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Sermon Transcript — September 3, 2005 Who Needs God? by Mr. Jim Franks It is nice to be here and I do bring you greetings from the brethren in Houston, all doing very well as far as I know, at least the last time I was there and saw them they were all doing very well and I notice a few Texans here today, you know they say you can always tell a Texan, you just can't tell him much! Now please take note, that's the first and the last negative thing you will ever hear me say about Texas , I saw Mr. Fenchel here today and that was for him! But Texas is a wonderful place to be, we've been there for a number of years, in fact it was probably the most emotional thing that I've done in all of the years I've been in the ministry was to make the announcement that we were leaving, a few weeks ago. In fact it was right on the heels of having a graduation ceremony for our seniors who were graduating from High School, we had 13 seniors graduating from high school in our congregation and shortly after that, two or three weeks later I had to make the announcement. Now this graduating class are young people who were born the year I came to Texas, so I was there when they were born, not literally there, but I was there when they were born, went to the hospital and visited them when they were born, blessed them as little children and now of course had them as they were graduating from high school so it was an emotional period of time for my wife and me. When I made the announcement in the congregation there was a gasp that went through the audience so we sort of all thought we were here until the Millennium, together! So we've had quite a good relationship and a bonding with the brethren there, so we're looking forward to moving now here to the Cincinnati area, we'll be checking that out, my wife was here for a few days this past week, we'll probably be back a couple of times before we actually make the move, but we're looking forward to getting settled in a new area and of course getting to know a lot of you, although for the past several years I think I've spent at least a month of each year here in Cincinnati so it's not completely unfamiliar to me or to my wife, so again, we'll be working on that over the next few weeks. But it is a joy to be here this afternoon on such a beautiful day here in Cincinnati. I'm sure most of you here are probably experiencing some of the same feelings that I felt this past week as you watched the news events and saw what had occurred down in New Orleans. The events of this past week really reminded me of how I felt when 9-11 occurred, you know you sort of sit in front of the television and you watch the news and you're mesmerized by all of these events and I found myself doing that virtually every day this past week. I mean who would have thought last Sabbath that we would come here today and we would have the news that a major American city had been evacuated and that 80% of it is under water. Incredible, I mean this is simply beyond imagination as to how horrible and how bad it is. I watched also the various people being interviewed and saw a couple of ministers that were interviewed, some well known names this past week and they were actually very angry when they were interviewed. One of them made this statement, he said, "I know (he didn't say I think) God is very angry with us for the way we've reacted to this tragedy." I thought that was pretty interesting, he can speak so boldly for God! There was another individual who was interviewed, he was a little kinder, he said, "Well I don't think God is very pleased with the way we have reacted to this tragedy." So here was another example of an individual who was speaking for God, felt that he had the opportunity or the privilege to speak for God. Well God is probably one of the most popular topics today in one sense and in fact recently there was an article that appeared in Time Magazine and it was titled God.com—you may have seen this particular article and according to the article, if you were to do a search on the Internet on AltaVista search on the word "sex" you would come up with 683,643 sites, that's what the search would bring up. But if you searched on the word "God" you would come up with 1,722,945 sites and the article went on to show that God is very popular, very popular on the Internet. People speak for God, people speak about God, people describe God, people have all kinds of ideas about God. The article actually traced the popularity of God down through the years and major milestones that have occurred such as the printing press and of course printing the bible and that popularized God. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation and how that popularized God and the bible and took it of course out of the Catholic domain completely. Then the article also mentioned the television program of Bishop Sheen in 1952 in which 30 million Americans watched that program every week. And then it came up to date to the Internet and where you have access to millions, possibly billons of people and of course all of this popularity of God has exploded the discussion of God - who is God, what is God and there are all sorts of Internet sites out there, there is one called GodNetwork.com, they have a TV program called God-TV. There's the church of the CyberC which is a Catholic site, then of course there are the sites that I call the God hate sites, you know they describe God as a hateful God who hates something. This is one site I found — God hates shrimp.com! And the site is all about the food laws and quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus that says God hates shrimp! Now they're selling t-shirts and refrigerator magnets that say "God hates shrimp." That's their little niche in talking about God. There was another site called "God hates figs.com!" This site, they try to be quite biblical, they quote the story of where Christ cursed the fig tree and then they claimed that all of the worlds evils are because people eat figs and this is their conclusion and their goal is to preach the message that God hates figs and if we could stop eating figs the world's problems would be solved! There are other sites — there is one site that's extremely hateful and it's really just disgusting to read some of the material, it's called God hates America.com. This is an actual quote, this is put up by a Baptist minister in the Carolinas, this is a quote from the website, "Thank God for Katrina, it is a sin not to rejoice when God executes His wrath and vengeance upon America." This part here — "Pray for more dead bodies floating in the rancid waters of New Orleans" and he concludes his little tirade by saying "God is America's terrorist." And that's his message, that God is a hateful vengeful God. So you see from this wide range that God is portrayed in different ways but often as a hateful vengeful angry God and this is the type God that some people see when they think of God. And of course there's no wonder today that the young people, when they hear these things about God and other things about God, God becomes irrelevant to them. So then there's the other extreme that God really is irrelevant. "Oh yes, I believe in God, there's a universe, it had to be created, I believe He exists, but He's irrelevant, who needs God? What difference does He make in your life?" Now these descriptions of God are not new, I actually, in doing, studying over the years, living in New England and studying about the Puritan era and a lot of the things that happened then, there was a particular minister from that period of time called Jonathan Edwards, you may have heard of Jonathan Edwards and of course this goes back to the time of the Salem witch trials, the two famous Puritan ministers, Cotton Mather and Increase Mather. I did like one quote from Cotton Mather, he said, "To be a successful minister you only have to remember one thing — always preach about sin and always be against it." That's all you have to remember and you'll be a successful minister and I've kind of remembered that over the years but Jonathan Edwards was a fiery minister, a famous minister from that period of time and in 1741 he gave a sermon titled "Sinners in the hands of an angry God." I want you to hear his description of God; this is from his sermon in 1741. He says, "Oh sinner, consider the fearful danger you are in, it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit full of the fire of wrath that you are held over in the hand of God whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread with the flames of divine wrath flashing about and ready at any moment to singe you and to burn you asunder and you have no interest in any mediator and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do to induce God to spare you one more moment." That was the sermon he gave in 1741, I'm not sure how large a congregation he had but it was probably a bit smaller after that or maybe he attracted more people after that, I'm not sure. But this description of God as a fiery angry God who just wants to destroy human beings is not the God that we read about and is not the God that I want to talk to you about this afternoon. Harold Kushner who is famous or noted for writing the book about "Bad Things Happen to Good People" has written another book entitled "Who Needs God?" And it's really written for the current generation or younger people who essentially say "We're not atheists, it's not that we don't believe in God, we believe He exists, but God is simply irrelevant to my life, I don't need God." Here's a quote from Kushner's book, he says, "What difference does the commitment to religion make in a persons life? If religious belief and church attendance don't necessarily make you a good person, and non-attendance and rejection of religion don't necessarily make you a bad one, what is the point of being religious? What does the religious person get out of his or her faith that the non-religious has to do without?" You know, what does the religious person gain that the non-religious person is needing? "Is it something we would all be better off for having or something that only some people need? The weak and insecure, the spiritually inclined, they're the ones who need it and the rest of us can do without it." So it's sort of the depiction of our society today, that we don't need God. God exists, He's out there, God's alive, but He's irrelevant, He doesn't affect me today, He's not a part of my job, He's not a part of my family, He doesn't affect me in any way, so therefore God becomes irrelevant. The book goes on, there's another quote here from Rabbi Kushner, referring to an individual who inspired him to write the book, a young person by the name of Paul, he said, " Paul, whose conversation with me years ago, ultimately flowered into this book, assured me that while he did not believe in religion, he believed in God. I asked him what he meant by that and he told me that when he contemplates the beauty and intricacy of the world, he has to believe that God exists. 'That's very nice I told him and I'm sure God appreciates your vote of confidence.' But for the religious mind and soul, the issue has never been the existence of God but the importance of God. The difference that God makes in the way we live. To believe that God exists the way that you believe that the South Pole exists, though you have never seen either one, to believe in the reality of God the way you believe in the Pythagorean Theorem is as an accurate abstract statement that does not really affect your daily life is not a religious stance. A God who exists but does not matter, who does not make a difference in the way you live might as well not exist." And of course that's the introduction to his book. But he asks the question, Who needs God? We believe He exists, but do we really need Him, does He make a difference in your life? Where does religion fit in all of this? When you look at the hurricane this past week and of course the destruction that occurred, often people come out of a tragedy like this with one of two opinions, either God is a horrible angry God who in some way is causing this death and destruction upon these people or God just simply is irrelevant, God just doesn't have a part to play at all and God is irrelevant. A lot of people become even more religious though when a tragedy strikes. In my life I've only experienced personally actually living through one hurricane and that was living up in New England but I remember vividly as the Hurricane Gloria was coming up the coast and was predicted to come right up through Connecticut, Rhode Island, and we lived in Massachusetts, but right up the Connecticut River which was right essentially over where we lived and we were told to board up our houses, we were getting ready to leave for the Feast at that time and we did but we had to stay at our home and watch the hurricane come through and it was quite something to see. We didn't have a problem with rain or with flooding but it was the wind that created the big problem for us. But I remember vividly coming home early, like a Wednesday evening or Tuesday evening and the hurricane was to come through the next day and we lived in a small community in Massachusetts that was of course heavily Catholic community — they had a huge Catholic church, an older Catholic church and I always drive by it on my way home and normally they have mass at various time and normally there's no one there and I came by that night, the place was packed, there was a traffic jam, this was a town of maybe 5,000 and there was a traffic jam to get through the town because people were going to church because the hurricane was coming. So people become more religious sometimes or they blame God, they feel there's an angry God who's attacking us or attacking human beings and so people come away with different views but the question still needs to be addressed — who needs God, where is God, where does God fit in your life? I would hope that as a part of the Church of God, we would all say that God is a very important part of my life, religion is a very important part of my life — but is that really true? Let's go to Luke 13 and in thinking about the tragedy that occurred, the scripture that certainly comes to my mind initially is Luke 13 and you're all familiar with the story here as Christ made some very specific statements here to His disciples about a tragedy that occurred in His day. I think there's a lot to be learned about the message Christ gave at that time and I think it still should be our message today in the wake of tragedies and difficulties that occur. Look at Luke 13:1. Luke 13:1-2 — There were present at that season some that told Him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, "Suppose you that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things?" Human nature is no different, people then felt if something bad happens to you, then maybe you just did something wrong, maybe there was something in your life that God was correcting you on and so it was no different then. But Christ asked the penetrating question, were they sinners above everyone else that they should be singled out? And here's His answer: V. 3 — "I tell you no, but except you repent, you shall all likewise perish." Now what is Christ saying? Well Christ is telling them that if you're going to have a relationship with God, it must begin with repentance. You cannot have a relationship with God unless there is repentance because we're all sinners, therefore you must repent in order to have that relationship. So Christ said if you don't repent, if you don't develop that relationship with God, then you're going to tragically perish as well. Not necessarily as they did but a much worse tragedy in losing your eternal life, a spiritual tragedy that would occur. So Christ said, I'm telling you, this is My message, this is what I want you to learn from this, that if you don't repent, you personally — it's not about the people who suffer, not about the people who died here, Christ didn't say, Oh yea, they were pretty bad people, yeah, I knew some of them, they were horrible sinners, they deserved what they got, He didn't say that! He didn't even refer to them — He said, you need to learn that you need a relationship with God and I would say our message should be very much the same, that as a result of this tragedy that has occurred and of course many others that have happened, and they'll be many more as we get closer to the return of Christ — that we take personally the need to repent and draw closer to God, to have a relationship with God that is real, not a relationship of wondering does God really matter. Does God really matter? Is God important? I really believe the battle, while I know there is this argument that goes on about evolution or not, our kids certainly do have to endure that and they have to be able to defend that. The big argument is not whether God exists — it's whether He matters and I believe that is going to be the big argument that will be debated among young people as we move ahead. Does He really matter? "I accept He exists, but God didn't get me a job when I needed a job, God didn't heal me when I was sick last month, God didn't do this for me, God didn't do that for me, God really doesn't matter." That's where we're going to have to be able to address the issue as Christ said, that whenever something bad happens, whenever a tragedy like this happens — we don't focus on what did they do to deserve this, we focus on "what do I need to do?" And in order for me to have a relationship with God, I need to repent. Not them, not someone else, I do. Because God has blessed us, He has called us into His Church but every one of us still falls short and we have to come back to the throne of grace, we have to come back to the sacrifice of Christ and repent. So Christ goes on, He says: V. 4 — "Or those eighteen upon whom the Tower in Siloam fell and slew them, think you that they were sinners above all that dwell in Jerusalem? I tell you no, but except you repent, you shall all likewise perish." The greater lesson is will you perish or will I perish spiritually because we have the opportunity to have a relationship with God, we have an opportunity to know the real God, we have an opportunity to make God a part of our lives every single day and not just once a week on the Sabbath or maybe when a tragedy occurs, we find God somehow in that. We need to know that we have a relationship with God every single day of our lives. Turn with me to James 2 — we find a statement made that is rather revealing because I believe it is a very important statement for today. James 2:19 — You believe that there is one God, you do well, the devils also believe and tremble. It isn't enough to believe that God exists, it really isn't enough. In order to truly know God, you must have a relationship with God; you must know that God is your Father, you must know that you were called to become a part of that wonderful family and you must understand God. Over the years, and it's certainly my opinion that we've often become very liberal with our terminology, we will refer to "Christians" with a very broad stroke sometimes. "Christian" is a very particular term as used in scripture to refer to God's people, it isn't just people who believe in God or believe that God exists. A Christian is a person who has a relationship with God; a Christian is a person who follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. It isn't just someone who knows there's a God, it isn't just someone who says, "I believe in God." It's much more than that and I think our terminology needs to be a little finer tuned when it comes to the names and the titles that we use, that it is more than "he believes in God, he's not an atheist, he's not involved in the Muslim religion, he's not involved in an Eastern religion of some sort, he believes in God." So therefore he's a Christian - not necessarily you see. Belief in God is one thing but having a relationship with God is something else. To believe in the existence of God is simply not enough and when one studies the bible you come to the realization if this book is true, then God must be the center of your life, He cannot be an appendage that somehow comes out on occasions, He cannot be someone that you sort of turn to when there's no where else to go. He has to be someone who is a part of your life every day, similar to the air we breathe and the water we drink, this is where God must be in our lives. But we must answer the question, who needs God? Do you need God? Do I need God? Do we really need God or is it only the weak, the people who are incapable of taking care of themselves in some way, are those the only ones who need God? I believe that we, as God's people must be able to answer that question very very clearly. If you look at religion and you want to lay out the basic principles of religion, what is true religion all about? Turn with me to Genesis 1, I'd like to take a look at the foundation of religion here today and show of course that by this foundation how God fits in your life, where God fits in your life and why God does matter and why you and I all need God, all of us need God. If you're going to build a case for religion, you're going to say, well this is what religion is all about and you were entrusted with laying out the basic principles of religion, where do you begin? Well there are two scriptures in the bible that start out, "In the beginning..." so to me that's a logical place to go if you're going to establish a religious principle and a principle upon which to build religion. Gen 1:1 says: Gen.. 1:1 — In the beginning God ...we are all familiar with that of course God creates everything. But in the beginning God...so we have before anything else exists, we have a statement that God exists, before anything else exists, God exists. Then you go to John 1:1, you have a similar statement that's made regarding religion. John 1:1 — In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. So now we have two central statements made in scripture, that in the beginning there was God, before anything else exists and in the beginning there was the Word, before anything else exists, so we have two beings who are identified as God. Contrary to what some may some, this is not polytheism and this is not deism and this is not theism, these are all terms created by men. God makes it clear that in the beginning that the Father and the Word are both in existence. So this is a foundational principle, we start from the beginning and we have God and we have the Word or we have the Father and we have the Word in existence and everything else comes after that, there's nothing before then, everything else comes after, everything else is created. So it would be hard to say that whatever your religious beliefs are, that there's any principle more important than God. How could there be anything more important? God was there before anything else exists. The Word was there before anything else exists. Now if you're going to look at religion then and we ask the question, Well OK, how would God have us approach religion? You know God is central to religion, that's not a profound truth of any sort, that's not something that's unique, you're going to find that principle stated in many places. God is central to that, the Word is central to that and we must build from there. But if you're going to build a religion, you know put yourself in God's place, build a religion, you know God is building a family, God is creating a family, we're all privileged to be a part of that family, we're looking forward to that day when we can be spirit beings in that family and we understand that but if you're God and you're starting from nothing, how will you build a religion? What principles will your religion be based upon? I'm going to suggest this afternoon that true religion, religion founded by God is going to be built upon three principles and these three principles are evident from the very beginning in Genesis and they follow all the way through the life of Christ, three principles that form the foundation. Now I'm not saying these are the only principles, but I'm saying there are three principles that must be present if we're going to build a relationship with God, if God is going to be important in our lives, these three principles are going to be evident in our lives because that's how we build that relationship. I'm going to give you these three principles now and we're going to talk about them as we go along this afternoon. Principle #1 is found in Genesis 2:18. Now these are principles of worship, principles of religion, whatever you would want to title them, these are principles that are going to describe you and me as we develop our relationship with God and they're going to identify why God is central and why God is important in our lives. God is important in each of our lives. Gen. 2:18 — here is the principle and all three principles are found in the first few chapters of Genesis. I'm like most of you and having heard the messages by Mr. Armstrong over all the years of going back to the two trees, there is something to be said about going back to Genesis and understanding what God did from the beginning and then what God of course is doing today. God is consistent; He has been consistent throughout all of the generations of humanity. Gen. 2:18 — The Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." Now while this verse is dealing with the of course the creation of Eve, the beginning of marriage and family really is where it begins, I want not to focus on the family aspect at this point or to focus on marriage, but to focus on the statement, "It is not good for man to be alone." So the first principle of religion is that man needs something. It is not good for him to be alone, he needs God, but he also needs companionship. Now this is an important principle in worship because while there are extreme cases where people must worship alone, God's intent is that we worship together, that we are a body, that we are a group, that we are united you see, in the sense of worshipping together. Just like today, not only here but in congregations all over the world, God's people are worshipping together. So it's not good to be alone, it's a principle, it's a principle of religion that we should be together today, it's appropriate that you be here today, it's appropriate that as we talk about religion and talk about God, that we talk about being together and that we worship together. Can you worship by yourself? Well of course, if you have to, but that's not what God intended is it? We're going to see that when we get to the New Testament later on. So the first principle in forming the religion is that it isn't good to be alone, we do need to be together. Principle #2 — This is found in verse 16, back up a couple of verses. Gen. 2:16 — And the Lord God commanded the man saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it for in that day that you eat thereof you shall surely die." So principle #2 is that God sets the standard for right or wrong. God sets the standard, you don't and I don't, God does. You know if you were in the Garden of Eden, you could have easily — which we know that Eve did say — well this tree looks as good as that tree, this tree looks better than that tree, why can't I have that fruit? Well because God said you can't! So principle #2 is that God is the one who sets the standard for right or wrong, it's not left to you, it's not left to me! So if you're going to build a religion you must first realize that God created man to need something, there's certainly a lack there, we need companionship, we need to be together. Principle #2 is that God sets the standard for right or wrong. God is the one who sets the standard. Now Principle #3 is found in Genesis 4:9. Now this is the occasion where Cain kills his brother Abel, but there's a statement made here that strikes to the core of the third principle that I want to mention this afternoon. Gen. 4:9 — And the Lord said unto Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I know not, am I my brother's keeper?" Principle #3 is, as a Christian, or as a religious principle, you are your brother's keeper. You are responsible for other people. Helping them, serving them, doing things for them. Let's look at a clean slate, you know, God begins, God creates everything, God exists and then everything else comes afterward. So let's establish a religion — what will this religion be established upon? How do we have a relationship with God? What does God want from us, why did He put us here? So God wants us to be together, God sets the standard for right and wrong and we must be our brother's keeper. So these are basic principles of religion that we find here in scripture. Now this is the Old Testament isn't it? Let's move ahead, let's go to the book of Hebrews and I want to take you to the New Testament. How does this translate over into the New Testament? How about these same three principles, can we say that Jesus Christ brought these same three principles with Him, now again, these are not all of the principles, I'm not providing you with the end all as far as principles or foundation, but I believe these are foundational when it comes to religion. What should religion do for you, how should religion affect you? How do we worship God? I mean these are all basic elementary questions — how do we worship God, what does God want from us? Is God happy that we're here today? Is God angry that we're here today? Is God happy that we're here singing today and that we're here praying today and that we're preaching today? Does God want that, is that the way worship should be done? What is God looking for from us? I think you look at these three principles, you find a foundation upon which we see the New Testament is also built when it comes to the Church. Hebrews 1 — here we have the introduction of a Savior and of course we know that the Word, the one who was the Word became flesh and of course is our Savior, He died for us, we understand that. But in the book of Hebrews, the apostle Paul provides some overview statements about Christ. Heb. 1:1 — God, who at sundry times and at diverse manners, spoke in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person ... The term "express image" there comes from the Greek word meaning character, literally translates to character, it's kharaktare and it means an engraving or a stamp. That Jesus Christ, as He walked this earth, the Word who became flesh was the express image. He was in character the same as the Father, He was united with the Father, they are of the same spirit certainly, they are one. Christ said, "If you've seen Me, you've seen the Father." So here Paul writes in that terminology in describing Jesus Christ. V. 3-4 - ... the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had, by Himself, purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high, being made so much better than the angels as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. And it goes on to say: V. 5 — For unto which of the angels said at any time, "You are My Son, this day have I begotten You?" And again, "I shall be to Him a Father, He shall be to Me a Son?" So we have the family relationship, we have the Father and the Son as identified in the New Testament. But we see that if you look at the life of Christ, you're going to see that Christ Himself emphasized these three principles as well, that man should not be alone, there's a Church to be established, we're to be together and worship. God determines right from wrong and you are responsible for your brother. So Christ embodies these three concepts, Christ embodies these principles as a part of the foundation of the New Testament Church. He is our foundation; clearly, He is the head of the Church. So you're going to find the Church introduced in the New Testament. Look at Matthew 16, there is a continuity, a cohesiveness from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Father and the Son are working together, there is not the Old Testament angry hateful God and this New Testament Christ who comes along and is so different you see. God's intent from the beginning of course, is to establish His family, to create a family that is going to be in the world tomorrow, this beautiful spiritual entity that is going to exist, composed of many many sons of God. We read about that in the scriptures and we're all familiar with that. Look at Matthew 16:18. In order to fulfill these three principles, Jesus Christ says something and does something that's a little extraordinary in one sense, although it's not brand new, but there is a certain newness about it. In addressing Peter, and you know the story where Christ asked, " Well who do people say that I am ?" And Peter said, "You're Christ, the Son of the Living God." Matt. 16:18 — "And I say unto you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." This verse gets twisted around in some efforts to explain it but it's really quite simple and I think it's in Barnes Notes, he has it quite well stated, he said that it's as though you have Peter standing in front of Christ and Christ is having a conversation with him and Christ looks at Peter and says, "You're Peter" and points to him and then points to Himself, "But upon this Rock I will build My Church." It's not built on Peter, although Peter is a part of the foundation we read later on, as an apostle. He's saying, and of course you get into the Greek words of Petros and petra and how they're different, the two words that are used here. But He's saying "You're Peter, but upon this Rock I'm going to build My Church." Now it's a rather interesting statement. First of all He has to build it, it's not built yet, He's got to build it. Secondarily, when you look at the broader picture, you must ask the question, what was wrong with the synagogue, what was wrong with the temple, what was wrong with these other institutions that were already there? Well Christ goes outside of that system in a sense and He establishes the Church. He says, "I will build the Church." It did not exist in that sense before, again, certainly the congregation of Israel and so on, but this is something that Christ said He would do. Now the Church becomes the central focus of the Christian life. It's amazing over the years how Satan has poisoned people against the idea of worshipping in a group or being a part of a church. It's sort of been the idea in recent years that we don't need a church. "Well I'm a part of the Church (that's true), I'm a part of the body of Christ, but we don't need the Church, we can do this by ourselves and we can do that by ourselves" when Christ goes to great pains to establish the Church. Clearly this is a spiritual body and a spiritual organism, it's not a building, it's not any of those things. Well why did He build a Church, why did He want a Church, what is the purpose of a church? If we can all be in the kingdom of God without a church, without coming together every Sabbath to worship or coming together on the holy days, if we don't need that, then why did God, through Christ, and certainly Christ establish that? Here you are, you're the God of the universe, you've got a goal, you want people in your kingdom, how are you going to get them there? What will your plan be about? An integral part of God's plan was and is the Church. You go back to the basic principle from Genesis — it is not good for man to be alone! We worship together. Now again, can you worship by yourself? My family came into the Church in 1952, there were no churches to attend, there were none and I think that people who have gone through that experience probably have a little different view of church than maybe some whose always grown up, there's always been a congregation, there have always been people you could go and worship with. In 1952 there were no churches in Arkansas, there weren't even roads in Arkansas — come to think of it, there still aren't roads in Arkansas! But we had no place to go until 1961, July of 1961, I still remember the day, my mother pulled out a letter she had gotten from Mr. Armstrong. She said there is a church service starting in Memphis, Tennessee, which is 35 miles, but from all I knew at that particular juncture in my life, that was the other side of the world, I'd never been out of the state of Arkansas! We had to leave the state to go to Church! But we were going to Church. Mr. Armstrong had written to us and he said be there at such and such a time, the old Ellis Auditorium, sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, in the basement is where we were meeting, the first service. Now we thought, this is amazing, Mr. Armstrong is coming just to see us, because surely there were no other members anywhere around! We showed up for services and who should we see there but the strange cousin from the farm next door, my mother's cousin that she had no idea he had ever known of Mr. Armstrong, he'd been a member for over ten years. All we heard were the stories of how crazy he was, and he told us the same story, he'd always heard stories about how crazy we were! But they never put it together until they were in services together; having both received the letters from Mr. Armstrong. But having kept the Sabbath and the Holy Days for ten years by yourself, to have a group of people to meet with, I mean it was, even for a child as I was, it was such a...you just stood there with your mouth agape, Well look at these people, and they're friendly and they have love for you. Still today, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life as a child to walk into a service for the first time. We had no idea what a service was like, we had no idea what would be said, who would be there, but being together on the Sabbath day to worship God, I knew from ten years of by ourselves that this is what God wants us to experience. There's something about that that we could never gain by ourselves. Sabbath after Sabbath we read the magazines, we read the bible, we did all of these things, we kept the Sabbath rigidly for all of those years and then to have a church to go to, one of the most amazing moments in my entire life. Christ founded the Church for a reason. The principle of religion that we should not, unless we have no other choice, be alone, we should be worshipping together with people of like mind. It's a very important principle that we should hold on to. If you look at the New Testament, the Church becomes central in the New Testament. Letters were written to churches, elders in churches were founded in each city; it was a very important part of the lives of the people. In fact, we question, well why was the New Testament Church so successful in the early years? Well it's not a mystery, you go back and read it, Acts 4:32 says, "the people were of one mind and one heart " and they worshipped God in that frame of mind. There's something about people who have the same heart and the same mind who get together and worship that not only is it good for us, but I really believe that God sees something so positive and so powerful from that and I believe it is something exciting and something thrilling. I believe when the Sabbath comes around and God sees His people gathered around in congregations, worshipping Him, singing together, listening to the Word expounded and all of those things, it's a great joy to God and it's central to the concept of worship, it's central. Notice the analogies in the New Testament; the Church is called a body (I Cor. 12 and Rom. 12) it's called the body of Christ. This is an interesting verse in Ephesians 5 and, not that I hadn't notice this before but I've always certainly understood the concept of the Church being a body and being compared to the body of Christ but look at Eph. 5:30, look at what it says here: Eph. 5:30 — For we are members of His body ...and we usually stop there, but notice what it says... of His flesh and of His bones. We're members of His body, His flesh and His bones! This is the connection we should have, this is the way we should view ourselves, I mean we are the body of Christ, we are tied to Jesus Christ, He is central to what we do. Just as you take the flesh and the bones and it's as though you take each one of us and graft us or push us into so that even our bones are joined together and our flesh is joined together, that is how close we are to Christ and all of us together, so surely we come together for a very important purpose. If you look at the New Testament Church, they couldn't wait to meet together, they couldn't wait to be together, they were doing it all the time, every opportunity. Have we gotten to the point today where it's a chore to get together, "Have to go to church again today, well I went last week, maybe I can stay home this week." "Once a month is probably good enough, once every four or five weeks is probably all I need." You know there is something about being together and worshipping God and your relationship with God personally as well. So the Church is central when you read the verses, we're called the bride of Christ; we're told that we are owned by God, we're told that we are owned by Him, He has ownership of us. So we look at those principles of not being alone, of being together, of letting God determine what's right or wrong, being responsible for our brother. You see all of these principles in the New Testament. For example, look in Hebrews 10 — take the principle of not being alone. It's interesting to me that in the midst of writing to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul places in the midst of that this particular admonition: Heb. 10:24 — Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. So here it's a warning as well to the Church of Paul 's day, don't forsake assembling yourself together. One of the greatest mistakes a person can make is to withdraw from fellowship with God's people, it's a very serious matter, it's something that God put within us, it's something that's so central to worship that we come together, those of one mind and worship God, it's central to worship. We also see of course that the determination of right and wrong is still left up to God, I mean we see that from Genesis all the way up to the Church today. I mean who determines right or wrong, do you, do I or is it not God? If you look at what is called the New Covenant Theology today, it's a rather interesting concept, it's actually been around for awhile but it is around today and actually they call it NCT — New Covenant Theology. It's a theology that says there is no law, there is no standard — and that's argued of course through Paul's writings, there is no law to be kept. But we know that's not true, even intuitively we know that's not true. Even Barna in some of his surveys, he's surveyed well why do some churches do better than others? Now there are exceptions, but in general his survey came back and said that churches that have a standard tend to do better than churches that have no standards, it's just wide open. Now there are exceptions — we have one in Houston, a fellow by the name of Joel Osteen, the largest church in America, he's on television, he writes his books and all of these things and he attracts thousands of people every Sunday. He was interviewed not too long ago in Houston and he said, "Well why do you not quote scriptures very often in your messages?" And if you've ever heard him, he doesn't quote the bible. He said, "Well, people don't like to hear the bible, they just don't like to hear the bible, they want to feel good when they leave church and they want to hear something about Christian living, they don't want to hear the bible." He said, "I'm not much of a scholar anyway, I don't really like to read from the bible or refer to the bible." So his messages are built upon folksy stories and making people feel good about themselves and a lot of entertainment and a lot of other things — and he packs them in. He just bought the Summit in Houston , which was the home of the Houston Rockets, and he converted the basketball arena into church — seats 17,000-18,000 people. On a Sunday he will have that many people coming to church. So he's very successful, but what is he teaching people about God? What is the standard? Well essentially he teaches them there is no standard, just feel good about yourself. James 2:10 — the apostle James again tells us that it's God's law that is our standard. We must have a standard, we can't just simply say there is no standard because there obviously is. James 2:10-11 — For whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not kill." There is a standard, there's a law — it's God's law and God gave us that law, it's a law of love, it's a law that produces good results, it's called the law of liberty in verse 12, but it's still a law, it's not a suggestion, it's not something that you can decide, well I don't like that standard, I'm going to make another standard. To worship God and to have a relationship with God and for God to be relevant in your life, you must accept God's standard. Then of course the third principle about being responsible for your brother is found throughout the New Testament. Look here in the book of James 2:15: James 2:15 — If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, "Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled," notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful for the body, what does it profit? If you're not doing something to help your brother that you're missing one of the basic principles, the foundational principles of worship as well of course as your relationship with God. In James 1:27 we read it again: James 1:27 — Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep themselves unspotted from the world. To enter a relation, to visit, to spend time, to help, to encourage people is a part of your responsibility; it's a part of the foundation of what God has given us for worship. You can't get away from that. I read this scripture, verse 27, it talks about the fatherless and the widows and I mentioned that a few weeks ago in Houston that we've done a good job, I believe, as a Church, by and large, to take care of widows, we talk about our widows. But what about the fatherless, what about the orphans? I mentioned to the congregation that I can't tell you how many times in the number of years I've been in Houston that a mother or a woman has come to me who either doesn't have a husband, maybe a divorced situation and she's raising children by herself and she'll come and say "Is there any man in the Church who could help me with my children, they're becoming teenagers and I'm having a lot of difficulty, they need help." And I've mentioned this several times within the congregation, you know there are a lot of people, lot of children growing up in our congregations who either don't have, in most cases don't have a father in the congregation or in the Church or maybe don't even have a father. It specifically mentions the fatherless here in verse 27. There's an important role that a father serves in a family that is extremely vital to the well-being and the health of those children. And how many do we have, what do we do for them as a Church? We have a strong youth group within our congregation, we have a lot of young people, we have 55 teenagers and over 100 pre-teens in our congregation. I explained to them in Houston that if they were separate, 155 of them, they would be I think the fourth largest congregation in United if they met by themselves! And they're very important in our congregation and we have developed hopefully good systems to help people who need that kind of help. Women who are raising children alone who need some help, that there are families that are taking them in and helping them out. It's a part of worship, it's a part of your relationship with God, it's a part of the basic principles that God has provided. And how is God doing that with us today? Is it not the same way Christ said — through the Church and therefore the Church becomes very important to all of us in our worship of God. Here's a short poem, one of the things that we always know about the Church, I think all of us have learned this, the first Sabbath I attended of course as I said, we didn't expect there to be anybody there necessarily, but if there was, we knew that they would be perfect, they were going to be perfect. Here's a poem that kind of fits this situation. It says: "I think that I shall never see a church that's all it ought to be. A church that has no empty pews, whose pastor never has the blues, A church whose deacons always deac, and none is proud but all are meek, Where gossips never peddle lies or make complaints or criticize. Where all are always sweet and kind, and all to others faults are blind, Such perfect churches there may be, but none of them are known to me. But still we'll work and pray and plan to make our church the best we can." There is certainly a sentiment there that we as God's people, you know we're a mature group of people, we've long since abandoned the idea that when you come to church you're going to find a perfect group of people. But I always remember back to Mr. Armstrong's description of the Church, he described the Church as a spiritual hospital. We all came here to get well because we're all sick and we need healing, we need help, we need encouragement, we need to know that we have a relationship with God and we come here for that and we're here hopefully Sabbath after Sabbath, we receive that and we certainly are encouraged to continue to develop that relationship. There are many scriptures that talk about who we are, what we are and how we are to worship God. I believe these three principles describe the core of what we need to do to develop that relationship with God. It is a truism brethren that bad things do happen to good people and I don't know if it's true yet or not but it's certainly possible that in this tragedy in New Orleans that there are going to be some members who, as far as we know there aren't any that lost their lives but there may be some who were injured or hurt or in some way something bad happened to them. Certainly we know there are going to be those who have property damage, I do not believe remotely it's because you and I have a better relationship with God than they do, I don't believe that. Tragedies are going to happen to the people of God, it is a fact. In the years I've been in Houston there's a good part to being a church for a long period of time and there's a bad part because you see some of the tragedies that members go through. You watch people that you've known for many many years become ill and die and if you're not careful, if you're not careful, we can become discouraged over those issues and begin to question, well what is God doing? And we have to realize there will be tragedies, there will be bad things that will happen to God's people, but it's for you and me to develop a relationship with God that is so close that we are flesh and bone with God and Christ. That we are in that state, if we're that state, then God will give us the encouragement, God will give us the help and we will endure the tragedies and the difficulties and we will know that God will see us through and that God will provide for us. We will know that, we will intuitively know that, we will instinctively know that because that's the relationship we have with God. We don't have to worry about the question of who needs God; we know that we need God. There's a wonderful story in the Old Testament, in fact I've used this story many times before because it speaks to a principle as well. If you read the story of ancient Israel and how when they go into the years of wandering, God provides them with manna. Have you ever thought about this —why didn't God just give them a warehouse full of manna so they could go and fill up their sacks and bring it back and have food to eat all the time? Why did God specifically say you have to go every day and pick up the manna, every day? Now for the Sabbath I'm going to give you twice as much so you don't have to go out and pick it up. Why did He do that for forty long years? To me there's a very simple principle. God wanted Israel to know that every day they needed God. Not once for their whole life or when something bad happens, but every day. You know, if the sun shines today, you need God, if it's cloudy today you need God, if there's a storm, you need God. It's not a matter of just when something bad happens you need God and we need to teach the principles and I know we are, to our children and our young people that they need a relationship with God. You know sometimes I've felt in the past that we as parents sometimes go to the extreme of not wanting to push our children into the Church that we sometimes sort of invite them to leave, that we don't make it important enough for them. Of course they have to see it in our lives, this is really important, this is not a game, we're not here to play games today, this is really important. The more that we can show that by example to our children the more we can teach them that because right now if you look at the age group from 18-30, the young adult group, they're basically a-religious. Now they're not against religion, they don't hate religion, they're not necessarily angry about religion; they simply have no use for it. Doesn't fit into their career, doesn't fit into the things they want to do, just doesn't fit. We have to show our young people that it does fit, that it works in your life, it really does fit. Let's go to one more scripture, Acts 17. The apostle Paul stood on Mars Hill and spoke to a group of people who were very religious, they had a lot of gods, but they didn't understand the true God. I'm wondering if even today if the apostle Paul were alive, if he would, in any city of this nation walk into the main plaza and even though people may believe "in God" that he would not be speaking to the same type of an attitude, now not multiple gods, most of the people in this country, I think it's 90% believe in God but is He really relevant to them? They are really separate issues and I believe the second issue is certainly as important as the first. Does God exist, we have to answer that question, but is God relevant and I think that's the question we're going to have answer as well. So Paul addresses this with the people in Athens — notice, it begins in verse 22 this whole discussion. Acts 17:22 — Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars Hill and said, "You men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious ...and he talks and in verse 24 about the unknown God: V. 24 — He's the... "God who made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands, neither worships with men's hands as though He needed anything, seeing He gives to all life and breath and all things. V. 26 — "He's made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, He's determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitations. V. 27 — "That they should seek the Lord if happily they might feel after Him, and find Him though He be not far from everyone of us. V. 28 — "For in Him we live and move and have our being..." "Because we are His offspring" is Paul's conclusion. Why can't we today answer the question of who needs God by truly saying, certainly each one of us, that we desperately need God, that He is a part of our movement every day, He's a part of our thoughts, He is a part of our actions, He is a part of everything we do, every single day. How do we do that? It's not really complicated brethren, we pray every day, we be ready to help others and we be active in serving and in worshipping God with the people of God as we certainly can. And that's how we do it, but we make God relevant, we make God important, we make God a part of everything we do. I'd like to relate a story to you to conclude with here this afternoon and it strikes to the core of what I've said about young people and the fact that God, in many cases, becomes irrelevant to them. Now again, you can apply that to more than just the young people — I think society as a whole. But I've been very actively involved in working in the prisons in the state of Texas. It's a unique place to go, it's an interesting place to go. When I first went to Texas there were 67,000 prisoners in the state prison system, today there are 180,000 in Texas prisons. It's quite a lost place, it's where people are trying to, obviously, to find themselves, find whatever and they are looking for religion, they're looking for God. You can say they've never had a relationship with God and they're looking for God. I get visit requests from them, conduct services in prison — you go into the prison and the door clangs behind you and even after all these years it still sends a shiver up and down my spine when that door clangs behind you. Of course in Texas if you turn around after you've entered the prison and you look behind you, there's a big sign on the gate that says "No hostages will exit this gate" and I asked the guard the first time I went a number of years ago, "What does that mean?" He said, "It means that if they capture you, you are dead." I said, "Well why do they not put the sign up until you come in?" He said "We will never negotiate for a hostage" and he told me a horrible incident where prisoners took hostage several people that were there in the prison and they tried to escape with them and the guards shot them all and killed them, thirteen people were killed in this particular prison. So they said, "We don't negotiate for anyone, if the President of the United States were in here and he were captured, we'd consider him a dead man, we don't negotiate for him." But he said, "We've never had another occasion where prisoners have taken a hostage since that one occasion and that's our policy and on all the exits it says 'No hostage will exit this gate.' "I always felt it was odd they tell you that when you're inside and not when you're outside! But I go in and out of the prisons a lot and I see a lot of people who are looking for God, just a lot of people. We currently have about 100 men that attend services with us every month in various prison units and they're all looking for God, they don't know who God is, what God is and they're trying to find Him. Well a couple years ago, I received a visit request and the number looked different to me. You can tell I've been there too long because I can recognize the numbers that the prisoners have as to when they were convicted based upon their prison number and this one came back with a 99 in front of it and I wondered, what is that, I've never seen that number before and then I looked at the unit, it was the Pulunsky Unit which is death row. So it was my first request for a prisoner on death row to come and visit him. Now I've been a volunteer chaplain all of these years, I have a lot of access in and out of the prisons, I don't have a guard when I go in, I walk through the prison, walk through the prison yard, go to wherever I'm going and conduct the services or whatever I do. But I had to go through a lot of extra things to get in to see this particular individual and I got in to the Pulunsky Unit and came in to visit him after several weeks of working through all of the things you have to go through, you have to be searched as you come in and then you come into this big room and it's just like in the movies, it has a row, like a desk and then the glass wall and they have a little cage behind each little glass cubicle and they bring the prisoners in, they have shackles on their legs, they have their handcuffs on and they bring them back to this little cage and put them in, they take their shackles off their feet, put them in this little cage across from this, in a glass separating where you'll be sitting and then they have to put their hands back through the cage so that they can remove their handcuffs so that they're locked in the cage before they ever remove their handcuffs. Now these are bad people when you go into death row. So I go in to see this individual and he'd written me a nice letter and he told me where he grew up — he grew up in the Fifth Ward in Houston. Now the Fifth Ward in Houston is not a very nice place, never has been, I don't know if it ever will be, gangs and drugs — we have members in that area but it's a very very tough area, very hard place to be and that's where he grew up. He began to relate to me his story, his name was Calvin McGee and Calvin was 26 years old when I met him and he had been convicted of a homicide in 1997. October 1, 1997, Calvin explained to me his entire life changed, he was 18 or 19 at the time, he was into stealing cars, I guess he would have been 20, stealing cars and one day they spotted this luxury car, it was a brand new Cadillac and he had his two friends with him, Percy and David were with him and the three of them followed this Cadillac and this professor was a professor from Texas Southern, pulled into a drive-thru for Kentucky Fried Chicken, broad daylight, they pulled in behind her, blocked her in and the plan was for Percy and Calvin to jump out of the car on either side, go around, tell her they're taking her car, throw her from the car and leave. Everything went according to plan, they got out, Calvin pulls out the lady and she begins to scream so he pulls a 38 caliber from his pocket and shoots her twice in the head, broad daylight, and drops her in the middle of the drive-thru. Now Houston is a big city, as all the crime of a big city, but this made front-page news in Houston , I remember it when it happened, front-page news. Then we transport ourselves forward from 1997 to about a year and a half ago when I was called up and I sat down across from Calvin. Now Calvin was a huge man, wasn't really tall - about 5'11" weighed 280 lbs. and you can find that out because in Texas you can go to an Internet site for death row and you can read all the statistics on all the prisoners. Before I went to visit him I thought - well I need to find out what this guy did, I don't want to go and find out he killed a preacher! I want to see who he killed before I go; I knew he'd murdered somebody but I wanted to find out, so I checked it out beforehand. But Calvin sat across from me, this huge black man filled up the whole glass across from me and began to tell me his story and he began to cry, I mean this big black man was just blubbering and crying. He said, "I've read your literature, I've learned the Sabbath and the Holy Days" and he said, "I want to keep it, I want to do it, why did it take me until now to find God, why couldn't somebody have given me this when I was growing up, why didn't somebody tell me how important God really is?" Now again, he was on death row, he had spent six or seven years by that point, it usually takes 10-20 years before you finally come to where you're executed. But a week and a half later, after visiting Calvin I picked up the Houston Chronicle and turned to the obituary section — you know they say if you read the Obituary first, that tells how old you are! But you go back to that part of the paper, a small article, "Calvin McGee died of an aneurysm in his cell." A week after I had visited with him — 26 years old, died of an aneurysm, which in many ways was probably a blessing, he had the rest of his life to be locked up on death row. Death row is 23 hours in a cell by yourself, you're released for one hour a day and in that one hour you can either watch TV or go work out in the gym and that's it. Men are kept there from 10-20 years before being executed and that was Calvin's future. But he said, "Why did it take me until now to find God, why didn't somebody, when I was sixteen or seventeen..." Now of course he knows the answer, he probably wouldn't have listened. But here we are, a group of people who know God and our children know God. We don't dispute the existence of God, but is God relevant in our lives? Do you need God? I hope you can say you need God. Our children need God. We need a relationship with God that is so strong and so powerful that every day of our lives, it's the first thing that we seek and every night of our lives, it's the last thing that we think about before we go to bed and that God is so relevant and so real to us that everything we do is directed by God. You can leave a legacy for others, you can lead a life of joy and happiness but God must be a part of it. You must make God a part. The question that I asked is, Who needs God? My answer is, we all need God.