Many of us would not recognize the America of fifty years ago. We would not recognize the poverty, or the standard of living, or the economic conditions. People who died before 1955 never imagined the America of today could exist.

I challenge you to go home and pull out old family photographs from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Look at the people. But especially look at the background. When you do, you look at another world.

Many of you do not know that world existed. Many of you cannot accept my challenge. (Ask for a "painless" show of hands.) How many of you do not have a snap shot from the 1950s?

Those of us who were teens or adults in the 50s and 60s lived in a society that was confident that it could "fix" anything. In the annual State of the Union message to Congress delivered on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson officially declared war on poverty with these words:

Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope--some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

Included in the President's proposals were an expansion of the food stamp program, modernization of unemployment insurance, an expansion of the minimum wage law, school aid funds, building hospitals and nursing homes, hospital insurance for the elderly who were covered by Social Security, and an urban renewal program.

This war was declared in the conviction that human genius, human vision, human resources, human ingenuity, human intelligence, and human organization could solve any problem. It was based on this thesis: "Given opportunity, every person will improve himself or herself." This war would bring the Great Society into existence.

After forty years of war, poverty has not been defeated. However, the concept of personal responsibility is in intensive care. Blame is healthy. Accountability is dead.

  1. Please read with me Galatians 6:1-10.
    Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
    1. God's commission to Christians is founded on the law of Christ.
      1. Help those who struggle carry their load.
      2. Do not exaggerate your own significance.
      3. If you examine those two statements closely, one is a challenging responsibility, and one is a serious warning.
        1. If you help the burdened, you will not exaggerate your own significance.
        2. If you exaggerate your own significance, you will not help the burdened.
    2. A devastating obstacle confronts Christians who accept God's commission.
      1. The obstacle: deception.
      2. But the obstacle is a special form of deception: self-deception.
      3. No one can deceive me like I can deceive me.

  2. Paul focused on three forms of Christian self-deception.
    1. Form # 1 of self-deception: I exaggerate my sense of significance.
      1. "I am too important to help a person who was foolish and irresponsible enough to get caught in doing something wrong and suffering the consequences.
        1. "I am too spiritual to waste my time trying to help troubled people.
        2. "What troubled people need is a good heavy dose of reality and the pain of consequences--gentleness just encourages them to feel sorry for themselves and continue to live in their problems."
      2. Paul's response: the true nothing, the genuine nobody is the Christian who thinks he is something when he is nothing.
    2. Form # 2 of self-deception: "I can deceive God."
      1. "God is gullible.
        1. "God has to be easily deceived.
        2. "If God is full of grace, mercy, and compassion, and if God is so willing to forgive, God can be deceived."
      2. Paul's response: if you believe you can deceive God, you deceive only yourself.
        1. Each day I live, I plant a crop by the way I live.
        2. When harvest comes, I will harvest what I planted by the way I lived.
        3. If I live my life for the physical, my harvest will be a dead, decaying body.
        4. If I allow God's Spirit to direct me as I use life, God's Spirit will give me eternal life as my harvest.
        5. But if I believe that I can use my life to indulge my physically self, I will not receive eternal life.
    3. Form # 3 of self-deception: doing good fails; all it accomplishes is self-destruction.
      1. All that doing good achieves is my own discouragement.
        1. People take advantage of me.
        2. Christians who should understand me and encourage me discourage me.
        3. There are more burdened people than I can help. Some of those people tear my heart out and walk all over it.
        4. "There simply is not enough strength to keep on doing good."
      2. Paul's response: this is God's promise to the Christian who does good and helps struggling people: your harvest will be eternal life.
        1. That is God's assurance that cannot fail.
        2. Do not lose heart; do not get too tired to do good.
        3. Do good simply because you understand that is what God wants you to do.
        4. God did not ask you to solve all problems.
        5. God did not ask you to change the world.
        6. God asked you to do good.

  3. When a person commits himself or herself to teach or to shepherd, there is a lot of agony involved.
    1. Some of that agony is needless; it exists through a total misunderstanding of the church's purpose.
      1. Too many Christians believe that the purpose of the church is to "fix" the world, or "fix" the church, of "fix" the congregation, or "fix" people.
      2. We declare that our God-given purpose is to create solutions that produce incredible results.
        1. And we are deceived enough to think that we can do it and that we will do it--we will "fix" everybody and everything that is broken!
        2. So we will do something God could not do when evil entered our world.
        3. So we will do something that Jesus could not do in his ministry.
        4. So we will do something that Jesus could not do through his crucifixion and resurrection.
        5. So we will do something that the apostles could not do.
        6. We will create a situation that never existed in the first century church.
        7. But we can do it! We are American Christians! We are Christ's church!
    2. But just like President Johnson's war on poverty and commitment to the Great Society, our "fixes" often create more problems than they solve.
      1. The purpose of the church is not to fix the world, or society, or the universal church, or the congregation.
      2. The purpose of the church is to do good and to help the struggling.

  4. When you commit yourself to God's purposes in this world, it is common for that commitment to produce a lot of personal agony.
    1. There are few days when your preachers and your elders do not feel pain.
      1. There are very few hours that Brad, Ted, Roy, and I do not feel the agony of many situations.
      2. There are very few hours that Bill Dickey, Earl Food, Mat Griffin, and Bob Null do not feel the agony of many situations.
      3. There are very few hours that a number of men and women in this congregation who care do not feel the agony of many situations.
    2. "David, I have no idea what you are talking about."
      1. The agony of watching people live by priorities that are guaranteed to devastate their lives.
      2. The agony of watching people make decisions with no regard to godly values.
      3. The agony of watching people make "my" desires God's will.
      4. The agony of watching people expect God to neutralize years of ungodly choices quickly, easily, and painlessly.
      5. The agony of watching people blame God for situations that God had nothing to do with.
      6. The agony of watching people who use knowledgeable ignorance to make their opinions God's commands.
      7. The agony of watching people make unnecessary statements that discourage Christians who are committed to doing good.
      8. The agony of watching people impose impossible expectations on others while expecting nothing of themselves.
      9. The agony of watching people we love suffer because of bad choices they made years ago.
      10. The agony of watching people we love suffer because of bad choices someone else made.

[Prayer: God help us learn how to be Your people. Teach us how to do good and help the burdened. Teach us not to be the burden.]

At some point in life, no matter how we have been hurt, we must accept two responsibilities. Responsibility one: I must accept God's forgiveness by choosing to give my sins and my life to Jesus Christ. Responsibility two: I must choose to cooperate with God as He rebuilds my life.

About a month ago, I heard Monte Cox make this statement: "I tell my students they will never be more saved than they are right now. From the moment God forgives you, you were 100% saved. But, you can always be more godly than you are right now."

If you are in Jesus Christ, you are 100% saved. You live for Christ not to be more saved, but to be more godly.

But you must remember this fact: because you are saved does not mean that you will not hurt. In Christ there is peace even when there is suffering. The peace is experienced in reconciliation to God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 May 2000

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