Jesus to deliver them.

Think very carefully about those two statements Jesus made. I want you to answer one question:
Why do you think Jesus made these two statements?

  1. May I suggest to you that in both statements Jesus is grieved by bitter personal disappointment.
    1. Jesus knew what would happen to the people of Israel because they rejected him.
      1. No, not every person in Israel rejected him.
      2. However, the greater majority did.
      3. They were going to suffer as a result of that rejection, and Jesus knew they would.
        1. Jesus did not speculate they would.
        2. Jesus’ statement was not a matter of conjecture.
        3. Jesus fully understood the consequences of their rejection.
    2. Let me ask you some questions I want you to answer silently in your minds.
      1. Did God with ten powerful acts rescue the ancestors of these Israelites from Egyptian slavery? [Absolutely!]
      2. Did God preserve these people’s ancestors in the wilderness? [Absolutely!]
      3. Did God give these people Canaan to be their homeland? [Absolutely!]
      4. Did these people have a correct understanding of who the creating, living God was? [Absolutely!]
      5. Did God give these people His written word? [Absolutely!]
      6. Did God send His prophets to these people? [Absolutely!]
      7. Did God promise to send His Messiah to and through these people? [Absolutely!]
      8. Did these people expect God’s Messiah to come to them? [Absolutely!]
    3. Now let me ask you to consider some statements made about Jesus’ ministry.
      • Matthew 4:17 From that time [the beginning of Jesus’ ministry] Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
      • Mark 1:14,15 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
      • Luke 4:42,43 When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place; and the crowds were searching for Him, and came to Him and tried to keep Him from going away from them. But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”
      • John 3:1-3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
      1. Now I want you to answer a question by raising your hand.
      2. The question: “Would it be better for these people to be a citizen in the kingdom of God than for them to be a citizen in the nation of Israel?”
      3. All of you who think it would have been a step forward for the Jewish people to be citizens in the kingdom of God, raise your hand.
    4. Did these Jewish people think being a citizen in God’s kingdom that Jesus spoke about was a step forward?
      1. No!
      2. In fact, they thought the first and essential step in being in God’s kingdom was being accepted into the nation of Israel. To the vast majority of those people it was unthinkable that a person could be part of God’s kingdom and not be a part of Israel!
      3. Repent? They did not have anything to repent of–they were God’s people!
      4. Jesus’ teachings were different to anything they ever heard.
      5. What Jesus declared was not at all what they expected the Messiah to say.
      6. What Jesus taught simply did not meet their expectations!
      7. There was no way Jesus represented what God had in mind when He promised them a Messiah!
    5. These are the points I want you to think about.
      1. Because Jesus was not what they expected, they refused to listen to him.
      2. Because they refused to listen to Jesus, they missed the will of God.
      3. Because they missed the will of God, they brought great consequences on themselves.
      4. What Jesus taught would bring them great blessing, but they refused to believe that Jesus’ teachings represented spiritual progress.
      5. Because they rejected Jesus, Jesus could not help them.
      6. That rejection grieved Jesus because Jesus deeply cared about them.

  2. May I ask you a question that I just want you to think about?
    1. The question: “Why is it that we think [without doubt] it would be the progress of advancement for others to move close to an understanding of Jesus’ teachings and God’s kingdom, but it would be failure for us to move in any direction?”
      1. Do you think you totally understand and comprehend God’s mind? Then why would it be failure to move closer to God’s thinking?
      2. Do you fully comprehend God’s mercy and grace? Then why would it be failure to move closer to an understanding of God’s mercy and grace?
      3. Do you fully know all God accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection? Then why would it be failure to move closer to the knowledge of what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection?
      4. If moving closer to Jesus Christ’s teachings destroyed your fear and anxiety, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
      5. If understanding God’s love for you destroyed your fear and anxiety, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
    2. May I anticipate a common response?
      1. A common response: “All my life I have heard and been taught that we must defend the faith.”
      2. Let me share with you what I have learned [often the hard way] about “defending” the faith.
        1. The more concerned we become about “defending the faith,” the less concerned we become about “sharing the faith.”
        2. The more concerned we become about “defending the faith,” the more exclusive we become in our fellowship.
        3. The more concerned we become about “defending the faith,” the less concerned we become about God’s priorities.
        4. The more concerned we become about “defending the faith,” the more we justify our ungodly acts against other baptized believers.
      3. Why? Defending:
        1. Is too often more about our history than our God.
        2. Is too often more about our preferences than our Savior.
        3. Is too often more about a cherished theological system than the will of God.
    3. May I make a suggestion?
      1. Our concern does not need to be focused on defending, but on pursuing.
      2. “Pursuing what?”
        1. A fuller understanding of the Bible.
        2. A fuller understanding of God’s purposes in Jesus.
        3. A fuller understanding of God’s mercy and grace.
        4. A fuller understanding of repentance.
        5. A fuller understanding of discipleship and service.
    4. Coming closer to God is a good thing–evil is not the product of closeness to God!
      1. If we are truly Christ’s church, we must be the center of hope for distressed people.
      2. Abused people should find hope in what we pursue in Jesus Christ.
      3. Addicted people should find hope in what we pursue in Jesus Christ.
      4. People consumed with and burdened with guilt should find hope in what we pursue in Jesus Christ.
      5. The gospel is not for people who think they have everything right and need nothing; the gospel is for people who know they have blown it and need a Savior.
      6. The whole point of baptism is a new birth, an opportunity to start over, to begin again.

The voice of the gospel is not, “Never make a mistake.” The voice of the gospel is, “Escape your mistakes by coming to Jesus Christ.” The fact that we can escape past failures is good news, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Moving closer to God should never be a matter of disappointment. It always should be moving toward something better.

Keeping the Covenant (Malachi 2)

Posted by on under Sermons

I want to continue the legal drama we started last week. It is 450 B.C. and Israel has decided to sue God. They have taken him to court before the priests and the officiating judge. They want to know why God hasn’t fulfilled his obligations in their covenant. Why haven’t they prospered as he promised? Why haven’t their fortunes been restored? Why do their enemies continue to mock them? By bringing God to trial, it is Israel that ends up on trial. God defends his case by stating and proving that he has always loved Israel. But they have lowered their expectations. Their worship is a sham and God deserves to be honored as a mighty king. Instead they go through the motions and offer half-hearted, routine worship. Even still, they have the audacity to hold God to his covenant promises. God addresses the charge that he has not been faithful to covenant, and in doing so God moves from defendant, to prosecutor, to judge … Read Malachi 2:1-9.

God reads the verdict. Because the priests of Israel have made a mockery of the covenant God has put them out of his presence. In doing so he is the one who actually honors covenant. The covenant is that important. It is not a covenant of restrictive, rules. It is a covenant of life and well-being. It is good for everyone! The covenant is the social and spiritual structure that gives meaning and shape to the way God’s people live and order their lives. It determines not only how people worship God, but also how they should treat one another. It establishes how husbands should treat wives and how wives should treat husbands. It gives shape to the way one generation nurtures the next generations. By setting boundaries and lining out behavior it doesn’t seek to isolate Israel from the world, but it strives to order Israel’s life on display before the world.

The priests have a special place in the covenant. They are to teach the people how to order their lives in relationship to God and thus how to order their lives with one another. They are to be God’s messengers in this covenant relationship. But instead of speaking for God the priests have spoken against him. They have despised his name and they have dishonored him. Their disregard for God and his covenant has led to the malaise and discontent in the lives of the people of Israel. Instead of teaching people how to live, their dishonorable teaching has caused people to lose their way.

It seems contradictory that God who claims to love the people is also prepared to punish. How can that be love? It is love because God cares about the way people live. If the people do not live in covenant, then they will return to the egotistical pursuit of pleasure that hurts the innocent and disrupts the bonds of good society. God loves the priests and the people enough to care about what happens to them. God loves them enough to be intolerant of the lack of love and respect they show to one another because of the lack of love and respect they have for God and covenant. There are consequences of such behavior and those consequences bring curses upon the priests.

Now, God’s advocate speaks to the people of Jerusalem gathered to watch the courtroom drama. God has delivered his verdict and the people need to learn the lesson. They too have broken covenant like the priests and if they think it was just the priests who have a stake in covenant, then they need to think again. Malachi (whose name means God’s messenger) speaks to the people … Read Malachi 2:10-16To emphasize all of it, God himself speaks, “I hate divorce, and covering one’s garment with violence! So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless!”

Malachi is telling the people that God is very much aware of what they’ve done – even if they are not. They have broken covenants with God and one another and the consequences have come back to visit them. The two covenants they have broken are related: In Israel, the men and women married young, often before the age of 20. Now after years of companionship with the wives of their youth, after building homes with them, after raising children, after worshipping with these women, they have discarded their wives to marry other women. There’s no mention of why the men were doing this: the women were often foreign women who brought with them knowledge of other cultures and gods. Perhaps it was just that the women were younger and no Israelite father would give his daughter to a man already married. Perhaps it is because the women were exotic and strange and had the allure of the forbidden. Perhaps it is because marriage to these women enabled the men to secure business relations with the men of other nations. We don’t really know and Malachi doesn’t bother to cite the reason because the reason for the divorce doesn’t concern God as much as the consequences of the divorce!

The consequences are 1) that the men are breaking faith with their ancestors who struggled to preserve their faith in God in the midst of a land full of idols. And now they casually bring idolatry into their society. 2) They are disrupting their society and creating hardships by turning out their wives who expected these men to care for them and provide for them. They have broken faith with their wives and God takes that seriously. 3) They are breaking faith with their children and not passing on the covenant to their offspring. When God speaks he speaks his hatred of the way the people of Israel have made a mess of covenant not only with him but with one another. According to God it is violence. He doesn’t care how spiffy a tuxedo they wear to their wedding, it might as well be covered with the spiritual and social blood they have shed. God hates this culture of covenant breaking Israel has created only because he loves his people so much.

I really don’t know if it is easy or hard to see how this text implicates all of us. Their culture of marriage and divorce is so unlike our own in many respects (women couldn’t initiate divorce, marriages were arranged by parents, the problem of foreign gods) and then in other respects it is so like our situation because we have created a culture of covenant breaking that ignores the consequences. In her book, The Divorce Culture, Barbara Defoe Whitehead surveys the titles of recent books providing guidance for divorce. These titles demonstrate that the consequences of divorce are being ignored. For men, the most popular titles appeal to male competitiveness and include titles such as The Fighter’s Guide to Divorce: A No-Holds Barred Strategy for Coming Out Ahead, The Lion’s Share: A Combat Manual for Divorcing Males, and How to Dump Your Wife. For women the titles include such upbeat and nurturing titles as: Divorce and New Beginnings, Growing Through Divorce, Our Turn: Women Who Triumph in the Face of Divorce, and The Best Is Yet to Come. But it is the children’s literature on divorce that is perhaps the most honest. It contains titles that speak of the loss and the anger. Titles such as Daddy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Unfinished Portrait of Jessica, It’s Not the End of the World, and I Won’t Go Without a Father. Could it be that like Israel we have broken faith with one another and with our children?

Before I go any further I want to be clear … the divorce that God hates is not simply divorce in marriage, but the divorce that is the breaking of covenant which includes covenant with God and with one another. God’s charge is for his people to be faithful. We are all stakeholders in marriage and the other structures that hold us in godly relationship with one another.

I want to be clear. God loves everyone who has been divorced for whatever reason. There are no exceptions. God loves you. But I know form personal experience that divorced people haven’t always felt like the church loves them. That’s wrong. Divorced people in a church or people on the verge of a divorce sometimes feel like a football coach in a West Texas town: If you lose, we will give you your walking papers. We are not going to do that. We are going to love you. Just as we can forgive lying, gossip, and angry words even as we hold one another to the standard of maturity and speak plainly of the consequences of divisiveness; so also we can forgive the failure of marriage even as we hold one another accountable to covenant. To speak plainly of the consequences of breaking covenant, does not contradict love or forgiveness. And likewise, to love and forgive does not contradict the ability to speak plainly.

I want to be clear. I am not saying that we are going to be na?ve and pretend divorce cannot happen. Not even God does that. He hates divorce. Why? Because it tears up the people he loves. If you have been divorced you know what I mean. I went through a divorce with good friends and all of us felt the pain of it. One day we were discussing Malachi 2:14. My friend spoke, “God says, I hate divorce. Well, so do I.” I don’t think there is any better way to understand this text.

I want to be clear. Divorce is not merely an individual choice. It isn’t limited to the private realm. We all have a stake in every marriage and every family bond. (This is why we demonstrate our commitment to young families!) You don’t hear that very much in our culture anymore and I think this has magnified the problem. God implores us to do more than condemn sin or take a stand against divorce, he warns us not to break faith, which is to say – Keep the covenant! Keep the covenant of marriage and the covenant of faith and the covenant of Christ-like love. Keep faith with one another! This is more than an attitude that says “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” No, it goes beyond that to say that you cannot truly hate sin until you first love the other sinner! And if we do not hate sin and the way it dehumanizes and wounds and de-spiritualizes, then in what sense do we truly love?

This has been a hard sermon to preach. It may have been even harder to hear. I offer no pat answers, quick-fixes, or three-step solutions. Such glib advice only feeds into the individualism that has distracted us from the harder, but more rewarding work of maintaining covenant. What we need to do – all of us, divorced, married, remarried, never married – is strive to keep the covenant and not break faith with our cloud of witnesses and with the generations we witness to. Most of all let us strive to keep the covenant that God made with us. He sent his Son to form a new covenant; if you have been baptized into Jesus then you are a child of that covenant. Live by it! The Son sent the spirit so that we might be able to live in covenant with one another. The spirit gives life and well-being. Let’s love one another according to the ethic of this spiritual covenant rather than the ethics of individual choice.


Posted by on May 5, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

No matter how much we would like to stop time, we cannot! We can change our routines, but we cannot stop time. Some events seem to slow it down, but they do not. Some events seem to speed it up, but they do not. The passing of time steadily moves on — at an unhurried pace. It is only faster or slower in our minds.

A few days ago I enjoyed looking at some Mayan ruins that pre-date Jesus’ birth. To enter the restored area, a person walks through a very wide stone wall. The wall is a marvel in itself. As I walked through an archway in this rock wall about 10-12 feet wide, I was amazed at all the flat stones fitted together to make the wall and archway. The stones were not enormous — maybe between 10 and 12 inches long. Each stone fit precisely with every other stone. No mortar held these flat stones together. Each silently witnessed centuries of time as it touched the stones above it, the stones beneath it, and the stones on the sides of it.

I marveled at the number of stones it took to build this enormous, three-sided wall which started at a cliff by the sea and returned to another point on the same cliff. I marveled at the engineering, the materials, and the time it took to construct this wall enclosing an enormous area that included enormous buildings. I marveled at the eyes that looked at this wall in past centuries, and at the eyes from many continents then looking at the wall.

All the eyes beholding that wall thousands of years ago are dead. All the eyes looking at it now will die. Morbid? No! Fact? Yes! The foolish person is not the one who lives with an awareness of his/her death. The foolish person is one who lives his/her life as if time can be forgotten or ignored.

Time measures life. When life ends, time ends. To use life wisely, a person must use time wisely. Perhaps we each spend a lifetime building a wall. The question: does our wall exist to include or to exclude?


  • We do not have the time to wish our lives away. Use “now” wisely — it’s all we have.
  • Do not waste time regretting the past or longing for the future. Utilize time by using “now” — it is all we have.
  • Each experience has the potential to enrich life for us and all we influence. Allow each experience (good or bad) to enrich “now.” Why? Because “now” is all we have.
  • Killing time wastes one’s life. The moment will come for each of us when we realize we never possessed enough time to kill or life to waste. “Now” is all we have.