Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Screwtape Letters--Interesting Advice

It's been a long time since I read the Scretape Letters by CS Lewis. The last time, I didn't have a clue how to read or think about it. In case you don't know the premise of Screwtape, they are letters of advice from an older experienced demon (Screwtape), mentoring his nephew (Wormwood) in how to best manipulate and deceive his assigned patient and keep him from the "Enemy" (i.e. God)--very interesting reading. But I found this passage from Day 6 very interesting especially in how it deals with how we are to be Missionaries in our immediate community

"there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient's soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary."

Sadly, this is not a hard tactic to use and be successful at. It's easy to get angry at all the little irritations and bothers from the people close to us. We don't see the people in Zimbabwe sitting at the traffic light long after it has turned green because they're talking on the cell phone rather than paying attention to their driving. We don't see people in India letting their dog leave a present on our lawn. We don't see people in Seattle talking or nodding off during the worship or sermon. Come to think of it, I'd better not see that in Macomb either!!!

It's hard to share Jesus with someone when you have malice in your heart toward them. This is a great tactic against personal evangelism since most of us are not career missionaries or don't go on mission trips, and if we do they are short term. Yet our desires to serve Christ and share with others can easily become "imaginary" as long as it is focused on a country or people--"far, far away".

I for one do not want an imaginary faith, nor an imaginary evangelism built on things happening "over there". I want a faith and an impact that is here, and visible.

Satan wants to make the malice in our hearts visible. When he accomplishes this, our witness is damaged because it malice rarely goes unacted upon and second, our desire to witness is destroyed. Satan wants to make the fruit of our faith invisible. When he accomplishes this, our faith is rendered impotent, ineffectual and it doesn't make a real difference in our own lives much less in the lives of others.

God's heart is that the fruit of our faith is visible. A change in us and how we treat each other. A change in our goals of all our relationships to reflect a desire to make Christ known. A change in us so great that people will WANT to ask us what makes a difference in our lives, our joy, our hope. When was the last time anyone asked you what makes you different? What malice is Satan successfully creating in your heart for the people and believers around you that renders the fruit of your faith invisible?

Sunday Sermon 5/28--Samuel's Dose of Reality

Samuel’s Dose of Realty

Have you ever heard the phrase along the lines of “that person needs to get a dose of reality” or perhaps the phrase “Reality Check”? You hear it in the conversation when someone, stereotypically the young, idealistic crusader bent on changing the world, who has great ideas, great theories, great passion tries to convince the seasoned veteran how much better they can do things. Many things sound good on paper, but are disastrous when they are put into practice. It’s also heard when you have a passion for the way something should be, but no one else has it figured out like you do.

Samuel had a vision of God and a growing understanding of what a relationship with Him should be. He ministered before the LORD at Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was housed. In a day when the Word of the LORD was rare and there were not many miracles—Samuel was one who lived with them regularly. But I believe he received a major “reality check” whenever he looked at the faith of the people. No matter how hard he may have tried, he couldn’t get them to Hunger and Thirst for God, for pleasing Him, for serving Him wholeheartedly, the way he did. And just after we read in 4:1 how Samuel’s word came to all Israel—we get to see an example of Samuel’s Dose of Reality

1. Samuel First Dose—He Saw the Ark Go—4:1-11
a. Samuel now was probably a young man, late teens early 20’s. As God was appearing to Him at the Sanctuary, Samuel was growing in his own faith, but also able to see something of the faith of His people.

b. He had seen the hearts as they came to worship and offer sacrifices. He had seen the defective animals, he had seen Eli’s sons abuse the system for their own advantage,

c. One thing he would have noticed is that on their own, the people experience defeat—

The Israelites went out to fight but before going into battle, there is no seeking of God, no asking for His guidance, no thought of God at all. Long gone are the lessons learned from Joshua and how the LORD fights their battles. If they felt like doing it, then God should bless them for it. God was expected to bless whatever they wanted—they didn’t really care what He thought.

d. Until they experienced defeat, then all of a sudden, they began to wonder about God and His place in their lives—vs. 3. Before, they didn’t give God a second thought, didn’t ask Him to be a part of their lives. But once they had experienced defeat, they came griping—and blaming--why did the LORD bring this defeat—questioning Him more than they did themselves. Then they went for the quick fix—the instant cure.

e. Let’s go get the Ark. We can’t lose with the Ark—this is the star player, the sure thing, the ace in the hole. But what they revealed was that they thought they could call upon God whenever they needed Him. I’m in trouble, I guess I should pray now. Let me take God off the shelf and dust Him off a little bit now that I’m in a bit of a jam. Let’s go get the Ark.

f. Samuel, even though young, was able to see what kind of faith the people had. And it was nothing like the relationship that he began when he heard the Call of God. They didn’t care about God and how they could know Him, they only cared about what God could do for them. To paraphrase and reverse one of our Presidents, their attitude was “Ask not what you can do for God but what God can do for you.” They wanted God only for what He would give, what they could get.

g. We are so like them. When things are going well, God seems to be the last thing on our minds. You and I leave our homes each morning many times without asking God to Before us, to go With us, to Grant us Victory, to Keep Us from Defeat.
And when we are in trouble, all of a sudden we go running to Him and expect Him to fix the mess we’ve made.

h. But God’s not interested in that kind of faith—nor is that what He wanted from the Israelites. That’s why in vs. 10, the Israelites were defeated even with the Ark. That’s why those who blasphemously claimed to serve God, Eli’s sons, were killed, that’s why the Ark was captured. The people’s Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, their Good Luck Charm, their quick fix and instant cure had failed. It’s not the kind of faith God wanted to grow in them, nor is it the kind of faith He wants to grow in you or me.

2. Samuel’s Second Dose of Reality--and the Capture of the Ark—12-22
a. After the defeat and capture—Samuel & Eli received the Report from the Front Lines—I know that Samuel is not mentioned in the text, but we do know that he was ministering in Shiloh—the ark was gone, but Eli was still there and until he died, Samuel would have been there as well. When the report came we get to see a glimpse into the heart of Eli—and what that must have said to Samuel.

b. Eli’s The Greatest Concern—was not for his two sons of the battlefront, but vs. 13—“his heart feared for the ark of God.” I find it amazing the place that the Ark had in the mind of the people. This object was more central to their faith than the God it represented. It borders on idolatry, they were in danger in trusting in the Ark rather than God who was behind all the power.

c. Even the news of his sons death did not knock Eli to the ground, instead it was the Ark—vs. 18--

d. Samuel’s Mentor Died—vs. 18—Samuel’s spiritual mentor fell over dead on the spot.

Samuel was now at Shiloh essentially alone, trying to manage the whole affair himself. To make it even worse, it is also believed, based on Psalm 78 and Jeremiah 7 that not long after the battle that saw the Ark captured, that the Sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed.

e. But just in case there was confusion about what had happened to Israel—a child was born. The baby boy was symbolic of Israel’s Spiritual Condition—Ichabod—God’s Glory is Gone. God didn’t do what we wanted Him to, so that means He has left and abandoned us.

f. Many of us at various times feel that God has abandoned us, that His Presence is not with us when things don’t go our way. It leads us to a tremendous despair. So many question the power, the sovereignty, the love of God when our loved ones lie dying, when our lives are falling apart.

g. Samuel was seeing the faith of the people sink into greater despair, thinking that God had been defeated. The young mother didn’t lament the loss of her Father-In-Law, nor even her husband, but the fact that God had left them—vs. 21. She could not even rejoice or celebrate the birth of a baby. Was this life really worth it? She questioned God’s Presence, and probably His very existence.

h. Let me say without a doubt that God is never defeated, He is never outmaneuvered or caught by surprise. Our real enemy is sin and death and they have been knocked out, they have been defeated, they have been subdued by the power of the Resurrection. No matter how bad things get here, our victory is assured.

i. Many argue that Germany’s defeat during WWII was secured on D-Day—June 6th 1944, with the beachheads of Normandy—but the reality of that victory was not realized until VE-Day—May 8th 1945 almost a year later.

j. You and I live in a world between the Victory Won and the Victory Fulfilled. We experience many doses of reality. And you and I are tempted to doubt because of the pain of the world, the suffering, the struggle. I’m not going to stand here and claim that the battle in our hearts, spirits, and minds should be a piece of cake or that you’re not a good Christian of Jesus if you struggle.

k. But we must be careful that we don’t have the same kind of faith that Samuel saw—he saw a faith based on fulfilled expectations, and an object, something tangible to look to. And as soon as those things were removed, the honoring of God diminished—they were pulled even further away from God rather than closer to Him.

3. Samuel’s Third Dose of Reality
a. 6:1—Ark held by the Philistines for 7 months and it made life horrible for them because they were not “authorized” to have and handle the Ark properly. After many plagues, they sent the Ark back to the Israelites with offerings. But Israel proved that they were not very different than the unbelievers.

b. People treated the Ark flippantly—6:19 the looked into the Ark and did not consider it holy. Curiosity killed more than the cat. They didn’t really believe God was Holy and set apart—they did not really consider Him the Awesome Creator of the Universe. They looked at Him not with awe and wonder but with an eye to figuring out His “secrets”, how they might be able to gain some advantage or power over Him or over others.

c. They took for granted His greatness, His transcendence—something we do as well. It’s great to realize that God invites us into His presence, that we can call Him Abba, Daddy and have free access to Him at any time, to know that we are His friends when we trust in Him by faith. But that can also lead to casual attitude toward Him that is too familiar and friendly. God is not our good ole buddy that indulges our every whim and joke. We forget we are in His presence by invitation only, that He is still to be revered and held in awe. We need to have a healthy understanding of God’s greatness and how amazing and awesome it is to be invited into His presence in worship and adopted as a part of His family.

d. God gave the Israelites a reminder—those that looked into the ark were killed. As a result, the Israelites were just as afraid of the Ark as the Philistines were—they are not really any different than the unbelievers around them. And I expect that wasn’t the only similarity between them. They worshipped in similar ways if not the same gods. They claimed multiple faiths, multiple truths, sacrificed to whomever they pleased. They were pickers and choosers in their religion—if they liked it, they did it—there was no true allegiance to One God, One Faith. The Israelites were not a unique or peculiar people anymore because they lived, breathed, talked and acted just like the pagan nations around them.

e. Just like us—the church has very little difference between ourselves and the world—we live the same, talk the same, want the same, play the same way in time off, sin the same, divorce the same. God can easily tell the difference between you the Believer and the unbeliever, but can anyone else? Do you pick and choose your faith—if you like it, you believe it? Are you a cafeteria Christian—a little of Christianity, a little of Buddhism, a little astrology.

f. Samuel saw all of this in the people of his day. His vision of God and call to faith was hit with a strong dose of reality that most of his people were not interested in sharing his faith. And we see those same attitudes today. What must we do, how should we live?

g. First—every day, every morning, ask God to go before you, ask Him to go with you, ask Him to guide you and to provide victory. Do not leave Him out, do not think of Him at the last minute as if He were a garnish or window dressing. Don’t run to Him only in times of crisis or defeat. Make Him a priority, call upon Him when you sit and when you rise, when you come and go, He already knows it all, but He wants you and I to include Him.

h. Second live with Confidence that we serve an awesome and wonderful God that has not been defeated, that has not abandoned us even in the midst of trials and struggles. Allow your faith to cling to Him no matter what and Live with conviction and hope to a world that is hurting and despairing for some kind of peace.

i. Third, hold a healthy view of Him, yes we can approach the throne of grace with Confidence, yes He is our friend and savior, but never lose sight of the fact of His awesome power and majesty. Much like the character Aslan in the Narnia chronicles—he is still dangerous and he’s not a tame lion—but he is good.

j. Fourth—don’t pick and choose your faith and be inconsistent with what you claim to believe. Don’t mix your faith in Christ with other religions or systems. Live without hypocrisy—live set apart from the world and don’t blindly accept the values and perspectives they do but always test beliefs and attitudes with the Word of God.

k. How is your faith? Do you have a faith like Samuel’s, with a desire for others to share your closeness with God? Or do you have one like the people of Israel?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

What would you say?

I am going to present a situation that is not a hypothetical. Don't worry, it didn't happen to me, but it did happen in our SBC circle. I want to know how you would respond to this. In the simplest, most general terms, here it is.

1. An accusation against a believer is made by another believer.

2. The accused believer offers repentance on the spot if given the nature of the offense.

3. The accuser then says: "I don't know if your repentance will be accepted or change anything."

If you were a believer there in that moment, what would you think? What would you do? What would you say?

Again, this is not a hypothetical. This happened either yesterday or the day before--timelines are sometimes hard to follow.

Responses please.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Movin' On Up

Just to let everyone know, the family and I are officially moved into our first owned home. God has been very good and we're blessed far more than we deserve. A special thanks to:

Don Christopher
Mark Blaylock
Bob (the only injury I know of)& Sherill Hedges
Fred Adair
Don Creger

for helping us move all that junk!

And Claire Horton for letting me use his truck. Thank you all for prayers and help in this time.

Sunday Sermon 5/21

Hearing God’s Voice—1 Samuel 3
Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the office address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man filled out his form and sat down with the seven other applicants in the waiting area. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet. They assumed that the young man who went into the office made a mistake and would be disqualified.

Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.”

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand. He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair!”

The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his.”

Many Americans wish their relationship with God would be so clear, direct and straightforward. But there is such a confusion about God’s voice and His call, such a misunderstanding about who God is that we wouldn’t know what to do if God actually “spoke” to us—other people wouldn’t know how to respond either, they’d think we were crazy.

Even as believers, we listen with a healthy skepticism when someone says to us, “God told me to…”
Or “God spoke to me and gave me direction.” As if it doesn’t count unless WE hear it.

Reggie White, the Pro-Football player was once asked how he came to his decision to go play for everyone’s favorite GB Packers. He was honest enough to say that he asked God about his decision and God responded; God spoke back. In other words he talked not just to God but with God.

He said, "I spent a lot of time praying about this," White said. "And one day as I prayed, I heard God say, ‘Reggie, go to Green Bay.’ So that’s what I did."

White saw something in the way the interviewer looked at him at that point because White said this: "You know, when you tell people you’ve been talking to God, they don’t have a problem with that. That’s praying. If you believe in that sort of thing, it’s okay. But when you say that God talked to YOU, then they think you’re crazy or something! Isn’t prayer supposed to be a conversation with God? And in a conversation, don’t BOTH parties talk?" (Illustration from Scott Hippler, Sermoncentral)

Wouldn’t you rather talk with God rather than just to God? Many people claim that they want to hear from God, our biggest problem is that we have a hard time recognizing God’s voice when He does speak. Life is often too noisy, too busy, our minds are too cluttered and thinking of what we’ve got to do that day. God could be speaking, but He might be one voice among many, He might be drowned out by our thoughts, our worries and agendas. Very rarely do you see God shouting in the Bible, very rarely does He even try to raise His voice to get people’s attention. Many times, He merely speaks their name.

If you struggle hearing from God—Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It is part of the journey of faith, part of the growing process—Learning to Listen even to Silence. Even within the Church, there is confusion about hearing the voice of God and answering His call. 1 Samuel 3 is an example.

1. Hearing Problems—v. 1
a. For the Nation—the entire chosen people God were not experiencing the Presence and Power of God—they were not hearing from Him—
they were not listening or recognizing the voice of God. It was if they had tuned Him out.
b. The Word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. How sad for them. For a people established, rescued and maintained by God this must have been a horrible situation to be in. Sadly, they probably didn’t even realize or think twice about it.

c. Does this not sound like America today? Does not America on one hand yearn to hear from God while at the same time try to cram Him back into the church? Does not America Tune Him Out and then hold His “silence” against Him?

d. How about within the Church? When was the last time you can say you heard a Word from the Lord, when was the last time He gave you a vision to reach the lost, to minister in some way? When was the last time University Baptist Church had a vision to have as many visitors in our worship service as members? When was the last time God laid something on your heart and you were so moved that you had to respond to Him?

e. I’m afraid words from the LORD and His visions are far too rare, even among us.

f. I remember when my family and I were moving back to Texas from California. I was about 16—there was a stretch of highway that I quickly named “the Dead Zone” that was where you hit scan on the radio and it never stopped, just kept circling through all the channels.
The only thing you could listen to clearly was static and that didn’t help the time pass very quickly. We know something is missing yet when we tune in to the Station that God speaks from—we don’t like the content, the music or the message so we want to turn it to something else or we’d rather turn it off than hear from Him.

g. The Nation wasn’t hearing from God. It’s also difficult For the servants of God; those “ministers” in “Church”—think of Eli, a man ministering for years at the altar of God—even He did not recognize God’s calling. God had been so tuned out that not even the priest at the Tabernacle was hearing from Him. And it’s the same at churches all across America this morning—Baptist and otherwise. Many people are there, but few are hearing from God and many don’t really want to.

Those that do so often leave thirsting for something more because not even all the ministers have a true relationship with Him. Some are living a vocation instead of living the call of God. It’s not as if God isn’t speaking, or that He doesn’t desire us to know His will… it’s that we are not hearing, we are not listening, or we are not responding to the true Word of the LORD. We are not obeying the Words we do receive. We don’t recognize the voice of our Good Shepherd to follow His leading.

h. If you have a hard time recognizing and hearing the Voice and Direction of God just know that you’re not alone. It is not always easy—Faith is Pursuing the Heart & Voice of God—whether you get it or not. We live by faith & not always by sight.

i. If you’re honest with yourself, at some point God has seemed distant and silent—it may be a brief time for some or years of drought and dryness in your walk. Just know that God desires to speak to your heart. He is trying to speak to you right now. He was speaking to you yesterday—He will be speaking to you tomorrow. It may not come with big fanfare, maybe just your name, it may just be the still small voice, the inner peace that speaks, “I am here. You are mine”. You may have what Samuel displayed in his life.

2. Comprehension Problems—v. 2-10
a. V. 7—Samuel, a boy between 10-13 years old, did not have personal experience of God despite years of worship and service at the Tabernacle. He had not received a revelation from Him, he had not been taught how to recognize God’s voice or what that voice was like. There was little personal experience for him to learn from.

b. This is proof that you can go to church for years without ever really Knowing God

c. If you’re having trouble hearing from God, then this may be the obvious problem—you may not KNOW THE LORD—you may not have a relationship with Him at all. If that’s the case you’ll only be hearing the same message from Him over and over again—a broken record, or in modern terms a skipping CD. Your message from God won’t change until you respond to His voice asking—“Do you know My Son Jesus?” Come to Jesus—Come to Jesus—Come to Jesus. His first call will be a call to make a decision and receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord—

d. Jesus is the Great Translator to the voice of God. If He is not a part of your life, then you won’t be anything but confused about His voice.

e. What’s worse is that Samuel had no one to turn to. Eli’s eyes (v. 2) were weak more than just physically—they were unable to see the kind of education he was giving and he was unable to recognize when God began working in Samuel, likely b/c there was little personal experience on his part to pass on.

f. When the Call of God came, one thing in Samuel’s favor was that he was Eager to respond even for 3 or 4 AM.

g. But he was quick to respond to what he knew—his human master. He didn’t comprehend what was happening to him. He ran off to the wrong person, place or thing. Samuel thought the voice of God was someone else. Don’t be too hard on him, though.

h. You and I often do that. We attribute the voice and call of God to something else. Too often we pass off the real thing for our guilty conscience, an upset stomach or a bad dream. We talk ourselves out of obeying Gods voice.

i. It’s easier for us to mistakenly identify our own wants, desires, plans for His will, then we dismiss anything that suggests otherwise. We are confused and don’t recognize the voice of our Shepherd—and so we follow another voice, most often our own.

j. Too often, when God speaks, instead of running to God, we run to something else. At least Samuel responded and didn’t dismiss it as a bad dream or his imagination.

k. If only we as His people would respond as quickly to our Heavenly Master. That kind of quick response—running to the Master—eager to serve—is exactly how God would like to see in us.

l. Instead, we respond to God like we do the alarm clock—or at least how I respond to it—“ughh, it’s not time already is it? Where’s that snooze button? I need 5 more minutes.” And when that doesn’t work, the alarm clock gets moved further away to the other side of the room to force us to get up, and even then, we throw it across the room and shatter it into a thousand pieces. We respond to God with tired hearts, with groggy and grumpy—“what is it now” attitudes. Is it any wonder that the Word of the LORD in our lives is rare—that there aren’t many visions, many miracles?
That when we try to answer the question, “what has God done in your life lately” we struggle to think of an example within the last year.

m. Do you recognize the moments in your life when God is calling you to something or are you more like Samuel running around knowing he heard and felt something but not knowing what to do about it? He ran searching for someone to explain what was happening.

n. I guarantee You will have moments of God’s call as well—and no, God’s call is not always a call to Full Time Ministry. Your call may be a moment of ministry to a person—bringing them food, a kind word, or sharing the Gospel. You may receive a call to prayer, your call may be to deal with some sin in your life that must be dealt with before you can be fully used by Him later. He may be calling you to spend more time in His Word. Those calls are much more common than the call into full time ministry. Have you heard and responded to those calls? You may not receive another call until you are proven faithful with these. The “little” things before the “greater things”

o. We need Samuel’s eagerness—not to serve our human or earthly, tangible masters but our spiritual master. My goodness—I run to answer the phone faster than I respond to God calling me to pray. Why? Because I can see, hear, and touch the phone.

p. The first time, Samuel was essentially told to “Go back to bed”. After 3 such moments, Eli finally realized what was going on—v. 8-9. The priest of God—serving before the Ark of the Covenant couldn’t recognize the working of God right in front of him. That’s why I need your prayer, b/c I certainly don’t want to miss something that God is saying or doing.

q. So Eli told Samuel to lie down again and say—“Speak LORD, for your servant is listening.” If anything should be the desire of our heart it is this right here.

r. Is this your prayer for your life, for those you love—that you, that I would have this desire to hear God’s voice above all the hustle and bustle of life? That we would be willing to hear from Him, that we would be willing to truly serve Him and lay your life down at His feet. Can you say honestly that this describes your heart—“speak LORD for your servant is listening”? If it does, then without a doubt, God will speak—b/c He already was speaking—just now you might be ready or willing to hear.

s. How is God calling you? What vision for ministry, for UBC is He giving you?

t. There can still be confusion. V. 10b—let’s us know that Samuel still wasn’t buying into who was doing the talking yet. Eli had told him to say, “speak LORD for your servant is listening” but Samuel doesn’t say that, he simply says, “speak for your servant is listening.” Samuel wasn’t sure who he was hearing from—and we all struggle with that today.

u. How does God speak? How does He call? God speaks in Various ways. And this is not a complete list.

First, God speaks through His Word. This is the clearest and most direct line of communication.
Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
You first learn how to hear from God by following His written word. If you can’t follow what He’s written in His word, chances are, you can’t follow His audible word.

v. He uses others-- Ephesians 4:11-12 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” God gifts His children and crosses their paths in order to communicate with us. How many of you can look back at a friend’s word and direction? How many of you were won to Christ, not by a “professional” minister, but by a friend or family member?

Whenever you sit in a service like this, for example, you’re hearing from God. When we are gathered together as the Body of Christ—God is speaking——more than just ministers, to convey His Word and speak to your hearts.

w. God uses circumstances to speak to us—to remind us of His love or our need of Him, to give us opportunity to obey or minister, to discipline. Events in life cause us to seek Him and pray for His wisdom and understanding of what is going on.

x. God speaks through the inward voice or the conscience through the Holy Spirit. Paul knew this:
Romans 9:1 “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,”

This is also known as the inward witness or inward intuition. The Holy Spirit will verify that you’re doing the right thing or going the right way. If you’re going in the wrong direction, or making the wrong decision, you’ll feel an uneasiness on the inside, and that’s the Holy Spirit letting you know something’s up.

y. Sometimes that voice is very authoritative, Like Paul being told to go into Macedonia, and sometimes it is that still small voice of prayer.

z. I know you’ve had the opportunity to hear God’s voice at some point or another, but still, the question remains, “Are you listening?” What call does God have for you? What vision do we need at UBC?

(our morning services wrapped up here and the following material was “talked” through in our evening study.)

3. Obedience Problems
a. Eagerness is an indicator--Obedience is another necessity in order to truly hear from God. v. 11-18.

b. Even though Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the Word of the Lord—v. 15, Samuel did so. He was obedient, he did not close his mouth and think more of Eli’s feelings than of obeying God. Samuel was obedient to proclaim the message God had given him.

c. Many times we are afraid of hearing from God b/c we don’t know if we’re going to like the Word, or the answer. But our attitude cannot be—“Speak Lord, and I’ll listen if I like or agree with what your saying. OR Speak Lord, so long as you say what I think you should say.”

d. Too often we don’t want to hear from God b/c we are afraid of what He’ll say—we don’t trust Him to do or say what’s best for us.

e. The choice of obedience to the message is what Samuel faced. Can you imagine having a message from the Lord and being unwilling to share it? What does that say of your love for Him? Is He really your master at that point? See, as a Believer, you walk around everyday with a message from God that you are called to share—it is your faith—it is the Good News—it is the powerful testimony of your life that has been changed by the power of God.

Who was the Great Commission given to after all? Just to clergy or professional ministers? No, the Commission was Given to the people of God, all His disciples, His kingdom of priests. As YOU go—YOU make disciples, YOU Baptize them, YOU Teach them to obey everything.

And being obedient to that life changing message is much more important than our fears of rejection, fears of hurt feelings, fears of popularity, you name it.

f. If you are not hearing from God it may be more than just not listening—Maybe you have heard and said “NO”. You’re not eager to respond and then not obedient when you do hear from Him. In other words, we’re too interested in running our own lives and not submitting to any other “Lord” other than ourselves.

g. But Samuel was both eager and obedient despite his fear, even though he was a boy, even though he didn’t understand everything. Even though he was afraid and nervous. But Samuel was able to experience wonderful benefits. Look at how God became a part of Samuel’s life after this experience.

4. The Presence of the Lord—v. 19-4:1a
a. God was with Samuel as he grew. As a parent, there’s nothing more I could want than this: God welcome and active in every stage of my son’s development.

b. None of his words fell to the ground—Samuel’s word was reliable, he was recognized as a prophet of God that ministered to the people and changed lives. Everyone knew he had some wonderful relationship with God. That is what I hope people can see in my life—what you should hope for yours.

c. “all Israel” heard and recognized God’s call on Samuel’s life. And God continued to “reveal” Himself to Samuel throughout his life. The Presence and power of God was available to Samuel because he was willing to listen, eager to respond and willing to obey. Is there anything more you want out of life than His presence?

d. If you’ve never asked Jesus to come into your life as your personal Savior, then know that God is speaking to you today—are you listening, are you eager to respond to Him, are you obedient to His call on your life?

e. As a Believer—do you hear the voice of God or is the Word of the Lord rare in your life. That needs to change—you must have a living and vibrant faith where you hear God’s voice and can point to His workings in your life.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Awesom Reminders

These pictures help remind me of my small place in God's Universe. While that is true, the amazing thing is that at the same time, I am priviledged with a very large place in His heart and mind. He knows all there is to know about me, and I will never know all there is to know about Him this side of eternity--and even then, I don't know how it would be possible.

I was reminded earlier today of a practice of mine that my wife, Vicky, finds annoying at times. When we're driving in the car, listening to music, if we get to the destination many times I will sit and wait until the song or verse we're listening to is over. I NEED the resolution of the thought, of the music. I NEED to hear those final chords for it to be resolved in my mind and heart.

This need for resolution sometimes affects my relationship with God for there are times when I need Him to resolve--to make sense to my mind. In circumstances, in prayer, in hardships, I want to know the end, the result, the purpose. My mind and heart craves for God to "wrap it up". But that's not the kind of God I live for--He is under no obligation to resolve things for me. He only calls me to trust Him--trust His character, trust His holiness, trust His love for me. I admit this is often difficult--our world doesn't always make sense, nor my circumstance in it. I cannot fully get my mind around our Creator who holds the stars in their place.

Thank you Lord, for your reminders of Your Greatness. I await Your Resolution.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,


btw, I've been told some may not know how to leave a comment. Just below there's a statement that probably reads "0 Comments". Click on that and it will take you to a page to type up a comment. Thanks for your participation. KR

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sermon--Mother's Day 2006--The Power of a Mother

The Power of a Mother

On this day that we honor mothers, its good for us to think about how much you really do. Being a mother is not a walk in the park…

By the time a child reaches 18, a mother has had to handle some extra 18,000 hours of child-generated work and I don’t think vacation time is given for it..

I’m aware that Mother’s Day is a difficult time for some of you.

Maybe you want to be a mother but you can’t be for some reason
Perhaps some of you have not had the best relationship with mother
Some of you have had a mother who has recently died, making this day hard
Some of you mothers have lost a child
Some of you mothers feel the pain of a wayward child this morning
And, some of you are flying solo as you work hard to nurture your child’s faith

I know it can be hard but we need to recognize how a mother can make a significant spiritual impact on her children. A mother has a tremendous opportunity to lay a foundation of faith for her children.
Four scholars were arguing over Bible translations. One said he preferred the King James Version because of its beauty and eloquent old English. Another said he liked the New American Standard Version for its literalism and how it moves the reader from passage to passage with confident feelings of accuracy from the original text. The third scholar was sold on the New Living Translation for its use of contemporary phrases and idioms that capture the meaning of difficult ideas. After being quiet for a moment, the fourth scholar admitted: “I have personally preferred my mother’s translation.” When the other scholars started laughing, he said, “Yes, she translated the Scriptures. My mom translated each page of the Bible into life. It is the most convincing translation I have ever read.”

Mothers, what kind of Bible is your child reading when her or she observes your life? If yours are raise, then what kind of Bible did they read? Are you looking for ways to instill a respect for the Word of God into the lives of your children? Remember, you can make a significant spiritual impact on your children. As an example of the kind of influence a mother can have, lets look at 1 Samuel 1 and the mother of Samuel—Hannah. Hannah was able to lay a foundation of faith in the life of her son Samuel that influenced the nation of Israel for over 40 years. The first thing we need to look at in her foundation is…
Hannah’s pain related to motherhood is the foundation God started with.

1. Hannah’s Pain—v. 1-8

a. V. 2—The First pain is having to compete for her husband’s affections. Every instance of polygamy in the OT is full of strife, conflict and pain for the husband, for the wives and for the children. These accounts are merely describing it, not condoning or suggesting we do it.

The courts in the near future may very well make polygamy legal in the US but it certainly won’t make it right nor a pleasant experience. But we as a church must be prepared to deal with that eventual possibility.

b. The second was because as v. 6 says—“the LORD had closed her womb.” God is clearly understood as the One ultimately in control of the process of children. For reasons or causes she could not fathom or understand, God had not allowed her to have children. As proven with Abram & Sarai with Isaac—God can give children whenever He desired to. But Hannah had her faith tested, her womanhood questioned by the lack of children—and it was a painful experience that some of you here today know about. More and more couples are struggling having children and we need to be praying for & encouraging them.

c. To make it worse, V. 6-7—Provocation from her rival who had kids. Penninah rubbed it in. Cruelty knows no bounds—she’s forgetting it could easily have been her without kids. But we tend to resent and hurt those we’re most afraid of. Penninah couldn’t understand why her husband loved Hannah more than her—so she took it out on Hannah and reminded her of God’s favor—and thought of herself as the better woman, the better wife.

d. All that pain could have destroyed Hannah’s faith, could have led to resentment. Instead Hannah took her Pain to God, where she should have.

2. Hannah’s Prayer & Promise—v. 9-11
a. Her pain is still evident—prayer and tears are often appropriate and welcome in praying to God—they show an open and unveiled heart—where you aren’t holding anything back from Him. Being Honest with God is the best place to start. Children and tears and prayer often go hand in hand in life—tears of joy over their successes and sadness at their hurts.

b. Hannah in vs. 11 is already praying for her children even though she has never seen them yet. There is nothing greater that a mother can do than to pray for and especially pray with their children. Hannah’s heart for prayer was not lost on Samuel either.

c. In the midst of that hurt, Hannah is still turning to the right place—to the LORD Almighty—the One who had sovereignty over all things and powers in the universe. Hannah is an example of where we need to turn in the midst of pain—we cannot let it drive us away from God, instead, God desires the pain to draw us to Him. She cries out to Him pleading that He will have mercy and remember her—not just think about but act on her behalf and give her a son. She is calling on God to remove her pain, remover her sorrow and her shame, to lift her up and give her one of the greatest joys life has to offer—that of being a mother.

d. Hannah recognizes that If God will do that for her, then the child does not really belong to her, but he will be a gift of God. So in her prayer, she promises that this child will be dedicated to God from birth. All the days of his life will be for God and for His glory, not hers. She won’t even cut his hair.

e. That is another important foundation—that we are only stewards of what God has given—everything is His to do with as He sees fit—be that a son, be that a womb, be that money, a job, a life, a nation. He has the right to us, not just as the Creator, but even moreso as believers who have given their lives to our Savior—we are not our own, we were bought with a price. Whatever God has given you, have you dedicated it to God?

f. If God has blessed you with children, have you dedicated them to God? If you don’t have any children, have you dedicated yourself to Him? We are stewards of whatever God chooses to give, we are responsible for how we use it.

g. Hannah was so intense in her prayer that when Eli observed her in v. 12, he thought she was intoxicated. READ 12-14--And she comes back in v. 15-16 and reveals her heart once again. Here we see her pouring out her heart in great anguish. And you can tell that even Eli was moved by her pain in vs. 17.

h. Then in v. 20—the LORD answered Hannah and gave her the gift of being a mother to a special child. Samuel sounds much like the Hebrew for “Heard of God”. Hannah gave a heartfelt prayer and made a promise to dedicate her boy to God—She responded to the work of God in her life. That is they kind of parent that God seeks for the children He gives. God desires us to respond to Him.

i. How many of you see prayer answered and do not respond to it? It’s easy for us to take it all in stride, go on with life as usual, even God’s answers to prayer. But if we go on without acknowledging and responding to God, then we will miss out on the real blessing God has for us and our ability to be a blessing to others.

j. Look at what Hannah did in 2:1-2 and how she described the God she loved. Because she responded to God, Hannah was able to have a tremendous impact on her child.

k. Because her heart was humble and open to God’s actions, Hannah was able to lay a foundation of Prayer and Promise that her son was able to see and follow.

3. Hannah’s Product—21-28
a. First—Samuel could learn the importance of following through and honoring your promises. READ 21-28—she gave her maybe 3 year old son to God at the very tabernacle where she had prayed. She gave him to serve the very Presence of God under Eli of all people—which is a strange idea considering in ch. 2:12 we begin to see that he hadn’t proved very good at raising his own sons. She was following through with her word, thanking God for His mercy and goodness.

And Samuel followed his mother’s example—by following and serving the LORD his whole life—always aware of God’s mercy and Grace.

b. Samuel was a son who served God —because of the example provided and the faithfulness lived by his mother. When God called Samuel even as a boy—he answered with eagerness and obedience. He worshipped according to vs. 28—and there is nothing greater we could want for our children than to have them worship with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. But look how his mother had supported him in his service.

c. 2:18-19—Samuel wore Hannah’s love every year. In those clothes his mother made for him every year, Samuel was able to see her love for him and her support for what he was doing.

d. Mother’s you know there is little more powerful in the life of your children than to encourage and support them in the good things they choose to do, especially encouraging a desire to serve God and minister in His Name.

e. Hannah’s Prayer and Promise Produced a great effect in her son.

f. Samuel was a son who loved God –after years of seeing the people of God far from the LORD, he led them to return to God. He first heard from God in ch. 3, while he was still a boy—Samuel led them to desire and seek a relationship with God like he had, where he was hearing from God and following Him in all of his ways.

g. Samuel even led the people into battle and by God’s power delivered them from the Philistines throughout his leadership.

h. Samuel was a son who served the people of God honorably as opposed to Eli’s sons—the son of a ordinary woman was more spiritual and influential than the sons of a priest—
your parents don’t define who you are, but they can be such an impact. Parents, you can shape the heart and character of your children.

i. Because of the foundation that his mother laid—Samuel was the last Judge, the first Prophet, and the one who anointed the first 2 Kings of Israel—Saul, and David--the man after God’s own heart, who was the direct descendant of our Savior Jesus Christ.

j. So Samuel even had a role and part to play in the coming of our Messiah. That is the impact his mother had on his life.

k. It is no guarantee that if you pray for and dedicate your children to the Lord that they will turn out great and honorable people. But without your godly influence, they would have had much less chance of one—you can lay the foundation, but they have to choose to build upon it.

l. So this morning, you mothers continue to lead by example your faith in Christ—lay a foundation for another generation, be they kids, grandkids, or great-grandkids. Continue to share the Love of God and the need of salvation through Jesus. Mothers, Thank you for the impact you have had on the lives of those you love and know that God will use them to build His Kingdom.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Mother's 10 Commandments

1. I am thy mother—thou shalt call no other woman "mother" or "mom" besides me.

2. Thou shalt not bring unto me anything in heaven above, or on the earth beneath or the waters below in the form of a thing that wriggles, crawls or slithers for they are an abomination unto me. Thou shalt not keep them in thy room nor loose them in thy house or else I will punish thy girlfriends and children with embarrassing tales and pictures of thy nakedness.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of thy mother in vain by using it as a complaint or any obscenity or in any distasteful humor but shall speak of me and to me respectfully.

4. Remember my need for Sabbaths by keeping thy room clean and they bed made and thy clothes from being made unclean. For in 18 hours did I labor to give thee birth, therefore I still need a rest.

5. Honor thy mother—thou shalt answer me when I call regardless of what you are doing or watching or playing and shalt do so before I use thy middle name.

6. Thou shalt not murder thy sisters dolls nor destroy thy toys, nor break my favorite things around the house for that shall cause both of us pain, moreso thee.

7. Thou shalt not shoot thy brother or sister with any object, nor throw objects in thy house that can break things or make a mess for me to clean up.

8. Thou daughter shalt not steal my clothes, shoes, makeup or purse. Thou son shalt not steal my car keys. Nor shall either of you take thy siblings food, toys, or money.

9. Thou shalt not bear false testimony before me for I will know when thou art lying and thy punishment shall be greater.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy friends’ moms by saying something like—“Billy’s mom lets him go, or do it, or eat it.” for I shalt be less inclined to hear and allow thy request.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Falling Trees

If you remember the age-old question: "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?", then I have another variation for you.

"If someone types a blog and no one comments on it, is it being read?"

Participation is desired! Just a thought...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Must Read

A friend of mine recently posted something that should be required reading for all those who have a desire to reach the world for Christ. Her name is Kiki Cherry and she grew up as an MK--Missionary Kid--in Africa. She and her husband are now serving as college ministers in Pittsburg, PA. WARNING: it is not an easy read.

I don't really know much about linking, so I hope it works.

God's Calling Is Not Safe

Thank you Kiki for sharing this with those of us who have never been there.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Attempting to make Fishers of Men

We had a good day of fishing for Crappie and a few Bluegill. Even these little life experiences can later be used for the Kingdom of God. If only we would live as if we believe the task that Jesus gave us was as much fun!

The Fishing Principles are the same. In the church we have an attitude of "If we build it, they will come". That would be like going to the lake with the attitude "If we float it, they'll jump on in". I don't see that happening very often, do you?

On this day of fishing, we had the right equipment, we threw a lure out into the water to draw attention, then when they grabbed it, we were able to reel them in. At this stage, Gabriel wasn't able to handle a full sized pole (the children's pole didn't work) so I cast it out and whenever a fish took hold, I allowed him to reel it in.

We mature believers are to help teach the younger how to fish by doing it first ourselves and allowing them to participate in the process. In that way, we improve our own fishing, and make better fishers for the future.

Now the question becomes, what do we do when the fish aren't biting? What would we do out on the water? What should we do in our lives? Suggestions...

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,


Monday, May 08, 2006

May 7, 2006--Graduation Recognition

Yesterday was a great day at University Baptist Church. We have about 11 people graduating from Western Illinois University in the next week or semester and most of them were on hand to share the experience with us. I can tell that over their time here at UBC, these students have been loved and cared for. I know they will be missed but not forgotten.

As is becoming usual, I will post the sermon manuscript from Sunday. If you weren't there, hopefully, you'll get a sense of how God is speaking to us through His Word.

Here goes:

Today we are celebrating the Graduation of members of the University Family. Many of them at this moment are still trying to figure out what direction their life is going to take, you may feel lost on the road of life. And that’s OK. It’s OK to need to ask for directions, our problem lies with the fact that we don’t want to ask for directions.

We have all heard how bad most men are when we get lost, or are unsure of how to get where we want to go; how we never want to stop and ask directions. Asking for Directions definitely falls into the “Have to” category. For the most part, whether we will admit it or not, this stereotype is true. Men either want to have detailed directions before they get started, or they want to trust their instincts to find the place for them. Stopping and asking for directions is very difficult for us to do.

Do not fear ladies, there is hope. This morning, we are going to be looking at Mark 10:17, an example from the Bible of a man asking for directions. Ladies, I want you to put a special page marker here so you can quickly find it if you are in any car with a man that is lost.

Most of us have read or heard of this event before. It is so familiar to us that all you have to say is the “Rich, Young Ruler” and most will know the general story. Well, I would like you to forget that you know all that for the moment. Forget that you know that he’s young, forget that he’s rich. The common title comes by compiling information taken from all the Gospel accounts. Matthew 19:20 tells us he’s young, and Luke 18:18 calls him a ruler. In Mark’s telling of this event, all he wants you to know at the beginning is that it is a man. Mark gives us no other information about him until later, and that is important, it matters to the story and the listeners. So for this morning, forget that you know all that, in courtroom terms, strike that from the record.

In this section, Mark is emphasizing the cost of discipleship and Jesus’ focused journey to Jerusalem. In chapter 9, Jesus is in Galilee, but chapter 10 marks a change. Jesus leaves Galilee and begins moving toward Jerusalem for the Passover feast, while fully knowing that crucifixion is awaiting Him. Our attention starts at verse 17, when Jesus is just setting out to continue His journey toward Jerusalem. Here we find a man coming to Jesus before he left the area. So if you are there with me, follow along as I read Mark 10:17-19

The first thing that I want you to notice is the way this man approached Jesus. 3 things are important to notice.

He Ran—He Fell—He called Jesus “Good”

The man ran up to Jesus He obviously thought it was important to talk to Jesus. Now think about this for a second, if you’re lost and you see someone who knows the way just down the street, like a police officer, you don’t want him to get away before you get a chance to talk to him. You’re going to start running, waving your hands, calling out “Hey! Officer!”, you’ll let yourself look like a fool just to talk to the one you need This man, by approaching Jesus this way, could easily have been ridiculed by those who saw him. It demonstrates how desperate he was to catch Jesus before He was left the area.

Not only did he run to Him, but he fell on his knees before Him. This was an act of reverence usually reserved for a king from his subjects, or masters from their slaves. Bowing before someone or something was a big deal and many, like Mordecai in Esther, or Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego in Daniel who were only willing to bow to God.

This man was desperate to catch up to Jesus because he believed Jesus had the answers to the questions he asking. When was the last time you ran to Jesus like that, that you believed or hoped with all your heart and soul that He could give you direction, the last time you fell at His feet in reverence? When was the last time you felt lost? This man knew where he wanted to go but didn’t know how to get there. He was asking about “eternal life.”

Imagine having one question you could ask the Master about. You graduates could probably pose a few. What must I do to get a good job? What must I do to get rich quick? What must I do with the rest of my life now that I’ve graduated—more school, where should I live?

This man wanted the really important question answered. To this man, Eternal Life meant the promise of the Messianic Kingdom, and the blessings of God in his life. But notice how he intends to get his blessings; he wanted to do something to get them, he wanted to inherit them.

You could argue that this man was expressing a common sentiment of that day, which is actually common today, that someone could do something to earn or merit an eternity in heaven with God. That may be the case, but I am inclined to believe that this man was expressing something different because you can see it in his approach.

There is an element of desperation in the way he ran to Jesus and fell on his knees. I think that this man was much like many of us today; he had exhausted every avenue he had been taught about how to please God, and get on God’s good side, and realized that there was something missing in his attempts. Life left him hollow and searching, it did not satisfy because he really didn’t know where he was going, he just knew he wanted more than this life had to offer. The question that he asks Jesus was not an abstract game, it was haunting him.

It was a question that none of the other teachers of the Law were able to answer for him; the notion of, “is there anything else I can do to increase my chances that God will look favorably on me because I’ve tried everything?” That sentiment may describe many of you today as well. You feel like you have tried everything to please God, but something is still gnawing at you deep inside, telling you that something is still not right, that you’re missing something. It’s a worse feeling than being lost on an unknown highway. What you need is someone to give you direction.

As I have mentioned, the man clearly holds Jesus in high esteem as seen by his humble approach, but he does something unusual, he addresses Jesus with the title “Good Teacher”. This may not sound all that unusual to you, but Jews of that day did not throw around the word “good” like we do today.

When we speak of something good, it means we like it; “that was a good song”, or “that food was really good”. Good to the Jews had very little to do with whether they liked something or not. Rather, good had to do with something’s moral quality. They would not call something good lightly, if at all. Typically, the only thing the Jews would consistently describe as good, was God. This man would have known this, and so would Jesus. That is why Jesus challenged him in verse 18-19—“Why do you call Me good?”

Some say that the man was mocking Jesus by calling Him good, or using kissing up to Him, but again, I believe the man’s question was sincere. The effect of Jesus’ challenge was essentially, “do you realize what you’re saying? Are you sure you want to call me that?”

There are two formulas that shed light on this exchange, and you might write these down. First, Jesus’ challenge suggests:
1. God alone is good, you do not believe me to be God, therefore, do not call me good.
2. Second, God alone is Good. If you want to call me Good, take the next step and believe me to be God

I want you to put a circle around the one that you believe Jesus would prefer to see happen. Now, look down at the beginning of verse 20, and put a check mark by the possibility the man picks.

You can see that the man understood Jesus’ correction because he drops the title of “good” when next speaking to Jesus. This shows that he might have though highly of Jesus, but was not ready to make a statement of faith about Him, to believe in Him.

Even though the man was unwilling to make such a commitment, Jesus was still willing to deal with him and answer his questions. Jesus knew that this man would have an understanding of the Law, so when He mentioned the Commandments it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. His answer was pretty standard for a good Jew and was likely the kind of answer this man had heard all his life.

What is significant, is that Jesus listed all those Commandments that dealt with a persons’ relationship with other people. No mention of one’s relationship with God is made at this point. This is not to say that Jesus considers the others, the ones dealing with God, are less important or unnecessary, rather, Jesus will fill in that aspect later. However, not only are these commands dealing with relations between people, they are also the most external and easily seen by oneself and the public eye. In other words, these were the easiest to claim good adherence to.

For someone who is desperately seeking an answer, I believe Jesus’ answer was extremely frustrating and disappointing at this point in the conversation.
These external commands were something that the man had heard all his life. It’s like what happens to us when we struggle with our Christian walk and all we hear is Pray and Read your Bible. Those things are good and vital, but if that’s the only answer, help or assistance, it’s not always the insight and discipleship we need.

And because they were things he could do in relation to other people he thought he could say that he had kept all these. Many of us today consider ourselves to be good. Most of us are very moral in the way we treat other people. That doesn’t make us arrogant to think so. Like this man, we have to realize that just being a good person is not enough, it certainly doesn’t merit eternal life.

► I can easily see this man near tears, saying in an exasperated voice, “That’s it? All these I have kept since I was a boy”. Come on Jesus, I know and feel that there’s got to be something more to it than that.
► He is frustrated with this answer
► He has heard it before
► He knows there has got to something more

To get a sense of what he may have been feeling at this point, consider this, we all have experienced times when you were hoping that someone had the information to assist you. Think back to your childhood to a time when you did not know how to spell a word. If you’re anything like me, then most of you would have gone to a parent and asked them how to spell it. Whenever I did that, the most frustrating thing they could say to me was “Well, did you look it up in the dictionary?” Because my thought always was, if I can’t spell it, how can I possibly look it up in the dictionary? More than likely, they were trying to teach me how to find answers for myself, but sometimes I think they just didn’t know how to spell it themselves and used that answer as a way to avoid showing me that they didn’t know how to spell the word themselves. It was a cop-out in other words. Jesus’ words were no cop-out, rather, they were more of a test of his heart. The man’s exasperation showed the intensity of his heart.

That is why v. 21 makes the point so strongly that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus didn’t condemn him, didn’t ridicule him, didn’t laugh at him, didn’t throw up His hands and say—“why am I wasting my time with you?”It is not a moment of pity, but of warmth and patience at seeing his struggle and heart. It shows Jesus’ desire to bring him to the next level in relationship with God. Instead, Jesus says:

“One thing you lack”—at hearing this, the man probably leaned in to hear what it was. Now, there wasn’t just one thing that was keeping this man from receiving eternal life, rather, Jesus was getting to the heart of what would prevent him from truly following God. And here, I can picture the man excited to hear what that one thing is because it was the answer above what he had always heard.—“OK, this is it, what I’ve been waiting for.”

Jesus gives the man five command statements: Go, Sell, Give, Come, and Follow Me. These are not five separate commands, but rather, five motions signaling one decision. Despite how it looks, especially in English translations, the most important part of that statement is “Follow Me”. This is where Jesus deals with the man’s relationship with God. This is essentially a call to the man to become Jesus’ disciple; it is the same kind of call that we see Peter, Andrew, James and John receiving in Mark 1:16-20. If this man was truly interested in eternal life, he would have to follow Jesus. Anything that gets in the way of Following Jesus must be csat aside—Hebrews 12:1-2a

The same is true for you and me. If you are confused about where you’re going in life, what you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to live then Jesus’ answer will be—“Follow Me”—it will never be more complicated than that. Anything that prevents you from “Following Him” must be Left Behind.

Remember, I want you to forget for the moment what you know about this man. Consider this as if it were the first time you have read this passage, because at this point, Mark has told us nothing more about him.

Right in the middle of Jesus’ statement, He interjects a promise: “you will have treasure in heaven”. This seems to be exactly what the man was asking for. It speaks to the blessing of God that the man would like to inherit. More important, however, this statement speaks to the value of the relationship we can have with God. It is a treasure, immeasurably valuable. It would be exciting, it would be the kind of news that makes you jump up and down and bring tears to your eyes.

But this is not the type of reaction that we see in this man. V. 22 says it all. His face fell and he went away sad. He what? Why on earth would he walk away sad from the prospect of getting a treasure?

That is the reaction of the person who hears this story for the first time. Sometimes today, we miss little details in the text because we are too familiar with them. We know some stories so well, they don’t shock us anymore. To a first time listener, because in the early church, the Gospels were typically read to the congregation, this man’s reaction was the exact opposite of what was expected.

It’s like a child on Christmas morning that thinks his greatest desire is in a particular box, the one you’ve been asking Mom & Dad about for months. The “Red Ryder BB Gun” if you remember “A Christmas Story” movie. You’ve measured, shaken, and guessed that this is it. Then from the word “Go”, you head for that box and start ripping off the wrapping paper, your excitement building with every satisfying rip of the paper. And when you get down to the box, it doesn’t tell you anything, so you start working on the taped cover. And of course, whoever wrapped it used too much tape so you start biting at the tape to get this stupid lid off. You finally break through that last bit of tape and rip open the box and look inside… When you look in there, it’s not the toy you wanted after all. Can you feel your face fall, feel the sadness and despair in that moment? No matter what the toy is, it’s not what you wanted. The rest of that morning, no matter how many presents you unwrap, your heart and mind will still be focused on the disappointment of that moment.

That is the kind of reaction that this man had. That is how shocking it was to him, and to the first time listener who at this point does not know why he would walk away from Jesus.

This is actually the first and only rejection of a personal call from Jesus in the Gospels. The greatest evangelist the world has ever seen; the one with more truth than anyone else on earth, before or since; the only one who Has the directions for life you need, who can lead you into a personal relationship with God, was rejected.

Why would the man’s face fall? Now we find out why—vs. 22b. The man had great wealth. Can you hear the “oh”’s and “so that’s why” from the first time listeners? His wealth is the reason he is not willing to follow Jesus; his wealth was his stumbling block. He apparently valued his own earthly treasures more than the “treasure in heaven” that Jesus promised.

Don’t we do that? Don’t we value our things more than God? Don’t we hold on to something that keeps us from following His directions? Do you realize how stupid that is? Here were getting the best directions we’ve ever had and we ignore Him entirely b/c we think we know better. I know I’m the one lost and asking, but I think I’m going to do _________ anyway. “then why did you bother to ask. You’re not going to get there the way you’ve been going”

This is not to say that wealth in and of itself is bad, rather, when you trust your wealth more than you trust God, you’re saying it is more important. In essence, you have become an idolater.

In his prosperity, the rich man was trusting in what he had accomplished and what he could do. Jesus wanted to take his attention from his accomplishments and focus it on reliance upon God, not self. He had asked Jesus for directions on how to get to heaven but was not willing to follow them

When Jesus looked around at His disciples in vs. 23-24, the man was probably still in sight. They were watching him go. After the rich man had run to catch them, not behaving like a wealthy dignitary, his back was now to them and he was walking away. Jesus, the master teacher, used this opportunity to summarize the encounter and teach His disciples about the cost of discipleship. He was stating directly, that wealth can be a hindrance to a right relationship with God. It is not the only hindrance, but it was the last thing the disciples expected to hear. READ 23-24

In their day, wealth was mistakenly seen as an automatic sign that God was pleased with someone. It wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now. The size of your bank account is no indication of God’s blessing or whether His is pleased with the direction of your life. Jesus was asserting that their traditional understanding was mistaken. Those listening were forced to ask themselves whether they could give up all their possessions in order to follow Jesus. So are you. You are forced to ask yourselves the same question, “would I be willing to sell all that I have to follow Jesus?”

Jesus’ statement shocked and amazed His disciples. In their mind, if anyone was going to enter into the Kingdom of God, it would be the wealthy. Then, he said it again just in case they were assuming He didn’t really mean that. This time, however, Jesus expanded the statement to say that obtaining eternal life and entering the Kingdom of God is difficult for everyone. It’s not about money, it’s not about what you bring to the table. It is beyond everyone’s ability; the problem is the sin that is present in all of us, regardless of our pocketbook.

To emphasize this point, Jesus told the Jewish proverb in v. 25 of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle. This statement is intended to create a picture in one’s mind of something impossible. Some have tried to soften this statement and make the “Eye of the Needle” a gate or doorway in the walls around the city of Jerusalem. There is no archaeological evidence of such a gate, nor was that interpretation proposed until the 9th Century AD but more importantly, such attempts miss the point. It impossible for anyone to earn their way to heaven.

The disciples react with complete disbelief, in vs. 26. The listening audience would have reacted the same way and asked the same question the disciples did, “who then can be saved?”
Everyone reading this account, was then and is now, brought to the same question. How can it be done? How can anyone get into heaven and be with God?

The God’s honest answer, is that you cannot. Just as it is impossible to get a camel through the eye of a needle, it is impossible for you or anyone to buy, fight, or earn their way into heaven. It is not something bestowed upon you just for being here. READ v. 27

Jesus says for humanity, the way to heaven is impossible. But it is not impossible with God. God and God alone can do it. Just like Jesus is willing, God is willing to give us directions to heaven and also pave the way for us.

The directions are to “Follow Christ”

Follow Him to the Cross
Follow His path of Forgiveness
Follow Him in a New way of Life

The way was paved by His blood shed on the Cross. It was finished in the Power of the Resurrection

Many of you may see yourself in the same way the rich man saw himself at the beginning. You’ve heard and tried all there is to try and get in a right relationship with God and be secure in your place in heaven. But for all you’ve tried, you still feel frustrated and even desperate. Like this man you need to see that Jesus is the one you can come to ask for directions and any other question. He is more than willing to answer you and show you the way. Jesus won’t make fun of you, won’t get irritated at you. He has been there before us and knows the way. Jesus is looking forward to showing you. Instead of walking away from this moment sad, with a burden still on your heart, come to Him, run up to Him and fall before Him. Will you come and follow Him?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

National Day of Prayer--Rethinking 9/11

First let me say that if you did not go to the National Day of Prayer events in Macomb or your town, then you missed a blessing. I know you did here. Many faithful ministers came together with a crowd of people to praise God and pray for our nation.

Along those lines, on Wednesday nights we've been going through Hosea. As a refresher, Hosea is called of God to marry an unfaithful wife--one who repeatedly leaves him and chases after other men. Gomer's unfaithfulness is so bad that only one of their 3 children is definitely his. In each moment of unfaithfulness, Hosea reaches out to his wife and brings her home. On one occasion, he literally buys her from a slave auction for double her asking price. Amazingly, Hosea was willing to pay any price to get back or redeem what was already his.

This is supposed to be a living picture of how God dealt with Israel--waywardness, reaching out--in this case through calamity in the Assyrian invasion, followed by redemption.

Of course, the pattern isn't unique to Israel, God, our faithful husband, continually sees you and me leave Him, He calls out for our return and then redeems us by paying the ultimate price. He accomplished this in the life, death & resurrection of Jesus.

After last night's study, I was talking with a member about our actions as individuals and as a country and how God chooses to deal with us. As you may know, it is the good times which are most dangerous to a vibrant and passionate faith. We tend only to look to God when we "need" Him. Until we need Him, we go our own way. God knows this and is willing to do whatever it takes to draw us back to His side.

So many talk of 9/11 and related events like Katrina as God's judgment on a guilty nation. There is undoubtedly and element to that. But I believe we are missing something if we only look at it that way.

Hosea reminds us what God's intent is, what God wants above all--our return to Him. In that respect, 9/11 shouldn't just be looked at as an angry, judgmental God but as a desperate, passionate plea from a loving husband to His wayward wife.

No matter what you have done, I will receive you--Return to Me with a heart seeking forgiveness. His hand is open up to us--He is desperately trying to rescue us from our waywardness.

All our blessings, all our good things are from Him and we squander them. And despite it all, He still loves us and wants us back. 9/11 was such a moment, when the hand of God moved in a desperate attempt to call those He loves back to Him. Revelation describes Jesus as "the Lover coming for His Bride" (to quote 'He Is' by Aaron Geoffrey), but we don't have to wait to "the end" to see this in our Savior. You can see it in how He continually reaches out to us, in order to call us home, despite our unfaithfulness.

Here are a few samples from Hosea taken out of the NIV. I pray that we will respond to God's desperate call to return to Him because He is more interested in our return than our happiness or our comfort. And if we ignore these pleas, what will it take to make us truly "need" Him?

HOS 2:8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,who lavished on her the silver and gold--which they used for Baal.

HOS 5:4 "Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD.

HOS 9:10 "When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.

HOS 11:1 "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
HOS 11:2 But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
HOS 11:3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.
HOS 11:4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.

HOS 13:4 "But I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me.
HOS 13:5 I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat.
HOS 13:6 When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.

HOS 2:9 "Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens,and my new wine when it is ready. I will take back my wool and my linen, intended to cover her nakedness.

HOS 2:12 I will ruin her vines and her fig trees,which she said were her pay from her lovers;I will make them a thicket,and wild animals will devour them.

HOS 2:14 "Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.
HOS 2:15 There I will give her back her vineyards...
HOS 2:16 "In that day," declares the LORD, "you will call me `my husband'; you will no longer call me `my master. '

HOS 2:19 I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.
HOS 2:20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.

HOS 3:1 The LORD said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes."

HOS 14:1 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
HOS 14:2 Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: "Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.

May we truly return to Him with words of Repentance in response to a desperate plea from a loving God.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Pastor Kelly Reed

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Preacher's Miracle

An amazing thing happened at the youth group Monday night. 2 of the 3 students present said that the topic of my sermon Sunday morning had come up during the course of a conversation! In a good way at that! Do you realize how rare a thing that is? Most sermons are gone from mind & memory within 10 minutes of leaving church (if that), so this was a very encouraging moment. Since I'm always looking for material to post, I thought I could begin with myself and begin posting my sermons from the previous Sunday. So here is the one that contributed to life beyond Sunday morning.

Title: Are We the “Have to” Church or the “Get to” Church?

I recently read an account of a church up in Seattle, Washington that sent out letters to all of its members informing them that the next Sunday would be “No Excuse to Stay Home Sunday”. According to the letter:
Ø Cots would be available for those who say Sunday is their only day to sleep.
Ø Eye drops would be supplied for those who have red eyes from watching light Saturday night TV shows.
Ø There would be steel helmets for those who say the roof would cave in if they ever went to church
Ø Blankets for persons who think the church is too cold
Ø Personal Fans for those who say it is too hot
Ø Scorecards for those wishing to list all of the hypocrites present
Ø TV dinners for those who can’t go to church and also cook dinner.
Ø Finally, the sanctuary would be decorated with Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them.

We can have many excuses for not being here, but our motive FOR being here is what’s more important. Motive—is the inner drive that moves you to action. Why do you do what you do? What are you doing it for? What are you hoping to get out of the behavior? How does your decision satisfy some need?

Motive is a very important issue. Murder investigations often turn on whether a motive for the crime is found. Many times we mistrust an offer for help if we question the motive of the one offering it.
We often assign great motives to the Good Samaritan because of his sacrificial giving to the man robbed on the road, but how would your perspective of the Good Samaritan change if he had said the only reason he helped was so he could get points for his merit badge, or it was an assignment or so he could get off probation? My opinion would change significantly.

God often addresses motive when people come to worship Him. Isaiah 1:13-17—“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”

God sees right through the outward show and into our hearts. He knows that public worship can easily be a hiding place for sinful hearts. No one will suspect as long as we put on a good show. God sees through all of that.

People in Malachi’s day thought they could fool God with insincere offerings. Malachi 1:13-14 —"When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD. 14 "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations.”

God knew their worship was half-hearted and empty, they didn’t mean it—they didn’t really love God, didn’t really want to please Him or draw close to Him; otherwise they would have offered their best.

We have not changed all that much today. While we do not bring animals to sacrifice to worship God—we are supposed to be offering our bodies as living sacrifices. Romans 12:1—“ Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.

Your motive for being here will change the life of University Baptist Church and will Unlock a Passionate Faith within you.

I’m going to highlight 2 kinds of churches this morning—2 different attitudes that you and I can approach a Sunday morning or any church activity. We need to figure out whether we are a “Have to” church or a “Get to” church.

Can you imagine the contrast in a Sunday morning conversation—which one inspires a greater sense of Passion & Expectation—

The Have to Attitude sounds like this—“Hey! Get up! We have to go to church today.—Oh man, why do we have to go again?—Because I don’t want all those calls from people wondering where we were or what was wrong. You’ve got 10 minutes!” Ever had one of those conversations?

The Get to Attitude says—“Get Up! We get to go to church this morning—why do we have to go again?—because we get to go to church and be a part of what the Creator of the Universe is doing, we get to hear from Him, to Praise Him, to serve Him. Sleep later!

1. “Have to” Churches
a. Are about duty, are about obligation, guilt and appearances. There is no heart in what they are doing because it is more like a chore than an opportunity. They lack joy, excitement, passion and zeal. The heart for ministry, serving others, and reaching the community has dried up.

b. I remember speaking to a woman in Missouri about her son. He was very helpful in the restaurant a few years ago when it was fun and he wanted to be helpful, but now that he’s a little older and the newness has worn off, she can’t get him to do anything. He has to be there now, he doesn’t want to be there.

c. What does a Have To church look like?—honestly, it’s very hard to tell the difference from the outside, especially when it’s empty. Both Have To and Get To churches have the same types of buildings, often use similar musical instruments, same 16th century seating. Have To churches can be young or old So long as the church is empty, it has the potential to be either one. What makes it a Have To or Get To is what the people bring with them—the state of their hearts—God told Samuel that “Man looks at the outward appearance but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)

d. No Smiling--Genuine Smiles are not very welcome in the Have To church. They’ll have smiles on, but they’ll be fake, it’ll be a show—about as genuine as a cubic zirconium or plastic pearls. Either you’re a fake smiler or you’re to be Stoic, straight faces are preferred.

e. A have to church often looks grumpy b/c they’d rather be somewhere else. They wake up on Sunday mornings (and probably every morning for that matter) looking at life like it was a burden to be endured. It’s hard to see the happiness.

f. There are no friendly welcomes. Since the have to’s don’t really want to be there themselves, they certainly won’t be glad to see you!

g. No Early Arrivals or Lingering Groups—people will bolt for the door as quickly as possible

h. No Fighting for the Volunteer Sign-Up Pen but there is an Ambulance after the Business Meeting

i. The Complaint Box is Bigger and Fuller than the Offering Plates

j. What does a Have To church sound like?—unhappy, and uninspiring, more legalistic with a long list of do’s and don’ts that must be repeated often. Singing is tolerated though not everyone does it, and joyous, full-throated singing is frowned upon. There are more complaints than compliments, excuses more than offers, unspoken rules rather than grace, bitterness more than friendship.

k. Kind words are shallow and insincere. Starting in Romans 3:10—Paul talks about those who are not righteous, who don’t understand, who don’t seek God—he describes them with their mouths full of cursing and bitterness. Bringing a Have To attitude into church kills its spirit and joy.

l. What does a Have To church accomplish?—I can sum it up in 2 words--not much—there is no heart for service, no sense of expectation of what God is doing, no desire, no want. Lives don’t get changed, there’s no drive to invite people b/c the “have to’s” don’t believe there is anything to offer.

m. Have To churches look, sound and accomplish the same things that the Israelites did when they were wandering around in the desert. Look at Numbers 11:4—“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost--also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"

n. Do you hear the complaints? Do you hear the talk about the good old days when they were slaves in Egypt? For 40 years the Israelites accomplished very little. An 11 day walk took them 40 years. They couldn’t go forward until the Have To’s—those who asked—“do we have to go in and take on those giants?”—until they died off. Only then could the people move on to Victory. Have to Churches will never experience the victory that Christ has for them. Have To churches will slowly die off.

o. What does God think of Have To churches?—
p. Hosea 6:4 says, “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears… vs. 6 continues—“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

q. God knows when Love is sincere—Have To churches go through the motions because their supposed to, not because they have a burning desire to worship Him above all else. Revelation 2:4 puts the Have To church like this—“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love—Rev. 3:16—“So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” He can hold it against us that we have forsaken our first love, He does evaluate our passion and desire for Him.

r. Contrast that to Get To churches.
2. Get to” Churches
a. Are about Service, Opportunity, True Worship and Testifying about Him. Get to churches see God as the Pearl of Great Price—worth selling all you have to possess. Get To churches enjoy being around each other, enjoy the opportunity to change people’s eternity.

b. What do Get To churches look like?—they’re excited about the opportunity to be surrounded by people who love God. They are looking for His work, excited about the daily miracles all around. I’m sure there had to be some Israelites who woke up those 40 years in the desert, seeing the manna thinking—“there really is a miracle every morning. I really can trust God for my life.Plenty of welcoming smilesPlenty of Guests that want to figure out what all the excitement’s about.Early Arrivals & Lingering GroupsThere are No Vacancies on Service Opportunities
c. What do Get To churches sound like?—joyful noises are allowed and encouraged. You hear Passionate voices in Worship, Prayer & Greeting. There is a passion in their voices when they sing or talk about their church family. Excitement is brimming. I prefer being around upbeat and excited people. Get To people don’t mope and complain about opportunities to serve, they ask for ways to help.Get to churches hear the words—“How can I help?”

d. What do Get To churches accomplish?—Get To churches are the overachievers. They are reaching people with a passion and success. They are the ones outsiders look at and say—what are they doing that we aren’t doing? How are they growing?

e. Get to Churches account for more Decisions for Christ, more Baptisms and sent out Missionaries, or Calls into the Ministry; more Glory & Praise of God.
f. The excitement of “Get to” churches is contagious—it works better than yawning in a crowded room! They accomplish more than expected.
g. What does God think of Get To churches?— Scripture tells us that God actually seeks people to worship Him—He seeks those that will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth—with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Those phrases we all want to hear, God speaks of Get To churches, “Well done my good and faithful servants”.
h. What church would you rather be a part of? A Have to Church or a Get to Church?

i. Which kind are we, which kind of attitude are you bringing with you to church because we have the potential to be either one? What evidence do you see that we are a “have to” church? What evidence is there that we are a “get to” church? What can you bring to UBC to make it a passionate “Get to” church that grows the Kingdom of God?

j. If you really want to unlock a passionate faith, then don’t make church a “have to”, chore kind of thing. Make it a “get to” a “want to” kind of thing. When opportunities to serve and minister come up like VBS or the Clothing drive don’t roll your eyes and start planning your excuses but ask how you can be a part of something that God is doing. You won’t get much out of your faith, it will be dry and empty, IOW, it won’t be passionate, if you’re not putting much into your faith.