What Is the “Why”?

Posted by on August 28, 2005 under Sermons

This evening I want to begin our thinking with a “what if” situation.

Here is the situation: you have a friend that you have had for years and years. Though you are very close to your friend, you have never discussed religious concepts with him or her. He or she has never given you an opening for such a discussion. In fact he or she has made it quite clear in the past that he or she does not want you to talk about religious concepts with him or her.

Since this has been clearly established, you have honored his or her wishes. The two of you have a lot in common. You relate to each other easily. And it is obvious that he or she cares about you deeply as a friend.

One day, quite unexpectedly, he or she talks to you about religion. He or she says, “I have been watching you as a religious person for a long, long time. I do not want you to make an effort to convert me. But I do have a question I want to ask you. It is a religious question. If it is okay to ask you this question, just answer the question.”

You assure him or her that it is quite all right for him or her to ask you a question. You have no idea of what might be asked, but it is okay for him or her to ask anything.

Here is the question: “What is the bottom line, basic objective of being a Christian? What is the basic answer to “why” in seeking to be a religious person? I think I have figured out why you follow Jesus Christ. That is not what I am asking. I am asking that if you go to the most fundamental reason for being religious, why are you religious?”

What would you say? What answer would you give your friend? If you wanted in a truly biblical way to explain to him or her why you choose to be a religious person, what would you say?

Before Israel existed, there were religious people. Israel existed as a religious nation. Christians should exist as religious people–not just a people who have religious habits one day a week. There always have been people who choose to be religious. You choose to be religious.

The question that concerns him or her is why you made that choice. Obviously, your answer will be quite important.

I want to call your attention to three scriptures.

  1. The first scripture I call to your attention is Exodus 32:9-14.
    The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
    1. Consider the context of the situation.
      1. In Exodus 20 God gave these slaves He led out of Egypt His core laws which we commonly refer to as the Ten Commandments.
      2. In Egypt, these slaves existed for generations under the Egyptian influence of the wrong concept of deity.
      3. The entire experience of securing Israel’s release from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and sustaining them in the wilderness was to change their concept of deity.
      4. Yet, they clung to the old idolatrous concept and felt comfortable with old concept instead of learning the reality about Who God truly is, and interpreted everything on the basis of old comfortable error rather than the newly understood reality.
      5. As a result, when Moses was absent from them for just over a month, they asked Aaron (Moses’ brother) to make them a god (the golden calf) to lead them.
      6. When Aaron presented the calf to the people, the people received the calf with these words: “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4).
    2. The impact of their idolatrous behavior:
      1. God was insulted in a fundamental way.
        1. He had done many mighty things to demonstrate that the Creator God is basically different from the idolatrous concept of deity.
        2. Yet, these people failed miserably to see the difference.
        3. God was deeply angered by their rejection!
        4. He wanted to destroy them and keep His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by building a nation from Moses.
      2. In essence, Moses declared to God that such an action would be very unwise in His desired influence on wicked, ignorant people.
    3. Consider thoughtfully and carefully Moses’ reasoning.
      1. “God, Your just anger against these people who worshipped an idol, who gave the idol credit for Your deeds, and credited the idol with their deliverance will not accomplish Your purposes.”
      2. “Your enemy, the Egyptians, will declare You to be a powerless, evil God.”
        1. “They will declare You had an evil intent in Your deliverance.”
        2. “They will say You delivered Israel to kill them.”
        3. “Why should You provide them opportunity to say these things about You?”
      3. Please note the fact that Moses said that God’s enemies would further misrepresent God.
        1. Do not help Your enemies misrepresent You!
        2. Do not be misunderstood by Your enemies!
        3. Understanding You correctly is more important than the mistakes of Israel!
      4. Focus on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instead of focusing on the evil of their descendants.
        1. Let Your actions be determined by Your promise to them, not the evil of these people!
        2. Do not forget what You do is more about Who You are, not about the wickedness of these people
    4. The result: God did not do harm to these people who horribly insulted Him.
    5. The key point I would like to stress: Moses said the important concern is Your name, Your greatness, and Your power–not the wicked insults of Israel.

  2. The second scripture I wish to call to your attention is Numbers 14:13-19.
    But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”
    1. Again, consider the context of the situation.
      1. About a year from the time Israel left Egypt, they are on the border of Canaan (the land God promised them) ready to invade.
      2. The people who prepared to invade were the same people who wanted an idol in Exodus 32.
      3. Twelve spies were selected from the twelve tribes (leaders from the tribes).
        1. They were to see what the land was like, if the people were weak or strong, and if the people were few in number or many in number.
        2. They were also to report if the land was desirable, and if people lived in camps or fortified cities.
        3. They were to see if there were trees there and to bring back samples of the fruitfulness of the land.
      4. When the twelve men returned:
        1. Ten deliberately discouraged the people by declaring Israel could not possibly take the land.
        2. Two of the men said if God said we can take the land, we can take it.
    2. The impact of the false report:
      1. The people cried all night.
        1. The people grumbled toward Moses and declared they wish they had died in Egypt or the wilderness.
        2. The men said their wives and children would become slaves.
        3. There was even a movement among the people to return to Egypt!
      2. Again, God was rejected and insulted.
        1. “How long will these people keep rejecting Me?”
        2. “How long will they refuse to believe Me in spite of all I have done for them?”
        3. “I will kill them and make you, Moses, a nation greater and mightier than they are!”
    3. Consider carefully and thoughtfully Moses appeal to God.
      1. The Egyptians will hear the You killed these people.
      2. They will inform the inhabitants of Canaan (God’s enemies–see Deuteronomy 9:5– It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.)
      3. Everyone knows how You have led and cared for Israel.
      4. If you now kill these people, Your enemies will say You were unable to do what You promised You would do.
      5. Moses pled, “Use these circumstances to verify Who You are–that is by far more important than justly giving consequences to people who have insulted You.”
    4. The result: God pardoned the nation for that insult, but He gave them their wish as a consequence.
      1. God pardoned them so that all the earth would be filled with His glory.
      2. However, instead of killing everyone all at once, this would happen:
        1. They would wander in the wilderness one year for every day the spies were in Canaan.
        2. In that time, every adult (except Joshua and Caleb) who left Egypt would die–they would get their wish to die before entering Canaan!
        3. Their children, instead of being prey to the Canaanites, would inherit the land their parents rejected.
    5. The key point: God’s actions were based on God’s presentation of His character even to his enemies.

  3. Lest you think this is only an Old Testament emphasis, I call your attention to 1 Peter 2:9,10.
    But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
    1. We are Christians to help people understand Who God truly is.
      1. The primary reason for being a Christian is not about us.
        1. Our hope in Christ is real.
        2. Our forgiveness in Christ is real.
        3. Our home with God is real.
        4. The grace and mercy God provided us in Jesus Christ is real
        5. Yet, all those things exist because God is God.
        6. All of those things are secondary.
      2. We exist to be God’s own possession, to declare the excellencies of God, because we who were not the people of God are now God’s people who receive mercy because of Who God is.
        1. We have the Christ because God the Father sent him.
        2. We have salvation because God the Father promised a blessing to all through Abraham (Genesis 12:3).
        3. We have a home in heaven because of what God the Father did in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Back to the question we first asked. Why are we religious? Because we want to reflect the true nature and character of God! It has never been about “us.” It always has been about God!

God Works Through the Imperfect

Posted by on August 22, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

Humans often reason that “God works through the best.” Therefore, those who follow God can be deceived into trying to become/be “the best” in a human attempt to obligate God to accept them and to work through them. Certainly, those who belong to God seek to learn and to embrace God’s higher level of morality declared through their behavior. They willingly accept God’s moral views as the standards for their motives and their behavior.

However, those who follow God have no illusions about their personal dependence on God. It is God’s grace that allows them to belong to God, not their own personal goodness. Following God is not an attempt to obligate God, but an acknowledgement of one’s own unworthiness. The person who belongs to God can come boldly to God’s throne confidently seeking God’s grace (Hebrews 4:16) not because of his or her worthiness, but because of God’s goodness. Those who belong to God seek to be a good example, but they do so to reflect God’s true goodness, not their own pseudo goodness (Matthew 5:16).

One important realization Christians need to grasp is this: it always has been about God’s greatness and His honorable Name, not about elevating the status of bad humans into incredible humans. In the context of each situation, consider these statements: Exodus 32:9-14; Numbers 14:13-19; Psalm 25:11; and Jeremiah 14:7, 21. God acts because of Who God is to reveal His honorable nature. Christians exist to declare Who God is (Acts 17:16-31; 1 Peter 2:9, 10).

Jacob was not God’s ideal “poster boy.” Jacob was a liar, a deceiver, and an untrustworthy schemer. Consider Genesis 27:9-29; 30:27-42; and 31:17-28. He often schemed deceptively to achieve his purposes. He lived up to his birth name in Genesis 25:21-26 — the one who takes by the heel or surplants.

However, he suffered and endured many things because of his untrustworhy character. He endured the hatred of his twin brother; separation from his immediate family; being deceived by his father-in-law; being married to two wives who were jealous sisters; the rivalry of his sons; the horrible judgment of his sons; and deception by some sons concerning their declaration that the son he most loved died. Jacob’s life was a life of distress and unpleasantness throughout most of his adult years.

Late in his adult life Jacob was introduced to the ruler of Egypt. The ruler of Egypt was impressed by Jacob’s long life. When the ruler inquired how old Jacob was, Jacob responded with these words:
“The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant [literally, evil] have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning” (Genesis 47:9, NAS).

Jacob lived a long life, but not an enjoyable life.

God used Jacob to accomplish His purposes and fulfill His promises. Jacob was not the ideal follower of God nor a wonderful example of moral integrity. God achieved His purposes through Jacob because of who God is, not because Jacob was an incredible man of righteousness.

May God achieve His purposes through you with your full cooperation and devotion, not in spite of your weakness and poor character.

What’s the Point?

Posted by on August 21, 2005 under Sermons

To those of us who are older, the American society and culture is very confusing. We have things today that are an everyday part of existence that older people just one generation ago did not dream of existing, let alone becoming common place in the lives of people. To some of us it seems as if young adults of today have everything, and often they are discouraged as if they have nothing. It is not unusual to encounter people today who are deeply depressed or deeply discouraged or deeply frustrated, and who have basically decided that life is pointless. To some of us, that is quite confusing.

Joyce’s Mom and Dad did not have an indoor bathroom until Joyce was in college. Would any of us consider buying a house without a bathroom today? I remember when my Mom cooked on two kerosene eyes (no oven), and that was advanced technology–we knew people who cooked on a wood stove. Would we consider living permanently without ovens and a microwave today? Joyce and I both were in the eighth grade before our homes had just one party line telephone. How many people today think they cannot live without a personal cell phone?

Joyce and I grew up in an area where religion was a serious matter. By and large, religion is not a serious matter today.

Why? How can our society experience so many advances, and life become increasingly without point at the same time? How can our society experience so many advances, and being religious become increasingly unimportant at the same time?

Why? I do not conclude there is just one reason. Conditions among people in our society are caused by a number of factors. Among the important factors, there is one we should note, understand, and take quite seriously. Increasingly, as we make advances, more and more of life is viewed as pointless.

More and more it becomes a matter of going through the motions without understanding the point of what you are doing or making any application of what you are doing. Get a college education! Why? That is what your are supposed to do! Get a job with benefits! Why? That is what you are supposed to do! Get married! Why? That is what you are supposed to do! Go to church! Why? That is what you are supposed to do.

  1. Allow me to call your attention to a statement Jesus made the last night of his earthly life.
    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
    1. Context:
      1. In less than 24 hours Jesus was not going to be with the 12 in the same manner (physically) that he has been with them throughout his ministry.
        1. This initially will be a very traumatic experience for them.
        2. He wanted to reassure them that it was going to be okay.
      2. Thomas said, “We do not know where you are going and we do not know the way there.”
        1. Thomas’ response increases Jesus’ distress for them.
        2. Yet, Jesus still seeks to encourage them.
      3. Philip says, “Just let us see the Father and everything will be okay.”
        1. This further distresses Jesus.
        2. However, he still tries to encourage the 12.
    2. It is in this context that Jesus made the statement that he was the way, truth, and life to the 12, and declared that he is the only way to the Father.
      1. If I understand Jesus’ statement correctly, it is by examining and understanding Jesus’ teachings and earthly life that they were given insights into God’s character, purposes, values, and priorities.
      2. It was only by understanding Jesus that they would correctly understand God.
      3. Jesus is the key to understanding the nature and desires of God the Father–that is an incredible statement!

  2. Let me challenge you to see what an incredible statement that is by calling your attention to some statements Jesus made in Matthew 5:21-48 and Matthew 6:1-18.
    1. In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus discussed the subjects of murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, justice, and concepts of compassion, and the neighbor-enemy concept in the Jewish society among the Jewish people.
      1. In the discussion of each area, Jesus drew a contrast.
      2. The contrast is between their religious society’s position and God’s position.
      3. To me we could summarize the entire discussion in this manner: “You missed God’s point!”
        1. “Your emphasis and God’s emphasis are not the same.”
        2. “Your values and God’s values are not the same.”
        3. “The religious stance your leaders and society take is just that–a religious stance; it is not godlike.”
    2. In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus addressed three very common religious acts in first century Jewish religious society: benevolence to the poor and disabled (alms); praying; fasting.
      1. The simple, basic point he made in all three was the same: motives matter!
      2. “If your motive is to attract attention to yourself and win the praise of people, when that occurs you got what you wanted.”
      3. “Do not expect anything from God!”
      4. “You did not do it for God!”
      5. “God owes you nothing!” (This is not endorsing an attempt to place God in one’s debt, but simply acknowledged the act was not about God, so God was not a factor in rewards received.)
      6. You practice benevolence, prayer, and fasting to honor God, not to win people’s praise for yourself.
    3. Though Jesus represented God the Father as no one else has or ever will, Jesus’ observations were neither appreciated by religious leaders nor popular with the general religious population.
      1. People are very emotional about their personal convictions.
      2. They feel deeply about their convictions.
      3. They had rather allow what they feel determine their convictions rather than sound information determine their convictions.
      4. Too often people listen to agree or disagree, not to learn.
      5. Quite often people did not like what Jesus said and responded by thinking, “Surely that is not what God thinks or wants!”

  3. I have spent my life teaching under an assumption that I now wonder if it is correct.
    1. All of my life I have studied scripture and people in a genuine effort to understand each.
      1. I genuinely believed that anything I understood I could help someone else understand.
      2. I studied to understand in the conviction that if I understood I could help others understand.
      3. The result would be that people would not base their trust on me but on God.
    2. Here is the assumption I now question.
      1. I thought if I made information available to people through my teaching, they would understand and in understanding they would make application.
      2. To me the sequence was this: (1) sound information; (2) understanding; (3) application to oneself.
      3. The assumption I now question is the application.

  4. Allow me to illustrate my point.
    1. There is not a person here that would go to one of our hospitals, walk into a sick stranger’s room, and kick him or her.
      1. Why not?
        1. “That would be a very unchristian thing to do!”
        2. Why?
        3. “A Christian is supposed to show compassion and treat other people like he or she wants to be treated.”
      2. Absolutely true!
        1. Being a Christian forbids you to go into a hospital and kick a sick stranger.
        2. However, many Christians do not think being a Christian forbids him or her to go home and make your spouse or your children miserable.
      3. Application!
    2. There is not a person in this audience that would walk up and take a sandwich away from an obviously hungry person.
      1. Why not?
        1. That would be a very unchristian thing to do!”
        2. Why?
        3. “A Christian is supposed to show compassion and treat other people like he or she wants to be treated.”
      2. Absolutely true!
        1. Being a Christian forbids you from taking a sandwich away from a hungry person.
        2. However, many Christians do not think being a Christian forbids him or her from abusing his or her employer!
      3. Application!
    3. I hope there is not a person in this audience who would walk up to a guest at one of our fellowships and criticize him or her.
      1. A person visiting with us at a fellowship has never seen so much home cooked food and does not know how to act.
        1. His or her actions might offend you, but you likely will not say a word.
        2. In fact, most if not all of you will probably be kind and helpful.
      2. Why will you act that way?
        1. It is the Christian thing to do!
        2. We need to treat them like we would want to be treated in the same situation!
      3. Absolutely true!
        1. Being a Christian in that situation means showing kindness, not voicing criticism.
        2. However, we often will treat a stranger with more kindness than we will show another Christian who does not agree with us!
      4. Application!

  5. I want you to go home thinking about something and I want you to think about it all this week.
    1. Being a Christian involves the way I treat everyone all seven days of each week.
      1. Why?
      2. Simply because being a Christian is about who I am, not just what I do.
      3. If anyone should receive the benefit of my relationship to God through Jesus Christ, it should be those who are closest to me.
      4. It is my relationship with God that defines who and what I am as a husband, a wife, a child, a sibling, an employee, an employer, a neighbor, and a stranger
    2. After declaring the deeds of the flesh (which oppose God and His influence in us), Paul declared the contrasting fruit of the Spirit with these words in Galatians 5:22-26.
      But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
      1. Allow me to use an old analogy.
        1. The fruit surrounds the seed.
        2. It is the fruit that attracts a person to the seed and make that person want to plant that seed.
        3. Few people would want to plant a peach pit if he or she did not see and taste the peach!
      2. Live the kind of life, treat the people around you in a manner that attracts people to the gospel that makes you who you are!

May nowhere your Christianity be more evident than in the way you treat your family! May they see “the point” in the way you live and the way you treat others!

Representing the Unknown God

Posted by on under Sermons

Call to Worship
Read Acts 17:16-34

The Athenians were startled by Paul’s speech. I wonder if we still have the capacity to be startled by the message of the gospel? Can we be amazed and intrigued by the claims of Paul’s message so much so that we want to know more about it? Or has the message that Paul preached on Mars Hill become rather commonplace to us? Does it simply sound like so much church-talk?

This morning, I think it is right that we begin our worship with these words and consider this message that so moved the Athenians. It moved them all to wonder. It moved a few to sneers and rejection, but it moved other to belief and conversion! Consider what we have just heard and what we claim to believe . . .

  1. There is one God who made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth

  2. God takes Care of us. We do not take care of him as if we bring him what he needs. He gives us life and breath and he satisfies our every need!

  3. God has a purpose. His purpose is that all people should seek him find him. For we live, move and have our being in God!

  4. God intends to redeem all things and he will judge the world with justice. The one who will judge is Jesus Christ, appointed by God to judge because God raised him from the dead.

And we are here today in the presence of a living God who is near us! He is here – not far away!
And we are here today in the presence of a living Lord and Savior. He is not dead! He lives and he is with us!
And we are here today filled with the Spirit of our Creator and Lord in whom we live, move, and have our being!

How could we think this is commonplace? Let us continue to affirm this startling good news as we stand and sing what we believe. There is a God and He is Alive!


Scenes of culture shock:
Surely we have all heard of culture shock. Maybe some of you have experienced it. It describes the feelings and reactions that one has when one is suddenly thrust into an unknown and unfamiliar culture.

  1. Paul is disturbed by the culture of Athens –
    Paul is experiencing a certain amount of culture shock while he is in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him. He is in a land that isn’t at all like his homeland. Sure there was diversity and a variety of languages in Tarsus and Judea, and Paul himself had been to many different locations – but this is Athens. If Jerusalem was the center of Judeo-Christian culture, then Athens was the center of Gentile-pagan culture – even more so than Rome.
    As Paul walks the streets of Athens he notices idols to pagan Gods everywhere. And not only are the signs of idolatry everywhere but also immorality. Some of these idols are pornographic and some of them depict certain body parts best kept private – but they are on public display in Athens. It’s a different culture. This is culture shock.
    So Paul goes to the synagogue – perhaps to get a little taste of home but also to share the message that is the reason for his mission. Paul is shocked, but he’s no prude; notice that he even overcomes his culture shock by preaching in the public square right alongside the philosophers of Athens. He moves out rather than withdraws …

  2. The Athenians are startled by Paul’s message
    And now there’s a bit of reverse culture shock. Paul stands out as something unusual in this culture. There’s something very unique in what Paul is saying. When Paul talks about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection the people are amazed. This is something new. This is news. So, he is invited rather eagerly to the Council of Philosophers at Mars Hill (The Areopagus). They want to know more. There is inquiry. They are asking questions.

  3. Are we startled by the good news?
    Paul preaches a God that created us and rules in his creation.
    Paul preaches a God that we cannot manage or contain. A God whom we turn to with our needs, but not a God who has needs that we can meet.
    Paul preaches a God that has a purpose and he will judge all creation according to that purpose. He has made his purpose known in Jesus Christ.
    Paul preaches a Savior, Lord, and Judge – Jesus Christ who is God revealed and risen from the dead. Resurrection! How shocking and unnatural.

    Now how can we not be amazed and startled by such mysteries? Paul never seems to have lost the wonder. It never became commonplace or routine for him. He witnessed the risen Jesus – resurrection from the dead is not “natural” or “logical.” It introduces a new hope into a hopeless world. It opens up a closed universe.

    There’s a connection between Paul’s culture shock in Athens and the shocking news his preaches. If we are not shocked and amazed by the good news, then we probably will not be shocked by the idolatry and immorality of our culture.

    Vice versa, if we aren’t shocked by the idolatry and immorality in our Athenian America then we probably aren’t shocked and amazed by the presence of God and the mystery of the resurrection.

    Do we live move breathe and have our being in our culture – or in God? A God who has made himself known to us, but one who is still so Unknown to so many … even in our America, and maybe even to some of us …

  4. Will we represent the Unknown God to our culture?
    If we cannot recover the scandal and shock of the message about Jesus Christ then we won’t recognize or understand the sort of questions that our culture is asking. Our culture is becoming more diverse and pluralistic. Old standards and commonly held beliefs that we once all assumed are crumbling. But there is a renewed quest for answers. Our culture is more spiritual than ever before. Like the Athenians our culture is very religious, even if they are setting up temples to Unknown Gods.

      And so, what do we do about it? Do we really believe the gospel is for the entire world? Sure, we might believe it is for far away place with strange sounding names, but what about the folks next door. Do we recognize the need to name the Unknown God in our own culture?

      Star Wars director George Lucas said in Time: (May 9, 2005 issue of Time) “I put the Force in the movie (Star Wars) in order to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people-more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery. Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to ask the question, ‘Is there a God or is there not a God?’-this is for me the worst thing that can happen. I think you should have an opinion about that. Or you should be saying, ‘I’m looking. I’m very curious about this and am going to continue to look until I can find an answer, and if I can’t find an answer then I’ll die trying.’ I think it’s important to have a belief system and to have a faith.”

      The most recognized spiritual leader of the 21st century in America is Oprah Winfrey. (People question that and yet who did the city of NY call upon to lead the prayer service for 9/11?) Oprah Winfrey has said that Jesus can’t possibly be the only way to the truth. When audience members expressed their convictions in Christ, Oprah said that she couldn’t get into a religious argument. (Source: http://www.watchman.org/oprah.htm)

      The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA is conducting a major new program of research to track the spiritual growth of students during their college years (http://www.spirituality.ucla.edu). Building on an abundance of anecdotal evidence suggesting that there is growing interest on college campuses to reassert the significance of religion and spirituality as a core component of a liberal arts education, the study employs a multi-institutional and longitudinal design to identify trends, patterns, and principles of spirituality and religiousness among college students. (This is why we have a Lions for Christ ministry!) http://www.lionsforchrist.org

    Yes, our culture is becoming increasingly immoral. Yes, we are becoming religious in every way, but before we criticize the culture around us and poke fun at their ridiculous idols and their vain quests for God and spiritual fulfillment, let’s seriously ask why no one wants to include the church in the quest. Why doesn’t Oprah want to have a religious discussion, but a spiritual discussion is okay? Why does George Lucas want young people to have belief in God but not a religious system (i.e. church). Why is there a return to spirituality on the college campus but a decline in mainstream church attendance?
    The church isn’t trusted and isn’t regarded as the place where one will find spirituality. It is viewed as a religious institution and not a place of mystery. Before you react defensively let’s ask: Why is that?

    Maybe it is because we have withdrawn ourselves. . . Too often we want to find a safe harbor in our land and hide out there. We assume that our mission is to circle the wagons and protect the women and children from savages. But that’s never the mission in Scripture. We are never commanded to circle up or settle in to safe harbor. We are sent. A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for. Who will risk being disturbed and annoyed by the idolatrous displays of our culture so we can find the opportunity to name the unknown God.

    Maybe it is because we have boiled down the raw mystery and awe of the gospel and we are serving people the stain in the bottom of the cup. Hungry people aren’t concerned with how neatly we’ve typed our menu, or how pretty we’ve laid out our silverware and napkins. They want something to sustain them.

    Before we criticize, let’s notice that the people of our culture are seeking. (Maybe even more so than those of us who take God’s truth for granted.) Religion and spirituality are on the rise. We see it in movies. We see it in the news. We see it in music and politics. Does this mean that all of it is correct? Does this mean it is all good? Well no. But how should we respond? We can withdraw into our little Christian safe haven, we can condemn the culture for its ignorance and immorality, or we can do like Paul and take the opportunity to speak – I see that you happen to be quite religious! And if people are going to sneer and send us away – let it be because of the amazing news and mystery of our Almighty God and our Risen Savior. Better they should reject us for the startling truth than for our lockstep logic.

    Can we find a point of connection? Can we find an opportunity to represent the unknown God that our culture is looking for?

    Let’s not be cowards or prudes. Some will sneer, but some will want to hear more. Dionysius, Damaris, and a few others are waiting for us to introduce them to the Unknown God …

Whoever Welcomes Me

Posted by on August 14, 2005 under Sermons

Intro Transition:

  • Why do we spend the time we do on children?
    Why do we do it?
  • Because we always have?
  • Because we are obligated to do it?
  • Or do we have a deeper motivation, one that is rooted in the teaching and example of Christ.

    The Church That Blessed Children (revisited):
    Winslow Church of Christ
    Once over a third of it’s 80 or so members were youth and children.
    Almost all the adults were used to teaching classes.
    The VBS of that little church was highly regarded.
    It was at one of those VBS’s that I was the only teen in the teen class. I was 13. I had two teachers that night. They didn’t ignore me, in fact it became a very special time and I was taught one-to-one. (This was foundational in my conversion.)

    So What?

    • Why am I telling you this?
    • Aren’t we doing okay at West-Ark?
    • Sure. We’ve got lots of great ideas. We have so many qualified people. We have such incredible resources. I thank God for this … I don’t even think we need to do anything differently other than we need to do more of the same. I don’t want to talk about WHAT we do, but …
    • But WHY do we do what we do, and HOW do we do what we do?
    • May I suggest that we consider Jesus’ teaching from Mark 9 as we understand our reason for ministry to children …
    • What does this teaching say to us? I believe it says this:
    1. Let’s never squabble about who’s the greatest and commit to serving the least.
      • This whole issue arose from an internal argument among the Twelve – among the top leaders.
      • When Jesus pulls a child near him and blesses him this is not a gentle reminder. This contradicted their whole view of reality. Children were not held in great esteem in the first century.
      • Children were (and are): vulnerable, weak, cannot repay kindness and service like adults.
      • Thanks to Christianity children are probably shown more concern than ever before, but sometimes that concern is patronizing and conditional.
      • Children are often the innocent bystanders of our wars.
        • The suffering and abuse of children makes the news, but I fear it is becoming commonplace
        • Children are the victims in society and in wars around the world …
        • and this can even be true in church! (Wouldn’t it be a shame to lose children because they are turned away by petty bickering!)
          • Jesus said it would be better if we had a big stone slung around our neck and be thrown into the sea than to cause our little ones to sin.
          • In our grand debates about who’s the strong and the weak brother do we ever stop to consider that our children, being new Christians or not yet Christians, are the weak? And yet we too often expect them to be the strong and put up with our foolishness. We ought to be bearing their foolishness in love and patience, not the other way around. That’s what being an adult is about.
        • Let’s not squabble like children and start serving children – and let’s not stop there. We can serve one another. We can serve strangers.
    2. Let’s welcome children as we would welcome Christ.
      • This alone justifies all the attention and love we give to children.
      • We may be faced with so many things that seem more important and urgent and we ought to be careful that we do not neglect the children.
      • Jesus re-directed his disciples: If we asked Jesus “is all this work for children worth it?” How would he respond? I think his answer is clear …
      • “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
        • We can be too fearful of those we fellowship with. To be a welcoming, hospitable people is at the heart of the gospel. But when we make assumptions about others we miss out on what God is doing to not only redeem individuals but also community.
    3. Let’s make it a priority and calling to be a church and people that bless children.
      • In a world where children are often cursed, we need this so badly.
      • But how do we do this? Can we do this?
        • I am not surprised that we might find it awkward and unfamiliar, but that doesn’t mean it is unbiblical, in fact it is very biblical. (See Numbers 6 – Moses’ blessing).
        • As Christians, we are called to minister to one another and bless one another
        • I am fortunate to have experienced blessings. That night at VBS when two teachers demonstrated genuine concern but also spoke the truth to me was a blessing. They prayed with me and for me.
        • I have enjoyed having my children blessed and I want to share this with you.
          • We give showers and parties and gifts to children, and praise God for that.
          • But we dare not do that to the neglect of the spiritual blessings!
          • And remember that children need not be sick or newborn for you to bless them. There are ample opportunities (The Back-to School service, tutoring, the Youth Ministry, FLOCK and Gateway, children’s worship).
    • Because the world and Satan will curse them without reservation, let’s bless the children without reservation.
    • But also because it’s the kingdom way. And as we learn to welcome and bless children we will learn to welcome and bless others.
    • Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.
  • Who Do You Say I Am?

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Text: Mark 8:27-9:1
    Focus: True fulfillment is found in following Christ who, ironically, denied himself.
    Function: To describe the futility of trying to “save” our lives and to describe the way of the cross as the life that leads to resurrection.

    Part 1 – What does it mean to be the Christ?I remember that Sunday night at Winslow we were singing “Just As I Am – without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.” It was August and over 20 years ago and I had decided to be baptized. Of course I waited until the second verse – not that I was shy, I just thought it good form – the first verse is just warm-up – the thinker verse. But I had been thinking about this for some time. So I would step out into the aisle when we sang …”Just As I am and waiting not …” well that wasn’t quite true. I had waited all through the sermon for this moment. I knew before the sermon that I would be doing this, but I thought it good form to listen. I thought the preacher might like to think someone responded to his sermon. So in the second stanza I stepped out into the aisle. It was like stepping out into space! You’re just out there by yourself. I was ready to ease back into the comfortable block of pews – even if I was on the front pew – always reserved for this purpose.

    After our song, the minister and I stood before the congregation. He talked a bit and then placed his hand and my shoulder and asked “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” I know my response was positive, but I don’t remember my exact words, whether I just said “yes,” or “I do” or if I got fancy and said “I do believe Jesus is the Son of God.” But after I answered I heard an Amen and we went off behind the baptistery to put on our baptism clothes as someone started singing “Trust and Obey.”

    Do you remember your “good confession?” However your baptism took place – at camp, at church, in a river – at some point someone asked you “Do you believe Jesus is the Song of God?” And because of that confession of faith you were baptized. That’s a common story share. And I wonder if any of us really understood the gravity of that confession? Did we grasp the significance of what we were affirming? Did we realize that when we agreed that Jesus was who he said he was, we also agreed that we were who he said we were? When we gave our good confession, we weren’t just making statement about who Jesus was – we were making a statement about who we were, and whose we were? Did you know that then?

    I don’t think this undoes my confession or anyone else’s, but I am sure I didn’t grasp the full significance of what I said that Sunday night in August. Oh I believed it for sure – and that’s important, very important. Without belief there is no confession. And I knew it was right – but as much as I had thought about it, I had no idea of the total implication of what I had just confessed – and how that confession would change my life forever. And if that is true in your case, then we’re in good company. Peter was one of the first to give the good confession, and even he did not understand the full meaning of what he was saying…

    Read Mark 8:27-33

    When Jesus asked his disciples “But who do you say that I am?” Peter must have thought, “I know this one.” He spoke up – “You’re the Christ!” Peter was right – wasn’t he? Well of course he was. Jesus was the Christ. Peter understood that Jesus was who he said he was. But he didn’t understand what that meant – for Jesus and for him.

    That’s clear when Jesus begins to get very clear about what it means to be Christ. That it is a path of suffering, rejection, execution and then – and only then – resurrection. This doesn’t seem right to Peter, so he attempts to debate Jesus on the meaning of Christ. Peter has stepped out into space. He’s out there all alone and he needs to get back into the block of disciples that are following behind Jesus – not standing out in front of him trying to tell him which way to go.

    I remember back at Winslow how one of our ministers used to respond to the confession folks gave. Bro. Parrish called it the “good confession.” And he always blessed the one who made that confession and would say “They crucified Jesus for saying that, but you say it that you may receive eternal life.” I always wondered “Why does Jesus get crucified for saying that, but not us?” Well, I was probably thinking too hard about something very beautiful and poetic that our preacher was saying for the moment – but according to Jesus we all get crucified for confessing that Jesus is Christ.Part 2 – What does it mean to be a Christian?
    Jesus has our usual order of worship turned around. We offer the invitation, and then those who respond are asked to give confession. But here Jesus has just asked for a confession, and then he offers the invitation.

    Read Mark 8:34-38

    “Who wants to follow me?” he asks. He wants those who accept this invitation to follow to know what they can expect. If being the Christ means taking up a cross, then so does being a Christian. If you don’t understand that, then you have stepped out of line behind me and you are not thinking the way God thinks.

    Following after Jesus means denying self & taking up the cross as a way of life.
    The Paradox: Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. This is why there’s a cross. Our lives have to be lost so that they might be saved. When I hear this verse I often wonder if I am doing enough to lose my life. Do you ever think about that? I wonder if I need to sell my possessions or leave my comfort and go to the mission fields. Do you ever think about that? I admit I’m not sure I understand that burden of losing my life. I don’t know what it means to be threatened with persecution for my faith.

    But I think we all know something about the burden of trying to save our lives – From our earliest years we are trained to provide for our future – to save our lives. We must obtain the best education and seek opportunities. We should invest what we have wisely. Like a precise chemical formula, we must be careful to add the appropriate amount of risk to the appropriate amount of stability to achieve maximum benefit. The years we spend in school and business are our only opportunity to provide for our future as well as the future for our family. The prize is retirement. But even in retirement we know something about the burden of saving our lives. Health becomes more of a concern. Are we eating right? Do we exercise like we should? Did we elect the right people to secure our benefits? Are we seeing the right doctors? And this is not unlike the burden of saving life that parents feel concerning their children. Are we doing all we can to ensure the health and education of our children? Are they safe? Are they being taught right? If the children are our future, then are they capable of saving it?

    And what if we give ourselves completely to our children or spouses? Perhaps this is what it means to lose our lives and yet save it? What if we give ourselves so completely to the needy and the church? What if we live for others? Unfortunately, we may discover that the emptiness remains. Spouse, children and even church work can fail and disappoint us. Here is a most horrible emptiness, for we thought that the emptying of ourselves would result in fulfillment through the lives of others, but we may find we just feel sucked dry. Indeed, we know something about trying to save our lives.

    Pre-occupation with saving life is a sure way to lose it. Fulfillment is found in denial. Why? Because we must lose that which distracts and deceives. In order to truly live we must be who Jesus says we are, not who we want to say we are. And the only way to be who Jesus says we are is to say who Jesus is.

    [I remember trying to work in my Father’s garage and he would try to be patient and show me how to paint and saw and do other things. But I was there just to have fun, I didn’t want to mature and so I would get ahead of him and start doing my own thing. My Father said, “How can I show you the right way if you want to do things your way?”]

    There’s a cross in the way to becoming who we truly are because we often aren’t mature enough to do things the right way. We are only interested in doing things our way.

    The cross is tough for people who’ve been conditioned to glory in individual excellence and self-satisfaction. We are permitted to think that the world can be custom made to fit everyone of us. In a land where you can even copyright your personal, unique cell-phone ring the language of a cross and denial is tough to hear.

    Yet, how will find our life, how will we save it even if we could adjust the entire world to suit our preferences? I recently heard of a minister who was fired. I thought it was sudden, but I found out that he didn’t meet with his elders for over a year. He felt that they had nothing to offer him. I can’t imagine such a way – but then again, I can, for it is the way of self. That way leads to worse than being fired. It can lead to loneliness, despair, estrangement, isolation. But the way of the cross, as difficult as it seems, leads also to resurrection. Before there can be a resurrection, there must be a death. The way of the cross does lead to the tomb – but it is the empty tomb.

    Our attempts to “save” our lives – to preserve them, to immortalize them and give them meaning are futile because we just cannot control life to that degree. In Eden we were tempted to be God and we found out we aren’t qualified. (v. 36-37) – we just cannot come up with the means to secure our lives. Not as individuals, not as a nation, not as a race.

    We need an alternative way. We need to step out of God’s way. We need to get behind him and see where he’s going. Looks like he’s going to a cross!

    We find meaning and fulfillment – We learn who we are only by discovering who Jesus is. Our response to the invitation must match our confession. (Galatians 2:20)

    Personal Desire and Conversion

    Posted by on August 7, 2005 under Sermons

    I want to begin tonight with a sports analogy that is not specific to any particular sport. I wish to refer to a particular statement all of you have heard if you have ever watched in sporting event in which the teams were tied.

    The sporting event may involve two competing teams or two competing athletes. If it is a significant event, it is broadcast either by television or by radio or by both. If it is a broadcast event, it has one or more sports commentators. One will tell the audience what is happening, and one will speak to add “color” to the happenings.

    In this event the athletes are in superb physical condition. Each side has excellent coaches. It is late in the competition, and the competition is tied. The competition has not been decided. Both sides have a legitimate chance to win the competition. The conditioning of the athletes is amazing! The coaching staffs have made all the right decisions! The score is tied!

    Here is the comment we all have heard a number of times: “It is just a matter of which side wants to win the most (or has the greatest desire to win).”

    This is the fact I wish to call to your attention: We understand that even in something as temporary as victory in a sporting event, desire is a key element. There can be success in nothing without the element of desire.

    This evening I want to focus your attention on the importance of the converted’s desire if conversion is to occur. An individual must be a Christian because he or she wishes to be a Christian. Stated negatively: a person who does not wish to be a Christian will not be a Christian because you desire him or her to become a Christian.

    1. Allow me to state this truth in a number of ways.
      1. First, let me state my understanding from scripture of conversion.
        1. Conversion is the result of a person who is not a Christian who makes the decision to enter Jesus Christ–he or she realizes he or she is out of Christ, and he or she chooses to let God place him or her in Christ.
        2. The unconverted person places confidence in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
          1. He or she accepts the fact that Jesus died for his or her sins.
          2. He or she accepts the fact that God raised Jesus from death.
        3. The converted person realizes he or she must redirect his or her life, or repent.
          1. That basically is the awareness that God has not been in control of who he or she was or in how he or she lived.
          2. Now he or she wants God to be in complete control of who he or she is or how he or she lives.
        4. This person begins the process of confessing his or her acceptance of Jesus’ identity and role in his or her life.
          1. He or she is not ashamed to verbally declare his or her acceptance of Jesus.
          2. He or she will continue to declare his or her acceptance of Jesus.
        5. This person not only agrees to be baptized into Christ, but is baptized because he or she wants to be baptized.
          1. He or she wants to be baptized because that is what people in the New Testament did.
          2. He or she wants God to use the same power to raise him or her from death to sin just like He resurrected Jesus from physical death.
      2. Let me now challenge you to consider what to me seems obvious.
        1. If a person repents, he or she has to realize he or she is in sin.
        2. If a person is to enter hope, he or she has to realize that life prior to Christ was without hope.
        3. If a person is redeemed, he or she realizes he or she needed to be rescued.
        4. If a person is forgiven, he or she realizes he or she needs forgiveness.
        5. Stated simply, the person understands there is a need to be addressed, and he or she wants that need addressed.
        6. Conversion is much more that the willingness to become part of a religious organization.
        7. Conversion is much more than church attendance.
        8. Conversion is much more than being in a directory.
        9. Conversion in the most basic manner is about me; it is about who I am and what I choose to be.

      (Transition: I want to call your attention to some situations in scripture to challenge you to think about yourself as well as others.)

    2. The first situation I call your attention to is found in all of the gospels; I ask you to consider Mark 1:16-20.
      As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.
      1. There are many correct points that could be made from this brief incident, and many points have been made from it.
      2. I want to call your attention to just one point which I will place in the form of a question.
        1. Scripture says Peter was married–he had a mother-in-law living in Capernaum; he was fishing to support his family.
        2. James and John were actively involved in the family fishing business which must have been profitable since it notes their father had servants.
        3. The question: why did Peter, Andrew, James, and John go with Jesus when he extended to them an invitation?
          1. Not only did he not offer them employment, but he took them from their jobs.
          2. Did they know everything involved in being followers of Jesus? No!
          3. Did they have a correct understanding of the point of Jesus’ ministry? No!
          4. Did they have a lot of growing to do? Absolutely!
          5. Would following Jesus be a simple thing to do? No!
          6. Then why did these men go?
          7. Very simple answer: because they wanted to!
          8. Their desire was to be followers of Jesus–so they grew in understanding and endured difficulty!
        4. I want you to see and hear their desire–they did not have to go with Jesus, they wanted to go with Jesus.

    3. Next I call your attention to one of the most best known chapters in the New Testament to many members of the Church of Christ: Acts 2.
      1. The Spirit comes upon the apostles.
        1. The noise of the coming of the Spirit attracts a huge crowd in Jerusalem on one of the three holiest occasions in Israel.
        2. All of the apostles, whose dialect was obviously Galilean, spoke without the aid of interpreters, and every person present heard what he was saying in the language of the person’s birth–even though the people were from many different places.
          1. To say this created enormous curiosity is truly an understatement.
          2. Some suggested they were a bunch of drunk men, but that was not a credible explanation.
        3. Peter took charge and told the crowd that what they observed was the fulfillment of something the Jewish prophet Joel wrote centuries before.
          1. He said all this was happening because of Jesus and his resurrection.
          2. He even used statements from King David to declare that the Jesus they crucified was now Lord and Christ.
        4. I want you to listen to the reaction of three thousand people recorded in Acts 2:37.
          Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
          1. They were pierced to the heart–their consciences responded and reacted to Peter’s words.
          2. The declaration, “Brethren, what shall we do?” was not a casual remark–it was an urgent plea!”
        5. Do you hear the desire of these people?
          1. Why were 3000 people baptized on that occasion?
          2. Why? Because that is what they wanted–they wanted to respond to God and all He did in Jesus Christ in order that their sins might be destroyed!

    4. Thirdly I call your attention a statement from Paul 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.
      1. Paul wrote to a congregation who had lots of problems including the problem of division.
      2. As he began his letter in response to a letter they sent him, he wanted to remind them of something extremely important.
        1. Remember how I came to you.
          1. I did not come as an exceptional orator.
          2. I did not come as a renowned philosopher.
          3. I did not come to you as the invincible man.
          4. I did not come to you with persuasive wisdom.
        2. Instead:
          1. I refused to attract attention to myself–I only attracted attention to Jesus Christ.
          2. I came in weakness, fear, and trembling.
          3. I came demonstrating the spirit and power, not my own power.
        3. Why?
          1. I did not want the foundation of your faith to be based on a man.
          2. I wanted your faith to be based on the power of God.
        4. Do you hear their desire in their conversion?
          1. They were not Christians because of Paul’s determination.
          2. They were Christians because that is what they wanted to be!
      3. I could show you this same reality in other passages, but I hope this is enough to make you think and encourage you to study.
        1. People who were converted wanted to follow Jesus.
        2. They were not fooled into conversion!
        3. They wanted to be Christians!

    It is in that truth that we find understanding of one of the great problems among Christians today. Too many Christians did not decide they wanted to be Christians prior to conversion, they do not live like Christians after baptism. They had no desire to live the Christian life. They just wanted to be safe. They believed and repented because that is what they had to do, not because that is what they wanted to do! They were baptized because that is what they had to do, not because that is what they wanted to do.

    What is the most powerful evangelistic thing you can do? Teach? Certainly we must teach others about forgiveness in Christ. But teaching is not the most powerful thing you can do. Worship? Certainly we must praise our God, but that is not the most powerful thing you can do. Be involved in a ministry? Certainly every Christian needs to serve, but that is not the most powerful thing you can do.

    Then what is the most powerful thing I can do? BE a Christian in your entire lifestyle. If BEING a Christian is your desire, that will add power and effectiveness to your teaching, your praise of God, and your service to Christ.

    For Such a Reply

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Read Text: Mark 7:24-30
    Theme: Blessed are those who trust in Jesus regardless of the obstacles, for they shall be saved.

            There’s no suffering that compares to watching your children suffer. When my first son was born I got to cradle him and walk him into the newborn room. I got to dress him and put the little hat on him. But when my second son was born they took him away into a room where I couldn’t go. He was born just a few weeks premature and the nurses were concerned about the way he was breathing. To save his life, they whisked him into the neonatal room and placed him on oxygen.
            I had no idea what was going on. So I followed and asked questions. I was demanding explanations as we stormed out the door of the delivery room. We went across the hall and I kept my eyes on my son.
            They took him into a room that I couldn’t go in. When I approached, it did not open. I waited, and the moment that the door opened into the area I wasn’t supposed to go – I went in. I wanted to see my son.
            I must someday apologize to those fine nurses. I made their job hard that day because I did not respect the boundaries. Very sternly and very politely, the nurse told me that I wasn’t supposed to be in this room. I knew that. But my problem wasn’t a lack of knowledge. I wasn’t supposed to go in that room – but for a parent whose child is suffering, barriers just don’t matter.

            That’s why I understand what this Syrophonecian woman did – she ignored the barriers. Jesus has come to Tyre to be alone. But she crosses that barrier and intrudes on his solitude. In the ancient world it was improper for a woman to directly address a man, but she crosses that barrier as well – since she has no man who can go to Jesus for her, she simply does the improper thing. And then there’s the two-ply barrier of race and religion. She is gentile, he is an Israelite. In the culture of her people there are many powers and spirits at work – some of them good, many of them evil. But she pushes and dodges her way through every obstacle because there is no suffering like that of watching your child suffer – and there’s nothing she can do but ask questions and pray.
            She’s seen her daughter suffer the torment of the unclean spirit. That’s not a familiar condition to us. There were other parents who came to Jesus because of the suffering of their children. One of them was a man whose boy had an unclean spirit. The spirit would throw the child into fire and water. Why? It wanted to destroy the child. Now there’s a particularly horrible condition – an invisible force that threatens to destroy your child. Something you can’t fight, something you can’t shoot or strangle. Powerless to stop the torment. If the daughter of this Greek woman is being tortured by such a force, it is no wonder she ripped down the “Do Not Disturb Sign” and ignored the glances and gasps to seek out this man known for having authority over evil. Wouldn’t you if it was your child?
            Of course I understand Jesus’ answer. I’ve been there too when the desperate, needy people come for help and sometimes your hands are tied. “We don’t have what you need.” “There’s just not enough.” “We’ve hired all we can.” “We can’t help you until you respect yourself.” Sometimes you’re not able, sometimes it just wouldn’t be right. No one wants children to suffer, but sometimes we are overwhelmed. Helping one means turning your back on others. Sometimes we cannot help because we have made a commitment to help others. This is where Jesus finds himself. He came to Tyre to rest, and now he’s overwhelmed. His commitment to Israel means that he has little to spare for the gentiles. And I know this statement sounds more like an American tourist in a third world country than it does Jesus – but there it is and he says it: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” That’s just the way it is. It would be nice to imagine otherwise, but sometimes that just the way it is. “They were here in line before you ma’am.” These are the rules. That’s just the way it is.
            Now, do you think this woman who intruded on Jesus privacy, who ignored social customs and ignored matters as serious as race and religion is going to be turned aside by an answer like that? When I stormed that hospital door in September of 1998, I was not persuaded by the argument “You’re not supposed to be back here.” I knew that! And this woman knows that she’s not supposed to be there. She knows she’s not worthy to sit at the table. But that’s not going to persuade her. And being compared to a dog will not move her either. She’s probably endured much worse than that. She’s probably used to taking what she can. No amount of suffering you can heap on her compares to the suffering of watching her child suffer. So she challenges Jesus’ “matter-of-fact/that’s just the way it is” pronouncement of how things are:
    “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” It’s a reply worthy of the sharpest Rabbi – but Jesus knew Rabbis, he was called a Rabbi and she’s no Rabbi – she is a Greek woman who has intruded on the privacy of a Jewish man. She crossed all the barriers and now she must have wondered if she crossed the line.

    She probably expects the first part of Jesus’ statement: “For such a reply, you may go.” Of course, why not? Why not be dismissed. Maybe it was just like she had been from all the other healers and authorities. Not even an offer to try or to examine the patient. Not even the offer of a prayer of consolation. Perhaps she did need to accept the way things were – It’s not fair! It’s not right. She is late in line. “For such a reply, you may go.”

    But the second part of Jesus’ response is unexpected good news: “The demon has left your daughter.” Like the women on Resurrection morning, they expected a tomb, but they did not expect it to be empty. We want a happy ending, so we look forward to this part, but do you see how unexpected it is for the woman? Jesus doesn’t agree to go with her to see the girl. There’s no “maybe later.” There’s no instruction for a remedy. Instead it is the promise that the healing is already done. The only wait she will go through is the journey home – and when she gets there, her daughter’s suffering – and her suffering – will be over. The demon has left her daughter – “for such a reply!”

    • For Such a Reply (Explanation and Application – The “So What”)
      1. Her reply showed the spirit of true discipleship. How?
        • She refused to let the barriers and the suffering stop her. She didn’t approach Jesus as a Syrophonecian, a Greek, a Gentile, a woman, or an unclean dog. All that mattered to her was her daughter’s suffering and Jesus’ power. Social customs and conventions are no substitute for faith.
        • She respected his authority. She believed that Jesus had the final word on “the way things are.” Jesus was saying, “This is the reasonable way to do things. This is the expected way. This is the customary way.” By whose standard? By whose authority? This woman believed that if Jesus had the authority to heal her daughter, he could do it however and whenever he wished and she wasn’t going to hold him to a set of restrictions.
      2. Her reply secures her a place at the table.
        • Jesus identifies with us. Who comes to Christ’s table? The worthy? The noble? The privileged? If that is so, then what about the suffering? What about the oppressed and overwhelmed? Are they disqualified? The rule of table fellowship in Jesus’ day was that “like eats with like.” People of the same class, honor and purity dined together. Jesus has become like us so that we might become like him. The overwhelmed and exasperated Jesus did not identify with a perfect, well-adjusted member of the religious select that day in Tyre. He identified with an overwhelmed, exasperated – yet faithful – mother of a tormented child.
        • Jesus invites us. No one will have to do with crumbs. There are no beggars under the table who can only hope for scraps. There is a portion for all disciples who come and eat in faith and trust. There is always room for one more suffering child. There is room at the table for all that identify with the suffering savior.

    There’s no suffering that compares to watching your children suffer. God knows that – his son suffered and he suffered with him. God knows that – his children suffer and he suffers with them. The good news is that the end of the suffering has already been declared – the only wait is the journey home.

    [Addendum: Many people have asked me about the health of my second son born in 1998. If you were to see him now as he approaches his seventh birthday you would probably find it hard to believe that he was born a few weeks premature. The nurses at Brazosport Memorial Hospital were attentive and acted quickly when they noted that my son did not seem to be breathing properly. He was on oxygen for a few days but gained strength quickly. Months later he contracted RSV but he recovered from that. As of today, he sometimes suffers from allergies, but for the most part he is big, strong, and healthy. We are blessed! Thanks be to God Almighty!]

    Different But Necessary

    Posted by on August 4, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    Recently I have been involved in two occasions in this congregation that profoundly touched me-Vacation Bible School and Community Outreach Day. What deeply touched me was the sight of so many different members (from teens to elderly!) who were involved. In a real way, the success of each occasion was the result of so many members being involved.

    This is in no way a derogatory comment on our many other ministries. I feel more than confident that every ministry leader quickly would say the effectiveness of the ministry depends on a broad-based involvement and the contributions of many members willing to do what they can. In the two mentioned, the involvement of many members with differing abilities was quite visible. Always, it is a matter of function-not competition!

    I am always amazed to note how much is accomplished when members do what they are capable of doing–with no thought about who is and is not visible. Yet, why should that be amazing? That is what scripture said 2,000 years ago.

    First, Christians need the Lord’s concept of church. While the word “church” is a specific religious word now, that was not so in the first century. The word “church” existed before Jesus Christ was born or the Christian movement began. It simply meant those “called out” to fulfill a specific purpose. Christians are God’s “called out” dedicated to God’s objectives in righteous lifestyles through Jesus Christ. They do good works, not to exalt themselves, but to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).

    The church is not a building. It is not a location. It is not a collection of programs existing “because that is what a church does.” It is not an organizational chart declaring who has the right to control. It is a group of people who serve together because, in a common love for Jesus Christ, they are committed to God’s purposes and each other.

    Second, Christians need to realize no Christian can do everything, but every Christian can do something. Wise is the congregation that makes it natural for all its members to be involved in ways they are capable of serving! The key to congregational success is not letting someone we consider a “superior Christian with extraordinary abilities” carry everyone else, but the key is encouraging all of us ordinary folks in Christ to do what we are able to do.

    We are a body! In a body fingernails and eyelashes serve important roles to hands and eyes!