Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Special Letter - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

Matthew 4:19 – Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

In a recent study on Wednesday night at my church, we were challenged to write a letter to the person who led us to Christ.  I want to share mine with you:
 
Dear Children's Church Volunteer,

            When I was 8-years-old, you helped lead children's church where my family worshiped.  I’m sorry I don’t remember your name.  I was just a kid then and I only attended for a few years, but I remember going to children’s church.  I didn’t know the other kids, but you had a friendly smile that made me feel welcome.
            I’m glad you shared your joy for the Lord.  It probably wasn’t easy to keep all the kids under control, because we didn’t always want to be there, but you did your best to help us have fun and learn something.  We sang songs like: “Father Abraham” and “Do Lord” and “The Lord’s Army.”   Then, we would listen to a Bible story.  One Sunday, you told us how Jesus came to save us from our sins so we could live with him in heaven.  You said we needed to let Jesus into our hearts.  I believed in Jesus and I knew I was a sinner who needed to be saved, but I was too shy to say anything.  So I didn’t.
            You didn’t give up though.  You invited the kids to ask Jesus into their heart every Sunday.   You would sing the old invitational songs like "Just as I Am" and "Earnestly, Tenderly, Jesus is Calling".  I felt Jesus calling to me while you were singing.  There was just something about your tenor voice and the way you seemed transported as you sang, “Come home!  Come home!  Ye who are weary, come home!  Earnestly tenderly, Jesus is calling. Calling, oh sinner, come home!”  Even as a kid, I could feel it.  I knew Jesus was calling.
            It took three weeks for this shy 8-year-old to get up the nerve, but I finally answered Jesus’ invitation to come home.  I walked to the front of the chapel while you sang and someone prayed with me to receive Christ.  I became a Christian that day and I’ve known ever since that one day I will be with Jesus in heaven.
            Thank you for the part you played in my salvation.  You changed the course of my life.  I try to live my life for Jesus every day.  My faith in Christ carried me through some rough years as a teenager and the struggles of young adulthood.  He has been with me as a parent and preach and lead my congregation.  Jesus leads me through it all and has never let me down.  So, thank you.  Thank you for giving yourself to the kids who attended children’s church.  There’s no telling how many eternities you altered, but I’m so glad you altered mine.
            I hope you’re doing well and will always be willing to invite someone to church or just pray with them or tell them or show them God's love.  And whenever you have a chance, invite them to come home to Jesus.  Maybe they will, just like I did.

Aren’t you thankful for all the people who witnessed to you, prayed for you, helped you, and encouraged you?  Jesus wants you to do the same for someone else.  He wants us to be fishers of men.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…
Remember, God loves you and so do I!



 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Come In Through the Gate

Introduction           
In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said, 13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”  And in John 10:9 Jesus said, “I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved."
Looking back over my life, I am so thankful to the many people who helped me find THE GATE, Jesus Christ.  There was my Mom who took me to church as a child (and I know it wasn't always easy to take four kids to church who didn't always want to go).  There was my Grandma who instilled a deep respect for the Bible, the Word of God.  And as an angry young teenaged boy needing a father figure, there was my Karate instructor, Jeff Carmichael, who invited me to go to church with him.  As an 18-year-old getting ready to graduate high school, there was a girl named Laurie Stewart who I didn't even know, but she was my girlfriend's friend and had invited her to church; in turn, my girlfriend, Kelly (who is now my wife), invited me to that church--Wesley United Methodist Church on Harley Bridge Road in Macon, GA.  I'm so thankful to all of these people and others who invited me to come in through the doors of a church and meet with Jesus.  Each one influenced my life and the man I am today.
            Jesus told his disciples, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)  And after his resurrection, Jesus commanded his followers--and us--to make disciples.  This is our mission, but how do we do it?  What are the steps? 
            Jesus demonstrated how we make disciples by the way he made his own.  Jesus started with only 12 followers.  He befriended each of them and invited them to come and be his disciples.  More and more people began to follow Jesus as people invited their friends to come meet Jesus.  Here's the pattern: 1) Start with friends (it all starts with relationships).  2) Invite people to come in through a gate.  3) Go deeper.  4) Go serve.  Today, I want to share about coming in through a gate.

Luke 5:17-20
17 One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus.

18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, 19 but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

21 But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

22 Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 23 Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[d] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

25 And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!”

Jesus Has Power!
            Jesus has amazing power.  He has the power to forgive sins and the power to heal (in the story it is the same thing).  Isn't it interesting that Jesus tells the paralyzed man, "Your sins are forgiven."  Yeah?  So what?  He can't walk, Jesus, and you're focusing on his sins?  If Jesus is focusing on forgiveness, maybe it's a clue to us all how important forgiveness is.  We worry about the looming problems of sickness, financial problems, who are we gonna date/marry, our career, our kids...  We are so wrapped up in these because we think they are the priority and Jesus says, "Your sins are forgiven."  Now we could get angry at the Son of God because he seems to misunderstand what's really most important in life, or... we could take a second look at our priorities and consider if maybe we are looking at things all wrong.  Maybe sin is the real problem.  Maybe the solution to our other problems is getting our lives back in alignment with God's will.  Maybe it's true for our friends too.  Matthew 6:33, "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."
            Jesus says to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven."  This really bothers the Pharisees and teachers of religious law because only God has the power to forgive sins.  That's true.  But Jesus is God and to prove it he heals the man's paralysis as well.  I mean, anyone can say "Your sins are forgiven," but only God can tell a paralytic to stand up and walk and actually have him do it.  You see, Jesus has power!  He has the power to heal the lame and forgive sins.  He has the power of God!  And Jesus has the power to change your life.  But will you let him?  Will you come in to see Jesus?  And will you bring your friends to see Jesus so he can change their lives too? 

Key Idea
            The key idea today is in verse 18-19. “Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”
            Whatever it takes, you’ve got to come in and see Jesus so he can change your life.  And if you're going to follow Jesus' command to make disciples, you've got to bring your friends to come in and see Jesus too. 
            The paralytic's friends were desperate to get their friend in to see Jesus.  They knew Jesus had the power to help.  Unfortunately, the door to Jesus was blocked by the crowd.  But they weren't going to let that stop them.  They climbed up on the roof and dug a hole to make a new door!  Whatever it takes, bring your friends to come see Jesus.
            At my church, we understand how hard it is to get people to come see Jesus.  As Jesus said, the road to destruction is wide and many people travel it.  But the gate to God's Kingdom is narrow and few choose to enter.  So, we try to make as many opportunities as possible--as many figurative gateways or doors for people to come in to meet Jesus.  Some of the gates we offer are:  Sunday Worship, lunch groups, Wednesday night dinner and study time, Rock Solid Children ministry, Youth, Sunday school, Bible study, the Elizabeth Circle, Chrysalis, and the Walk to Emmaus.  We also sponsor special events like vacation Bible school, Super Bowl Sunday, community Easter egg hunt, truck or treat, model train exhibit, etc.  These are all great ways for people to come in and they are excellent opportunities for the disciples of our church to bring friends to see Jesus.
            That being said, sometimes you just gotta make a new door! Like the paralytic's friends who climbed up on the roof to dig a hole and make a new door to get their friend in to see Jesus, sometime you might have to make a new door to get your friends in to see Jesus.  What could you do?  What new event, program, Sunday school class, Bible study, etc. could you help start that would get your friend or others to come in and see Jesus?


Challenge
            I'd like to repeat the challenge I made last week.  I challenge you to pick three people you can pray for, help, encourage, and mentor for the next year.  Discipleship all starts with relationships.  Pick someone to whom you can be a friend and help along.  Invite them to come in and see Jesus.  Carry them in on a mat if you have to!  Cut a whole in the roof and lower them down (not really, but create a new opportunity for them to come if you have to).  
            We can all probably think of someone who influenced us, encouraged us, invited us to church, prayed for us, or helped us along life's path.  Someone who made a real positive difference in your life.  Aren't you glad they cared enough to help you?  Why don't you "pay it forward" by helping someone else in the same way?  That's what it means to make disciples, to be fishers of men.
            In closing, I want to read a letter I wrote to thank someone who made an eternal difference in my life.  Maybe you would like to write a similar letter to someone who helped you.  You don't have to give to them; you can if you want, but just writing the letter will remind you how thankful you are and may encourage you to do the same for someone else so they can come in and see Jesus.

My Letter

Dear Children’s Church Helper,

You probably don't know me, but when I was 8-years-old, you used to help lead children's church at Pine Forest Baptist Church in Macon.  This was in the mid-80s.  Anyway, I’m sorry to say I don’t even know your name.  You see, I was just a kid and I only attended your church for a few short years.  But I do remember going to children’s church.  I didn’t really know any of the other kids, but you had a friendly smile that made me feel welcome.  I could tell you had a special joy in your heart and I’m so glad you shared it.  I wish I knew your name, because I’d really like to get in touch and let you know how much your efforts as a children’s church volunteer meant to me.

The Old Chapel of Pine Forest Baptist Church in Macon, GA
In children’s church, all the kids would gather in the old white chapel while the adults worshiped in the main sanctuary.  I’m sure it was a task to keep all the kids under control and focused, because we didn’t always want to be there.  But y’all did your best to help us have fun and learn something.  We would sing songs like: “Father Abraham” and “Do Lord, Oh Do Lord, Oh Do Remember Me” and “I’m in the Lord’s Army.”   Then, we would listen to a Bible story.  One Sunday, you told us about heaven and hell and about how Jesus came to save us from our sins so we could live with him in heaven.  You said we needed to let Jesus into our heart.  I knew I believed in Jesus and I knew I was a sinner and needed to be forgiven and to let Jesus in my heart.  But I was a shy kid and was afraid to say anything to anyone.

Y’all used to have an altar call at the end of children's church every Sunday and you would sing the old invitational songs like "Just as I Am" and "Earnestly, Tenderly, Jesus is Calling".  Well, I felt Jesus calling me to invite him into my heart during children's church in that old chapel while you were singing.  There was just something about your tenor voice and the way you seemed transported as you sang “Come home!  Come home!  Ye who are weary, come home!  Earnestly tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling Oh sinner come home!”  Even as a kid, I could feel it.

It took 3 weeks for this shy 8-year-old to get up the nerve, but I finally answered Jesus’ invitation to come home.  I walked to the front of the chapel while you sand and someone took me aside to pray to receive Christ in the good ole Baptist way.  I became a Christian that day and I’ve known ever since that one day I will be with Jesus in heaven.  And I’m so thankful I walk with him now.  Thank you for the part you played in my salvation.

You changed the course of my life.  I'm 44 now and I try to live my life for Jesus every day.  My faith in Christ carried me through some rough years as a teenager and the struggles of young adulthood.  But Jesus never let me down and led through it all.  I’ve been a Methodist minister for the last 18 years.  So, I just wanted to say thank you.  Thank you for giving yourself to the kids who attended children’s church.  There’s no telling how many eternities you altered, but I’m so thankful you altered mine. 

I hope you’re doing well and will always be willing to invite someone to church or just pray with them or tell them or show them God's love.  And whenever you have a chance, invite them to let Jesus come into their hearts.  Maybe they will, just like I did.

Sincerely, You're Brother in Christ,

Reverend Chris Mullis

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fishers of Men

Introduction
            I am always so thankful when people come to my church to worship.  I know there are other things they could do on a Sunday morning.  If it is rainy, they could stay in and stay dry and lounge around the house.  If the weather is pretty, they could go out side and enjoy it.  So I'm always thankful to those who chose to come to church.  And I know that it makes God smile too.  He appreciates it every time a person chooses to come worship.  In fact, that's why He created us.  He designed us to worship and when we worship God, we fulfill one of our basic purposes in life.
            However, you may be ask “What’s in it for me?  What do I get out of worship?"  I'll tell you.  If you want to grow closer to God, if you want the assurance of eternal life, if you want to find real peace, forgiveness, and joy, if you want true fulfillment in life, you have to worship God.  Through worship, we align our wills with God.  Jesus' disciples worship.
            Jesus originally chose 12 people to be his disciples.  He spent 3 years training them.  Then, before he returned to heaven, Jesus sent his disciples out with an important mission to recruit more people to follow Jesus Christ.  The disciples went out and got to work.  They told people about Jesus.  They invited them to worship and follow Christ' teachings.  The Church (Jesus' followers) grew exponentially--despite great persecution and opposition from powerful people.  The mission continued throughout the centuries.  The work continues through churches like mine today.  But how do we make disciples?  What are the steps? 
            The Gospel shows how Jesus made disciples.  We live in a different day and age, but the
process is very much the same.  We still make disciples the same way Jesus did.  You invite a friend to come see Jesus.  Then, you go deeper.  Then you go out and serve.
            Over the next four weeks, I'll be discussing the disciple making process based on Jesus' method we use at my church, Pleasant Grove United Methodist.  Today I’ll start at the beginning of the process.  It all starts with friends.  Making disciples starts with relationship.  Usually, people hear about Jesus and His Church from people they already know. 
            That's how it began for me.  Even though I'm a pastor now and was appointed to my church by my Bishop, I first came to church because of a friend.  As a child, I went to church because my mother took me.  As a teenager, I went to church with my friends.  My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) invited me to attend Wesley United Methodist in Macon, GA.  She was going with her friend.  I started going with her.  And that started me down the road to being a disciple of Christ.  How about you?
            Let's look at the story of how Jesus invited the first disciples to follow him. 

Luke 5:1-11 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Key Verse
            The key verse for today is Luke 5:2 – “He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets.” 
            He noticed…  Among the crowds of people pressing around Jesus, he noticed two empty boats and the fishermen who were washing their nets.  Speaking from experience, I can tell you that when you are speaking in public, it can be hard to notice every individual people.  There's only one of me speaking up on stage and there may be hundreds in the congregation.  How can you notice what's going on with every individual.  However, despite the massive crowd surrounding Jesus, he noticed two empty boats and the fishermen washing their nets and decided to be part of their lives.
            Did you know Jesus cares about you and what’s going on in your life?  He notices when you are struggling with a tough problem.  He notices when you bow your head to pray.  He notices when you come to church to worship to focus on God, despite the many other important things vying for your attention.  And despite the fact that everyone wants Jesus' attention and help and forgiveness and grace, Jesus notices and cares about you.  He's never too important or too busy or too overwhelmed to notice you.
            The Gospels are full of stories where Jesus noticed and cared.  He noticed the woman at the Well--someone everyone scorned because she had lived with five husbands and was now living with a man who wasn't her husband.  Jesus notices and cared and gave her living water (John 4). 
            Jesus noticed the demon possessed man in graveyard--someone everyone had given up on.  He couldn't be trusted to live among society, so they tried to chain him up in the graveyard, away from town so he wouldn't hurt himself or anyone else.  And he would break free of the chains.  People just wanted to forget about the man, but Jesus noticed and cast out the demon and told him to go tell his family everything the Lord had done for him (Mark 5).
            Jesus noticed the woman in the crowd who couldn’t stop bleeding.  For twelve years, she'd tried every doctor, every treatment, every medicine, everything and nothing had worked.  Finally, in desperation she tried to come to Jesus for healing.  Unfortunately, there were so many crowding around, she couldn't get to him.  So she thought, "If I can just get on my hands and knees and crawl close enough to touch the hem of his robe..."  And she did and she was healed.  And even though crowds of people were pushing and bumping into him all around, Jesus noticed power had gone out from him and he spoke to the woman (Luke 8).
            Jesus noticed a sick man lying on a mat near the pool of Bethesda--someone who’d given up hope.  It was said the first person to get in the spring when the water started bubbling would be healed, but he was too slow.  Being very sick, he was slow and others always beat him the water.  For thirty-eight years he'd been sick.  And then Jesus noticed him and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  Instantly, the man was healed! (John 5).
            Jesus noticed the leper--who everyone thought was too disgusting to touch.  He was forced to live in quarantine because he had a contagious skin disease and everyone was afraid of him.  Jesus noticed him and toughed him and healed him (Luke 5).
            Jesus noticed Matthew the tax collector--someone everyone hated.  Jesus noticed him and said, "Follow me and be my disciple."  And Matthew did!  And he even invited Jesus and a bunch of other sinners to come eat dinner at his home.  He started inviting others to follow Jesus before he even knew what he was doing as a disciple himself!
            Jesus ministered to thousands of people, but he noticed and chose 12 people to really focus on.  They became his closest friends.  He invited them to be his disciples.  And because they were committed, Jesus poured himself into them.
            Who do you notice? Life is busy. People are pressing in all around you and everything seems so important. But in the midst of the chaos, who do you notice? Who do you notice that needs a friend? Who do you notice that needs help? Who do you notice that needs Jesus? 
            There is a guy who comes to my church named Jeremy. Jeremy struggles with a severe
Jeremy
anxiety disorder.  It's hard for him to be in crowds and his disorder is a troubling disability.  I first met Jeremy a few years ago when he called my church office after hours and left a message on our voicemail.  He said he was interested in talking to someone about the Methodist Church.  He'd been reading about it in a book and wanted to learn more.  My church secretary got the message and noticed something about it that made her think it might be important.  She passed his name and number on to me and said I might want to follow up.  So I called Jeremy and we started talking over the phone.  Eventually, we got together for lunch a few times.  Then, Jeremy got up the nerve to visit my church.  After a few moths of regular attendance, Jeremy rededicated his life to Christ.  He is now involved a weekly men's luncheon, serves as an acolyte, and sometimes even helps serve Holy Communion and sing in the choir.  Jeremy invites everyone he meets to Pleasant Grove.  His mother eventually joined too and his nieces come regularly to our Wednesday night youth and children's programs.  This is an amazing testament to the power of Jesus working in the life of a man disabled by an anxiety disorder.  You can watch a video of Jeremy's testimony here.
            Jeremy and I have become good friends.  I asked him, "Jeremy, why did you call Pleasant Grove?  I mean, I know you were interested in the Methodist Church, but there are several of them in the area.  Why did you call my church?"  Jeremy said, “I called a bunch of Methodist churches, but you were the only one who called back”  I'm glad we noticed Jeremy, because everyone else missed out.  The people you notice can be a huge blessing to you. We are always more blessed than the ones we try to bless.
            People often tell me they don't feel qualified to talk to people about Jesus or invite them to church.  “I feel like I don’t know enough to yet to make disciples," they say.  No one ever really does.  I don't and I've been a pastor for 18 years.  The disciples weren't qualified either, but they didn’t wait.  They started immediately “fishing” for new disciples.  Notice, they didn’t wait until they “graduated”.  They got “on the job training”, meaning they were learning as they were doing.  That's how disciples always learn--including you and me. 

Challenge
            Do you want church to mean something?  Do you really want grow closer to God, have the assurance of eternal life, find true peace, forgiveness, and joy?  Do you really want fulfillment in life?  Then you’ve got to be a disciple.  Jesus said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  I challenge you to follow Jesus.
            Disciples find a way to come in and get plugged in with His other disciples at Church.  I challenge you to make a specific commitment to come for worship each week.  I would love to have you worship with me and Jeremy and all the disciples at Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton.  Or, find a church near you.
            Worship.  Join a small group, Sunday School or Bible study.  Be part of a men’s or women’s group, a group of young adults.  Get involved with serving.  Join the choir or volunteer with youth or children.
            And this is absolutely critical:  Be “fishers of men”.  Inviting others to come in to see Jesus and go on this journey with you is absolutely critical.  It's not optional.  It's one of the most important ways you grow in your faith and without it, you cannot really grow the way Jesus wants you to.  I want to challenge everyone to pick 3 people to really focus on of the next 12 months.  Jesus picked Peter, James, and John (and the other disciples) and poured himself into them.  He loved them, encouraged them, nurtured and mentored them.  He developed and deployed them.  Who are 3 people you can mentor, pray for, and help?  You see, it’s not enough come sit on the sidelines and be a spectator.  Jesus wants followers, not fans.  He wants disciples who come learn to be fishers of men.