I want to introduce our visitors to two people who are well known in this congregation. I do this with permission. First, I want to introduce you to Jonette Shirley. Jonette had the symptoms of a respiratory infection last Thanksgiving. In early January, she was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. On Saturday, March 31, we joined Paul and his family in thanking God for the blessing Jonette had been to us and in burying her body. Jonette died just a few days before her 50th birthday.

photo of Shirley family
Jonette & husband
photo of Word family
James & family

Second, I want you to meet James Word. He is a Christian man with a sweet spirit and a caring heart. He helps coordinate our mission committee and foreign mission work. By occupation, James has been an Emergency Room doctor at Saint Edward Hospital for several years. He is in his early 50's. In recent days he had a stroke that has for the moment robbed him of the use of his right arm and leg. This morning he is with us. Right now he is a patient in Saint Edward Hospital as he begins rehab.

Of all the people on earth, Americans probably have the most developed, stable lifestyle known. We likely have the most predictable, advanced lifestyle in the world. But with all we seem to have, we are constantly reminded of two truths: life is unpredictable, and life is unstable. Do you doubt that life is unpredictable and unstable? We struggled with an ice storm as this year began. How stable and predictable was your life? The stock market recently plunged dramatically. Did that affect your life? We are told that gasoline prices may rise to more than three dollars a gallon in the next five years. If that happens, do you know what that will do to your life?

  1. What is your personal view of God?
    1. More importantly, how did you acquire your personal view of God?
      1. Did your view of God come from someone's traditional views handed down to you?
      2. Is your view of God built on pieces of hearsay that you fit together like a puzzle?
      3. Is your view of God based on fragments of thoughts that appeal to you?
    2. Which of these two concepts better describe your thoughts about God?
      1. "God is a human invention created by human minds in an attempt to find stability in an unstable world."
      2. Or, "God is the highest reality of all existence who helps people cope with an unstable world."
    3. "Who are you people and what are you about?"
      1. That is a fair question, and it could be answered in many ways.
        1. To answer the question well, I would need to know what you mean by what you ask.
        2. Let me share a general answer in the hope it can be a foundation for understanding.
      2. We are a people who believe that God is the highest reality of all existence, and He has enormous personal interest in people and concern for people.
        1. We believe that God made an sacrificial commitment to people's well being by providing the solution for our number one problem in an unstable, unpredictable world.
        2. We believe that God interacts with people in compassion because He cares.
      3. Because we believe those things, we seriously seek to teach ourselves and others how to base daily life on God.
        1. We are serious about honoring God for His love and compassion--that is why we worship.
        2. We are serious about allowing God to teach us life's purpose, to define for us life's priorities, and to reveal to us life's realities.
    4. "Excuse me, but something you keep saying disturbs me."
      1. "You prefaced those statements with 'we believe.'"
        1. "What you seem to say is that you are a people who use faith to consider the most important questions of life."
        2. "When people talk about life's purposes, life's priorities, and life's realities, they are talking about extremely serious matters."
        3. "I am all for having faith, but it makes me nervous to include faith in such serious matters."
        4. "I think there are some things that are just too serious for faith."
      2. First, you are quite correct: we are a people of faith who constantly learn how to use faith in the serious matters of life."
      3. Second, you live by faith every day of your life.
        1. I doubt that any of us regard any consideration more serious than the realistic possibility of dying.
        2. Yet, as an act of faith, in faith, you place your health and your possible death on the line every single day when you get in a car to drive or to ride as a passenger.
      4. "How is that an act of faith? How is 'believing' involved when I get in a car?"
        1. You have faith that every single car or truck you meet in oncoming traffic is mechanically sound.
        2. You believe that your own car or truck is mechanically sound.
        3. You believe that every driver you meet is sufficiently healthy to drive safely, is trained to drive, knows how to make good judgments driving, is not too tired to drive, is not under the influence of alcohol, and is not under the influence of any kind of drug that would impair their judgment.
        4. If you are the driver, you believe that you will make the right decision instantly in any given situation.
      5. That is a lot of faith in a matter that could determine your health for the rest of your life, and could even determine when you die.

  2. "As you use God to determine the purpose, priorities, and realities of life, how do you use faith?" Let me share two basic faith concepts with you.
    1. Our first faith concept is this: we believe that God seeks our greatest good as we live in and cope with an evil world.
      1. I am quite aware many things are legitimately a part of that understanding.
        1. That concept does not mean that we believe that nothing bad can or will happen to us.
        2. It means that no matter what happens, God is firmly committed to our "greatest good."
      2. The challenging problem lies in our understanding of "greatest good."
        1. Who defines what is in our "greatest good?"
        2. Does God make that definition? Or do we?
        3. Does God understand what is in our greatest good when we do not or when we even disagree with God?
      3. Consider an illustration based on realities all teenagers and all parents of a teenagers understand.
        1. Conscientious, caring parents of teens seek the teens' "greatest good."
        2. The problem and frustration exists for both the teens and the parents because the teen's definition of "greatest good" and the parent's definition of "greatest good" are quite different.
          1. Most teens are convinced that their "greatest good" is to have a really nice car; many parents are convinced a teen having a really nice car is not in his or her best interest.
          2. Many teenage girls are convinced that their "greatest good" will be found by having the right look (the right body, the right clothes, the right physical presentation of self); most parents know that having the right look is temporary and focuses on life on the wrong values.
          3. Many teenage boys think their "greatest good" is found in developing the right image so they can be cool and have a girl with the right look; most parents understand that image can literally destroy a son's future.
          4. Because of different perspectives and different levels of maturity, the teens' concept of "greatest good" and parents' concept of "greatest good" will never be identical.
      4. God is the greatest reality in life, a reality Who goes beyond death.
        1. Not only do we believe that He exists, but we believe He is the origin of life.
        2. His understanding, perspective, and maturity exists on levels we cannot approach.
        3. We are the teenager; He is the parent.
    2. Our second faith concept is this: once we exist, we never cease to exist.
      1. That is the basic meaning of "life after death": once we exist, we never cease to exist.
      2. That is the basic reality on which the judgment is based: once we exist, we never cease to exist.
      3. That is the basic reality of personal accountability and personal responsibility: once we exist, we never cease to exist.
      4. That is the basic truth of resurrection: once we exist, we never cease to exist.
      5. No issue is ever as simple as "here and now;" every issue involves eternity.
        1. "Why?"
        2. Once we exist, we never cease to exist.

  3. The fact that God seeks our greatest good and the fact that once we exist we never cease to exist are linked together.
    1. Jesus Christ links them.
      1. Because God seeks our "greatest good," He sent a part of Himself as the human Jesus to show us how to win the war against evil.
        Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
      2. God through Jesus paid the total price of every mistake, every act of evil that has been, is, or will be committed by any person.
        2 Corinthians 5:20,21 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
      3. God now patiently waits for us to turn to Him and live in His forgiveness.
        2 Peter 3:9-13 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

[Prayer: Help us understand why You sent Jesus Christ. Create in us the desire to turn to and belong to Jesus Christ.]

In your existence, what do you consider our greatest enemy? Poverty? A poor standard of living? Bad health? A terrible job? No job? No retirement? Death?

Paul urged the Christians at Ephesus to understand that our greatest enemy is not physical or material.

Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Our greatest enemy is not physical. Our greatest enemy is not material. Our greatest enemy uses the physical and the material to attack us now and to destroy our eternity.

But our greatest enemy is no match for Jesus Christ. If we dare to place our trust in Jesus Christ, he will help us survive now, and care for us in eternity.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 6 May 2001

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