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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Conquering Excuses


Introduction 
[CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast.]
Imagine how awesome Heaven will be.  We will live with God forever, surrounded by perfect love.  There will be no more pain or sorrow or suffering or sickness or death.  All that was broken will be made whole.  Our affirmatives and shortcomings will all be healed and forgiven.  We will know each other perfectly--including our loved ones who died in Christ.  It is a beautiful vision and it will be glorious!

Luke 14:15-24
15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”
16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

Explain the Parable 
Some of Jesus' parables are hard to understand. This one is pretty straightforward. God has prepared a feast of all good things and He invites everyone to come enjoy with Him. But when the call comes, people make excuses. They are too wrapped up in the things of this world to accept God's invitation. 

But here's the thing. Few would actually reject God's invitation to the Kingdom Feast if it was obvious it was God inviting them to feast in His Kingdom. People miss out because God's invitation comes every day in a thousand small ways.  I commend you all for getting up this morning to come to church.  This morning, you accepted the invitation to feast in God’s Kingdom in one small way.  Many people choose to do something else on Sundays besides worship the Lord.  They make excuses for not going to church.  They don’t realize they are excusing themselves from a feast with the King of kings.  People make excuses for other things too—for not praying, not reading the Bible, not helping their neighbor.

In a thousand small ways, God invites us to feast in His Kingdom.  And each time the invitation comes, we have a choice to make. Do we accept the invitation or make an excuse.  Your life is a collection of millions of these small choices.  And they add up.  You might not notice the effect your excuses have at the time you offer them.  But one day you will stand before God and look back and you will see the sum of all you did.  I hope you won’t see a mountain of excuses has piled up when it should be a multitude of blessings from God.
 
What Do You Need to Do?
Many of you know it’s time to make a change in your life, but you're stuck. You're making excuses and it's killing you.  What do you need to work on?  Do you need to?  Change your spiritual habits? Ask for forgiveness? Repent of sin? Exercise more? Change your eating habits? Changing careers? 

Excuses are Lies
You know what you need to do.  But you keep making excuses.  I’m here to tell you today, all your excuses are lies.  It’s the Enemy of God whispering in your ear:
  • “I don’t have time.” That’s a lie. you always have time for what's really important to you.
  • “I just can’t do it.” That’s a lie. With God, all things are possible.
  • “I tried before and failed.” That doesn’t mean you won’t eventually succeed.  Don't give up!
  • “I can’t afford it.” If it’s a worthwhile goal, it’s worth spending the money. You just have to decide what’s really important to you.
  • “I’m to old to start."  You're never too old.  There was a man at a church I once served who learned to snow ski at the age of 70 and he volunteered as a chaperone for the church's youth ski trip every winter.  How old were Abraham and Sara when they had Isaac, the child God promised to give them?

Your excuses aren’t valid.  It’s time to throw away all your excuses and just be honest.  The Truth shall set you free—free to be all that God wants you to be, to be your very best self, to be part of God's glorious Kingdom! 

Fear lies beneath many of our excuses.  We lack of faith that change is really possible. Fear makes you freeze, but faith forces you to move.  Have faith!  Perhaps it is impossible for you, but all things are possible with God. If it looks too hard, ask God for help and He will give you someone to help.  He is the God who raised Lazarus from the dead after his body had already started to decay.  And He is the God who died on a cross and rose from the grave on the third day.  God can do anything!

Sometimes, the obstacles to change are more than mental; they are real. That doesn't mean we can't change. We just have to find a way around the obstacle.  Don’t believe the lie that it’s impossible.

If anyone has a reason to make excuses about why it's impossible to do something, it's Nick Vujicic.  Nick was born without arms or legs.  Doctors said Nick would never walk, yet, Nick taught himself to walk using only his hips.  He went further, learning how to swim without arms or legs.  Then he taught himself how to surf and went skydiving.  Nick speaks in front of thousands of people every year, inspiring them to stop making excuses.  Nick has learned that nothing is impossible if you apply yourself, don't give up, ask for help, and find a way around the obstacles in front of you.  [Click here to watch a video of Nici Vujicic.] 

Impossible is Nothing
Don’t make excuses.  Find a way forward.  Go over, under, or around the obstacles in your life.

Do a mental exercise:  What would you do to change your life if you believed that you are able to overcome this excuse you’re making? Don’t have time? What would you do if you had all the time in the world? No money?  What would you do if money wasn’t important? And if you had all the money you needed? Feeling unconfident? What would you do if you were as confident as the most positively confident person you know?break through your excuses. 
Look at the facts. How much time, money, etc. would it really take to make a change? Is it really put your reach, or does it just feel out of reach?

"I don't feel like it…"  Do it anyway. Your feelings come and go. Your excited and pumped one day and then you're tired and unmotivated the next. Keep doing it anyway. You made a commitment. Keep it simply for the sake of being a man (or woman) of your word.  Do it, even if you don't feel like it, even if you're just going through the motions. Guess what, 9 times out of 10, the motivation and feelings come back.  Now, 1 time out of 10, there might be something to that feeling, but don't give up today. Wait till tomorrow to give up.  And after that, wait another day.  Keep putting off giving up.  Chances are, you will find the motivation you need to keep going and you'lee be glad you procrastinated giving up.

"I'm too old," you say.  "It's just too late for me.  I've lived my whole life like this. I just don't have enough time left to change."  Don't say that.  You may indeed be near the end of your life, but with Our God's grace, it's never to late.  In God's grace, the past is the past. God forgives. God gives new life. You can start over today. It's never too late.  I know this is true because when Jesus was dying on the cross, there was a criminal crucified next to him.  As the thief was receiving the punishment he deserved, he turned to Jesus and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  And you know what Jesus said?  He said, "Today, you will be in Paradise with me."  The thief had only hours (or minutes left to live) and it still wasn't too late.  It's not too late for you either.

Conclusion 
Living as a Christian takes discipline.  It’s a daily discipline of worship, prayer, service, study.
Jesus gives you a tool to motivate you and help you stay disciplined.

It's the vision of the Kingdom feast.  We are all gathered together around the table of the Lord.  A feast of all good things is set before us.  All our loved ones who died in Christ are there.  Every sickness is healed.  Ever broken relationship is mended.  Every life is whole.  There is no more death or darkness or shame or misery.  All is perfect and right and at peace.  And this goes on for eternity!  Hallelujah!

Imagine, everyday, what it will be like when your faithful discipline pays off as we gather around the Lord's table.  This grand vision is the result of the faithful Christian life lived everyday in a thousand small ways.  Now, live your life doing the right thing in all those thousands of ways.  What are the changes you need to make to accept the invitation to God’s Heavenly banquet?  Live your life day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment working toward the grand vision.

[CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast.]

Monday, January 13, 2020

Bearing God's Name


It's the second Sunday of the New Year.  Many are still thinking about goals for 2020 so I asked Terry Teasley to put two ideas from the Bible on our church sign that would make great goals for 2020:
DON’T BEAR GOD’S NAME IN VAIN 
(which comes from the Old Testament) 
and 
TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME (which comes from the New Testament).
The two terms are closely related.  The Phrase from the Old Testament comes from Exodus 20:7 and is part of the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:7
You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

The New Living Translation says do not misuse the name of the Lord; the King James Version says do not take.  The old ways of saying this I head as a kid was, “Thou shalt not bear the Lord’s name in vain.” As I was telling Terry what to put on the sign at church, I had to think for a minute on how to spell the word bear.  You can spell it bare, but that means unclothe.  Of course, bear is an animal that could rip you to shreds.  But bear also means to lift or carry.  And that is what the original Hebrew word in the third commandment means: nawsaw - to lift, to carry, to bear.  

As a child, I was taught this commandment means you shouldn’t  use God’s name to cuss (or even to say, "Oh my God!") Although using foul language is not good and using God’s name as part of your cursing is even worse, that is not what the command “Do not take the Lord's name in vain” means.  What it really means is don't misrepresent God.

The Israelites Were God’s People
God chose the Israelites to be His people.  They were His representatives to the whole world.  Everything about them was to be distinctive and different from all the other nations around them.  They were to eat different food.  They were to treat people differently.  It was common in the ancient world to seek violent retribution.  If you attacked my son and poked his eye out, I might get revenge by killing your whole family.  God commanded the Israelites not to be like that, but to offer restraint.  He said, only take and eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.  The were to live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with their God.

The Israelites worshiped differently than all the other nations around them.. All the other religions had idols to look at when they worshiped.  Or they worshiped things they could see in nature like the sun, the moon, animals, etc.  The Israelite’s God was invisible and they were forbidden to make any image or statue to represent Him. The only authorized image for God is people! Genesis 1:26 says, "God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us." So ironically, we are to be the "idols" who represent God, even though because of sin we fail miserably.  All the Law of the Old Testament was God's instructions on how the ancient Israelites were supposed to take up the name of God and represent Him to the world properly. 

The way the Israelites worshiped was one way they represented the name of God.  Exodus 13:16, “This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the power of the Lord’s mighty hand brought us out of Egypt.”  That's powerful language; worship is like having God's name branded on your forehead!  If you worship at church on Sunday, it tells people you belong o God.  It's one way we bear His name.  But what about when you are eating lunch at the restaurant after church.  Does how you treat the wait staff bear proper witness to God's name?

The Israelites were to dress differently. They weren't supposed to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fibers, say cotton and wool (see Leviticus 19:19).  So many of the rules in the Old Testament seem unnecessary!  However, God was making a point.  The Israelites were set apart as distinct from all other people.  They were His people.  They were to be His representatives to the world.  They were to Bear His Name.  And for that purpose, God even gave the Israelite specific commands to carry His name on their foreheads.

Israelites were to wear scriptures in a small box on their forehead.   Deuteronomy 6:8 instructs the Israelites to tie Scripture proclaiming their devotion to the One True God to their foreheads.  And according to Exodus 28:36-38, the Israelite high priest was to wear a gold medallion on his forehead on which were inscribed the words HOLY TO THE LORD.  Holy means set apart.  And the word we translate as “The Lord” is actually God’s proper name in Hebrew--Yahweh.  So the priest was literally bearing God’s name on his forehead.

So, when the Third Commandment says, "Do not bear the Lord's name in vain," it literally meant, "Do not put this name on your forehead if you don't really mean it. Otherwise, you will misrepresent me and you will be punished!"

Sports Teams and Misbehavior
I'll never forget something my football coach taught when I was just a kid. We had just gotten our uniforms and I was so excited!  The fresh smell of brand new jerseys filled the air as coach passed them around.  He said, "Remember, whenever you put on this uniform, you represent our whole team. It's not just about how well you play football.  If you misbehave while wearing this uniform, it reflects on the whole team.  You must represent us well.”

The Atlanta Falcons saw firsthand how damaging it can be when one team member misbehaves.  In 2007, Falcons star quarterback, Michael Vick, was accused of involvement with an illegal dog fighting ring.  Vick's bad behavior tarnished the whole team's name.  Nobody wants their brand associated with that kind of cruelty.  The Falcons lost fans and sponsors and their star quarterback.  Vick was suspended from the NFL and the Falcons sued to recover $20 million of Vick’s signing bonus.  It took years for the team to recover.  And to this day, many people still remember this awful shame.

Many people would never in a million years use God's name as a curse word, but the same people might misrepresent God's name by the way they misbehave.  God doesn’t want His Holy Name to be shamed.  So He commanded the Israelites (and us), “Do not bear the Lord's name in vain.”  

Bearing God's Name in the New Testament 
We aren't ancient Israelites. We don't have to tie scripture verses to our foreheads. We don't have priests who wear gold medallions on their foreheads that bear the words Holy to Yahweh.  But Christians are still God's representatives. And we ought to be the most faithful representatives He has because we follow Jesus Jesus Christ.  Jesus showed us how to live as God's redeemed holy people.  And that brings me to Christ's statement in the New Testament. 

Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.

Jesus names the Christian uniform.  It is a cross.  But the cross Jesus identifies is more than a symbol we wear on a necklace.  He identifies it this way:  You must give up your own way.  

In our natural, sinful state, we each have our own selfish way we want to go.  Perhaps we want to indulge our selfish desires for food, sex, or pleasure.  All of these are good things when done the right way, but we want to gorge ourselves beyond God’s natural design.  Maybe we struggle with greed.  We cannot be happy with what God wants to give.  We want more, more, more (and more is never enough). Or maybe we cling to our pride and refuse to be like a humble child.  All of these are our ways of living and Jesus says, “You must give up your own way and take up your cross follow me.”

Jesus has a right to demand we take up our cross because it’s what he did.  The Gospel of John says Jesus is God in the flesh; He created us.  If anyone has a right to demand His own way, it is Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Instead, Jesus humbled himself, “...gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being… and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:7-8, adapted)

Christ calls all His followers to do the same.  And though our cross may not mean dying on a literal cross, it always means denying our self as we follow Christ--at least until what we want is perfectly aligned with what God wants.  

What God wants from us is love--love for God and our neighbor.  In fact, Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:55)

A few months ago I was at ACE Hardware and another customer started asking me where she could find a certain product.  I was a little confused as to why she was asking me, but I told her where I thought they might be.  Then, she said, “You don’t work here do you?”  She had thought I was an employee!  I don’t know why she thought that.  Maybe I just had that ACE Hardware kind of style going on that day.  (I do often wear slacks and a golf shirt with my church logo on it.  I like to represent God and  my church whenever I can.)  The lady apologized and I didn’t mind.  I hope she found what she was looking for (or else a real employee who could help her.) Has that ever happened to you?

If you are a Christian, you are to bear the name of God everywhere you go (even if you are not wearing a cross or Christian logo).  You represent Christ.  You bear a figurative cross.  To bear a cross means to forsake your own selfish ambitions. It means to deny yourself (if your own desires are contrary to God's will). Just as Jesus was willing to lay down his life on the cross in order to do God's will and save the world from sin, we are to sacrifice our own plans for the sake of God's. This is how Christians represent God, our Creator.  

Conclusion
So as you live into this new year, this new decade, how will you bear the name of God?  I pray you will not bear the name of God in vain, for we are commanded, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  Therefore, confess your sins and forgive others that the Lord may forgive you.  Keep your promises.  Love the Lord your God with all you heart, and all your mind, and all your strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself. Take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Seek always, to represent our Lord the way He deserves to be represented.  Amen?  Amen!


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 State of the Communion Address


It is a tradition in the United States for the President to make an annual State of the Union address.  I also make an annual State of the Communion address to our church.  I want to share a few highlights from our ministry together in 2019.  We will also pray for God’s help as we commit ourselves to His Kingdom work in 2020. 

Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus taught that his followers must seek God passionately with everything within them.  Many people want to know God and know God's will for them.  Many people are interested.  But few people put the Kingdom of God and His righteousness at the very top of the priorities.  Usually, God comes in second or fifth or tenth or twentieth.  Jesus says that will never do.  You must be passionate and persistent in your pursuit of God.  God is the Lord of lords and King of kings.  He will not settle for second place in your heart.  So if you are going to seek and follow Him this year, you must put him absolutely first.  And you must keep on asking and keep on seeking and keep on knocking.

That is what I plan to do as a pastor and follower of Christ this year.  That is what our church plans to do in everything we undertake.  We will be no casual followers of Christ.  He will be our all in all!

Let me review some of the highlights of our ministry from 2019. 

New Members
We received 17 new members in 2019.  – This is the most new members we’ve ever had in one year since I started pastoring Pleasant Grove UMC!  We are so pleased to welcome these new members:  
Scott Dyer
Jordan Dyer
Harry Kelley
Sandy Kelley
Benny Domino
Kristopher Arhart
Ashley Arhart
Amber Arhart
Terry Teasley
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head
Abby Stuckey
Jake Davis


Professions of Faith
We also had seven Professions of Faith in 2019.  A profession of faith is when a person stands before God and the whole congregation and professes to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord and promises to follow him as a member of the Church.  It is the official moment when a person is justified by God or "save" for eternal life.  It is a pivotal time and the core of our church mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Last year the following people made a profession fo faith:
Jordan Dyer
Benny Domino
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head



Baptisms
We had eleven baptisms in the year 2019.  SOme were babies who where baptized with their parents seeking God's grace to raise them in the faith until the child makes their own profession of faith.  Others were people of age who had made a profession of faith and were baptized as a sign of their salvation.  Those who were baptized were:


Jordan Dyer
Benny Domino
Jack Ikerd
Tonya Teasley
Matthew Head
Juilina Teasley
Jessie Teasley
Samuel Head
Jazmine Teasley
Adaline Arhart
Ashley Arhart


So far, we have had a grand total of 97 new members at my church in the last decade since I was appointed to PGUMC.  Who will be the 98th, 99th, and 100th new members?  We have also had a total of 43 Professions of Faith and 42 Baptisms since 2010 when I came to my congregation.  Praise God!

Members Who Went to Heaven
2019 was also sad for many as we said good bye to five members died and went to heaven.  We were all shocked when Karla Motley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away in just a few weeks.  We are grieved at her passing,but find hope because she is with God in heaven and we will see her again if we trust in Jesus Christ as she did.  John O’Brien was a long time member of Pleasant Grove who also passed away.  John was known and loved by many in this church.  John was married to Diane O’Brien who loved and helped care for him when he became severely ill several years ago.  John was wonderful father to his daughters Ivey and Ashley.  His family and our church mourn his passing, but trust that he is with the Lord in heaven and we shall see him again.  Rick Krause was new to our church, but quickly became part of our family.  Despite his crippling health problems, Rick was very active in our church and people quickly grew to love him.  We were shocked when he died the afternoon of Easter Sunday, after he had just been at church to worship the risen Lord with us.  Rachel Mainor was an at-home member of our church who had been unable to attend for many years.  However, when we had a fire at church in 2016, it touch Rachel and she wanted to help.  She contacted the church and made a donation to help our church recover fro the fire damage.  We rejoice that she is at Home with the Lord in Heaven.  And just a few months ago, Sara Brooker passed away.  Sara has touched so many lives in our church and community and even around the state and country.  Everyone new and love this graceful woman.  We are sad to see her god but are happy that she is finally at home with the Lord in Heaven, where she always wanted to be.

Childrens Ministry
We said goodbye to Ashten and Matt Webb last year. Ashten did a great job as our children's minister, but her husband, Matt, took a job in Huntville, Alabama and hey had to move. We were so please to welcome Joanna Scruggs as our new children's minister over the summer. Joanna, Kelly, Eden, and Hank have been members of our church for a long time, but it has been wonderful to welcome them into this new ministry role. Joanna started off by plainning in just one month the best organized Vacation Bible School we've ever had. we avereged around 40 kids each night of the week this past July during VBS. Then she jumped right in, doing a wonderful job, planning our annual Trunk or Treat. We saw nearly 1,000 people from around our commuity come for fun, safe Halloween fun. Many expressed how much they appreciate our church offering this for our community. And of course, Joanna has been doing a great job leading our weekly kids program, planning and leading lessons and organizing volunteers. We are very pleased to have Joanna on staff and look forward to a great year with her and the kids in 2020.

Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis
We had seven people attended Emmaus/Chrysalis spiritual leadership retreats in 2019.  Jordan Dyer, Matthew Head, Grace Mullis, Mattie Maddox, Ashley Arhart, and Amber Arhart.  Mike Marlow attended the adult version, Walk to Emmaus.  Also, we sponsored Rev. Mark Amspaugh from Dalton First Nazarene Church to attend the Walk to Emmaus.  Rev. Amspaugh conveyed his thanks and reported how the experienced has enhanced his ministry.  Would you like to attend Chrysalis or the Walk to Emmaus and grow closer to Christ through this three day spiritual pilgrimage?

Looking Ahead to 2020
Now, I would like to share some highlights for the coming year.  Our focus, as it has been since I became pastor in the summer of 2010, will be to seek the Kingdom of God and His right righteousness in all that we do (see Matthew 6:33).  We will continue to be guided by our long range goals to give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.  The success of everything we do will be measured by these three overarching goals.  We will have several new opportunities in 2020.

Financial Peace University - March 11
A suggestion was made during a finance meeting last year that we offer a course to help church members better manage their finances.  The Bible teaches that all that we have is a gift from God.  Our finances and other resources belong to God and are entrusted to us to use for the good of God's Kingdom.  Therefore, we want to be good stewards and PGUMC wants to equip you to be the best steward of your finances as possible.  Therefore, I have decided to offer Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace university to teach you the financial chronicles you need to achieve your financial goals.  This course is excellent for everyone.  Whether you struggle with money or are already very good at managing your finances, FPU will help you be the very best you can be.

Dave Ramsey's course is also in line with two other initiatives for PGUMC in 2020.  Last year, PGUMC established the early mortgage retirement fund and members have been contributing.  This month, we will make our first extra payment toward the principle of our mortgage with the intention of paying off our building loan early.  We will continue to make extra payments throughout the year as we are able according to the congregation's extra giving to this fund.  Paying off our loan early could save tens of thousands of dollars in interest.  Imagine how much more ministry we can do with the elderly, with children and youth, and outreach in our community when we are free from the burden of a $5,000 per month mortgage.

In December, we also established Sara Brooker Memorial Children & Youth Fund with donations from Sara's estate as from extra contributions from members and a Christmas Eve offering.  We currently have $13,700 in Sara's fund to help with children and youth ministries.  How fitting that Sara's legacy of teaching children and youth about the love and salvation of Jesus Christ will live on through this effort.

PGUMC Car Show – March 21
On Saturday, March 21 from 9 AM - 3 PM, our church will host it's first ever car show.  Following our principle of creating doors where people from the community are welcomed into our midst, this car show will bring people together to enjoy a day of fun and fellowship as we enjoy cool classic cars together.  This is similar to what we do with our annual trunk or treat.  What's new is that the car show will slow the pace down a bit and allow more time for casual visiting and fellowship, so that we can build new relationships and really get to know people from our community.  Please plan to attend, volunteer, help out, show a car, and enjoy this special time.

Pray for the UM General Conference
The United Methodist General Conference which regularly meets every four year will be May 5-15 this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  This may be the most pivotal General Conference since the denomination's founding in 1968.

Our denomination is bitterly divided over issues of human sexuality, homosexuality, and transgenders.  Because our nation's ideas about human sexuality have been changing, many in the UMC believe the denomination should change too and allow the ordination of homosexual pastors and same-sex marriages.  Others, like myself, believe that the Bible is clear that we are love everyone but not condone what the Bible clearly defines as sin contrary to God's will.  The disagreement threatens to divide the UMC.  You may have heard or read news stories about this issue.  I want to make a few things clear to dispell any misunderstandings.  First of all, no decisions have been made yet and none can be made until the General Conference on May 5-15.  Even after that, it may take months or even years for any decisions to take affect.  In the meantime, we must calmly pray for God's guidance for our families, our church, and the delegates from all over the world who will meet at the General Conference to debate and make decisions for the United Methodist denomination.  Furthermore, please feel free to ask me any questions you have. This is a complex and emotionally charged issue that requires more time to discuss than we have time for in this short address.  So, let’s sit down together sometime and talk.

Reaffirmation of Faith
As I close this address, I invite you to affirm or reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ and your commitment to serve him.  Please read through the following questions and answer them in your own heart.

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

Will you nurture your fellow Christians in the Christian faith and life?

Would you affirm the following commitment?
With God’s help, I will proclaim the good news and life according to the example of Christ.  I will surround my brothers and sisters in Christ with a community of love and forgiveness, that we may grow in our trust of God, and be found faithful in our service to others.  I will pray for them, that we may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.  As a member of God's Church, I renew my covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service, and my witness, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.




Monday, December 23, 2019

#5 Mary, Mother of the Messiah


Of the 40 generations of men in Jesus family tree listed in Matthew 1:1-16, only five women are named.  It’s amazing any women are named at all, since the patriarchal custom of the biblical writers was to omit women.  So, the fact that these five particular women are named is a clue there’s something very special about them and we need to pay close attention.  And yet, these five heroines of our faith are not famous for the things you would think.  Every one of their situations was scandalous in some way or another.

Tamar was impregnated by her father-in-law. Yet she was also wise and cunning. She sensed God’s hand at work in the family of Judah’s and was willing to do anything to be part of it.

Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who grasped her chance to break free from sin and destruction by professing her faith in God and joining His holy people.

Ruth was a destitute foreign refugee who clung to God and His people and found redemption.

Bathsheba had an affair with the king and lost her child, but she became a queen who advocated for the oppressed and powerless.

Today, we will consider the best-known of the five women in Jesus genealogy—Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Matthew 1:16-25
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.
17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Joseph
Joseph is not Jesus' biological father.  However, the Gospel of Matthew spends 16 verses telling us Jesus' lineage through Joseph. What does that say?  One thing it says is Joseph adopted Jesus as his very own son.  Joseph treated Jesus as his flesh and blood and there was no distinction in his heart or mind that Jesus wasn't his actual son, even though the relationship wasn't biological.  How many have known this special adoptive love that treats one as a son and daughter by choice?  Think about it:  most people do not get to choose their parents.  You are born and your biological father and mother are who they are, like it or not.  And parents are compelled by the laws of nature to love their biological children.  On the other hand, adoption is an actual choice.  An adoptive parent chooses to accept and love their adopted child.  Nature does not require it.  And it is a very special kind of love when someone chooses to adopt a child who is not their biological son or daughter.  The same could be true for step parents who chose to love their step children as their very own.

It is worth noting here the situation into which Jesus was to be born.  Jesus, the most important man who ever lived, who is the Son of God, was born in need of adoption.  He grew up in the home of a father who was not related by blood.  Mary was his mother, but Joseph was under no obligation whatsoever to accept Jesus.  Yet Joseph chose to adopt God’s Only Begotten Son as his own.

But what of Mary? Who is she?

Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Mary has been famous to Christians for 2,000 years.  She is so integral to our faith she is named in the Apostles’ Creed, “We believe in Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…” Some people admire Mary so much they treat her like a goddess, even praying to her. Who is this fascinating mother?

The Bible does not focus on Mary.  After the stories of Jesus’ conception and birth, Mary is only mentioned 12 more times.  Mary is there in the background throughout the story of the New Testament, but never as the focus.  The focus is always on Christ—the Son of God, the Savior of the world.  Even so, Mary is there at the birth, she is there in the midst of Jesus’ ministry (struggling to understand like the rest of us).  She is there at the cross as her son dies, at the tomb when he rose from the grave, and she continues to help lead the church with the Disciples in the Book of Acts after Christ ascended to heaven.

There is absolutely no description in the Bible of what Mary looked like or how she dressed.  In our world today, we are very focused on how women look, what clothes and makeup they wear, hairstyles, body image, etc.  However, the Bible mentions nothing about Mary’s appearance.  That tells us these physical things were not important.  Maybe they shouldn’t be as important to us either.  From God’s perspective (the perspective that really matters) true beauty has nothing to do with physical appearance or fashion.  The true beauty of a woman comes from the way she responds to God. 

Mary would have been a young girl when the angel Gabriel came to her (probably only about 12 or 13 years old) .  That was the age most first century girls were offered for marriage in Galilee.  Mary was engaged, so we know she was of age.  What do you think of when you think of Mary?  You might think of a young woman just out of college between the ages of 20-30 years old because that’s the typical age women get married in our culture.  Let me blow your mind a bit.  My daughter, Abigail turns 13 in one month.  Right now, Abigail is the age Mary would have been when she became pregnant with the Son of God.

Mary was engaged to Joseph. She was an ordinary girl looking forward to marriage and a normal life, but the angel’s visit changed her life forever.  Mary was afraid and troubled by Gabriel. She never expected the incredible news she would have a child or that her son would be the Messiah. Although she couldn’t comprehend how she would conceive the Savior, she responded to God with belief and obedience.

Although it was a huge honor to be chosen by God, her calling would demand great suffering.  Just as there is pain in childbirth and motherhood, there would be much pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah.  Mary was a willing servant. She trusted God and she obeyed His call.

The angel told Mary in Luke 1:28 that she was highly favored by God. This means Mary was given a large portion of grace or "undeserved favor" from God. Even with God's favor, Mary would still suffer much. Though she has come to be  highly honored as the mother of the Savior, she would first know disgrace as an unwed mother.  She almost lost her fiancĂ©.  Risked being stoned to death (the penalty for pregnancy out of wedlock in her time).  Her precious child would grow up to be rejected and cruelly murdered.  Mary's submission to God's plan would cost her dearly, but she was willing to be God's servant.  Mary was a woman of rare faith and obedience.

Misunderstandings
We are deeply in debt to Mary.  Her willing obedience to God brought the Savior into our world.  It's no wonder that people for thousands of years have sought to honor Mary, the mother of the Messiah.  Unfortunately, there is something in human nature that leads people to idolize and worship those we especially admire. 

Some venerate Mary as divine.  They even say Mary—like Jesus—never sinned (a doctrine known as The Immaculate Conception).  The Bible never says Mary was without sin.  To the contrary, the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”  Every person who ever lived has sinned at some point—including Mary.  Furthermore, we see that Mary struggled to understand Jesus’ ministry just like his Disciples.  At one point in the Gospels, Mary shows up along with her other sons and attempts to take Jesus home with her because they thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21, 31).  She didn't understand.  You seen, Mary was not perfect.  She was a sinner in need of God’s grace and salvation just like you and me.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”  It is through Jesus Christ that Mary is saved—just like you and me.

Conclusion
What do you see when you think of Mary?  You may be tempted to picture the perfect women portrayed in the porcelain nativity scene sculpted by an artist.  Is that the real Mary?  Is that who you think you need to emulate?

I urge you not to turn Mary into some mythical figure.  Let her be the real girl she was in the Gospel.  The real story is much more compelling than the myth.  Mary was young, poor, and female in a time when women were not highly regarded.  She was a real mother who faced real challenges.  She had no special powers or abilities that you don’t have.  All she had was a willing and obedient heart.  God saw her faith and obedience and He helped her succeed.  You don’t have to be perfect for God to choose you or help you—you just need to be willing and obey.

Mary was like so many mothers.  She was there in the background the whole time nurturing, supporting, and encouraging.  She had too much to do and never enough time to do it.  She wasn't a super mom; she was just a regular person depending on God to help her through.  She was not the central character in the story, but that’s OK.  She never needed the focus to be on her.  To the contrary, she must have recognized as she came to understand more fully who her son was that the focus should always be on him instead of her.  Jesus is Lord, not Mary.  Jesus is the Savior, not Mary.  Jesus is the one who takes away our sins, who answers our prayers, who directs our path. 

I think it would disturb Mary if we spent too much time honoring her.  She would say, “Why are you giving me all this attention?  Don’t look to me!  Don’t worship me! I’m just a person like you.  Please! Please, look at my Son over there!  Isn’t he wonderful?”  Oh that we all had that attitude.  This life is not about us!  It is about Christ! “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!  Look full in his wonderful face and the ting of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace!”

And Mary’s life encourages us to be the best we can be—not because she was perfect, but—because she was just an ordinary girl.  You don’t have to be perfect or even special to make a difference.  Mary was just an ordinary young girl who was willing to be the mother God wanted her to be.  Are you willing to obey God’s plan for your life?  Do you trust God to take what you have to offer and use it for the glory of His Kingdom?  That’s the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus.