Posted by on June 30, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

We are a middle class American church. We may range from the depths of middle class to the higher fringes of middle class, but we are primarily a middle class church. We descended from a strong work ethic in a rural environment that managed with values and behavior strange to today’s America.

Many of us adults adopted those values and perspectives. Most of us do not live as our grandparents lived, but the older of us still hold many of their values and perspectives.

However, times have changed considerably. Now we have adults who do not know those values and perspectives. We have young people who have never seen or heard of those values and perspectives. While our grandparents knew ?hard times’, now there are people in the church who live exclusively in prosperity and its lifestyle.

Do you doubt we are a middle class church? How do you feel if the congregation has a sizeable number who assemble here to praise God from true poverty circumstances? Or, if our building is used to provide support groups a meeting place to teach and encourage those who confront addictions? Or if we mix “our” children in classes with children who come from obviously different environments?

Perhaps the biggest shock comes if circumstances require us to live in a third world country. Much of the world’s population resides in such countries. After we get past the curious tourist stage, our eyes see things and ears hear things never seen or heard before. We see people truly trapped in poverty, who never have enough to eat, who could put the entire family’s clothing in one of our closets-and still have empty space, who are sick most of the time (by our definition), and who likely will die before the age of 50.

Shockingly, these people smile more, are less anxious, are more thoughtful, and are more grateful than many of us. Conversion changes nothing physically for many of them, but they are so grateful to know the hope given by the living God.

May we develop God’s eyes and ears as we look at ourselves and others!

Fences: Faith or Control? – Part 1

Posted by on June 26, 2005 under Sermons

Are fences good things or bad things? Do they exist to keep things in or to keep things out?

As most of you know, I grew up on a mountain top farm. In that area when I was a boy, most farms were 20 to 100 acres in size. Our farm was about 40 acres in size.

Compared to the Fort Smith area, farmers had a short growing season. It got warm enough to plant at a later time of the year, and harvest came much earlier in the year.

My mother still lives in the same house and on the same farm where I grew up. When I was a boy, I knew every inch of that place. Every inch of that place was in some direct way connected to my personal history and my personal development. I either plowed it with a mule, or chopped it with a hoe, or picked up sand stone off of it, or helped clear a overgrown area, or camped on it, or hunted on it.

When I was a boy, you could hunt and roam on any neighbor’s land. So I knew the hills, hollows, and creeks in the area.

I usually go home twice a year. I sleep in the same house I slept in as a boy. The farmland is still there. I can see most of it from the back yard. Yet, it has been about a decade since I have walked the farm and taken a stroll down memory lane.

Why? Fences! There are no longer gates where there used to be gates. Now if you want to climb a line fence, it is built like three fences with two of them barbed wire. And I do not know the neighbors. And I do not know what is on their land. Thus the truth is the fences keep me from going anywhere.

Is that good or bad?

This evening I will begin an emphasis with you that I truly hope to make as interesting to you as it is to me. I hope also to stimulate your insights with the result that your faith will grow.

  1. This week I went to the Goggle search engine on the Internet and typed in the words, “Fences and the Jewish Law.”
    1. The reason I typed those words was this: the basic objective of the Pharisees in the first century was to build a fence around the law.
      1. Determine the commands from God in the first five books of what we know as the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), which is what the Jewish people call the Law or Torah in both the Old and New Testaments.
      2. Once those commands are determined, build a fence around each one of them so a person does not accidentally disobey an unchangeable commandment from the unchangeable God.
    2. The web site that appeared is called Judaism 101.
      1. That web site told me there are approximately 733,000 references to Fences and Jewish Law (or Torah).
      2. I called up a specific site called Halakhah: Jewish Law.
        1. This is what the article said:
        2. Judaism is more than a set of beliefs about God, man, and the universe.
        3. It is a comprehensive way of life based on rules and practices.
        4. It is intended to affect every aspect of a person’s life: what you do when you wake up; what you eat; what you wear; how you groom yourself; how you conduct business; who you can marry; how to observe important days; and how to treat God, people, and animals.
        5. “Halakhah” is commonly translated Jewish law, but it literally means “the path one walks.”
        6. This approach declares it increases spirituality in life because it declares every act of life has religious significance–everything you do reminds you of your faith.
    3. The Law or Torah contains 613 commandments that cannot be changed, that came from God.
      1. Though there is (and always has been) disagreement on what should be included in those 613 commands, there is complete agreement among orthodox Jews that there are 613 commands.
        1. 248 of those commands are positive, one for each bone and organ in the male body.
        2. 365 are negative commands, one for each day of the solar year.
      2. Many of these commandments can no longer be observed.
        1. Example # 1: commands that target sacrifices and offerings cannot be observed because they were to take place in the temple, and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD.
          1. If there is no temple, there can be no sacrifices and offerings.
          2. I call two statements to your attention from Deuteronomy.
            Deuteronomy 12:5 But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.
            Deuteronomy 12:11 Then it shall come about that the place in which the Lord your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the Lord.
          3. From the time of Solomon, that “place” was the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
          4. If there is no temple, by God’s command, there can be no offerings and no sacrifices.
        2. Example # 2: laws that concerned the theocratic state of Israel, its king, and its system of justice can no longer be observed.
          1. The theocratic state of Israel no longer exists.
          2. Thus the laws that focused on the theocracy cannot be observed.
        3. Example # 3: laws that applied to the Levites can no longer be observed.
      3. A modern rabbi scholar has identified 77 positive and 194 negative commands that can be observed in and out of Israel today.

  2. The first fence to protect people from violating God’s command:
    1. First, one must identify the Laws that came from God.
    2. Second, once these laws from God are identified, they need a fence built around them to prevent people from accidentally disobeying the unchangeable instructions from the unchangeable God.
      1. The first fence was/is produced by the laws instituted by rabbis to prevent people from accidentally violating God’s laws.
      2. Let me give you an example:
        1. The fourth commandment in the ten commandments that God gave Israel was this:
          Exodus 20:8-10 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
        2. Israel must keep Saturday holy.
        3. They keep it holy by not doing any work.
        4. Not even their servants, or livestock, or visitors can do any work.
        5. That day they declare their dependence on God and show they trust God to care for them.
      3. To obey that command, work must be defined.
        1. That was/is done in two ways.
        2. Centuries ago 39 categories of work were defined [these categories can be found in the Mishnah, in the section Shabbath, chapter 7, verse 2].
          “The main classes of work are forty save one: sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, cleansing crops, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing or beating or dying it, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying [a knot], loosing [a knot], sewing two stitches, tearing in order to sew two stitches, hunting a gazelle, slaughtering or flaying or salting it or curing its skin, scraping it or cutting it up, writing two letters, erasing in order to write two letters, building, pulling down, putting out a fire, lighting a fire, striking with a hammer and taking out aught from one domain into another. These are the main classes of work: forty save one.”
        3. Then from centuries ago, an orthodox Jew is not to handle a implement of work on the Sabbath (like a pencil, or money, or a hammer) lest the person forget it is the Sabbath and perform an act of work.

  3. The second fence was composed by rabbinical rulings.
    1. These rulings dealt with a specific situation and had the force of law.
    2. However, these rulings were not necessarily the same in every context.
    3. An example:
      1. Many of the Old Testament men of faith were polygamists.
      2. However, not all orthodox Jews were to be polygamists.
      3. If an orthodox Jew lived in a country that followed Christian values and made polygamy against the law, polygamy was condemned among orthodox Jews and not to be practiced.
      4. If an orthodox Jew lived in a country that followed Muslim values and allowed men to have up to four wives, polygamy was not to be condemned.

  4. A third fence was constructed by custom that is recognized as law for religious reasons and has been recognized for so long that it is binding.
    1. Things should be done in an area as they have customarily been practiced.
    2. However, if you change areas and thereby changed customs, you should follow the custom you have always practiced.
    3. For example:
      1. In some areas it was customary to stand while reciting a certain prayer.
      2. In other areas it was customary to sit while reciting the same prayer.

  5. I want you to see the point of building a fence around the law: it was to control everyone’s actions and protect them from violating an unchangeable law from an unchangeable God–its objective was to protect a person from accidentally doing something wrong.
    1. Your first reaction may be, “That is really weird!”
      1. First, you identify the laws from God.
      2. Second, you prevent people from violating God’s laws by building a fence around it.
      3. The first fence is built by identifying what the law means.
      4. The second fence is built by the rabbis’ rulings.
      5. The third fence is built by custom.
      6. “What a strange way to approach God’s teachings!”
    2. May I suggest to those of you who are members of the Church of Christ that you may have much more in common with that approach than you realize.
      1. When I was a boy we had a gospel meeting virtually every summer.
        1. In the back of the building we had a question box that allowed anyone to ask any question he or she wanted to ask.
        2. There was always one question that would be asked–even if there was only one question in the box.
        3. The question: “must a woman have long hair and must she wear a hat when she comes to worship?”
          The question would frequently cite 1 Corinthians 11:5,6
          But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
        4. If we paraphrased the question, to me it would be, “What is the actual meaning of that statement?”
      2. Often an issue was settled by citing the position of preachers: “Brother so-and-so says,” and if enough prominent preachers agreed, that settled the matter.
        1. What is the basic difference in doing that and the rabbi’s making a ruling?
      3. It is our custom at West-Ark to stand before someone is baptized into Christ and to applaud after the baptism.
        1. Why do we stand? In order to see better!
        2. The applause astounds people who come from congregations who never applaud.
        3. Is that applause right or wrong or in violation of scripture? No, applause has nothing to do with scripture.
        4. It is our custom, and as our custom it is appropriate here–but not intended to be binding on others elsewhere.

Quite often our approach has been to identify commands, then build fences around those commands to control people and prevent violations. That is not an ancient Christian approach. That is an ancient Jewish approach.

Robbing the House of the Strong Man

Posted by on under Sermons

Jesus wanted posterWhen we hear the story of Jesus calling the Twelve we may be tempted to hear it as though we are hearing a sacred chant or see it through the gilded lens of holy history. But we are not hearing it as Mark want s us to hear it. What may be lost on us is assortment and diversity of this crew. They are not Rabbis or Priests. They are not even prophets, and some of the prophets were a bit unconventional. The Twelve are rather average as individuals. They represent all types in Israel, with the exception of the elites. They are fishermen from the north. Tax-collectors from the big city. Rebel resistance fighters, like Simon the Zealot, and those who have invested in the Roman invasion, like Matthew the tax-collector. Some of them are even half-breeds from states that are not commonly accepted as part of Israel. The list sounds like a rap sheet in that many of the Twelve go by assumed names . . . Simon, aka Rocky. James and John Bar-Zebedee, aka the Sons of Thunder. Levi aka Matthew. Some of their names may not be their given names. Thomas means "the Twin." Bartholomew mean Son of Thalamai.

I urge us to listen again to the calling of the Twelve and the following teaching of Jesus in all of it earthiness. Listen for the details that Mark wants us to hear. Listen for the way he paints the raw reality of the situation. Listen to Jesus’ teaching to those who accept him and those who do not.

Read Mark 3:13-35
Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. Then he selected twelve of them to be his regular companions, calling them apostles. He sent them out to preach, and he gave them authority to cast out demons. These are the names of the twelve he chose: Simon (he renamed him Peter), James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus named them “Sons of Thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).
When Jesus returned home, the crowds began to gather again, and soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Beelzeboul, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” Jesus called them over and said to them by way of illustration, “How can Satan cast out Satan? A kingdom at war with itself will collapse. A home divided against itself is doomed. And if Satan is fighting against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive. Let me illustrate this: You can’t enter a strong man’s house and rob him without first tying him up. Only then can his house be plundered! “I assure you that any sin can be forgiven, including blasphemy; but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. It is an eternal sin.” He told them this because they were saying he had an evil spirit.
Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived at the house where he was teaching. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. There was a crowd around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “These are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus Went Home

What does Jesus’ family say about him? They are anxious and concerned for his well-being. He is out of his mind – they say. He is associating with an odd assortment of people. Some of them are known instigators. He must be out of his mind because he is going up against a system that will surely destroy him. He isn’t making sense.

What do the scribes say about Jesus? They acknowledge his power, but they reinterpret it. They say that the source of his power is the devil. He has power over evil because he is one of them.

Jesus’ response to the scribes: Why? Why would evil work against itself? Why would Satan oppose himself? The powers of evil are malicious, but they are not stupid. If you work against yourself then you will lose your power. Evil wouldn’t make the mistake of being divided. It makes more sense to say that there is a power greater than evil. It makes more sense to say that Jesus is involved in an assault on the stronghold of the strongman. It makes more sense that the days of the strong man are over and Jesus has come to rip him out of his little spider hole. It makes more sense that Jesus wants what the strong man has taken and he is here to establish God’s authority and take back the people and the spiritual territory that the strong man has captured.

Jesus is preparing for an assault. He intends to invade the house of the strongman and plunder it. The strong man is the evil one and it will take one strong enough to tie him up. Jesus is that one – the one that John the Baptist spoke about – one more powerful than me who is coming after me. The treasures that Jesus intends to take out of the strong man’s house are the strong man’s captives. Those who have been enslaved by the power of evil, darkness, and sickness. Jesus is setting them free by God’s authority. This is what it means to be "fishers of men" – to rescue people from the depth of darkness.

A house divided against itself cannot stand

Jesus’ family is divided against Jesus. Jesus is actually making more sense than they are. He’s not the one out of his mind. They are out of their minds with worry and fear.

We get that way when we let our anxieties rule us rather than let God rule us. We go out of our minds with fear and worry. We become divided against our own spiritual household. And we will not stand.

The scribes are divided against Jesus. Jesus understands the truth much better than they do. Despite their learning and their experience they refuse to believe what is clear. They actually go so far as to redefine the work of God and the work of the devil because believing the truth means more than they are willing to accept. Rather than accept this new reality (which actually does fit with their traditions but doesn’t fit with their agenda) they will cut themselves off from the power of the Holy Spirit and thus condemn themselves

We get that way when we let our desire for control rule us rather than let God rule us. We cut ourselves off from the power of God’s Holy Spirit to work newness in our lives because we don’t want to let go of our own spiritual agenda. We would rather hold on to our own explanations than open ourselves up to the explanations God gives. We become divided against our own spiritual household. And we will not stand. Worse than that, we go so far as to cut ourselves off from God. We will deny ourselves forgiveness and claim that we have it all figured out.

The Twelve, like us, need to take all of this in and answer this question – Who is Jesus? The 12 have been enlisted by Jesus in the war against the power of evil and darkness, but they may just become casualties in the war if they misunderstand Jesus the way his family did and the way the scribes did.

Likewise, we will become casualties in the effort to plunder the strong man’s house if we are divided. Satan isn’t divided in his efforts. He is unified and singled-minded in his purpose. We had better ally ourselves totally with the one who has the power to defeat evil and we dare not turn on ourselves.

Who Is Jesus?

  • He is the one who calls us to follow him. We get more concerned with what others think or with our own safety. When Jesus calls us to follow we may have to leave behind a lot of things that just aren’t as important anymore.
  • He is the one who is stronger than the strong man. The power of Jesus to conquer evil puts it all in perspective. The kingdom rule of God has broken into the world and if we waver in our allegiance to it or try to redefine God’s power into something that makes us more comfortable or something that denies any responsibility to change on our part then we just may cut ourselves off from the only power that can save us.

Who is My Family?

  • "Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother."
  • Jesus’ family and the scribes failed to see him as the one who can unite people as diverse as his apostles or the crowds. They failed to see his power as that which can subdue the strong man and end his captivity of God’s creation.
  • What about us? Do we see Jesus for who he really is? If so, then we will not hesitate to do God’s will.
  • And those who do God’s will our Jesus’ family. The importance of doing what God wills.

Made To Live

Posted by on June 23, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

Jesus declared this statement. In context, he made it to contrast his concern for people with concerns of those who exploited people. The basic contrasts declared two realities. (1) Jesus unselfishly focused on the benefits of people while others focused selfishly on personal benefits. (2) He gave life while others deserted in the moments of crisis and brought death.

His purposes never exploited people. His purposes brought and gave life freely. Ultimately, his death would bring life to people.

Today’s Christians often miss the central point. Most of us are unfamiliar with the relationship between first century sheep and their shepherd. It was founded on total dependence and absolute trustworthiness. Only when sheep had a trustworthy shepherd would the relationship work.

Sheep were totally dependent. Without a shepherd, they could not find food. In fact, they would over-graze an area and literally destroy their food source. A good shepherd had to be wise enough not to allow over-grazing.

Without a shepherd, sheep seldom found water in arid places. A good shepherd led them to water. Thirsty sheep in arid places seldom could find water on their own.

Good shepherds defended sheep. A flock was defenseless without their shepherd. The only thing they knew to do in crisis was panic! In their panic, sheep endangered themselves-rather than hurting their enemy, they in their panic hurt themselves.

A shepherd made it possible for sheep to have life! An excellent, accomplished shepherd provided a good life for his sheep.

We were made to live. We exist because the Source of Life, God, gave us existence. By design we were made to live. Life, not death, fulfills our purpose. It is impossible to diminish life and not diminish us!

Though we do not like to admit it, we are dependent creatures. While we value life, we do not know the focus of life. We do not understand what we are about. Left to ourselves, we are prone to selfishness. We do a poor job of considering future consequences to life. We are so “pleasure” prone and so “lifestyle” conscious we are vulnerable to “now thinking” as if everything in the future will continue as it exists in this moment. We do a horrible job of leading ourselves, focus ourselves, or directing ourselves. We are far, far more likely to make “self-destruct” choices than wise and insightful choices.

We need someone to guide us who unselfishly has our best-interest as his priority. We need someone to teach us what life is about. We need someone to show us how to live. We need a good shepherd, Jesus Christ. He provides life when death surrounds us.

What If That Had Been Me?

Posted by on June 19, 2005 under Sermons

Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t rock the boat!” I am sure most of us have. If one passenger in a small boat unnecessarily causes the boat to “take on water,” the whole boat sinks. It is not just the person who did the rocking who finds himself or herself in the water–it is every passenger in the boat. Instantly everyone moves from a situation of safety to a situation of danger. So, keep the situation stable and smooth–“don’t rock the boat.”

Years ago two or three of us needed to ask a town leader for permission to preach in the town. The person we needed to talk to lived on an island in the middle of a lake. The only way to get to his home was to go to the island in the middle of the lake by a dugout canoe. Dugout canoe is a fancy way to say a hollowed out log with no seats. The passengers had to be balanced on each side of the log to keep it from sinking or rolling over. When all the passengers were aboard, the sides of the canoe were about 3 inches above the water line.

The prospect of that ride was so unnerving that Joyce chose to stay on the shore with a very vocal drunk man instead of taking the canoe ride!

I guarantee you, it would not have taken much rocking for that canoe to sink!

Religious people tend to cherish the stable, the secure, the certain. We do not like other religious people who “rock the boat.”

Therein lies a significant problem. Our God is the God Who works in history by “rocking the boat.”

This evening I want to ask you to consider a question seriously. I want you to think about this question for a much longer period than just the hour you are in this assembly this evening. The question: “What would have happened if God told you to rock the boat?”

  1. A name that is extremely familiar to most of us is the name Abraham.
    1. Most of us are familiar with God’s call to 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.”
      1. This is actually the second time God asked Abraham to follow his directions.
      2. The call we just read came after his father, Terah, died.
      3. I doubt most of us have ever considered what an enormous request God made of Abraham.
        1. The fact that Abraham would even listen to God is incredible.
          Joshua 24:2 Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.
          1. Abraham grew up in a family that worshipped many gods–he grew up under the full influence of idolatry.
          2. There were no Jewish people who knew and worshipped the living God–the Jewish people eventually descended from him.
          3. There were no Christian people who knew the living God who sent Jesus Christ–Abraham was the beginning of God’s efforts to send Jesus Christ.
          4. God communicated directly with a man raised to believe in many gods, and he listened to this new, strange living God who gave him strange instructions!
        2. The instruction to leave his extended family was unheard of.
          1. While it is commonplace right now for people to strike out on their own and leave their extended families, that was not even commonplace in this society two generations ago.
          2. It happened here, but it was the exception rather than the rule.
          3. In Abraham’s world it did not happen–it meant leaving security for insecurity.
        3. The instruction could be compared to the request that a person leave civilization and go to an unknown frontier.
          1. Not even we like to leave the known for the unknown!
      4. God’s requests to Abraham were real “rock the boat” requests!
    2. At first Abraham could not leave his father, the head of the family.
      1. Terah compromised.
        1. He took the family to Haran and “settled” there–he had no plans to go further.
        2. Haran was similar to Ur, but it was much closer to Canaan.
      2. Evidently Terah was a strong, controlling head of the family.
        1. God did not call Abraham again until Terah died.
        2. Only when his father was dead did Abraham leave his extended family.
      3. Thus began God’s journey to the blessing of all people through Jesus Christ.
    3. What if it had been you instead of Abraham?
      1. What if the living God Whom you did not know made “rocking the boat” requests of you?
      2. What if He instructed you to do the unthinkable, something not done by anyone?
      3. Would you do it?

  2. Let me call some things to your attention.
    1. Do you have any idea of how hard it is to stop thinking like a slave if all your family has been for generations is slaves? That was the challenge the Israelites faced when they left Egypt.
    2. Do you have any idea of how hard it is to live in a tent in a dessert and trust God to provide your food and water every day? That was the challenge facing the Israelites in the wilderness.
    3. Do you have any idea of how hard it is to settle in a country and totally reject the religions of that country? That is the challenge that faced Israel in Canaan.
    4. Do you have any idea of the difficulty involved when God gives a message to give to your own people, and no one wants to hear or believe the message? That often was the situation God’s prophets faced.

  3. I want to call your attention to two Christian situations in the New Testament.
    1. The first situation is found in Acts 9.
      1. There was a man named Saul [whom we know as the Christian Paul] who hated Christianity and Christians.
        1. He thought Christianity opposed the living God’s will and was a grave threat to the nation of Israel.
        2. His solution: destroy the Christian movement, at that time a Jewish movement, by killing any Jewish man or woman who believed Jesus was the Christ sent by God.
        3. Years later after he had been a Christian for a long time, he declared these words as he defended himself in a trial.
          Acts 26:9-11 So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
      2. He was on his way to a Jewish synagogue in Damascus, Syria to arrest Jewish men and women who believed Jesus was the Christ, bind them, and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.
        1. He was almost to Damascus when he personally saw the resurrected Jesus, knew he was the Christ, and knew he was totally wrong
        2. Instantly he realized that his error was responsible for the death of God’s people.
      3. What I want to call your attention to is found in Acts 9:10-16.
        Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
        1. Let me paraphrase the situation.
        2. The Lord said, “Ananias, I want you to go to Judas’ house where you will find Saul and restore his sight.”
        3. Ananias said to the Lord, “Wait a minute! I know something about this man you obviously do not know. I know what he did to Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. I know why he came here. I know who gave him authority to do these horrible things. If You knew what I know, you would not send me to him.”
        4. The Lord knew what Ananias knew and he told Ananias to go on.
        5. The Lord knew what He was doing.
      4. If the Lord told you to do something similar, would you do it?
    2. The second situation is found in Acts 10.
      1. The situation:
        1. As far as we know, until this moment all Christians were Jews or proselytes–no people who did not follow Jewish traditions had been converted to Christ.
        2. God’s intent from the call of Abraham (Genesis 12:3) was to bring a blessing to everyone through Abraham’s descendants.
        3. At some point Christianity had to become a world movement to all people, not just a Jewish movement in the nation of Israel.
        4. Acts 10 is the time and the point.
        5. A non-Jew, though a God-fearing person, was instructed to send for the Jewish Christian Peter to receive the message of the gospel from him.
        6. In the meantime, the Lord prepared Peter to receive this request from a man who is neither a Jew nor a proselyte.
          1. Peter had a very confusing vision three times, and at the end of each time was told not to consider what God had cleansed as unholy.
          2. The Holy Spirit instructed him to go with the gentile men and not ask questions–for God had sent the men.
        7. When Peter arrived, he said (10:28, 29), “You know I am doing something a Jew is forbidden to do. But I came because God told me not to consider you unholy (common) or unclean. Why did you send for me?”
          1. Peter was there, but he did not understand why he was there! He did not “get it.”
          2. Cornelius explained why he sent for Peter.
          3. Then Peter had one of those eureka moments in which he literally understood something no other Christian understood at that time. Listen:
            Acts 10:34,35 I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”
          4. For the first time he understood that a person does not have to be a Jew or a proselyte to be a Christian.
          5. God does not care who your father and mother are.
          6. God does not care what your nationality is.
          7. If a person reverences God by understanding God at work in Jesus Christ, God will welcome that person.
        8. Acts 11:1-3 makes it quite clear that other Christians did not like Peter having even social contact with people who were not Jews–that was completely inappropriate.
          1. Devout Jews did not have gentiles into their homes, and they did not go into gentiles’ homes.
          2. Devout Jews did not eat food prepared by gentiles.
          3. All of this had to do with their religious definition of purity.
        9. Peter did what God wanted him to do, and it cost him dearly–people who were Christians were much opposed to what he did.
        10. If God had told you to do something that was very unpopular among Christians, would you do it?

This is not a hypothetical principle. If you follow God Who gave us Jesus Christ, there will be moments when you “rock the boat.” There always will be those who do not like it. You will never “rock the boat” to drown people. You will never allow your arrogance to “rock the boat.” You will only allow God’s plans and purposes to “rock the boat.”

Sometimes you will find that having faith in God means trusting God enough to “rock the boat.” May God’s purposes never be neglected or abandoned because we lacked the faith in God to “rock the boat.”

Mark: What Does That Mean?

Posted by on under Sermons

We are consumed with the meaning of things. It is highly unlikely that any of us have gone through this entire week without thinking about what something meant.

This week the casualty toll in Iraq passed the 1700 count. What does that mean?

For several weeks, the U.S. Army has not met its goals in recruiting. What does that mean?

This week there were unsanctioned demonstrations in Iran? What does that mean?

This week in Afghanistan there are farmers who think they made a serious mistake changing from poppy crops to wheat crops. What does that mean?

This week some African nations were informed that they have billions of dollars of indebtedness forgiven. What does that mean?

Representatives of this congregation are having some difficulty in locating property to use in the development of the inner city work and the Hispanic work. What does that mean?

If you took a commercial air flight this week, you may have been asked to take your shoes off before you boarded the plane. What does that mean?

This week a young lady changed her tone of voice when she spoke to a young man. What does that mean?

This week a young man deliberately did things to get a young lady’s attention. What does that mean?

No matter what your age, not matter what your country, you are always concerned about the meaning of happenings.

  1. Two thousand years ago the gospel of Mark was written some 25 to 40 years after Jesus’ resurrection.
    1. Very quickly this writing declares this statement made in chapter 1 and verse l5.
      Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
      1. Jesus made this statement.
      2. The gospel of Mark uses the statement as an explanation of the fact that Jesus was in Galilee preaching the gospel of God–whatever is that?
        1. We toss the two words gospel and God around so freely that we just assume both we and everyone else knows what those two words mean.
        2. Yet, when someone asks us to explain the meaning of the phrase “the gospel of God” we likely find ourselves struggling to explain our assumption.
      3. While Mark’s quote of Jesus’ statement may have made sense to the original readers of this document, it does not make a whole lot of sense to us.
        1. It contains some very curious instructions.
          1. Repent–from what?
          2. Believe or “put your trust in.”
        2. It also includes a very curious motivation: “the kingdom of God is at hand, and that is good news!” (The meaning of the word gospel is good news.)
    2. The context makes it obvious that Jesus is speaking to his own people, the Jews.
      1. He was speaking both to people you and I would call “good people” and to people you and I would call “bad people.”
      2. He was speaking both to people in a religious situation and to people in horrible circumstances.
      3. We might understand why he would instruct the “bad people” and the people in “horrible circumstances” to repent and believe.
        1. But why would he tell “good people” to repent and believe in the good news?
        2. Why would he tell people in a religious gathering dedicated to studying scripture and praying to God that they needed to repent and believe?

  2. I want to call your attention to a fact by calling your attention to the sequence of things Jesus did from Mark 1:15 to the middle of Mark 3 when Jesus selects the twelve.
    1. The sequence begins with Jesus inviting Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him.
      1. He asked these men who lived in an area of poverty and few jobs to give up their established occupation and follow him.
      2. If they accepted his invitation, they had no promise of income!
    2. He entered the Capernaum synagogue.
      1. Those in attendance were astounded at the way he taught.
      2. A demon felt completely comfortable being in a synagogue, but completely uncomfortable with Jesus’ presence.
      3. The attendees were dumbfounded when Jesus cast the demon out of the possessed man!
    3. Then we are told of Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever.
      1. Jesus instantly healed her.
      2. He also completely healed her–she was immediately able to assume her work.
    4. Then we are told about all the sick in Capernaum who came to him to be healed.
    5. Then we are told Jesus made this statement recorded in 1:38–
      Mark 1:38 He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”
      1. He went all over Galilee spreading the news.
      2. People came from everywhere to him.
      3. He became so popular he was recognized in most places.
    6. Then he returned to Capernaum and healed the paralyzed man.
      1. He granted the man the largest of all gifts, the gift of forgiveness of sins.
      2. Some of the educated people say, “He cannot do that–only God can forgive sins!”
      3. To prove that he could forgive sins, he healed the paralyzed man.
    7. He then called Levi to leave his occupation of tax collector and follow him.
      1. Levi did.
      2. Jesus then ate with a group of outcasts–tax collectors and sinners.
      3. The religious elite complained, “He cannot do that! He is associating with the wrong people!”
      4. Jesus answered, “These people need the good news!”
      5. More of the religious elite came to Jesus to ask why he was not following “accepted religious practices.”
        1. He said something that must have genuinely confused them.
        2. He said, “It would be inappropriate for me to fast.”
        3. Then he said, “I did not come to fix things–I came to bring something new into existence. And old ways of doing things cannot contain this new thing I bring.”
    8. That was just the beginning of some serious confrontations with the religious elite.

  3. Do you see any connection between all those things? Let me share a connection I see that declares the importance of the kingdom of God and declares the need to repent and believe.
    1. The call of Peter, Andrew, James and John declared the kingdom of God is bigger than the normal pursuits of physical survival.
    2. Casting the demon out of the possessed man declared the kingdom of God is bigger than evil.
    3. Healing the sick, including leprosy declared the kingdom of God is bigger than disease, even impossible disease.
    4. Forgiving the paralyzed man’s sins declared God is bigger than Satan.
    5. Eating with tax collectors and sinners declared the kingdom of God is bigger than being an outcast.
    6. Not fasting declared the kingdom of God is bigger than traditional religious practices or religious forms.

  4. So, how is all that relevant to me in my life right now?
    1. The kingdom of God is not about fixing you, about patching you up–it is about making you new.
      1. The two illustrations Jesus used were commonly understood and made his point powerfully.
        1. Those illustrations do not speak as powerfully to us because we are accustomed to sanforized or to preshrunk cloth and we have bottles and cans for our juices.
        2. They did not have sanforized cloth or bottles, and cans and vacuum sealing to store juices in.
        3. Their cloth shrunk, and they stored grape juice in the hides of freshly killed animals made into containers.
          1. So old cloth was patched with old cloth.
          2. You put fresh grape juice in a freshly killed, new animal skin.
          3. Why?
          4. If you used new cloth to patch old cloth, the patch would shrink and make the tear worse.
          5. When fresh grape juice begins to ferment, it produces a gas (carbon dioxide), and fresh skins expand instead of exploding.
      2. Jesus said those people who are willing to see what God is doing in revealing His kingdom will rethink life.
        1. If they understand what God is doing, they will repent–redirect life.
        2. If they understand what God is doing, they will trust God.
        3. They will not be content to be patched up.
        4. They will let God make them new.
        5. Please note: God’s unveiling of His kingdom is good news only to those who will repent and believe.

  5. What God did in allowing Jesus the Christ reveal the kingdom of God is bigger than us and bigger than our problems.
    1. God is not about fixing our lives like putting patches on an old inner tube.
      1. God is about making us a steel belted radial tubeless tire!
      2. The purpose of Christ is not to dig out our bad spots–there are no good spots!
      3. The purpose of Christ is to make us a new person who looks at life and self completely differently!
    2. Why should I allow God through Jesus to teach me how to look at my life?
      1. Because Jesus is bigger than death.
      2. Do you have trouble with an addiction–whether pornography, drugs, alcohol, materialism, pleasure, etc.? Anything that controls and possesses your life?
      3. Jesus is not about merely fixing our addiction–he is about teaching us a new way of seeing life, therefore he is about teaching us a new way to look at ourselves.

Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

In context Paul declared that God through Jesus Christ gave gentile Christians a whole new way to look at themselves and at life.

We are reminded frequently these days that freedom is not free–that it costs. We are equally reminded on a continuing basis that freedom does not mean irresponsibility, but responsibly yielding to an authority higher than selfish desires.

Mark says that the highest of all authorities is God. God through Jesus is bigger than physical survival, bigger than the most potent expressions of evil, bigger than disease, bigger than being an outcast in society, bigger than religious forms and traditions. That is why the revealing of God’s kingdom is good news. The revealing of God’s kingdom through Jesus Christ declares God is even bigger than our death.

Have you let God rule you and teach you how to look at life and at self differently?

Solving the Problem of Faith

Posted by on June 12, 2005 under Sermons

What do you do when you have a problem?

“I ask someone who has the right kind of knowledge to help me. If it is a money problem, I ask someone who is good with finances. If it is a car problem, I ask someone who knows about cars. If it is a electrical problem, I ask someone who knows about electricity.”

Well, I have a problem. In some form or fashion I have been confronting this problem for about 50 years. So I want to put the problem before you. I do not know if any of us will have the answer, but the problem is much more likely to be addressed in our individual lives if we are aware that it exists.

“So, what is this problem we need to be aware of?”

It is a faith problem. The problem is very old. It is so old that it predates the existence of Christianity by over a thousand years. It is a problem that existed in Israel in both the Old and New Testaments. But this problem definitely exists in Christianity today.”

“What is this faith problem that has existed for such a long time?”

The problem: how do you encourage Christians to place faith in God instead of placing their faith in something they substitute for God and calling it faith in God?

Perhaps the problem is best understood by using illustrations.

Illustrations #1: let’s begin by asking a Christian we have never met a simple question: “Religiously, what are you?” The person answers, “I am Church of Christ. My family has been Church of Christ for at least three generations. My father was an elder in the Church of Christ of my teen years. My grandfather was a preacher in the Church of Christ. We are just a Church of Christ family.”

Question: is your faith in a religious organization called “The Church of Christ,” or is your faith in the living God who always has been active in His creation?

Perhaps you ask, “What is the difference?” You see the difference far too often. When a congregation of the Church of Christ behaves poorly, it is amazing to note how many people just quit. They do not worship. They make no effort to serve God. They are very ambivalent about what they believe. Often they become religiously bitter and religiously negative. They did not belong to God.

They belonged to the Church of Christ. Their confidence was in the Church of Christ, not in God. They substituted faith in the Church of Christ as a physical religious organization for faith in God.

Illustration #2: we ask a Christian we do not know a series of questions. “Do you go to church here?” Yes I do. I have been coming here for a couple of years. In fact I rarely miss.

“What do you think of worship?” Oh, I rarely miss, but I hardly ever am in the auditorium. I am always here, but I am rarely part of the worship assembly.

“What do you think of classes?” Oh, I am always here, even on Wednesday nights, but I do not go to a class. There is always someone else to talk to or somewhere to go.

“If you do not worship and you do not go to class, why are you here?” I believe it is essential to come. I would not dream of not coming. Being here is very important to salvation. I just do not think it is necessary to worship or go to class.

This person’s confidence is in being at a geographical place at the right time, not in God to be praised and trusted to direct our lifestyle.

  1. As I said, misplaced confidence is a very old yet very real problem.
    1. It was a frequent problem in Old Testament Israel.
      1. Listen to the words of Amos in Amos 5:21-24.
        “I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
        1. God, did You not command the festival assemblies? Yes!
        2. God, did You not command the sacrifices? Yes!
        3. God, did You not command the songs and the instruments? Yes!
        4. If You commanded all these things, why do You hate them?
        5. “Because you go through the motions of technically doing what I command, but you do not act and live like people who place their faith in Me!”
        6. “You are not a just people; you are not a righteous people!”
      2. An Israelite could not substitute going through the motions for being a person who trusted God.
    2. It was a problem among the Christians in the first century.
      1. The Christians at Corinth had a bad case of determining their faith by the preacher they championed. Consider 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.
        Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.
        1. The first thing I call to your attention is the problem Paul addressed is internal in the congregation, not external among those outside the congregation.
        2. The second thing I call to your attention is the fact they based their faith on the preacher they championed.
        3. The third thing I call to your attention is this: to make a preacher the focus of your faith is to nullify what God did in Jesus Christ.
      2. Our faith must be founded on God’s accomplishments in Jesus Christ, not on a human being we exalt.
    3. It continues to be a problem among us.
      1. There are too many who place their faith in the church instead of the God and Christ who allow us to be the church.
      2. There are too many who base their faith on people they agree with rather than the God of mercy who gave us Jesus.
      3. There are too many who base their faith on procedures rather than the God of compassion who resurrected Jesus from the dead.
      4. We urgently need to understand the concern of Paul when he said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
        And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

  2. The author of Hebrews wrote these words in Hebrews 11:1-6:
    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
    1. Hebrews 11 is called by many the roll call of faith.
      1. Because of its stress on faith, it is easy to take it out of the context of Hebrews.
      2. The Jewish Christians to whom the book was written (or sermon given) had sacrificed a lot for their faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:32-39).
      3. Their years of placing faith in Jesus Christ had finally taken their toll.
      4. These Christians were seriously thinking of renouncing Jesus Christ (not God) and returning to Israel.
      5. The writer said that was impossible: if they renounced Jesus as the Christ, they renounced God because Jesus was the work and purpose of God.
      6. Jesus, by God’s design, was superior to everything that declared faith in the nation of Israel.
    2. Faith in what? What kind of faith are we talking about?
      1. Faith in a nation? No!
      2. Faith in an animal sacrificial system? No!
      3. Faith in a structure that featured a temple, a high priest, and a system of worship? No!
      4. Faith in God who permanently solved our problems through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
      5. Faith in God who made the dead Jesus the resurrected Christ.
    3. I am afraid we can say, “Amen!” to those things and miss the point.
      1. It is not faith in what we have done or do, but faith in what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection and continues to do in Jesus.
      2. As essential as obedience is, it is not faith in our obedience, but faith in our God.

  3. The basic point of Hebrews 11 is this: people who place their faith in God and His achievements in Jesus Christ typically pay a price for having faith in God.
    1. Hebrews 11 is a long list of faithful people who paid heavy prices for being a people of faith.
    2. The point: you should understand that nothing unusual is happening when your faith in what God did in Jesus Christ costs you.
    3. May I say this to us: without what God did and does in the crucified, resurrected Jesus,
      1. There is no redemption, no buying back from sin, no freedom from sin.
      2. There is no atonement–we still owe for every evil thing we did.
      3. There is no sanctification–God looks at us and sees evil instead of seeing people who have been clothed in Jesus Christ.
      4. There is no righteousness–we exist as unredeemed, filthy people.
      5. There is no forgiveness–we are still accountable for our sins; we are indebted to God for every mistake we have made.

Perhaps the greatest insult we can give God is to place our faith in anything other than the accomplishments of God. May the most obvious thing in our lives be our faith in God.

Who Is Jesus? As One With Authority (Mark 1:21-28)

Posted by on under Sermons

John the Baptist said that the one coming after him was more powerful. His ministry would do more than just preach – the preaching would change the world.
Just as John said, Jesus does come with a powerful message. He announced the kingdom rule of God. There’s a hole in the heavenly realm and God’s spirit is pouring through it onto earth. Things are going to change.
Jesus is calling us to change and to believe the good news. Of course he is more than just a messenger. Jesus is the Son of God. He is the one who teaches and preaches with a heavenly authority. Like the heir to the throne, when Jesus says it, it is done!

Read Mark 1:21-27

The situation and setting: It is the Sabbath in the synagogue. In a holy place at a holy time, evil is present. How long had this man possessed by the unclean spirit attended the synagogue? How long did he maintain the evil spirit – or find himself troubled by it?

Perhaps he went to the synagogue often and was never challenged or given relief by the teaching of the scribes and scholars. Instead of hearing a word with authority he sat through their debates and arguments: What cannot be done on the Sabbath day, when one should pray, how long ones robe should be, when to swear and when not to swear. In their attempt to be "biblical" they had lost sight of what it means to be godly. The scribes and scholars had become less interested in BIBLE and more interested in BARRIERS.

According to Mark, their teaching had no authority. Their teaching started with "When is it right to . . ." or "What do the great teachers say about . . ." and you never got a clear answer. They could apply the law to hundreds and thousands of specific situations – really exceptional situations and conditions. But they could not speak with authority. Why? Because there was always an exception or their answer on one subject would undermine their answer on another. When you are faced with this sort of complexity you take the best option which is "Better safe than sorry." In other words, do everything you can to avoid doing what is wrong. So, is healing on the Sabbath wrong? Well, you could help someone in an emergency on the Sabbath, but what if the sickness isn’t life-threatening? Well, perhaps we should just pray and wait until Sabbath is over – after all, we do not want to offend God and healing just might be considered work.

If you help a leper, do you become unclean? Well, it is right to help people. But it is also true that leprosy makes someone unclean before God and his holy things. You should try to find a way to help without being contaminated by the leprosy. It is a risk and you certainly shouldn’t help a leper on the Sabbath because it would be wrong to be unclean on the Sabbath and leprosy is not life-threatening.

Isn’t it blasphemy to claim that someone’s sins are forgiven? Oh of course. Only God can forgive sins and who are we to presume that he has forgiven any of us. I mean we just do not know. In fact we may have even committed a sin and we do not know it. Well, then why do we offer people cleansing or healing? Isn’t that sort of like forgiving their sins because sometimes their condition is a direct result of their sinfulness. Well, we should help but we probably ought to make it clear that our aid is no guarantee that God forgives them and maybe we ought to always say "May God forgive you – but don’t assume it."

Can you imagine how this man whose life was invaded by an ungodly spirit could not find any help from this sort of dialogue? How disappointing to think that a man with evil dwelling within him and making a wreck of his inner life can enter freely into a sacred time and sacred space and not be challenged by the word of God. It is so unauthoritative. As long as one doesn’t offend the "barriers" one can live an unchanged, unredeemed life.

Jesus has authority and the crowds are amazed at his teaching. Every word he spoke had the razor’s edge of the Holy Spirit. I am weary of commentators who say that Mark doesn’t give us the teaching of Jesus. Of course he does. He tells us in a nutshell what Jesus was teaching:

The Kingdom of God Is Near! In other words, God isn’t up there disinterested or waiting to be offended when we take a wrong step. He is not an old doddering fool that we can manipulate with words. His authoritative rule is busting through the barriers of heaven and earth and he is getting involved! You cannot contain him or cage him. He is breaking in and every other rule that sets itself up will have to give way for the way of the Lord.

Jesus’ authority is real. His teaching is not just ethical or conceptual. He heals sicknesses. Sicknesses that lead to death (Simon’s mother-in-law) and exclusion (the leper) And Jesus is concerned that the leper enter into community. He commands evil spirits because he is the one who is stronger than the evil one. He is the Holy One of God. And he has authority!

He even forgives sins and in doing so risks the charge of blasphemy. He does not pay attention to the barriers because he has authority. He has privilege. He has the master key. (How would we counsel Jesus? Take your time, change things slowly)

Repent and Believe the Good News! Before he ever displayed any power, they were amazed at the authority of his teaching. His message calls for a change in light of the good news being announced. It is a demanding word. If we believe the good news, then the response is to repent! When confronted with such authority, we cannot help but respond.

Repent: Not the old gloomy and frightening definition of repent. Jesus is not saying changing your ways or you will end up roasting in hellfire. Jesus is saying turn and experience something better than hell. This is a word of hope. It invites us to a new option and a new reality. Rend believe is an invitation to trust in the one with authority. We are not stuck forever living with the evil spirits. Now there is a new authority! We can repent and Be amazed! Be amazed by news – good news.

Mexico 1991: I don’t claim to be an expert on evil spirits. I have difficulty with stories about actual demons that haunt and possess people. It just doesn’t appeal to my scientific mindset. (A woman once told me that she was visited by a demon. He was a short squat figure that stood on the edge of her bed and counted backwards from 10 – that doesn’t sound like a demon. It sounds like a muppet.) Despite my scientific mind set I know it would be falling into the enemies hand if we decided that there was no such thing as evil and spirits. The devil’s greatest weapon is convincing us that he is not real. I don’t claim to understand how evil works, but I do know that it wrecks lives. My scientific mindset was challenged by the man I met on the streets of Mexico. He was hungry and wild eyed. He came up babbling in Spanish and asking for food. I was there with a mission group and our translator Sam and I began speaking to this man. When he found out we were Christians he began telling us his story. He went so fast that Sam couldn’t translate it all for me. Sam had a stunned look on his face. Then the man pulled up his sleeve to reveal a horrible scar that gouged his meaty arm from wrist to elbow. What is it Sam? I asked. "He says that he has been possessed by demons and he cut his arm open to release them but he is afraid they will return. What do I tell him?" Sam asks me.

Here I was two years into graduate studies. I knew Greek and the historical critical method. I had read sociological studies and missiological reports about animism and cultural beliefs. What do I say. What do we say? Oh, this is just mental illness. This is just cultural superstition. Maybe it is. And maybe the 12 inch scar on this man’s arm is a figment of my imagination.
Years later a young man selling magazines came to our church office in Texas. I could tell he was troubled so we sat in the hall and talked. He looked at me with eyes that were tinted with an angry gleam and he got a far away look on his face. As if his personality changed. Sometimes, he said, I just hate people. Sometimes I get the urge to load my pistol and turn on music and just shoot people. But I don’t want to. How do I make the feelings stop? What do I say? What do we say? Oh this is just the product of poor parenting. This is the failure of our school system. Maybe he needs counseling. Maybe he does. And none of that made me feel any safer if this scrawny kid had pulled a 9mm out his pocket right then.

However you describe these problems and explain them, they are part of the same thing – evil. I told the kid what I told Sam that night in Mexico. "Tell this man that Jesus is stronger!" Tell him that Jesus has authority. Tell him that Jesus is stronger and more powerful than any evil and not even death is more powerful than Christ! Sam told the man with the disfigured arm and he started to cry. We introduced him to God’s people in Mexico.

I will say to all of you what I said then and what John the Baptist proclaimed – Jesus is more powerful. Whatever power, unclean spirit, sociological development or cultural baggage has you in its grip – Jesus is more powerful. He is one who has authority. What ever illness or weakness tortures you makes your life unbearable – Jesus is more powerful. Listen to what he says – The Kingdom of Heaven is near! The rule of God overrules evil and death! Hear his invitation – Repent and believe the good news. Do you believe that he is able to handle what concerns you today? Then make a change.


Posted by on June 9, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

Luke 11:34, 35 “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness.”

When was the last time you heard or read (in a serious interview, news report, or public conversation) the words “jail” or “penitentiary”? Those words basically have been replaced with the appropriate “correctional facilities.” How often do you hear words like “crazy” or “handicapped”?

Remember when “gay” was a “good word” referring to an innocent, wonderful time? Years ago Joyce and I were visiting a congregation in a distant state. A large group was to eat together at a place requiring a reservation. Even with a reservation, a wait was required. When our group was called, they called for “the Chadwell party.” I was a bit surprised. Then our hosts (friends from the past) whose name was Gaye turned to me and said, “You didn’t expect us to have them call for the ?Gaye party,’ did you?”

It is amazing how words have disappeared from common vocabulary, or have been redefined, or have become acceptable, or have come into existence within the last 30 to 50 years and are now common vocabulary words.

Since language is alive and reflects a society as it is, the fact that words change is a good thing if changes bring improvements in concepts and communication. To me, the key is seen in the word “improvements.” I certainly realize what is an “improvement” may involve a truly subjective response. Virtually no reality exists that does not offend someone. We can pursue good self-images with such a passion that we ignore reality. Should I feel good about myself when I actually need to recognize and address some major flaws evident in who and what I am?

We cannot define ourselves into righteousness. The Isaiah statement came in a series of highly unpopular “woes” declared to self-professed godly people. By their concepts, they were very godly people. By God’s concepts, they behaved in deplorable ways. They were godly people in their own eyes because they swapped the meaning of words.

The people who lived in Luke’s world feared darkness. Good things happened in daylight; bad things happened in darkness. Jesus said the worst kind of darkness is the darkness that occurs inside the person. He warned, “Do not shut out light, because if you do you only intensify the darkness.”

I deceive myself, not God, when I seek to transform my lifestyle and behavior by redefining words instead of changing the way I live.

Going Back to Where We Started

Posted by on June 5, 2005 under Sermons

I used to be a serious hunter–as much as my schedule would permit. As my life continued, I especially enjoyed deer hunting. The attraction was not in killing something. Had that been the attraction, I would have quit when I was a novice–the deer fooled or detected me far more often than I detected the deer.

The attraction was being in the woods. I loved the quiet. I loved the beauty. I loved seeing creatures that never saw me. Two of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed are sunrise in the woods and sunset in the woods. I love to see God’s creation wake up and God’s creation go to sleep.

Once I was slipping, scouting, and just generally observing in some woods when I suddenly realized I did not know where I was. With the fear of being lost instantly came everything taking on a strange appearance. The familiar became unfamiliar. Immediately I had no clue about direction.

I was less than 50 yards from being out of the woods–and did not know it! I almost headed in the wrong direction, back deeper into the woods. When I came to a fence and instantly knew where I was, I marveled at how close I was to being out of the woods and how easily I could have gone deeper into the woods wandering aimlessly around. If I had made that mistake, I could have wandered a long, long time.

Getting back to where I started could have been a long, long journey–simply because I did not know where I was or where I was going.

This evening I want to make a simple comparison between the garden of Eden in Genesis 2 and the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21, 22.

I want to make a single point: it has been and is a long journey to get back to our beginning.

  1. I would like to begin by reading Genesis 2:7-9 and then 2:15-17.
    Genesis 2:7-9 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
    Genesis 2:15-17 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
    1. Let me call some things to your attention.
      1. God provided the human being he brought into existence with a home and placed him in that home.
        1. In that home there was beauty.
        2. In that home there was security–there was no need for fear.
        3. In that home there was no need–never was there anxiety of starving.
        4. In that home there was responsibility–Adam was cultivate and keep the garden (scripture does not say what was involved in doing that).
        5. There were also prohibitions: there were tragic consequences to eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
      2. In that early existence there was no knowledge of evil.
    2. Having the knowledge of evil was not a good thing.
      1. To understand evil only as it contrasts to good was a destructive understanding.
      2. People did not have to know evil to appreciate God.
      3. The foundation of evil is deception, deception about who you are, deception about what life is about, deception about God.

  2. Now read with me as I read Revelation 21:1-5; 21:10-14; 21:22-27; and 22:1-5.
    Revelation 21:1-51 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
    Revelation 21:10-14 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
    Revelation 21:22-27 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
    Revelation 22:1-5 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.
    1. Again, let me call some things to your attention.
      1. Just as the garden of Eden, the new Jerusalem is God presented, not man made.
      2. Just as in the garden of Eden, there is no tabernacle or temple to represent God’s presence–God Himself manifest Himself there.
      3. Just as in the garden of Eden, there are no tears, no death, no grief, no pain.
      4. Just as the garden of Eden, the heavenly Jerusalem is beautiful.
      5. Just as the garden of Eden, the heavenly Jerusalem is totally secure–no harm can come there–it is so secure there is never a need to shut the gates.
      6. Its security and protection are built on the efforts of angels, of Israel, and of the apostles.
      7. It is a place of healing, a place of plenty of water and food, a place free from curses.
    2. I also want you to see the contrast between the garden of Eden and the new Jerusalem.
      1. In Eden people did not know how horrible evil was.
      2. In the heavenly Jerusalem those people know how horrible evil is.
      3. In Eden people did not know how great and deserving of praise God is.
      4. In heavenly Jerusalem those people know God’s greatness and praise worthiness.
      5. In Eden deception began because of poor human choice; in the heavenly Jerusalem, deception is destroyed through the efforts of a tireless, patient God — God reversed the problem we are responsible for.

  3. It will take a long, long time for a patient God to return us to our beginnings.
    1. If I asked each of us to make a list of all the things that would disappear if evil as defined by God disappeared, I suspect we could do it without difficulty.
      1. We could rattle off some things without even thinking.
        1. Divorce.
        2. Abuse.
        3. Every form of crime.
        4. Addictions to drugs and to alcohol.
        5. Pornography and all associated with pornography.
        6. War.
      2. Think with me a minute.
        1. Wonder how many industries would disappear if there was no evil? Would you regard that as good or bad?
        2. Wonder how many jobs would disappear if there was no evil? Would you regard that as good or bad?
        3. Wonder how ‘good business’ practices would change if there was no evil? Would you regard that as good or bad?
        4. Wonder how entertainment would change if there was no evil? Would you regard that as good or bad?
        5. Wonder how advertisement would change if there was no evil? Would you regard that as good or bad?
        6. Wonder how your daily life would change if there was no evil? Would you regard that as good or bad?
      3. My point: you and I have become so accustomed to living in a world of evil that we cannot imagine living in a world without evil as being a good thing.
        1. We would like for all evil to disappear that troubles our lives or the lives of persons we love.
        2. We are (at best) hesitant for any evil to disappear that would affect our existence in what we perceive as an adverse manner.
      4. So a patient God nudges us in the direction of an existence of no evil, and we often resist Him every step of the way.

  4. Read with me Ephesians 2:1-10.
    And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Life without evil will be possible only:

  1. Because God loved us, not because we humored God.
  2. Because God is merciful, not because we are deserving.
  3. Because God did for us what we could never do for ourselves in Jesus Christ.
  4. Because God is rich in grace, not because we are rich in goodness.
  5. Because of God’s accomplishments, not because of our efforts.

Notice we are God’s workmanship. Notice we were created in Christ Jesus for good works. Notice those good works were NOT God’s afterthought.

The privilege of living in the new Jerusalem will mean we, by God’s mercy and grace, have come full circle. With patience, God led us back to a world without evil. The difference: (1) this time we know the horror of evil; (2) this time we understand the praiseworthiness of God.