When I was in the first grade, everyone in my class made a present for their dad. Smoking was very popular then, so many of us made an ash tray for our fathers. The one I made might pass for modern art today. You would not know that it was an ash tray unless I told you it was an ash tray. It was an ugly brown, reasonably square, and extremely crude. Less than a year after I gave Dad his ash tray, he quit smoking.

A few years ago following my Dad's death, I helped Mom go through Dad's things. I saw the ash tray.

In Joyce's sewing corner, there is a framed drawing of Joyce standing by her sewing machine. She has her signature bun atop her head and a cat on her arm. The picture was drawn by our daughter when she was quite young. It is no great work of art, but it is not for sale.

The value of the ash tray and the drawing are not found in the ash tray and the picture. Their value is found in what they represent. The adults who received the ash tray and the picture understand their meaning.

  1. Permit me to ask you some key questions about why you are a Christian.
    1. What are your basic motivations for being a Christian?
    2. What are your basic reasons for being a Christian?
    3. What do you expect God to do for you because you choose to be a Christian?
      1. Are your expectations material?
        1. Do you expect God to help you make money?
        2. Do you expect God to help you achieve your material ambitions?
        3. Do you expect God to help you be successful?
        4. Do you expect God to position you in life and relationships in a way that makes your earthly dreams come true?
      2. Are your expectations spiritual?
        1. Is it enough for God to forgive your sins?
        2. Is it enough for God to reconcile you to Himself?
        3. Is it enough for God to allow His Spirit to live in you?
        4. Is it enough for God to allow you to exist in His mercy and grace?

  2. The conflict between God and Satan began before this material world existed.
    1. We know nothing about why that conflict began or how that conflict began.
      1. Any comment on the how and why of that conflict involves a lot of speculation based on little information.
      2. Revelation 12:7,12 speaks of a war in heaven between God's forces [Michael and his angels] and the devil and his angels.
        1. The devil and his angels lost the war in heaven.
        2. When they lost in heaven they were forced to come to earth.
      3. In Luke 10 Jesus sent seventy men out in pairs to all the cities and places that he planned to visit.
        1. They returned informing Jesus that even the demons obeyed them when they used Jesus' name.
        2. Jesus responded by saying, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightening."
    2. While there is no question that the conflict between God and Satan is by our consideration ancient, we must understand that the war is about far more than us.
      1. If we conclude that humanity is the reason for the war, we exaggerate our significance.
      2. The moment evil became a reality in human life, people became the battlefield for this war.
      3. The war is older than we are, but we are the present battlefield, not the reason.
    3. This war between good and evil has basic significance to each one of us.
      1. The truth: nothing is more important in your existence than this war.
        1. You are eternal.
        2. This war is not.
        3. When this war is completely over, you will still exist.
        4. As long as you live on earth you will be part of the battlefield.
        5. But when you die, you will join the force that used your life.
      2. Each of us can accept reconciliation with God by giving self to Jesus Christ.
        1. We can make peace with God.
        2. We can accept forgiveness.
        3. We can let God use our lives for His purposes.
        4. We can live and serve in God's grace.
        5. If we oppose evil in our lives by serving God's purposes, we will join the victorious God and Jesus Christ when we leave this life.
      3. Each of us can oppose God's purposes by allowing evil to use us in this world.
        1. We can help evil be more deceptive by doing nothing.
        2. We can endorse and approve of evil's objectives and agenda.
        3. We can refuse to think about it and do what gives us pleasure.
        4. We can become aggressively involved in promoting evil.
        5. If we allow evil to use us to encourage, strengthen, or serve its purposes, we will join the defeated Satan when we enter that other world.
      4. There are two things we must clearly understand.
        1. First, we are part of the battlefield.
          1. Just living in this world makes us a part of the battlefield.
          2. That is not a choice that we make.
          3. The conflict between good and evil will occur in our lives.
        2. Second, we will live in that world when we leave this world.
          1. We will join God's victorious force, or we will join Satan's defeated force.
          2. We will not choose which force we join then.
          3. Now we choose which force we will join by the way we use life--to assist the purposes of God or to assist the purposes of Satan.

  3. The turning point in this war came when Jesus lived and died.
    1. The turning point came when the kingdom of God became a spiritual reality in this world.
      1. When John the baptizer preached in the wilderness, this was the foundation of his message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2).
      2. Immediately after Jesus' wilderness temptations, Jesus began to preach saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).
      3. Early in his ministry Jesus explained to his disciples, "I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose" (Luke 4:43).
      4. When Jesus sent the twelve out to preach and teach only to Israelites, he said, "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 10:7).
      5. When the seventy disciples went out in pairs, this was their message: "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (Luke 10:9).
    2. The evidence from the gospel writings is clear: the foundation message of Jesus' ministry was that God's kingdom was coming into existence.
      1. What was meant by the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven? [The Jews regarded the word God as too sacred to pronounce, so writings to the Jews use the word "heaven" as a substitute for the word "God."]
      2. To those who heard it, the message was simple: God's rule is ready to become a reality on this earth.
        1. God would rule the hearts and minds of people as He had never ruled on earth before.
        2. To be prepared to accept God's rule, they needed to repent.

  4. American Christians developed a very selfish faith in a very unselfish God.
    1. Often our message is this: "Be baptized into Jesus Christ because he will make your dreams come true."
      1. "He will give you a better job."
      2. "He will give you more money and possessions."
      3. "He will give you a better family."
      4. "He will help you be successful."
      5. "He will give you a good retirement."
      6. "He will protect you from all your fears."
      7. "And, by the way, he will throw heaven in the deal, too."
    2. So Christianity is about us, not about God's war with evil, not about God's rule in the hearts and minds of men.
      1. Everything spiritual is about us, not about God.
      2. So we blame God when we do not get what we want.
      3. So we justify doing wicked things when we must do evil to get what we want.
      4. We were told that God wants us to be happy, therefore God wants us to do whatever will make us happy. And, because of that perverted view, there is great spiritual sickness among Christians.

Do you refuse evil because God rules your life? Do you practice godliness because God rules your life? Have you educated your conscience to respond to God's rule? Do you try to force God to serve your purposes, or do you exist to serve God's purposes?

Even when we are ruled by God, our service to God is as crude as the ash tray I made Dad or the picture Anita drew for Joyce. But God understands. He understand our reasons and motives when we seek to honor His rule in our lives--and when we don't.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 28 May 2000

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