I Am Proud to Be Part of You!

Posted by on December 29, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

Tuesday we said farewell to George Thompson. After a long and valiant fight, George surrendered to the devastation of Parkinson’s disease. Again, we sought to extend comfort to Margaret, his sons, and his daughter.

Thursday we still again said good-bye to Thelma Blackburn as we sought to extend comfort to her daughter and extended family. Thelma at 94 had been sick for years and was unable to be with her spiritual family for so long.

For a few hours Friday night, it seemed sadness would visit us again. Jess Huff in a state of extreme confusion and weakness disappeared. Thankfully he was found in good condition after many of you spent a nervous period of anxiety and prayer.

I was proud of all the expressions of concern and outpouring of helpfulness throughout the week-everything from food coordination to visits! As powerful as all the expressions were on Monday and Tuesday, nothing made me more proud than the support the congregation gave the Blackburn family on Thursday.

Jeremy we knew. He grew up in this congregation. We saw his family every week. Roy was a part of the staff here for over 25 years and is now one of our elders. George and Margaret were here every week. He and Margaret were a weekly illustration of courage and faith in trying circumstances. Just their presence gave many of us strength.

Thelma was not known by many of us. She had been seriously ill for years. The past two years she suffered from Alzheimer’s Dementia. Illness and age prevented her from attending. And yet many who never met her were present Thursday to extend caring and comfort to the family. The family wanted her funeral in our auditorium. The full family numbered considerable less than twenty-in a room that would seat almost a thousand!

I have no doubt that we all were emotionally and physically exhausted that Thursday. It was a demanding, exhausting week! Still to come was Christmas day in only three days. Yet, you still came and in your weariness once again extended comfort by your presence and your words.

The biggest message we have to share with our community is who we are by virtue of Jesus Christ’s blessings and influence in our lives. In today’s realities, that is declared as certainly by our priorities in our lives as by our words. Last week you made a powerful statement by demonstrating your priorities. Thank you!

Do You Understand What You See?

Posted by on December 25, 2005 under Sermons

This evening will be a little different. We will have more singing. We will have more Scripture readings than usual. Each reading will come from the first two chapters in the book of Luke. I will share with you some thoughts from each reading. My objective will be to challenge you to think.

    Our first reading is from Luke 1:5-17.
    In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”


  1. There are not many physical things in life that I desire.
    1. About a month ago, my middle son asked me what I wanted for Christmas.
      1. I tried to convince him, without any success, that I neither wanted or needed anything physical.
      2. I know I merely increased the difficulty of his selecting and giving me a gift, and I felt badly about that.
      3. However, if he asked me right now, I still want nothing physical.
    2. However, there are some things I know I do not want.
      1. I am 65 years old.
      2. If the Lord God announced to me that Joyce and I were going to have a child, that would not be a joyous revelation–to me or to Joyce!
      3. Zacharias and Elizabeth were old–it does not say how old they were, but they knew all hope of having children was gone.
        1. When the angel appeared to Zacharias as he offered incense to God, I get the distinct impression that this was a first time experience for him.
        2. The situation scared him–and scared him badly!
      4. The angel declared several things to Zacharias:
        1. “You and your wife will have a son.”
        2. “You will name him John.”
        3. “When he is born you will have joy and gladness.”
        4. “He will be great in God’s sight.”
        5. “He will be a Nazarite and filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.”
        6. “He will be a restoration influence in Israel–many sons of Israel will turn back to God because of him.”
        7. “He will also be the forerunner of someone God will send, and he will do this in Elijah’s spirit and power.”
        8. “He will prepare a people for the Lord.”

  2. I wonder if Zacharias had any in depth understanding of what God was planning to do through his son.
    1. I have little doubt that Zacharias was happy to hear that a son would continue his lineage even after Zacharias was dead.
    2. But what was this business of:
      1. That son beginning a restoration movement in Israel?
      2. That son functioning as Elijah?
      3. That son being a forerunner?

    I seriously doubt that Zacharias had any real idea of what God would do through this son!

    Reading: Luke 2:8-20
    In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.


  3. This is likely one of the more familiar events that occurred the night Jesus was born.
    1. Some shepherds were in a field watching their sheep at night.
      1. This may be a clue as to the time of year these events occurred.
      2. From the little indication given, it was a typical, uneventful evening.
    2. The uneventful evening suddenly, shockingly became quite eventful.
      1. God’s angel suddenly stood before them, and the glory of God shone around them.
      2. Just as we would be, they were terrified.
    3. The angel said several things to them:
      1. “Do not be afraid.”
      2. “In the city that David came from, God has sent your Savior, Christ the Lord.”
      3. “This will be your confirming sign: You will find a wrapped baby lying in a manger” (that is not where you would expect to find a new born).
    4. Suddenly there appeared a heavenly host.
      1. They praised God for keeping His promise.
      2. They declared a special form of peace was coming to this world.
    5. The curious shepherds went to find the baby.
      1. They found the family.
      2. They told everyone what happened to them.
      3. The events astounded many, and Mary held these things in her heart.
      4. The shepherds returned to their sheep, glorifying and praising God for what they heard and saw.

    As happy and excited as they were, I wonder if they had any idea of what they had just seen.

    Reading: Luke 2:22-38
    And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– and a sword will pierce even your own soul–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.


  4. In Jewish society, there were (are in the Jewish orthodox communities) some laws that they had followed for centuries.
    1. Laws surrounding birth were one such group of laws.
      1. Leviticus 12 said:
        1. After the birth of a son, the mother was to be considered “unclean” for seven days–just as she was after her menstrual flow.
        2. On the eighth day after birth, the new son was to be circumcised.
        3. Exodus 13:2, 11,12 states that every first born male belonged to the Lord and must be redeemed.
        4. Leviticus 12 further said that a woman was to be considered ceremonially impure for an additional 33 days after the birth of a male child, and then she was to be purified by giving a sacrifice.
        5. It is my understanding that is what occurred in Luke 2:22-24.
      2. In 40 days when Jesus was taken to Jerusalem for presentation and redemption, he is met by two people who understand his significance.
        1. The first is a man named Simeon who is described as a righteous and devout man.
        2. Some unusual statements are made regarding this man:
          1. The Holy Spirit was on him.
          2. He was looking “for the consolation of Israel”–he understood that Israel was God’s vehicle to a divine goal, not God’s end goal.
          3. He took Jesus in his arms, blessed God, and said in essence, “I am ready to die now because I have seen God’s salvation.”
          4. He made an incredible, unthinkable statement for a first century Israelite–the salvation coming through Jesus is for all peoples, is to serve as a light to the gentiles, and is to serve as the glory of Israelites.
          5. The parents were astounded, and Simeon said to them the child will result in the rise and fall of many in Israel and will reveal the thoughts of many.
        3. The second person is a woman named Anna.
          1. She is elderly and has been a widow for many years.
          2. She constantly stayed in the temple area night and day fasting and praying.
          3. As soon as she saw Jesus, she thanked God.
          4. Incredibly, she began to speak about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.

When you look at Jesus in your life, do you understand what you see?

The Word Became Flesh

Posted by on under Sermons

nativity sceneIn Central America, setting up the Nativity is the center piece of the Christmas holiday. Households collect figures of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, shepherds, wise men, angels, and assorted animals. There is even a sort of competition when it comes to putting up a display.

chickenOur brother Oscar Nolasco, minister for the Iglesia de Cristo on Johnson Street, told me about a time his family in Honduras was setting up their Nativity. He and his brothers were teenagers and his mother sent his brother to find animals to put in the display. His brother traveled to a shop 30 minutes from their home to find just the right figures. He gave his mother the first animal, a chicken. Then the second, another chicken. But the third was also a chicken. In fact all the animals for the nativity were chickens. “Why did you get nothing but chickens?” his mother asked. “That’s all they had,” Oscar’s brother replied. So that year, the nativity looked like it took place in a chicken coop rather than a stable.

The Nolasco nativity was not really any better or worse than any other nativity. There’s a lot about the traditional nativity presentation of the birth of Jesus that just doesn’t jibe with the biblical stories in Matthew and Luke. We can get distracted over too many details – such as how many chickens were there – and miss the significance of birth. Matthew and Luke are the only gospels that mention how the birth of Jesus took place. Each gospel focuses on a different set of details. But they agree on the significance of the birth. In John’s gospel, the apostle balances the nativity scene. He wants us to know that no birth story or postcard image can contain the whole story of Christ’s beginnings. The story of Christ’s birth is more than a sentimental memory. It is not even aimed at establishing a celebration. The birth is a gospel proclamation in the sense that it proclaims something good and something new.

Without getting into the details of the event, John understands the significance of the birth of Jesus and this is how he begins his gospel … (Read John 1:1-14)

John takes us where no gospel has gone before. We do not start with Mary or Joseph. We begin with creation. “In the beginning was the Word.” Remember the story in Genesis 1. God creates the world and all that is in it with spoken words. God says “Let there be light.” And it is so.

Unlike creation myths that tell us that what we see in creation is an accident, Genesis asserts that God made the world intentionally. God spoke and there was light. God spoke and there was life. This is the Word that was with God and was God. Because of God’s word there is a good creation. What was once empty and dark is now good – it is full of light and life.

This alone is good, but now something new has happened with the birth of Jesus. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This is the concept of incarnation. And in a culture that is more familiar with “reincarnation” we would do well to understand again how the incarnation of God is good news.

Among the Christmas cards we received this week was one from Brad and Yvonne and their children. The saying on the front of the card says, “The Word did not become a philosophy, a theory, or a concept to be discussed, debated, or pondered. But the Word became a person to be followed, enjoyed, and loved.”

Very simply stated, this is the meaning of incarnation. The Word becomes flesh bone just like you and me so that we can get to know each other. Creation and creator are brought together in covenant. The glory of God is not far off. God is not unapproachable. He approached us.

This is news because God has become like us. There are any number of stories and examples of humans who claim to become gods. The emperors of Japan, the pharaohs of Egypt, and the Roman Caesars claimed to be divine. (In fact one of them, Vespasian, wasn’t much of a believer in the claim. On his death bed joked that he was becoming a god). What is news is that God would become a human. That seems to cut against the grain. This is what inspired what may be one of the earliest hymns of the church found in Philippians 2 … 5Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. 6Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. 7He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. 8And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.

Why is this good news? God knows what it is like to live like us. He knows what it is like to be poor and hungry. He knows what it is like to be betrayed by friends and family. He knows what it is like to grieve the loss of a loved one. He knows what it is like to be afraid and to feel pain.

And think about the ministry of the Word made flesh. His first miracle was to bring joy to a wedding party. There was no crime as detestable as being a traitor or an adulterer in Judah, but when the Word made flesh dwelt among us and extended forgiveness he didn’t simply say “I forgive you.” He ate a meal with them. He didn’t stand behind a line or put on a surgical mask and gloves to heal lepers. He embraced them. When the crowd starving for truth got hungry he didn’t leave them on their own but he provided food.

This week we received a call from a brother who has moved back to this area. He is in the hospital with a staph infection worsened by diabetes. He has been in the hospital for quite some time. He simply called asking to study the Word. We talked on the phone for a while and it became clear that what he wanted was not only a study, but a visit. He could pick up a book and study. He could watch a preacher on TV and “study.” But visits from people who come to the hospital bringing their presence and prayers are something more than study.

And I don’t have to explain that to you, do I? Maybe because we are flesh and blood creatures we understand that there is something important about “being present.” So does God. That’s why, as Petersen says in the Message translation, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

What God Did For Us In Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (part 2)

Posted by on December 18, 2005 under Sermons

1 John 1:1-10 “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us–what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”

Since the attempt at Roman Catholic reform resulted in the Protestant Reformation, reformers have had a tendency to make conditions of salvation difficult for people. To my understanding of what I heard, it was as if God really did not want to extend salvation to humans, but for some reason He had to. Therefore, God made being saved in Christ as difficult as possible. It was as though God said, “I extend you salvation, but I hope you do not accept because I really want to give you the justice of what you deserve rather than the mercy and grace of salvation.” At least, for me, that was the view I was exposed to.

As I matured spiritually, I began to wonder this: If what God really wanted was to destroy us and not save us, to give us justice and not mercy, why bother sending Jesus to become the Christ? If God just withheld Jesus, we definitely would get justice and not mercy. Without Jesus, we gentiles have no form of hope.

There were many factors that resulted in the Protestant Reformation. One of those factors that figured prominently in Martin Luther’s presenting the ninety-five thesis for debate was the sale of indulgences.

This is a very complex evolution in Roman Catholic theology. This evolution of theological view point involved three things: religious goals, secular politics, and money. That is a combination that commonly results in materialism and greed!

At first there was the practice of penance. When a person sinned, he or she had to do something to demonstrate physically he or she regretted the sin. Then there arose a debate about how far reaching the acts of penance were. Could the acts of penance cover the consequences to be endured in purgatory? Then there evolved the concept of indulgences. That concept evolved into the concept that a person could buy total escape from all consequences of sinful deeds.

The idea was this: saints and good people did more than enough good deeds to receive their salvation. From their excess good deeds, there existed a “treasury of merits.” The pope had access to this “treasury of merits” and could authorize the sale of these excess good deeds in the form of indulgences.

A person who had not done enough good deeds to escape punishment could buy an indulgence an assure to himself or herself of an escape from the punishments of purgatory after death. Thus to the average person who did not know all the theological arguments, eternal salvation was for sale and could be bought. In this manner, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church could collect fees to finance their projects, and the less than virtuous people could assure themselves there would be no suffering after they died.

This was the practice that motivated Martin Luther to attempt a reform of the Roman Catholic Church, and that suggestion resulted in the Protestant Reformation. (I realize this reduces many happenings into an attempt to provide a simple explanation. In no way is this intended to oversimplify a complex happening.)

What does all this have to do with us?

One of the complaints against the Roman Catholic Church in Martin Luther’s lifetime was that (1) the system made salvation too easy by (2) making it primarily a matter of finances.

It seems to me (and I classify this as personal opinion) that for centuries the Protestant Reformation made salvation as terrifying and frightening as possible. I think that has stretched into and has been a part of our past more then we realize. For those of us who are older and have been part of the American Restoration Movement since at least the 1950s, how many gospel meetings have you attended? How many gospel meetings have you attended that had a least one night devoted to hell? How many times have you heard an invitation that had the purpose of scaring a person into being baptized instead of challenging a person to deepen faith in God?

If hell were taken out of our past religious emphasis, we would not have much of a message. Years ago, our message was much simpler than the message of scripture: “If you don’t do what I declare, God is going to get you! Is that what you want?”

At least in my experience, this was the message: “God wants to give you justice, not salvation. When you surrender your life to Jesus Christ, you are on your own. If you are not perfect in the way you live, you will get God’s justice, not God’s mercy. If you think you are afraid of hell before you become a Christian, accept Jesus Christ, and we will spend the rest of your life trying to scare you to heaven.”

  1. For a moment, I call your attention to the opening reading.
    1. My paraphrase of the four verses would be this: “What you heard about Jesus is real!”
      1. I heard him–in fact we all did!
      2. I saw him–in fact we all did!
      3. I touched him–in fact we all did!
    2. We know who he is!
      1. He is the Word of Life!
      2. He came from God the Father!
      3. He is the source of eternal life!
    3. I want to convince you to have fellowship with us.
      1. Then we all have fellowship with God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ.
      2. I am writing you this to make that happen!

  2. Verses 5-10 contain some of the most hope filled, insightful, inspiring thoughts in the New Testament.
    1. First (verse 5), you need to have a clear understanding of God’s message that is verified by Jesus himself.
      1. God is light (in the contrast that absolute goodness and purity is light and absolute evil is the total absence of light or complete darkness).
      2. There is not even a speck of evil in God–He is 100% purify and 0% evil.
    2. Second (verse 6), you need to be absolutely clear on this basic understanding:
      1. To claim fellowship with God and to knowingly, deliberately live a lifestyle of evil is a horribly serious insult to God and everything God intended in Jesus Christ.
      2. That person is a liar–he is affirming a situation that is impossible.
      3. Though that is his claim, his lifestyle does not reflect his claim–he does not practice the truth (as revealed by God).
    3. However, (verse 7) if the direction of our lives is toward God and we want God to reshape our lives, two things will be true of us.
      1. We will have fellowship with other Christians.
      2. Jesus’ blood will continually cleanse us from all sin.
        1. Note the use of cleanses–an ongoing process.
        2. Note the use of all in all sin.
    4. If we say we do not need this solution for sin from God (verse 8):
      1. We are self-deceived about our purity and our problem with sin (evil).
      2. Truth (as revealed from God) is not in us.
    5. If we confess our sins (willingly accept responsibility when we make a mistake) (verse 9):
      1. God will keep His promise and do precisely what He promised to do.
      2. He, as promised, will forgive our sins.
      3. He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
    6. If we are self-deceived about our sins and our spiritual need created by the evil in our lives (verse 10):
      1. We become guilty of declaring God is a liar.
      2. God’s word is not in us.

  3. Let me make this as simple and accurate as I know how to make it.
    1. Jesus’ blood begins flowing through our lives when we on the basis of faith in Jesus and repentance of sins are baptized into Christ.
      1. Every moment of everyday that cleansing blood continues to flow in our lives as a result of two conditions.
        1. The first condition is that God keeps His promise concerning our sins.
        2. The second is that we accept full responsibility for sin when we realize we are guilty of evil.
      2. That forgiveness, that cleansing applies to all sins.
        1. Those I am unaware of–all unrighteousness.
        2. Those I am aware of–confession.
      3. God will keep His promise if I will live responsibly.
    2. That is the perfect solution for sinful people who want to escape evil but cannot stop being sinful–all of us!
      1. God can keep His promise!
      2. I can be responsible in the way I live!

That is a truly workable solution! It is individual! It meets every spiritual need for forgiveness!

However, it is only available to people who want God to remake them! It is not a game of pretense or hypocrisy! The Christian cannot live a double life! He or she cannot pretend to be one thing at one time and behave differently when it is convenient!

If you do not want the God of Light to remake you, the solution is not for you. However, if you want the God of Light to remake you as a person of Light, the solution is for you and will work!

We can live with that! We can live in hope, not in terror! It truly makes the gospel of Jesus Christ “good news.”

Honesty and Hope

Posted by on under Sermons

        Today is not typical. We are a hurting family today. I want to say that, because I want to affirm that this congregation is not a congregation that dismisses suffering. We do not ask anyone to leave their cares and worries outside the worship – as if that is even possible. We are a congregation that wants to hold out hope in the midst of suffering and light in the midst of darkness.
        And if you are visiting with us, do not think you have chosen the wrong day to visit. Not at all. In fact, we welcome you to share in our hope and if you have experienced pain, worry, or sin then you are in a safe place. We welcome you to bring this, like all of us, before God in worship.

George Thompson

        Praise and suffering do not typically go together in our experience. They just do not seem to reconcile. I want to state very plainly that this is not true. Throughout the stories of the Bible, God’s people praise Him from the depths of despair. They cry out to Him in the context of worship. Even on the cross Jesus utters the words of Psalm 22 – “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” And no one ever says that this isn’t appropriate.
        My minister taught me that hope and praise can exist even in the midst of much suffering. And today I am sad because I will not be able to visit with my minister anymore. Since I have been in Fort Smith one of my ministers has been George Thompson, and he passed away this weekend. I have enjoyed conversations with George, shared interests with him, my mother attended the church where he preached (though I didn’t know this until recently), I have prayed for George and prayed with him. And in the last few days when he suffered much he was still praising God. I know he had days of frustration and he even told me that he agonized and wept at times. But my minister George Thompson taught me that I could worship, give thanks, or just call on God even when I am suffering.
        So, it is okay today to lift our voices – and it is also okay to let the tears fall.


I have just finished teaching Philosophy at University of Arkansas Fort Smith. During the course of the semester we talked about God. With the help of Anselm of Canterbury we discussed the ontological argument for the existence of God – “That than which nothing greater exists does exist in our mind; but real existence is a perfection; therefore God must exist.” With the help of Thomas Aquinas we discussed five ways that show that the existence of God is necessary to explain our world – “God is the first cause, the prime mover, the necessary being, the greatest good, and the designer of purpose.”

But then we discussed the problem of evil. In the calculus of philosophy the problem goes something like this: “If there is a God then why is there evil in the world?” The logical responses would state that either God is willing to overcome all evil, pain, and suffering but is somehow unable. Or that God is able to overcome all evil, pain, and suffering but is for some reason unwilling. And there’s a third option which is to say that there is no problem if there is no God.

That’s philosophy. And though we find some help in proving God exists from Anselm and Aquinas, there are not many in the Western tradition of philosophy to help with the problem of evil.

I looked back over the sermons I preached this year and I realize that it hasn’t been the easiest of all the years I remember. The first sermon I preached in 2005 remarked on the Tsunami that devastated Asia. That seemed like a world away but now after Katrina, Rita, and Wilma we feel very close to the devastation. Our world, our nation, is hurting. Then there are the ways that each of you and every family here have in some way been touched by pain, loss, or worry. Even if you are simply grieving with a friend, you feel the hurt also.

At times like this philosophy fails us. God is not a logical argument. His presence and purpose is more than an ontological or cosmological argument. And though I appreciate philosophy I also know its limits.

I also know that if our religion and faith is nothing more than rules, explanations, and “answers” then that too will fail us at times like this. For when we are worried about the future or grieving about the past; when we are concerned for our loved ones or mired in our own pain there are no “rules” or “answers” that seem to apply. Answers without emotion and intellect without intimacy are no better than labels slapped onto specimen bottles (Peterson). In times this, we know that God is not a doctrine that we have all figured out. No, he is mysterious and supreme.

The road of pain, suffering, and spiritual frustration may seem uncharted or off-limits for Christians. That’s understandable in a culture in which the best-sellers in Christian bookstores offer help on how to be successful, how to gain blessings, how to be happy. Those road maps don’t describe the territory of life when it seems like we are in a pit, or wandering alone, or stuck in the wilderness. A map is no good when you cannot even find yourself on it. (And if you have ever tried to read some of these Christian or non-Christian self-help books and haven’t had much luck don’t instantly assume that the problem is you – as I said, a map isn’t much good if you cannot find yourself on it.)

In the bargain box of a bookstore of faith are some stories where we might find ourselves. There are Psalms that speak of an intimate relationship with God – but like any relationship there are also quarrels. And so the Psalms say “Come let us sing for joy to the Lord!” But they also say “My God, My God why did you forsake me?” The Psalms proclaim boldly that God is our salvation but they also ask “where were you Lord?”

Psalms are not an attempt to fix the hurt. They are the perfect honesty of God’s people who are experiencing grief, fear, doubt. They are a proclamation that those who hurt are not alone. We have seen how each psalmist pours out his heart in anguish and despair. He doesn’t express it simply for one verse or two verses or three verses, he goes on and on and on with his grief. The Psalms are perfectly honest before God.

In Psalm 77, the perfect honesty of the hurting soul gets right to the core of matter – Has God turned against me? Read Psalm 77:1-10God is supposed to be watching over us with his strong right hand of power. He is the Most High – the ultimate power. But it seems like all that has changed. That’s not right. It seems disrespectful, we ought to know our place – but the question is “Is God in his place?”

Strangely, false humility cannot do what perfect honesty does: the honest admission – the anger and disappointment with God opens a door to a new hope. It is as if there is a breakthrough in the relationship.

It begins with memory of what the Lord has done. (Read Psalm 77:11-20.)

As we think of our past, our personal history and our Christian history. We see the Lord’s faithfulness. I know that there must have been services like this in the early church. Maybe even more than what we are used to! For the first 200 or 300 years of the church’s life there must have been times when a congregation gathered weekly and they noticed that some of their brothers and sisters were not there. As the little flock gathered they spoke of what they had heard – “They were taken by the authorities” “He was forced to worship the emperor.” “Her master disowned her and she was killed publicly.” “It was too much for him. He just doesn’t want to commune with us.” “She lied. She turned her back on Christ.”

I am sure that when our brothers and sisters gathered they remembered the past. They were encouraged by the faith of those who went before them and the faithfulness of God who sent his son. They took courage from the gospel and were convinced that Christ shared in their sufferings and they share in his.

Yet they also had hope. They were not only faithful to the past but also to the future. Read Revelation 22 (Note when Jesus speaks – end the service here!)


Where we find Job, read Job 1 – not the person we would expect to suffer.
Why Job questions/His friends and their worthless counsel
What God says – Job 40
How Job responds – Job 42

How dare I try to give you all the answers to life’s questions in 30 minutes or less. I have learned that God’s ways are too wonderful for us to reduce to nicely packaged words. We try so hard to fit God into our lives; maybe it is time we tried to fit ourselves into God’s life.

Faith … In What?

Posted by on December 15, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

Religiously we declare faith in many things. “I have faith in our movement.” Or, “my congregation.” Or, “the leaders of my congregation.” Or, “the teachers in my congregation.” Or, “our preacher.” Or, “What I always have been taught.”

To me, one of the simplest statements regarding faith is found in Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11:1-3, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. … (verse 6) And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

Speaking of the resurrection and all that follows that event, faith is the assurance the resurrection will occur. Faith is the conviction that though I did not see Jesus’ resurrection and have not seen mine, I live in confidence that Jesus was raised from the dead, and so will I be. The Christian sacrificially lives his or her life for the unseen that is not yet a part of his or her experience.

Faith even enables a Christian to understand how the world came to existence.

Faith in what? God the Father! There can be no hope of pleasing God unless I have faith in God. Two things must be believed: (1) I must believe God exists! (2) I must believe God rewards those who seek Him.

Regardless of how much you believe in “our religious movement,” that confidence is not enough. Regardless of how much you believe in “my congregation,” in the “leadership” of “my congregation,” in preachers past or present, in teachers past or present, in obedient acts past or present, or in issues past or present, such confidence is not enough.

One cannot come to God unless he or she has confidence in God’s existence and confidence in God’s ability to reward. There is no substitute for faith in God! Faith in God is not optional! We obey because we believe in God! We serve because we believe in God! We live our chosen lifestyle because we believe in God!

How sad it would be to approach God in judgment and say, “I placed my confidence in the Restoration Movement!” Or, “I believed in my congregation.” Or, “I trusted the men who led or taught me!” And have God respond, “That is true! However, you never placed confidence in Me.” Your faith is not questioned. However, the question is, “In what do you have faith?”

Let Jesus show you the Father and lead you to life! (John 14:6)

What God Did For Us In Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (part 1)

Posted by on December 11, 2005 under Sermons

Hebrews 12:18-29 For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

For a few Sunday evenings we have focused on the conscious roles Jesus served in his earthly ministry. I stressed several times, “It is not a question of what we do for God. It is an understanding of what God did for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

The focus of our faith must not be on our achievements in obedience. The focus of our faith must be on God’s achievements in giving the life of Jesus on the cross and on resurrecting Jesus from the tomb.

For a few weeks I want us to consider God’s accomplishments (for us) in Jesus’ death and resurrection. This evening I want to focus on this accomplishment: In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God gave us an entirely new way to look at him and to approach him.

  1. To make the point I wish to make, we must begin with a basic understanding of the writing called Hebrews.
    1. First, I want to share this understanding.
      1. When we approach any scripture, we first need to ask ourselves, “What was the problem to writer addressed? How was the problem being addressed in this statement?”
        1. No writing in scripture was consciously written to 21st century America.
        2. That does not mean that scripture was not “god breathed” or inspired.
        3. That does not mean that the messages of scripture are not relevant to our lives today.
        4. It simply means that if we do not seek to understand the point the author made, we are likely to miss God’s point an make the wrong application of what was said.
        5. No scripture receives its meaning from us.
        6. All scripture means what the writer meant as he was moved by God to write–the true point is the point of the writer.
      2. Originally, each book (especially in the New Testament–most of the Old Testament books were written to Israel) was written to someone or a specific group about a specific problem or set of problems in that group.
        1. The more we understand what the problem or problems were in the group who first received the writing, the better we understand the point the author of the writing made to them.
        2. The better we understand the author’s point, the more likely we are to make the correct application of the author’s statement.
        3. That simply means the more likely our lives reflect God’s values instead of our human values.
    2. Let’s make application of these principles to the New Testament writing called Hebrews.
      1. We do not know who the author is because it does not give the author
        1. While it is legitimate to be concerned about who the author is, it is not a matter of grasping the message because we “know” who the author is.
        2. At best, it is a matter of opinion.
          1. We each have the right to hold an opinion.
          2. We do not have the right to use our opinion as a standard of faithfulness.
      2. It is my conclusion and understanding that the message is written to Jewish Christians who were in spiritual difficulty.
        1. I hold that understanding for several reasons.
          1. First, the message shows the superiority of Jesus as God’s spokesman, to angels (big in Jewish first century theology), as the means to God, to the Jewish high priest, and to Moses–all this would have special significance to Jewish people.
          2. Second, there is extensive use of the concept of covenant, which was an important part of Jewish theology–there is even a long quote from Jeremiah 31 to explain what God was doing in Jesus.
          3. Third, there is the reminder of “the former days” when these Christians made enormous sacrifices for Jesus.
          4. Fourth, there is a contrast made between the temporary nature of Jewish sacrifices and the permanent nature of Jesus’ sacrifice.
          5. Fifth, there is the role call of faith in the 11th chapter in which people and instances from Jewish history are prominent.
          6. Sixth, there is the contrast between God acting at Mount Sinai and God acting at Jesus cross and tomb (in the church).
        2. These understandings become even more significant to me when I understand the resentment of Judaism against the conversion of gentiles through nothing more than faith in Jesus.
      3. What was the problem?
        1. Some Jewish Christians were seriously considering leaving faith in Jesus Christ to return to Judaism.
          1. They would not be leaving God, just Jesus.
          2. Judaism worshipped the same God, just not Jesus.
          3. If they did this, they would avoid the ire and consequences of Jews who said, “You can be a part of Judaism or a part of the church, but not both!”
          4. “If you choose the church, we no longer regard you as part of the Jewish community”–and that was a huge sacrifice!
        2. The writer said in a number of ways, “You cannot do that!”
          1. “If you leave Jesus, you leave God!”
          2. “Jesus is God’s intent and purpose!”
          3. “Every blessing God intended you to have is through Jesus!”
        3. The basic point is simple: “You cannot go back by deserting Jesus! That is not the solution!”

  2. Now let me call your attention to the text that was read earlier.
    1. The contrast is between God’s actions at Mount Sinai resulting in the nation of Israel and God’s actions in Jesus’ cross resulting in a kingdom of people called the church.
      1. The contrast is not between a nation and an institution.
      2. The contrast is between two kinds of people–the people who responded to Mount Sinai and the people who responded to Jesus.
    2. In Hebrews 12:18-21 a reminder of what occurred at Sinai is given.
      1. There was the mountain the could not be touched, the fire, the darkness, the storm, the blast of the trumpet, and the sound of words–all designed to create an atmosphere of fear.
      2. Now consider Exodus 19:16-21:
        So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder (or a voice; literally a sound). The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.”
    3. The text says that was not the experience of those who come to God through Jesus.
      1. Christians come to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the Judge of all Who perfects the righteous, to Jesus who is superior to anything before him.
      2. Realize the superior thing God did through Jesus!
      3. Realize how serious it is to reject Jesus!
    4. In the context of the entire book, the point is simple: Jesus provides you a whole new way to approach God. Consider this chart.
      1. Sometimes I think we just do not appreciate how evil people were prior to Sinai.
        1. The Israelites were so evil they did not even appreciate what God did for them in releasing them from slavery (see Exodus 32).
        2. Under no consideration did the bulk of those people love God!
      2. What do you do with people who are so wicked they are out of control?
        1. You try to bring them under control.
        2. How do you do that?
        3. You fill them with the fear of the consequences of being out of control.
      3. Yet, if the goal is to create a relationship of love that allows you to bring yourself under control because in love you appreciate what is done for you, the fear of consequences is only the beginning of the journey.
    5. The point is not that God is some great big teddy bear you snuggle up to.
      1. The nature of God had not changed.
      2. The nature of those who come to God through Jesus has changed.
      3. God is still a consuming fire, but those who come to him through Jesus have no reason to be afraid of Him.
  3. To me, Hebrews 4:14-16 states this powerfully and beautifully.
    Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
    1. Jesus represents us to God the Father.
      1. He represents us because Christians acknowledge and trust who he is.
      2. Therefore, Christians must not abandon Jesus.
    2. Jesus knows our weaknesses.
      1. He has experienced human limitations and temptation.
      2. Yet, he refused to sin.
    3. Because of him, God can look at us with grace and mercy.
      1. Because of him, weak we can go to God in confidence.
      2. The confidence is not in us, but in Jesus.
      3. We can go to God when we are really struggling and know we will receive grace and mercy in our struggles.
    4. That is an enormous blessing we can live with!

The point is simple. We are not saved because we are so good. We are saved because of what God allows Jesus to do for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Because of Jesus, we have a new way to come to God.

Life on the Vine: Cultivating Self-Control

Posted by on under Sermons

Fruit of the Spirit

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-Control
  • Wouldn’t we all like to have more self-control? As the holidays approach and we will be tempted by various and sundry high calorie foods wouldn’t we all like to have more self-control? Well then, just wait until after Christmas and there will be a plethora of vendors ready to equip you with the tools to make 2006 the most self-controlled year of your life. Devices, books, and diets to help you eat less and exercise more. Plans, programs, and patches to help you quit smoking. Consultants, counselors, and connections to help you spend less and save more. Whatever area of your life needs more control, there is someone somewhere ready to show you the path to self-control. Wait and you will see as many paths to self-control as you could imagine. How then is self-control a fruit of the spirit? How is it different from the self-control we are being offered from so many?

    The eight virtues we have discussed so far have all been connected somehow to the character of God. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. God demonstrates all of these. But does God demonstrate self-control? Self-control is a virtue that humans who too often give into their lesser nature have to achieve. God doesn’t have a problem with the works of the flesh. He does not struggle with lesser desires. So it isn’t logical to think that God demonstrates self-control. How then is self-control a fruit of the spirit? Maybe the question we really need to ask is: What is self-control? What do we mean when we discuss self-control?

    The Greek philosophers regarded self-discipline and self-control as the highest virtue. It was the top rung of the ladder in terms of moral development. The morally superior person was the one who had achieved mastery over one’s desires, faults, and lusts. It is a high standard, but seems a little impossible. Hundreds of years before the New Testament, Plato recognized that there was a certain absurdity about self-control. He asked, “Isn’t the phrase ?self-mastery’ absurd? I mean anyone who is his own master is also his own slave, and vice versa, since it is the same person who is the subject.” (Republic 430-431).

    Plato raises an important question: “Who is the self that is in control?” The New Testament answers this in a way that the Greek philosophers could not. Because of the gospel, the New Testament writers can speak about a “new” self that comes about through life in Christ (life on the vine we might say).
    Galatians 2:19-20 – For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

    Ephesians 4:22-24 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
    Three dimensions of self-control: The new self in Christ advances the definition of self-control beyond our typical definition. Like the Greek philosophers we still have a one-dimensional view of what self-control involves.1-D = Control of the self, by the self, for the sake of the self (This is directed entirely on the self; but the fruit of the spirit are directed toward others)2-D = Control of the self, by the self, for the sake of others (Now there is some thought to how self-control benefits others, but the responsibility and power for control remains in the individual)3-D = Control of the new self, by the spirit for the sake of the gospel. (A third dimension is added when we consider that the spirit of God is involved to create a new self guided by the Holy Spirit. And we live out this new life to fulfill the gospel of Christ – which is for the sake of ourselves and the world).

    This three-dimensional self-control is consistent with keeping in step with the spirit. But the one-dimensional definition of self-control that keeps the self on center stage is what creates the obstacles to cultivating self-control …

    Our Culture of Excess, Extreme, and Addiction:
    Perhaps because the typical definition of self-control is consumed with self we find that our culture does not celebrate and encourage self-discipline as much as it does indulgence. Indulgence is much easier. We see this in the ways our culture promotes excess. My friend Jeff Christian says that, “Excess has become a sport, a competition where the playing fields are our homes, our schools, our cars, and our grocery carts.”
    This encouragement is visible in the way that everything is now described as “extreme.” There are extreme sports, extreme music, extreme soft drinks. Labeling something extreme seems to magnify the experience. Now there is even extreme ironing. People skydive, scuba, or mountain climb with an iron and ironing board and iron their shirts. Everything is going extreme.
    Since even the humblest activities and substances can be extreme and excessive we are widening the scope and acceptance of addictions. Addiction was once reserved for drugs and alcohol. And it has probably been a wise thing to recognize that there are other addictions. But there is a trend to accept – and maybe even enjoy – certain acceptable addictions. Think of how many words have been coined that add the suffix “-aholic” or junkie. We understand and even accept that someone is a workaholic, a shop-aholic, a chocoholic, a coffee-holic, or a sports junkie, exercise junkie, news junkie, TV junkie, and Internet junkie, a phone junkie. Just think for a moment – what are we saying about the way we live our lives? What are we saying we depend on to cope or to enjoy life? What about temperance and reliance on God’s spirit. Why are we willing to become slaves to something other than God?

    “Moderation in All Things:” Of course we can take the notion of temperance and moderation and apply it too broadly. At the same time our culture encourages indulgence, it also recognizes an opportunity for providing resources for moderation. (The alcohol companies urge us to drink responsibly. Philip Morris claims they are raising kids that don’t smoke. McDonalds gives us Smart Healthy Choices after getting criticized for SuperSizing portions that were already massive.)The motto “Moderation in all things” becomes an excuse for us to indulge but just a little less. I am afraid that in our culture we have applied this maxim so that it becomes “Excess Light.” But there’s no point in opting for the low-cal, light version of some things. Do we really want to take faithfulness in moderation? Are we truly interesting in sinning just a little bit? This is the principle behind certain sexual ethics that claim that immorality is okay as long as we do not go too far with it. In other words – if we take it in moderation. [So, a wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl raises the ire of the FCC, but an hour of Victoria’s Secret models passes because the right sections of the anatomy are covered.] Being moderate is simply backing away from excess, but it doesn’t mean that we have learned self-control. So how do we?

    Ways of Cultivating Self-Control

    The first step in cultivating self-control is to realize that we cannot do it. Hopeless? No, it is just that our attempts to achieve self-mastery empower the self that is the problem. We are better off is we focus on the other eight virtues of the fruit of the spirit. Cultivating these will lead to self-control which is a sort of by-product of a life that strives to be loving, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and gentle.

    Of course one thing we can do – all of us together – to help this final virtue bloom among the others is to regard our whole bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. (2 Corinthians 6). By whole body I mean spirit, body, and mind.

    Conclusion – Life on the Vine

    The Power of God’s Patience

    Posted by on December 8, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    Take a moment to note something in God’s ancient promise to Abraham. God said “all families” would receive a blessing because of Abraham’s faith in God. Not just the nation of Israel, but all families. Not just a handful of elite people mysteriously selected by God, but all families. Not just the Jews of Jesus’ lifetime, but all families.

    There was a moment when the Israelite foremen said to Moses, (my paraphrase) “I hope you are satisfied! The Egyptians hate us now! Because of what you have done, the Egyptians will kill us Israelite slaves!” (Read Exodus 5:21-23.) However, the patient God endured the faithlessness of the Israelite foremen.

    There was a moment when escaping Israel was caught between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. They said at that moment in Exodus 14:12: “Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ?Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” However, the patient God endured the contempt of a terrified people.

    There was a moment when a bewildered Israel insulted God by reverting to idolatry. In Exodus 32:4 they even credited an idol for God’s act of deliverance. Yet, a patient God endured the insult of His people.

    There was a moment when a faithless Israel was certain the Canaanites would defeat them and make their wives and children slaves. See Numbers 14:1-4. Yet, a patient God continued toward Christ in spite of the faithlessness of Israel.

    The examples are numerous: Israel’s desire for a king; the division of Israel; the idolatry of both Judah and Israel; some of the horrendous situations the prophets wrote about; the rejection of Jesus. Yet, every time our patient God persevered.

    To Christians John wrote these words in 1 John 1:5-10: “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”

    Thank You, God, for Your patience. Without Your patience expressed in the forgiveness of Your mercy and grace, we would have no hope.

    Jesus, the Way to God

    Posted by on December 4, 2005 under Sermons

    John 14:1-10 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.”

    This evening, I want John to take us on a journey of the last days of Jesus’ life. I want you to see the turmoil among the Jewish people because of Jesus.

    1. Sometime after Jesus gave his lesson on being the good shepherd, Jesus went to the Jewish religious Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem.
      1. By that time Jesus was such a divisive, controversial figure that some wanted to kill him by stoning him (John 10:31).
        1. Some were especially enraged at Jesus because he openly affirmed his relationship with God the Father.
        2. When they tried to kill Jesus by stoning, he asked, “For which of my good works are you stoning me?”
        3. When they tried to capture him and kill him a second time, Jesus eluded their grasp.
      2. Because the danger to his life was quite real, Jesus went to an obscure place near the Jordan River to stay.
        1. He stayed in the place until Lazarus died.
        2. The disciples knew why he left Jerusalem, knew the reality of the danger to Jesus, and understood why they were in such an obscure place.
        3. When Jesus announced that for the sake of Lazarus he was returning to the Jerusalem area, the disciples did not think that was a good idea.
          1. They said, “The last time you were there they tried to kill you by stoning you!”
          2. Thomas, also called the Twin, said “Let us go back with him and die with him.”
      3. When Jesus returned to Bethany (only two miles from Jerusalem), Lazarus already had been dead for 4 days.
        1. John 11 describes how Jesus in public sight raised Lazarus from the dead.
        2. John 12 describes how Jesus attended a supper at Lazarus’ home.
          1. It was at that time that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume and dried his feet with her hair.
          2. It was at that time that the greedy, thieving Judas Iscariot bemoaned the fact that this was a waste of money–the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor.

    2. It would be difficult to exaggerate what a controversial figure Jesus was at that moment.
      1. Listen to John 12:9-11:
        The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.
        1. Part of them want to see Jesus or Lazarus out of curiosity.
        2. Part of them believed in Jesus.
        3. Part of them want to kill both Lazarus and Jesus.
      2. A large number of Jews came to the feast because they heard Jesus would be there and some wanted to see both Jesus and Lazarus.
        1. This was a moment of great popularity for Jesus.
        2. It was the time of the triumphal entry.
        3. It was a time of deep concern of the Pharisees for their ineffectiveness and Jesus’ popularity (12:19).
        4. Jesus told his disciples that the time had come for him to be glorified (12:23), but what Jesus meant and what the disciples expected were distinctly different.
      3. Those who disagreed with Jesus in the multitude turned against him.
        1. Jesus hid from those who did not believe.
        2. Many who believed were afraid to declare their faith.
      4. It was a time of confusion for the disciples.
        1. They did not understand what was happening.
        2. However, they viewed Jesus as invincible–he had returned to Jerusalem without being killed and seemed untouchable.
        3. This was the time of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and stressing the way to God was through service, not through position and ruling.

    3. Focus on some things from our reading in John 14.
      1. Jesus knew the disciples did not know what was happening.
        1. Basically, he told them, “Trust me. You trust God; trust me with the same trust.
          1. “I am leaving, and you cannot go with me.”
          2. “But it is okay–you know the way to where I am going.”
          3. “I am coming back for you.”
        2. Thomas: “We do not know the way!”
          1. Jesus: “You know me, and I am the way.”
          2. Jesus: “I am the way to the Father.”
        3. Philip: “Show us the Father, and that will be enough.”
          1. Jesus: “Have you not understood anything?”
          2. Jesus: “If you know me, you know the Father.”
          3. Jesus: “I do not speak or act for myself, but for the Father.”
      2. We understand the key thought is found in his statement in 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.
      3. Let me call some things to your attention.
        1. The key is not in eliminating all our confusion; the key is in trusting Jesus.
          1. The disciples were truly confused, and Jesus knew it.
          2. They expected the wrong things to happen.
          3. That was okay if they trusted Jesus.
          4. Too often we want to replace trust with our understanding.
        2. The key is not being perfectly correct; the key is trusting Jesus.
          1. The disciples were not correct in their expectations.
          2. They were going to be extremely confused.
          3. If they trusted Jesus, it would be okay.
        3. The key is not in “being shown,” but in trusting Jesus.
          1. It is not a matter of trusting what we see and experience; it is a matter of trusting who Jesus is and what he did.
          2. It is not a matter of figuring it out; it is a matter of trusting Jesus when we cannot figure it out.
      4. What did Jesus mean by declaring He was the way, the truth, and the life?
        1. If you want to understand God’s purposes and priorities, look at Jesus.
        2. If you want to understand how to get to God, look at Jesus.
        3. Life is found in Jesus, and no where else.

    4. Allow me to make some observations.
      1. We tend to be a people who place great faith in ourselves.
        1. Often we have confidence because of our knowledge.
        2. Often we have confidence because of “our stand.”
        3. Often we have confidence because of our explanations.
        4. Often we have confidence because of our history.
        5. Often we have confidence because of our purposes and objectives.
        6. Jesus told the 12, you need to have confidence for one reason–you know me.
      2. We tend to replace faith in Jesus with faith in ourselves or our accomplishments.
        1. We are not the way to God; Jesus is.
        2. We are not the truth; Jesus is.
        3. We are not the life; Jesus is.
      3. We all need to seek correctness, but we never need to put our trust in ourselves.
        1. It has never been about what we do for God.
        2. It always has been about what God did for us in Jesus’ cross and resurrection.

    There is nothing as important as trusting Jesus. Only he is the way to God. Only he is the truth about relationships with people and God. Only he is the source of life.