The Power of Words: God Spoke

Posted by on January 31, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

In the Bible’s brief account of God’s creation of the physical world, there is enormous emphasis on the power of speech and the words speech uses. In the creative acts of God, your attention is directed to two declarations: (1) the creation of the physical happened because God spoke; (2) people were made in the image of God.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the power of speech. Through speech people are encouraged, lifted to the heights, challenged to make great sacrifices, and moved to give life itself for a cause. Because of speech, great battles have been fought, the underdog has achieved the impossible, dreams become visions, movements become governments, and governments become empires. Because of speech, people live and people die. Because of speech, literally the direction of lives is changed.

We have words and phrases that acknowledge the power of speech. We acknowledge wordsmiths exist. These are the people who can create concepts and direct thoughts by the use of words. A quality wordsmith can stir our emotions and penetrate our thinking. We acknowledge spin doctors exist. They specialize in transforming undesirable words into worthwhile thoughts. (Surely, both can abuse as well as use words.)

Most of what exists in your life began with words. This is so true that you likely have a great appreciation for someone who can say or write things well. For anyone-man or woman-who can use words to inspire us or to make us think, we have profound respect. Who is your favorite author? Why? To whom do you listen (always) when he or she speaks? Why? To whom will you never read or listen? Why?

If God made things happen by speaking, and we each were made in God’s image, do you realize the power found in your speech, in the words you use? Do you realize the power your words have to challenge a life to rise to its finest efforts or to dismantle a life so that it crumbles?

If we as Christians represent the God who is so powerful that He said and it existed, always be aware of what you say and the words you use. One of the powers you have because you are in God’s image is found in your speech. In that understanding, those who seek to reflect God are quite careful about what they say.

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:6).

Humbling Circumstances

Posted by on January 27, 2008 under Sermons

Read Philippians 2:5-11.

Let’s return to the worship service in Philippi … Everyone has gathered in the house of Lydia [perhaps] for the worship and communion on the first day of the week. They are listening to the reading of Paul’s letter. All of them who met Paul and worked with him are listening attentively to his message: The jailer and his family, Lydia, Clememt; even Euodia and Syntyche on the opposite sides of the room.

They listen for news and for some revelation, and then they hear something very familiar. Something like an old poem or well-known song. As they come to this part (Phil. 2:5-11) they may have recited the words, familiar words along with the reader.

Read the Text …

Form critics, source critics, text critics – just about all the critics and scholars you can name, believe that this part of the letter is a citation of what may be one of the first Christian hymns. It may have been chanted like a psalm or read out loud like a confession. It is a teaching tool, a simple succinct way of expressing who Christ is and what the gospel is all about.

Paul did not place this text here simply to fill the time with a hymn. He is giving them the resources they will need to do what he has asked them to do … make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

How do they do that? By having the same mindset and attitude of the Lord Jesus … read text

The community in Phillipi would have been very conscious of matters like rank and status. As a Roman colony they had imported Rome’s preoccupation with hierarchies, chains of command, rank, and social status. In the Roman mindset, these sort of things made for good society. Men had their place in society, women had their place. The upper classes had their place and the lower classes, followed by the freemen and the slaves. The key to good society, harmony, and peace was everyone knowing their status and carrying out the duties of their status. Power was not distributed equally, but in the Roman mindset, that was best for everyone. There was some mobility up the ladder (slaves could gain freedom) but moving down the ladder would be dishonorable. It would be humiliating.

This little hymn tells us something about Christ. He held a rank and status that is as high as one can be. Far above the uppermost of the upper-classes, Christ was equal with God. But Christ did not anxiously or selfishly hold onto to his privilege and status. He let go of it. He humbled him. But his humbling circumstances don’t end there. He doesn’t enter into the human race with the status of a king, emperor, chief, or senator. He assumes the status of a slave. He humiliates himself by demonstrating obedience. And it doesn’t end there. He accepts death, but not even a noble, dignified death – instead, he humbles himself to allow his crucifixion – a shameful, dishonoring death that brought shame to the crucified and all those associated with him. This is the mind and attitude of Christ. To empty one self and let go of honor, status, prestige, power, and control.

By “leading” the congregation in this little song, Paul is reminding them of who they worship and serve. Can they let go of their own anxious interests and focus on what’s best for others? Can they practice obedience rather than dominance? Can they humble themselves? They can if they’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in their lives, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to them. (2:1-4)

So, we can see how the church in Philippi had these problems of rank and status in their Roman-influenced culture. Thankfully we don’t have those sort of issues in America where we are all just folk, now do we? I mean we are all just the same in our big melting pot, right?

Why just this morning I drove my rusty old pick-up truck to Starbucks. I parked next to a V8 Jaguar. What a difference. I thought, “Only in America can a fellow like me in a palomino-colored pick-up and a fellow driving a classy British sports car come together and drink the same overpriced coffee!”
But let’s not deceive ourselves. We may not be as intentional and deliberate as the Romans, but we know how to arrange ourselves on the ladder of rank and status …

We’ve been reading this text every Sunday as we meet Christ around the Table. What does it say to us? How do we hear it? I imagine it is very difficult for us in our culture to adopt the mind and attitude of Christ. It goes against the grain …

  • Our culture promotes leaders. Leadership is good, it’s something to aspire to. I was part of a group called Leadership Fort Smith. There’s now a group called Young Emerging Leaders. There are numerous books on leadership and success. Have you ever noticed that there are not too many books on followship? There’s no such word even. There’s a lot of effort aimed at inspiring and training people to be leaders, but would anyone be interested in follower training? Are there Seven Habits of Highly Obedient People?
  • American culture kicked out the notion of royalty and noble classes. But we found other ways of creating rank and social status. And we’ve found other titles in business and society: Everyone wants to be the big – We may not have dukes, kings, barons – but we have Big Shots, Big Bosses, Big Kahunas, and Big Dogs.
  • We also like Chiefs. We have all heard of the Chief Executive Officer or CEO, but there are many more. Chief audit officer (CAO), Chief channel officer (CCO) Chief financial officer (CFO) Chief visionary officer (CVO) Chief operating officer (COO) Chief information officer (CIO) Chief information security officer (CISO) Chief marketing officer (CMO) Chief analytics officer (CAO) Chief administrative officer (CAO) Chief networking officer Chief data officer Chief technical officer or Chief technology officer (CTO) Chief science officer Chief legal officer
  • Thankfully we don’t have these problems among ministers – or do we? I am constantly asked if I am the “Senior Pastor” or Senior Minister. I don’t know that I could ever take that role as I have never been a Junior Minister. In fact, in all my experience I have never met anyone with the title of Junior Minister. Perhaps that title is too humiliating?
  • When America began sending astronauts into space, the capsule was a one seater. The astronauts were called pilots. But when they became two and three seat craft, new ranks had to be created because everyone wanted to be the pilot.
  • We may not have the same highly structured class system that the Romans did, but we do have classes and boundaries that define status. If we wanted to find the poverty line in Fort Smith do you think we’d find it running parallel to certain streets in our towns? Why is it that we seem to know which side of the tracks is the wrong side if we aren’t conscious about status?

All this is simply to say that the mindset and attitude of Christ may be just as difficult for us as it was for the Philippians. Maybe even more so. Humbling ourselves, emptying ourselves, can seem very harmful or unhealthy in a day and age when gaining self-esteem and confidence seems to be so much of an issue. The attitude of Christ is not the basis for self-mortification, self-hatred, or debasement. The hymn is social and spiritual, not psychological. This text is about public and social behavior, not self-image or identity.

Christ knew who he was. He had an accurate self-image. His rightful status was equality with God. But he did not exploit that status. He trusted God to preserve his status, his prestige, his power. Christ let it all go for the sake of others – for their benefit.

And God does exalt Christ. He gives him a name of honor – name above all other names. In doing so, God exalts the humiliating circumstances that bring Christ to the place of honor. Christ is not a success story of personal achievement, he is achieves something for all of us by surrendering himself to God and to others.

How could this attitude change our families and church. How could it change our society and community? What would change if we really empty ourselves? To humble ourselves? To let go of our privilege, our power, our pride, our need to be right and our need to be justified and affirmed and instead trusted all of that to God and sought the interest of others?

We might be a church like Christ. In a culture in which so many are furiously fighting to move up the ladder, we might find that we stand out as a people who are not afraid to move down the ladder for the sake of others. We just might stand out as church that is like Christ.

Who Reflects Whom?

Posted by on January 24, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

In a simple yet straightforward way, Genesis states our beginning. While this could be a deeply theological discussion about the origin of humanity, I prefer here and now to direct your attention to other understandings. (1) Human origin is in God. In our origin, we have great privilege and great responsibility. (2) Our privilege: humanity has a unique ability to reflect God. (3) Our responsibility: reflect Him accurately.

What a blessing for people to be able to reflect God! God’s calling: be the best human we are capable of being. We are not urged to look to our concerns, desires, or self-indulgence as we seek to be our best. We are not even urged to look at the good things around us to determine “good.” “Good” is found in reflecting the God who brought human life into existence. That is the dedication that challenges us to be unselfishly dedicated to His character, filled with grace, and compassionate. Those who first belonged to God failed miserably because they allowed greed, mistrust, and selfishness to conquer them. By submitting to characteristics unworthy of God, they alienated themselves from God. May those who belong to Him now not make Adam and Eve’s mistake! Our blessing is found in reflecting Him!

Our responsibility is seen in our willingness to reflect Him accurately. Realizing He made us (not we Him), we seek to ask the proper question. It is not, “What seems ?good’ to me?” It is, “What does the Holy God say is good?” At times we are so consumed with self-interest as we seek to endure in an ungodly situation, we are severely tempted to define good for God instead of allowing Him to show us good (“this is surely what God would say and do”). We claim to reflect Him when we actually reflect our own concerns. The end result: as we seek to do good, evil results. Perhaps the greater damage is done when we who are supposed to reflect God actually discredit God. Those who do not know God look at us who are supposed to know God and say, “If that is the way Christians act, I want no part of it.”

The wonderful news is that God is patient if we are willing to learn and act on our new understanding. He commonly is nicer to us than we are to others. He shows us how to act by using Jesus, and patiently waits for us to learn.

The weighty news involves us. We individually are responsible for our decisions and acts. It is not an “anything goes” life. It is a life devoted to learning (1) how to be responsible and (2) how appropriately to reflect God in our decisions and actions.

After 50 years of preaching, the principle thing I learned in my life and His word is this: the necessity of combining His patience with an understanding of Him. “Lord, thank you for being so patient with us! Help us learn compassion from You!”

Of Heroes and Hobbits

Posted by on January 20, 2008 under Sermons

Heroes and the Heroic:

  1. We are Cynical:
    1. Before 9/11 we despaired that there were any true heroes.
    2. We were too sophisticated for heroes. It is too romantic
    3. 9/11 changed that and we began to rethink the heroic. But now our faith in that which is heroic is fading again. The world just seems too complicated.
  2. We are Fascinated With Heroes:
    1. Best Movies are about Bigger-than-life heroes
    2. Heroes are great when they are someone else …
  3. The Hobbit:
    1. Do not care for adventure
    2. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things
    3. Make you late for dinner
    4. Hobbit society frowns on adventures and adventurers
      1. Adventurers do unexpected things and bring in trouble
      2. They inspire silly ideas in people

    “Perhaps we are more like Hobbits than we care to admit …”

  4. Even in the Church
    1. He/she who dares to spend him/herself in heroic efforts may suffer the rebuke or ridicule of fellow “hobbits” – We don’t want trouble makers coming around and stirring up adventure.
    2. So it can be tempting to give up – or to at least sit back and do nothing
    3. The best way to avoid criticism and hard work is to become comfortably and peacefully meaningless
    4. Timothy was tempted to quit …


  1. An Encouraging Letter from His Mentor (Background to 2 Timothy)
    1. Timothy was Paul’s troubleshooter and representative (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10-11; Philippians 2:19-23; 1 Thessalonians 3:2)
    2. At work in Ephesus
    3. Paul is in prison, facing death.
    4. Members of the church are opposing him, he is disrespected.
    5. Rival teachers, who are teaching garbage, are having more success than he is.
    6. Timothy is strongly considering a career change.
      1. Thus, Paul’s letter
  2. The Essence of the Message: “This is no time for Wimps!” (1:7)
    1. Paul Gives Examples Timothy would know:
      1. Phugelus and Hermogenes (1:15) – deserters
      2. Humenaeus and Philetus (2:17-18) – false teachers (for selfish reasons no doubt)
      3. Demas – deserter, “he loved the world”
    2. The Timid are Deserters:
      1. This is Military Language, why?
      2. More is at stake than in any war ever fought.
      3. Deserters are not the enemy (4:16), but the contribute to his cause
  3. Paul charges Timothy to:
    • Continue in what he knows is true (3:14)
    • Get back in the fight! It is your calling!
    • He gives three examples:
      1. Soldier (Courage) Fear says “Be safe, neutral, run”
      2. Athlete (Endurance) Comfort, avoid trouble and conflict. But there is no risk-free Christianity
      3. Farmer (Patience) Self-Gratification says “what do I get from putting up with these people?”

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love and of self-discipline.”


  • A story that college freshmen have to agonize thru … English Literature, etc.
  • Beowulf rules the kingdom in peace and comfort for 50 winters
  • Until the dragon:
    • burns homes
    • stirs up fear and despair
    • makes threats
  • The King leaves his comfortable throne, dons his armor, sharpens his sword to go and do battle with this arrogant serpent
  • He risks his life, and though he kills the dragon, he is also killed.
  • He could just as easily sent others, made a treaty, or deserted his duty

Can we have a Heroic Faith?
Back to Tolkien (Gandalf’s remark):
“I tried to find [a hero or a warrior]; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighborhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found. Swords in these parts are blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary).”

Gandalf is right and wrong

  • Swords are blunt and warriors are often fighting one another
  • But dragons are NOT comfortably far off even though we do think them legendary

There is a dragon loose and he is burning homes, stirring up fear and despair and anxiety, he is making threats.
He is a desperate foe. (Our King has wounded him, but he is not powerless – yet.)
You either stand against the dragon, or give up. The Dragon does not respect innocent bystanders.

Are we “hobbits,” or heroes? God calls us into a grand adventure.

2 Timothy 2:11-13
If we died with him, we will also live with him (baptism)
If we endure, we will also reign with him (dedication)
If we disown him, he will also disown us (so don’t)
If we are faithless, he will remain faithful …(grace and repentance)

      Give invitation, then Pause and have everyone stand and pay attention …

        “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus …
        Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you …
        for God did not give us a spirit of timidity,
        but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
        Dedicate your life to Him today and live heroically!

Life’s Worth Living …

Posted by on under Sermons

Read Philippians 1:27-30.

If you live in Fort Smith for any time at all, you’ll learn a very proud phrase popularized by our Mayor, Ray Baker. “Life’s Worth Living … in Fort Smith, Arkansas!” What impresses me about the way the Mayor uses the phrase is the way he can slip it in to almost any talk on any occasion. And it really does seem to fit most occasions. And people join in shouting it along with the mayor. The slogan has caught on. It creates unity. And it’s always appropriate to consider life worth living. I think that Paul the apostle would appreciate our city’s slogan. He might add that life is worth living – especially when you live it worthily.

When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he appealed to their sense of civic pride too. As citizens of Philippi, they were proud of being a civilized outpost of Roman culture in the wild frontier of the Empire. Many of its citizens were veterans of the Roman army, retired politicians, transplanted Romans. They were patriots, loyalists and proud of their status as a Roman colony. Being a citizen meant certain privileges, but with those privileges came responsibilities. And they had to live it out.

Paul is counting on the Christians there having this attitude about being good citizens. He want to encourage them to understand how their life in the city and their life in Christ overlap. Paul’s no dualist – he won’t allow them to break up their lives into compartments. Whether he is there or not, they are to be people who live life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Whether they are conducting life in the city or in the church, it is all life in Christ. For the Philippian Christians, being good citizens means being good disciples. They will fulfill their duty to be good members of the community if they will live their lives worthy of the gospel of Christ. Life’s worth living in Philippi when you live in Christ.

If it’s true for Philippi, then it’s no less true for us. We have an opportunity to be a people who enhance and bless this region. Our lives are not compartments. We ought to call upon and encourage one another to live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ. So, whatever you do and however you serve in the cities of this region, do it in such a way that it honors Christ. Life’s worth living in Fort Smith, Arkansas – and Van Buren, and Greenwood, and Alma, and Barling, and Poteau, and Roland, and Cedarville, and Rudy (who did I forget?) … and what makes life worth living is living worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Here’s what it means …

  1. Standing Firm – [Military Image] – Paul and the Philippians would have been familiar with the ultimate example of standing firm in battle: The phalanx was a standard feature of Greek and Roman military combat. The Macedonian phalanx used by Alexander the Great, was developed by his father Philip – the city of Philippi was named for him. The phalanx was made of 256 soldiers arranged in a perfect 16 by 16 block armed with shields and 14 ft spears held by more than one rank. The key to making it work was disciplining the troops to hold a line which created a nearly impenetrable forest of points to the front. If the ranks of the phalanx do not work together or if any of the soldiers become frightened, then the whole formation falls.
    The weakness of the phalanx was fear, disunity, and uneven terrain. Our enemy will shake us up in order to upset or unity and divide our ranks. Let us stand as firm and let us stand as one …

  2. Contending as One Person – [Athletics Image] – How many of us remember the most famous Hockey Game in US history? It’s been called the Miracle on Ice. It was February of 1980 during a peak of Cold War tension between the US and the Soviet Union. As always, the Soviets were the odds-on favorites to win the Gold in hockey. The Soviets always won, for though they were technically classed as amateurs, they were in fact professionals but the Soviet Union gave them other job classifications. No one really believed that the true amateurs of the US Hockey Team could win. But they played as one and all America rallied behind them. They defeated the Soviets and went on to win the Gold. At the medal ceremony, the podium was only meant for one player who represented the team, but the captain of the team motioned for all his teammates to join him on the podium.
    Paul urges us to work together as a team, acting as one, as we live a life worthy of the faith of the gospel …

  3. Having One Spirit and Soul – Like a coach or a commander, Paul is appealing to the church in Philippi to stand firm and work together. 1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Armies and sports teams are good examples of what it means to struggle together and be unified. Why can’t the church be the greatest example to all the world of this? It makes sense – aren’t we united in Christ? Aren’t we all comforted by his love? Aren’t we all in fellowship with the spirit? Aren’t we called to tenderness and compassion? Of course! The answer to all these is yes! So, we ought to be the best sign, the best example of what unity and community is all about. Because of Christ and the gospel, people should see in us a life that worth living!

A faith of opposition vs a faith of courage — God did not call us to be a fearful, timid community of believers reacting anxiously to that which seems improper. God did not give us a spirit of fear and weakness, he gave us a spirit of power and called us to love. He didn’t call us to lash out, he called us to stand and live a live worth living. If we are a united group, if we are those who are disciplined and consistently live out of the gospel of Christ then we will be a sign of God’s intended future – a colony of heaven on earth! Those who would oppose God’s future will notice it. And those who welcome God’s future will notice it.
This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved-and that by God.
The focus for the church is on how to live. We cannot concern ourselves with how God will deal with opponents. That’s God’s business, not ours. We can preoccupy ourselves with the failings of others, or we can focus on our own integrity. Paul is encouraging citizens of Christ’s community to live a worthy life – that means focus on our own character and integrity – even if that means struggling and suffering. God will address that which does not conform to his kingdom. We must dedicate ourselves to living in step with God’s kingdom community. If we know what we are for, then what we are against is evident.

Conclusion – Live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Recognizing the Unrecognizable

Posted by on January 17, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

Recently, I watched a group of scientists seeking the site of a huge sea battle occurring about 400 years ago. During that battle, a huge fleet representing European commercial interests confronted a huge Ottoman fleet. Both fleets were determined to control commerce on the Mediterranean Sea. An important by-product of the battle was the direction of world civilization.

The scientists painstakingly researched ancient records. Then they took a ship outfitted with the latest technology to the area of the battle in the Mediterranean Sea. Lastly they used divers to perform “hands on, actual sight” investigations and recovery.

It astounded me that part of the site was located after being under water for 400 years. Shorelines change! It astounded me even more that they recognized metal objects covered with the rust and corrosion of 400 years in salt water. For example, a diver recognized and recovered a sword handle. It was so corroded it did not look like a sword handle. It looked like a worthless part of the sea bed. However, the diver knew what he was looking for and recognized a valuable find when he saw it-in spite of enormous corrosion! To recognize a metal object after 400 years of rust is unthinkable!

Consider something more astounding. God recognized in us something of value after centuries of rust and corrosion through sin. He did not merely remove the corrosion so an ancient, flawed object became apparent. He removed the rust and restored us to a form that reflects His image, as He intended in creation. He has the power to remove the corrosion, restore the object, and allow the object to reflect Him! Incredibly, God sees through the corrosion of sin!

If we could see one human adult untouched by sin and compare that person to human adults submerged in centuries of sin, we would be astounded! What would astound us? We would be astounded (1) by the amount of corrosion, (2) the amount of distortion created by moral rust, (3) and by the fact God recognized anything. However, God knows what He is looking for and recognizes it when He sees it-in spite of the amount of rust and distortion.

The challenge for us as Christians is to recognize (as individuals and congregations) objects of value in people who are covered and distorted by sinfulness’ rust. The reason this challenge gives Christians so much trouble lies in our failure to see our own rustiness. Whatever has been removed from us, God removed. The goal of our obedience is merely to express our gratitude.

He or she who takes credit for the process of his or her own rust removal is sadly lacking in an understanding of God’s work in Jesus’ death and resurrection! The ultimate expression of gratitude is to see others’ need for rust removal and bring them to God. Only by removing rust can anyone reflect God.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Can You Imagine?

Posted by on January 13, 2008 under Sermons

Read Text Philippians 1:12-26.

Imagine what it would have been like: The Praetorian Guard, the elite soldiers who serve the Roman emperor have seen it all – or so they think. They have served Caesar on campaigns to the furthest reaches of the empire. They have been involved in the highest matters of Imperial Government. They have risked their lives for Rome and the emperor, they have seen their fellows die nobly for Rome. Since they alone among military troops have the privilege to enter the imperial city, they have dealt with all classes of people. They have dealt with all cultures. They have dealt with people at all ranks. You would think that nothing would astonish a member of the Praetorian Guard.

But in one of the imperial cities, among a detachment of the Guard, all the talk is about an unusual prisoner. He’s under house arrest while awaiting an audience with the Emperor. He’s been a prisoner for some time now. His name is Paul and he appears to be a Jew but he is also a Roman Citizen. What fascinates the soldiers who keep watch over him is his lack of anxiety. He is cooperative with the Guards and has won the respect of many of them. Some have even begun to apologize when they have to cuff him or put him in an ankle chain. But this man doesn’t seem bothered. How is it?

Some of the guards have actually spoken to him at length about his reason for being under arrest and the details of his trial. They are used to prisoners protesting and claiming their innocence, but this fellow will tell you exactly why he’s here and he tells it with joy. He is under arrest for what he believes. He believes that an instigator who was crucified outside Jerusalem a few decades ago was in fact the Son of God. Furthermore, this fellow claims to have met this God-man, who was risen from the dead, on a trip to Damascus. And he is telling others that this Son of God lives and has been exalted by God to rule over all creation.

Some of the guards scoff. This is nonsense. But they admit that the man doesn’t have the manner of a lunatic or fanatic. He receives visitors who have traveled all the way from the Roman Colony in Philippi. These people are his disciples and they share his belief in the Son of God. This man Paul is a scholar who receives correspondence and writes as if he were a philosopher or statesman. Some of the guards have read his mail – and the prisoner doesn’t seem to mind. In fact he will tell anyone his story and answer their questions with gladness. It is this man’s attitude about life that lends credence to his claims about God and God’s Son.

But it is also his attitude about death. He isn’t afraid of death. He isn’t worried about his impending judgment. This isn’t the first time he’s been imprisoned or attacked for what he believes. And yet he remains committed to it. The guards respect that nobility; yet they see in this man and his guests from Philippi and other places a commitment that goes beyond their dedication to Rome and the Emperor. This man has a confidence that in life or death, his God-Man Lord named Jesus will save him. Some of the guards have been very interested in this. And some have spent many hours and days listening to the teaching of this man. But all of them know that he is there because of this Son of God that he calls the Christ.

Can you imagine it? These Scriptures inspire us to imagine what it would have been like for Paul. But it also inspires us to develop a Christian imagination about the way our lives can be if we are bound to Christ.

Imagination gets a bad rap in an age of enlightenment. I wish it weren’t the case. Imagination is not always fanciful flights of reality. Many of the realities that we enjoy have come about because someone imagined what could be. Our lives can become better because we have the capacity to first imagine that it can be better. Without imagination we might just accept the world as it is and accept other people as they are and not believe how different it really is because of God.

These Scriptures inspire us to imagine that what seems like a setback or failure might actually be progress. Who could have imagined that the crucifixion of Jesus would result in new life? Jesus imagined it. God made it reality. The eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection urged other to imagine that the cross of the Romans was not the end of the story. And their lives embodied that imagination. When we start there, it isn’t hard to imagine that the circumstances that appear to be setbacks or failures are actually opportunities for God to work. If we lack a Christian imagination then we won’t see it. We may even lose hope and give up. Because there are setbacks in this world that can make us so anxious we’ll trust in our own anxious notions of security. Paul was able to view his imprisonment and impending judgment as progress, not failure. He shared Christ’s good news with the Imperial Guards. There is no way that could have happened unless he was arrested. Can we have that same optimism? We can if we have a Christ-centered imagination rather than self-protective pragmatism.

These Scriptures inspire us to imagine that we really can let go of bitterness and worry about any who would take advantage of our misfortune. There were some people, maybe Paul’s disciples even, who saw his imprisonment as an opportunity to advance their own agenda. Paul’s imprisonment left open a “position of leadership” in the churches. These people, fellow Christians, had the nerve to take advantage of Paul’s misfortune for self-promotion. They are envious and competitive – they think that the only way they can be assured of control, influence, and benefit is to deny others. Some are even stirring up trouble against Paul to make his imprisonment even harder. Maybe they hope to keep him there forever.

We wouldn’t have a problem if Paul decided to put these ambitious agitators in their place would we? We might even welcome it. We might cheer him on. But Paul has a Christ-like imagination. He can see what isn’t apparent at first glance. Even if their motives are wrong, they are preaching Christ. “So what does it matter?” says Paul. Can he really be so content? Yes he can, because his Christian imagination allows him to see the bigger picture …

These Scriptures inspire us to see the bigger picture. We see how life in Christ reverses the world as we know it. What may seem shameful by worldly standards, can be honor by Christian values. What may seem like loss is actually gain. What may seem like death is actually life. And Paul can even see his own Christian expectations in reverse. It seems like a reverse for a man with a Christian imagination to say “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain!” That would be enough, but he can even reverse that and say, “Although it would be better for me personally to die and be with Christ, it is better for you if I remain. I may suffer and struggle but I will serve you in the name of Christ even though I may seem powerless.”

A Christian imagination comes about through having a changed mind – the mind of Christ. When we see the world as Christ does we think of others and not just ourselves.

I want us to really incorporate this teaching. I want us to really imagine how our lives and our life together can be different and then live it out – even when that is difficult – just as Paul did. So I want to close with a story about another Paul, also a missionary. He’s a friend, a student, and his mission field is in San Francisco. The story he recently told me convicted me that these Scriptures and the capacity to imagine the world as Christ sees it is for real.

Story of mission in San Francisco …

The Paul I know can really truly say like “the Paul” — what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. Do you imagine that we can say that? Do you imagine that you could say that?

Why Would Anyone Be An Elder Today?

Posted by on January 10, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

These were Paul’s instructions to Timothy-father to adopted son, preacher to preacher, mentor to trainee. From the beginning, it was difficult to be a godly man who deeply cared about God, God’s people, and be an elder. Elders were humans who made mistakes. They, too, lived with temptation. They, too, could be victims of bias.

Little has changed. Members’ expectations often exceed an elder’s time or training. Situations increasingly are complex. Demands are relentless. Critics rarely have the information elders have. What appears to be simple is never simple. In crisis moments, elders frequently are in “no win” situations they did not produce. While caring, they can be accused of not caring. They protect confidences as if no confidences exist. Also:

  1. They serve an all volunteer organization as if they were paid C.E.O.’s of a profitable company.
  2. Members appoint them for spiritual maturity, but treat them as immature if they “do not agree with my view.”
  3. They are expected to study, but keep quiet if what they learn conflicts with typical conclusions.
  4. They are expected to produce money to fund anyone’s passionate cause.
  5. They are expected to have and use people skills no one possesses.
  6. They are expected to understand those who misunderstand them.
  7. Their families silently endure grief and pay prices few know.

So why would any man agree to be an elder? For the same reason a godly person agrees to be a deacon, a business management team participant, a leader of a program, a teacher, or an involved member. (1) They love God. (2) They love people. (3) They understand God’s purposes are bigger than the physical realities of right now. (4) They seek to use their gifts to serve God rather than themselves.

If Christians are to benefit from selfless, capable leadership, we consciously need to produce the joys of leading rather than the pain of discontentment. Respond to godly leadership. Get involved. Have a servant heart rather than a controller’s mind. May godly people never decline leadership because of unnecessary heartache.

God’s Dedication to Healing

Posted by on January 9, 2008 under Sermons

My Webster’s Dictionary defines healing by using the following concepts. To heal means to make sound or whole, to restore, to patch up, to remedy, to return to a sound state. These concepts commonly refer to health where physical health has been lost. However, these concepts can and do have a broader application.

Today, I want all of us to think in terms of broader applications.

I have spent most of my life and most of my ministry helping and encouraging those who are broken seek soundness. Spiritually, that often includes the need for repentance and the need to trust God’s forgiveness. Physically, that commonly includes making sick or ruptured human relationships sound again. It always includes the need to find and support a sense of peace.

I have spent decades in numerous contexts urging people to find soundness rather than to live in brokenness, to live in peace instead of promoting conflict. Because of long-term exposure, please permit me to make some observations.

Observation 1: Soundness is easily destroyed, but restoration of health requires great energy and even greater commitment. I never cease to be amazed at how easily one word or one act can become "the straw that broke the camel’s back," but how challenging (not impossible!) it is to "heal the camel." It is amazing how much love can endure until one thing is just too much. It is equally amazing to see how big a void is created once love is destroyed. I never cease to be amazed at how one thing is "too much" for trust to handle, and how incredibly difficult (not impossible!) it is to restore trust once it has been destroyed.

Observation 2: Spiritual maturity will not develop in a climate of turmoil and spite. For whatever reasons, hurt, suffering Christians seek relief from their pain by attacking others. Where there is an environment of turmoil and spite, those who suffer tear down those who do not suffer. When local Christians emotionally react to their pain, the local Christians as a group tend to sink to their lowest spiritual level. Instead of the community at large seeing those Christians as a productive force of usefulness, those Christians acquire the appearance of pettiness and shallowness. Christian credibility becomes a casualty.

Observation 3: Widespread spiritual conflict misdirects the energies of every form and level of Christian leadership. Gossip finds encouragement. Slander finds support. Accusations find credibility. Internal conflict finds justification. Christians angrily accuse Christians. Schisms develop. Sides are formed. Commitment to Christ and God is questioned. Elders do too much or not enough, depending on who speaks. Deacons fail to take a stand. Teachers refuse to deal with "the obvious." Opinion leaders are pressured. Neutrality is considered weakness. Fires begin spontaneously.

When Christians (individually, as groups, or congregationally) remain in a mindset of conflict, there are no victories, only losses. If those who seek to lead on any level dedicate themselves to putting out fires, they dedicate themselves to increasing internal demands that become deeply disheartening. If they do what is seen as too much, some people say, "They know where there is smoke there is fire." If they do what some people see as too little, these people ask, "What are they trying to hide?" Usually, different people are saying both things at the same time.

Paul admonished hostile Christians in Galatians 5:13-15, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."

If you disagree with my observations, you surely can do so. The only request I make is to consider what I now share.

  1. It took God thousands of years to generate the possibility of undoing in His son what Eve and Adam did in one defiant bite.
    1. As a direct result of defiantly eating a fruit, God’s creation went from:
      Genesis 1:31, God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
      Genesis 6:5,6 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
      1. They ate and were not even hungry or in physical need!
      2. They wanted what they did not have in complete ignorance of the fact that what they wanted would destroy them.
    2. God’s physical creation became so infused with evil that a physical world without evil is beyond human imagination.
      1. Some people question if such a physical world ever existed.
      2. Some even question if a physical world without evil would be a desirable happening.
  2. The possibility of redemption in Christ exists because God refused to give up in the face of great evil.
    1. Even though the period of the judges was a time of great, repeated idolatry and wickedness among God’s people, God persisted.
    2. Even though Israelite kings were an enormous failure, God persisted.
      1. When the Israelites asked for a king, they misidentified their problem and rejected God as their leader.
        1. Their problem was a lack of trust in God, and having a king would not solve their "trust in God" problem.
        2. That is why God told Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:7, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them."
      2. Israelite kings were a spiritual disaster.
        1. Israel was united as a nation for only 120 years after the first appointment of a king–King Saul was arrogant in his insecurity; King David committed adultery and murder; and King Solomon reverted to idolatry to please his wives.
        2. The rest of the time the Israelite kingdom was divided until the northern kingdom went into Assyrian captivity and the southern kingdom went into Babylonian captivity.
  3. Things went from bad to worse in the times of the prophets. Those who were supposed to be God’s people refused to listen to any message from God.
    1. Consider the situation of Gods’ people (these were supposed to be the best of the best!) when Isaiah wrote.
      1. Isaiah 1:4-6, Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him. Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil.
        1. They were so full of wounds and bruises there was no place left for God to afflict them.
        2. They were so accustomed to their suffering they did not even recognize they were sick.
      2. Isaiah 3:8-12, For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their actions are against the Lord, to rebel against His glorious presence. The expression of their faces bears witness against them, and they display their sin like Sodom; they do not even conceal it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves. Say to the righteous that it will go well with them, for they will eat the fruit of their actions. Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, for what he deserves will be done to him. O My people! Their oppressors are children, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray and confuse the direction of your paths.
        1. Their problems were much worse than "well-intentioned mistakes;" their problems arose from character flaws.
        2. Their sins became witnesses against them.
        3. Those who they allowed to lead them, led them astray and confused their direction.
      3. Isaiah 5:3-7, “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? “So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
        1. God would do more than abandon His people; He would destroy them.
        2. God looked for people who reflected Him, and He was disappointed.
      4. Isaiah 5:20-23, Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!
        1. They were horribly confused about the correct concept of good and bad, of right and wrong.
        2. They were so wise in their own estimation that they justified horribly wicked actions.
    2. Consider the extremely difficult task God gave Jeremiah in taking God’s messages to His own people (people who should have been touched and responded!).
      1. After commissioning Jeremiah and rejecting his objections, God gives Jeremiah an extremely difficult message to deliver to His people.
      2. Jeremiah 2:4-13, Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me, that they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and became empty? “They did not say, ?Where is the Lord Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought and of deep darkness, through a land that no one crossed and where no man dwelt?" I brought you into the fruitful land to eat its fruit and its good things. But you came and defiled My land, and My inheritance you made an abomination. The priests did not say, "Where is the Lord?" And those who handle the law did not know Me; the rulers also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that did not profit. “Therefore I will yet contend with you,” declares the Lord, “And with your sons’ sons I will contend. “For cross to the coastlands of Kittim and see, and send to Kedar and observe closely and see if there has been such a thing as this! “Has a nation changed gods ahen they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,” declares the Lord. “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
        1. God said, "The time has come for you to pay the consequences for your evil."
        2. "You did the unthinkable in rejecting Me, now the unthinkable will happen to you."
      3. Jeremiah 5:1-3, “Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note. And seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, Then I will pardon her. “And although they say, ?As the Lord lives,’ surely they swear falsely.” O Lord, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have smitten them, but they did not weaken; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent."
        1. Jeremiah was asked to find one righteous person in the holiest city on earth.
        2. He could not find one among God’s own people.
      4. Jeremiah 7:27, "You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they will not answer you."
        1. God’s message deeply grieved Jeremiah.
        2. Yet, God would not let him even pray for the people.
        3. Terror was coming, and Jeremiah could do nothing.
      5. Jeremiah 20:7-11, O Lord, You have deceived me and I was deceived; you have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted In reproach and derision all day long. But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it. For I have heard the whispering of many, “Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!” All my trusted friends, Watching for my fall, say: "Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him.” But the Lord is with me like a dread champion; therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, with an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.
        1. Jeremiah’s mission and message brought him nothing but grief and rejection.
        2. The reaction to his message brought him nothing but agony.
        3. He hurt so badly that he wished he had never been born–being right and having the Lord vindicate him was a cold comfort.

The point I want you to note is that healing is difficult. It can get to a point of offense against God that it cannot occur. Because we are God’s people does not mean we cannot offend God.

May I make some closing encouragements. (1) Let God’s character and values become your character and values. (2) Oppose evil, but value people. (3) Let God be the judge in the knowledge that no one will do evil and God be ignorant of the evil. (4) Devote yourself to a patient God by devoting yourself to the difficult task of healing. (5) Care about others with the depth of God’s caring!

May God’s patience in giving Jesus Christ commit you to never "giving up" on people!

The Challenge of Disappointment

Posted by on January 8, 2008 under Sermons

How do Christians deal with disappointment created by other Christians? We live in a society filled with cynicism, ready to criticize anything or anyone. Our society tells us to think the worst and expect it to happen in every situation. A common response: "That is what I expected!" In our democracy, we do not fear finding fault with anyone.

This trait causes people in other governmental systems to shake their heads in disbelief as they marvel. While on the mission field, we informed one of our workers that our Vice President had to resign because he failed to pay his taxes. The worker replied, "Excuse me, but who tells a Vice President to pay taxes?" In his world, telling a Vice President to pay taxes was TROUBLE with unthinkable consequences.

A man or woman assembles with the congregation "every time the door is open." However, he or she lives a double life–one being quite evil, and one being quite good. The details of the double life become common knowledge. A consequence: we interpret all difficult circumstances in all troubled members’ lives as evidence of double lives.

A Bible teacher yields to temptation. A consequence: we decide all Bible teachers are especially prone to temptation.

A deacon has an affair. A consequence: we think all deacons are looking for opportunities for affairs.

A treasurer financially defrauds a congregation. A consequence: we think a quality of all treasurers is a love for money that is greater than a love for people.

An elder abuses his position for personal benefit. A consequence: we assume all elders are elders for "the wrong reason."

Thus, many Christians ask, "What is wrong with us? We seem to be like an army who aims its guns on itself. When we have no pressing enemy, we shoot ourselves. We seem well trained to destroy, but have far too little motive to encourage. Is Christianity by nature destructive? Is it a part of Christianity’s character to find its joy in destroying instead of encouraging?"

There are many reasons for congregations to be internally destructive, not merely one. One of those reasons that cries out for understanding is this: humans are spiritually weak. Trusting humans commonly will lead to disappointment. Our faith always must be in Jesus Christ (the Savior), not in congregations (the saved).

  1. The New Testament constantly urges people to place their faith in Jesus Christ.
    1. The examples are literally too numerous to list.
      1. When Peter and John spoke to people after the healing of a lame adult, Peter said in Acts 3:18-21, "The things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time."
      2. When Peter spoke to the council after his and John’s arrest, he said in Acts 4:8-12, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
      3. After his conversion, this is said of Paul in Acts 9:19-22, Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
      4. This same man wrote this in Romans 7:24-8:1, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
      5. The writer of the letter called Hebrews said in Hebrews 10:10-14, "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."
      6. James cautioned in James 2:1, "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism."
      7. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
      8. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:8-11 concerning what we call the Christian graces, "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."
      9. John wrote in 1 John 1:1-4, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life-and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us-what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete."
      10. Jude wrote in Jude 17-21, But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.
      11. The message of Revelation closes with these words in Revelation 22:16-17 — I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
    2. Only Jesus is:
      1. The promised fulfillment of God’s determination to bring salvation to the world.
      2. The only one through whom salvation is available.
      3. The Son of God.
      4. The only one in whom there is no condemnation.
      5. The only sacrifice from God for the sins of all.
      6. The only one in whom there is no favoritism.
      7. The only one who can protect us through the living hope.
      8. The only one who can grant us entrance into the eternal kingdom.
      9. The real one sent from God to be Savior.
      10. The only one who can give us the mercy we must have.
      11. The only one who can take us to God.
    3. We can be examples and encouragers who influence people to develop and cling to faith in Jesus Christ, but we can never be the Savior.
  2. Humans in Christ never stop being humans in this life.
    1. As humans:
      1. We always are able to be tempted.
      2. We always have choices we must make.
      3. We always are limited in our knowledge.
      4. We always are capable of being emotional reactors instead of purposeful decision makers.
      5. Humans make mistakes, and being in Christ does not eliminate our ability to make mistakes.
    2. So we must set boundaries on humans, even humans in Christ.
      1. We let humans in Christ encourage us, but we follow Jesus.
      2. We let humans in Christ provide us examples, but we follow Jesus.
      3. We let humans in Christ lift us up, but we follow Jesus.
      4. We let humans in Christ warn us, but we follow Jesus.
    3. Never give a Christian what belongs to Jesus Christ alone.
      1. Never give a human the kind of loyalty that belongs only to Jesus.
      2. Never give a human the kind of devotion that belongs only to Jesus.
      3. Never give a human the kind of appreciation that belongs only to Jesus.
    4. We exist as individuals and as congregations to serve Jesus, not to rival Jesus.
  3. Thousands of years ago, God promised to send His Son. (See Genesis 12:3 with Galatians 3:16 and 29.)
    1. Abraham’s fear in regard to Sarah did not turn God away.
    2. Isaac’s impetuousness as an old man did not turn God away.
    3. Jacob’s deceptiveness did not turn God away.
    4. The slavery of Israel in Egypt did not prevent God from keeping His promise.
    5. The utter faithlessness of the adults who left Egypt did not prevent God from keeping His promise.
    6. Israel’s sins in the period of the Judges did not prevent God from keeping His promise.
    7. The evil of the Israelite kings did not prevent God from keeping His promise.
    8. Israel and Judah’s deaf ears in the period of the prophets did not prevent God from keeping His promise.
    9. The rejection of Jesus and the death of Jesus did not prevent God from keeping His promise.
    10. What about you?
      1. Will you allow any person to be bigger than Jesus and make God’s efforts of no benefit in your life?
      2. Will you let the mistakes of any human be bigger than God?
      3. Will you let any human blind you to God’s persistence?
      4. Will you let the failures of any human be bigger than the mercy and forgiveness of God?

No matter how hard we try, we will never be more than the saved. No matter what we know, only Jesus will be the Savior. Always let Jesus be your Savior as you seek to encourage the saved. Never let the saved appear to you as He who saves.