The Greatest Un-Miracle Never Performed

Posted by on July 31, 2005 under Sermons

Read Mark 6:1-6

Think about what we have seen along the way as Mark has taken us on the Miracles of Jesus tour. How many places could claim that “Jesus taught here – and with authority.” Capernaum – A home with a hole in the roof testifies to a miracle – “Through this hole four friends lowered their paralyzed companion and Jesus healed him.” A synagogue in Capernaum “On this site Jesus cast out an unclean spirit.” Beside the sea of Galilee “On this site Jesus preached of seeds and the kingdom of God.” Somewhere out in the middle of the sea of Galilee one could float a buoy with a sign reading “It was here that Jesus commanded a storm to silence.” Next stop a graveyard in Gerasa: “On this site, the Son of the Most High God won a victory over a Legion from hell.” Nearby is a marker commemorating the death of 2000 pigs. Back on the other side of the sea are two marker’s: one in the marketplace “Here a woman touched Jesus’ robe and was healed.” The other at Jairus’ house: “On this site, Jesus raised a girl to life with the words Talitha Koum!”
And now we stop in Nazareth. It should be the greatest of all stops on the miracle tour. It should be the site of the most wonderful event yet testifying to the identity of Jesus Christ. But there are no markers except for a rusted one hanging near a carpentry shop that reads in faded print: “Hometown of Jesus, son of Mary.” Our tour guide Mark explains to us that we have stopped here because this is the site of an un-miracle. Nothing happened here. No one in Nazareth was amazed by anything. Except for Jesus. He was amazed by the greatness of their un-faith. As for the people, they could not be amazed because they were too offended.

They were offended by Jesus. Offended by Jesus? How could anyone be offended by Jesus? We wouldn’t be offended by Jesus – would we? No. Certainly not. Jesus is our neighbor, our business partner, our pal. But the folks in Nazareth knew Jesus, just as we claim to know Jesus. He was just as familiar to them as we claim he is to us. And there’s the problem: Jesus’ authoritative teaching didn’t fit with the sort of familiarity the folks in Nazareth had with Jesus and his family. They had heard talk that he might be out of his mind. They knew his history. They knew his family. They knew all about him. And they are offended that he could claim to be more than what they knew.

Now we claim to know Jesus quite well. And we get offended, but we don’t get offended at Jesus do we? We are offended by many other things, but not Jesus. We are offended by song leaders, teachers, and preachers. We are offended by elders and deacons and ministry leaders. We are offended by rude people and false doctrine, but not Jesus.

No, we are not offended by Jesus because we have domesticated and tamed Jesus. He is friend of all, but Lord of none. Sometimes in the church we have reduced Jesus to nothing more than a spiritual Colonel Sanders – his image and memory are everywhere, but we know he’s not running the company. But Jesus isn’t a corporate logo for the church – he is the LOGOS, the living word of God.
Our language betrays us. When we are confronted by the authority and power of Jesus and maybe even intimidated by it. When we consider the implications of his lordship and how that might make us uncomfortable we try to tame Jesus so we can get him on our side. I have heard people say: My Jesus wouldn’t do that. Okay, but what would THE Jesus do? More importantly what IS he doing?

Don’t misunderstand, it is good that we know that “Jesus Is With Us” and it is good to know that he has drawn near. May we ever sing with serious conviction that “Jesus Loves Me This I Know For The Bible Tells Me So.” But if Jesus is so domesticated and tamed that he is only the figurehead of our Christian company, or the rubber stamp signature for our particular church crusade, then he can no longer amaze us. There’s no mystery, there’s no surprise, there’s no faith required.

All of us have seen historical markers that commemorate important events. Sometimes when you stand near one of these and read the description you are aware of a sense of awe that something significant has taken place there and that sense is magnified if there is any hope that it might happen again.
Some of you may have seen one of these novelty markers. They look just like a historical marker but they commemorate the ordinary and mundane. “On this site in 1898, nothing happened.”
The closest experience of good news for Nazareth is that they haven’t been totally forgotten. Mark includes them on the tour of important places. “On this site, nothing happened.” Come and see the place where the “un-miracle” happened, or didn’t happen. Why include such a place on the tour Mark? What are you trying to tell us?

Let’s be clear about one thing he isn’t telling us. It’s the question everyone of us ask the tour guide when we stop here: “Is God refusing to answer my prayers because I don’t have enough faith?” Americans like to ask that question more than anyone. We have heard it said so often that “If you have enough faith, God will … heal you, bless you, save you, make you happy, etc. etc.” And that often leads to another statement that I have heard too often: “The reason you weren’t healed, the reason you are poor, the reason you are unhappy, the reason your marriage fell apart, the reason your loved one died is because YOU didn’t have enough faith.” This isn’t the message. You can only come up with a message like this if you tame Jesus to the point that he is our genie in a bottle who grants all of our wishes. This reduces to Jesus and the Holy Spirit to something like “The Force” and if we can muster up the training and the discipline we can lift mountains – or X-Wing fighters. But faith isn’t will power of wishful thinking. It isn’t the power that resurrects Tinkerbell from the dead if we all clap our hands and believe in fairies. Faith is trust, surrender, suspension of our need to be in control. Faith leads us to give honor to the one we have faith in.
The message that Mark want to impart to us on the stop in Nazareth is this: Jesus was unable to do anything wonderful among his people not because their quantity of faith was lacking, but because they had an abundance of “un-faith.” So much so that it amazed him! They had the opposite of faith: disbelief, dismissal, dispassionate detachment. They were offended and they rejected him. Some thought him insane. Some thought his power came from the devil. And some just thought he was the next-door neighbor.

Now to be fair, there were a few who were healed. Just a few. I am sure for those individuals it was wonderful, but for the city it is a sort of a consolation prize. I would like to think that more could be said of us than this. I don’t want to place a marker among us that says: “Among these people during their worship and ministry, nothing happened.” I don’t think it is worthy of Jesus that we should commemorate the ordinary and mundane. I would like to hope that we can have faith. Not faith so that we can command the power of Jesus, but the sort of faith that allows the power of Jesus to command us.

Thought Question: How might Jesus be involved and leading us into the future he gives? How might He be working more than all we can ask or imagine in our ministries? Will we be amazed or do we want to be in charge? Will we be amazed or will we be offended?

There’s no call for faith in Jesus if we have lost the capacity to be amazed. Why have faith in Jesus if we are convinced he cannot do anything?
We will not trust Jesus if we are too busy being offended by everything that doesn’t meet our expectations – including Jesus.

When a prophet has no honor he leave for another town. Whom do we honor and trust?

The Faith Journey

Posted by on July 24, 2005 under Sermons

This evening I want to emphasize that living by faith in God is a journey, not a destination. Faith is a walk with God, not a place that we arrive. Someone sees that we have faith in God by how we act on an everyday basis. They do not see that we have faith because we declare we have arrived at faith.

How you refer to having this faith in God basically does not matter. You can call this faith journey salvation. You can call this faith journey being a part of Christ’s church. You can call this faith journey forgiveness of sins. You can call this faith journey being in Christ. However you refer to it, you basically are talking about a journey, not a destination.

There is a specific reason that I want you to consider these thoughts. Too often among Christians we encounter the attitude, “If I understand X fact, then I have spiritually arrived at having faith,” or “If I believe Y, then I am a person of faith.” Stated in the negative, “All people who do not understand X fact have not spiritually arrived at having faith,” or, “All Christians who do not believe Y are not people of faith.”

I do not want any of us to be that kind of person. I do not want any of us to think of faith in terms of being a destination we achieve in this life, but as a journey that takes us to God in the life to come.

I do not want you to accept my word for the nature of faith as a journey. I want you to think about and struggle with the revelation of scripture.

  1. I would like to begin our thoughts with a familiar statement Paul made to the Philippian Christians:
    Philippians 2:12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
    1. Context:
      1. To whom is Paul writing these words?
        1. To Christians at Phillippi: 1:1 says he is writing “to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi” including their leaders.
        2. The statement itself refers to these people as Paul’s beloved.
      2. There were things they needed to learn about how to be a Christian.
        1. They especially needed to learn those things in their daily lives and actions.
        2. Believing in Jesus Christ is more than accepting a fact.
        3. It involves accepting a life altering fact.
        4. If there is no alteration in the way the person lives and acts, accepting the fact has no significance.
      3. The work of salvation is not complete because one accepts as fact that Jesus is the Christ or accepts as fact that God raised Jesus from death.
        1. That is merely the beginning of the journey, not the conclusion of the journey.
        2. Forgiveness of sins is the beginning of the journey.
        3. Redemption is the beginning of the journey.
        4. Being placed by God into Christ is the beginning of the journey.
        5. Being cleansed by God through Jesus’ blood is the beginning of the journey.
        6. True, faith lets us come to God, but also true we come to God in order to walk with God.
      4. Had these people to whom Paul wrote received forgiveness of sins? Certainly!
        1. Were they in Christ? Without doubt!
        2. Were they under God’s rule rather than Satan’s rule? Absolutely!
        3. Were they in Christ? Without question!
        4. Were they cleansed by the blood of Jesus? Definitely!
    2. Now they needed to accept full responsibility for those things!
      1. It is a major responsibility to live and to act like a person who belongs to God through Jesus Christ.
      2. That responsibility is not to be taken lightly!
      3. Paul said accept that responsibility whether I am there or not.
      4. “Because you in faith and repentance have been baptized into Christ does not mean salvation matters have concluded!”
      5. “The salvation journey merely has begun!”

    (Transition: now I want you to consider a contrast. The contrast is between a person who was not a Christian but became a Christian and a person who was an apostle but learned something he had never known.)

  2. First, I want you to consider the person who was not a Christian but became a Christian: the man, Paul.
    1. Before he became a Christian, he believed two things with TOTAL conviction: (1) he believed he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do; (2) he believed that Jesus was NOT the Christ, but a dangerous impostor who was a threat to God’s purposes.
      1. He was so totally convinced Jesus was a fraud, a threat to God’s purposes that he guarded the clothing of those who executed the Christian Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1).
      2. He was so totally convinced Jesus was a grave threat to God’s purposes in Israel that he did his best to destroy Jewish believers in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).
      3. He was so totally convinced that Jesus was a major threat to God’s purposes that he was willing to go to other nations, arrest Jewish Christians, and bring them for trial to Jerusalem.
      4. Listen to Paul’s own words in 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. The driving force behind Paul’s conviction was his total confidence that Jesus was not the Messiah, not God’s son.
      1. When he learned in a powerful, immediate, undeniable way that Jesus was the Christ, was God’s son (Acts 9:1-19), he was in complete crisis.
      2. If Jesus was the Christ, then everything he did in faith in God was the wrong thing to do.
      3. This committed man remained a committed man, but was truly a changed person.
        1. Whereas he had been hard and uncaring about people, he became gentle and sensitive (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
        2. Whereas he had been inflexible, he became highly adaptable (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
    3. The Paul most Christians know and respect as the most recorded writer in the New Testament existed because a new understanding made him a totally different person on his faith journey.
      1. He was a man of faith when he killed people who believed Jesus is the Messiah.
      2. He was a man of faith when he understood that Jesus is the Messiah.
      3. Obviously, for him faith was a journey.

  3. The second man I call your attention to is the man Peter.
    1. Remind yourself of who Peter was.
      1. He was personally called by Jesus to be his disciple.
      2. He was one of the twelve.
      3. He was one of the three people who were closest to Jesus.
      4. He was the first disciple who knew Jesus was the Messiah.
      5. He was willing to die fighting to try to protect Jesus.
      6. He preached the first sermon when Jesus was raised from the dead.
      7. For a while, he was the most popular Christian in Jerusalem.
      8. From our perspective, this man was a truly important man.
    2. Yet, there was a truth as old as Abraham that Peter did not understand: God wanted both Jews and gentiles to have salvation in Christ.
      1. Acts 10 records the incident that revealed God’s full purposes to Peter.
        1. Three times he had a vision that confused and bewildered him.
        2. He received specific instructions from the Holy Spirit.
        3. He traveled to Cornelius’ home even though he did not understand why he was going to a gentile’s house (Acts 10:29).
      2. Peter literally went to Cornelius’ house not knowing why he was going.
        1. All he understood was God wanted him to go.
        2. He heard but did not fully understand that what God had cleansed he should not call unclean.
      3. Listen to the moment when Peter finally understood, realized something he never known before:
        Acts 10:34,35 Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”
      4. The apostle Peter had never known this before!
      5. You and I as gentiles directly are blessed by Peter’s faith journey!

  4. If you are a person of faith, you are never too old or too knowledgeable to stop learning!
    1. None of us ever arrive at a point that we know it all!
      1. Be a student, not a judge!
      2. Beware of placing your confidence in your knowledge!
    2. None of us ever arrive at a point that there is nothing new and significant to understand!
      1. If a new understanding turns your life around, so be it if the driving force is faith in God and His purposes!
      2. If a new understanding means you have to rethink something you thought could not possibly be correct, so be it if the driving force is faith in God and His purposes.
      3. If a new understanding means old friends think you are spiritually nuts, so be it if the driving force is faith in God and His purposes.
    3. Faith in God does not mean that we exist to protect God–God does not need protecting.
      1. God wants us to use Jesus Christ to share Him!
      2. God cares about people, and if we have faith in God, so do we!

Is this easy? NO! It is as demanding on us as it was the Philippian Christians, or on Paul, or on Peter. It begins with the awareness that faith is a journey that lasts a life time. Faith is not a place to settle in.

What Do You Have to Do With Us, Son of the God Most High?

Posted by on under Sermons

Read Mark 5:1-20.

Some of you know what the people of Gerasa have been through . . . You know who you are. It’s not just the graveyard variety of demons one has to deal with to understand. If you ever tried to help others who are possessed by their Legions of evils then you know. If you know what it is like to be awakened at night by the agony of their torture. If you known what it is like to see them break the chains they are bound with for their own protection, then you know. If you have ever felt the frustration of just giving up and learning to cope with it then you know what the people of Gerasa have been through. You know who you are.

Some of you know what the nameless man known only as the demoniac or Legion has been through. You know who you are. Some of you have been there and known the agony of sin in a profound way. You have experienced it to the point that he has oppressed you, dehumanized you, and injured you. And even when others try to help, the power is just too strong. You know who you are.

Whether we identify with the Gerasenes or the demoniac is not the issue. Both groups are met by Jesus, the Son of the God Most High and both must respond to his presence without exception. If those who identify with the demon-possessed man can be described as “possessed by powers” then those of us who identify with the Gerasenes are also pestered by the powers and without Jesus we might be described as ineffective and frustrated when we have to use our own resources to restrain evil …

What Have You to Do With Me Jesus, the Son of the God Most High?
Notice that Jesus isn’t frustrated. Even though he has supposedly lost the “home court advantage” in the war against evil he isn’t staggered. Here he is in a foreign land where evil cannot be contained. He is in an unclean place, a graveyard, surrounded by people who raise unclean animals, swine. The force that opposes him this time isn’t just the lone unclean spirit that wanders into the synagogue one day. Now Jesus faces the Legion of the Strong Man – a scarred up, chain busting nightmare that once resembled a human being.
This one-man army of evil is bold too. He opens the dialogue with threats and name-calling (not nasty names, but using the name of Jesus to force him to do his bidding). He is not at all confused about who Jesus is and the power he commands. So he (or is it they) begins to defend himself and when that fails he/they tries to negotiate for his/their own survival . . .

Jesus’ reaction is swift – “Come out of him and leave him alone!”
What do you have to do with us Jesus Son of the God Most High?”
What’s your name?
Legion! There are many of us (Is he trying to scare Jesus?)
We like it here. Don’t make us leave! (Sympathy?)
You are evil and you must go.
What about the pigs? That’s better than nothing, send us into the pigs! (Is this a ruse?)

And the outcome is simple – the demons are destroyed and the man is not restrained, much better than that he is released! The outcome is simple, the reactions of the groups we have identified with is not so simple.

The Reaction of the Gerasenes
Jesus didn’t ask the swine herders’ permission when he gave possession right of way to the Legion of Demons. If you think about it, that seems a bit inconsiderate and insensitive. Yes, human beings are more important than swine that were going to be slaughtered anyway, but a lot of human beings’ economic and financial situation was impacted when pork futures took a dive – literally. A herd of 2000 swine is quite a herd and the loss of such goods is an economic disaster. Not to mention the fact that some were probably going to be without food.
So it seems sort of harsh for Jesus to be so bold. We can try to explain it, but there’s only one explanation that sticks – Jesus is what Legion called him – Son of the God Most High! One with such authority, the one who created these swine in the first place, needn’t ask for permission.
Jesus doesn’t negotiate with evil. He isn’t just interested in chaining it up, restraining it, or controlling it – he intends to annihilate it. When Jesus works in our community and our cities to release people from the dehumanizing, humiliating, oppressive work of evil and sin he isn’t squeamish or sympathetic about our “herds of swine.” If he had no hesitation or regret about cashing in 2000 swine for the campaign against evil, do you think Jesus is squeamish or sympathetic about our resources? Is he confounded when he realizes that helping those who we cannot help means that some of our precious resources might end up trashed or broken. Does he back off when he considers that helping the poor, addicted, lost, and demon-possessed might be an economic burden or an inconvenience? I don’t think so, because all the resources of heaven and earth are available to him – he is the Son of the God Most High.

And the fact is, the Gerasenes know this. When they see the man they tried to help all those years fully restored they realize just how powerful this stranger is. Their amazement gives way to fear just as it did with the disciples in the boat when they witnessed Jesus yield unimaginable power. The Gerasenes realize that if they couldn’t restrain and contain the strong man, then they certainly cannot restrain and control, or domesticate the Stronger Man? Like the Demons they too are asking, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus Son of the God Most High?”

[Thomas Edison invented the electric bulb, but it was Nikola Tesla who invented the means to deliver the power to light the bulb. Edison was a rival and he gave voice to the concerns about Tesla’s methods to deliver electricity. There were fears that Tesla’s method would broadcast such high voltage energy that the atmosphere would burn away or homes would be destroyed, people’s hearts would stop from electrocution. So many fears and so many people resisted electrical service. But once it was proven that the high voltage power could be domesticated and contained safely, everyone wanted electric light.]

Unlike electricity, the power of God and his Holy Spirit cannot be contained or domesticated. Jesus is the Son of the God Most High and there is no authority to limit his power and his will other than his own. He is good and he is faithful, but don’t try to reduce him to safe! A sad fact of church history is that the mission of God and the active presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are often squelched or turned away by fearful disciples. When we become aware of the fact that God’s power cannot be domesticated, contained or bottled, we resist it. We would rather rely on our own weak and ineffective means because we are threatened by the Son of the God Most High.

The Reaction of the Demon-Possessed Man
The man is afraid that he will forever be known by his possessions. No one will recall his family or his name. He will be known only as the ex-demoniac formerly known as Legion. So, he wants to go with Jesus. That risk is less frightening than trying to find his way in a place that remembers what he once was. If prophets have no honor in their hometown, troubled people that everyone tried to help and restrain really have no honor. Jesus gives the man a mission, “Go tell the good news. Tell them what you had to do with the Son of the God Most High.” Jesus knows that the Gerasenes recognize his power but they don’t know of his goodness. This man can represent that. The lives of those who’ve been transformed are a witness. They witness to both the incredible power and authority of the Most High God but also to his goodness. I don’t think we will be so concerned about the power of the Son of the God Most High if he would listen to some of the stories of those who have been made new by that power. If we will then we will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and take him out of the safety zone we have foolishly tried to force him into and place him at the highest place where he has really been all along.

The Personal Tension Faith Produces

Posted by on July 17, 2005 under Sermons

Having faith in God through His son Jesus Christ solves many tensions in a typical life. It solves those tensions in numerous ways. It gives a person’s life both an immediate focus and an eternal focus–the whole of life is not focused on the here and the now. It gives meaning and significance to a thought, or a motive, or an act that goes far beyond the moment. It magnifies the significance of purpose and intent. It measures the significance of life in factors that far surpass physical achievements. It provides purpose when physical existence is totally inadequate in insufficient.

At the same time, faith in God creates a personal crisis. Pure faith in God is totally unselfish. The goal of having faith in God is to aspire to that unselfishness. Yet, seeking that unselfishness is totally contrary to our physical existence as we understand physical existence. We had rather mask selfishness with “correct appearances” than to destroy selfishness. It is very difficult to realize that faithfulness to God is 100% about devotion to God and 0% about devotion to self.

While faith in God solves many personal crises, faith in God also creates at least one primary crisis in the believer’s life. Faith creates a genuine crisis by producing tension. The tension becomes increasingly obvious as the Christian grows in his or her awareness that serving God is all about God and not at all about me.

This evening, first I wish to fix your attention on the personal tension faith produces. Secondly, I want you to see from Jesus what the solution to that tension or crisis is. As we consider this aspect of faith, I want to remind you again that faith in God is a lifetime journey, not a momentary destination.

  1. I want to begin with what I regard to be the first leg of this faith tension in a Christian’s existence: the temptation to put God on trial.
    1. I wish to call your attention to what the gospel of Matthew presents as Jesus’ second temptation when Jesus meets Satan in the wilderness as Jesus prepares to begin his ministry.
      1. This temptation is seen in Matthew 4:5-7.
        Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
      2. The setting was geographically the holiest place on earth for an Israelite.
      3. The request seemed to carry the full weight of God’s authority.
        1. Satan quoted scripture.
        2. He seemingly invoked a divine promise.
        3. He told Jesus that if he had full confidence in his identity as God’s son, he should place unquestioning confidence in God’s promise.
        4. On the surface of the request, it seemed Satan was challenging Jesus to demonstrate his faith in God’s promise to the Messiah.
      4. Jesus quickly saw through Satan’s temptation, perhaps much more quickly than most of us do.
        1. Jesus saw something so obvious that in its prominence it was almost invisible.
        2. (Satan never, never challenges us to get closer to God! With Satan, appearances always will be deceitful!)
        3. Jesus saw the temptation for what it was–a temptation to bolster his feeling of insecurity about his identity by demanding that God perform because he felt insecure.
        4. Thus Jesus responded that the true issue involved was not trusting God, but making God perform like a puppet.
        5. To submit to Satan’s directive would not be a declaration of faith in God, but a demand for God to perform to eliminate Jesus’ feeling of insecurity about his identity and purpose.
      5. The source of Jesus’ rebuttal is more than interesting.
        1. Jesus did not just quote any old scripture regardless of the statement’s context.
          1. He did not take a verse and make it mean what he wanted it to mean.
          2. The context of the verse is as significant to me as the verse itself.
        2. There is an enormous difference between showing confidence in God and putting God on trial.
          1. Jesus seems to be referring to Moses’ statement in Deuteronomy 6:16 which is a reference to Exodus 17:1-7.
          2. Israel was at Rephidim and was thirsty, because there was no water where they camped.
          3. They quarreled with Moses to the point that it was getting dangerous for Moses.
          4. They asked, “Why did you bring us out here to die of thirst?”
          5. God through Moses provided the people water from a rock.
          6. The place was named Massah (which means test) or Meribah (which means quarrel).
          7. They did not express confidence; they expressed doubt.
        3. Jesus said, “If I jump, I do not show confidence in God; I show doubt. I am asking God to perform for my benefit.”

  2. To me, the second leg of this faith tension is seen in Mark 9:14-27.
    When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up.
    1. Both Mark and Matthew indicate this incident occurred when Jesus returned with Peter, James, and John following the incident on the Mount of Transfiguration.
      1. These four men returned to a crowd and an argument.
        1. Jesus asked, “What is going on?”
        2. The man who was at the center of the incident spoke up: “I brought my child who is possessed and self destructive, and your disciples could not correct the situation.”
        3. After Jesus expressed personal grief, he asked for the boy to be brought to him.
        4. The father, after already experiencing great faith in coming and perplexing disappointment in the disciples’ inability to help, begged Jesus to do something if he could.
        5. Jesus responded, “If I can? The issue is not my ability but your faith!”
      2. The man’s response always has touched my heart–in every way I identify with his crisis: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
    2. Jesus cast out the spirit, demanded the spirit never return, and proved the child was alive.
    3. The crises involved the father’s faith or confidence, not Jesus’ ability.
      1. It was a matter of confidence, not a matter of trial.
      2. The man knew he had confidence in Jesus, but he also knew he struggled with doubt.
      3. He plainly asked Jesus to work with his doubt to increase his confidence.
      4. Do we not all understand the problem?

  3. To me, it is in those two incidents we can understand the tension and crisis faith in God produces in each of us.
    1. The tension: when am I expressing trust in God and when am I demanding that God destroy my doubt by performing in a manner I declare acceptable?
      1. With all of us, there commonly is at least an element of doubt–we all should be able to identify with the father who cried for help with his doubt!
      2. The question: when is my doubt a stepping stool to greater confidence in God, and when is my doubt a demand that God perform in ways I demand?
    2. The heart of the issue is personal motive.
      1. Is my motive a desire to increase my trust in God, or is my motive a desire to use God to meet my needs?
      2. Do I serve God, or does God serve me?
      3. Are God’s purposes more important than my desires?
      4. Can God achieve His objectives in things that I regard objectionable?
      5. Does God have anything to prove to me?

  4. That is quite a dilemma! At times what I call faith may in fact be doubt!
    1. To me, the perfect guideline and perfect distinction between faith in God and the demand that God perform for my benefit is seen in the physical Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the last night of his physical life.
      Matthew 26:36-44 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.
      1. In this very familiar incident, we see several things.
        1. We see that Jesus did not wish to die by crucifixion.
        2. We see Jesus’ desire and God’s will in conflict.
        3. We see God’s purpose in conflict with Jesus’ desire.
      2. Also in this we see an astounding solution to an astounding tension.
        1. Jesus begged his Father not to let him die, and that was okay.
        2. Jesus begged, if possible, for God to achieve His purpose in some other manner, and that was okay.
        3. Jesus preferred something different to that which God preferred, and that was alright.
        4. Jesus’ personal desire and God’s purpose were in conflict, and that was okay.
      3. The solution: Jesus surrendered his desire to God’s will.
        1. Did that mean that suddenly Jesus wanted to die by crucifixion? No!
        2. Did that mean that suddenly Jesus preferred identically the same thing God preferred? No!
        3. It simply meant that Jesus understood that God’s purpose was superior to his desire, even if God’s purpose meant a painful, disgraceful death by execution.
      4. There was no question in Jesus mind that God’s purpose was superior to his desire!
    2. Quite often as humans we will find our desires in conflict with God’s purposes, and that is okay.
      1. The issue always is which is superior–my desires or God’s purpose.
      2. The fact that I experience conflict and tension at that moment proves little.
      3. The issue always is human surrender.
      4. The issue always is my understanding that God’s purpose is superior in every way to my desire.

God’s purposes are often achieved by things which happen contrary to my desires. The tension of faith is resolved when I say in genuine surrender, “God, your will be done!”

They Brought the Children to Jesus

Posted by on under Sermons

VBS Intro … Why all the effort? Why all the time and expense? Why are we spending our time on children when we have adult issues to deal with?
Why? Because Our Lord taught us that there is always time to bless childrenMark 10:13-16
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

East Kilbride – 1970’s Jack Strachan is trying to reach a culture that has been inoculated on religion and the church. They regard church as a state institution that really doesn’t care. No adult is willing to take the time to sort out state religion and ancient tradition from New Testament faith. No rational argument or impassioned plea can reach the Scots.
Then, he finds interest among the children. Adam Barr & his friends attend. They become the core of the church. Now they and Jack and his wife begin to reach the parents of the children who then reach other parents whose children are involved in something good and positive. They brought the children to Jesus!

  • Kerr is approaching his 25 years of membership in the EK church. He is not much older than I am and he considers himself nearly a founding member.
  • Adam is now a minister and he is taking the same approach in another city – They are bringing the children to Jesus.

    Fayetteville, AR – 1970’s Like many churches of the time, The Center Street church of Christ has a bus ministry. Like many churches of the time, the bus ministry isn’t perfect. The bus breaks down and it takes money to repair it. Gas prices are skyrocketing to nearly 75 cents per gallon. Some of the children will not stay in their seats and some of them even climb under the seats. One of the buses is driven by Lonnie Farrar and Blondie Edwards. Blondie has to sometimes chase the kids around and haul them into the church building in his burly arms. The teachers in class have to serve as substitute parents to some of the children. There’s an adjustment in assembly as the church has to get used to the imbalance in the child adult ratio. A large block of children from the neighborhoods sits on the front left side of the auditorium. Like most children, they sometimes create a little noise. Some of them don’t smell good. Some of them don’t know how to act in church because they have never been to church. They are bringing the children to JesusOne day, Lonnie and Blondie are driving the bus through new neighborhoods inviting children to come to church and VBS. They drive down Turner Ave and knock on the door of a small brick house. The young woman who answers is in her late 20’s. She has two children under 10. When Blondie asks her if her children want to ride the bus to church she asks, “Can parents ride the bus too?” Blondie is delighted to tell her yes. The woman who asked Blondie the question was my mother.

    Thirty years ago, my mother and father started coming to church because the people at the Center St. church were bringing the children to Jesus. After a VBS and gospel meeting one night my mother asked Randall Castleman if she could be baptized. She walked me and my younger sister up to Lonnie the bus driver and asked if he and the others on the bus could watch after us for just a while. They knew she was going to be baptized. He said, “Why sure.” My mother came on the church bus with her hair dripping wet. I can remember how shy she seemed about it but also how satisfied she seemed. I also remember how happy the people on the bus were. It was the first memory I had of baptism into Christ. The second memory I have of baptism is also “After the fact.” I was outside playing in our yard one Saturday morning when my father drove up onto the car port in his yellow Baja VW Bug. I ran up to him and he seemed quite happy. He left early that morning before I woke up and I asked him, “Where have you been Daddy?” “I went to the church building and the minister baptized me,” he said. He told me about it and I learned more about being baptized into Jesus.

    My parents were baptized into Jesus Christ, they were added to the Lord’s Church, they were given hope of eternal life because the people at Center St. were bringing the children to Jesus. Seeds were planted then that are still yielding a harvest today all because they were bringing the children to Jesus.

    I tell you these stories because I think they show us that there is an eternal significance to bringing the children to Jesus. Let’s take a look back at our text …

    1. Notice that Jesus affirms what the people are doing when they bring children to be blessed. Jesus says that the rule of God includes children. They are not second class citizens or an afterthought. Harold Shank (Children Mean the World to God) notes that when we minister to children we are ministering to the future. In the reversal of power that the kingdom of God represents, it is one as humble and powerless as a child that leads. The weak become strong. The least becomes the greatest.
    2. Notice that Jesus is rather upset by those who create barriers. Those who have no time for blessing children. Political power, the sort of power the disciples were trying to manage, is often managed by those at the middle layers not just at the top. Jesus will not stand for his disciples rebuking those who only seek God’s blessing – and for their children especially! Jesus is giving us the charge to bring the children to him …
      We can sow all the seed we want but not if it isn’t bearing fruit in our lives. We can bring people to Jesus, but not if they see the devil’s work among us.

      When the disciples were focused on their agenda and tried to keep the people from bringing their children to Jesus, Jesus himself has a sharp word of correction for his disciples. Do you think he has changed his mind?

    If we are going to bring children (and their families) to Jesus, then they need to see Jesus.
    Bringing the Children to Jesus isn’t simply about a well-oiled and high performance program or technique. [Notice that Jack Strachan had to abandon his typical “technique” to evangelize his neighborhood. I am sure that the Center St. Bus program was not flawless. I will even venture to guess that they lost registration forms, suffered bus breakdowns on the weekends. They may have even dealt with some difficult people who didn’t appreciate their efforts – both inside and outside the church.] But the perfection of the program is not the critical factor. Rather it is the perfection of the people who are involved in it. (I use the term perfect the way Paul does, to describe maturity in Christ and a character that reflects the fruit of the spirit.) In other words, what matters most is that we are a Christ-like people and what we do flows from who we are …

    When my mother attended Center St. she was encouraged by caring people who formed genuine relationships with her. One of those people was Colleen Shirley, a member of this congregation. I have told Colleen how special she was to encouraging my mother’s faith – and just as I expected, Colleen said, “Well I wasn’t doing anything special.” But she was – she was acting like Jesus. If we are going to bring people to Jesus, then they need to see Jesus.
    Paul and Colleen continue that attitude here. Last week they invited some of our newest members to their house for a welcome to the family cookout. As we were talking about it they said, we really haven’t thought about taking this on as a ministry. Is thought about that and said, “Good! I don’t want it to be a ministry in the sense of a program. I just want it to be you being yourselves and sharing the love of God with others. I want you to encourage others to do the same.”

    That’s the way it has to be. Sure we are going to need a little administration and some planning to organize the work of hundreds of people. Sure we have to have good communication and pay attention to some details. That is important. But just doing that isn’t the goal. There has been a lot of work and planning in VBS so far. Tents have been set up, marketplace has been built, workers have studied. But what sense would it make for us to do all that and say “It’s done.” At some point we just have to be who we are and share the love of God that has been shared with us. We can bring children to VBS, but will we bring them to Jesus? To do that we have to reflect the spirit of Jesus. If we want to bring their parents to Jesus we just need to be real.

    In about two weeks we will have another event that reaches into the community – Community Outreach Day. We are going to publicize this and plan for it and we have a detailed schedule of the work we are doing. We are even going to do something new – we are going to register as many people who visit as we can because we want to follow up and bring them to Jesus. It is good that we share our clothing and other household items with those who need it, but can we also share the love of God? We cannot put that on a table or rack and invite them to fill out a form and ask them to walk away with a box full of God’s love. I can speak to them and tell them the truth and that will sow seed. But let me tell you what waters that seed and makes the needy people pay attention it to it – when they can see what that seed produces! When they see the work of the seed blossoming in my life and yours and they say “I want that kind of harvest in my life too.” To do that they need to see Jesus in us. They need to see the body of Christ.

  • Fences: Faith or Control? – Part 3

    Posted by on July 10, 2005 under Sermons

    All of us have a deep yearning. We yearn for people to accept God and receive His approval. Everyone who is in a saved relationship with God wants someone who is not in a saved relationship with God to be saved.

    That presents the saved person with a genuine problem. What is a saved person to do if he or she is convinced that someone he or she cares about is not saved? Sometimes it a large group of people. Sometimes it is much of the world. Sometimes it is a family member. Sometimes it is a cherished friend. Regardless of whom it is, the genuine problem remains: what is the saved person to do about unsaved people?

    For the Christian, there is conversion. The unsaved person is taught to believe and respond to the same things the saved person believes and responds to. That is wonderful when it happens! However, there are lots of people we love who we are unable to convert. They do not want to be taught. Or they think our convictions are silly. Or they have no desire to become what we are. They love us as a person, but they reject us religiously.

    When that is the case, what are we to do? In the past, saved people have adopted numerous responses to this problem. (1) We can declare that no matter what a person believes, he or she is saved because of what God had done. (2) We can broaden our definitions of the saved to include the unsaved people we love. (3) We can convince the person to submit to a “magical act” that will make him or her a saved person even without his or her knowledge.

    Whatever our solutions are, somewhere in the foundation of the solution is the conviction that a person can enter a saved relationship with God without having faith in what God did in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    This evening I challenge you to understand that faith in God’s actions are essential to a salvation relationship with God. We cannot “fence someone into a saved relationship with God” by finding some subtle means of exercising control over that man or woman. The protection that is a part of the forgiveness of sins is not found in control. It is found in faith.

    1. I want to call your attention to a number of incidents in Jesus’ ministry.
      1. I would like to begin with some affirmations.
        1. I believe that Jesus cares about people, both saved and unsaved.
        2. I believe that the compassion seen in Jesus is a reflection of God the Father’s mercy for people.
        3. I believe the death and resurrection of Jesus reflect both the genuineness and the depth of divine mercy and compassion for people.
        4. I believe what we see in Jesus’ ministry is a declaration of God’s concern for people.
      2. The first incident I call you attention to is that of the woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years (Matthew 9:20-22).
        1. With incredible courage and in violation of both religious and social rules, this woman decided secretly to turn to Jesus.
        2. She decided if she could just work herself through the crowd close enough to Jesus and touch the bottom part of his clothing (Numbers 15:38), his power could end her medical problem without Jesus knowing what she did.
        3. She did, and she was healed, but Jesus knew what she did.
        4. To me, the amazing thing is what Jesus said to her:
          Matthew 9:22 But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well.
      3. The second incident involves two blind men in Matthew 9:27-31.
        1. Two blind men begged Jesus for mercy when Jesus passed them.
        2. They even recognized Jesus as a descendant of King David.
        3. Jesus asked them if they believed he was able to heal them.
        4. They said yes.
        5. Listen to Jesus’ response to them.
          Matthew 9:29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.”
      4. The third incident had to do with a woman who is not even a Jew (Matthew 15:21-28).
        1. Remember, Jesus worked only with Jewish people in his ministry (Matthew 10:5, 6).
        2. This was one of the few occasions that he was in a gentile area.
        3. While he was traveling through the area of Tyre and Sidon a Canaanite woman tried to approach Jesus and ask for his help.
        4. Her daughter was demon possessed and she was asking for mercy on her daughter’s behalf.
        5. The woman recognized Jesus as being Lord, and she recognized him as a descendant of King David.
        6. Jesus did not even acknowledge her presence.
        7. Yet, the woman was so persistent that eventually Jesus’ disciples interceded on her behalf requesting Jesus to send her away because she would not quit following them and shouting.
        8. Jesus told the disciples that they knew he was sent only to lost Jewish people (the lost sheep of the house of Israel).
        9. The woman got in front of Jesus, bowed before him, and begged him for help.
        10. For the first time Jesus spoke directly to her and told her it was not appropriate to give her what was intended only for the Jewish people.
        11. With enormous humility and faith, she still plead and said even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.
        12. Listen to Jesus astounding response:
          Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
      5. The fourth incident is found in Mark 10:46-52 concerning Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting on the road side of one of the roads leaving Jericho.
        1. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he began to cry out to Jesus.
          1. He asked for Jesus’ mercy.
          2. He recognized Jesus as a descendant of King David.
        2. A number of people sternly tried to quiet him down, but he just continued to cry out to Jesus for mercy.
        3. Jesus stopped and told people to bring him to Jesus.
        4. When he was told that Jesus was calling for him, he threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
        5. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
        6. He replied, “I want to regain my sight.
        7. Listen to what Jesus said to the man:
          Mark 10:52 And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.
      6. The fifth incident concerns the Jewish woman, possibly one of the town’s known prostitutes, spoken of in Luke 7:36-50.
        1. Jesus was invited to a meal in the home of a curious Pharisee.
        2. While Jesus ate, a woman who was known as a sinner in the community came in the home uninvited.
        3. She did a number of unacceptable things including washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, drying his feet with her hair, and anointing his feet with perfume.
        4. The Pharisee, the host, found the whole situation entertaining.
        5. He thought to himself, “If this man is a prophet as he claims, he would know what kind of woman she is and he would not allow her to touch him.”
        6. Jesus knew what the Pharisee was thinking and told him that he had something to say to him.
          1. He told the Pharisee the parable about the two debtors who were forgiven their debt.
          2. Jesus asked which debtor loved the lender the most.
          3. The Pharisee answered, “The debtor forgiven the largest amount.”
        7. Jesus then declared why this woman loved him more than the Pharisee loved him–she was forgiven the most.
          1. Jesus dismissed the woman with the statement, “Your sins have been forgiven.”
          2. The other guests began to grumble because Jesus forgave sins.
          3. Then Jesus made this statement:
            Luke 7:50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
      7. The sixth example concerns some men with leprosy in Luke 17:11-19.
        1. There were ten, and all but one were Jews.
        2. Jesus told them to go to the priests to show the priests their bodies (as the law required), and the men were healed on the way to the priests.
        3. Only one turned back to thank Jesus and glorify God, and it was the person who was not a Jew.
        4. Jesus asked why the others did not turn back to glorify God?
        5. Then he made this statement to the man…
          Luke 17:19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

    2. There are other examples, but this is more than enough to make the point.
      1. There was an obvious, powerful correlation between believing Jesus could do something and it happening.
        1. Sometimes Jesus said, “Let what you believe can happen occur.”
        2. That is quite a statement!
        3. We (and most people in every age) rather the responsibility be on Jesus ability to perform than on our faith.
        4. We want Jesus to forgive us even if we doubt his ability to forgive us.
      2. The point I wish to make is quite simple: we cannot fool a person into forgiveness and salvation.
        1. If there is to be salvation, there must be confidence in Jesus.
          1. If a person trusts Jesus, he or she will do other things.
          2. However, he or she must trust Jesus or the other things have no meaning.
        2. Just consider Acts 16:31.
          They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
        3. This man had a lot to learn and understand!
        4. When he asked what he needed to do to be saved he knew nothing.
        5. The first thing he needed to know if he was to be saved was Jesus Christ, and he had to believe in Jesus’ power to forgive and God’s power to resurrect.
        6. Did he repent? His actions surely showed repentance!
        7. Was he baptized? Yes!
        8. Why was his repentance and baptism effective? Because he believed!
      3. For there to be salvation there must be faith!

    External controls will not provide a person salvation! Internal surrender that begins with belief enters a saved relationship with God.

    Now Just Who Is This Jesus?

    Posted by on under Sermons

    TheSea … We don’t respectthe sea the way the ancients did. With our boats, canoes, party barges, sea doo’s,and water skis we treat the seas, the lakes, and the rivers as God’s gifts forrecreation. Every so often an accident on the water reminds us to becautious. Occasionally, when a hurricane like Dennis comes rolling our way, weare confronted by the terrible power of the sea. But few of us make our livingon the sea and our lifestyle is tied into proximity to the ocean. If it was,we might regard it a little more “spiritually.”

    Thereis a good reason why sailors are a superstitious lot. They know that crossingthe sea is dangerous. This is why the ancients made sure not to offend thespirits of the deep as they went cruising over their heads. If the spirits gotmad they could swallow you up into the briny deep in a quick blast.

    WhileJesus was teaching by the sea there might have been some indication that badweather was boiling up. The seasoned fishermen of Jesus’ group didn’t knowanything about low pressure fronts, but they were tuned into the signs. Theyalso believed that the forces of the deep might be reeling and squirmingbecause Jesus is crossing over their territory. They have seen the Teachercommand evil spirits, but this was when he had the home court advantage. Darehe trespass on their turf? Why does he insist on crossing over to the otherside?

    Reading Mark4:35-41
            Thatday when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the otherside.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus along, just as he was, in theboat. There were also other boats with him.
            A furious storm came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so thatit was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Thedisciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Hegot up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”
            Thenthe wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to his disciples, “Why areyou so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
            Theywere terrified and asked each other, “Just who is this? Even the wind and thewaves obey him!”

    “Teacher, don’tyou care if we drown?”

    • Our questions and our fears: Does He care?
      • The disciples werenervous to begin with crossing over and into the home of the evil spirits. Goingto the other side meant going to place unsafe and risky. (“Thar be monstershere”). Perhaps they were just a bit more bold because Jesus, who had provenhis ability to go head to head with demons, was with them. If he insisted ongoing to the other side shouldn’t he at least be giving them some reassurance? Shouldn’t he be taking the spyglass from the captain to keep a look out for theenemy? Instead, he is sleeping on the job. He’s sawing logs below decks. What sort of leader snoozes during a storm? DoesHe even care?
    • We have had anawfully stormy week. Twodemons from the deep named tragedy and terror emerged from the waves. We haveburied people that we love. We are worried for the health of others. Globally, the war on terror is not over. Men and women possessed by demons ofhatred and desperation struck at a city in the midst of celebration (London). Destruction has wakened from the deep and ischarging toward the Gulf Coast. Where is Jesus? Does he care? When a loveddies, does he care? When evil strikes, does he care? When people suffer, doeshe care? When fears increase, does he care? Or is he asleep below decks on acushion?
    • Do you hear just a hintof irritation in their voices: Teacher, don’t you care that we allcould die? Or are you just going to sleep through it all?
    • Now Just Who isThis Jesus? Well, they call him TEACHER. Isthat how we think of him? Is he the one sent from heaven to straighten outthat fussy Old Testament doctrine? Is he a talented preacher whose realpurpose is to take the hit for us and deflect God’s wrath? Jesus is more thana religious teacher. Jesus is more than a well-timed substitute sacrifice. Histeaching reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. He proclaimed that itwas near. God is not waiting to smite Jesus so he can save us. No, the kingdomrule of God is at work in Jesus.
    • O LORD GodAlmighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulnesssurrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, youstill them. (Psalm 89:9) Who islike God almighty? Jesus, the son of God. He does not simply teachus about God. He reveals God. Jesus acts just as God acts. He has power overthe turbulent seas and he commands the storm . . .

    “Quiet! Bestill!”

    • Jesus’ word againstthe powers: SHUT UP! CALMDOWN! Remember how the crowds were amazed at his teaching – he hadauthority. That authority is not limited to teaching.
    • His word to thedisciples: What areyou afraid of? Where’s your faith? In other words, don’t youtrust Me?
    • Now just who isthis Jesus? Do you hear the anxiety in their question?(What have we gotten into?) Miracles demonstrate the power and authority ofJesus, they can prompt the right question, but by themselves they do not givethe answer. Even after Jesus stills the great storm we are still left in the greatcalm to ask questions. Who is this Jesus? What do you say? More to thepoint, do you trust him? How you answer the question of all gooddisciples (Who is this Jesus, then?) has a lot to do with how much we trusthim. How much power and honor do we give to Jesus?
      • Trusting Jesus when hecalls to us from the shore is not as risky. When his call comes from a breezy,windswept beach on a sunny day, it comes as a pleasant invitation. Almost likean invitation to join a game of volleyball, come on over to the BBQ, or sign upfor a civic club.
      • Trusting Jesus when heasks us to follow him into the eye of the storm, to cross over to the placewhere evil controls the city is much riskier. That’s when the powers rage andfume and spit all their fury. That’s when evil reaches out to swamp our boats.
      • [This churchis headed for “the other side” as part of our mission to make disciples. Justbecause we are faithful to follow Jesus and go where he wants. Just beingChristian is getting more “counter-cultural” and risky every day].
      • Do we trust Jesus enoughto risk our safety and security for the sake of the mission? Do we trust himeven when storms are blowing all around us? When the powers of tragedy,terror, destruction, and desperation storm against us will we lose courage? Willwe lose faith? Will we panic and get angry? Or will we rest easy withJesus?


    Posted by on July 7, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    It has been a difficult week for this congregation. What has happened has not been good. The fact that we as a congregation experience grief together is good. Why? Because we increasingly are a family who care about each other!

    This week Helen Branum fell, suffered a brain hemorrhage, and died just under 24 hours later. Larry Schluterman lost a nephew, Ben Schluterman, who was only 21 years old. Ben lost his battle with cancer. Larry and Ben were quite close. Eleanor Casey lost a brother-in-law, Joe Kincy. John Keller lost his grandfather.

    With all our sorrows this week, a thought repeatedly came to me. The thought: none of us choose our parents, and few of us choose when or how we leave this life. The thought is not in the context of “us poor helpless victims.” It is in this context: though we do not choose how we enter or exit this life, we exercise an amazing number of choices.

    We decide who we are. Regardless of our past circumstances or our present conditions, we choose to be the person we are. We choose what will be the dominant influences in life. We choose what will be the insignificant influences in life. We choose the influences we will add to our lives.

    We decide how we will use our lives. We choose our life focus. We choose what to hold to as valuable. We choose our causes-are we an “inwardly turned” person or an “outwardly turned” person. We choose selfishness or unselfishness. We choose anger or compassion. We choose to be hate-centered or love-centered.

    Even if we allow a victim mentality to enslave us, that is our choice. Bad things cannot be prevented from happening to any of us, but it is our choices that determine if bad things are allowed to make us bad people.

    The great hope in this life in Jesus Christ is found in the power of transformation (Romans 12:1-2). Through God’s forgiveness there is opportunity to begin again and be a different person. Through God’s strength there is the opportunity to be resurrected to escape the seemingly inescapable struggles and hardships of physical life.

    What “I am” can end. What “I can be” is the unending opportunity and hope God provides us in Jesus Christ. Incredibly, each of us can choose to end what we are and become what God can make us. Investment in God is life’s most wonderful investment!

    Fences: Faith or Control? – Part 2

    Posted by on July 3, 2005 under Sermons

    Last Sunday evening I began a series of three or four lessons on FENCES: FAITH OR CONTROL? First, I want to tell you that I hope to make each lesson complete in itself. However, if you wish to couple all the lessons together, there are several ways to do that even if you have to miss a lesson. You can download the lesson from the West-Ark website. Most of the time, we are able to post the Sunday night lesson the following day. If you do not have a computer, the material is available to you from the office in a hard copy form or you may acquire an audio tape of the lesson.

    Second, I want to begin with a brief review of the first lesson.

    1. First, let me begin by saying that today there are four primary expressions of Judaism (and many divisions under those collectively).
      1. There is the Orthodox expression that primarily focus on the law or Torah.
      2. There is the Reformed expression that primarily focuses on the ethical calls of the Jewish prophets.
      3. There is the Conservative expression.
      4. The is Reconstructionist Judaism.
      5. The material last week focused primarily upon the Orthodox expression and its focus on the law; in the Christian religious circles would be they would be called a fundamentalists approach.
        1. The approach of the orthodox Jew of today is basically the approach followed by the Pharisees before Christianity came into existence.
        2. This approach basically follows what is understood to be the literal and ancient meaning of the Law or the Torah.

    2. The basic focus of last week’s lesson was on the Pharisees’ approach to keeping faithful people from accidentally violating an unchangeable law from the unchangeable God.
      1. That approach was basically to build a fence around the Law.
        1. The approach was basically this:
          1. Identify the meaning of the specific law.
          2. Protect against the violation of that law through building a fence of rabbinical rulings.
          3. Further protect against the violation of that law through building a fence of accepted customs.
        2. We used the fourth commandment in the ten commands to Israel as an example: keep the Sabbath day holy by not working.
          1. We read from the Mishnah to note their 39 divisions of work.

    3. One of the recorded confrontations Jesus had with the Pharisees concerned Sabbath work violations.
      1. Consider the confrontation recorded in Matthew 12:1-8.
        1. Jesus and his disciples took a Sabbath walk along the edges of some ripened grain fields.
        2. The Pharisees were following them, observing their actions.
        3. The hungry disciples striped some raw grain heads by the path and ate the raw grain.
        4. The Pharisees immediately declared that the disciples had violated the law not to work on the Sabbath.
          1. According to the Pharisees, what the disciples did was cross one of the fences.
          2. According to the Pharisees, what they did violated one of the 39 classifications of work–they were either reaping or harvesting.
      2. Jesus rejected their accusation and declared his disciples innocent. He did this in four fascinating ways.
        1. First, he used the well known example of an act of David before he became king.
          1. David was still recognized as a man of God, as the most godly king Israel ever had, as ruling the golden kingdom of Israel.
          2. For Jesus to cite David was to cite someone the Pharisees accepted as a godly Jew.
          3. The incident Jesus cited is found in 1 Samuel 21 when David fled from King Saul because it was certain that King Saul intended to kill him.
            1. As he fled (too quickly to make preparation), he stopped at the village of Nob and asked Abimelech, the priest for some food, some bread.
            2. The priest said, “I do not have any ordinary bread to give you–all I have is the bread of presence (or the consecrated bread).”
            3. Listen to these instructions concerning the bread of presence in Leviticus 24:5-9:
              Then you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it; two-tenths ofan ephah shall be in each cake. And you shall set them in two rows, six to a row, on the pure gold table before the Lord. You shall put pure frankincense on each row that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, even an offering by fire to the Lord. Every Sabbath day he shall set it in order before the Lord continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel. It shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the Lord’s offerings by fire, his portion forever.”
              1. First, these loaves of bread were to be on that table constantly (Exodus 25:30).
              2. Second, only the priests were to eat the replaced loaves.
              3. David took and ate the bread.
              4. God never condemned David for his act.
          4. What was Jesus point? “Your fence is too small. God obviously considers matters you do not consider.”
        2. Jesus’ second illustration focused on the fact that the priests worked when they offered sacrifices on the Sabbath.
          1. There is not question that they work–killing and preparing animals for sacrifice is hard work!
          2. Yet, even though they violate the fourth of the ten commandments, they are innocent.
          3. Jesus’ point: God’s definitions and your definitions are not the same definitions. It is not as simple as deciding what physical act is done; the reason for the act is also important.
        3. Jesus’ third illustration is striking: “You condemn the innocent because you are ignorant of God’s priorities.”
          1. God gave His greatest priority through the prophet Hosea in Hosea 6:6 in the declaration, “I desire compassion (mercy), and not a sacrifice.”
          2. Showing mercy was expressing godliness more than offering a sacrifice.
          3. Or, giving kindness to people who do not deserve it is more important than worshipping God.
          4. This is not a rejection of worship, but a declaration that worship of God has meaning when mercy is extended to people.
        4. Jesus’ fourth illustration is powerful!
          1. “What God is doing the me is more important that observing the Sabbath.”
          2. “I rule the Sabbath–the Sabbath takes its meaning from me!”

    4. Now allow me to try to visually illustrate the problem.
      1. I need to begin this visual illustration with some definitions:
        1. “L” equals a “law from God.”
        2. “M” equals the “fence of meaning.”
        3. “R” equals the “fence of rabbinical rulings.”
        4. “C” equals the “fence of custom.”
      2. This approach to defining obedience to God begins with recognizing a law from God.
      3. Once God’s Law has been determined, it must be protected (if necessary) by determining its meaning.
      4. Then another layer of protection must be added by building another fence wherein the rabbis made rulings on exceptional situations.
      5. Then another layer of protection must be added by building another fence around the Law that recognizes long-standing, approved custom.
      6. Now look at the problem:
        1. Sin is a violation of are rebellion against God’s law.
        2. As fences are built, sin grows to include a fenced in area.
        3. Finally, sin is a violation of humanly determined meaning, of the rabbinical decisions, and of the customs–yet all these came from humans, not from God.

    5. I hope the application of the problem to us is obvious.
      1. Substitute “commandment” for “Law.”
        1. Then build the fence of meaning or application around the commandment.
        2. Then build the fence of approved positions on issues in the brotherhood, or by a group of elders, or by a group of preachers.
        3. Then build the fence of approved ways of doing things (or custom).
        4. Then expand the meaning of sin to include our meanings, our approved positions, and our way of doing things, and we reproduce the same problem.
      2. Most of us understand the problem–and even agree that this problem should not exist among Christians.
        1. Agreeing on the concept is not the difficulty.
        2. The difficulty occurs then the application of the concept is directed toward something we feel strongly and emotionally about.
        3. I tried hard to think of a current illustration that would not stir up emotions or pigeon hole me.
          1. Usually, when we stir up emotions we stop thinking.
          2. When we stop thinking, we declare, “I know what you are trying to do–and I know where this is going!”
          3. When that happens, we start reacting and confronting.
      3. Since this illustration is about something I do, maybe you can think instead of reacting.
        1. The illustration is about our use of an invitation song.
        2. I have been preaching for over 50 years, and I do not remember closing a sermon in a church building one time without singing an invitation song.
        3. Did the first century church sing invitation songs? No.
        4. Did the invitation songs we sing exist in the first century church? No.
        5. Does the New Testament command us to use an invitation song? No.
        6. Is it wrong to sing an invitation song? No.
        7. Is it wrong not to sing an invitation song? No.
        8. Then why do we sing invitation songs? We want to be evangelistic.
        9. So invitation songs have become one of our fences built around Jesus Christ’s desire to be Savior of the world.
        10. Would you have something to say if you worshipped with a congregation while on a trip that did not sing an invitation song?
        11. Would their singing an invitation song influence your conclusion about them being faithful or unfaithful to God?

    This is not a campaign to stop singing invitation songs. It is a cry to all of us, me included. Brothers and sisters, we need to respect each other’s conscience and stop condemning the innocent.

    The Teachings of Jesus: Secrets, Mysteries, and Seedy Characters

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Jesus came preaching and teaching: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15) The crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because he taught them as one with authority – not like the teachers of the law. We tend to think that this amazement was centered on the displays of miraculous power. But it wasn’t limited to that.

    Jesus’ was devoted to the message he had to proclaim. "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

    What is the message that Jesus preached? Why did it have such authority? Up to this point in Mark all we know is that it was a message about the Kingdom of God and it was a call to be changed – to repent and believe. It is good news, ad we would do well to ask, why is it good and why is it news? Keep all of this in mind as we hear the parables of Jesus. …

    Mark 4:1-34Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. "Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. But other seeds fell into the good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold."And he said, "Whoever has ears to hear, hear this!"
    Then when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given, but for those outside everything is in parables; that is to say …
    ?seeing they see but do not perceive,
    and hearing they hear but do not understand;
    For if they did, they would repent and be forgiven.’

    And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. They have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
    He said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, then hear this."
    And he said to them, "Watch what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
    And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he sends for reapers, for the harvest has come.”
    And he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

    1 – The Sower, the Seed, the Soil

    The parable of the sower and the seeds is maybe one of the most familiar. Have you heard this parable and been asked: Which soil are you? Have you heard the parable and been asked: "Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother?" Are we soils or are we the sower? We are not the seed – are we? Well maybe we are if you consider that the good soil yields a harvest. The emphasis seems to be on the crop rather than the soil.

    But the seed is the word of God. True. And Jesus is teaching that we are the combination of seed and soil. We become what the seed sown in us is able to become. "Repent and Believe the Good News!" Repentance, or change, is stifled by the powers of this age we live in. If Satan doesn’t snatch the word out at soon it hits our hearts, then it is possible that we will never grow because the word never took root, and even if it does take root and we do grow and mature, it is always possible that thorn will strangle the word growing within us. We participate in the divine nature as we continually repent and believe the good news. When we accept the good news of God’s word we bear fruit, our life counts for something – an increase of hundredfold …

    2 – Hidden Lights/Watch what you hear!

    Like the Twelve, we need to watch what we hear. The seed by itself is dormant. The soil by itself is just dirt. But combined, the mystery of God is unleashed. So it is with us. Jesus sows the word in parables because they are raw and unprocessed in spiritual power. They lodge in the heart of a person or a people and if the people will accept it, they germinate with wild force. But it is possible to reject the teaching of Jesus. The Scribes had done this. They claimed that Jesus had an evil spirit. Satan had snatched the word out of their heart. Jesus’ family had done this. They didn’t let the word take root. Their worries choked out what might have grown. We need to watch what we hear, we need to listen up because the capacity to close our minds and hearts to the truth is strong – ridiculous, sort of like lighting a lantern and covering it with a ice cooler – but we do it.

    The teaching of Jesus sorts us out. It is watershed. Everyone can hear it and see it in action, but the way the respond is something else. ?seeing they see but do not perceive,and hearing they hear but do not understand; For if they did, they would repent and be forgiven.’

    3 – Waiting for the Harvest & the Wild Weed of the Kingdom

    We get concerned about how to sort people out. We talk about membership and family. Who is in and who is out. To borrow from another parable or two: We are trying to corral the sheep and cut out the goats. We want to pluck the weeds and keep the wheat. But that’s not always good farming, nor is it good discipleship. There’s a lot of work to farming, but also a lot that you just cannot control. A farmer scatters seed and then the mystery of gardening just takes over. Whether he eats, sleeps, or stays awake watching the spouts that garden is going to grow automatically – or it may not. He cannot say it. He has to wait until harvest. [Arkansas is a big poultry state because most of the apple orchards were diseased one year – it just happens] But when it is harvest time – get to work! Send for the workers with their scythes and sickles because the plants are mature. But you cannot rush the process.

    So it is with kingdom work. Think about that, we want to baptize say 100 people this year and then have them completely indoctrinated into the mysteries of God in a month. How long has it taken you to mature as a Christian? Are you still maturing? The growth of the kingdom is something we can hinder but when it grows it is automatic. And we are likely to get frustrated because we cannot see how little things matter. Like a mustard seed.

    The mustard plant is a weed, not a majestic cedar tree. Though a little seed, when it grows it dominates and it takes over. Mustard would have been well known in Jesus’ day. Perhaps a better plant in the experience of some in the U.S. is kudzu. Kudzu is a plant brought to the southeastern U.S. from Japan in 1876. It was called the miracle vine because it prevented soil erosion and could feed animals. It was a very useful plant. But Kudzu grows and in that climate of the SE USA it grows very well, in some cases it grows a foot in one day. It now covers 7 million acres in the southeast and the people there say "love it or hate it, it grows on you." It has grown so rapidly and so heartily without any real effort from anyone that kudzu is now more than just a plant it is part of environment, part of the culture and way of life.

    The Kingdom of God may not be visible or evident, but it grows and it grows wild. Some will welcome it and find it very beneficial, but others will despise it and try to eliminate it. But it grows. And it grows. And it grows. Producing a harvest thrityfold, sixtyfold, and hundred fold.

    Listen! A sower went out to sow the seed …
    Listen! The light has been lifted up on the lampstand …
    Listen! The harvest is near …

    Do you have ears to hear? Then hear this!