People want the "ideal." We all want the "ideal." We want the ideal husband, the ideal wife, the ideal family, the ideal house, the ideal job, and the ideal congregation as we live in the ideal community.

Why? Why all our fascination with the ideal? Simple: we believe that if we experience the ideal, the ideal will eliminate our problems. We are deceived into believing that problems disappear when the ideal exists. We are deceived into believing that the answer to every type of problem is producing the ideal: the ideal person, the ideal situation, or the ideal circumstance.

Teens, are you an ideal child? Would you be the ideal child if you had ideal parents? Married ladies, are you the ideal wife? Would you be the ideal wife if you had the ideal husband? Married men, are you the ideal husband? Would you be the ideal husband if you had the ideal wife? All of you who work for paid, are you the ideal employee or the ideal boss? Would you be the ideal employee or the ideal boss if you had the ideal job?

Consider an irony. "I" never expect to be an ideal person, but "I" expect "you" to be an ideal person. The solution to my problems will exist when you are the ideal person. The fact that I am not the ideal person is irrelevant.

Are you the ideal Christian? Does God look at you and say, "You are just exactly what I want in a Christian man or woman!" No? Would any of us say that the reason we are not an ideal Christian is because God is not the ideal God or Jesus is not the ideal Savior?

  1. What type of person would be the ideal convert, become the ideal Christian?
    1. Let's describe the ideal convert, the ideal Christian.
      1. The ideal convert, the ideal Christian, is a person who has the right attitude toward Jesus.
        1. This person knows that Jesus is the source of eternal life.
        2. He or she is not ashamed to come to Jesus for eternal life.
        3. He or she humbles himself or herself before Jesus Christ.
        4. He or she wants to obey Jesus Christ.
      2. The ideal convert, the ideal Christian, has been a good moral person.
        1. He or she never killed anyone.
        2. He or she was never involved in sexual sin.
        3. He or she was never a thief.
        4. He or she was always an honest person.
        5. He or she always treated his or her family with respect.
      3. Does that sound like the ideal person to convert? Does it sound as if this man or woman has the potential for becoming the ideal Christian?
    2. Once, when Jesus was on a journey, a man ran to him, knelt before him, and asked, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life" (Mark 10:17-22)?
      1. Jesus said, "You know the commandments. 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
      2. The man answered, "I have always kept these commandments, even when I was a teenager."
      3. When Jesus looked at him, Jesus felt love for him.
      4. Jesus said, "You lack one thing: go sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
      5. When the man heard Jesus' instruction, gloom settled over him--you could see the gloom in his face.
        1. Jesus' instruction genuinely grieved him because he sincerely wanted eternal life.
        2. And he left; he did not follow Jesus.
        3. He owned a lot of property, and he valued his property more than he valued eternal life.
    3. If this person presented himself or herself to us, we would be elated that this committed, believing, upstanding person wanted to be a Christian.
      1. What a great attitude toward Jesus!
      2. What a person--he or she has great moral integrity!
      3. What a person--he or she wants to obey, who wants to be active!
      4. What a person--he or she has knowledge of and commitment to the will of God!
      5. What a person--he or she is genuine and sincere!
      6. And he or she has money--that is a powerful asset!
    4. Have you considered all the responses that Jesus could have given to this rich young man? From our perspective, Jesus could have handled the situation differently.
      1. He could have said, "You have so many right values--with time everything will work itself out."
      2. He could have said, "There are thirteen of us working full time in this ministry, and we surely could use your financial help."
      3. He could have said, "You have the basic attitudes that you need, and the mature attitudes will come later."
      4. He could have said, "It would be a real asset to my ministry if you were my disciple. You would bring a lot of credibility to my work."
      5. But Jesus didn't; he said, "You have a problem that you need to address."
    5. This man could not have eternal life unless he addressed the central issue in his life.
      1. He could not be Jesus' disciple if he did not address a basic heart problem.
      2. What problem? Jesus specifically addressed this heart problem in the sermon on the mount.
        Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
        1. The principle is simple: two powerful forces cannot control the same life.
        2. Does that mean a person must perfectly obey God every minute of every hour of every day? No, that is impossible. Perfect obedience is never an option.
        3. It means that we must settle the issue of who or what controls our lives.
        4. We decide who or what is in control of our life before we are locked into major conflict with evil or a major struggle with temptation.
        5. When we face a crisis, we decide before the crisis that God is in control.
      3. Jesus understood this simple truth: the person who truly follows him decides who is in control before he or she is in the middle of a struggle or crisis.
        1. The man genuinely wanted eternal life.
        2. The man honestly accepted the fact that Jesus could tell him how to obtain it.
        3. But the man was not willing to change masters.
          1. His life was controlled by his possessions.
          2. He was not willing to change from the controlling influence of his possessions to the controlling influence of Jesus.
      4. Jesus made him confront the real issue in his life: if you want eternal life, you must do what is necessary to change the master who controls you.

  2. Is your life empty? Do you feel like you have a great big hole right in the middle of you?
    1. Listen to me carefully.
      1. I did not ask you:
        1. If you feel too busy.
        2. If you feel stressed.
        3. If you feel over-committed.
        4. If you feel underappreciated.
        5. If you feel like you are chained to a treadmill.
      2. I asked you if your life feels empty?
        1. Regardless of what others see in you or say about you, do you feel empty?
        2. Regardless of the awards hanging on your wall, do you feel empty?
        3. Regardless of what your high school or college transcript says, do you feel empty?
        4. Regardless of the amount of money or possessions you have, do you feel empty?
      3. What does your emptiness do to you?
        1. When no one is watching you, does your emptiness break your heart?
        2. When you are alone, is your emptiness heavier than life?
        3. Does your emptiness depress you?
        4. Does your emptiness make you feel all alone?
        5. Does your emptiness make you feel like no one really cares?
        6. Does your emptiness cause you pain and suffering?
    2. If you struggle with emptiness, who or what controls your life?
      1. Money?
      2. Fear?
      3. Work?
      4. Ambition?
      5. Other people's expectations?
      6. The past?

  3. When God controls your life, God destroys your emptiness.
    1. Someone says, "Wait a minute, David! Not true, not true, not true! I have been a Christian for years, and I feel empty!"
      1. What do you mean when you say, "I have been a Christian for years?"
      2. Are you like the young man who ran to Jesus?
        1. You say Jesus is the source of eternal life.
        2. You keep all the commands.
        3. You live by the system and do all the right things according to the system.
      3. BUT, you have never put God in control of your life.
        1. God is not THE controlling force in your life.
        2. And, if right now, Jesus demanded that you make a decision about what you allow to control your life, God would lose.
        3. BUT, you are a Christian, an empty Christian, a Christian dissatisfied with the church, a Christian dissatisfied with other Christians. Why? Because you expect everything but you to be ideal.
    2. How do I know when God controls my life?
      1. I treat other people like I want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
      2. I refuse to stop loving other people (Romans 13:8).
      3. My words are a source of strength, encouragement, and grace to others--they joyfully listen to me because I build them up (Ephesians 4:29).
      4. I am committed to kindness, and I express kindness by forgiving others as Christ has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).
      5. I strengthen weak hands and feeble knees and make straight paths for the lame so the weak find healing (Hebrews 12:12,13).
      6. And by serving God through helping others, my emptiness is destroyed.

Question: do you have a religion that you follow through all the "right motions," or does God control your life?

[Prayer: God, help us destroy the emptiness by placing You in control.]

Many good things happen every week in this congregation, and I am grateful for each one of them. But there are members who have been in this congregation for years that feel like they are locked out and cannot get on the inside. I have heard their cry. There are members whose pain is bigger than life, people who grieve in silence because they are lonely and think no one cares. I have heard their cry. There are members who are crushed under their burdens and are convinced no one wants to help. I have heard their cry. May not one good thing die! But, may we touch the life of every person who feels locked out, abandoned, or insignificant. May we all hear each other's cry, and may we help each other.

May we let God destroy the emptiness. May we put God in control.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 27 February 2000

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