But What Is Inside You?

Posted by on June 29, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 15:8 (Isaiah 29:13) “This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.”

Matthew 15:16-20 “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

Matthew 22:37 (Deuteronomy 6:5) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

As we grow more spiritually mature, our perspective on spirituality changes. When we are first converted, we commonly link spirituality totally with behavior. Most of those links are with ?what we do not do.’ Quite often righteousness is defined in terms of ?what we are not.’ For example, “We don’t drink! We don’t lust! We don’t curse! We don’t steal!” [Certainly, these thoughts in no way encourage drunkenness, lusting, cursing, or stealing!] It is all about the Christian controlling his/her behavior and the community of Christians controlling the behavior of all in it. Faithfulness is reduced to (1) identifying the correct hurdles and (2) jumping over them. If we are not careful, this concept of control extends from the individual to the congregation, from the congregation to our segment of society, from our segment of society to our entire culture, and from our entire culture to the whole world.

At some point in the spiritual maturing process, we hopefully realize that the foundation of spiritual maturity is a deep faith in God. The companion awareness is that one can yield to human control without any faith in God. Thus if one ?does’ the expected routines, he/she is ?in’. He/she does not have to have an abiding faith in God. He/she just has to conform to human external controls.

Thus when serious sickness attacks the family, or financial reverses visit the person, or any form of hardship befalls him/her, life falls apart. Confidence was in a routine, not in God. Hope was in protection from adversity, not in the strength to face adversity. That which threatens life or makes us physically miserable becomes a desperate clinging to the physical rather than a transition to a superior eternal. The comfort was in conformity, not in God who gave us Jesus Christ.

Spiritual maturity is found in expressing faith through behavior, not in substituting behavior for faith. Does the way you live reveal your faith?

Which Is Easier for Jesus?

Posted by on June 27, 2006 under Sermons

Have you ever noticed how easy it is for us to hold thoughts and opinions on the same subject that appear to be in total contradiction? We can be both confident and pessimistic about the same matter. We can feel both encouraged and discouraged about the same situation. We can look at circumstances and express a real sense of hope, and moments later declare feelings of profound hopelessness about the same circumstances. According to us, a situation may provide real opportunity and no opportunity at all, or real advantages and no advantages. Have you ever noticed others doing that? Have you ever noticed yourself doing that?

Consider a specific example. Think about Jesus’ amazing power. Have you ever been impressed with the reality of Jesus’ power? Have you witnessed or experienced things that unquestionably happened because of Jesus’ power? If you have been sensitive and observant, I have no doubt that you have been impressed in specific instances by Jesus’ power. How many times have you witnessed a Christian in a hard, lingering, demanding, exhausting, punishing crisis endure, continue to live, and continue to function in unbelievable ways? How many times have you witnessed a Christian suffer enormous tragedy, endure the tragedy, and come through the tragedy as a stronger, better, more thankful person? How many times have you witnessed someone with a terrible problem develop a relationship with Jesus that totally changed his/her life (the "before" and "after" person were in complete contrast)? Have you ever observed an insecure, ‘do nothing’ Christian build a relationship of faith with Jesus and become a powerful servant?

I have seen all of that and more. I have been astounded, amazed, and said, "Lord, help me have more confidence!" It would surprise me if you have not had the same experiences.

Now, honestly change your perspective. Consider all the situations in which you thought there was nothing the Lord could do. Are there not problems in which you considered the Lord powerless? Are there not situations in which you wondered if it was appropriate to pray about the matter? You just felt certain nothing could improve the situation. You could see no way to improve the situation so you concluded the situation was beyond improvement. Have you ever felt that way about yourself or about someone else?

If we are honest with ourselves, I think we would admit that there are some things we consider easy for the Lord to do, and some things we consider difficult for the Lord to do. Quite often that is more a matter of our personal judgment than it is the Lord’s ability.

  1. To help us develop a biblical perspective, consider an incident recorded in Jesus’ life recorded in Matthew 9:1-7.

Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven." And some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes." And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ?Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ?Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-then He said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home." And he got up and went home.

  1. The context of the incident:
  1. Jesus just returned from the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where he cast demons out of the man who lived in tombs.
  1. He return to Capernaum, the center of his Galilean activities during his ministry.
  1. Some people brought Jesus a paralyzed man to be healed.
    1. The man was taken to Jesus on a stretcher.
    2. He was completely helpless–can you imagine the situation?
    3. We do not even know if the man was there due to his desire or due to the desire of his friends.
      1. That looks like a hopeless situation!
      2. To many of them, it looked wastefully hopeless.

  2. Jesus was impressed by the faith of the men who brought the paralyzed man.
  1. They wanted to so something to help the man.
  2. They came with confidence and expectation.
  1. Jesus then did something completely unexpected by many.
  1. He said to the man, "Son [literally, child"], be happy! Your sins are forgiven."
  1. His friends brought him for healing, not for the forgiveness of sins.
  2. Jesus gave the man something more important than healing [though I wonder if the man or his friends realized that.].
  3. The typical view of the day was that people experienced horrible ordeals as a result of sins–they were being punished for wrong-doing.
  4. In that view, what Jesus said was more significant than a healing.

  1. The religious experts said among themselves, "This man is blaspheming!"
  1. Technically, to blaspheme was to speak scornfully or derisively of God.
  2. Even if Jesus were not God’s son, his statement was not blasphemy–horrible arrogance, but not blasphemy.
  3. They called it blasphemy because Jesus presumed to do something they were certain only God could do.
  4. They were using his words as a justification for their intense dislike of him.

  1. Jesus knew what they were thinking.
  1. He asked, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?"
  2. (Sadly, we are all more prone to think evil than to think good.)
  3. He asked what seemed to be a ridiculous question: "Which is easier, to forgive the man’s sins or to tell him to walk?
  4. The point was obvious: if Jesus had the power to make a paralyzed man walk, he had the power to forgive his sins.

  1. Jesus verified his power to forgive sins by enabling the paralyzed man to walk.
  1. The helpless man who had been carried to Jesus walked home!
  2. Without recovery time or rehabilitation, the man functioned normally.

  1. The people who witnessed this occurrence were filled with fear–the impossible had occurred!
  1. They gave God the glory for what happened!
  2. But the fact the Jesus has such power frightened them!

  1. Look honestly at the happening.
  1. Is it not likely that we might have reacted in the same manner the religious experts reacted?
  1. It had been over 400 years since there was a miracle-working prophet in Israel.
  2. As far as we know, there was no God-sanctioned prophetic activity in Israel in the intertestamental period.
  3. There had been no one who presumed to forgive sins!

  1. Jesus was not what they expected in a Messiah, and I dare say he would not be what we expected either!
  1. He came from a rural region, not an area known for its learning.
  2. He was the son of a builder, not of a scribe or priest.
  3. His family was unimportant in the nation.
  4. Perhaps some thought he was conceived out of marriage.
  5. He had not attended some prominent religious school in Israel.
  6. He wandered from place to place as he taught.

  1. They did not believe any human could forgive sins any more than most of us do. How would you react to someone who claimed to forgive sins?
  1. Not even miracles convinced his enemies that his power was real.

  1. There definitely are times today when we need to examine our own attitudes toward Jesus and ask, "Which is easier. . .?"

  1. Consider the things we freely ask God to do in our prayers.
  1. Forgive sins.
  2. Be with our missionaries.
  3. Help our nation.
  4. Bring world peace.
  5. Bless the works of the church with success.
  6. All of these are requests requiring enormous power.
  1. Yet, we make them so frequently we rarely think about them.
  2. Not only do we feel comfortable making such requests, but we also confidently make them.

  1. Consider what we are hesitant to ask God to help us with.
  1. Real, pressing personal problems.
  2. Enormous personal needs–love, insecurity, things that attack me, hard times, demanding situations.
  3. Often I am convinced there is nothing God can do, so I never ask.

  1. So I ask you to honestly consider which is easier:
  1. To forgive me of my sins or to help me with a personal problem?
  2. To help a missionary thousands of miles away in an unusual [to me] culture, or help me cope with needs facing me?
  3. To help our ungodly nation, or to help me in hard times?
  4. To promote world peace, or to assist me with a crisis?
  5. To bless the church in its work, or to help me with relationship problems?

  1. Why do we not see that God has the power to do both?
  1. Why do we think God can do something about one and nothing about the other?
  2. Do we think if God does not resolve our situation as we prefer, He can do nothing?

  1. God always has three options, and each requires great power.

  1. He can remove the problem [our common preference].
  2. He can give us guidance to overcome the problem.
  3. He can provide us the strength to endure the problem and remain faithful to Him.

Which is easier? For Jesus to save a sinful person from a lost condition, OR to help a member of his family spiritually succeed in the face of opposition? Jesus is as willing and ready to help a Christian as he is ready to help a person trapped by evil.

The Risen Christ

Posted by on June 25, 2006 under Sermons

About 20 years after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the emperor Nero came to power. His rule proceeded a difficult time for many in the empire – especially the followers of Christ. There was conflict in the Middle East as a war broke out between Judean separatists and the Roman Empire. Christians, many of whom were Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah, found themselves caught in the middle – they cherished the temple and loved their Jewish brethren but they did not want to go to war. Some of the Romans were Christians by this time also. Across the empire, the growing group of Christ-followers was blamed for the problems that arose because of Nero’s incompetence. And though Nero was incompetent and immoral, he was still the emperor. It was a difficult time for Christ’s followers, but the leaders of the church (including Peter and Paul and many of the other apostles and evangelists) led the young church through the trials and encouraged them to wait for the return of Christ.

And Nero died. He committed suicide when the Roman senate had had enough of his excesses. But the war raged on and the trouble in the Middle East and Jerusalem grew worse. Back in Rome there was a period of failed attempts to take over the empire.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, the leader of the Roman army charged to quell the uprising in Jerusalem was a military leader named Vespasian. When Vespasian heard of Nero’s death he left his son Titus in charge of the campaign in Jerusalem. Vespasian returned to Rome and assumed the throne of the Empire. He restored the faltering empire to a sound footing. He instituted discipline throughout the demoralized military. He cleaned up the government and established well-disciplined leaders at various levels of imperial rule.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, Titus finally ended the conflict that had threatened unrest across the Middle East. He and his troops invaded the Temple in Jerusalem. They leveled the house of God and stole its treasures. The instigators of the uprising had used the temple mount as a base of operations, now it was gone – along with the spiritual center of Judaism – it was also a demoralizing blow for many Christians.

But under the rule of Vespasian and Titus, there was relative peace and stability. The Christian movement thrived and looked back to the teachings of Jesus and came to understand that the gospel and their faith was not bound to a building in Jerusalem. They spoke of a spiritual temple and a heavenly tabernacle. And still they encouraged one another with the hope of Christ’s return – even though one generation of Christians was passing away and another taking up the leadership in cities like Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodecia. Almost all of the apostles were gone. Peter and Paul had been executed during the reign of Nero.

The relatively stable decade of rule under Vespasian continued when Titus assumed the throne. And this rule was extended another few years until Titus died of illness. And then his brother Domitian took over. Domitian was not as disciplined or confident and his father or brother. He was cruel, calculating, and paranoid. In short time he assumed total authority over the government, taking power away from the Senate. His propensity for cruelty invaded the culture of the empire. He promoted gladiatorial games as sport. He even added female combatants, and soon the gladiatorial combat became even more of a sickening spectacle than it already was. One writer of the period said that Domitian was worse than Nero in his madness and immorality for Domitian’s cruelty was precise and premeditated.

Religious devotion to the emperor of Rome had been in place since Julius Caesar, and Vespasian and Titus didn’t take it very seriously. Titus joked on his deathbed that he was becoming a god. Domitian however insisted that he be worshipped. His egoism, cruelty, and paranoia were a dangerous combination and he would not tolerate even the slightest dissent. He forced subjects throughout the empire to worship him and unlike some of his predecessors who insisted that they be called the First Among Equals, Domitian demanded that his title should be Deus et Dominus – Lord and God. For Christians, this became a very difficult and dark time. The morals of society were collapsing around them. They were persecuted once again and a ruler who insisted that they worship him over their Lord Jesus would exact cruel punishment and execution if they did not bow their knee to his authority. Some within the church suggested it would be acceptable to worship the emperor. From within and without these were difficult times. The leaders who had written Scriptures they cherished were gone. Many wondered when – or if – Jesus Christ was going to come back.

Well, not all the apostles were gone. John was the only one of the twelve still alive. He was a very old man, but greatly respected. Still, Domitian had exiled him on an island called Patmos. Thus he couldn’t communicate easily with the churches he called his little children. He was concerned for the persecuted believers; perhaps he too wondered when Jesus would return.

One Sunday morning, while John was worshipping alone in exile he had a vision. It was a vision of what would happen soon. It was a vision of the future. It was a vision of the church enduring the worst of times and of the glory of God’s rule over the cruel and oppressive rule of every corrupt government. It was a vision of the faithful rewarded. But it was more than just a dream of John, it was a visitation – a revelation – from someone that John knew. The person who presented this vision to him was the true Lord and God – the risen Jesus who was dead but is now alive! [Read Revelation 1:9f]

The one that all Christians were hoping would return had an unprecedented message of hope and encouragement in that age – one that is for all of us in every age. The foundation of revelation’s hope and encouragement to persevere is that it is spoken with the authority of the Risen Christ. He tells John to write what he sees and addresses the vision to the seven churches – which is a way of addressing the entire church since seven is a complete number. And notice how the risen Christ describes himself …

The one who walks among the seven gold lampstands – He is present among the churches. They have worried that Christ is not with them or that he is far off. But he is standing among them all. He is ever-present. And when we gather to worship (thus the symbol of the lampstand) – he is there. He encourages us not to tolerate wickedness, but in our stand against wickedness he urges us not to lose the spirit of love. For if we abandon love, Christ’s presence is no longer with us. The lampstand in his presence will be removed.

The one who is the First and the Last, who died and is alive – Here is the ultimate message of hope for Christians who fear persecution at the hands of others. The battle was won long ago when God raised Christ from the dead. He was the first, but he is also the last. He is not a historical leader – but a living leader. He died, but he is alive. Christ has triumphed over death and we who have been baptized into Christ will share in that triumph. Don’t be afraid when we are threatened, but be faithful.

The one who has a sharp two-edged sword – Christ fights with the only weapon that can never be overcome – the truth. We often try to fight the battles with our own words and weapons, but Christ promises that he will wield the sword on our behalf. When the truth prevails it is Christ who fights against wickedness and immorality. Remain firmly rooted in the truth and trust in Christ rather than our ability to use force and power – otherwise we may become the oppressor and find ourselves on the other side of the sword.

The Son of God, whose eyes are bright like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze – This is the image of the Son of Man. This is the ruler that God appoints to rule over every government on earth. He judges all things and determines what is right and what is wrong. Notice how firm his stance and how sharp his gaze. Nothing escapes his authority. We too must persevere and strive for the same spiritual integrity of Jesus Christ. Those who persevere will share in his rule and enjoy the hope that comes when his authority is established over all creation.

The one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars – Persecution and difficulty can make us weak and weary. We are only human, but the church is empowered by the spirit of God. And it is not a limited resource. We often get tired of “church work” and that is especially true for churches in difficult times. But the risen Christ present among us empowers us with the sevenfold spirit of God. He did so for the Christians in the late 1st century and he will do so for Christians today.

The one who has the key of David – Christ has the power to open doors. No one can shut us out of the promises that are given by God. Only Christ has that sort of authority. Who wouldn’t want honor and influence in this world? But sometimes it can be taken from us as quickly as it is given by the opinion shapers of this world, but Christ promises to give us his honors if we will trust in him and persevere. He has the key and no one can shut doors that he opens.

The one who is the Amen – – the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation – Amen is the last word. The risen Christ is last word. He was there for the creation, and he will have the last word on its future. Why trust in the things of this world? Why worry over losing the things of this world when we can trust and rely on the ruler of this world. Don’t you want to be there not only to say the Amen, but to see him?

There’s one phrase that the risen Christ speaks to the churches in every situation:

… Christ isn’t ignorant of what goes on in difficult times or in pleasant peace. Whether it is Nero, Vespasian, or Domitian on the throne of the empire, Christ knows what goes one. He is aware of our trials. He is aware of our deeds. He knows us. He knows you. Do you know him? He is making himself known to you. All is revealed.

Could You Explain to Me Why You Act That Way?

Posted by on June 22, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

We increasingly live in a society in which godly behavior does not make sense. There was a time when godly behavior seemed to be a way of life many of the industrious disadvantaged embraced. That time was followed by a period when the industrious disadvantaged prospered. As these people prospered, the church prospered. In fact, that period was followed by a time when the church was filled with the successful middle class. It is amazing to note what congregations could afford in 1975 that they could not afford in 1945! It is equally amazing to note how the lifestyle of the typical Christian family changed during that same time period in this society!

But, again, times have changed. The time when godliness was admired and rewarded has passed. We increasingly live in a period when godliness is looked upon as foolish, and when many Christians think the path to godliness lies in political control rather than godly behavior. Too often we allow society rather than God to define the meaning of key words-fun, pleasure, success, prosperity, ambition, commitment, love, etc.

Perhaps there are two things in our awareness we need to awaken. (1) The realization that someone else notes how we live. (2) The realization that our struggle is against something much bigger than the ?here and now.’

Just in case someone asks about the way you live, please do not begin your response with, “I belong to the Church of Christ?” Begin with, “I belong to the God who gave me Jesus Christ.” Honor God and Jesus in your lifestyle.

Westward Ho, Heavenward Ho

Posted by on June 21, 2006 under Sermons

In the early 1800’s the people of our country began a voluntary exploration and expansion that stands as one of the great monuments of all time to human determination and durability. The westward pioneer movement was a challenge of courage and determination. The reasons that lured people to join that great migration were varied. For some it was merely the call of adventure. For others it was the opportunity to leave life in the city [which they regarded oppressive] and return to the land. To still others who faced a future without an opportunity, it was the call of hope found in free land and the right to live a life of choices. Whatever the reasons, for each it was a vision he/she believed would become reality.

I seriously doubt many of the people in the eastern United States had an accurate understanding of the demands and hardships of the journey when they decided to go West. Neither written words nor the testimony of those who personally saw the wilderness could honestly picture the danger and exhaustion of traveling the Santa Fe Trail, the Mormon Trail, or the Oregon Trail.

The first objective was to get to the Missouri River–which was no small task! Whether one took the river route on flatboats or the overland trails through the mountains, the course was tedious, demanding, and treacherous. In actuality, getting to the Missouri River was just the process of preparing to begin the journey. Once the Missouri River was crossed, the journey was ready to begin in earnest. If the family was to travel all the way to the Pacific coast area, they faced a journey of over 2000 miles. If there was not excessive trouble along the way, the family could plan on the trip taking from four to five months.

For protection and guidance, the family would become part of a wagon train. In that wagon train, they would move at a pace of two to three and a half miles an hour. How far they traveled in a day would be determined by the availability of water. If water was scarce, they might push themselves forty miles in one day. If water was readily available, they might make no more than fifteen miles in a day. Every foot of the journey was rough, jolting terrain. It was rough enough to churn the milk carried in containers on the side of the wagon–just from the bouncing during the day!

The common, most desired mode of travel was the Conestoga wagon. It was approximately 15 feet long and 6 feet wide. It had a double canvas top stretched over high hoops. The front and back ends of the wagon were elevated so the steepest grades in the mountains would not cause the cargo to fall out. Those ends also made it possible for the wagon to float. Also the wheels had broad rims to help prevent bogging.

Imagine a family in an eastern city who had decided to go West. They had just managed to buy a Conestoga wagon. Standing in town on a desirable road as it was passed by local buggies, it looked like a massive house on wheels. The husband thought, "The journey might be trying at times, but nothing will be too difficult for this piece of machinery to handle!" The wife thought, "I will be able to carry with me far more of our possessions than I thought! Why, this wagon can hold everything we own!"

The day came to load the wagon. Some hard choices had to be made about what to leave behind. Often the wife’s wishes prevailed to "take just one more piece." Several fresh oxen were hitched to the wagon, and as they moved out of town on well established roads, the husband and the wife thought to themselves, "We will have no trouble taking all this with us!"

After a few days of travel, they reached the wilderness mountains east of the Missouri River. The oxen have begun to tire a little, and it is obvious they will never pull that load up the narrow mountain trails or hold that load when they descend the mountains. Reluctantly, the wife admits there are several things that are not essential. Those things are off-loaded and left behind.

Finally they reach the Missouri River, cross it, and join a wagon train. They half expected the trail to get easier on the plains. The roughness of the undeveloped land and the absence of traveled roads take a toll on the oxen. Keeping up with the wagon train becomes harder and harder. It becomes obvious something must be left behind.

The wife dearly wants to keep everything on board. The thought of leaving any of it behind is almost unbearable to her. Every single item would be useful in building a new home. The bleakness of the wilderness reminds her that all they have is what they have with them.

As she hesitates with a look of deep despondence, her husband catches her attention. He looks her straight in the eyes and says, "Go inside the wagon and mark all the pieces you love so much you are willing to die for them. If we do not significantly lighten our load, we will be left behind and we will die."

Startled, she disappears behind the canvas. Quickly, she returns with no look of despondency and says, "I am not willing to die for any of it. Getting there is all that is important. Leave anything you need to leave any time you need to leave it."

Never again did she hesitate to lighten the load. They reached their destination.

  1. Conversion to Jesus Christ is the beginning of a pioneer journey to a new home.

  1. Significant New Testament emphasis is given to the fact that Christians do not belong to this world (we are merely passing through it).
  1. Jesus said of his apostles in John 17:14-16:

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

  1. The writer of Hebrews declared concerning the great people of faith:

Hebrews 11:13,14 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.

  1. Peter issues this Christian challenge in 1 Peter 2:11:

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

  1. Paul in Philippians 3:13 said those Christians should "forget the things which are behind, and stretch forward to the things which are before."
  2. The successful Christian in every generation lives with the knowledge and acceptance of the fact that he/she does not belong to this world.
  1. Living successfully for Christ as we travel through life to reach our home with God is similar to that pioneer family going West.
  1. When we are first converted, we are so impressed with God’s power in our salvation that we easily conclude God successfully can take us and everything we like through the journey of our pilgrimage.
  2. Not long after we are converted we are forced to face the reality: Salvation’s real question is NOT God’s ability to save us, but our willingness to follow God.
  1. When we follow Jesus Christ and God, it is frequently over rough, uncharted territory.
  1. That is when the load created by the things of this world attack our strength and cause us to fall behind.
  1. Some of our early decisions make it evident that some things simply must be left behind.
  1. How important is my regular worship with my spiritual family to my faithfulness?

  2. How important to me are Christian standards and values?

  3. How important to me are Christian ethics?

  4. Basic decisions make it evident I cannot travel the way of righteousness with the cargo of a formerly sinful life.

  1. Yet, these early decisions do not compare with the more difficult decisions as I travel to greater spiritual knowledge and maturity.
  1. Concepts such as the living sacrifice, stewardship of blessings and abilities, and responsibility to others demand difficult decisions that depend on prayer and love for Christ.
  2. Often we find that with all we left behind, it is not enough.
  1. There is the constant need to reevaluate our lives, to consider our relationship with God, and to consider our relationship with other Christians.
  1. The decision becomes less a sacrifice of things and more a sacrifice of self.
  1. Inevitable, a crisis arises that forces decisions: How badly do I wish to follow God? How much do I want to spiritually succeed? Shall I move on with God or stop here?
  1. It is at these moments we must say to ourselves, "Look at everything holding you back, and mark all you are willing to die for."
  1. Anything that will keep us from following Christ will eventually kill us spiritually.
  1. It is at these same moments we need to say to ourselves, "None of it is worth dying for. Getting home with God is all that is important."

  1. Perhaps the most important question we need to ask ourselves in our spiritual pioneer journey is NOT how hard are we willing to try, but what are we willing to leave behind.

  1. Trying hard with an impossible load and trying hard with no unnecessary weight will not produce the same result.

  1. Consider Hebrews 12:1, 2:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

  1. Consider Paul’s statement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3, 4

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.

  1. Consider Peter’s statement to discouraged Christians in 2 Peter 2:20:

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

  1. One of our primary purposes in obeying Jesus Christ is to free ourselves from destructive burdens.
  1. Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
  1. Ephesians 4:22-24 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Today, walk around inside your life. Look at the unnecessary weight you are carrying. Ask yourself if you love these things so much you are willing to die for them. Is it not time to off-load everything that keeps you from being the Christian you aspire to be?

What I Have Learned From VBS

Posted by on June 18, 2006 under Sermons

[The following is an excerpt from an article on www.wikipedia.com]

The Torah states in Numbers 15:38: “Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of blue (Hebrew: תכלת – tekhelet) on the fringe of each corner.”

Tzitzit are also commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12, which says: “You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.”Tzitzit are attached today only to Jewish religious garments, such as a tallit gadol (large prayer shawl). This is due in part to the fact that today’s typical garment does not have the required 4 corners, and thus the fringes are not necessary. Traditional Jews wear a tallit katan (small prayer shawl) in order to fulfill this commandment at their own volition (although some consider it a transgression to miss a commandment that one has the ability to fulfill).

Various reasons are given for the commandment. The Torah itself states: “So that you will remember to do the commandments.” In addition, it serves as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt (Numbers 15:40). The Talmud equates its observance with that of all the mitzvot. Rambam (Comm. Pirkei Avot 2:1) includes it as a major mitzvah along with Brit Milah and Korban Pesah.

The two sets of stands are knotted together twice, and then the “shamash” (a longer strand) is wound around the remaining seven strands a number of times (see below). The two sets are then knotted again twice. This procedure is repeated three times. A commonly formed pattern of windings is 7-8-11-13 (totalling 39 winds – the gematria of the “The LORD is One” Deuteronomy 6:4). Others, especially Sephardim, have 10 and 5 and 6 and 5, a combination that represents directly the spelling of the Tetragrammaton.

The simple things matter when they lead us to the big things …

  1. Look at Deuteronomy 6. And Joshua 4 – the 12 stones. The children will ask about the simple things and the parents are to recall what it really means. They are to tell the story of what God has done.

  2. Do you remember what you learned at VBS? The simple things of VBS lead us to the greater things of God. God is at work in a cardboard synagogue or under a shade tree.

  3. I remember my first VBS – I was the only teen the first night. Ron, Ed, and me. And Ed shared the gospel with me in a way that was inspiring. Until that moment I always thought of baptism as “hell insurance” I thought it was something that I certainly needed to take care of but I didn’t really see how it made much of a difference in my life here and now. So I wanted to take care of the matter privately. Ed gave me another way to look at it: “Don’t miss out on the joy of being a Christian.” A simple thing that pointed to something much greater. Here was an older man who shared his Christian joy with a young man of 13. He gave me a vision for following God rather than describing it as a chore or spiritual tax payments.

VBS Presentation

Posted by on under Sermons

Benjamin: I want to welcome everyone this morning and as you can see this is the Sunday before VBS. I appreciate Brent taking the time to include the children and we do of course want to encourage all of you to be involved in VBS, but I really need to speak to you about some urgent matters. VBS is important, but there is still important business to discuss … so, would you please take your Bible and turn to Luke 18 which is the text we need to discuss? Now then, [ad lib] …

[Census Taker interrupts as he is walking towards the podium. He is looking out into the audience taking a head count, counting aloud, making notes on his tablet …]

Census Taker: [ad lib] 563 … 564 … 565 … wait, already got him … [census taker should be on the podium next to me paying no attention to me]

Benjamin: Excuse me? Can I help you?

Census Taker: No, I’m fine, carry on … [keeps counting aloud]

Benjamin: What do you mean carry on? I’ve got some important business to discuss here and you are sort of a distraction.

Census Taker: Very sorry, but I have some important business, too. (counts some more)

Benjamin: What might that be?

Census Taker: Well, haven’t you heard that Caesar Augustus has decreed a census of the entire Roman world?

Benjamin: Really? Even here?

Census Taker: The entire Roman world.

Benjamin: Uh-huh, sounds like you have a lot of work to do.

Census Taker: You’re not kidding. And this census requires everyone to travel to their hometown to register and so there’s people moving everywhere. I even had to set up a temporary booth in the local marketplace. Now if you’ll excuse I have important work to do. No time to talk! Remember to register – Caesar Augustus appreciates your cooperation! (faces the crowd) [Leaves the podium counting …]

Benjamin: [Watches Census Taker leave] I apologize about the interruption. It’s a shame to interrupt the serious business we have at hand for some census taking nonsense. He thinks he has serious business? We have serious business so let’s get to it. Now then if I can have your attention, I want you to turn in your Bibles to Luke 18 …

Carpenter: [Walking toward podium waving, carrying his travel bag] Excuse me! Sir! Excuse me!

Benjamin: Yes, what do you want?

Carpenter: Well, I was wondering if you could direct me to the local marketplace? I’m on my way there to register for Caesar’s census.

Benjamin: Well, if you could catch up to that census-taker he’d show you how to get there, but anyway, the marketplace you are looking for is right over there (points). So where have you come from?

Carpenter: Oh, I’ve come up from Nazareth in Galilee. I was supposed to meet my friend Joseph here. He’s another carpenter from back home and he’s supposed to be in town for a while so I thought I would set up shop here.

Benjamin: Wait, this isn’t the same Joseph that’s engaged to Mary is it?

Carpenter: Yeah! You know him?

Benjamin: Oh yeah, I’ve heard about him. Seems like I read something about him somewhere. . . . So, did you brought your tools and some of your craft with you? I kind of like woodworking, do you think I can take a look at some of your work?

Carpenter: Oh, I’d love to show you, but I really need to get to the marketplace and see if I can find Joseph. His wife is expecting a child you know. And I’m not sure if they’ll find a place to stay. But if you’ll come by the marketplace this week I can show you what we make.

Benjamin: Uh-huh, okay. Well, I’ll see you there.

[Carpenter says good bye and leaves]

VBS logoBenjamin: Well then. Enough of that, let’s get back to business. Now then, turn in your Bibles to Luke 18 … [Read Luke 18] 15People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The theme of VBS this year is “Making Room for the Savior.” Do you see how the Savior made room for children in the kingdom? So just what is the serious business of the kingdom?

The movie Finding Neverland tells the story of playwright J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. In one scene he is watching the first rehearsal of Peter Pan with his producer Charles Frohman who is rather nervous about the financial success of the play. Frohman seems disappointed and anxious with the play and when Barrie asks him about it Frohman replies, “Picture it James. It’s opening night and there will be doctors, lawyers, and businessmen in attendance with their wives – all dressed to the nines. They will come with expectation of seeing theatre – what we call theatre. Instead what we are giving them is fairies, pirates, crocodiles, and mermaids. I don’t even know what this is.”

Opening night comes and the aristocrats of London file into the opulent theatre in their expensive finery to see theatre and to be seen at the theatre. Barrie has asked Frohman to reserve 25 seats for special guests who arrive at the last moment. Twenty-five orphans are ushered into the theatre house and take their seats scattered around the theatre sitting amongst the London elite who sometimes scoff and sneer at the children who certainly seem out of place with this society gala. The first showing of Peter Pan begins with a man in a dog suit barking at the audience. What would be incomprehensible to the noble patrons of the theatre is an immediate hit with the children who laugh at the simple humor and thrill over the flying boy and his sword fights with pirates. In time, the stuffy adults are captivated and carried along by the amusement and wonder of the children. At the end of the play the nobles who marched in with their noses in the air are walking out holding hands with the children and laughing out loud.

Could there be any better illustration for what Jesus meant when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Did you notice what the disciples of Jesus were doing with the children brought to Jesus? They were rebuking the people who brought the children to Jesus. Rebuking – ever been rebuked? Ever rebuked? It means to reprimand or to criticize sharply.

I am sure that the disciples simply thought that Jesus was too busy to spend time on these children. After all he had to focus his attention on being the Messiah. And the business of the kingdom is important. It is serious business. Of course none of the adult disciples have a clue what the kingdom is really about.

Do we? In our “church work” are we too busy for the real “kingdom business?” The reason we spend all of this time with VBS and the children’s ministries is not simply because children are important, but because we need the children. Like that aristocratic audience in London, we need the wonder and imagination of children to lead us into the kingdom. We are caught up in their amazement which draws us into the story . . .Costumes, plays, marketplace. We enter into the old, old story so that the children can enter into it. But who’s leading who into the story? Who’s leading who into the kingdom?

The teaching of Christ: “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
The words of Christ: Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Spiritual: By Accident or By Intent?

Posted by on June 15, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

Ephesians 4:30 “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

God wants you to be all you are capable of being in Jesus Christ. Why? God wants you to intentionally focus your physical existence on the time that occurred when He surveyed all He made and said, “It is good!” Your distant ancestors were included in that statement!

There seems to be at least three classifications of people. (1) Those who have no interest in spiritual matters. To them, the only important consideration in existence is the physical. They prefer to indulge the physical while giving little thought to the spiritual.

(2) Those who wish to give just enough consideration to the spiritual to avoid disaster. It is not so much that they are afraid of hell as it is that they do not wish to go to hell if it exists. It is not so much that they wish to go to heaven, but they would like heaven to be their ?fall back’ plan if there happens to be an eternity and heaven.

(3) Those who wish to use physical realities to enhance spiritual realities. These are fully convinced that we humans are spiritual beings designed to exist with God Himself. They view life as an investment. By choice, they invest the physical in the spiritual.

In a huge oversimplification, among those who acknowledge spiritual existence is at least a possibility, there seems to be two general classifications [with many hybrid classifications]: Those who wish to be spiritual by accident, and those who wish to be spiritual on purpose. Christians seek to be spiritual on purpose.

For a moment, consider spiritual existence from a genuine Christian perspective [with so many counterfeit perspectives declaring to be Christian, this is not a simple challenge]. From the genuine Christian perspective, the physical is temporary and the spiritual is eternal. The spiritual, not the physical, addresses who we really are-to the extent that the spiritual defines the physical rather than the physical defining the spiritual. The goal is complex but also simple: the goal is to allow God to define who and what we are.

Paul’s admonition to Christians in Thessalonia and Ephesus: “Do not resist God’s influence in your lives.” To them, God’s Spirit was God’s influence as they lived in corrupt environments, corrupt societies, and corrupt communities. On many occasions, it was easier to hide God’s influence on them than display God’s influence on them. Often it was simpler to behave in ways that made it harder for God to be a living influence in them. It is just so much more convenient to be ungodly in an ?unspiritual’ environment!

What about you? Are you spiritual in all environments because that is what you want?

The Bride of Christ

Posted by on June 11, 2006 under Sermons

Check out Chris’ DaVinci Code blog.

This is the height of the wedding season. Such a popular time for couples to get married. The festivity of a wedding is always a great occasion. We are fascinated by grand style weddings. The royal wedding of Charles and Diana was televised in America in 1981. Just a few years ago, the rather unceremonious civil wedding of Charles and Camilla was televised.

Weddings are big events, they are big news and they are big business. The Fairchild Bridal Group conducted a survey in 2006 and found that the average cost of a wedding was over $26,000. (Source: CNNmoney.com) Perhaps this is why the Royal Wedding of Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene has been big news and big business. (The DaVinci Code novel in its first year had nearly 7 million copies in print and Sony pictures paid $6 million for the rights to make the movie. Source: Christian Science Monitor March 19, 2004) With that sort of money, of course there are those who want to be a part of planning Jesus’ wedding …

Jesus’ Wedding Planners [View of The DaVinci Code, et al] – Where does this notion even come from? Part of is the thought that a married Jesus is somehow more down to earth. Part of it is actually a reaction to what some view as an oppressive church – i.e. Roman Catholic Church mainly without any serious distinction between RCC and other groups. The wedding planners include Dan Brown building on the earlier work of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail – who took their cue from Pierre Plantard’s Priory of Sion Hoax in 1956. They claim that it makes better sense to have a married Jesus because …
1. It would have been unnatural and against social decorum for Jesus, a Jewish man, to remain unmarried.
2. Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and the wedding was in Cana (John 2).

So the logic goes like this: A lot of people in Jesus’ day got married. Jesus went to a wedding, so he must have been married. And now that everyone is talking about Jesus being married, well it must be true. This is how urban legends get started – if it is consensus, then it is truth.

John 2:1 – – On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
What sort of wedding is it when someone has to invite the groom and worse yet the groom’s mother? Jesus and his disciples are guests. Jesus is unconcerned with the lack of wine for the banquet. Jesus leaves with his family and disciples – and not his wife!

The Wedding Crashers [Invalid responses to above] – I mentioned that one of the reasons some of these people even “planned” a wedding for Jesus is part of a reaction against the the perception of a dominant church doctrine regarding the marriage of Jesus. This is the scandal and cover-up that is a big part of the plot of DaVinci Code – “A child of Jesus would undermine the critical notion of Christ’s divinity and therefore the Christian Church, which declared itself the sole vessel through which humanity could access the divine and gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven.” – The DaVinci Code, p. 254

So, there are some who want to defend the traditional position of an unmarried Jesus. They want to “crash” the idea of a wedding by pointing out that …
1. Jesus is divine so he cannot be married with children
2. Jesus is high preist of the church and priests cannot be married
3. Jesus ordained celibacy.
On both sides of this issue are those who feel that a married Jesus with children would somehow undermine the divinity of Christ and the church. The arguments given above are not valid arguments. That is not to say that we must concede that Jesus was married, rather there are some assumptions of the wedding crashers about human relationships and marriage and ministry that are just as distorted as the view of the wedding planners. I propose a different view altogether and we need to be aware of how this whole scandal is a red herring . . .

Red Herring Alert [There is no scandal!] A red herring refers to an irrelevant arguments that distracts you from the main point. The term apparently comes from fox hunting when a smoked red herring was dragged across the trail the hounds were on. The scent was misleading.

  1. It is not a fundamental doctrine of the church that Jesus was unmarried. This is not a critical tenet for establishing the divinity of Jesus or the existence of the church. Jesus is divine because he is born of the holy spirit, he is divine because the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism and the voice of God said “This is my son!” He is divine and Peter, James, and John saw his divine glory on the mountain of transfiguration. He is not divine because he never married. Furthermore, the church is because Christ gave his life for the church, the church is because God is gathering those who have been baptized into Christ into his church.
  2. Jesus would not have sinned if he had been married and raised children. Now here’s a real problem. The view of the scandalizers and the scandalized both assume that being married involves sin because of human procreation. This is also attached to the mistaken concept of original sin. Let’s imagine for a moment that Jesus had been married and had fathered children. If that were the case – there would be no sin. It would not change gospel, it would not change the nature of the church. Jesus lived out human life without sin. He lived out human life the way God always meant for us to. If he had taken wife and fathered children he would have done that God’s way. And there is a godly way to do that. Within the boundaries of marriage there is nothing sinful about procreation and the marriage relationship. However …
  3. There is no evidence Jesus was married. The view of the wedding planners is an argument from silence. The NT writers did not go out of their way to establish the fact that Jesus was married, but there is much in what they do say that suggests that they simply understood that Jesus was unmarried. 1 Corinthians 9:5 – 1) Paul mentions nothing about Jesus being married. If Jesus had been married wouldn’t that have made his point? 2) Celibacy is not required for church leaders or for proclaimers of the gospel. Peter is married and Paul affirms this.

Jesus was unmarried, but in his teaching and in his life he has this to say about marriage … What Jesus Taught and Lived [Read Matthew 19:1-15]

  1. Jesus affirmed marriage. He referred back to Genesis 2 to show his support of marriage. He declared that it was good for a man and a woman to be married. He appeals to God’s intent.
  2. Jesus affirmed remaining single. Jesus did not always conform to the expectations of culture – he challenged culture with kingdom values. Jesus acknowledged that the call to the kingdom was so serious that he said things like . . . “Let the dead bury the dead.” Don’t look back but follow me. If your right eye offends you pluck it out. He held staying married in higher regard than justifying a divorce. He did not ordain celibacy, but he said that if someone remained single for the sake of the kingdom, that that was also blessed by God. (Matthew 19:10-12)
  3. Jesus calls for devotion to the kingdom of heaven rather than social expectations.

The point is devotion and dedication to God. If married – devote it to God. There are too many marriages that are dedicated just to meeting individual needs. If single – devote to God. Too many of us view being single as being broken or incomplete. It isn’t marriage that makes a person complete – God does. And God makes a marriage complete.

What the world and the church need today are disciples who are so devoted to Christ and the Kingdom of God that we are willing to challenge the expectations of culture as Jesus did. Maybe not with marriage (although that is a possibility) but what about the way we use our time and money? What if we bought a $20,000 car instead of a $30,000 car and gave the difference to the poor or to the church? What if we decided to use our own time to help children do better in school? What if we decided to visit a lonely person in the nursing home instead of going to a movie – or what we rented a movie and invited friends to watch it with us? Not doing things so that we can suffer for Jesus … but truly changing our outlook on life and the world and seeing it the way Jesus does.

What about the way we live our lives. Are we conformists? Or are we Christians? Not just being different and peculiar for that sake of not being like others, but taking to heart the call of discipleship that Jesus utters.

In conclusion, there is no evidence that Jesus was married. But Christ does have a bride. He is engaged to his bride to be – the church. And the wedding day is always one day closer. You are invited to the wedding.

Life’s Two Bank Accounts

Posted by on June 4, 2006 under Sermons

Matthew 6:19-34 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

How are your investments going? Was the stock market up or down this week? What interest rate do you have on your biggest loans? Is it true the owning your own business means that you will never be unemployed again? If a person beginning college studies were to ask you what career path he or she should take to have a good future, what advice would you give him or her?

May I share an observation with you? If you have a lot of money or possessions, it takes more time than you have to manage them. If you have a little money and few possessions, it takes more time than you have to manage it. If you have no money or possessions, the lack of money and possessions likely consume your time and life as much as money and possessions consume the lives and time of people who have both. It makes me wonder who serves whom: does money serve us, or do we belong to money?

Life focuses on investments. Every person, man or woman, makes those investments: some out of necessity and some out of choice. One of the biggest questions every man and woman faces is this: in what are you investing?

  1. Centuries before Jesus was born into this world, God said these words to second generation Israel through Moses:
    Deuteronomy 8:1-3 All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers. You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
    1. Moses referred to an experience in their lives that happened when many of them were children.
      1. Their parents had not yet reached Sinai.
        1. The parents were very dissatisfied with living in the wilderness and stated their discontent.
        2. They had been in the harsh wilderness environment for a month and a half.
        3. They had dreams about all the good food they had in Egypt (like us, they forgot the horrible things).
        4. They even said that the only reason they were in the wilderness was for them to die of hunger.
      2. It was in that context that God provided them quail in the evening and manna in the morning.
        1. The people to whom Moses spoke ate manna for 40 years!
        2. Manna began on that occasion at the middle of the second month after their departure from Egypt.
        3. God’s provision of manna ended about 40 years later when they crossed the Jordan River, camped at Gilgal, were circumcised, kept the Passover, and ate some of the produce of Canaan.
    2. In Moses’ statement, quoted centuries later by Jesus (Matthew 4:4), I find several things fascinating.
      1. God brought them to severe hunger and provided them manna for two reasons.
      2. First, to know if obedient trust was in their hearts.
      3. Second, to teach them that there was a greater issue in survival than food.
      4. Or, there is more to life than physical survival.
      5. Following God’s guidance is more important than food.
      6. Food is terribly important to most of us!
    3. The issue: is spiritual survival really more important than physical survival?

  2. Let me call your attention to Jesus’ words in tonight’s text.
    1. First, we need to establish a context.
      1. In the over-all context of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) my conclusion is this: Jesus was contrasting God’s concept of righteousness in human existence with the Jewish concept of righteousness in human existence (particularly the Pharisees’ concept).
        1. The Pharisees would have said there was no difference in their view and God’s view.
        2. Jesus said there was an important, basic difference.
      2. Just before our text tonight, in Matthew 6, Jesus discussed the importance of motives in righteous deeds.
        1. He used three accepted, common acts of righteousness in a Jewish community: benevolence, prayer, fasting.
        2. Every devout Jew did all three things.
        3. Jesus even did all three things.
        4. However, Jesus point is seen in these two questions: Did you do these things privately to cement your dependence on God? Or, did you do these things noticeably to others to attract human attention to yourself?
    2. The primary issue is this: “What is the basic focus of your life?”
      1. How does a person determine the primary focus of his or her life?
      2. He or she determines it by looking at the way he or she invests life.
        1. Jesus said, “Do not invest yourself in physical things.”
          1. Physical things are temporary and uncertain.
          2. Forces beyond your control can take your investment from you!
        2. Invest your life in eternal things!
          1. The eternal is permanent and is as certain as God Himself!
          2. God is in charge of that investment, and nothing can destroy anything in God’s possession.
    3. Jesus’ basic truth: Our hearts belong to what is important to us!
      1. Jesus illustrates that truth in several ways.
        1. The importance of the eye’s focus.
        2. The impossibility of serving more than one master.
        3. The realization of life’s purpose–it is more than physical survival: clothes, and food and drink.
      2. He declared some basic truths about God.
        1. God feeds the birds.
        2. God clothes the grass.
        3. God knows and understands our physical needs.
      3. He also made some statements about human limitation.
        1. People can change nothing by worry.
        2. Worry cannot make life longer.
        3. The godless let worry drive them in their pursuit of the physical.
      4. He also made some statements about focus.
        1. Put the rule of God above everything else in your life.
        2. Put your confidence in God when you face a physical need.
        3. Be righteous by God’s standards and values.
        4. Take care of the present day rather than worrying about the future.
    4. I would be among the first to acknowledge that all of this is much easier said than done.

  3. Tonight will be the last time that I, as a regular Sunday evening responsibility, will have the joy and pleasure of sharing a lesson with you.
    1. I knew this moment was coming as soon as my physical condition was diagnosed.
      1. My physical condition declined very rapidly from July to late November last year.
      2. From Thanksgiving until now the decline has been very slow.
    2. My primary issues remain the same.
      1. Balance.
      2. Speech.
      3. Stamina.
    3. The basic cause degenerates very slowly now, but it degenerates.
      1. The shrinkage of my cerebellum cannot be treated.
      2. Basically all I can do is exercise sensibly and be carefully.
    4. I wish to thank Dena Jenkins and Rebecca Holloway (both trained in speech therapy) for the volunteer help they have give me for months.
      1. In spite of Dena’s commitments, she came to my office many Tuesday mornings to assist me with my speech problems.
      2. Rebecca monitored me from the audience and gave me notes to help me be aware of my specific problems.
      3. Even with their help, I could not improve the speech problems.
    5. Please listen to me very carefully–the last thing I want to do is start rumors.
      1. If you do not understand something I share with you, come ask me or ask Joyce.
      2. No, I did not wish to stop preaching to you–I have done this all my life.
      3. Yet, I knew this was what I needed to do–it was not a matter of desire, but a matter of necessity.
      4. I will continue full time on staff here until January 1, 2007.
      5. I will continue teaching the Wednesday night auditorium class until the end of the summer.
      6. I will continue teaching my Sunday morning class indefinitely.
      7. A reassessment of (a) my physical condition and (b) the needs of this congregation will be made in December of this year.

Joyce and I deeply appreciate your prayers, your encouragement, and your friendship.

[Now, one of our elders will speak to you.]