How Do I Seek Purity?

Posted by on January 30, 2011 under Bulletin Articles, Front Page Posts

And after He called the multitude to Him, He said to them, “Hear, and understand. Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” Matthew 15:10, 11 (NASB)

The Jewish approach to purity in the first century (and before) focused on the acts of the body. Thus, one was pure if the person did the right acts in the right way at the right time. For example, one person could actually hate another person, and remain pure if the hater treated the person he hated properly. Or, one person could deceive another and still be pure if the deceitful person deceived in the proper way.

In this concept of purity, what was inside a person did not matter if the person acted appropriately. What he actually felt, his motives, his reasoning behind his behavior, etc., were unimportant if he acted appropriately. As examples, his feelings for another man’s wife were not important if he acted properly toward the woman. Or, he may be greed-filled over another’s possessions, but it did not matter if the greed did not control his actions. Only one’s actions affected his religious purity.

Jesus’ teachings focused on what was within the person. That affected the person’s purity. Thus, Jesus emphasized one was not made pure by what he ate, but by his internal motives and emotions. The true origin of an evil act is an evil heart. A cup washed only on the outside is still dirty. A tomb looked outwardly beautiful, but it was inwardly vile. Purity involved the person’s inward thoughts as well as outward acts.

Peter had heard for so long the “outward” emphasis that he did not understand Jesus’ point. As an explanation, Jesus said this: “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” Matthew 15:16-20 (NASB)

“To be pure, should I focus on the inside or the outside?” Both! May your actions always reflect your actual person! Righteousness results from righteous acts and motives!

When Godly People Do Satan’s Work

Posted by on January 23, 2011 under Bulletin Articles, Front Page Posts

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Matthew 16:23

How can a God-focused person do Satan’s work? First, acknowledge such happens. Peter was a God-focused person. However, if Jesus called Peter Satan, at that moment in that act, Peter did Satan’s work. Second, note Peter did not know he did Satan’s work. He was certain he did God’s work! When Peter told Jesus, “This will never happen to you,” he affirmed a loyalty that furthered God’s objectives (he thought). Third, note Peter actually opposed God’s purposes when he was certain that he assured the accomplishment of God’s purposes. He was certain his affirmation of loyalty in this manner was encouraging!

The point is this: when a human confuses personal desires with God’s objectives, he/she will do Satan’s work believing he/she is doing God’s work. Exchanging human desires for God’s objectives is spiritually deadly! For example, was it good to be committed to Jesus’ continuing physical life? Peter thought so! What was God’s objective? Jesus’ humiliating death and glorious resurrection! What was Jesus’ physical desire? To live! Read Matthew 26:37-39.

Jesus did not want suffering, but he surrendered to God’s purposes. Did Peter’s affirmation of loyalty encourage Jesus’ surrender? No! So who was Peter helping—God’s purpose or Satan’s discouragement? Here Peter worked for Satan not God!

How did that happen? Peter wanted Jesus to be Israel’s physical king. He wanted first-century Israel to be an independent power in world politics. He wanted to serve in Jesus’ administration. None of that could happen if Jesus died!

God had something better in mind—a universal Savior who extended forgiveness to all! However, for that to be, Jesus had to die. What seemed good to Peter was disastrous to God’s purpose. Human desires were not God’s purpose! What made sense to Peter powerfully discouraged Jesus! Human desires destroyed God’s objective!

Do you surrender to God or try to manipulate God? Do your wants oppose God?

Who Is He?

Posted by on December 12, 2010 under Bulletin Articles, Front Page Posts

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Matthew 16:13 (NASB)

Some things demand to be explained! Jesus demanded to be explained! Everyone had an opinion about Jesus. Some thought he was an incredible man from God, and he did incredible things to help the hopeless. Some were amazed by his teachings and the way he presented them. Some were curious. Some saw him as opportunity to be exploited. Some thought he was dangerous. Some thought he was disastrous to Israel and must be destroyed. However, everybody in Israel thought something. He was not a nobody!

Thus he asked the twelve near Caesarea Philippi, “How do people explain me? Who do they say I am?” He knew people talked about him. He likely even knew who people thought he was. He certainly knew who he was. Then why did he ask the twelve what people were saying about him? Why? It was time for the twelve clearly to know who he was. It was time for them to understand the meaning of his identity.

They could learn quickly that he was God’s Christ. They would not understand for more than a month after his death what it meant for Jesus to be God’s Christ.

People always have an opinion about Jesus’ identity—including you! It is likely if you had no opinion, you would have no interest in reading this. Your opinion may be good, neutral, or bad. However, 2000 years after his death and resurrection, you likely have an opinion about Jesus’ identity.

What is your opinion? Was he a slick, polished deceiver? Was he a curiosity who captured his audience’s imagination? Was he someone who just happened to be born at the right place at the right time? Was he the imagined invention of others? Was he God’s son who actually defeated death and Satan?

For us, will earthly opinions about Jesus always be a matter of faith? Yes! Regardless of your conclusion, you believe. Christianity rests on the faith of the person.

In the resurrection, all will know who he is. The essential question: Who is he to you?

Even Jesus Got Tired!

Posted by on December 5, 2010 under Bulletin Articles, Front Page Posts

Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick. Matthew 14:13, 14. (NASB)

There was a limit to Jesus’ physical endurance, and he honored that limit. (See Mark 1:35 and Luke 6:12.) Finding moments alone to renew himself must have been hard for Jesus! Demands on his physical strength and the stress he endured frequently had to be beyond measurement! Do you find it necessary to restore and refresh your energy when you have endured a period of difficulty? Does continual stress zap your energy? Since Jesus was flesh and blood just as you are, he reacted to pressures as do we.

Daily demands on Jesus were enormous! If you had the power to heal incurable sickness, can you imagine how many requests you would receive? If you could teach in the manner Jesus did, can you imagine how many people would follow? If you said, “No!” to someone who was counting on your help, can you imagine how the person would react? There was always just one more paralyzed person, just one more blind person, just one more lame person, etc., who needed help.

Some came to him for the wrong reason (John 6:15, 26). Some hated him and what he did and wished to discredit him (Mark 8:11). Some wished to do him harm (Mark 3:6; John 12:47-50). Jesus’ intent was to be God’s example of what to do and how to feel in everything. It was so demanding that there were times when Jesus could not go into populated areas—people expected too much (Mark 1:45)! Consider statements like Mark 2:1, 2; 3:20; Luke 4:42; and Luke 6:15, 16. Talk about living in a fish bowl!!! Jesus had no privacy! Someone always needed or wanted something!

Yet, even when he was tired, even when he genuinely needed to be alone, even when he dealt with stresses we have never known, he always cared about people. People—even his enemies (Matthew 22:15, 16)—knew he cared! One of the incredible things about Jesus was that he felt compassion for people, regardless of his needs.

Always remember he compassionately cares for you, too.

God’s Kingdom

Posted by on July 4, 2010 under Bulletin Articles

Expectations can destructively hide reality. When Jesus discussed God’s kingdom, he discussed God’s rule over people who subjected themselves to God. In Jesus’ ministry, he spoke primarily to the Jewish people who were (and had been for generations) certain they had God’s rule all figured out. They were so confident in their expectations that Jesus had difficulty in introducing them to reality.

Note first that Jesus spoke in terms of a kingdom. A kingdom was the common form of rule in Jesus’ time-no one asked, “What is a kingdom?” God was in charge and provided the guidance. Followers of God’s guidance were His subjects. God’s kingdom worked when God was in charge and provided the guidance – and the subjects submitted to His guidance. Primarily a kingdom was not about the people who followed the guidance, but about the ruler who gave the guidance. People in a democracy do not think like this!

Note second that Jesus challenged their concepts of God’s rule. More was involved than being descendants of Abraham. Subjects provided God with proper soil for His seed. They were helpful wheat, not weeds that threatened the wheat. His subjects would be a small people that expanded dramatically by a slow but effective process of contagion-who they were made what they said powerful! Some became subjects through accidental discovery, and some through intentional search. Subjects were in charge of following, and angels were in charge of sorting. Those who listened to Jesus should concern themselves with following God! Subjects in God’s kingdom had a definite responsibility, but it was NOT determined by their genealogy or seeking to control other people!

Being in God’s kingdom is not determined by who our parents or grandparents were or what they did; nor is it determined by our control over others. It is determined by one thing: following God’s guidance. Only God through Jesus is the divine gift to humanity.

Are you deceived by your expectations? Do you follow God or depend on who you are?

THANKS!

Posted by on June 3, 2010 under Bulletin Articles

To say the past month has been an adventure is an understatement! Some asked if 56 years of preaching is short. “Yes!” It is amazing how much of it will fit in garbage bags! My oldest son (Jon) is the family historian. He spent 4 days helping us reorganize. He said, “Dad, you have no idea how hard it is on me to throw this stuff away!”

I thought I would conclude my regular bulletin articles by answering some of the common questions asked us.

“When will you officially retire?” On June 3 I will be 70 years old. Retirement begins June 4. We will take some vacation time immediately.

“Do you plan on staying in Fort Smith?” Yes! We plan to be an active part of West-Ark for the foreseeable future. Only family sickness in Crossville would alter our plans.

“What is happening to you health-wise?” The simple way to explain what is happening is this: The part of my brain that controls muscle coordination is shrinking. It expresses itself in balance, reaction to air temperature, and (in my case) speech issues.

“Are you getting better?” The actual condition is so rare there is no known treatment. True improvement of the condition does not exist. I rarely have any pain; I just have frustration. The objective (by doing “correct” things and taking no chances) is to make deterioration occur as slowly as possible. That is working! The irony is this: the better I feel, the less I should do. Go figure that one out! Truly, “Looks are deceiving!”

“Do you think you will enjoy being retired?” I have no idea-even if I succeed in not driving Joyce crazy! She is the one who deserves major sympathy! We both appreciate the many, many kindnesses and encouragements!

The Power of Tenacity

Posted by on May 30, 2010 under Bulletin Articles

In Jesus’ description of a righteous person in Matthew 5:3-9, he included the drive to be righteous as a quality of righteousness. Motivation/drive was essential! Righteous behavior is no accident! It is NOT the attitude that says, “If it happens, it happens; if it does not, it does not.” Righteous behavior matters to the person who is godly!

Jesus described the motivation/drive as “hunger and thirst.” A hungry person thinks of food constantly! A thirsty person thinks of cool water constantly! It takes something powerful even to distract from hunger and thirst-then it is only a distraction! Before long, the person thinks of how hungry or thirsty he/she is.

This drive reminds us of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28. The physical Jesus was born an Israelite (1) to declare God kept His ancient promise made to Abraham and (2) to return Israel to God’s purposes. In death and resurrection he became Savior to all.

The Canaanite woman, not an Israelite, begged Jesus for a miracle to benefit her daughter. Though she knew who Jesus actually was, he did not pay her attention (answer her.) The disciples asked Jesus to send her away (grant her request?) because she would not stop begging them to intercede for her. His answer, “I was sent to the lost of Israel.”

Still she pled! She even bowed before Jesus asking for help. He finally said to her that it was not proper to give her what was intended for Israelites. He classified Israelites as children and Canaanites as dogs. Still she persisted! She said that even dogs ate the crumbs that fell off the table.

Jesus was so impressed with her faith that he said, “Be it done to you as you wish.” Her daughter was healed immediately.

If Jesus granted your desire based on the amount of faith you had, what would happen? How fast would it happen? How much do you want to be a righteous person? Sometimes faith is expressed in tenacity! Christian faith always serves, and never quits!

The Bargain Route May Not Be a Bargain!

Posted by on May 23, 2010 under Bulletin Articles

In Matthew 9:1-8, Matthew recorded Jesus saying to a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. The entire discussion that followed did not focus on the paralyzed man. It focused on Jesus’ statement of forgiveness of sins. “How dare a mere mortal say this! Only God can forgive! This declaration is nothing short of blasphemy!”

Jesus, knowing the scribes’ thoughts, asked a question. “Which is the most difficult–to grant forgiveness or walking?” To show that he had the authority to forgive sins, Jesus enabled this paralyzed man to walk.

The point was emphatic and immediately visible: If Jesus could make the paralyzed walk, he had the power to forgive. The multitudes, awe-filled, glorified God for enabling Jesus to do what he did. They “got the point.” They recognized God as the source of Jesus’ power. God, not Jesus, was actually at work. This was no mortal act!

Consider two “think about” questions.

Question one: Why are humans so impressed with the visible? Forgiveness did not “Wow!” the witnesses, but a paralyzed man walking “Wowed!” the witnesses. Lesson: No matter what we say God does for us through Jesus Christ (forgiveness, redemption, sanctification, etc.), nothing “Wows!” the witnesses as will the way Jesus Christ changes us as people. How you treat your family, how you treat others, your ethics in your work, expressing your servant mentality, etc., will “Wow!” the witnesses.

Question two: Why do humans often fail to see the greater gifts? Forgiveness of sins trumps walking any day, under any circumstance, any time. If we had a choice between walking and forgiveness, which would we choose? May I speak for most of us? For many the answer would be, “We choose both!” We tend to be greedy, do we not? Wonder which we would choose in judgment?

Cherish all blessings! Never sell forgiveness! Selling forgiveness is never a bargain!

What Are You Looking For?

Posted by on May 16, 2010 under Bulletin Articles

All of the gospels acknowledge the fact that Jesus was under the critical scrutiny of some of the best-trained Israelites (see Matthew 12:10, 19:3; Mark 3:2; Luke 11:53, 54; 23:10; John 8:6; etc.). Often he was “set up.” They asked, “Why did you do that?” Or, “What is your position on this?” Or, “What is your stance on this matter?”

Commonly, those who asked were well-trained religious leaders. Rarely did they ask to learn. Their motives involved finding fault, criticizing, attacking, or destroying his credibility. So they followed Jesus and his disciples in the fields and asked, “Why do you let them do that?” (Matthew 12:1-8.) Or, they wondered if he would heal on the Sabbath Day (Mark 3:1-6).

While Jesus’ teachings and actions blessed some, others were totally unimpressed. While some saw in Jesus hope, others regarded him to be a dangerous man who led people away from God. To some he was the Savior God promised, and to some he was a cunning servant of Satan. To some he was the promised way to God, and to some he opposed everything God valued. To some he announced God’s light, and to others he was the villain of darkness. To some he was the means to eternal life, and to some he destroyed their future opportunity for power and wealth.

Even today, not everyone sees the same thing when they look at Jesus. To some, Jesus embodies the joy bigger than death. To some, Jesus is the destruction of all fun. To some, he is the avenue to the greatest power this world has ever known. To some, he is a threat to power. To some, he is the means to wealth bigger than physical life. To some, his values are against physical wealth.

The truth is that it does not matter what others think about Jesus-pro or con! What matters is what you think about Jesus. To you, is he a Savior or a demon? In him do you find light or darkness? Direction or confusion? Life or death? Is he worth the investment of your life, or is he the stumbling block to all you value? When God asks you what you think of Jesus, will you bow out of necessity or out of desire? (Philippians 2:9-11)

The Difficult Line Separating Wisdom and Foolishness

Posted by on May 9, 2010 under Bulletin Articles

Sandwiched between “the parable of the unjust steward” and the story of the rich man and Lazarus is an interesting verse. It is fascinating because a religiously conservative influence in “then” Jewish society “scoffed” at Jesus and his teachings. The Pharisees were the “main stream” voice for following scripture and returning to the ancient ways!

What is scoffing? Today, scoffing might be identified with these statements: “Surely you are not serious! You are kidding! Everyone knows it cannot work that way! That is ridiculous! God’s outlook does not allow such ridiculous thinking! Get serious!” In the Bible, scoffing is mocking or deriding.

Scoffing is too common among Christians. It often occurs when we seek to make society’s ways or values compatible with Jesus’ ways or values. If the call of society and the call of Jesus Christ are identical-at least similar-we can follow both Jesus and society if we avoid being a “bad” person. Hey, we could increase the appeal of being Christian if we can love money and love Jesus at the same time! If we could be Christian and live like everyone else, that would be great-hard choices would be eliminated!

Becoming a Christian is more than adopting a statement or agreeing with a declaration. It basically adopts a contrasting set of values. It is more than a list of “how tos”-how to worship, how to do church, etc. Christianity involves the courage to live as an example among people who say, “You are not serious! You have got to be kidding! Everyone knows that is not the way it works! That is ridiculous! Get serious!”

Being an example involves how you treat your spouse, your children, business, people you like, strangers, and even people you do not like. Most of all, it is about how you use life. These are not about rules and regulations, but about Jesus’ values in our lives.

Do you have the courage to follow Jesus to new values? Those values will make you an example! Those seeking hope will bless you for your courage to follow Jesus!