Strange How Words Change Concepts!

Posted by on September 29, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

For example, take the word “righteous.” In many minds the concept associated with “righteous” is “morally perfect.” Therefore a call to righteousness is a call to perfection. In some minds the word “righteous” is associated with the concept of “hypocrisy.” To these the call to righteousness is the call to insincere pretense. “Righteous” people are “hypocrites” who pretend to be something they obviously are not-morally perfect.

Luke 1:6 says Zacharias and Elizabeth both were “righteous in the sight of God walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Matthew 1:19 says that Joseph was “a righteous man” because he did not wish to disgrace Mary when he discovered her pregnancy. In Luke 1:28 an angel called Mary God’s “favored one” [or richly blessed one]. Luke 2:25 referred to Simeon as “righteous and devout.”

These are not the only people who were called “righteous” or “highly favored.” In these, consider some obvious things. (1) They were extremely sensitive to God. (2) They were conscientious in devoting themselves to God’s ways. (3) Their understanding of God’s ways was flexible enough to surrender to God’s purposes rather than question His acts.

If your wife was 50 years old (used only for illustration purposes), how would you feel if she told you she was pregnant? If your fiance? was pregnant and you had never been intimately involved with her, what would you think? If an angel told unmarried you that you would be pregnant before marriage, would you say, “Behold, the bondservant of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)? If God revealed to you that you would see His most wondrous act before death, would you recognize His act in the baby’s birth who offered hope to people regarded as your enemies (Luke 2:26-33)?

Being righteous before God is more than knowing a “thus says the Lord.” It is more than singing a cappella, taking communion weekly, and worshipping in our order. It is more than names, words, and vocabulary. It is more than “issues” and “theological stances.”

It is also expressing compassion for the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It is also caring about those who suffer around us. It is also seeing God at work in ways and matters we do not usually associate with God’s work. It is allowing the Sovereign God to be sovereign as He pursues His purposes. It is also being God’s servant who serves-even in the face of the unusual!

Are we righteous?

Paul: When Rights Become Gifts

Posted by on September 25, 2005 under Sermons

There are few things in life more meaningful than a sincere, obviously felt “thank you!” Almost everyone has a deep appreciation for genuine gratitude. When someone is sincerely grateful for a kindness we extend, that gratitude within itself is deeply rewarding. In fact, gratitude is one of the most powerful motivations we know and experience.

We as a people have contributed a lot of money to help the people on the gulf coast who lost everything through the furry and storm surge of hurricane Katrina. At first we gave because of feelings of empathy and need. Many of us realize this is not a “one gift” need. We realize there must be a lot of continued giving if these people recover from their great loss. What will determine if we continue to give? Gratitude! If our impression is that these people are genuinely grateful for our help, we will continue to give. However, if the impression is ever created that these people think we owe them, the giving will cease.

Never, never underestimate the power of gratitude!

That brings up an interesting situation. How do you feel if all you can do is say, “Thank you”? When we genuinely appreciate a kindness, we commonly want to express our appreciation with something more than words.

Back in the early 90s, Joyce and I did some follow up studies with “Let’s Start Taking” students. These were people who advanced their knowledge of English earlier by doing one-on-one studies in one of the gospels. We were working with people who showed special interest in New Testament Christianity after those studies.

Both Joyce and I worked with a number of students for about three weeks. When our time was coming to a close and we would soon leave Poland, two of my students came to me to say thank you. But those words were not enough. All they could afford to give me as an expression of their gratitude were two small carvings about 1 and 1/2 inches high. They wanted to give me something to add substance to their words.

What do you do when you have nothing to give to go with your words of “thank you”? When you feel deeply that words are not enough, but have nothing to give, what do you do?

The Christian Paul was very much in that situation. He was aware of the fact that God in Christ did so much for him, and there was nothing special he could give to God.

The man who had nothing to give found something to do.

  1. If you think I am exaggerating Paul’s situation, listen carefully to this reading.
    1 Timothy 1:12-17 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
    1. The Christian Paul clearly understood the experience of totally misunderstanding God and in that misunderstanding acting against God.
      1. The prechristian Paul did not do what he did because he rebelled against God.
        1. He thought he was obeying God!
        2. He thought he was expressing great faith in God!
        3. He thought he was defending God’s purposes!
      2. The prechristian Paul did what he did because he was ignorant.
        1. He was ignorant of the fact that Jesus was God’s son.
        2. He was ignorant of what God accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        3. He was ignorant of the fact that Israel was God’s means to a specific objective, not the objective itself.
    2. The prechristian Paul did some horrible things that the Christian Paul would never consider doing.
      1. He held the robes of those who angrily executed the Christian Stephen.
      2. He dragged Christian Jews out of their homes in Jerusalem and took them to prison.
      3. He encouraged the deaths of Jewish Christians.
      4. He went to synagogues, found Jewish Christians, and abused them in a deliberate attempt to make them blaspheme.
      5. He was furiously enraged against any Jew who believed that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) that God promised Israel.
    3. Paul said of himself in those days when he was not a Christian:
      1. “I was a blasphemer.”
      2. “I was a persecutor.”
      3. “I was a violent aggressor.”
      4. Though he was all those things, God showed him mercy.
        1. Why?
        2. God showed him mercy for two reasons.
        3. Reason one: he was ignorant of who Jesus really was.
          1. He was not willfully, knowingly rebelling against God!
          2. He just did not know who Jesus was–he did not understand God was at work in Jesus in a truly special way.
        4. Reason two: he would be the forever proof that if God could forgive (save) him, God can forgive (save) anyone.
          1. Paul understood there could not be a sinner worse than he was.
          2. Therefore, if God could forgive him, God could forgive anyone.
          3. In Paul God demonstrated His perfect patience, so God used Paul’s salvation as an example that all have hope in Jesus Christ.

  2. Paul dramatically, suddenly, in a moment, understood how wrong he had been. (Acts 9)
    1. Let’s conduct a little interview.
      1. “Paul, where are you going?” I am going to Damascus, Syria.
      2. “Syria is not a part of Israel–why are you going there?” I am going to the synagogue in Damascus–I understand there are some Jews there who think the dead Jesus is the Messiah (Christ).”
      3. “Why are you walking over 150 miles with these Jewish guards to find Jewish Christians in a synagogue in another country?” I am going to arrest these people and return them to Jerusalem for trial by the Jerusalem sanhedrin.
      4. “Why? That seems like a lot of trouble to endure for an insignificant objective.”
        1. Insignificant! You have to be kidding!
        2. These people are the enemy of Judaism–if someone does not stop them, they will destroy Judaism!
        3. If they are the enemies of Judaism, they are the enemies of Israel!
        4. If they are the enemies of Israel, they are the enemies of God!
        5. God’s enemies must be stopped right now!
    2. Then it happened as he was close to Damascus.
      1. A light brighter than the noon day sun engulfed him.
      2. The light was so bright it knocked Paul to the ground.
      3. Then suddenly he heard a voice calling his name and asking him by name why he was persecuting him.
      4. Paul did not know what was happening, but whatever was happening he knew it was time to show respect.
        1. He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”
        2. To his total astonishment, the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the man from Nazareth, the person you are persecuting.”
    3. Suddenly, his mind was flooded with realizations.
      1. Jesus was not dead–he is alive!
      2. The resurrection is real, not a lie!
      3. Jesus really is God’s son!
      4. Jewish Christians were not opposing God! I have been opposing God!
    4. Then he received some simple instructions.
      1. Get up!
      2. Go on into to Damascus!
      3. Go to Straight Street and stay in the home of Judas.
      4. He is expecting you–I gave him a vision while he was praying.
      5. It is at that place you will be told what you must do.
      6. The Christian Paul in a court appearance said in Acts 26:15-18 he was also told this:
        Acts 26:15-18 And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’

  3. Paul quite willingly did as he was told to do.
    1. The entire ordeal was quite traumatic for Paul.
      1. When he got up, this self-confident, self-assured man was blind.
        1. The one who knew he was right was helpless!
        2. The leader now had to be led!
        3. From the time he entered Judas’ home, he prayed and fasted.

  4. Paul knew how wrong he had been, and Paul was terrified.
    1. Yet, God was merciful to Paul.
    2. Paul was extremely grateful for the forgiveness and mercy of God.
      1. But he had nothing to give God to show his gratitude.
      2. I want to read with you 1 Corinthians 9:1-18.
        1. As we read, see if you can understand Paul’s gift.
          1 Corinthians 9:1-18 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
        2. Paul’s gift to God: he gave up some of his rights to demonstrate his gratitude to God.
        3. Every Christian has the option to give up some rights!

Someone says, “I am curious. What was Paul told that he must do at Judas’ house?” God sent to Paul a highly respected Jewish Christian named Ananias. He laid his hands on Paul, and Paul got his sight back. Then he told Paul, “Get up! Be baptized and wash away your sins.”

What sins? The sins of blasphemy, persecution, and opposition against God by being a violent aggressor against God’s people.

May I ask you some questions? Have you seen the light of Jesus’ resurrection? Have you responded to what God did for you in Jesus Christ? How have you said, “Thank you,” to God for giving you the living Jesus Christ? How do you now say, “Thank you,” to God in your life right now?

Life on the Vine: Cultivating Love

Posted by on under Sermons

Fruit of the Spirit

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-Control
  • The call to worship for Sunday

    We believe that God is love
    We believe that God so loved the world that He GAVE his one and only Son, and whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.
    We believe that the greatest commandments are: Love the Lord God with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.
    We believe that love never fails.
    We believe that faith expresses itself through love.
    We believe that one cannot love God and hate one’s brothers and sisters.
    We believe that this is love: Not that we loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

    Call to worship – our response to God’s love.

    The other day I saw a sign advertising garden-fresh tomatoes. It made me sad because I know that we are heading for the season without tomatoes. Once I was asked why I don’t just get a tomato from the grocery store. My answer is simple, what you usually get in the produce section of a store isn’t really a tomato. Call me a tomato purist if you like, but there is a difference. There are tomatoes and then there are these strange fruit that are passed off as tomatoes.

    These imitators are like tomatoes made by Madame Tussaud. They look like the real thing but they are made of wax. They are mass produced and the goal is to make them strong enough to survive transport. So they are hard. I have heard rumors of people playing softball with one of these at a picnic because the forgot the softball. They are always the same color – as if they have been spray painted or dyed. I fear they have been nourished on a strange mix of water, sucrose and red dye#2. I cannot describe to you how they taste. I really don’t know. They don’t really have a taste. It is like eating vegetable fiber but no flavor. And they do not have that perfect tomato smell. They smell of packing wax and shellac.

    Tomatoes – real tomatoes – are soft and juicy. They can barely survive the trip from the garden to the brown paper bag – and that’s good. You hold them gently lest the skin rips beneath the pressure of your fingers. They are reddish or yellowish. They may be shaded but that doesn’t disturb the taste. You slice them and the meat falls apart like a tender steak. The smell is what gets you first – just as you are about to bite into one or eat up some of the slices you sense along with the tomato scent the faintest aroma of the vine. That the mark of a real tomato. And the taste is just a perfect sweetness combined with a slight bite of sour. And if some of the juice doesn’t trickle off on your chin at some point then you are not eating a real, God-made, natural tomato.

    There’s a lot of confusion in our culture about tomatoes because the store variety is so much more common than the variety plucked straight from the garden vine.

    And as we strive to cultivate the fruit of the spirit, first of which is love, there is also a lot of confusion for much the same reason. There is a mass-produced, store-bought, marketed variety of love. It is a fruit that is fed by other spirits. It looks like love, it imitates love, some even assume that it is love and it may share some basic characteristics, but it certainly isn’t the Holy Spirt-nourished fruit called love that we observe when the life that manifests love is connected to the true vine.

    The word tomato is generic and there are many varieties. So also, the word love in our language is generic and it comes in varieties. The word itself is part of the problem and the word may reference a variety of ideas. Love that is the fruit of the spirit will resemble God’s love since it is nourished by the true vine and filled with the Holy Spirit. Just as we described a real garden-fresh tomato, we can describe genuine, God-like love.

    What Do We Know About God’s Love?
    (Note the following lists are suggested by Phillip Kennson, Life on the Vine, chapter 2)

    1. God’s love is unmerited and undeserved. – When we say unmerited we mean that God’s love is not something we earn. There are no pre-requisites of God’s love. (My children are making their plans to earn scouting awards. Earning a scouting award involves hard-work and preparation, but when you do the work, you earn it. That’s merit. But God’s love cannot be merited. If you could earn it, it really wouldn’t be love. This can be very hard for us to accept, but even harder is to realize that not only can we not earn God’s love – we do not deserve it. We haven’t always been the most lovable people. Yet, God loves us.
      1. (Romans 5:8 – God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us; Eph 2:4-7 – 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved)
      2. Compare to Hosea 3:1. The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods.
      3. So much of our faith is centered on the fact that God’s love is unmerited and undeserved. Yet, churches still behave as if God’s love is the result of divine bargaining or contract. We act to insure God’s favors and blessing. I am convinced that the quality of our discipleship and the nature of our life together would grow to the next level if we would take this one simple truth to heart and live it out. Instead of coming to worship trying to calculate how we can maintain God’s grace, instead of organizing church work and church life in such a way as to avoid God’s wrath or get his attention, we would live honestly before God and one another and say in wonder with the apostle John “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us!”
    2. God’s love is steadfast. – Have you ever fallen out of love? Have you ever been in love with a person then years after the “break-up” wonder what you ever saw in that person? That’s not steadfast love Because the love of God is so real it is steadfast – it isn’t momentary or capricious. God doesn’t break up with us when we change the way we feel about him. Romans 8:31-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Can a Christian fall away? Sure, it happens all the time. Can people reject the love of God? Absolutely, it has happened so many times. But we cannot stop God from loving us. Even if we should choose to separate ourselves from the love of God, this doesn’t mean that God stops loving us. Love that gives up or fades away isn’t really love.
    3. God’s love is a love that suffers with us. – God doesn’t stop loving us when bad things happen either. Job’s friends seem to have out lived Job. Their spirit continues into our culture today. I have heard people say that when something bad is happening, when someone is suffering, they are cut-off from God’s love. Or God is holding something against them. That’s not love. Yes, trials and suffering can be the consequence of our own sin – that is obvious. But to assume that all suffering is the judgment of God ignores the truth of God’s love and the testimony of the cross. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Phil 2) Why is God willing to suffer with us? Because he loves us enough to bear the burden with us. Love that cannot share in suffering isn’t really love.
    4. God’s love is without boundaries. – We tend to draw limits to love. We limit love to fences, borders, levees. Love your enemies! What a strange suggestion. If one is our enemy doesn’t that mean that love is absent? We find it difficult to accept this. When Jesus told the expert in the law to love God and love your neighbor as yourself, the expert in the law asked the boundary question – “Who is my neighbor?” Do I have to love everyone? Love with boundaries isn’t really love. It is an imitation.
    5. God’s love is directed toward others. – It moves beyond self-interest and looks to the interest of the other. God doesn’t love for his own sake. He loves because he is drawn to our interest, not his own. Paul urges us to immitate the mind of Christ (Phil 2) in our life together. To focus on the interest of others. His model for doing so is Jesus Christ who became a man and offered his life on the cross for our sake – certainly not his own.

    Why is it so difficult to cultivate God-like love in our culture?
    Just as the demands of the market-driven economy force farmers to mass-produce the waxy imitations of real tomatoes, the forces of our culture are hostile to the cultivation of real love. It is no wonder that the love of God comes to us a something unfamiliar – we are not used to seeing it even in its natural habitat. Don’t misunderstand, God’s love is enduring, but the cultivation of God-like, fruit of the spirit love in our lives and even more so in our church (our life together) is hindered by certain “pests” that may allow us to produce the imitation or just a big green leafy plant, but if we don’t overcome these hostile cultural elements our garden will not grow …

    1. Our culture promotes self-interest. The economic system of our culture is an incredible power to deal with. Think about all the coverage of the hurricanes. What is one of the primary concerns – gas prices! And how is it reported? It will hurt us!
      • We are encouraged to think of ourselves as self-interested parties in the marketplace. We all have to “do” for ourselves. The customer is always right, we are consumers looking for the best service (and we even carry this over into our non-marketplace relationships such as school, church, family.) The power that shapes our relationships in these other arenas is the power of self-interest. Can we recognize how toxic this is to the cultivation of God’s love? It is a dangerous blight that corrupts the growth of the fruit of the spirit.
    2. Putting a price on everything and everyone. Value is calculated in terms of money. Isn’t it interesting that there are so many ways to measure a hurricane? Category, intensity, strength, and monetary destruction. (The most intense hurricane in the Atlantic was an unnamed Cat 5 that breezed thru the Florida Keys in 1935. But of the top ten costliest hurricanes only one was a Cat 5 at landfall and most of the costly hurricanes have occurred in the last 15 years. What does this say to us about our tendency to put a price tag on everything?) Our price-tag culture tries to convince us that everything is for sale: (food, clothing, knowledge, insights, entertainment, sex, affection, loyalty)
      • In Sept 1999 someone offered to sell his own kidney on eBay. Bidding started at 2.5 million and was up to 5.75 million before eBay ended the auction.
    3. We equate worth with money. What one is worth is valued in terms of financial power. Assets or earning potential. Career choices are made in terms of economics rather than calling. How many young people have been persuaded not to be teachers, artists, or missionaries because the work does not pay and it is hard to support a family? Churches are guilty of this as well when they equate status in the church with wealth. James warns us very sharply about showing favoritism of any sort based on finances or economics.
    4. Our culture contracts relationships. Since ancient times, relationships have been contracted. When Paul addresses households he uses an ancient form that lays out the obligations of husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves. Relationships between these pairs were contracted. Marriage wasn’t always about love, it was about business. Children were an asset to achieve power and wealth. And slavery was seen as a necessity. In our culture we have moved beyond overt slavery. But we still contract relationships. We have quid pro quo relationships that are arranged for mutual benefit. But what happens when the benefit if no longer there or no longer mutual.
      1. We do this in churches. Consumerism is the greatest challenge to church life. Some churches are marketing their church to others. Does this cultivate love?
      2. No wonder we try to contract our relationship with God. We have mistaken covenant for contract.

    How can we cultivate God-like love?
    Recognizing the cheap fruit and the hostile elements is only part of the process of good gardening. How can we cultivate the fruit of the spirit – how can we cultivate love?

    1. Pay attention to Others. – Consider how this alone would cultivate love – To genuinely give attention to others is to demonstrate that Christ-like quality of love that looks to the interest of others. To pay attention to others regardless of who they are will overcome boundaries that often hinder the cultivation of love. To pay attention to others teaches us to be steadfast rather than conditional in the way we show love. To pay attention to others may encourage us to recognize how others are hurting. It is hard to pay attention to others if we are consumed with our own interests.

    2. Giving and receiving graciously. – keeps before us just how much we have received from God. Love is a gift and it can only be freely given. But it is also important to receive graciously. The only thing better than buying good garden fresh tomatoes from the farmer’s market is to get a batch of tomatoes as a gift from the abundance of a friend’s garden. Part of the goodness of enjoying a tomato is to realize that this good food is a gift from our Creator. Giving to others reminds us that we cannot put a price tag on everyone and everything. Receiving graciously chastens us when we think we can buy anything we want. No matter how wealthy you may be or become you cannot buy everything. No matter how many resources we acquire as a church we will always be dependent on God’s graciousness to do anything.

    3. View our stuff and time as a trust we hold for God. – The laws of old Israel concerning possessions were not simply rules to take care of religious things. They were designed to remind the people of God of the source of their stuff and their time. The aim was to encourage them to share and not abuse one another. They were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested and leave the grapes that fell on the ground. That’s poor economics because it doesn’t maximize output, but it is godliness because it provides freely for the poor and reminds those who have that what they have is a gift from God.

    Your stuff and your time is something God has entrusted to you. Now will you use it to cultivate real, Christ-like, fruit of the spirit quality love, or the mass-produced, ready for transport, high-yield, waxy imitation love that is so in demand and passes for love to those who aren’t paying attention?

    How Do We Make Sense Out Of That?

    Posted by on September 22, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    Because this society provides a high standard of living for so many, people in this society often forget they live in a war zone. That is not the voice of paranoia. There is the war against poverty, the war against forces that threaten the physical environment, the war against self-serving political forces, the wars against addictions, the war against suffering, etc. There are as many wars as there are injustices!

    Most of those wars directly involve only a segment of society. While the wars target real problems, those real problems are perceived by only a fragment of society. While proponents of those wars shout all society is at risk, all society does not feel at risk.

    There is a war that is more massive in scope than all other forms of war. It is the war between good and evil (Ephesians 6:10-12). While this war shares some things in common with other wars (for example, not all society feels threatened), there are some distinct, unique qualities about this war. (1) Even though all society does not feel at risk, it often makes immediate casualties of the unsuspecting. (2) The consequences and carnage of this war surround us on a daily basis. (3) This war is much more complex than human greed, human arrogance, human selfishness, and the lust for human power. (4) Even the finest of human efforts and intents will not and cannot end this war.

    It is not fun to live in a war zone! The first casualty of war is peace. War by nature brings conflict, death, insecurity, hardship, injustice, fear, and constant uncertainty. It is because wars by their nature are destructive that people always prefer to fight them “in the other man’s territory.”

    However, the war between good and evil is fought in human minds and motives. We are the battleground! When we try to make “sense” out of the “senseless” occurrences in our lives, how do we generate hope instead of despair?

    (1) We accept as truth that we do indeed live in a war zone. (2) We prepare ourselves to survive the heat of war (Ephesians 6:13-18). (3) We understand God’s purposes in defending good are greater than our desires as the battleground. (4) We also realize that evil is not without its resources. (5) We understand that success is not determined by physical desire but by eternal destination.

    There are some things we will never understand in this physical world. However, that is okay. Why? It is okay because we know the One who will defeat evil. When evil is defeated, the senseless will make sense-as surely as Jesus’ death NOW makes sense!

    Why Did Christian Paul Make Such Sacrifices?

    Posted by on September 18, 2005 under Sermons

    From the time of early childhood, we began asking the question, “Why?” Preteen kids ask “why” most often out of pure curiosity. To ask “why” to seek understanding is considered a good thing to be encouraged.

    As a teenager, the motive of asking “why” changes. Often a teen asks “why” in search of self-justification. To ask “why” in a deliberate attempt to escape personal responsibility is not considered a good thing.

    Increasingly in adult years, adults often ask “why” in an attempt to eliminate confusion. “Why did he do that?” “Why is that so important to her?” “Why do they act that way?” Often for the mature adult, asking “why” seeks an insight that brings understanding to a situation that is not understandable. It seeks to “make sense” of something that “does not make sense to me.”

    To ask “why” to discover unknown information is a good thing most of the time. To ask “why” to evade personal responsibility is a bad thing most of the time. To ask “why” to seek insight, to make sense of an otherwise senseless occurrence is a good thing most of the time.

    On September 4, 2005 we focused on Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. This is the passage in which Paul’s enemies forced Paul to discuss the sacrifices he made as an evangelist to the gentiles. In that particular statement, Paul stated as fact that he was in prison more than once, that he was beaten (whipped) numerous times, that he was shipwrecked three times, that he often faced dangers on his journeys, and that he endured a lot of personal hardships.

    I think the question most of us would ask is “why?” For some, it might be a curiosity question. “I did not know Christians had those kind of experiences.” For some it might be an attempt to evade responsibility. “Are you trying to tell me that if I want to be a Christian I must make difficult sacrifices? I did not become a Christian to suffer! I became a Christian to avoid suffering!” For some it might be an attempt to gain an insight that makes sense out of otherwise senseless happenings. “Why would God allow His child to endure those things? What would make God’s child endure such horrible experiences?”

    Fortunately, we do not have to guess “why” Paul endured such experiences. He told us “why.” This evening I want us to focus on his explanation.

    1. I want us to begin by focusing on a very real and very obvious contrast in Paul’s life.
      1. We can easily, naturally divide Paul’s life into two main divisions:
        1. Paul before he became a Christian.
        2. Paul after he became a Christian.
        3. Becoming a Christian was the major pivotal point in Paul’s life.
      2. Before he became a Christian, Paul could have been “the poster boy” for Jews who hated Christians.
        1. That would include two groups:
          1. Jewish people who rejected Jesus as God’s Messiah or Christ.
          2. Jewish Christians who rejected Paul’s evangelistic efforts and message.
        2. Paul who was not a Christian, in the truest sense, was the champion of Jewish people who hated Christians (most of whom were Jewish at that time).
        3. Our earliest introductions to Paul (or Saul) was at the Christian Stephen’s death and the events that followed.
          1. In a minor way, he participated in Stephen’s execution.
          2. Stephen’s death was a flash point for a persecution against Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
          3. Acts 8:3 says of Paul:
            “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”
        4. In defending himself against false charges in court, Paul said this about himself in the years that he opposed Christians:
          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. How could a man so totally opposed to Jews becoming Christians become the Jewish apostle to the gentiles?
      1. We are talking about 180 degree change in direction, in focus of life, in purpose of life!
        1. We are talking about a man who hated people who became Christians becoming a man who loved people who became Christians.
        2. We are talking about a man who caused severe physical suffering becoming a man who endured severe physical suffering.
        3. We are talking about a man who enjoyed taking lives of people he hated becoming a man who risked his life for people he one time hated.
        4. Consider his attitude toward Jews who rejected Christ in this statement in Romans 9:1-5:
          I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
      2. The question you and I must struggle with is “why?” How do we explain that transition?
        1. I want you to carefully consider Paul’s personal explanation of “why”.
          Philippians 3:7-11 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
        2. As far as the context of this passage is concerned, I ask you to remember one thing: the enemies in this context who made Paul’s life miserable at Philippi were quite similar to the enemies who made Paul’s life miserable at Corinth.
        3. Next, I call your attention to the explanation Paul gave for his incredible turn around.
          1. First, he said God did something truly unique in giving us Jesus Christ that surpasses anything God has ever done for any people.
          2. Second, he said nothing is as important as gaining Christ.
          3. Third, he said nothing is as important as being found (by God) in Christ.
          4. Fourth, he said nothing is as important as knowing Christ (not knowing about Christ, but having a genuine relationship with Christ).
          5. Fifth, he said nothing is more important than knowing the power that raised Jesus from the dead.
          6. Sixth, he said nothing is more important than participating in Jesus’ sufferings.
          7. Seven, he said all these things work together to result in actual resurrection from the dead.
      3. I want to call your attention to three things in Paul’s explanation of “why”.
        1. When you understand what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection, everything else is garbage.
          1. If it is a choice between God’s gift to us in Christ and any form of human status, there is no choice.
          2. Nothing can compete with God’s gift to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
        2. For the religious person, there are two forms of righteousness.
          1. In Paul’s discussion of the two forms of righteousness, there are two basic understandings:
            1. There are people who are not religious–this is not a discussion of why a person should be religious.
            2. Nor is this a discussion about the importance of obedience–it has to do with the motive of obedience, not the importance of obedience.
            3. Paul was a very obedient person before he became a Christian and a very obedient person after he became a Christian.
          2. There are two approaches to being a righteous person, and Paul had tried both of them.
            1. One approach is the attempt to make yourself righteous by keeping the rules.
              1. When Paul helped kill Christians, he was a self-professed expert in knowing the rules and keeping them.
              2. One of the important reasons for Paul persecuting Christians was this: they were not keeping the rules.
              3. Paul knew he was right! He could show you by his understanding of the rules why he was right and why you were wrong.
            2. The second approach is by placing faith (total confidence) in what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
              1. In the final analysis, it is not what I do in rule keeping; it is what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection. (There is no power in my acts; there is incredible power in God’s acts.)
              2. Paul said I have trusted my obedience, and that does not begin to compare with what God did for me in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
              3. He said, “I want to trust God instead of trusting me.”
        3. There is real power in trusting God.
          1. God demonstrated that He could permanently raise anyone from death when He permanently raised Jesus from the dead.
          2. We know lots of forms of power in this nation–in fact we often describe ourselves as being the most powerful nation on earth.
          3. But no form of power we know can give life to a dead person who has been buried.
          4. Paul saw the resurrected Jesus–he knew the reality of God’s power expressed in permanent resurrection.

    3. God did something very special for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      1. The forgiveness of sins is incredible!
        1. In forgiveness, God actually destroys guilt where guilt is unquestionably justified and appropriate.
        2. In forgiveness, accountability for past mistakes is erased.
        3. In forgiveness, the past is erased. Relationship with God is based on present human focus and desire, not past history and mistakes.
      2. The opportunity and the ability to become a new person who begins again is incredible!
        1. I do not think we realize what an incredible thing that is!
        2. Let me try to make it real to you.
          1. Example one: A really bad marriage that has destroyed all sense of credibility comes for counseling.
            1. What is the chance that both husband and wife will say, “Let’s totally forget about the past and start over like the past never happened.”
            2. I can tell you from decades of experience that almost never happens.
            3. When it does on rare occasions, something always happens in which one spouse says, “You have not changed a bit or you would not have done that!”
          2. Example two: A teenager lives in a genuinely dysfunctional home–there is physical abuse, there is sexual abuse, there is emotional abuse.
            1. What is the chance that the teenager and the abusive parent will say to each other, “Let’s totally forget about the past and start over like the past never happened.”
            2. I can tell you from decades of experience that it never happens.
            3. There are so many problems created by the abuse that they cannot be forgotten even if the persons resort to repressing specific memories.
        3. None of us begin to realize how many mistakes we have committed against God nor how many times we have abused God.
          1. Yet, God is willing to do what we ourselves cannot do!
          2. God is willing to begin the relationship anew and allow us to grow into the relationship.
      3. Then, on top of that, God promises us life with Him after death.
        1. Dying is something every one of us will do.
        2. God says our relationship with Him will continue, even better, after we die.
        3. This will occur, but not because we deserve it.
        4. This will occur because God loves us.

    Special gifts require a special response! How have you responded?

    Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Fruit of the Spirit

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-Control
  • I want to tell you a preacher story, but it isn’t my story. It’s a story that David Chadwell shared with me. David & Joyce Chadwell tried to plant a garden in Africa. The soil there was so very rich that they decided to bring seeds from home back to Africa. So they planted their beans and peas, tomatoes, and other good seeds and waited for the rich nutrient-filled soil to yield a great harvest. And lo and behold huge plants sprung forth from the ground. Large plants, larger than they typically grew back home in America. And so they waited for the fruit. And they waited. And they waited. There weren’t any fruit. There weren’t even any blooms. For whatever reasons, the environment in Africa was wonderful for growing their seeds into large, green, healthy plants, but there were no fruit. Rather disappointing wouldn’t you say?

    Read Luke 13:6-9 –

    Compare to the parable. God is looking for fruit. He has a reason for expecting fruit from his people. God wants his people to bear fruit because he desires a harvest. Bearing Fruit has to do With God’s purpose for us. If we are caught up and involved in Gods mission then we will bear Fruit. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit; we are immersed in an environment and connected to a source of life that will do more than grow big green leafy plants – it will bring forth fruit.

    As we begin this series I want to lay out some key principles for us to meditate on and discuss often …

    1. What do we mean when we speak of the Fruit of the Spirit?
      1. Read Galatians 5:22-25
      2. First, notice that there is “one fruit.”
      3. “Fruit of the spirit” is not a way of talking about a list of good characteristics so as to make them sound holy or churchy. “Of the Spirit” means that these qualities are the result of the spirit active in our life together
      4. The Fruit of the Spirit are not a collector’s set. They are not our individual possessions. They are virtues and virtues: 1) the disposition to act in a certain way that are rooted in life together; and 2) they are rooted in common soil which are the common values and faith of the Christian community, so …
    2. We are concerned not merely with the fruit that individuals bear, but the fruit that springs forth from the church – from this congregation. Now that involves all of us as individuals, but it is more than just us as individuals. Too often we tend to think of every Christian as a little tree in God’s orchard. Growing in the spirit is not a matter for private study.
      1. Let’s look at another teaching of Jesus using an agricultural image (John 15:1-6). Not only does this affirm what we said about being in step with God’s spirit, it also indicates that if we are going to have any sort of spiritual life at all we must be connected to Christ. Now use a little logic – if I am connected with Christ and you are connected with Christ and he is connected with Christ and she is connected with Christ then aren’t all of us connected with Christ also connected with one another. Sure we are (and John even affirms that in his letters).
      2. The language in Galatians 5 is plural – “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” If the Spirit animates and courses through the Church, then the church should be bearing producing giving forth the fruit of the spirit.

    I am the True Vine – You are the Branches!

    Before we get concerned about the fruit we first need to go back to the vine, our spirituality and our Christian walk is not based on the fruit we bear, but on the vine that gives that fruit life. It is about the Spirit coming into our life together and into our congregation and filling us so full with the love of Christ that we act toward one another and toward the world in ways that give glory to the God. Christians whose lives remain in Christ will bear fruit charged with the richness of the Holy Spirit.

    I have heard it said that we are not judges but we are fruit inspectors. I am not sure we are worthy to be either. If we recognize the fruit of the spirit it is only because the love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are as easy for us to recognize as are apples, oranges, bananas, and grapes. The fruit inspector is God. He comes to us and wants more than a great big leafy plant. He seeks the fruit of the spirit that embodies before the world the sort of changed lives that God desires for all creation. The story of the man who owned a vineyard and a fig tree is not just a story of judgment – or fruit inspection – it is also a story of grace – or good gardening. There is still time to see a bountiful harvest.

    The soil of our American culture may not be the best, but the true vine can grow in the most hostile environments.

    The true vine, the sign of God’s mercy and love, was a horrible, scandalous cross raised up in a city garbage heap outside the respectable borders of town. If we remain in the true vine, nourished by the life-giving Holy Spirit, then there is real hope of bearing fruit.

    Chris Benjamin

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Morning Sermon, 18 September 2005

    Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit
    September 18, 2005

    1. The Parable of the Fig Tree: Read Luke 13:6-9

      God has a reason for expecting f________ from his people.

      God wants his people to bear fruit because he desires a h________.

    2. Important Principles for the Series, Life of the Vine …

      What do we mean when we speak of the Fruit of the Spirit?
      Read Galatians 5:22-25

      The “Fruit of the Spirit” means that these qualities are the r_______ of the Spirit being active in our life together.

      The Fruit of the Spirit are not merely i______________; they are also c_________________ and have to do with our life together.

      Read John 15:1-6.
      If we are going to have spiritual life we must be c_____________ to Christ.

      If the Spirit animates and courses through the Church, then the church should be b______________ the fruit of the spirit.

    3. Conclusion:
      God seeks the fruit of the spirit that e___________ before the world the sort of changed lives that God desires for all creation.

      There is still time to see a bountiful h______________.

      The true vine can grow in the most h________________ environments.

      The true vine, the sign of God’s mercy and love, was nailed to a scandalous c__________ raised up in a city garbage heap outside the respectable borders of town.

    Sometimes the Where Is Not Clear; Sometimes the Why Is Not Clear; Always the Who Must Be Clear

    Posted by on September 15, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    “David, where are you going?” To the wilderness. “Why?” Saul is trying to kill me! “Why?” I don’t know-it does not make sense to me! “How long will you be gone?” I don’t know! “Where will you stay?” I don’t know! “Will you be okay?” Surely-I am going to the wilderness; I am not leaving God. God is there, too, you know.

    “Why do you look so confused, Habakkuk?” I am trying to figure out what God is doing! “What is going on?” God constantly gives me visions of horrible destruction on His people! “Ah, I understand!” I doubt it! He will use the fierce, arrogant, wicked Babylonians to destroy Judah. How can God use a people more wicked than Judah to destroy Judah. Judah surely are not angels, but they are not as evil as the Babylonians. Sorry; I must go-I have to figure this out!

    “Why are you so despondent, Jesus?” I am on my way to my execution. “If you know where you are going, why go?” God wants me to go. “Aren’t your desires bigger than God’s will?” No! “Why?” Simple-God’s purposes are significantly greater than my desires. My desires focus on now. God’s purposes focus on forever as He wars against evil. My body and mind scream ?don’t die,’ but my understanding realizes God’s purposes are bigger than me.

    “Where are you going, Paul?” I am going to my beating, or my shipwreck, or my stoning, or to my next dangerous journey, or my next personal struggle-take your pick. “Paul, why knowingly have any of those experiences?” Simple-I understand what God did for me in Jesus Christ. God’s gift and Jesus’ sacrifice far exceed my discomfort. Besides, everyone needs to know what God did for him or her in Jesus!

    Where are you going? You don’t know? You don’t even understand why? You struggle to grasp the ?eternal’ is bigger than the ?now’-especially when ?now’ seems real and the ?eternal’ seems artificial? Don’t be distressed by your confusion or your struggle! Why? For two reasons: (1) You are in good company; (2) God is there as surely as He is here.

    Psalms 139:7-12 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even darkness is not dark to You, and night is bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

    What Are We Afraid Of?

    Posted by on September 11, 2005 under Sermons

    Dedication. Commitment. Determination. Conviction.
    When we think of 9/11, we may think of these virtues and reflect on the heroes of 9/11. Without any disrespect to those who sacrificed their lives to save others, consider for a moment that these terms also apply in a literal way to those who sacrificed their lives to destroy others.

    When the President said on that day that America was attacked by a faceless coward, I believe he spoke the truth. They are cowards because they have focused their fear and fright into the intimidation of others. Since they themselves are terrified and cowardly, they seek to make other afraid of them. Like a frightened dog that growls and barks menacingly or the schoolyard bully who wants to make everyone afraid of him because he is weak inside, so then terrorists are not fearless, they are just bullies.

    Nevertheless, now that we know more about the terrorists of 9/11 we discover that they were completely dedicated, committed, determined, and convicted that it was their mission to attack the United States. For years they planned their assault. They learned to fly jets. They learned martial arts. They challenged and tested airport security over and over again. The attacks of 9/11 were not the result of insane, impassioned madmen. It was the work of calculated, controlled, focused murderers. They were dedicated, committed, determined, and convicted in their cause and in their mission. And they even claimed it was in the name of God, though it served only evil.

    Let this be a lesson for us as we consider the mission of God working through us. The powers against God are dedicated, committed, determined, and convicted. Are we? The powers against God call upon their devotees to be sacrificial – are we sacrificial in our service to God?
    The powers against God are also cowardly – they are fearful and frightened and seek to intimidate others. Satan’s schemes are the terrified attacks of a desperate power that knows its ultimate fate. Are we fearful? Are we afraid? Or can we be fear-less for God?

    Read Mark 16:1-8

    8So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
    Verse 8 is rather startling. It leaves us hanging like the ending of a movie we do not like. It unsettles us. It disappoints us. Sort of like the disciples who at just the wrong moment become afraid. Sort of like Peter who even though Jesus warns him, he denies Jesus. He curses, lies, barks, and growls because he is afraid. Sort of like the Pharisees and scribes who should have responded to the Messiah with open arms, but they were afraid of losing the world and the order and the control that they had so carefully built so in their fear they found reasons to justify their rejection and elimination of Jesus.

    Why couldn’t the women be like John the Baptist? He was fearless. He was dedicated, committed, determined and convicted. He proclaimed truth. He called on the ruler of Judah to demonstrate God’s ways and not continue his immorality. But the truth threatened the power of Herod and Herodias and through commitment, dedication, determination, and conviction to being devious and ruthless, the powers against God had John put to death.

    Jesus knew that the powers against God would also be intimidated by his presence. He taught his disciples that following him called for commitment, dedication, determination, and conviction. He symbolized that not with stories about rushing fearlessly into battle with blood-drenched swords, but with the the symbol of execution – a cross. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

    This is a call to sacrificial dedication and it is a call to fearlessness. Those who are fearless can sacrifice without feeling the need to save their own lives or threaten the lives of others.

    We didn’t expect such fear from the women. They were the only ones with the courage to stay devoted to Jesus and witness his trial, crucifixion, and death. They were arriving at the tomb for another decoration ceremony to mourn their fallen teacher.

    That’s when they not only witness the empty tomb, but they also have it explained by an angel. They see and empty tomb, but it is not left open to interpretation – “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ “

    Do not be afraid! And yet they are. Jesus had told others who were unafraid to seek his power (lepers, gentile women, unclean people) to be silent. The world wasn’t ready to hear about the Messiah. But now when the time comes to speak about it, the messenger fall silent because they are afraid.

    If the gospel ends here, then why are we here? If the women really said nothing, then how did Peter and the others ever find out about the risen Lord? How did they ever learn the good news that casts out fear? Simple – the women and the disciples are called to be committed, dedicated, convicted, and determined; they are called to be fearless and to speak up – they are called to participate in the mission – but the mission doesn’t depend on them! Notice that Jesus is already in Galilee and he will meet the disciples.

    Out of the wreckage of the World Trade Center, a cross appeared. It wasn’t formed by anyone as much as it appeared as a result of the destruction. This symbol that rose up out of the rubble and tragedy is more than a symbol for the Christian church. It actually shows us where the cross is really at home. Not on a gilded pedestal high and unreachable above a glorious cathedral, but in the ashes. Twisted, battered and half burnt. The cross is surrounded by those who are tired, dirty, and hopeless. As it was in the first century when the cross – an instrument of Roman execution – was mounted in the most visible location near the city dump where men curse and gamble, in a place where people cry out and criticize, so the cross belongs in the most unlikely and most human – even the most tragic and evil places for it is God’s standard that he rises up to say that this is never the end! There is hope! Do not be afraid! God will have the last word.

    Mark’s gospel pulls us into the story. You have witnessed the risen Lord. You have heard his voice. You know the good news. Now, will you be fearless or fearful? What will you do?

    Wherever God sends us, he goes before us. He is already in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama. He is already in Laos, Vietnam, Nigeria. He is already in Guyana. He is already in Iraq, Iran, North Korea. God doesn’t depend on us to conquer territory in his name and intimidate the natives into submission. There is no realm that is not under his authority. There may be rebellion – but Christ is still Lord over all. So why are we afraid?

    Our God Is Bigger Than Life

    Posted by on September 8, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    Abraham was a nomad. Isaac was blind. Jacob lived with frustration of having two wives who were jealous sisters. Moses endured the ceaseless complaining and discontent of an entire people. Samuel knew the sting of rejection. David lived the life of a fugitive. Isaiah was to prophecy until there was total devastation. Jeremiah delivered messages no one wished to hear. Jesus died the death of a criminal.

    Paul understood God is not a one dimensional God. God did the unthinkable through ways that defied believability. Though He promised Abraham that He would bring a blessing to all humanity (Genesis 12:3), not even the angels understood what God sought to accomplish in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12).

    What was this incredible thing God did? He unleashed a power on earth that could allow any man or woman (regardless of culture, education, or background) to become one of the called out people of God. Any man or woman who had the courage to allow God to teach him or her the purpose and focus of life could belong to God. Those who have the courage to be “the called out for God” are to be living testimonies to God’s great wisdom and power.

    Could God free slaves from one of the world’s most powerful nations? Yes! Could God make a nation from those slaves? Yes! Could God send His son through that nation? Yes! Could God provide the atonement for all the evil humanity commits through the blood of His son? Yes! Could God raise His son from death? Yes! Could God forgive anyone who accepts His sacrifice and trusts His promises? Yes! Can God forgive you? Yes!

    That is the mystery God revealed in Jesus Christ! The astounding thing is not what we have done! The astounding thing is what God has done! Astoundingly, God did it through a death and resurrection!

    This was not just any death. It was the death of a son totally devoted to God’s will. It was not just any resurrection (resurrections had occurred before through God’s power). This resurrection was unique. It was the permanent defeat of death. It still stands as the proof that death is never the end of the man or woman with the courage to belong to God.

    No one but God can defeat OUR death. Let all human power take note-only God defeats death permanently! God demonstrated this truth in Jesus’ resurrection!

    Christians and Undesirable Experiences

    Posted by on September 4, 2005 under Sermons

    I want to begin this evening with a reading from 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.
    Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little. What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold–I speak in foolishness–I am just as bold myself. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?–I speak as if insane–I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.

    This evening, I want us to do two things. First, I want us to focus on Paul’s obvious frustration in this scripture. Second, I want to call something to your attention.

    1. Let’s begin with the context of this reading.
      1. What Paul did in sharing salvation in Jesus Christ with people who were not Jews was very unpopular with many Jewish people which definitely included a number of Jewish Christians.
        1. Other letters that Paul wrote provide us insights into tactics his Jewish Christian opponents used in an attempt to destroy his work and influence.
          1. The book of Galatians is such a letter.
          2. First, Paul evangelized the area and began congregations in many of the cities.
          3. Second, Paul left the area.
          4. Third, some Jewish Christian teachers (known as Judaizing teachers) visited the congregations Paul started.
            1. To paraphrase, they basically said, “Let us tell you what Paul failed to tell you.”
            2. “You should trust us instead of Paul because we come from the first congregation, the mother church in Jerusalem.”
            3. “We represent the 12 apostles, and Paul was not even part of the 12.”
          5. Fourth, Paul was astounded at how quickly these gentile Christians left the gospel (good news) of grace in Christ for the message these new comers brought.
          6. Fifth, the new comers were so convincing and so effective that they forced Paul to defend his credentials as a missionary for Jesus Christ.
          7. If you read Galatians 1, the situation I just called to your attention is evident.
        2. The same type of thing had happened among the converts at Corinth.
          1. The standard attack seemed to be this:
          2. Discredit Paul as Jesus Christ’s messenger.
          3. Discredit Paul’s message as inadequate.
          4. Replace Paul’s teachings with their teachings.
          5. The conflict between Paul and these other Jewish Christians is evident in 2 Corinthians 10, 11.
      2. Some common attempts to discredit Paul (of which Paul is aware) are seen in 10:10.
        1. “He is a great writer, but he is quite unimpressive in person.”
        2. “He is a horrible speaker.”
        3. Paul did not deny the attacks on his person; instead he discussed motives.
        4. People were so impacted by physical appearance and physical ability (like we are!) that such attacks forced Paul to resort to their reasoning to counter their arguments.
          1. He challenged Corinthian Christians to think as they evaluated the situation.
          2. He made it quite evident that his “measuring stick” was distinctly different from his opponents “measuring stick”.
      3. In the NAS (New American Standard) translation which I commonly use, a word is used that we do not often use in the way Paul did.
        1. The word is “boasting”.
        2. To us, it is a negative word with little or no positive use–it has the “flavor” of arrogance.
        3. Paul likely used sarcasm as he basically said, “Allow me to use the approach and the reasoning my opponents use.”
        4. He did not say this because it was his typical way of reasoning, but because it was the way his opponents argued which influenced the Corinthian Christians’ thinking.
          1. Even if I was an unskilled speaker, was I wrong to refuse to make my message about me? (11:7)
          2. Was I wrong not to charge you anything for my work among you? (11:8,9)
          3. Was I wrong to be motivated by love for you? (11:8)
          4. Should it not be evident that those who serve Satan’s purposes are as deceitful as Satan is? You dare not go only on the basis of appearance! (11:13-15)

    2. Let’s focus on the reading at the first of this lesson.
      1. Paul, using sarcasm several times, basically said, “Allow me to reason like my opponents reason.”
        1. “I know, because you have such wisdom, you will allow me to do this” (sarcasm).
          1. “You let those who abuse you say what they want.”
          2. “Certainly you will let me talk to you like they talk to you” (sarcasm).
        2. First, I have all the basic credentials they do. I measure up to their credentials.”
          1. I am a devout Jew just like they are.
          2. I am from the nation of Israel just like they are.
          3. Abraham is my forefather also.
          4. I serve Christ just as they claim to.
        3. Second, let me share some additional credentials I have and let you determine if they measure up to my credentials.
          1. I have worked harder than they work.
          2. I have been to prison for Christ more than they.
          3. Take note of my countless beatings!
          4. Take note of the fact of the number of times I faced death!
          5. Take note of the fact that five times the Jews whipped me with 39 lashes!
          6. Take note of the fact that I was three times beaten with rods!
          7. Take note of the fact I was stoned once!
          8. Take note of the fact I have been in three shipwrecks!
          9. Then consider my many journeys, my trips up rivers, and the dangers I faced with robbers, with irate Jews, with irate gentiles, with city life, with wilderness experiences, with the sea, and with false brethren.
          10. Consider my hardships: sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, starvation, cold, exposure.
          11. On top of those things is the pressure of my constant concern for the congregations I started.
          12. I know what it is like to share weakness with the weak, and to be concerned about Christians who sin.
          13. If my opponents force me to boast, then I will boast about all the things that declare my weakness.
          14. You Corinthians know that what I am saying about my experiences is the truth!

    3. This is the thing I want to call to your attention.
      1. Does not Paul’s life sound like fun? Are not those the experiences you would enjoy having?
        1. Would you not love it if belonging to Christ meant you worked so hard?
        2. Would you not like to go to prison for Christ so many times?
        3. Would you not like to face death so many ways?
        4. Would you not like to be publicly humiliated by enduring pain in so may beatings?
        5. Would you not like to live in circumstances in which you had more people who wished to harm you than you had friends?
        6. Would you not like to be as physically deprived as Paul voluntarily was?
        7. Would you not enjoy knowing the stresses on so many other congregations?
      2. One of the things that frequently distresses me about expressions of believing in Christ in this culture is the “health and wealth” gospel declared by so many.
        1. Many believe that if a person places his or her faith in Jesus Christ, all of life is going to be okay.
        2. Okay means no suffering, no pain, no want, and a very pleasant physical existence.
        3. Do I believe in the power of prayer? Certainly!
        4. Do I believe in God’s blessings? Certainly!
        5. I also understand we have Savior because an innocent man was willing to die in devotion to God’s will.
          1. I also know Jesus who was made the Christ by God said in Matthew 16:24
            Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
          2. He also said in Matthew 10:38:
            And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
        6. How does that all fit together?
          1. I do not know!
          2. The God who far exceeds our imagination fits it together!
          3. In some way it is involved in this enormous conflict between good and evil!
          4. In some way it involves Satan’s attacks on those who dare belong to God!

    Never, never be deceived! We are Christians because we trust the God of resurrection! We do not follow Jesus Christ because of the temporary rewards of this life. We follow Jesus Christ to receive the eternal rewards after this life!

    We seek the eternal, not the temporary!