Freedom From Guilt

Posted by on August 31, 2006 under Sermons

Once a man lived who was intrigued by the existence of human guilt. Opportunity allowed him to visit many countries, to be exposed to numerous cultures, and to look at many societies on each level. An observation astounded him: guilt was a universal problem! The rich and poor, the powerful and the weak all had problems with guilt. No matter where you were or what level of society you examined, guilt was there. It was not an American, European, African, or Asian problem–it was a people problem.

He decided he would determine who most suffered a continuing problem with guilt feelings.

To him, it seemed the obvious place to start was in jails and prisons among uncontested criminals. However, he found some criminals with overwhelming guilt, and some criminals with no sense of guilt–they were too hardened to feel a sense of guilt.
Next he decided to examine people who exploited people. He observed people who craved power so much that they would destroy others to get power. He looked among the greedy who would do anything to anybody to obtain money. He found a lot of guilt among those who used people, but not as much as he anticipated. Most of them were so in love with power or money, they felt almost nothing.

Next he looked at people who lived for pleasure. These people indulged themselves! They were extremely selfish! However, he found more people who felt empty than felt guilty. He was more likely to find the despair of discontentment and meaninglessness than guilt.

The last place he looked was among religious people. In some churches he found little guilt. These people genuinely felt redeemed. Finally, he examined conservative, evangelical churches. He found the more the church preached about sin, the more sinful they felt. The more they taught about the Bible, the more evangelistic they were, the more they encouraged sinners to be saved in Jesus, their likelihood of feeling guilt went up. Strangely, the people who most emphasized the ability of Jesus to destroy sin were the people who felt the most guilt.

How strange! He found more of a sense of guilt in these people than in prison, or among the power hungry, or among the greedy, or among those who lived for pleasure.

I call your attention to a reality I know exists. Many New Testament Christians live with the burden of feeling guilty almost every day of their lives. Is that what Christ intended for his people? Is that what we are supposed to feel? Is freedom from guilt possible?

Consider the problem of guilt in Christians.

  1. Our beginning point should be the day of atonement in Israel in the Old Testament.
    1. On the 10th day of the 7th month on the Jewish calendar (Tishri) was the annual day of atonement held to cleanse ancient Israel from its sin.
      1. It was 2nd in importance only to Passover.
      2. By our calendar, it was in October.
      3. It provided forgiveness of sin for the whole nation.
    2. Leviticus 16 records the day of atonement in detail.
      1. The High Priest put on his sacred garments.
      2. Two male goats and a ram were selected from Israel’s flocks.
      3. The High Priest would sacrifice a bull as a burned offering to purify himself and his family (he had to cleanse himself before he approached God for the nation).
      4. Lots were cast regarding the male goats.
        1. That determined which goat would be sacrificed.
        2. The other goat would be used in the ritual of "the removal of sin."
      5. The High Priest took some blood from the sacrificed bull and some incense as he entered the Most Holy Place.
        1. The incense formed a cloud around the mercy seat.
        2. The   bull’s blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat.
      6. After this, he sacrificed the goat for the people.
        1. He returned to the Most Holy Place and sprinkled the goat’s blood on the mercy seat.
        2. All of this took place with no one present but the High Priest.
      7. When the High Priest returned to the courtyard, he put blood from the bull and the goat on the corners of the altar, and sprinkled the altar with blood 7 times to cleanse the altar.
      8. Then the High Priest took the live goat and began the ritual of removing sins.
        1. He placed his hands on the goat’s head and confessed Israel’s sins.
        2. A man took this goat bearing Israel’s sins to the wilderness and loosed it.
      9. Then the High Priest took off his sacred garments, washed with fresh water, and put on his regular clothes.
        1. He then completed the burnt offerings.
        2. The unused portions of the sacrificed bull and goat were taken outside the camp and totally burned.
      10. This annual process was used to remove sin from Israel as a nation.
  1. It is to these events that Hebrews 10:1-4 refer.
    1. Understanding the context of the passage helps us understand the passage.
      1. The immediate context starts in chapter 9 with a discussion of the superiority and sufficiency of Jesus as the Christian’s sin offering.
      2. In 9:1-10 the writer discussed the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the High Priest’s acts when he offered atonement for Israel.
        1. All this was a symbol of a higher reality.
        2. It had one basic flaw, one critical weakness: it could not solve the conscience problem.
        3. The Jewish worshipper was not made perfect in conscience.
      3. In 9:11-22 the writer declared Jesus is the perfect High Priest. the perfect offering for sin, the mediator of a new covenant, and gave the perfect blood of atonement.
        1. Thus Jesus is the perfect solution to our problem with sin.
        2. The perfect atonement available in Jesus’ sacrifice addressed all previous inadequacies.
      4. In 9:23-28 the writer stressed the Mosaical system of atonement was a shadow of a higher reality, a copy of things to come.
        1. What Jesus did was superior to what the High Priest did.
        2. The High Priest had to offer atonement sacrifices for Israel yearly in the earthly sanctuary.
        3. Jesus took his own sinless blood into heaven’s sanctuary as an eternal offering for sin and as the foundation for an eternal solution for sin.
        4. Jesus forever resolved the sin problem by sacrificing himself.
          1. He came to earth the first time to be a sacrifice.
          2. He will return a second time to save eternally those who accept his sacrifice.
    2. Now look closely at 10:1-4.
      1. The Mosaical system was just a shadow of Jesus’ reality.
        1. The first solution did not perfectly address all the need created by sin.
        2. God did not intend for it to be the permanent solution.
      2. The yearly atonement sacrifices offered repeatedly could not "make perfect" those drawing near to God.
        1. The idea behind "make perfect" has two emphases.
        2. Those sacrifices were not a lasting solution.
        3. Thus, they could not create an ideal relationship with God.
      3. If animal sacrifices could do those two things, this would be true:
        1. Were the sin problem solved, yearly repetition would be unnecessary.
        2. The people receiving the benefit of those sacrifices would have a sense of permanent cleansing–the consciousness of sin would cease.
      4. The writer pointed to an irony in the Jewish day of atonement.
        1. It was given to resolve the problem of sin for a year.
        2. However, it became a memorial to Israel’s sinfulness.
        3. It became a memorial to sinfulness, not to cleansing!
      5. That is the exact opposite of cleansing in Jesus–communion is a memorial to cleansing, not sinfulness!
      6. There were two weaknesses in the ancient Jewish day of atonement:
        1. It could not destroy the feeling of guilt, the consciousness of sin.
        2. Animal sacrifices could not eternally remove people’s sins.
    3. The basic weakness in the ancient Jewish system of atonement was revealed in the problem of guilt.
      1. That system could not resolve the problem of guilt.
      2. There was no sense of permanent cleansing or forgiveness.
      3. The writer stressed that fact.
        1. 9:9–Those animal gifts and sacrifices could not, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect.
        2. 10:2–Those sacrifices could not give the worshipper a sense of cleansing that destroyed the consciousness of sin.
    4. It was that weakness that Jesus’ blood and sacrifice addressed.
      1. 10:10–The Christian is sanctified once for all time.
      2. 10:12–Jesus offered the once forever sacrifice for sin.
      3. 10:14–Jesus’ offering perfected forever those who are sanctified.
      4. 10:18–Once sin was forgiven in Jesus, there is no need for another sacrifice.
  2. What is the point of all this emphasis?
    1. The cleansed Christian has no need to feel guilty.
    2. The point of Jesus’ perfect blood is this: sin is a solved problem.
    3. When the sin is destroyed, the guilt arising from the sin is destroyed.
      1. Romans 4:7, 8.
      2. Hebrews 8:11, 12
    4. For what should a Christian feel guilt?
      1. He/she should feel guilt for unrepentant, rebellious sins which have not been "owned" or acknowledged to God.
      2. He/she should feel guilt for sin that has come to awareness for the first time.
      3. However, he/she should not feel guilt for sins repented of and forgiven.

Without question, the most beautiful, powerful blessing of Jesus Christ’s forgiveness is this: the past is dead; it does not matter to God; it is to be released as if it never existed. Every day is a new day. Every day is a new life. All that matters in Jesus’ forgiveness is today.

Is it not time you became a Christian and stopped feeling guilty because you have been forgiven?

Two Critical Perspectives: The Exodus and The Cross

Posted by on August 27, 2006 under Sermons

Every life, without exception, lives through dark hours. No one escapes days when all circumstances say the worst is inevitable. We all experience times when we are overwhelmed with setbacks, losing struggles, and painful realities which dominate our todays and threaten our tomorrows. Sometimes the threats are physical and put physical existence in jeopardy. Sometimes the threats are emotional driving us to the point of despair. Sometimes the threats are financial attacking our sense of security. Regardless of the source, the issue is always the same: "Will I survive?"

Many of us already have survived some dark hours. If you have, what enabled you to survive? What enabled you to endure, and, in time, to triumph over your dark hours? The key to survival is this: "Something to hold on to" or "something to keep us going." Sometimes that is an undeniable truth so important, so valuable that it gives us the courage to continue. It refuses to give up when we have no other reason to try.

That essential truth is critical to every person’s survival. The person who has that essential truth finally overcomes his/her dark hour. The person who has no such truth enters a depression that becomes despair, a despair from which he/she rarely escapes.

Many things create dark hours: relationship problems, financial problems, career problems, family crisis, death of a loved one, national crisis, wars, undesirable life changes–the list is endless! To survive such crises there must be a truth so strong, so great that not even the worst circumstance can veil it.

For all Judaism in the Old Testament and for all Christians in the New Testament, God declared that truth existed. For the Old Testament Jew and the New Testament Christian, the truth was the same: God’s love.

I want you to consider the importance of the exodus and the cross.

  1. There is an incredible parallel between the Jewish exodus from Egypt and Jesus’ cross on Calvary.
    1. Look carefully at the great similarity between the exodus and the cross.
      1. The Jews were in bondage to Egypt; people were in bondage to sin.
      2. The Jews existed under an abusive ruler who exploited them to their own hurt and destruction; people were under Satan who exploited them to their own hurt and destruction.
      3. The Jews in Egypt had not yet become God’s covenant people; people in sin had not yet become God’s covenant people.
      4. Those Jews were totally powerless to deliver themselves from their slavery; people were totally powerless to deliver themselves from slavery under sin.
      5. In bondage, the Jews did not know God’s true identity and doubted His ability to deliver them; in sin people did not know God’s true identity and doubted His ability to save them.
      6. For the Jews, God provided a leader (Moses); for people in sin, God provided a leader (Jesus).
      7. To the Jews, God proved deliverance was His work through Moses’ signs; to those in sin, God proved deliverance was His work through Jesus’ signs.
      8. For the Jews, deliverance was totally God’s work–all they did was obediently follow; for sinners, deliverance is totally God’s work–all we do is obediently follow.
      9. With the Jews, God provided victory through what seemed certain defeat at the Red Sea; with sinners, God provided victory through what seemed certain defeat at Jesus’ death and burial.
      10. With the Jews, God established a perpetual memorial to be continually observed (Passover); with the delivered from sin, God established a perpetual memorial to be continually observed (the Lord’s Supper).
    2. As fascinating as all those parallels are, none of them is the essential parallel.
      1. The exodus was the undeniable proof of God’s love for Israel.
      2. The cross is the undeniable proof of God’s love for all sinners.
      3. No thinking Jew of understanding could take the Passover without thinking of God’s great love!
      4. No thinking Christian of understanding can take the Lord’s Supper without thinking of God’s great love for sinners.
      5. It was and is impossible to take either and not know this truth: “God loves us!”
  2. The central, unending proof of God’s love for Jewish people was the exodus.
    1. The emphasis in the Old Testament on the importance and meaning of the exodus is overwhelming.
      1. I challenge you to consult a complete concordance, look under “Egypt” and “bondage,” and note the emphasis–and those are not all the references!
      2. There is so much emphasis on the exodus’ significance as a declaration of God’s nature and love that there would not be enough time to read all those references in this assembly!
    2. To this day, the best known act of God in Israelite history is the exodus under Moses’ leadership.
      1. It is the central event of the Old Testament.
      2. It marked the beginning of Israel as a nation.
      3. It marked the point that they as a people became God’s representatives which He promised Abraham.
      4. It was the divine act of God anointing the Jewish people to function as His nation.
    3. The unforgettable importance of that deliverance is powerfully stressed throughout the Old Testament.
      1. The Passover was instituted to be an annual reminder of God’s deliverance.
        1. Exodus 12:17 You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance.
        2. Deuteronomy 16:3 You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.
      2. The exodus was the foundation on which the Ten Commandments stood.
        1. Exodus 19:3-6 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
        2. Consider Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 5:6 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
        3. The point is clear: Israel should keep God’s laws because God is the God of their deliverance.
    4. Throughout Old Testament history, the undeniable proof of God’s love for Israel was the exodus.
    5. Let me try to make this point unforgettable.
      1. If in the horrible period of the judges, we asked a faithful Jew, “Does God still love Israel?” he would have said, “Yes! Unquestionably!”
        1. If we responded, “How can you say that with all these horrible things happening?”
        2. He would say, "The exodus is proof God never stops loving us!"
      2. In the awful wickedness during Samuel’s lifetime, if we had asked, “Does God still love Israel?” a faithful Jew would have said , “Yes! Unquestionably!”
        1. If we responded, “How can you say that?”
        2. He would say, “The exodus forever proves God loves us!”
      3. And so it would have been in the terrible days of Philistine domination or the Babylonian captivity: The exodus proved God’s love!
  3. Just as the exodus was the irrefutable proof of God’s love for ancient Israel, the cross is the irrefutable proof of God’s love for all people.
    1. The unquestionable proof that God loves us is Jesus’ death and resurrection.
      1. What God did for all people in Jesus Christ’s cross cannot be exaggerated.
      2. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christianity would not exist.
      3. We can exist as Christians only because of Jesus’ cross and resurrection.
      4. God’s cost in redeeming us from our sins is too great to comprehend.
    2. The central importance of Jesus’ cross as the proof of God’s love for us is powerfully stressed in the New Testament.
      1. Romans 5:6-11 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
      2. Romans 8:31-34 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
      3. 2 Corinthians 5:14,15 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
      4. Ephesians 5:1,2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
      5. Hebrews 12:1-3 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. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
      6. 1 John 3:16-18 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
    3. How can we know God loves us?
      1. There are many evidences of His love for us, but no evidence equals the proof of Jesus’ cross.
      2. When we are in circumstances were all other evidences seem to fail, Jesus’ cross still stands.
    4. May I attempt to make that fact unforgettable?
      1. When in Acts 5 when the apostles were beaten by order of the Jewish Sanhedrin, if we asked them, “Does God still love you?” they would have answered, “Of course!”
        1. If we asked, “How can you say that after that beating?”
        2. They would have responded, “The cross shows us His love!”
      2. When Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7, had we asked as he died, “Does God still love you?” he would have answered, “Absolutely!”
        1. Had we asked, “How can you say that?”
        2. He would have replied, “Jesus’ cross proves God’s love!”
      3. And so it would have been with all the faithful Christians who suffered in the New Testament.
      4. Yet, in times of distress and suffering we ask, “Does God still love us?”
        1. The book of Revelation written to distressed, suffering Christians answers that question.
        2. It says, “The sacrificed Jesus reigns right now!”
          1. “That Jesus, God’s sacrificial lamb, proves God’s continuing love!”
          2. “The crucified, resurrected Jesus proves your victory is certain!”
  4. Without doubt all Christians will face dark hours that challenge their faith in God’s love and concern.
    1. In those hours all circumstances will seem to shout, “God does not love you!”
      1. “He has deserted you!”
      2. “He does not care about you–you do not matter that much to Him!”
      3. “If He loved you, this would not happen to you and you would not hurt so much!”
      4. “If He loved you, the wicked would not be doing well at your expense!”  
    2. In that moment, the Christian must never fail to see Jesus’ cross.
      1. He or she must be able to say:
        1. “I cannot explain the circumstances.”
        2. “I cannot explain what is happening.”
        3. “I cannot explain my suffering.”
        4. “But I know God’s love for me is irrefutable.”
        5. “Not even this uproots the truth of Jesus’ cross.”
        6. “If he loved me that much, He still loves me.”
      2. That is the truth that empowers you to hold on in life’s darkest hours.

Do you remember singing the words of Elizabeth Clephane?

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand, the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land, a home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way, from the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

Upon the cross of Jesus, mine eye at times can see, the very dying form of one who suffered there for me; and from my smitten heart, with tears, two wonders I confess: the wonders of His glorious love, and my own worthlessness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place: I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face; content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss, my sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

Have you seen the cross? Have you seen the love?

Back To School Blessing

Posted by on under Sermons

[Congregation encouraged to take home magnets with names of students and/or teachers. Pray for them every day this school year.]

This is the third year for the Back to School Blessing at West-Ark. I am so thankful that we take the time for this event. I appreciate the fact that students and teachers and school workers report that they feel blessed not only from this event, but from knowing that someone is praying for them all year long. I have been impressed that many of you have asked if we can offer a service blessing for other groups as we do for students and teachers. (The answer is yes, I just need your help to organize it).
In the weeks leading up to this event I have been pondering the question: Why do we do this?

1. I think we do the Back to School Blessing because words of blessing are so rare in our times. In our society we often give awards; we praise achievement and accomplishment. But that is not the same as a blessing. A blessing pronounces God’s favor on another simply for the sake of the other.

    Jesus opened his sermon on the mount by proclaiming blessings on those who certainly didn’t earn the blessing of God. They hadn’t accomplished great things. In fact some were the objects of scorn and persecution. Some might even be those considered cursed because of their poverty and losses. But the blessing of God is gracious and abundant, it is for those who need it and available even to those who think they do not.

2. I think we do the Back to School Blessing because words of criticism and cursing are too common in our society. Cursing is more than saying bad words. It is much more serious than that. Cursing is the opposite of blessing. It seeks the downfall and promotes the harm of another. Sometimes the purpose of the curse is to humiliate or condemn another. Curses are spoken out of anxiety, fear, and anger – not the grace of God. The people of God are called to be a source of blessing, not curses. Of lesser harm than cursing is criticism and blame. Sometimes we are just too negative and cynical. We are always looking for problems and seeking to blame someone. Even we are well-intentioned, constant disparagement leads to a bitter and unhealthy outlook than doesn’t solve problems but actually creates more problems! It is a vicious cycle.

    So, one of the areas were we can be a source of blessing is for our students and teachers in all of our schools – public, private, home schools. It isn’t easy to be a student; and it isn’t easy to work in schools – and it gets harder all the time. But instead of finding someone to blame, let’s pronounce blessings.
    As I was contemplating this question, I came across an article in the Southwest Times Record (Aug. 16, 2006). What first attracted my attention was the headline that Benny had taken on the role of a cheerleader. I thought, “Do they really need the superintendent on the cheerleading squad.” But Dr. Gooden’s cheerleading is not for athletes – its for teachers who work at some of the most demanding schools in our region. He and Gordon Floyd, the assistant superintendent for instruction, are encouraging teachers and trying to help them understand that they are valuable.
    Gordon Floyd said in the article, “A number of teachers who work in so-called ‘low-performing’ schools see their work their as a mission and they like being there.” When I read that I thought about the reasons we do this Back to School Blessing. We definitely need to support those who have a mission. And I think Dr. Floyd’s statement applies to teachers and workers in all schools. I doubt that there are very few people involved in education who are only in it for the pay. They are trying to bless students, and so it is right that we not only add our blessing to theirs – but we need to bless them as well.

Blessing of Students [prayer by an elder]

Blessing of Teachers/School Workers [prayer by an elder]

Jesus ended his sermon that started with blessings by inviting us to live out his words. If you put his teaching into practice you are like the person who built his house on a rock. The alternative is the person who built a house on shifting, loose sand. But there’s one thing common to both houses – they are each hit with storms. Even the house built on solid rock is hit with storms. The difference is that it stands.
The greatest blessing you can receive is the foundation to support you in times of distress and storm. Put the teaching of Jesus into practice and live within the blessings of God’s in-breaking kingdom.

Living Too Long

Posted by on August 24, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

2 Kings 20:1-3, In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ?Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’ ” Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

2 Kings 18-20 records the rule of King Hezekiah of Judah. He was one of the few kings in Judah who led a spiritual reform to lead the people back to God. After some striking events in which he placed his trust in God, he became sick to the point of death. When the prophet Isaiah confirmed Hezekiah would die, Hezekiah prayed for an extended lifetime. God added fifteen years to his life and told him he would protect him and his kingdom throughout this period.

In these fifteen years, Hezekiah foolishly showed all his treasurers to some well-wishers from Babylon. The prophet Isaiah told him that the day would come when Babylon would take all those treasurers and some of his sons to Babylon. Hezekiah said to himself, “That’s okay-I will live and die in peace” (2 Kings 20:20).

The greatest mistakes this great king made came in his fifteen year extension of life. He lived too long! He made God’s blessing his curse!

It is difficult to accept this truth: the significance of your life is not measured by how long you live but by how much faith in God you have. It is much too easy to use God’s blessings to curse ourselves.

If we are not careful, the older we get, the more important it becomes to declare our significance. As ability declines, the temptation to be arrogant increases. Wise is the person who is not intoxicated by a personal sense of his or her accomplishments! It is easy to “get drunk” on the memories of the past! It is challenging to leave the remembering to God as you use what ability you have to serve His purposes.

Do not be remembered for the arrogance of your old age. Be remembered for a lifetime of faith in God. Do not count your years. Mature your trust in God!

Let Our Light Shine

Posted by on August 20, 2006 under Sermons

Read Matthew 5:11-20.

Sometimes, I miss the coast. Among the wonderful novelties of coastal living are lighthouses. On my visits to the Oregon Coast I visited three lighthouses and took photos of a fourth that stands on a rock in the bay. I wanted so badly to hop in a boat and make an adventure to the lighthouse.

Lighthouses are adventurous icons after all. They represent rescue and protection from danger. The stories of lighthouses speak of mystery, bravery, and dedication. Lighthouses are also symbols of hope. They are the light that pierces through the stormy darkness.

Although lighthouses seem artistic and majestic, their form follows function. They stand tall and are painted with contrasting colors. They are built on prominent points along a seacoast. The logic to their architecture is this: They are very visible.

Point Bolivar Lighthouse in TexasLighthouses are antiquities these days. Some are still in service and guard the rocky shores and keep the beaches shipwreck-free. But mostly, lighthouses are part of tours. Along the Texas Gulf Coast, one of the lighthouses on the tour is the Point Bolivar Lighthouse. When I learned that I lived very near the Point Bolivar light I went to see it. It is the saddest lighthouse I have ever visited. I wonder if it should even be called a lighthouse.

The Point Bolivar light looks like a lighthouse. It stands tall and can be seen from the east side of Galveston on a sunny day. But at night it is not visible because the lighthouse has corroded and it is nothing more than a black column; quite a change from its glory days when it sported red and white stripes. But saddest of all revelations was that the Point Bolivar Lighthouse has no light. It is an empty shell. It is a dead husk. At night, the black pillar is totally invisible.

Recall what Jesus is teaching us: “No one lights a lamp and places it beneath a basket.” “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Well, of course. Just as lighthouse is meant to be highly visible, so also a lamp and a city on a hill are visible – one is built on high and the other is placed on a lamp stand to light the house. What good is a lighthouse with no light? What use is a lamp burning beneath the shade of a basket? Even the saying about salt appeals to everyday experience: What good is salt without its saltiness? It might as well be thrown out.

But there’s more to this teaching than how to light a lamp and how to keep salt fresh, right? Just as there is more to the tale of the lighthouse, yes? Well, of course. Jesus is trying to grab the attention of the crowds because he is going to confront some misunderstandings. For example, he doesn’t want anyone to assume that his teaching is somehow an annulment of God’s law. As Christ teaches us today there are other typical misunderstanding that must be confronted. And maybe the best way to hear what Christ is really teaching rather than walk away with household hints from Savior is to acknowledge some of these assumptions:

  1. Christ did not teach us that we should be salt and light. He said you ARE the salt of the earth and light of the world. If we are his disciples it is our nature to shine. It is our nature to be a preserving and saving influence. It is the property of salt to be salty. It is the property of light to shine. That’s why the Point Bolivar light is so disappointing – A lighthouse isn’t a lighthouse because of its shape and form. A lighthouse isn’t a lighthouse because of a historical marker or someone’s desire to restore it. The nature of a lighthouse is to give light!
  2. Christ did not teach that we “have the salt and light.” The salt and light are not a commodity or instrument that we use or dispense. We are the salt – NOT salt shakers. We are the light – not lighthouse keepers.
  3. The salt and light label is for a collective, not just individuals. The “YE” in the KJV is plural. This isn’t just about individual character. This isn’t about your own personal moral accomplishment. It is about US. This little light of OURS, we’re gonna let it shine. Doesn’t rhyme, but it is a little closer to the teaching of Jesus. This becomes important when we understand that we as a community of believers are salt and light FOR the world. We are living out the law and prophets; we are teaching and doing the commandments of Jesus not just for ourselves, but FOR the world. We are striving to be disciples not just for our own sake, but the sake of the world.
  4. Most importantly, when Jesus describes the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he is not speaking about the gospel. This is too common a misunderstanding. And even if we don’t say it, this assumption runs deeply in our practice. Too often we treat the gospel as if it is a product – a good or service – that we need to sell. So we become vendors of the gospel. The problem with vendors of a product is that they can sell a product, but they don’t have to use it themselves. There is a gap in the relationship between vendor and product that Jesus’ teaching will not allow.

Setting aside the misunderstandings, what is Jesus teaching us?

Jesus is labeling his disciples as salt and light in order to show that the gospel is to be so ingrained in us that we cannot separate it from who we are. Our righteousness has to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. If we want to be great in the kingdom of heaven we not only teach the commandments of Jesus – we do them!

Our righteousness and good works are not an attempt to win God’s favor so that we will make it to heaven rather than hell. That’s too small a view of what is going on. Recall that Jesus has just put us on notice: The kingdom rule of God is breaking into our world.

Recall, that these words are addressed to the same crowd that heard the Beatitudes. So, the blessed are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Holding this teaching together does away with any thought the “blessed ones” are too good for this world. Those who are blessed by God are not taken out of the world or sheltered in a “Holy Tank” like delicate and expensive exotic fish. This does away with the assumption that the salt of the earth are those who’ve achieved a higher degree of moral life – some sort of advanced Christianity.

After all, Jesus is not speaking about individuals, he is speaking about a people. And this fits in very well with the preaching of the prophets that Jesus upheld. Isaiah 60 would have been a text very familiar to our Lord. God describes his vision for Jerusalem – that the people of God would be the focal point of a great homecoming when all nations see the visible glory of God shining out from Jerusalem …1“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all the nations to see! For the glory of the LORD is shining upon you. 2Darkness as black as night will cover all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the LORD will shine over you. 3All nations will come to your light. Mighty kings will come to see your radiance.”

This is Jesus’ vision for his disciples. We ARE salt for the earth. We are light for the world. Jesus is calling us to be at the forefront of this in-breaking Kingdom of God not simply for our own personal good, but for the good of all creation. Don’t the most important human endeavors have more at stake than personal gain? Why then have we assumed that being a Christian is simply personal. This is about nothing less than saving the world! And our mission is to live out a righteousness much greater than the anxiety-driven rule keeping of the scribes and Pharisees. A righteousness that is so infused with the spirit of God that what we do as a people results in good works that glorify God.

And just in case that presents a stumbling block to our appropriate sense of modesty, be assured that it isn’t us as salesman of the gospel that glorifies God – It is our good works that glorify God in heaven. People aren’t paying attention to us; they are paying attention to what we do.

The first verse I ever memorized was Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light so shine before all people that they will see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” The first sermon I ever preached at West-Ark was from this teaching of Jesus. It is my hope and vision that this congregation will live out the teaching of Jesus and be the light that is needed right here.

Before we get to the invitation we need to issue the warnings: Did you notice what Jesus declared just before Jesus teaches us that we are salt for the earth and light for the world? He said, “”Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Warning: There are powers at work in our corrupt and fallen world that have invested in the darkness and decay. They aren’t going to be very happy when we set out to make things bright and clean through our good works. Not everyone welcomes the salt or the light. So understand that when people lie about us or misunderstand us simply because we take the teaching of Jesus seriously and want to make a difference – just understand that we are blessed by God even if we are cursed by others.

Warning: The grace of God that is pouring the kingdom into our world doesn’t contradict the need to live out the kingdom life. Jesus makes it clear that if we are not interested in pursuing a righteousness that is greater than the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes, then we are not entering into the kingdom.

With warnings issued, Christ invites you to follow him, and not just follow the rules. With warnings issued, Christ invites you to overcome the powers and principalities of this dark age and share in the blessings of the kingdom. Christ invites you to join him in his mission to save the world and be a part of his church that is salt for the earth and light for the world.

Why Am I a Christian?

Posted by on August 17, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

This is a difficult passage. For a long time, a debate has been ongoing about Agrippa’s attitude when he made the statement, “Paul, you almost persuade me to be a Christian.” (1) Was the king near conversion? Or, (2) was he chastising Paul for a brazen attempt at evangelizing him? On Paul’s part, there was boldness in the original not evident in an English translation, a boldness the king may have considered shocking for a prisoner to make to a significant authority. However, we could say nothing that would end the argument-too little information is available.

Perhaps we could ask a fruitful question by each asking self the question, “Why am I a Christian?” Begin with the observation that the Christian in this situation was a prisoner. Eventually his appeal to Caesar resulted in a trial in Rome. Even later, his appearances in Rome resulted in his execution.

    Am I a Christian:

    1. To obtain advantages and blessings that would not otherwise be available to me?
    2. To escape consequences which scare me?
    3. To obligate God to protect me from bad things?
    4. To express faith in the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection?
    5. To declare faith in the restoration of the Creator God to His rightful position?

Consider some observations. (1) It is common in talking about salvation to discuss our benefits, but to rarely discuss God. We focus on matters like forgiveness, redemption, sanctification, justification, and propitiation as though salvation was primarily about us and not about the God who gave us Jesus Christ. (2) It is uncommon for us to focus on or discuss the enormous injustice the Creator endured when His creation honored the evil that odiously perverted the earthly creation of the Creator. (3) Perhaps the primary objective of our salvation is to promote the restoration of the Creator to His rightful place and the secondary benefit of our salvation is our forgiveness, redemption, sanctification, justification, and propitiation. Unselfishness focuses on God. Selfishness focuses on us.

“When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (Corinthians 15:28)

Breaking Out In Blessedness

Posted by on August 13, 2006 under Sermons

Right here in the city of Fort Smith, over 50% of our school children live below the poverty line. At Tilles Elementary, they must feed the children before they can teach them – every day.

Conflict in the Middle East continues. Israel is at war with Hezbollah. There is conflict in Iraq even with Hussein in prison. North Korea and Iran are rattling sabers. The United States has been at war since 9/11 and the interrupted bombing plot this week confirmed that. There are other battles not as high profile. In Uganda young children are conscripted into the Lord’s Resistance Army. Their name sounds holy – their practices are not. Recent attempts at Peace in Sudan’s Darfur region have failed. As a result the fighting has renewed and 50,000 people are displaced – – even aid workers are in harm’s way. Making peace is so difficult in a world devoted to violence. The world is at war – even in places away from the news camera and places that do not seem to be in the interest of the U.S. government. Precious souls are being lost forever because there is no peace.

Against the forces of war and poverty it is so easy to feel powerless. Even if you have a job you can feel powerless. Katrina Gill has a job. She is a nursing aide in a care center and she works long hours monitoring vitals, turning patients for bedsores, and changing adult diapers. But she and her husband, a mechanic, have no health benefits. They pay $640 a month for a family policy. They have racked up $160,000 in debt – medical expenses – because their son Brandyn has cancer. (Michelle Conlin and Aaron Bernstein, Business Week, “Working and Poor,” May 31, 2004 – Katrina is just one example of what it means to be meek and powerless in our age. So many of us labor in a setting of maximum insecurity, where one missed bus, one stalled engine, one sick kid means the difference between keeping a job and getting fired. At any moment, a company pressured to pump profits can slash hours, or layoff workers, or even cut loose jobs. This isn’t a labor vs. management issue. It’s a human issue. Managers and owners are caught up in the faceless and non-personal economic and political forces that make us feel powerless.

Have you ever felt powerless? Have you at least sensed that something about our culture and society just isn’t right? It isn’t right for a credit card company to stick a person who can’t pay bills with a 30% interest rate. If a thug in an alley does that it’s called loan-sharking. If Chase or Citibank does it it’s called “a change in agreement.” Something isn’t right. Joe Francis is the millionaire producer of the Girls Gone Wild soft-porn video series. He claims it is just innocent entertainment. He claims it is protected by the First Amendment. (See Claire Hoffman, “Baby, Give Me a Kiss,” L.A. Times, Aug. 6. 2006 –,0,1675556,full.story.) How can Francis be protected by our laws when violence against women is increasing in our nation? Something is wrong. You know it if you feel the pangs for righteousness in your gut. You know it if you feel parched waiting for the waters of justice to roll down like a mighty river against the stifling heat of injustice.

It is difficult to forgive the worst offenders of justice let alone forgiving the friend who hurts us. It is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to be merciful – especially when people take advantage of our mercy. That’s why we want to surround ourselves with people we can trust. People who strive to have a purity of heart. But even among the disciples of Jesus we meet those who hurt us. Every time we hear a story about disciples that condemn the suffering rather than help them, we grieve. Every time we hear a story about disciples that exclude rather than invite, it makes us grieve.

And we have enough to be sad about already, don’t we? We have lost loved ones. We have suffered because of sin. We are suffering because of illness. There seems to be no end to the tears, pain, and sorrow.
I confess that I have nothing to say. I am at a loss for words. I cannot even write a sermon to speak to the problems and sorrows of the world as we know it. But I want to lead you to another preacher. I want to begin preaching someone else’s sermon. This preacher spoke to the word as we know it – the world I just described – but he proclaimed that something was going to change. He spoke of a new order of things in which those who experienced the kind of discomfort we just spoke about will instead be happy.

I would like you to follow me over to the hillside where this preacher has just sat down and he begins to speak … [Matthew 5]

3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

What you have just heard is the opening of a sermon from our founder, our Lord, Jesus Christ. In our difficult times, I thought it was fitting that we should hear from Him. In the midst of the trials and hopes we have shared as a church family I thought it was fitting that we should hear from Him.

Sure, you’ve heard this before. But you’ve probably heard these phrases broken up and scattered. Like gems that popped loose from their settings, they still glisten, but you don’t get the full effect. These “beatitudes” are not little nuggets of moral advice. These are not the appetizers before the main course. And Jesus isn’t using “bless” or “blessed” the way Southern culture does. It’s been said that you can say anything mean and nasty about someone in the South as long as you say “Bless their heart.” [He just isn’t very smart, bless his heart. She looks so old – and fat, bless her heart. Get it?]

Jesus is not condescending or patronizing when he says “Blessed are the poor.” Blessed means that “God’s favor is resting on …” So he’s saying, “God’s kingdom is breaking into this world. It’s coming to you, and today you have the favor of God.” What a way to open a sermon!

Taken together, this set of “blessings” is an official notice. A notice – like those ominous looking signs that get posted by our city councils that say – “We’re building a shopping center here. If you don’t like it, you can come tell us.” Christ is putting the world as we know it on notice. He’s saying that things are going to change. And like an official notice, some people welcome it – and some do not.

If you are poor and know that something is wrong with economies that keep people poor, then you welcome the notice because God’s favor rests on you. If you are sad or have ever known sadness, then welcome the notice, God’s favor rests on you. If you have ever felt helpless and powerless against forces too great to describe, then welcome the notice because God’s favor rests on you. If you have felt the anxiety of losing worldly security, then welcome the notice because God’s favor rests on you. If you have ever wanted justice and righteousness so bad you can taste it, then welcome the notice, God’s favor rests on you.

If you have ever forgiven others even though it cost you, then welcome the notice. If you are weary trying to help others live at peace with each other, then welcome the notice. If you have long desired to overcome sin and draw close to God, then welcome the notice because God’s favor rests on you!

These beatitudes are an extending way of saying that the kingdom of God is near. He is saying that the kingdom of God is breaking into the world and setting up shop. The world as we know it is breaking out in blessedness.

But be on notice! There are forces in this world that do not welcome the Kingdom of God. There are those who are invested in keeping the poor just as they are. There are those who are invested in activities that cause some to be sad. There are those who are invested in keeping some people powerless and insecure. There are those who are invested in unrighteous enterprises and unjust practices. There are those who cannot show mercy or they stand to lose. There are even those who are invested in war and conflict. And it is not simply because they have dark sinister hearts, but its because they have made built their house on the foundations of the world as we know it. Christ is putting these on notice as well. Tell them it is time to re-invest! And Christ is saying that if you are one of these who needs to re-invest or even if you are one of these who welcomes that change it won’t always be easy. The forces and powers that like things as they are will insult you, lie about you and persecute you. But even if that happens, God’s favor rests on you!

In the weeks ahead, our founder, our Lord, our teacher is going to show us the path to start living in the world of God’s blessed favor even now – before it comes in all of its glory. This is a notice – an invitation for all of us. Shall we, as a church family, live for the world that’s coming? Shall we strive to be merciful, pure of heart, and make peace? Will we commit today to living out the virtues of the world that is coming?

In baptism and in the Lord’s Supper we witness the kingdom of God breaking into the world as we know it. These are not status quo symbols. They are symbols of new birth and new life. The forces and powers that are invested in a corrupt broken world broke Jesus for preaching this sermon. But God’s favor rests on Him and he lives to preach this sermon again, and again, and again.

Who will live out the teaching of Jesus Christ?

The Case of the Insensitive Pagan

Posted by on August 10, 2006 under Sermons

Without sensitivity toward others, a human being ceases to be human. In any advanced civilization, the most cherished social qualities are human traits that encourage sensitivity toward other humans. The fundamental code words for such sensitivity include compassion, caring, kindness, neighborliness, mercy, and understanding. Any person would live in an earthly hell if he or she was forced to live in a society where such qualities were absent.

How would you survive if you knew no one felt for you, cared what happened to you, did anything kind to or helpful for you, never extended you one unselfish act, or never even tried to understand you? What if people laughed when you hurt, rejoiced when you failed, found pleasure in your abuse, treated you unjustly, and deliberately misunderstood you?

Such people exist. Such places exist. We could create such a place right here without a lot of difficulty. All we have to do is destroy sensitivity toward people, and we produce such people and places.

There are times when we see the ugliness left when such sensitivity dies. It too often is seen when a crowd urges a distraught person to commit suicide. It is too often seen when a woman is gang-raped as people cheer. It too often happens when imprisoned people brutalize the defenseless. Nothing is more frightening and dangerous than people who have lost the ability to feel for or care about others. A human who thinks and feels like a vicious animal is a terrifying creature.

It costs to have compassion, kindness, caring, mercy, and understanding. Often those qualities create pain. We do not like prices, and we hate pain. If the cost of such qualities are too high, too painful, we can exercise the option not to feel and not to care. Sometimes we cope with high stress occupations and burnout by distancing ourselves from those who hurt and are in need. That is an "easy" coping mechanism for doctors, counselors, and preachers. It is certainly an convenient coping mechanism for those involved in prison work who often are forced to work with hardened, insensitive people.

Consider a jailor in Acts 16:19-34.

  1. Background for the reading:
    1. Paul and his companions were instructed to go into the unevangelized region of Macedonia and preach the good news of Jesus.
      1. They immediately went to Philippi (a significant, prosperous Roman colony, but not the capital of the region).
        1. On their first Sabbath in Philippi, they went to the riverside to assemble with a Jewish group gathered there.
          1. Philippi was a Roman colony with special status in the area.
          2. It, as a city, was very fearful of any non-Roman religious influence, and that included Jewish influence.
          3. Such cities often required "new" religious influences in the region to gather outside the city walls–perhaps this indicates that Judaism was regarded to be a "new" and unwanted religious influence in a Roman city.
          4. It might also indicate there was a small Jewish population in that city.
          5. Paul taught the women gathered at this site or place.
          6. As a result, Lydia and her household (a prominent Jewess widow or single woman?) were baptized.
          7. She insisted that Paul and his company make her home (an indication of prominence) their headquarters while in Philippi.
          8. Her offer would give this new Christian group status in the Romanized city.
        2. One day a girl possessing a spirit of divination (a fortune teller) began following Paul.
          1. She was owned by two men who made money through her ability.
          2. As she followed Paul (and his company) she cried, Acts 16:17, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
            1. The words, “the Most High God” are literally translated, “a Most High God” (see the reference in a study Bible).
            2. Remember, this is an idolatrous city.
            3. Remember, the girl has a spirit of divination, not the spirit of Jesus Christ–she is not acting as Jesus’ helper.
            4. She is likely making a pagan statement of distraction, not of encouragement.
        3. Paul became extremely frustrated with her and her statement and commanded her spirit of divination to leave her.
          1. When he did, he agitated her owners by ending her usefulness to them in making money.
            1. They grabbed Paul and Silas and took them before the magistrates in the market place.
            2. They charged them with teaching customs it was illegal for Romans to obey–a very serious charge in a Roman colony!
          2. As a result, everyone became quite agitated (emotional) because the accusation meant they might lose some of their status as a Roman colony.
          3. Without a trial or hearing, the magistrates rushed to judgment and publicly beat Paul and Silas.
          4. They then placed them in jail and charged the jailor to keep them securely.
  2. That introduces us to the insensitive pagan.
    1. Carefully consider who this man was as his day ended.
      1. In all probability he was a Roman soldier of rank who oversaw a jailhouse.
        1. Such people were not noted for their sensitivity.
        2. They were acquainted with violence and suffering which they were trained to inflict.
        3. Causing others to suffer was their job.
        4. Acts 16 documents the jailor was a man who was hardened to human suffering to the point he just did his job without noticing.
        5. Two men were brought to him in the late afternoon just having been publicly beaten.
        6. He was charged to keep them securely.
        7. Without concern for their pain, he does what he is told to do–he makes certain it is impossible for them to escape.
        8. He placed them in the foul smelling, filthy maximum security section and added to their discomfort by putting them in stocks.
        9. There sat Paul and Silas in the foul smelling darkness–wounds crusting over, not daring to try to lay down, feet locked in a fixed position, unable to stand, unable to help each other.
        10. The jailor was not moved, not concerned, not touched–without any conscience problem, he just goes to his comfortable quarters and goes to sleep.
        11. In their misery, Paul and Silas sang and prayed to the Lord they loved so much.
          1. They were singing and praying out loud–the other prisoners listened.
          2. In this way they revived themselves and lifted their spirits as they praised the Jesus they loved so much.
        12. Can you picture that scene?
          1. The insensitive jailor was sleeping in unconcerned comfort.
          2. Paul and Silas in horrible conditions were singing and praying to Jesus.
          3. The other prisoners were listening (not harassing, but listening).
        13. Suddenly an earthquake shook the jail house to its foundation.
          1. Doors flew open, chains fell from the walls, nothing lay between the prisoners and escape.
          2. All could go into the night if they wished!
    2. Look at the jailor!
      1. Before midnight all was under control and he had no worries.
      2. After all, the prisoners brought their troubles on themselves.
      3. He just did his job!
    3. One earthquake later and the jailor’s whole world crumbles!
      1. It was no accident that when the earthquake shook him awake that he headed for the locked cells.
      2. If the prisoners had escaped, he would be better off dead than to suffer the humiliation and penalties caused by their escape!
      3. Paul, knowing what the jailor was about to do, cried, "Do not kill yourself! We are all here!"
      4. A few hours ago he hardly noticed the suffering Paul, now that same Paul saved his life!
    4. Now look at the jailor.
      1. He called for lights and rushed to Paul and Silas’ cell.
      2. In trembling fear, he fell before them.
      3. With urgency, he asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
      4. They taught him about Jesus.
      5. He washed their backs, and they washed him and his household in baptism.
      6. He took Paul and Silas to his home, fed them, and greatly rejoiced.
    5. What a change!
      1. In the afternoon he secured two suffering men in horrible conditions as he "did his job;" at midnight he washed their stripes.
      2. He went to sleep harden to the suffering in his jail; at midnight he fell at the feet of the sufferers.
      3. That afternoon he was a hardened man in a hard world; that night he was a saved man filled with joy.
      4. That afternoon he was an insensitive pagan; that night he became a sensitive Christian because he knew about Jesus.
  3. There are some important facts we need to note about the conversion of this man.
    1. First, we need to note his question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
      1. There is no way to know if this man heard Paul and Silas preaching prior to their arrest.
        1. We do know if he heard, he was unimpressed with the men or the message.
        2. He seemed to be a typical pagan in a pagan’s Roman world.
      2. Why ask that question?
        1. In some way he realized Paul and Silas were religious men.
        2. A common pagan belief focused on the gods acting favorably in behalf of those with whom they were pleased.
        3. It was not unusual to attribute events like an earthquake to the act of the gods.
        4. Since Paul did not escape, it would seem likely from a pagan perspective that the gods were with him.
        5. Whatever his reasons, this is obvious:
          1. The jailor realized Paul and Silas had a special relationship with deity.
          2. He knew they just saved his life, and that kindness astounded him.
          3. He knew they could address his need.
    2. Second, it is obvious he did not understand the full significance of what he asked.
      1. He did not know the source of salvation, how to approach the source, or how to change his condition.
      2. He just realized he had a need and these men had answers.
      3. Paul began the only place he could–with Jesus.
        1. One cannot place faith in what he does not know.
        2. They taught the jailor how to believe in Jesus.
        3. The jailor demonstrated his belief not with words but with actions.
    3. Third, note what learning about and believing in Jesus did to the man.
      1. He washed the beaten, bruised backs of Paul and Silas.
        1. The uncaring man became caring.
        2. The insensitive man became sensitive.
        3. What a beautiful example of repentance!
      2. He was baptized immediately when he learned about Jesus.
        1. That was not convenient–dark, without electricity or flashlights or kerosene lanterns, no baptistery, just a muddy river bank.
    4. Fourth, conversion (believing in Jesus, repentance, baptism) initiated a new direction for his life.
      1. He took Paul and Silas out of the jail, to his own home, and fed them.
      2. He did this in the joy of his salvation.
      3. I have no doubt this was the first time he did these things for prisoners!

Jesus came to destroy human insensitivity by destroying sin in our lives. He wants to destroy your insensitivity! He wants to make you a complete person by making you a compassionate person suitable for eternal relationship with God. Will you let him do that?

A Small Piece Brings a Huge Machine “to Life”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Years ago I was deer hunting in a remote area with my usual success-none! The hunting lease was at least five miles from the nearest house. This was long before cell phones! As usual, I hunted until dark-I could not see. I had a long walk through the woods back to my truck. Upon arrival, I shockingly realized I had no key! There I was beside a huge machine. However, because I had no key, it was useless to me!

This morning as I started my truck after working out at a rehab gym, I again considered that small piece of metal that could bring a big machine to life. I probably had $50 of gasoline in the tank, a few miles of wiring, a six cylinder engine, air conditioning (yes, it is hot enough now to need it early in the morning), new tires, a radio, and hundreds of pounds of metal, plastic, and cloth before me. Yet, none of it worked without that small key. Again I sat in awe as I considered that such a small thing allowed such a complex machine to function. The key did not give the machine its potential. It merely allowed that potential to roar into usefulness.

Grace is a small word. Basically it shows kindness and consideration when there is no call for kindness and consideration. Yet, what potential it unleashes! A useless being roars to useful life because that small word grace is utilized. Examples? Consider:

1. A little encouragement can turn a person’s outlook around.
2. A little kindness can cause a person to replace worthlessness with worth.
3. A little thoughtfulness can move a lifeless person to discover life.
4. A little hope moves some from idle despair to successful effort.
1. A little discouragement causes a person to quit.
2. A little unkindness convinces a person he or she has no value.
3. A little thoughtlessness plunges a person to ?the point of no return’ in the depths of lifelessness.
4. Hopeless words turn idle despair to utter despair.

Thank God for giving us Jesus Christ when we are not worth the cost! Thank You for seeing our potential when we saw none! Thank You for giving us life when we were truly lifeless. Without Your grace, we are nothing. May we give as we received!

The Seekers

Posted by on August 8, 2006 under Sermons

One of the most amazing realities in our world are the eyes of a child. Children see everything! Little escapes their attention. They dumbfound us with how observant they are. Because of their uncanny ability to observe, we adults who have small children attempt to "childproof" our homes. We deliberately go around our homes trying to see what a child might see. Then we remove or place out of reach anything that might harm a child. I guarantee you that when we adults try to see everything a child might see, the child will still see and approach things we did not notice.

This incredible ability to observe motivates most children to play the game of "one million questions." Place a child anywhere and he or she will see things to ask questions about. He or she will see things we adults passed for years and never saw of thought about.

The child’s ability to see combined with his or her curiosity grants him or her the ability to take almost anything apart. Rarely is there a parent who is not amazed at how gifted children are at dismantling things.

Children have this amazing power of observation because they really see. Their thirsty minds absorb everything. Adults both see and do not see at the same time. Adults take things for granted. Adults see what they expect to see. If we adults are not thinking about it, we likely will not see it. Only what we find unusual will distract us and cause us to notice.

However, children constantly see wonders, curiosities, beauties, and fascinations lost to the majority of adults. It is that ability to allows children to learn at an incredible rate. Very few adults rival the learning rate of a child. One reason most children learn faster than adults is this: children constantly search to discover while adults are content merely to look. Children never see anything that is not there for adults to see.

A spiritual quality Christians should develop is having the observant eyes of a child. Christians need to be seekers. We need to observe the will and ways of God, not just look at them. I am not talking about seeing the mysterious that is veiled to the eyes of others. I am talking about seeing the ways of God that others often overlook.

  1. Seekers have always been a great source of blessing.

    1. Consider early scientific and technological advances.

      1. Several hundred years ago a man named Columbus saw something with inquiring eyes.

        1. The vast majority of people devoutly believed the world was flat.

        2. The majority thought if ships sailed too far away from land, they would fall of the edge of the world.

        3. Columbus noted ships in the distance sank into the horizon rather than fading away.

        4. His observation eventually led to the discovery of the ‘new world.’

        5. He dared try to prove what he observed.

      1. Sir Isaac Newton noted something that happened from the time of creation.

        1. One day an apple fell and hit him.

        2. Things always fell!

        3. Yet, he said there must be a reason for this happening.

        4. As a result of his observation, he discovered the law of gravity.

        5. Gravity always had been there!

        6. But he noticed it and sought to understand its existence!

      2. Alexander Fleming opened the door to amazing wonder drugs.

        1. A petri dish he planned to use in an experiment was contaminated with mold.

        2. He set the dish aside planning to clean it later.

        3. Later, when he started to clean the petri dish, he noticed the mold killed the bacteria.

        4. That observation forced him to ask how and why.

        5. As a result, he discovered penicillin.

        6. Penicillin was not new–he just observed it for the first time.

      3. There are two points:

        1. To see truth, you have to open your eyes and observe honestly.

        2. To see truth, you must seek to understand what cannot be explained.

      4. Seeing truth is often unpopular.

        1. Most people thought Columbus was crazy for thinking the earth was round–he even had difficulty in getting sailors to go with him!

        2. People did not immediately applaud Sir Isaac Newton for his observation!
          Fleming’s observation bordered on the unbelievable!

        3. It always has taken courage and honesty to "see" what others fail to "see."


  2. Scripture declares people who belong to Christ must be seekers.

    1. Jesus stressed the importance of seeking.

      1. In his sermon on the mount, he stressed it twice.

        1. Matthew 6:33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

        2. Matthew 7:7,8 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

        3. The kingdom is for seekers; spiritual discovery is for the seekers.

    2. Paul also stressed the value of seeking.

      1. Romans 2:7 "… to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life;"

        1. Eternal life is for those who seek glory and honor in Christ.

        2. A vital difference between the rejected and the accepted in judgment will be found in the courage to seek.

      2. Colossians 3:1-3, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

        1. The Colossian Christians needed to keep on seeking in Christ.

        2. The person who belongs to Christ must seek existence in Christ.

    3. The writer of Hebrews stressed the importance of seeking with these words:
      Hebrews 11:6, 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.

      1. An important expression of faith is trusting God to reward the seeker.

      2. It is not enough merely to believe God is.

    4. Jesus spoke plainly about those who refused to find the way to God through him.
      Matthew 13:13-15, Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ?You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes, Otherwise they would see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, And understand with their heart and return, And I would heal them.’

      1. The courage to follow Jesus must include the courage to seek.

      2. Jesus can guide if we will have the courage to understand.


  3. The critical importance of seeking is illustrated in Jesus’ ministry.

    1. Most of Jesus’ teaching were public teachings.

      1. Jewish people heard and saw the same things when they heard and saw Jesus.

      2. Jewish people witnessed the same thing when they saw his miracles.

    2. Yet, the seekers looked with honest, open eyes and the courage to believe what they saw.

      1. They saw God’s undeniable power in Jesus.

      2. They saw evidences of Jesus being God’s son.

      3. They saw the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the promised Messiah.

      4. They saw life and hope.

    3. However, the skeptics saw none of those things.

      1. They saw a crazy story teller.

      2. They saw a prince of demons, a political disaster, an impostor, and a rival.

      3. They saw a traitor to Israel.

    4. What people saw was greatly influenced by a willingness to seek–only those with courage and honesty could see what really happened as they saw Jesus for who and what he was.


  4. Why is it so hard to be an honest seeker?

    1. Let’s be honest:

      1. Many in the Church of Christ are not seekers.

        1. We are tempted to be comfortable, satisfied belongers.

        2. Many of us do not want to find things that lead to responsibility.

      2. Most religious people are not seekers.

        1. It is dangerous to seek.

        2. The religious often seek contentment, not courage.

    2. It is hard to be an honest seeker.

      1. Seeking requires an open mind that is not afraid to learn and understand.

      2. Seeking demands a willingness to abandon old views for a new understanding built on better knowledge.

      3. Seeking demands a willingness to accept newly understood realities that have proven themselves true.

      4. Seeking demands the courage to change.

    3. It is difficult to be an honest seeker because it is simple to seek the wrong things.

      1. Many sought Jesus for the wrong reason–they wanted benefits rather than forgiveness and repentance.

      2. Many still seek Jesus for wrong reasons–they want eternal insurance or conscience ointment rather than the destruction of sin within them.

Followers of God and Jesus Christ must be seekers because God and Jesus Christ are seekers.

Luke 19:10, For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

John 4:23, But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

Are you a seeker? What do you seek? Do you have a child’s eyes that see everything to be seen? Or, are you content to walk through life always looking but never seeing? If you seek Jesus, is it not time you become simply a Christian?