All Blessings Have a Price

Posted by on July 31, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

Before Paul was a Christian, he knew Jesus was not the Messiah (Christ). He was so certain he was correct in his conclusion, he arrested his own Jewish people, knowing their arrest could lead to death (see Acts 8:1-3 and 9:1, 2). After the events of Acts 9:3-9, Paul knew the exact opposite-he knew Jesus was the Christ.

When the disciple, Ananias, was hesitant to deliver the Lord’s message to Paul, the Lord told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15, 16).

No one valued more the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ than did Paul. The Lord’s mercy and forgiveness overwhelmed him! He once wrote of himself, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:12-16). In Paul’s estimation, he had been the greatest sinner alive. He received mercy because (a) he acted in ignorance of who Jesus actually was, and (b) he could be used as proof that if God could forgive him, forgiveness could be extended to anyone.

Paul clearly understood that he was not in a saved relationship with God because he, Paul, was wonderful and talented. Paul was in a saved relationship with God because God is wonderful. The fact that God is wonderful is seen in what God did in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The fact that Jesus was Lord was seen in his total surrender to the Father to achieve the Father’s purposes. Paul was more than willing to serve as God and His Christ’s example of the power of divine mercy and grace in forgiveness. Paul was deeply appreciative of the forgiveness he received; he was more than willing to demonstrate God can save anyone.

2 Corinthians 11:24-33 and 12:1-10 declare some of the prices Paul paid for the blessing he found in Jesus Christ. Do not look at Paul’s sufferings as retribution from God. Look at them as the prices he paid to confront evil. Do not complain when your blessings cost you. Instead, focus on the value of your blessings. Never forget, evil confronts godliness.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

Posted by on July 27, 2008 under Sermons

Read James 2:1-13.

William Booth – The Salvation Army began with William Booth’s ministry to the poor in East London. As a minister in the Methodist Church, Booth once entered the Blind Beggar Tavern to preach. He proclaimed, ‘There is a heaven in East London for everyone,’ he cried, ‘for everyone who will stop and think and look to Christ as a personal Saviour.’From the pub came a volley of jeers and cursing, followed by a rotten egg. The preacher paused, egg running down his cheek, prayed, and turned home.

Booth made his way through savage fighting men, ragged match-sellers, flower sellers, and children with gobbling up decaying food left by the street market, or swaying blind drunk in tap-room doorways. He strode past crowded tenements and stinking alleys where life was a just a struggle; and the dark alleys near the docks where the sick and dying lay side by side on bare boards of fireless rooms under tattered scraps of blanket. From this moment on, Booth concentrated his ministry to those that London had forgotten. Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among his first converts to Christianity. His congregations were desperately poor. He preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead them to Christ and link them to a church for continued spiritual guidance.

Even though Booth’s followers were converted, churches did not accept them because of what they had been. In those churches were they were allowed, they were forced to enter through the back and sit in the back. Seeing that there was no welcome of these converts or spiritual guidance, Booth left the Methodist Church and formed the Salvation Army as a sort of church on the streets.

The time and place where we ought to feel most loved and welcomed is too often the time and placed where too many feel judged and excluded.

Scenes – I want to paint some images for you.

  • A woman with her two children feels judged and eventually just stops going to church because she has heard others comment on how her husband doesn’t attend church with her.
  • A church with a bus ministry holds a separate children’s worship because some of the members are frustrated by what they call “the smelly and unruly bus children.”
  • A white family with an adopted black daughter is told they might want to consider that their daughter might feel worshipping with her own kind.

These scenes are real and they have unfortunately been repeated in some form or another far too many times …
The time and place where we ought to feel most loved and welcomed is too often the time and placed where too many feel judged and excluded.

A Word from James
After hearing James 2, which is probably one of the earliest Christian writings, how could anyone who claims to be Christian show favoritism or discriminate – especially in worship?
After hearing James 2, how could anyone who claims to be Christian dishonor, exploit, or judge those who are “poor in the eyes of the world?”

In the ancient world, society was structured by classes. People had a station in society. The ancient philosophers believed that society functioned properly when everyone held to their station. No one intended to shame or abuse those of a lower station, but when such philosophy meets the reality of human existence abuses follow. We play favorites. We know that those of a higher rank can help us if they show us favoritism, so naturally they receive special honor. In time, society structures they way that honor and station is to be demonstrated – perhaps in the clothes one wears or the bowing, the language, even something as simple as seating arrangements.

America resisted that sort of structuring of society. Everyone is the same legally in America – well, not at first as women had to be given the right to vote and servants had to be regarded as whole persons and set free. But we’re there now and the fundamental principles of this nation got us there. So we do not treat individual persons according to status or rank in society. The partiality that remains among us is much more subtle. But it is there. We cannot cop out and say, well that’s just the way things are. James won’t allow that. It is a part of the world system and James warns us not to be friendly with it. Rather, as friends of God James is urging us to look at reality differently. God is turning reality upside down so that the poor are favored and rich in faith. God is defining community not as a place where everyone is stratified according to income or lineage, but we are all the same in Christ. God is calling those who would be his friends to practice a morality that comes from the heart of the law that gives freedom. James’ text for his sermon is Leviticus 19:18 – Love your neighbor as yourself. [James’ brother said that this was the second greatest commandment]. James must have had verse 19:15 in mind too: Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

I have appreciated the feedback from those who like James’ straightforward message. It doesn’t get plainer than this: Don’t discriminate! Don’t judge! Show mercy!

That’s plain – and yet, if we are honest we tend to squirm when confronted by this teaching. What if we’re “rich”? On a world scale, most of us are wealthy. Right here in America, many of us would be considered wealthy. Do we have to feel guilty about that? – can’t we just enjoy what we have without feeling guilty? James has no interest in making us feel guilty. Rather, he wants us not to judge. Don’t discriminate. Don’t play favorites. And by all means practice some mercy!

Rhetorical Question: Okay, someone says, I haven’t done that. I wouldn’t do that. Alright, but we know too many stories that turn out to be true don’t we. The time and place where we ought to feel most loved and welcomed is too often the time and placed where too many feel judged and excluded.

Rhetorical Question: I wonder, is there a risk if we don’t have some sort of judgment? How will we ever maintain holiness and decency if we aren’t aggressive in our expectations?

This is how the pick-n-choose approach to religion begins. Our worry and anxiety, rather than mercy and faith, lead us to be double minded and unstable. James shows us that if we are going to honor God’s morality as God’s friends, then we need to honor everything in God’s word. For instance, we are concerned about sexuality purity and rightly so. God said – Don’t commit adultery. Jesus taught us that that includes lust. We should respect this word of God if we are going to be his friends. But we must also respect the word “Do not murder.” And Jesus taught us that this means hatred and contempt and not just killing. We have to be just as discontent with expressions of such immorality.
James shows us how to maintain holiness and decency as God’s friends: 1) Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s how you do right. That’s how you keep the law – strictly! 2) Show some mercy. We are going to be judged – by God. And judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who doesn’t show mercy.

Bottom line: Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Our time together in worship and assembly is special. It is a sacred time. We ought to be reverent. Reverence means honoring God, but we do not honor God when we are unmerciful, discriminatory, rude, and ungracious in our attitudes toward one another. We follow the “rule” that brings freedom, not oppression. If we want to honor God then we will be rich in faith and honor others, especially those that God notices …

We all have our favorite songs to sing when we come together. I imagine that James was thinking about a church song when he was addressing the church. It was a song that tells us a lot about God.It is a song that his mother taught him … his mother, who also happens to be the mother of Jesus Christ. It’s a song that James mother, a woman who was in her time judged harshly, sang out when she experienced God’s mercy and kindness … [Luke 1:46-55]

    “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
    For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
    For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.
    He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
    His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
    He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
    He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
    For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”

It Depends On Your Focus

Posted by on July 24, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

The following are words from Joyce Chadwell without David’s editing.

“It is so easy to find fault with others. A couple of days ago I found a shirt button in my bedroom floor. I wondered why David didn’t tell me he had lost a button. I thought, ?Now I am going to have to go through all his shirts and see where it belongs.’ I laid the button on my dressing table to put off going through his shirts or asking him why he didn’t tell me he lost a button. I guess I preferred to stew about it. Well, this morning I decided to put on a denim shirt I wore Monday and guess what. It was MY button all the time. When I started to button my shirt there was a missing button and it matches the one on the dressing table. To paraphrase what Jesus said, ?You should make sure your own shirt has a button before you tackle a closet full of someone else’s shirts,’ or something like that.” (Used by permission.)

Whew! Narrow escape! I would not notice a missing button until I put on a shirt she had washed and ironed! Only then do I say, “Could you fix this shirt?”

Why is it so easy to see others’ faults and flaws and so hard to see our own? May I suggest two reasons. First, as long as I look at you, I do not have to look at me. A focus on your mistakes often means I never have to look at my own. All of us like that! All of us had rather be an expert on others’ flaws rather than dealing with our own flaws. When someone calls attention to our flaws, we are shocked. We are the experts! How could anyone see flaws in us? If such flaws exist, they have a justifying reason for existing-just listen to my reason and you will ignore my flaws!

Second, it is much easier to judge than encourage. Encouragement is just plain hard! It takes gentleness, understanding, and helpfulness. People are so uncooperative and suspicious! “What is in it for you?” “What are you up to?” “What’s your real motive?” What a world-we are more suspicious of kindness than we are of harshness! However, judging is simple. Package it as “constructive criticism” from an “insightful person,” smile, shape opinion into fact, and say anything. The judged should be “grateful” for the “constructive criticism.”

Aren’t you glad God is not a human? Aren’t you glad He continues to “go to the trouble” and “makes the effort” to encourage us in Jesus Christ? God encourages in spite of our flaws and failures (and He truly knows what He is talking about, sees honestly, and accurately understands motives). We, too, should seek to be encouragers because it is godlike, and we wish to be like our spiritual Father who creates us in Jesus Christ.

Take a Look in the Mirror

Posted by on July 20, 2008 under Sermons

Read the Text – James 1:18-27

Take a Look in the Mirror –
We glance in our mirrors. We are concerned about our appearance. We devote a great amount of attention to our appearance. How much time did we spend in front of the mirror this morning?

  • It is staggering when we stop to think about how much of our time and energy as a people is devoted to our outward appearance and physical nature. [Clothing, make-up, treatments, surgeries]
  • How much attention do we give to our internal nature? How much do we give to the development of our character and person?

Ignoring the Blemishes …
23-24 Those who listen to the word but do not do what it says are like people who look at their faces in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like.
James describes two blemishes of character: 1) Anger, which usually manifests itself in violent speech. 2) Selfish desires.

    Anger …
    26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
    19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

    Some would say, “But anger isn’t a problem until it leads to sin.” Some would say that, but not James. James urges us to overcome anger and control our speech because anger tends to draw us away from the righteousness of God. If anger isn’t a problem, then why does James warn us that it will lead to a worthless religion.

    Selfish Desire …
    each of you is tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
    Selfish desire is a malignancy that leads to sin and death. Some would say, “But the desire isn’t wrong until it becomes sin.” Some would say that, but not James. James is urging us to overcome the selfish desire that keep us from being perfect – that is, mature and complete.

Hearing, Doing, and Blessing …
25 But those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continue in it-not forgetting what they have heard but doing it-they will be blessed in what they do.
We spend so much time focusing on our outward appearance. We spend much effort on acquiring what we want. Our goal is often to feel better about ourselves. To be happier. But there will always be something else we want and our appearance will never be perfect.
But if we hear the word and do the word – as difficult as that may seem – we are blessed in doing this. The blessing is that we become the sort of people God intended for us to be.

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress …
Over against the angry, mean-spirited, blemished religion that is worthless to God, is an unblemished religion (pure and faultless) that focuses on seeing to the well-being of those who cannot help themselves. The orphans and widows were among the most helpless in ancient society. Who are the widows and orphans in our society. Sometimes I think it is single parents – they are often without any type of assistance and they struggle to care for their children and work for a living.
We are blessed when we bless others. When we look to the needs of others, we become the sort of people God intended for us to be.

… and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Notice that there is more to “pure and faultless” religion than simply benevolence. We must resist the pollution of the world’s prejudices, warped values, and skewed perspectives. The world is the source of the values and thoughts that lead us to anger, selfish desire, and thus to sin and death.

So James sends us to the mirror of the “perfect law of freedom” and tells us to get cleaned up …
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

We are blessed because we are saved. Being saved means that we become the sort of people God intended for us to be. And James has said something about this implanted word already.
18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, so that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
Here’s the word that shapes us. I am always talking about the word shaping us because I want us to understand that when we speak God’s word and use God’s word to describe our life together and our perspective we are doing more than just teaching lessons. We are letting that word take root in us and letting become embedded and implanted in our character …

Take a Look in the Mirror, and what do we see? Listen to the perfect law that brings freedom, and what do we hear?

I hear James the brother of Christ saying, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
That sounds a lot like Jesus who says, the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the one who hears the word and understands it. [Matt. 13:23]

I hear James the brother of Christ saying, Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress …
That sounds a lot like Jesus who says, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ [Matt. 25:40]

I hear James the brother of Christ saying, those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continue in it-not forgetting what they have heard but doing it-they will be blessed in what they do.
That sounds a lot like Jesus who says, Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” [Luke 11:28]

I hear James the brother of Christ saying, Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
That sounds a lot like Jesus who says, I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. [Matt. 5:22]

I hear James the brother of Christ saying, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
That sounds a lot like Jesus who says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” [Luke 6:46]

Take a look into the mirror …
We gaze into the perfect law that gives freedom, we gaze into the gospel, and our goal is to be like Jesus. To be perfect – mature and complete. To listen to his words and put them into practice. Not just to believe, but to believe and do. Otherwise, why do we call Christ the Lord?

A Paradox

Posted by on July 17, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

There are numerous stories that serve as illustrations. You probably have heard all of them in some version: the farmer who put a latch on his barn door after a fire in his barn scattered his animals never to be found; the man who put house locks on his doors after a thief stole everything he owned; the man who never left his keys in his new car after his older car was stolen because he always left the keys in it.

All the stories make the same point: it is too late to prevent a tragedy after the tragedy has occurred. I have wondered (many times) the feelings that Paul the Christian felt when he passed places where Paul the persecutor had harmed others. Remember Acts 8:1-3? Saul (Paul) was in hearty agreement with putting Stephen to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

After he knew Jesus was in fact God’s Christ (Acts 9:1-9), it had every impact on what he did in the future, but it changed nothing he did in the past. In past acts, Christian men and women were still dragged from their homes, wives still saw Christian husbands killed, and orphans still existed because of what happened to Mom and Dad. Nothing Paul did could undo what he had done before his understanding that Jesus was the Christ. Unfortunately, we all have to live with our past. No matter how we use our future (read 2 Corinthians 11:22-33), our past still occurred.

No matter what we do after we learn Jesus is the Christ, we still are what we are because of God’s mercy and grace. Wise is the person who never forgets that truth. The Christian Paul never did!

Yet, the wise, mature Christian who gladly accepts God’s forgiveness of his or her past, uses an understanding of the past to demonstrate the incredible blessing God gives us through Jesus Christ. The same incident which causes us intense shame or grief becomes the incident that communicates God’s love and forgiveness.

Oh, the arrogance of the person who convinces self that acts of obedience obligate God by somehow intimidating Him! With all Paul did, he never forgot that he was least of the apostles and did not deserve to be called an apostle. Never did he forget he was what he was through God’s grace.

We each are what we have become in Christ, not because we are self-made, but because we are God-made in Jesus Christ.

First Century Christianity

Posted by on July 13, 2008 under Sermons

What do we mean by the phrase “first century Christianity?” What do we mean by the phrase “New Testament Christianity?”

  • Like the Great Commission or Golden Rule, it is a shorthand slogan that refers to something we all accept, but do we mean the same thing by it?
  • 21st century Christians like to summarize their faith in a simple statement on MySpace or Facebook …
  • It is a slogan that has been around for more than 200 years …

Among leaders of the American Restoration Movement such as Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, it means returning to the earliest era of Christianity as a way of restoring the church. It was an attempt to divest Christianity of corruptions and return to a simpler form.

  • The emphasis on forms, names, ordinances, and structures
  • It was a mostly a reductionist approach. They understood what they wanted to set aside, but how did they understand the core and the substance of first century Christianity?
  • Also, what point and what place in the first century do we model?
  • 21st century Christians who are committed to the idea of being first century and New Testament, might want to get a firm handle on what the slogan should mean and not just what we’ve always assumed that it means …

What would a first century Christian say about New Testament Christianity? Let’s listen to a first century Christian and get his take on it. Not just anyone, but someone who is regarded as a pillar of the church, a leader respected and honored by Paul the Apostle. Let’s ask James, who grew up in the same household as Jesus of Nazareth. James, the brother of Jesus. Here’s a first century Christian with impressive status, but in his greeting he calls himself nothing more than a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his letter, James is a reliable voice who gives us a glimpse into the core of what it means to be a Christian. James summarizes Christianity as being a “friend of God” as opposed to being a “friend of the world.”

Friend of the World – What does he mean by “world”? The world is not a place. It isn’t planet earth. It isn’t even modern times (because James is a first century Christian). The world is a system of values, but it goes beyond the beliefs we hold. It is a set of ideas about reality, community, and morality that shapes our character and actions.

More important that understanding world, what is meant by friendship whether it is with God or the world? In the first century, friendship was understood as a strong bond existing between those who share a common interest or activity.

  • Abraham was a friend of God. He demonstrated a commitment and faith that came from his perception of the hand of God working in the world. He wasn’t limited to the values and limitations of “the world” and the natural way of things.

So, if we want to be first century or New Testament Christians, then according to James we are friends of God. Being a friend of God means living out a commitment to God. We are friends of God when we incorporate into our outlook and behavior a common interest, a friendship with God, which gives us a sense of 1) reality defined by God, 2) community defined by God, and 3) morality defined by God. READ JAMES 1:1-16.

Reality Defined By God

  1. Wisdom (1:5-7) – Wisdom from heaven, a different perspective. Not the double-minded instability of the world.
  2. Reversal of position – the rich are in a low position and the poor are in a high position. God redefines reality and gives perspective – life comes to an end and riches will not change that.
  3. Trials and what’s real- an unusual response to difficulties. It isn’t God punishing us. “What does God want you to learn from this?” 1:13-15 – Rather evil and sin in the world has ruined the creation. But if we are friends of God and learn to see the world truthfully, we are in line to become the “firstfruits” of creation …

Community Defined By God

  1. America was not the beginning of egalitarian community. In fact, we must admit that this nation hasn’t always lived up to the high idea of all men being created equal. But James calls out to us over the centuries and in the first century he understood, because he was a friend of God, that everyone is created equal. Why? Because God doesn’t discriminate.
  2. There is no rank and status in the community of God. James himself is a servant. The poor and the sick deserve as much attention as anyone. In the community of God’s friends, everything we have is a gift of God, so we share it with others just as God shares with us. The world’s system of values, separates us, classifies us, alienates us, but in God’s system there is one Lord and we are both his servants and friends.
  3. That makes us friends to one another.

Morality Defined By God

  1. The first century had its share of moralists. There was plenty of advice on how family members, rulers and subjects ought to behave. There were strong opinions on how people should act in the first century. The goal of the moralists was about the same of our moralists today
    • The decision making process focuses on the human predicament and the human dilemma.
  2. We must be very cautious about focusing solely on the human dilemma, on manners and forms as the basis of morality. Here’s why: the problem is that focusing on manners can appear very right and good. It looks right if we do things the right way. It looks right if we have the right answers. It looks right if we hold to the right positions. It looks right if we restore the right forms. But that doesn’t mean we are righteous!
    • Being a friend of God means placing our decision making process (ethics) in line with God’s ways.
    • The July Christian Chronicle tells the story of John Rainbow, 83, an African-American Christian who is a song leader for the Manhattan Church of Christ in New York.
    • We dare not define our morality by the manners, trends or the traditions of the age – even if they seem right. And having a form of righteousness is not the same thing as being righteous. Being righteous means being a friend of God and placing our morals in line with God’s ways.


Restoring first century Christianity means restoring the spirit and ethic of God’s ways, not just forms. It means rekindling friendship with God. James has a word for the 21st century about what it means to be a genuine follower of Christ. Let’s spend some time listening to the words of Jesus’ brother who is summoning us to be friends of God. Along the way we are going to be both encouraged and challenged.

The Unpredictable

Posted by on July 10, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

Our society builds financial industries on the uncertainty of life, while the same society convinces people that they will live indefinitely.

Consider the prepaid funeral. The salesperson in numerous ways focuses people on life’s uncertainty. Your attention likely will be focused on the tragedy generated by loved ones having a funeral expense at a horrible, emotional time. In no way would you burden loved ones with a major expense at an emotional time that rejects rational thought.

Thus, the insurers want to insure you against death because they think you will live long — long enough to make the insurance profitable. However, in this instance, you buy the insurance because you do not think you will live long enough to accumulate the funds your burial will require. Thus, your awareness of life’s uncertainty produces an industry.

Take a moment to think in the opposite direction. Think of how much of your life is based on your confidence that it will be long. You spend as if you will live long. You buy as if your income always will be the same or better. You plan as if you have much marketable time before you.

If asked, “When are you going to die?” you look at the person as if he (or she) is crazy. If asked when you are going to be laid off, you think, “Have you lost your mind?” If asked, “When will your business fail?” you ask, “Do you know something I don’t?”

Last weekend I attended the 50th reunion of my high school graduation. (No comments about my age, please-be respectful to the elderly!) Of the 19 who graduated then, 14 were present. Only 3 had died, and only one (me) used a cane.

I spent time with my science teacher to whom I owe a lot. He also preached and was a Christian encourager. Though a science teacher, he taught me (a) the importance of studying scripture in context and (b) there is (was) more to obedience than facts.

In his 80s, he walks with difficulty. Parkinson’s disease makes it impossible for him to write or type. Though he still thinks deeply and clearly, his means of expressing himself are limited. Twenty years ago, I would not have predicted this for him in his later years.

James says, “Assume nothing! The right thing to do is accept the uncertainty of your humanity.”

God Helps Those Who …

Posted by on July 6, 2008 under Sermons

Our text today is familiar. I am sure that if I started to say it, you could complete the statement.

“God helps those who … help themselves”

That’s our text, but I have no Scripture reference for it. I doubt you will find one for it.

  • Perhaps we will have to settle for saying, “Well, it’s in there somewhere.”
  • We all know it. 75% of Americans believe that this statement is in the Bible. So it must be in there, right?

But this statement isn’t “in there somewhere.” It comes from Benjamin Franklin who published the statement in Poor Richard’s Almanac … [Before that it was in Aesop’s fables].

  • And if that doesn’t cut it, we can just argue that “It sounds biblical.”

Is it biblical? It comes from Benjamin Franklin after all. So the thought must be biblical. What was Franklin trying to communicate? Maybe he was saying that whenever we work to improve our situation that this is really how God helps us. God helps us through our own efforts. But then, is God really helping us at all? That’s not biblical.

  • That reminds me of a scene from the movie, Shenandoah … (Jimmy Stewart’s prayer) — “Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eatin’ it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same for this food we’re about to eat. Amen.”

Maybe it really isn’t a statement about us at all. We understand that we have responsibilities and effort is good, but let’s not expect God to just drop manna from heaven. But if you want to be biblical, that’s closer to the mark. What is the biblical teaching then about God’s help? (With respect to Ben Franklin, the biblical teaching is a little different.) There are three themes that come up in Scripture again and again …

God Helps The Helpless – God cares about those who are oppressed and those who cannot help themselves.
Isaiah 25:4 – “For you have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat…”

Psalm 10 – God is a champion for those who have no one else. Those who take advantage of the helpless will find that they have to contend with a very powerful friend of the helpless.

God isn’t opposed to us who have wealth, influence, or strength. Rather, we just need to place ourselves behind God. And we certainly don’t want to be caught up with those powers that do take advantage of the helpless. We need to be more like Jesus …

Matthew 9:35-38 – Jesus’ ministry was all about embodying the help of God … Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

God Helps The Lowly – God actively works among us in our lowliness. By lowly we mean that which characterizes “low rank.” God loves to help those who don’t rank high by our high standards of evaluation. There is a theme throughout Scripture of God reversing our expectations of what makes one strong, noble, and powerful. Paul summarized it …

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 – But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

  • Abraham and Sarah – Youth or an old man and his barren wife to begin the nation of promise?
  • King David – The highest ranking, most influential, strong, brilliant specimen of humanity. Someone with a proven record of experience and leadership. Or a scrawny kid who cannot fill out warrior’s armor? A sheep-herder with a lot of guts and a strong faith!
  • Jesus and his disciples – For the all important task of leading the church Jesus could have selected from the sharpest Rabbi’s, upper class power-brokers. Instead he chooses fishermen, tax collectors, and extremist zealots. Some of them may not even have been out of their teens.

Psalm 138:6 – Though the LORD is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly, but he takes notice of the proud from afar.

God Helps The Sinful – Finally, we have to recognize that no matter how well-off we are by worldly standards, no matter how much we’ve accomplished, and no matter how hard we have worked – where it really matters we are all helpless. When it comes to our need to be saved from our brokenness and sinfulness we are all helpless …

Romans 5:5-8 – For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

There are two ways we can hear the message about God’s help …

  1. When we are confident in our accomplishments and our own abilities. When we are secure in our power and strength (control). When we are comfortable in our status and influence. We need to …
    1. Give thanks to God
    2. Get on board the ministry of God to help the helpless and lowly
    3. Be careful that we are not taking advantage of those who are vulnerable
    4. And remember that ultimately we are all helpless before God (but the good news is that God helps us with that)
  2. When we feel helpless. When we experience hardship that makes us feel weak. When we are up against powers that threaten to overwhelm us. When we wonder how we are going to pay our debts. When we wonder how we are going to overcome temptation. When we worry over the future. When we are angry to the point of despair because of those who never seems to be held accountable for their oppression. We can take hope from the good news that …
    1. We are on God’s list — Read Psalm 121

God helps those he loves! Be assured that God will help you, for he loves you. Like Jesus, we want to embody that help.

It Doesn’t Know It’s Broken

Posted by on July 3, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

Since I learned a few years ago that continual exposure to bright sunlight was, in many instances, a contributing factor to developing cataracts, I have worn a set of clip-on sunglasses. It was an easy transition to make-bright sunlight hurt my eyes, and I did not enjoy squinting. (Squinting can make you look angry.)

The other afternoon as usual, I reached into my shirt pocket, pulled out my sunglasses, stretched them to pop them on my regular glasses, and the sunglasses promptly broke! (Not a lens but the “bridge.”) At first I was just plain startled-something I did hundreds of times without thinking did not work! (That is NOT supposed to happen!) After my bewilderment ended, I examined the situation to determine what was wrong. Though I had carried these clip-ons for years, I quickly concluded the sunglasses were broken beyond repair, put them in a cup holder, and drove away. That pair of sunglasses have been in that cup holder many times-they don’t even know they are broken!

I have spent my life working with people. Through those years, I have heard about many situations. A common thread in different circumstances caught my attention years ago. Often, in differing situations, a person was mystified because he or she encountered consequences as a result of a decision. It was as though the situation was 100% something or someone else’s fault, and the person enduring the “problem” was 100% innocent. “Why me? I am responsible for nothing! None of this is my fault!” There was no awareness that “I am broken and need healing!”

The ability of the resurrected Jesus to heal us inwardly is beyond exaggeration! I regard Jesus’ above statement as being his great invitation. Jesus offered rest to those who were burdened under destructive loads. He did not expect the impossible-he was and is not into “crushing” us. However, he is into our developing his servant heart. It is not the promise that we will have all our physical desires-it is the promise that we will find a restful direction for our lives. We would exchange slavery for commitment!

What is the difference between slavery and commitment? If we are looking for freedom from all responsibility, that will not and can not happen. In slavery, a person is used because he or she is property. In commitment, a person knows the values and the price of being free. In the first, there is exploitation inflicted by another; in the second, there is personal direction and purpose. The first inflicts regardless of our personal motive. The second surrenders because of our personal motive.

Shh-my sunglasses do not know they are broken! Do you know you are broken? Have you allowed Jesus to give you rest?