Monday, January 15, 2018

2018 State of the Communion Address

Introduction
Near the beginning of each year, the President of the United States gives a “state of the union address”.  This televised speech is made to a joint session of the congress reporting the condition of the country and outlining the legislative agenda and national priorities for the coming year.
For the last three years, I’ve been giving a similar address to my congregation because I think it’s a useful way to report on the condition of our church (our “Communion”) and set the tone for the coming year.  This year, I particularly want to focus on the work of the faithful servants in my church. 
There’s a wonderful hymn in the United Methodist Hymnal that says, “The Church is not a building.  The Church is not a steeple.  The Church is not a resting place.  The Church is a people.  I am the Church!  You are the Church!  We are the Church together!”  What a true sentiment!  The Church cannot function without people faithfully serving in all areas of ministry.  The Church functions best when everyone does their part.  So in 2018, I invite you to grow as a person and grow in your faith by intentional service. 

Philippians 1:3-6
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

The Apostle Paul was Thankful for the Philippians
            These joyous words of the Apostle Paul were written from prison.  No doubt, Paul was thankful for some supplies the Philippians had sent.  In New Testament times, prisons often did not supply all the needs of their prisoners as they do today.  Food, clothing, and other necessary supplies were provided by friends and family on the outside.  Certainly, Paul was thankful that the Philippians made sure Paul had what he needed to live while he was in prison for sharing the Gospel of Jesus, but there was more.
            Paul was thankful for the Philippians spiritual birth, growth, and shared Gospel ministry.  Paul was the Philippians' spiritual father.  His missionary work among them helped bring them to Christ.  Paul was proud of his spiritual children in the same was a father is proud of his kids.  There is a special bond with those you lead to a spiritual awakening in Christ. 
            Furthermore, Paul was also proud the Philippians had not remained infants in Christ.  They were growing spiritually through service.  So he could write with confidence, I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” 
            As a pastor, I am so proud of those whom I have helped in some small way to have a spiritual awakening--whether it be accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, seeing them join my church, discover a new passion for Christ, or awaken to a deeper and truer understanding of faith.  What a wondrous thing it is for a spiritual father to see your "children" grow in faith!
            One vital and indispensable element of spiritual growth is service.  Thus, Paul was thankful the Philippians shared in his Gospel ministry as he says, “…for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ…”  Not only was their service a tremendous help in spreading the Good News about Jesus, it was an important part of their growth in Christ.  No one who becomes a Christian and then does nothing to help with His ministry will grow.  On the contrary, those who do not intentionally serve as if willingly serving Christ himself are likely to grow cold and lifeless in their faith and are even in danger of nurturing bitterness, jealousy, and all kinds of rotten fruit.
            I am so thankful for the many faithful people at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Dalton who work tirelessly to carry on the ministries of our congregation.  I want to name some of them here as I explain some of the ministry roles in our church.
 
The Church is Not the Pastor
            I wasn't at my church to preach for the last two Sundays.  The first absence was planned as I was serving at spiritual retreat for youth and young adults.  I am so thankful for Kelsey Ikerd who is a bright young lady with a strong faith in Christ and a God-given ability to speak publicly.  I asked Kelsey to speak in my absence because I knew it would be a blessing to my congregation and an opportunity for Kelsey to grow.  I'm thankful she agreed.
            My second absence was not planned.  On January 2nd, I came down with the flu type B.  My wife followed with flu type A and then all three of my children came down one or the other.  I'm so thankful for our music minister, David Crawford, who called me as soon as he found out and offered to lead a special worship service so I could stay at home and rest with my family (and not spread the virus).  I knew David was a capable, dependable leader and that the service would be in excellent hands.  I'm thankful to have leaders like David who care and are willing and able to help.  I'm also thankful for the choir who is so well rehearsed they can adapt and help David lead a wonderful service of prayer and music in my unexpected absence.  I'm also thankful for prayerful leaders like Jason Denson, Sherry Dickson, and Beth Tessmer whom David could call upon to help lead prayers during the service last week while I was sick.  And of course, I'm thankful for Tom Dickson, our worship leader, who is always willing and able to help.
            I am also especially thankful for our church secretary, Angela Stack.  Between Christmas and New years holidays, the spiritual retreat, and then being sick for a week, I missed almost 3 weeks.  Thankfully, the church can survive for a few weeks without me because Angela--with the help of other leaders in the church--can keep things running.  However, I don't think the church could survive very long if Angela was out sick.  She is the real workhouse behind the scenes and I'm quite thankful for her.

Behind the Scenes
            You see a lot happening in the church and, perhaps, you associate ministry with these more visible examples.  However, the greatest majority of the work happens behind the scenes and you may not even think of it.  For example, do you know what an altar guild is?  The altar guild comes in early each Sunday morning to set up our worship space.  Jean Coker and Kay Fetzer arrange and place flowers and other decorations to draw our attention to the beauty of God.  They also change the paraments to colors that symbolize the season of the Christian year and do other important task like set up for Holy Communion. 
            Also working behind the scenes, Frank and Kaye Fetzer spend countless hours each week making sure our facilities are clean and ready to host worship and other important events.  Others like Andy Andrews (our trustees chair), makes sure everything is in working order--either getting someone to come fix it or fixing it himself.  Some who have done a lot of work on our facilities this year were James Greenway (installing more efficient LED lights), Bobby Brooker (fixing lights and light switches and flag poles), Mike Kirk, Jason and Johnny Denson (replacing the mulch on our playground), Dianne O’Brien (taking inventory of furniture and equipment damaged by a water leak), and many
others. 
            Our church is blessed to be in a great location on one of the busiest thoroughfares in our community.  Each day between 10,000 - 20,000 cars drive past our church.  Someone before I ever came here had the foresight to say we should have a church sign that enables us to share messages with the community.  Did you know the Holy Spirit doesn't sneak up each week and put a message on the sign?  Nope.  The Holy Spirit inspires a group of people from our church to do it.  This past year, our sign team included:  Beth Tessmer, the Kevin Roberts Family, Grace Mullis, Mara Cobble, Kyle & McKenzi Marlow, Rene Gallman, the Jeff McDonald Family, Mike Marlow, the Scott Ward family, and Ron & Donna Philips.  Regardless of if it was pretty weather or rain or snow, hot or cold, these faithful servants come out as often as needed to change the message on our sign.  And people in our community noticed.  I hear all the time from people throughout Dalton and Whitfield county how much the appreciate the encouragement, wisdom, and information we share on our church sign.  This is another way we share in the Gospel ministry.
            Many other things happen behind the scenes.  Did you know the offering we collect each week doesn't count itself?  No.  Our Financial secretaries do that.  While you are already sitting down to lunch after Sunday worship, there are faithful servants still at church counting and depositing the offering.  Our financial secretaries are:  Debra Sloan, Jean Coker, and Nancy Ware.  Added to these are our church treasurers Jeff McDonald (who handles reports & and financial planning) and Donna Philips (who signs all the checks at our church to pay bills and paychecks).  Many others serve behind the scenes to manage the business of our church--whether it be as elected church officers, serving on the church council, finance committee, board of trustees, the nominations team, or the human resources team.  There are too many people in these roles to name here.

Ushers
            One vital servant roll in the church that we often take for granted is that of the ushers.  Ushers are often the first people you meet when you arrive at the church for worship.  Ushers are here to greet you and give you a bulletin and help you find your way into the church.  How they treat you--whether good or bad--can set the tone for your whole worship experience to prepare you to draw close to Jesus or leave distracted and unfocused. 
            Ushers also help keep us safe.  As they welcome people with a friendly smile, they also notice whether someone is in a safe frame of mind to be here.  If a problem arises during the service, the ushers are there to help manage the situation.  And did you know that, while we are gathered in the sanctuary, one of our ushers also patrols the parking lot to keep an eye on things and serve as a deterrent to anyone looking for mischief.  The ushers are very important.
            Mike Marlow coordinated our ushers and he is always faithful to make sure we have the people we need who know what to do.  This year, our lead ushers who recruited ushers for each Sunday and helped the Financial Secretaries count the offering after the service were:  Don Douglas, Garry Bingham, Kyle Marlow, Frank Fetzer, Scott Ward, Jimmy Brooker, Johnny Denson, Gary Carter, Perry Motley, Andy Andrews, Steven Yarbrough, and Eddie Brooker.  I'm very thankful for everyone who serves as an usher at PGUMC. 

Acolytes
            Do you know what an acolyte is?  The acolytes light the candles on our altar at the beginning of the service.  However, there is more to this that you think.  The candles on our altar signify the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit.  So, at the very beginning of the worship service, a specially trained acolyte brings the "light of Christ" into the sanctuary and lights the candles on the altar.  Then, at the end of the service, the acolytes don't just blow out the candles.  No, they take the flame from the candles back out of the sanctuary, symbolizing that the light of the Holy Spirit doesn't just stay in the sanctuary; it leads us back out into the world to serve.  So as you leave worship, know that the Holy Spirit goes with you to lead and guide and equip you for our shared ministry of the Gospel.  This year, our acolytes were:  Jeremy Ptak, DJ Seifert, Amaya Childers, Allyssa Childers, Alex Childers, Abigail Mullis, Lindsey Harris, Trenton Hartman, Trevor Hartman, Walker England, Trevor Maddox, and Mattie Maddox 

Children’s Ministry
            One of our most important responsibilities is bringing kids up in the church so they are able to develop faith in Jesus Christ for themselves.  One of our goals last year was to provide exceptional ministry to children.  We've made great strides toward that end.  Last year we saw many milestones as evidence.  Our annual community Easter egg hunt, which normally sees about 30-40 children, had over 200 kids attend.  They came to hunt for candy eggs, but they also heard the life changing story of Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the grave. 
            Other milestones were offering one of the best summer Vacation Bibles Schools I can ever remember with about 45 kids in attendance.  We also had an amazing Trunk or Treat with nearly 1,000 people attending.  Many of those came back to share or wrote their thanks on our Facebook page--expressing how much the appreciate the enthusiasm and love we offer our community through our trunk or treat.
           As part of our initiative to offer excellent ministry to children, we have been searching for the right children's minister to lead the ministry.  I am so happy to have Ashten Webb now on board in this role.  I'm very impressed with Ashten's diligent work so far.  She has done a great job in the short time she's been here and has picked out some awesome lesson series for 2018.  Ashten continues to impress me with her ability to think theologically while also understanding how to communicate with children.  I think she is going to do an excellent job so far with our kids and look forward to seeing her excel.
            Of course, we could not do children’s ministry without everyone’s help.  We have many helpers who serve with children in a variety of ways.  On Wednesday nights, DJ Seifert, Allie Motley McClain, Matt Webb have been faithful helpers.  In the nursery, Rachel Ward is our paid attendant, but Laurie Wilson has helped coordinate volunteers to help Rachel.  And this year, Laurie--with the help of her husband Mike--went through and cleaned and upgraded the nursery to make sure it was safe and in the best possible condition to serve parents and our youngest children.  Volunteers who helped in the nursery this year were:  Allie McClain, Andrea Denson, Debra Sloan, Teresa Marlow, Becky Ward, Susan Forester, Tanya Brooker, Rita Wagers, Susan Cooksey, Mary Hartman, JoAnn Ward, Lori Roberts, Amanda Mays, Diane O’Brien, Meri McDonald, Grace Mullis, and Judy Forester.
            Debra Sloan coordinated our children's church volunteers, who each took a month to teach children about Jesus during our worshp hour.  Their faithful service helped parents to focus their own spiritual growth while knowing their children were receiving a worship experience specifically tailored for their age level.  This year, our children's church volunteers were:  Jason & Andrea Denson, Maribeth Reno & Karla Motley, Tanya Brooker & Donna Douglas, Teresa & Andy Andrews, Kyle & Teresa Marlow, Kelly Mullis & Kathryn Brooker, Mike & Cindy Marlow, Lori & Kevin Roberts, Mike and Laurie Wilson, Jeff & Meri McDonald, Amy Crawford & Jean Carter, and Angel Kirk & Sallie Thomas.  Subing in from time to time were Jean Coker, Kelsey Kirk Ikerd, and Debra Sloan.

Youth Ministry
            Amy Harris has been our youth minister for almost 4 years now.  Amy works hard to build relationships with youth, teach them about Jesus and lead them to deepen their faith, and she plans and coordinates special events for them throughout the year.  I'm very thankful for the work Amy does, but I also understand she doesn't do it alone.  Parents, volunteers, chaperones, drivers, helpers all do their part to minister to youth.  I don’t have a list of everyone who has taught Sunday school, sat in on youth lessons, or volunteered as a chaperone or to drive the church van, but if you helped with youth, you have made a difference and I think it can help you grow too if you serve the youth as if you were serving Jesus. 
            It is said that the youth are the future of the church.  I would challenge that statement because I believe the youth are more than just the future.  I believe the youth are the church today!  So let us support them and everyone who works with them with all our heart.  And I invite you to come to Pleasant Grove January 21 for Youth Sunday and you will see some of our amazing youth being the church as they lead us in worship.

Hosting & Hospitality
            Hospitality is listed in scripture as a special gift the Holy Spirit gives to some to enable them to serve the church.  We have many who use this gift at Pleasant Grove in a variety of ways.  One of the biggest is on Wednesday nights when we gather for our weekly fellowship meal.  It is such a blessing to have one night a week when we don't have to focus on cooking and cleaning our kitchens, but instead can come to church to fellowship with our church family and focus on learning about our faith.  We offer an affordable, healthy, home-cooked meal and studies for children, youth, and adults every Wednesday.  But we could not do it without incredible, faithful, volutneers who take a month out of the year to serve.  These volunteers come in early to set up, put out food, serve, and stay late to clean up.  They are a true blessing.  Angel Kirk (and her husband Mike), coordinate our volunteers (and often fill in when they are absent).  I cannot thank them enough for their service.  Volunteers who helped on Wednesday nights were:  Jason & Andrea Denson, Andy & Teresa Andrews, Jeff & Meri McDonald, Diane O’Brien, Kevin & Lori Roberts, Randy & Jean Coker, Mike & Cindy Marlow, Mike & Angel Kirk, Chad & Kelsey Ikerd, Gary & Jean Carter, Ron & Donna Phillips, Stephen & Kathy Yarbrough, Kathryn Brooker, Rena Gallman, Sallie Thomas, Sherry Dickson, Eddie & Tanya Brooker, Angela Stack, Debra Sloan, Maribeth Reno, Perry & Karla Motley, Mike & Laurie Wilson, and Diane & Bill Caylor.  We really could use some more help on Wednesday nights.  So please contact me or Angel Kirk if you would like to help.
            We have other opportunities to show hospitality.  The following people have served as hosts who provide heavy snacks before Thursday morning Bible study: JoAnn Ward (coordinator), Mary Helen Speights, Margie Sosebee, Marsha Ray, Gail Bradford, Kathryn Brooker, Sally Brooker, Donna Douglas, Judy Forester, Susan Cooksey, and Cathy Byers. 
            Others have provided snacks or a devotion for the Elizabeth Circle women's mission group:  Marsha Ray, Judy Forester, Susan Cooksey, Kathryn Brooker, Mary Helen Speights, Kay Denson, Diane O’Brien, Hattie Morse, Donna Phillips, Miriam Storey, Linda Powell, Kay Denson, JoAnn Ward, Susan Cooksey, and Jo Marlow.  
            Another way to show hospitality is on our Bereavement Committee, which provides a meal for families in our church who have lost a loved one.  It's a important time for grieving families to have a chance to visit and comfort one another without the worry of making food.  It's a grace and gift our church provides to those in need because of the following faithful volunteers:  Kathryn Brooker, Donna Douglas, Diane O’Brien, Diane Caylor, Susan Cooksey, Marsha Ray, Barbara Haley, Marie Jordan, Debra Sloan, Angel Kirk, Judy Forester, JoAnn Ward, Jean Coker, Linda Powell, Nellie Felker, Hattie Morse, Cathy Byars, Miriam Storey, Jo Marlow, Kaye Denson, and Mara Cobble. 

The Nitty Gritty
            Now I don't want to bore you anymore with more and more lists of faithful people who have served and, unfortunately, I don't really have time.  And I haven't even gotten a chance to brag on people like Sherry Dickson and Susan Cooksey and all those who help with our sack lunch program or Trunk-or-Treat or Easter Egg Hunts.  I haven't mentioned all our Sunday school teachers who faithfully prepare a lesson each week and then come to teach and disciple their classes.  And I am sure I have forgotten to mention someone or something that I really should mention (like Bobby Forester who runs the sound and slides for almost all our worship services).
            I am proud of everyone who serves and it warms my heart to see people growing in the faith and I am thankful for every partner in the Gospel ministry.  However, my point in all this is not just to show how proud I am of everyone or to try to write the names of everyone I want to thank.  My point is this: this is the Church--it is the people who are growing as they serve as partners in the ministry of the Gospel.  We cannot Be the Church without people who serve. 
            So this is the main thing I want to see my church focus on in the coming year.  In 2018, I would like to see more people involved and serving.  Instead of people looking for excuses to get out of serving, I want to see people looking for reasons and ways they can serve.  If you’re not involved, I want to see you get involved.  If you are involved, I would like to see you become more involved or to become more effective and/or focused in the ways you are involved.  The Church cannot operate without you.  But there's another reason I want you more involved.  I want you involved because this is how you grow in your faith.
            The Church is made up of disciples of Jesus Christ.  A disciple learns by living like their master.  Jesus is our Master and we want to live like him.  How did he live?  Jesus faithfully served, giving everything--even his own life.  In Matthew 20:28 Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  So, we who want to be like him should do as he did.  For if he was not too good to serve, how much more should we be willing.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Eat Your Vegetables - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Acts 2:42 – All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

“Eat your vegetables!”  It’s a phrase exasperated parents often exclaim as they plead with kids to eat the healthy food on their plate.  Rarely will you hear them beg, “Eat your cake!  Drink more sweet tea!  Please, have another cookie or piece of pizza!”  But alas, the neglected vegetable—the healthy source of such vital vitamins and minerals and nourishing stuff pediatricians say our kids must have—remain the bane of many a child’s mealtime experience.
Perhaps a parent’s quest to force healthy food down their kids’ gullets is even more difficult because adults often crinkle their noses at the green things on the table too.  Ham and macaroni and cheese are great, but broccoli, spinach, or Brussel sprouts?  How can you encourage your kids to eat wholesome vegetables when you don’t like them yourself? 
Parents will sometimes try to trick kids (or themselves) into eating vegetables by disguising them as other foods.  I saw a segment on TV about using spaghetti squash to make lasagna.  “It tastes just like regular lasagna!” they exalted, “You wouldn’t even know it was good for you!”  Well, whatever it takes I guess…
We need to eat more healthy vegetables.  As I’ve grown up, I’ve found I like many of the vegetables I used to turn my nose at as a child.  I have “put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11) so to speak (except for Brussel sprouts, bleh!).  As a mature adult, I enjoy how vegetables offer variety, texture, and flavor to my meals as well as nutrition without all the add calories associated with bread and fatty meats.
There are activities in the Christian faith that many treat like vegetables—things people know are good for them, but they just don’t like to do.  Some of these might be reading the Bible, keeping a daily prayer time, going to Sunday school and church, and receiving Holy Communion.  When the preacher says “Do these!” we crinkle our nose like a stubborn child and refuse or make excuses (or just pretend like we’re doing them and hope no one notices we’re not).
As you look ahead and ponder your goals for the coming year, consider that you cannot progress unless you “eat your vegetables.”  In other words, you cannot fully grow as a person unless you do the things that help you grow.  Jesus’ first believers found growth by devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)  Sound familiar?  Those “vegetables” sound I lot like: reading the Bible, attending Sunday school and church, receiving Holy Communion, and daily prayer.
When we eat our “spiritual vegetables,” we find the Holy Spirit produces some sweet spiritual fruit in our life:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  So, eat your vegetables and you will taste some sweet fruit.  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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Real Love

Introduction
            Advent is the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas when Christians prepare to celebrate Christ's birth, but it is also a time we focus on preparing for Jesus' second coming.  The first time, Jesus came as a harmless little baby.  But the second time, Jesus will come as a conquering King ready to separate the good from the evil. 
            Thankfully, God loves us so much and wants us to be ready.  That’s why He sent Jesus to first time—to get us ready.  Jesus shows us how we need to live and he already atoned for our sins.  Aren't you glad Jesus came the first time so we can be ready when he comes the second time?
 
John 3:1616 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Real Love
            There are many popular songs written about love and love is a common theme in books, television, and movies.  However, real love, the kind of love Jesus shows and wants us to have, is so much deeper than the love the world promotes.  Mother Teresa said, "Love, to be real, must cost.  It must hurt.  It must empty us of self."
            I see a lot of expressions of real love in our congregation.   Real love is 12 people from our church joining with a team from Grace Presbyterian to feed over 100 needy people at the City of Refuge last Monday night.  Real love is Kevin Roberts there coloring a picture with a little girl and Tanya Brooker tutoring a child on their math homework before the food was served.  Real love is when our church secretary, Angela, can’t sleep at night because she’s tossing and turning in the bed at 3 AM thinking about what we can do with poinsettias to show the love of Jesus—and she comes up with the Poinsettia Challenge. 
            Real love is Susan Cooksey—a retired teacher—going over to Pleasant Grove Elementary School each week to help out and see how our church can be a blessing to the school.  Most people retire and throw their hands up in praise, "I'm done!  I don't have to work any more!  I've done my time.  Now I can sit at home and collect a retirement check."  In stead, Susan continues to go to the school and work as a volunteer to help teachers and students, because that's what real love does.
            Real love is a Jason and Andrea Denson going through over 2 years of preparation and training and paperwork and praying and hoping and crying and hoping and crying and hoping some more before finally flying over to China to meet their new daughter.  Real love is their son, Jace—who’s been the baby of the family getting all the attention for almost a decade—welcoming his new sister into the family with open arms.  He willingly shares his family with his new sister.
            Real love is James and Mary Greenway taking clothes over to the residents who lost everything in an apartment fire in Dalton this weekend and praying with them to bring peace in the midst of a tragedy.  Real love is Amy Harris spurring our church to sponsor 20 families who have a loved one in prison so they will have Christmas presents and leading the youth to host a Angel Tree Party for the families yesterday.  Real love is someone from our church going to visit a friend in prison because they’re struggling with addiction and mental illness and they did a terrible thing, but Jesus still loves them so we do too. 
            Real love is a parent who sacrifices the time, the money, their life, gaining gray hairs through nights of worry and praying and shedding tears of joy and sometimes disappointment.  Real love is a spouse who cares for their husband or wife as they slowly fade into dementia.  Real love never giving up even when it hurts so bad you just want to die.
1 John 4:19 – We love each other because he [God] loved us first.
            Even though humanity had turned their backs on God, God still loved us and sent Jesus.  We didn't deserve any help, any mercy, any love, but God showed loved us and showed mercy and helped us anyway.  And oh how great is the extent of God's wonderful love!  He sent his one and only son.  He could have and should have come as king treated to a palace and glory with everyone serving him.  But Jesus didn't come to be served.  He came to serve others.  He showed what real love is and he said:

John 15:13 – There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
            Jesus showed us what real love is.  Every day, Jesus laid down his life by the way he served and put others before himself.  And ultimately in the end, Jesus literally laid down his life when he died on the cross for our sins.  1 John 4:10, "This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." 



Get Ready and Follow Jesus
            Jesus loves us with real love and he want us to love him so we will be ready.  Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love me, obey my commandments." And what were his commands?  Let me distill it down to 4 basic truths.
 

·       Command #1 – Repent.  The first sermon Jesus preached was "Repent for the Kingdom of God is near."  In other words, your day of reckoning and judgment could happen at any moment.  God is about to separate the good from the bad and reward each accordingly.  So you better turn away from your wrongdoing and turn to God.
·       Command # 2 – Trust Jesus.  You have to turn away from your evil ways and trying to do what you want and trust and follow Jesus' way.  Do you trust Jesus enough to give up what you want and work for what he wants?  That is the only way to be ready to meet him face to face when he comes again.  That is the only way to find eternal life.
·       Command # 3 – Love.  Jesus said to love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  John 15:12, Jesus said, "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you."  What does that mean?  It means you lay down your life.  It means life stops being about you.  It’s about serving others and loving them the way Jesus did.
·       Command #4 – Go.  In  Matthew 28:19, 20, Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations…  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you…"  That’s what I what I try to do everyday by the way I live and even as I write this blog.  I want you to become a disciple of Jesus, because I love you and I want you have eternal life in the Kingdom of God with me. 
 
Are you ready to meet Jesus when he comes again? I hope with all my heart you will obey these commands so you will be ready, because I want to meet you one day in eternity.  Let's plan to get together then and go for a walk down the golden streets beside the crystal sea.  If you've never become a real Christian--one who has repented, believed in Jesus, received his forgiveness, and committed to follow Him--why don't you ask God to receive you into His Kingdom today.  You can use the following as a guide as you pray to God.

A Prayer to Become a Christian
"Father, I'm so sorry for trying to do things my way.  I repent.  I surrender my life to You.  Forgive me for what I've done and help me to follow Jesus from this day forward.  Help me to love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And help me to love everyone I meet the way You love them.  Show me how I can tell people what Jesus is doing for me.  Thank You for saving me!  Now help me live for You for the rest of my life.  Amen."

If you prayed to become a Christian today, I would like to here from you.  Please email me at ReverendChrisMullis@Hotmail.com so I can pray for you.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Real Hope

 
Introduction
            Advent--the four weeks leading up to Christmas--are a season of waiting as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth.  However, Jesus said he would come again to bring a New Heaven and  a New Earth.  Advent is also to prepare so we will be ready when Jesus comes.  No one knows the day or our of Christ's return for the world; it could be in the next moment or in a thousand years.  However, everyone can be sure Christ will come for them individually in their life time--for no one escapes death and when we die we will each see Jesus face to face.  Will you be ready?  Can you be at peace with your inevitable personal encounter with the second coming of the Son of God?  now is the time to prepare so you can have real peace.
 
Luke 2:(8-12,) 13-14
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
   and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
 
A Fear Evoking Sight
          Verse 14 is the key verse I want you to consider.  The angels sang, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
            It is no wonder the angel started his message by saying, “Don’t be afraid!”  It would be quite frightening to see an angel appear in the middle of the night.  The shepherds were prepared to protect their sheep from wild animals and thieves, but what do you do with an angelic being?  And then it was not just one angel, it was a whole army from heaven!
            Peace?  Really? And army is designed for fighting and killing and war.  They come bearing weapons.  And this army is a host of angels!  That is not the kind of thing that makes me think of peace!  So the angel assured them toey came to bring peace and there was no need to be afraid.
            How freeing and exciting it can be when we witness something of amazing power and majesty and also know we have nothing to fear.  I think that may have been how Jesus felt.  Remember the time a terribly fierce storm arose while he and the disciples were out on a boat?  The disciples are afraid for their life, but Jesus is asleep.  You see, he had nothing to fear from the storm.  His only concern was the cross he would be nailed to one day.  So he could enjoy the storm--marveling in the power and wonder of it or let the wind and wave and thunder sing him to peaceful sleep. 
            Are you afraid of the thunder?  What if you were absolutely certain the storm would not harm you?  Could you then just watch and enjoy the thrill and beauty of it all?  What about life?  What about the eventual end that awaits us all? 

Real Peace
           Real peace is knowing Jesus is Lord of all and submitting to Him.  Surrender to him is the source of true peace.  When the armies of heaven come, the only ones who need to fear are those who fight against them or who are enemies of God.  But Jesus forgives everyone who truly surrenders and accepts him as Lord.  Those, he saves. 
            Surrender means trusting in God’s way, not ours.  And we have to accept that God’s way is not our way.  Things will have to change.  We have to find peace with the changes God brings as He rights all the wrongs in our world and our lives.

            You can have real peace because of what Christ has already done for you.  The Bad News is we have all sinned and fallen short of God's glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  No one can be good enough to earn God's love or favor.  And unfortunately, the consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).  So, anyone who tries to win God over by the things they do is bound to fail miserably.  Not only will you fail miserably to bring peace and order and fulfillment to your life, you will also live in fear of as an rebellious enemy of God.  That is the Bad News, but the angels came to bring Good News and here it is!
            The Good News is God sent Jesus to be born as a human being, to live as one of us (but without sin), and to die to cover the consequences of our sin.  So we don’t have to be guilty or ashamed or afraid.  God, through Jesus Christ, has already done everything that needs to be done.  As Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”
            Now, that doesn’t mean we do nothing.  First of all, we have to surrender.  The war is over.  God has won.  He offers forgiveness and reconciliation to all who surrender.  Second, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a master who went away on a trip.  He put the servants in charge until his return.  Now the servants must decide if they are going to do the Master's will or if they will just goof off until the Master returns.  What will the Master find His servant's doing when He returns?
            Over the next few weeks, many of you will receive guests in home for the holidays.  Many of you are preparing for your guest even now--cleaning, vacuuming, mopping, washing, putting things away.  But what if you're guest showed up a few days early?  Would you be ready?  Or would you be ashamed your guests would find your home in disarray with things still out on the counter your didn't want them to see?  It would be better if we all just kept our homes clean all the time so we would have nothing to be ashamed of if a guest came unexpectedly.
            Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour when he will return (he doesn't even know himself, only God knows).  Therefore, we should always strive to always have you life in order, to be doing the things Christ asks his followers to do.  That way we will have nothing to fear and we can have real peace.  So live your life in such a way that people always know you love them and nothing is ever left undone or unsaid that need to be done and said. 


Let There Be Peace on Earth             Real Peace starts with you and spreads to those around you.  It starts with the choice you make today, right now.  It continues with the choices you make as you start each new day as you choose to follow Jesus’ plan instead of your own until Jesus’ plan is your plan.  It spreads as you share the Good News and love of Jesus with everyone around you.  Before you know it, peace spread further and further as more and more surrender to the true Lord of Heaven and Earth.
            United Methodists have a wonderful Hymn in our hymnal written by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson.  Here is an excerpt about the song from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-let-there-be-peace-on-earth.

Jill Jackson shared the story of how the song was written:  “When I attempted suicide [in 1944] and I didn’t succeed, I knew for the first time unconditional love—which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”  This realization was followed by years of exploring her spiritual nature and her relationship with God.
In 1955, Jill wrote the lyrics for “Let There Be Peace on Earth” while her husband wrote the melody. The song was introduced at a retreat for a group of young people.  Sy Miller wrote about the effect of the song: “One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment—‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’—helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.
“When they came down from the mountain, these inspired young people brought the song with them and started sharing it. And, as though on wings, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ began an amazing journey around the globe. It traveled first, of course, with the young campers back to their homes and schools, churches and clubs.”
Miller noted that the song was then shared in all 50 states at school graduations, PTA meetings, holiday gatherings, celebrations of Brotherhood Week, Veterans Day, Human Rights Day and United Nations Day. Kiwanis clubs sang it, as well as 4-H clubs, United Auto Workers, the American Legion, etc.  The song was taped, copied, printed in songbooks and passed by word of mouth. Eventually it spread overseas, sung by Maoris in New Zealand and Zulus in Africa.  The song has been recorded by a host of vocal artists including Tennessee Ernie Ford, Pat Boone, Johnny Mathis, and Harry Connick Jr.
It received the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge for “Outstanding achievement in helping to bring about a better understanding of the American Way of Life.” The National Conference of Christians and Jews has also honored the composers with the Brotherhood Award.  In 2009 Random House published “Let There Be Peace on Earth” as a children’s book.

            All this from a song written and sung at a retreat for a bunch of kids.  It’s amazing how Real Peace can spread when you and I make a choice to let the peace of Jesus live inside our hearts and share it with everyone we meet.  Will you make that choice today?  Pray about it as you listen to these words of the song:

Let There Be Peace on Earth
(#431, The United Methodist Hymnal)
Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me.
Let There Be Peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be!
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now.
With every breath I take, let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally!
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!