Eyes, Eyes, Everywhere Eyes

Posted by on February 28, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

Paul knew what it was like to live in the “fish bowl.” When you live in the “fish bowl,” you exist for others to observe. If they want to make it their life’s objective, they can spend a lot of hours discovering your flaws and calling your flaws to others’ attention. There were those who seemingly defined their life’s mission to be discovering Paul’s flaws and announcing those flaws to anyone who would listen.

Paul had a huge problem. Prior to conversion, he was the “poster child” of first century Jews who hated what we call Christianity. (They often called it “the Way.”) He said in Acts 26:9, “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” and in verse 11, “And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.” He so violently opposed Christianity prior to his conversion that Jerusalem Christians feared him even after his conversion (see Acts 9:26).

Paul, the Jews’ Jew, understood the Christ (the Messiah) came to save gentiles as well as Jews (see Genesis 12:3; note “all families of the earth;” and Galatians 3:16). Paul’s understanding was NOT popular among most first century Jews-Christian and non-Christian! The result: the violent man became the target. One of the first century’s great ironies: the Jews’ Jew became the Christian apostle to gentiles! Even the Christian Peter, after his Acts 10 experience, lacked the courage to admit God’s interest expressed in Paul’s mission to the gentiles (see Galatians 2:11-14).

Paul had a dream! He wanted to eliminate the gap between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. To him, the best way to bring healing was for gentile Christians to send a gift to Jewish Christians to aid with physical necessities. Though Paul promoted the gift, collected the gift, and delivered the gift, he could not heal the breach!

Paul’s passion to heal an unnecessary problem significantly contributed to the events that resulted in his death. He wanted to end a problem that God ended in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (read Galatians 2:11-21). He wanted to “fix” a condition that God “fixed” in Jesus Christ, and he could not! His great efforts to do things honorably in everyone’s sight failed. People continued to be people! Jewish Christians held so tightly to their views that they could not see through God’s eyes! They were so “sure” they saw correctly that they did not comprehend their blindness!

To me, there are several lessons to note. (1) Conflict always will exist among Christians. (2) Some conflicts cannot be “fixed.” (3) The challenge is not always the “fixing,” but being Christians when things need “fixing.” We can act like God’s people even when other Christians do not.

Christianity and Relationships (part 2)

Posted by on February 26, 2008 under Sermons

Selfishness can be one of those horrible flaws that is obvious to others but is not known to the person who is selfish. Selfishness is defined as excessive concern for self or exclusive concern for self without regard for others.  It is a total contrast to selfless.  Selfless is defined as having no concern for self. Selfishness is a total preoccupation with "me." It could be called "me-itus."

Selfishness is a destructive self-focus. It says, "Other people exist for my well-being. I associate with no one who does not serve my advantage." The issue to the selfish person is not, "Is what’s happening fair to them?" To the selfish person, the issue is "How do they as people or how do their actions serve to my advantage?" At the minimum, in every situation, selfishness says, "I matter the most. In nothing do I matter less than you matter."  At the maximum, selfishness says, "You exist for my benefit! I cannot see you for seeing me! There is nothing unjust about me always having my way, about everyone else always yielding to me, or about everything working to my benefit. I cannot believe you do not see that is as it should be!"

People who are selfish use people. They look at others as existing to benefit them. "Your money is my money! Your happiness exists to make me happy! Your opportunities exist to increase my opportunities. Any time things do not work out so that your welfare does not increase my welfare, something is horribly wrong!"

Nowhere is the destructiveness of selfishness more evident than in family relationships. At its worse, selfishness abuses the people the selfish person should love. He or she is so in love with self he or she cannot care about anyone else. Children are not seen as helpless extensions of "us," but as rivals to "me." Everything given to a spouse or to a child is something that deprives "me." Thus, spouse and children in my family exist to be "my servants," to make "me" happy, to serve "my" purposes. As long as my family makes me happy, every thing is as it should be.

  1. Scripture focuses on this destructive view of self in a number of ways.
    1. Proverbs urges avoidance of the selfish man with these words in Proverbs 23:6, 7: Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, Or desire his delicacies; For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, “Eat and drink!” But his heart is not with you.
      1. His hospitality seemed genuine.
      2. However, do not think he has your best interests at heart because he is gracious to you.
      3. You cannot tell what is going on in his mind by the way he treats you!
      4. Outwardly he urges you to enjoy his hospitality, but inwardly he does not have your best interest on his heart.
    2. Paul made a number of statements about people who focus their center on themselves. Among those admonitions are these two.
      1. To Timothy, Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1-5: But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
        1. Preacher, hard times are coming.
        2. Paul began the list of the characteristics of the people who would cause the hard times with "lovers of self."
        3. In this list of ungodly characteristics, he included arrogance, unloving, irreconcilable, conceited, lovers of pleasure, who have an outer religiosity rather than a devotion to God.
        4. In much of that list of ungodly traits that will produce the hard times are people who obviously are sold on themselves.
      2. As Paul sought to end contention and division among Christians, he wrote to the Christians in Philippi in Philippians 2:3, 4 : Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
        1. One step to ending contention and division in the congregation was taken by accepting individual responsibility to stop being selfish.
        2. The issue was not, "What do I want?" but, "What is in everyone’s best interest?"
        3. Look at your congregational members as being more important than you are.
        4. Do not be devoted to "my" interests but to "our" interests.
    3. James wrote in James 3:14 and then 16: But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. … For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
      1. Selfish attitudes do not accomplish God’s purposes in Jesus Christ.
      2. The companion of selfish ambition is bitter jealousy.
      3. The two combine to produce arrogance, deceit, disorder, and every evil thing.
      4. Selfishness is the root of self-justification.
      5. It is a source of disorder and every evil thing.
    4. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 2:10, 12: … especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.
      Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, …  But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children;

      1. When the self-willed become entrenched in "us," they are not even fearful to defy God’s divine messengers.
      2. Self-devotion makes us act like animals instead of people.
      3. We become threats to others, exploiting them, as we seek to indulge ourselves.
  2. I suggested to you in our first consideration of Christianity and Relationships that the first people who should be blessed by our faith in God is our families.
    1. Faith in the God who sent us Jesus Christ:
      1. Should make men the best men they are capable of being.
      2. Should make women the best women they are capable of being.
      3. The first people who should be blessed by those men and women are their spouses.
      4. The second people who should be blessed by those men and women are the children they bring into this world.
      5. If faith in God makes us the best people we can be, the first to be benefited from our faith in God should be our physical families.
    2. If people should be able to look anywhere and see the blessings and benefits of marriage and homes, it should be among Christians.
      1. It saddens me to know that marital failure is as high in the church as it is in society.
      2. It saddens me to know you have to go no further than the church to find abused wives who hide their abuse, abused husbands who are ashamed that a woman abuses them, and neglected children who are starved for love and acceptance.
      3. It saddens me to encounter Christians who think teaching proper treatment of spouses or children has no place in the church.
      4. It saddens me to know that there are people who have little interest in God because they know of abuse situations in Christian homes.
    3. "Well, what do you make of the undesirable conditions in too many Christian marriages?"
      1. We know too little about how to be good husbands.
      2. We know too little about how to be good wives.
      3. We know too little about how to be good parents.
      4. We know too little about selecting a spouse.
      5. Our concepts about being good spouses and good parents are seriously flawed.
      6. Too many in the church assume people just intuitively known how to be good spouses, or how to be good parents, or how to how truly stable homes.
  3. The situation is quickly becoming more complex, more demanding.
    1. Christians are too given to assigning blame instead of providing sound guidance.
      1. If I asked you, "What is wrong?" would you have answers you readily gave?
        1. Probably!
        2. It would be rare to find someone who does not have an opinion on how to fix generically the problem in society in general.
      2. But how much insight and guidance do you have if a child of yours, or a grandchild of yours comes to you and asks for your help about a specific marriage problem?
        1. How quickly do you have no insights?
        2. How fearful are you to refer them?
        3. How often will you, when you dare, approach an elder or a preacher, and begin with, "First, there is something you need to know … "
        4. How quickly do you discover your advice does not fit the situation?
    2. Let me provide you with just one illustration: how often does friendship enter the selection of a spouse?
      1. In our society we have specific concepts of good looks.
        1. It often involves hair, shape, weight, mannerisms, clothes, and suggestiveness.
        2. The whole package is designed to suggest who is physically desirable and who is not.
        3. So we will dye, implant, diet, go in debt, acquire the latest fades, and learn how to act to acquire the look and to say what we want to say with nonverbal language.
        4. Examine a picture of your parents when they married early in life, and look at them right now.
        5. Looks pass with age!
      2. So we marry for a variety of reasons: looks, legalized sex, passion, stirred up hormones, security, status, escape, dreams, vivid imaginations, expectations.
        1. In almost 60 years of marriage counseling and ceremonies, I have never talked to a couple who were not sure their marriage would be successful because they loved each other.
        2. Yet, several ended in divorce with them hating each other more than they said they loved each other.
      3. Most of a marriage is not:
        1. Spent in looking good.
        2. Or sexual activity.
        3. Or passionate feelings.
        4. Or some form of escape from reality.
      4. By far most of marriage is spent in ordinary friendship.
        1. If people who marry are not friends before they marry, they face an extremely difficult time together.
        2. Almost immediately there are money issues, spending issues, decisions to be made, choices to be made, and hardships to be faced.
        3. All this can be successfully coped with if two adults face them together as friends.
        4. However, if they are not friends, everything becomes a crises.
        5. "How can I know how deep our friendship is?"
          1. Do each of you unselfishly consider the other?
          2. Would you never consider selfishly taking advantage of the other?

Nothing communicates love to a man like unselfish respect. Nothing communicates love to a woman like unselfish thoughtfulness. Two unselfish people will face whatever life brings them and make the marriage successful. Selfishness in a marriage will destroy it.

Ephesians 5:22-33–Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

Conflict Resolution

Posted by on February 24, 2008 under Sermons

Philippians 4

Parakaleo Formula

    Therefore + parakaleo (“I urge”) + addressed person(s) + infinitive verb = purpose of letter

Examples of Formula

  • Romans 12:1 – Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices
  • 1 Corinthians 4:16 – Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
  • Ephesians 4:1 – I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
  • 1 Peter 2:11- I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

Who Are They?

  • Euodia – Good Luck
  • Syntyche – Fortunate or Success
  • They were “fellow workers” with Paul and others.
  • They “contended at his side”
  • Influential in the congregation

The Loyal Yokefellow

  • Paul’s wife (Lydia?)
  • The husband or brother of either Euodia or Syntyche
  • Epaphroditus
  • Timothy
  • Silas
  • Luke
  • Christ
  • The bishop of Philippi
  • A proper name – Syzygos

Paul and Philippians

  • They were the only church to support Paul in his mission to Macedonia
  • Team talk – “synathlein” (v. 3)
  • Unity talk – Shared in support and shared in troubles (v. 14)


  • Is it a spirit and attitude?
  • Is it a plan or movement?
  • Story of the 1832 Union in Lexington, Kentucky

Having the Same Mind

Posted by on under Sermons

Philippians 4:1-9

How do we stand firm?

  1. Have the same mind in the Lord. (v. 1-3) What sort of surprise or electric tension must have filled the room when Paul named names. Euodia and Syntyche were very important leaders in the Philippian congregation. They had worked along side Paul in his mission. However, they were quarreling.
    • What was the issue? Who was right? Paul doesn’t mention it. Why? — Obviously because it did not matter. What mattered was that Euodia and Synthyche should move past their quarrel, conflict, and anxiety and “have the same mind in the Lord.”
    • Paul pleads with them to agree with each other, but he doesn’t want them to simply conform or set aside their convictions. Rather, he wants them to agree “in the Lord.” Having the same mind and attitude that Christ Jesus had (Philippians 2:5-11). All that talk about being like Christ and being concerned about others interests and not just your own – it was aimed at these two women that Paul cared about.
    • And Paul calls upon this loyal companion (yokefellow) to help them. Who does he mean? Maybe he didn’t name anyone because he wants everyone in the congregation to be the loyal companion and help these women come together rather than rip apart. When disputes and disagreements take place among us and around us we may be asked, “Whose side are you on? Who do you side with?” Will you “go camping” or will you be a loyal yokefellow?
    • Conflict in any group is inevitable. It will happen, but how we manage it as a group depends on our attitude and our maturity. Euodia and Syntyche were quarreling and they began to think that the solution was for the church to “go camping.” That sounds nice, but they were trying to form two separate camping parties. The rest of should be careful that we don’t get caught up in the camping trip. We too easily get divided and our language and labeling begins to reflect that: Black and white, right and wrong, red state/blue state, conservatives/liberals, anti’s and pro’s, fer it and agin it. These sort of polarizations are not part of the work of the gospel.
    • Maybe that sounds as if I (and Paul) are saying “There are no absolutes; only a big fuzzy warm gray middle of the road mush.” No, there is an absolute and we’ve already acknowledged that: The example and attitude of Jesus Christ is the absolute. Euodia and Syntyche do not have a corner on absolutes – neither do we. Being a disciple does not mean working to make others agree with us, it means working with each other to agree with Christ.
    • Paul is not avoiding conflict, and neither can we. But let’s understand whose team we’re on. Paul commends Euodia and Syntyche by remembering how they were part of the same team. They struggled with each other and with Paul, and Clement, and all the others who are on God’s roster. When we start opposing each other and positioning others to oppose each other we are not behaving as those who have faced opposition together. It’s not friendly fire when you spend too much time “aiming your sights” on your fellow soldier. Let’s stand firm together – having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.
  2. Rejoice Always! (v. 4) Internal conflicts and anxieties make us lose courage and creativity. We get depressed and angry and that only fuels the fire. It only makes us more anxious and paranoid. Paul encouraged the Philippians to rejoice in all situations – even those where joy might not be the typical response. How do we do that? First, our rejoicing is in Christ. We have comfort and encouragement in Christ. So, we can be encouraged and come together because we have a source of joy that is much deeper and richer than sugary glee. Rejoicing is more than happiness and enjoyment. Without denying sorrow and suffering, it means participating in the grace and peace of Christ regardless of our circumstances.

  3. Make it evident. (v. 5) Make what evident? KJV reads moderation. NIV reads gentleness. NLT reads consideration. What is it that we are supposed to make evident? Outside of biblical usage this word might be translated as “sweet reasonableness” (Matthew Arnold). Aristotle described it as a quality of character that respected justice, but was generous enough to allow that justice did not injure. In other words, it is the sort of maturity and graciousness in someone that they can forgive and not insist on demanding that all their rights be satisfied. That seems to work really well in this letter. That sounds a lot like the attitude of Christ who demand his rights but humbled himself. That sounds like the sort of attitude that could help a fractured, conflicted church family move toward peace.
    • And we ought to make it evident and visible because “the Lord is near.” That’s doesn’t just mean that he’s coming back, it means he is always near by. That sounds like Jesus himself who said, “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:19-20
    • (v. 6a) And if we are going to make this sort of “graciousness and sweet reasonableness” evident then we will need to stop worrying. Conflict and disputing magnifies worry. It’s a vicious cycle because the worry in turn makes the conflict continue. But when the Lord is with us we can hear him say to us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6)
    • (v. 6b) The way to be anxious about nothing is to pray about everything. We worry about what others think, but in prayer we are assured that it only matters what God thinks. We worry about what others may do, but in prayer we are assured that it only matters what God will do. We worry about change, but in prayer we are assured that God does not change.
    • (v. 7) Euodia and Syntyche were without a doubt very worried, very anxious, and perhaps angry. They had come down with the “frantic flu” and they had spread the virus in the congregation. [And when you spread a virus you don’t spread the gospel]. They had tried all their own remedies to ease their symptoms, but Paul offers the only cure – the peace of God. The peace of God is greater than our own ability to understand. It is effective enough to protect our hearts and minds. If we will have the same mind and heart that was in Jesus, we will also have that peace.
  4. Finally, we need to think and act like Christ.
    • We focus our minds on: whatever is truthful, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. What if we focused on these qualities in others. What if Euodia could focus on that which is [list] in Syntyche? What if Syntyche could focus on that which is [list] in Euodia? What if we focused on that which is [list] in the people that we might disagree with? Would that make a difference? Would that turn conflict around and lead us to the peace of Christ?
    • But we are responsible for our own behavior and so we have to put into action: 1) the lessons we’ve learned, 2) the trust and good traditions that were passed on to us, and 3) the examples of others who show us the way. If we do that then the peace of God will be with us.


So what happened after this letter was read to this church family in Philippi? Euodia was on one side of the room. Syntyche was standing on the other side. Most likely after the reading of the letter, the congregation gathered around a table. Some folks brought bread and they shared with those who didn’t have any. Some folks brought wine and they shared with others. Wouldn’t it have been fitting if the church circled together, pulling in Euodia and Syntyche from their opposite sides and seated them at the table. And there in the presence of the Lord, these two women and all the church family prayed together. And Euodia served bread to Syntyche and Syntyche served a cup of joy to Euodia. And they ate and drank together with thanksgiving.

What will we do now that this letter has been read to us? “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Following God Can Be Weird!

Posted by on February 21, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

The man or woman who has the confidence in God to be a Christian accepts an unusual challenge! While forgiveness is available to all, transformation is demanding. First, through God’s act in Jesus’ cross comes ongoing forgiveness (see 1 John 1:8-10). One rises from immersion into Christ (Galatians 3:27) to begin the continuing process of transformation (Romans 12:1, 2)-a lifetime process. Most of the New Testament is devoted to the continuing process of transformation individually (Romans 12-15), as well as congregationally (Revelation 2-3).

In the verses above, notice a particular statement: “Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” The immediate context is in the matter of vengeance. The larger context is in the matter of transformation.

This statement illustrates the unusual nature of Christian existence. The Christian is not only concerned with how things “look” to Christians. He or she is also concerned with how things “look” to people not controlled by faith in the God who sent Jesus. It is not only of concern that other Christians see what he or she does as respectable, but that those without faith in God see his or her actions as respectable.

The broader context of Paul’s statement illustrates how remarkable it is. Christians in the first century lived in an idolatrous world. The empire rulers, the national government, the city establishment, the business owners and craftsmen, and the military worshipped other gods. To be against drunkenness, or lying, or merchandizing people, or fornication, or homosexuality, or unstable marriages, or other common forms of self-indulgence was extremely unpopular. For anyone to advocate such was just plain weird if not crazy! Yet, Christians-to properly represent Jesus Christ and God-accepted the responsibility to act honorably among people who often defined honor quite differently.

Does that mean everyone viewed Christian attitudes and acts as good and profitable? No! Even as Paul made the statement, he said, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” If peace did not exist, it would not be the Christian’s fault! This same man detailed reactions against him in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33. His efforts to be at peace with others did not always produce peace! Perhaps Paul’s devotion to peaceableness is best illustrated in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12-the pre-Christian arrestor of Christians became a kind, tender, caring, encouraging person.

How is such a transformation possible? Christians refuse to engage in “payback.” That attitude exceeds the remarkable in dedication to transformation!

Imitation of Christ

Posted by on February 17, 2008 under Sermons

The dynamic of the Christ hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 shows a downward movement and upward movement. The downward movement is the humility of Christ who abandons his interest in self for the sake of obedience and identification with humanity. The upward movement is God’s exaltation of Christ.

This becomes the key example in a set of other examples for the edification of the Philippian congregation …

CHRIST (2:5-11)
Philippians 2:4 – Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

  1. Paul (2:17-18)
  2. Timothy (2:19-24)
  3. Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

Paul (2:17-18)

  1. Poured out like wine …
  2. On their sacrifice and service
  3. Mutual rejoicing – He is glad for them and they should be glad for him.

Timothy (2:19-24)

  1. Interest in the welfare of others
  2. Concerned about Christ’s interests and not self-interest
  3. Timothy proved himself through his service to Paul

Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

  1. Brother, fellow-worker, fellow -soldier
  2. He was sent for Paul’s sake by Philippian church
  3. His mission nearly cost him his life
  4. He is concerned for them
  5. Paul sends him for their sake

Christian Maturity
“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11

Maturity in Christ

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Read Philippians 3:1 – 4:1.

Two undesirable extremes …

  1. Self-Righteousness. The characteristics are as follows:
    • Self-Righteousness
        – Misplaced Confidence
    • Laws, Customs
    • “Dead Faith”
    • Arrogance
    • Anxiety
    • Appearances
    • Materialistic
    1. The confidence is in laws, rituals, and customs. In Philippi, there were some who were insisting that Gentiles had to take on the practice of the Jewish system. Circumcision was the first step. The confidence is misplaced
    2. Tradition vs. Traditionalism – There’s nothing wrong with tradition. It is good in many ways. Just as there is nothing wrong with law. But when our confidence and maturity depends on these externals we have traditionalism. “Tradition is the living faith of dead people, traditionalism is the dead faith of living people.” (Jaroslav Pelikan)
    3. Arrogance – Self-righteousness leads to the mindset that our self-designed system is the only means of salvation. We become “brokers” of God’s grace and others have to come through us to get to God. We get over-confident in our efforts and our achievements.
    4. Anxiety – Of course this can also make us anxious. If it is all up to us to figure this out, then that is quite a burden. We don’t want anyone to tamper with our efforts and we are threatened by anything that seems to threaten the “system.”
    5. Appearances – Since the focus is on the externals (a checklist mentality) faithfulness and righteousness tend to be judged on appearance only. The observables. This is how we evaluate ourselves and others.
    6. Materialistic – Spirituality becomes nothing more than what is tangible and quantitative. This is not to say that embodied practice is not spiritual, but if the material is the extent of the experience, then spirituality is limited.
  2. Self-Indulgence. The characteristics are as follows:
    • Self-Indulgence
        – No confidence
    • Worldliness
        – Sensual satisfaction
    • Justifying Shame
    • “Dead Future”
    • Materialistic
    1. There’s no confidence in spiritual things. Enemies of the cross. Spiritual things are useless or too hard to understand. It’s magic and/or academics. No interest in the spiritual.
    2. Worldliness – God is the belly. God is the body. In poverty, you have to think about bodily survival. In wealth, even moderate wealth, we focus on sensual satisfaction. Think of the indulgence industry in this culture: entertainment, thrill-seeking, porn, appearance and beauty, mood adjustment – “make me feel better, make me happy!”
    3. Justifying Shame – We don’t want to hear God’s challenge. We want to be okay just as we are. We don’t want to be ashamed. Please don’t make us repent – Don’t make us change.
    4. Dead Future – Destiny is destruction. It will kill us and consume us. Emptiness, Loneliness, Anger are the result of excess indulgence.
    5. Materialistic – No spirituality, the focus is on worldliness. So if there is any grasping about for something spiritual, then the self-righteous is actually attractive. Why? Because it is a materialistic faith that promises a few quick fixes that satisfy self.

So which option is best? Are they really that different? Which way should we lean? Neither tendency seems acceptable …

What if there is a different, more excellent way? Not a mid-point or a balance, but a way that pushes out the empty, unsatisfying options – even the unsatisfying blend of options.

This is the righteousness of the cross – the attitude of Christ Jesus.

  1. Worship by the power of God’s Spirit and take pride in Christ Jesus. That’s our confidence
  2. We don’t brag about our heritage or our accomplishments. It doesn’t mean we cannot appreciate tradition nor does it mean we shouldn’t do anything. There’s nothing wrong with it, but we don’t boast about it. We don’t seek advantage based on our efforts or past.
  3. We simply have a perspective that puts Christ above everything else. Christ and his power and person is the test of all things.
  4. So we want to KNOW Christ – It’s not what you know, but who you know. Since Christ is alive, we don’t just learn about him, we learn from him. We imitate him. We want to be like him. We imitate those who follow him. [Christianity is not a degree, it’s on the job training.] (Nothing wrong with education or academics – it beats ignorance, but that doesn’t insure righteousness! We have to learn how to live and learn character and spirit).
  5. Righteousness is about developing faith and trust in God, not a checklist of do’s and don’ts. Do’s and don’ts are for beginners, for infants.
  6. Maturity is developing perfection in Christ. We grow. We learn from God along the way. This is not a stale and static system. It’s a living process. Developmental.
  7. So, we come back to these old lessons … We live life worthily. Life has meaning; it’s worth living if we live it worthily. (Philippians 1:27) We can say no to sensual indulgence and get past legalistic concerns because life has meaning in God. We are citizens of heaven – that’s special.
  8. We have something to look forward to because our lives are changed and they are being made new by God as we go along. This is the power of the resurrection at work – even now!
  9. We practice love. (2:1-4) That’s Christ’s attitude – taking interest in others (Philippians 2:5-11). That is commUNITY. We are joined together in CHRIST. So we are not alone. We have genuine relationship that are not possible through self-righteousness (always worried about what others think) or self-indulgence (using others for our pleasure)
  10. Stand Firm – This is how we strive together and work together. (1:27-30)

The Higher Calling

Posted by on February 14, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

Tongue problems are not new in God’s family! That is evident in the context of the above scripture. These people, converted from an idolatrous lifestyle, did not “learn Christ this way” (Ephesians 4:20). They deceived, they acted in anger, they stole, they used words to tear down people, and they grieved God’s Spirit. Their sense of spiritual community was grossly immature! To address their problem, Paul suggested that they allow God’s forgiveness in Christ to be their model. Tongue problems are ancient, and (sorrowfully) each generation renews them by adding new vigor to them.

Consider a prayer:

God, grant us, as a community and as individuals, spiritual maturity’s courage to see and take responsibility for our tongue problems. May we refuse as individuals to allow our personal anxieties to infect the community of believers, and may we not as a community of believers encourage the abusive use of the tongue. May we be forgiving instead of bitter. May we be encouragers instead of being wrath-filled Christians. May confusion diminish because of the way we speak and our words. May we be quick to extol good and slow to destroy reputations. Instead of acting in the hate and spite of malice, give us faith’s courage to understand that evil is destroyed by doing good.

May we be as kind to each other as You are to us in Your perfect knowledge of us. May we be as tender-hearted to each other in our community as we are to one rising from baptism. May Your forgiveness be our model to forgive.

May we have faith’s courage to expect more of self because we know You. May others be attracted to Your community because our words evidence Your wisdom. Because of our words, attitudes, and emotions, may those who do not believe in Jesus not dismiss Your love. May our mouths and the actions our words produce advertise Your greatness. May our words make it obvious You live in us. May the way we treat each other declare the value of Your living in a person. May we understand the privilege of approaching You through Your son as we understand the privilege of being Your child.

Congregations too often are more discredited by Christians’ treatment of each other than by beliefs. May that awareness make each of us fear self. May we be quick to repent, and slow at self-justification. May we feel sorrow rapidly, and feel resentment slowly. May we not say things about each other that we would not repeat to God-for we shall!

May we each aspire to spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ. May we have the courage to be an example that challenges and encourages. May a godless society’s regulations never be the rules of godly spirituality. May God’s people find the direction in Jesus Christ to transform our world instead of letting the world reduce us to its level. May God in Jesus Christ form our holy manners. May the Savior teach us how to behave with the courage that transforms the immature and challenges the unformed in Christ to rise to God’s standards as His people. May our manners in our words be in His hands alone!

Got You Again!

Posted by on February 7, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

One of the distinctions between God and us is seen in the use of words. God takes care about what He says; we often fail to be careful about what we say. While emotions exist in God, God’s words are not chosen by His emotions; too often our emotions choose our words. God uses His words wisely; we often use our words regretfully. God knows the full context of what is said; we too often are deceived by adding or imagining context. God knows both the motives and actions produced by words; we do not. God is not deceived by words; we are.

On one occasion, those who led people religiously were certain that Jesus’ miracles could be “explained” as acts of evil. They accused Jesus of obtaining his power from Satan. Jesus declared the inconsistency between who they said they were and their acts. Jesus’ concluding observation is still chilling: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36, 37).

Many years ago, I heard an illustration that focused on a dying man who had multiple sons. The sons could not get along. Just before death, the man asked all his sons to come to his bedside with a wooden board, a nail, and a hammer. The sons gathered around their father’s bed with the board, nail, and hammer. He asked the oldest to drive the nail through the board. He asked the middle son to pull it out. He asked the youngest son to pull the hole out. Then the father, looking at his sons, said, “Be careful what you say about each other.” Upon saying that, he died.

Too many times I have exerted every effort known to me trying unsuccessfully to unsay something I said in great confidence. Too many times I have been forced to watch the destructive impact of something I said. To say with heartfelt meaning, “I am sorry!” does not remove the hole left by what I said. God, deliver me from trying to fill the hole with self-justification, emotions I failed to control, or excuses!

Perhaps most painful of all is to discover years later (with greater spiritual maturity) the destruction caused by something I said. There are times in my study today at specific moments that I say to myself, “I said what?” There is little so foolish as the self-assurance of partial knowledge prancing in the deceptive costume of total understanding. If we could limit to ourselves the hurt done, that would be awful, but when that hurt envelops the blameless-that is horrible!

Why would Jesus include our words in our judgment? In the same incident, Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34).

“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:8-10).

Christianity and Relationships (part 1)

Posted by on February 6, 2008 under Sermons

1 Timothy 5:1-8, "Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity. Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives. Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

If you expect me to talk about how to treat older men in this assembly, you will be disappointed. If you expect me to talk about how to treat younger men, older women, or younger women in this assembly, you will be disappointed. If you expect a discourse on widows indeed, you will be disappointed.

Has that not been a common approach to scripture in the past? Have we not been guilty of thinking we have "restored the true meaning of scripture" if we define the roles scripture mentions? A common premise has been: "If we supply the correct definitions, we by that determine proper applications."

We can become so involved in details that we miss the passage’s focus. There were people in these groupings in the early church. However, determining today’s applications simply by knowing the identity of those groups produces invalid applications. For example, the focus is NOT on rebuking the right people by determining their age! Paul’s concern is not determined by accurately deciding what your category should be!

"What was Paul’s concern?" Paul’s concern: being a Christian expresses itself in respect for people. Relationships lie at the core of having proper faith in God. It is no exaggeration to declare that if we cannot treat people with respect, we cannot treat God with respect.

  1. I am amazed at how often we fail to make the obvious applications of Paul’s concern.
    1. If anyone should be blessed by Christian respect for people, it should be those who are closest to us.
      1. Because I have faith in God, my spouse should be blessed because of my faith in God.
      2. Because I have faith in God, my children should be blessed because of my faith in God.
      3. Because I have faith in God, my friends should be blessed because of my faith in God.
      4. Because I have faith in God, my daily associations should be blessed because of my faith in God.
      5. Because I have faith in God, those who trust Christ should be blessed because of my faith in God.
    2. The people closest to us should never be afraid of us because we have faith in God.
      1. Faith does not require me to hurt my spouse; it requires me to help my spouse.
        Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them (Colossians 3:18,19).
      2. Faith does not require me to abuse my children; it requires me to encourage my children
        Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart (Colossians 3:21).
      3. Faith does not require me to ignore my friends, but to be a source of guidance to my friends.
        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).
      4. Faith does not require me to pretend the people who associate with me daily are not there, but to be an encouraging example to them.
        As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful (James 5:10,11).
      5. Faith does not require me to make other Christians fearful of me, but to look to me as a source of kindness.
        Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31,32).
      6. Faith in God blesses my relationships, it does not curse them.
      7. The blessing of my faith to my relationships constantly declares the benefits of belonging to the Lord.
  2. Somewhere in the past we transformed the basic concept of worship.
    1. First, we made worship the key expression of faith in God.
      1. If you doubt that statement, think of all the people who are convinced that being able to say, "I go to church every Sunday," is the # 1 proof they have faith in God.
      2. Reflect on all the members of a congregation who are convinced they are saved if they are in the correct building at the correct time on the correct day.
      3. Think of all the families who are deeply relieved if a family member consents to baptism without any evidence of repentance.
    2. Second, we made worship about us instead of about God.
      1. We made the occasion of worship the occasion to prove we are "good people."
        1. It is the occasion for proving we are correct as a person.
        2. It is the way of saying, "I do not need a visit from the preacher, the elders, or any other religious fanatics in the congregation."
        3. It is the way to say, "I am okay, so look at me as being okay, and do not trouble yourself with me."
        4. It is the accepted way to say, "I am religious! I do my spiritual duty! I am here! I give some money! I do not cause any trouble!"
        5. If we are not careful, worship is all about me, what I am proving about me, and how I want ‘the church’ to look at me.
      2. Worship at its core has never been about me and what I want to declare about me.
        1. At its core, worship always has been about God.
        2. It always has been a declaration of gratitude for what God has done and continues to do for me.
        3. It is a remembrance, a reminder of my indebtedness to God.
        4. want to be a spiritual person, not just a material person, and only God can help me achieve spirituality.
        5. It is an affirmation of my relationship with all those who place their confidence in God.
      3. Christian worship is an opportunity for three things.
        1. I gratefully remember what God has done for me, and honor Him for doing those things.
        2. I declare my appreciative commitment to God.
        3. I affirm my commitment to those who place their confidence in God.
        4. Knowing what God did and does for me in Christ is the vehicle for those three things happening.
  3. There are some situations we all should find deeply disturbing.
    1. I am disturbed by the number of Christians who neglect their spouses and still regard themselves as deeply spiritual people.
      1. I ask you to realize there are a number of Christians you know who think that the way they treat their husband or wife has nothing to do with being a spiritual person.
      2. Does being godly urge me to learn how to be a better husband or wife?
      3. Or, can I be a godly person and have little or no concern for my husband or wife?
    2. I am deeply concerned by people who think they can neglect or abuse their children and still be a deeply spiritual person.
      1. I am not talking about people who are trying and are constantly concerned.
      2. I am talking about people who do not care.
      3. They, at best, tolerate their children.
      4. To those people, loving God has nothing to do with loving their children.
    3. I am deeply concerned by people who think they can use people close to them without having any concern for those people.
      1. The people surrounding them are a means to an end, and this attitude has no affect on being godly. (Have you not heard people say, "Business is business and church is church," as if the two are totally unrelated?)
      2. The philosophy of such people seems to be, "I will be nice to you as long as you are or may become useful to me, but once you lose that usefulness, get out of my way and leave me alone."
      3. Amos used a device to provoke thinking that is still chilling!
        1. His device in Amos 1 and 2 is this phrase: "For three transgressions, and for four I will not revoke their punishment."
        2. Amos used those words to declare what was wrong with Israel and Judah’s enemies.
          1. I can just hear Judah and Israel say, "Amen! Amen! I knew they were horrible people!"
          2. I can hear them say in glee, "Tell them! They deserve condemnation!"
        3. Then Amos used the same words to introduce the transgressions of Judah and then Israel.
          1. In the words of some people, Amos stopped preaching and started meddling.
          2. It is okay for me to know what is wrong with you, but I do not want you or anyone else to know what is wrong with me.
        4. In condemning Israel, Amos talks about their greed.
          1. They are so greedy that they lusted for the dust on the heads of the helpless people (Amos 2:7)
          2. They were so determined to have the property of the helpless that they resented the dirty hair of helpless people!
          3. Helplessness in people meant nothing–they just wanted their land.
  4. We are rapidly becoming a society addicted to disposable spirituality.
    1. Increasingly there are many things we no longer understand how to do.
      1. We are losing our ability to commit to people.
      2. We are losing our ability to sacrifice for people.
      3. We are losing our ability to be unselfish.
      4. With those losses are the loss of kindness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy.
      5. Thus, when we do not know how to care for a relationship or find a relationship troubling, we throw the relationship away.
    2. Nowhere are these losses more evident than in our relationships with people closest to us–increasingly those relationships are disposable.
      1. If I am having trouble with my spouse, I get rid of him or her.
        1. I loved my spouse to pieces when I married–so much so I said I committed to my spouse for life.
        2. Now I hate my spouse more than I loved him or her at marriage–so much so I want to make my spouse’s life miserable by taking everything I can.
      2. If I am disappointed with my children, I try to pretend they are not mine.
        1. Before I had children, I joyfully anticipated the day I had a child.
        2. Now that I have children, I consider my children an anchor–my children are an obstacle to everything I want to be and everything I want to do.
      3. I am not suggesting each of these relationships do not involve complex demands and challenges.
      4. I am suggesting each of these relationships (and all other relationship) are a part of our Christian commitment.
    3. To me it is frightening to observe how many people today do not know how to be a husband, a wife, or a parent.
      1. They have not observed success in those relationships.
      2. They do not even know what a successful marriage or successful parenting is!
      3. People do not understand that you learn how to fill those roles, that success in those roles does not just happen.

Paul said the person who refuses to accept family responsibility in family relationships is worse than a person who does not even believe God exists and resurrected Jesus. Such a person denies that he or she is a person of faith.

May I issue a challenge to every Christian: see the opportunity! Do not wring your hands and decry how awful situations are! In Christ, be an example of commitment in your relationships. If a relationship is failing in your life, learn. If that relationship fails, do not make its failure the result of a lack of commitment and learning on your part. Commit! Show people that belonging to God is an asset to succeeding in relationships!

In nothing do we have a more relevant message in Christ than the message that God’s values can guide us to success in relationships!