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Monday, October 14, 2019

The Face of God

The Face of God

Can a man see the face of God and live?
Maybe. I think I've seen it. I know I have.

He is reflected in people all around the world. He is a wise old man, but also a man in the prime of life, full of vigor.  He looks like me, but also like those who are very different. He is in the caring hands of a mother with her child and in the wondering infant too. 

He is the compassion of a stranger who becomes your friend. And in the hard but honest counsel of a sister you deeply trust.

He is there, too, in the teenager trying to find out who they are, and in the man who finally knows. 

We can see Him in creation and in creating. 
We feel Him when our hearts sing and when they hurt because of love.

God's face shines forth "for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer", but He was also the lonely One who never married, because you are His heart's one, true desire and He is still waiting. It is crucial we recognize Him in both.

The compassion of a healer, a generous gift, a smile that brings hope, a calming word, forgiveness, truth, sacrificial love:  all these show the outlines of His face.

He is with me as I read His Holy Word, right there, so close, looking right over my shoulder. And the clearest description I read is of the Man choosing to die on the cross for people who don't deserve it--even me. And then again in the empty tomb.

Monday, October 7, 2019

How Much Faith is Enough?


Introduction
I'm writing a series of blogs based off your questions.  If you have a question, send me an email to ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com.  I will try to answer your questions over the next several weeks.

My question this week came from my church's Facebook page.  "How much faith is enough?"  That’s a great question and Jesus addressed it with his disciples.

Luke 17:3-6
“3 So watch yourselves!  If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”
The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you!

Forgiveness is Hard
My younger sister is only two years younger than me. We argued a lot when we were kids--mainly because she was a pesky little brat and I was perfect. (That's sarcastic humor. It's ok to laugh.)  Sometimes when we fought, my mom would make us apologize and forgive each other. Did your parents ever make you do that?  Well, my sister and I knew we had to obey our mom, even if we didn’t want to.  So, we would scrunch up our faces and say threw gritted teeth, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”

The disciples weren’t little kids, but Jesus told them to forgive and they knew it would be hard.  It’s one thing to forgive someone once, but Jesus said forgive them even if they wrong you seven times in one day and ask forgiveness.  (By the way, Jesus was using the number seven as a figure of speech.  He didn’t mean seven was the limit and you didn’t have to forgive a person on the eighth time.  Jesus meant you got to keep on forgiving people for as many times needed.)

The Disciples weren’t sure they had the faith to forgive people like that.  I mean it’s one thing to forgive something petty—like the childish things my sister and I argued about as kids.  However, Jesus didn’t say only forgive people the little things.  We’ve got to forgive them even when the offence is very serious and hurtful.  It takes a lot of faith to forgive like that and the Disciples weren’t sure they had enough faith for forgiveness like that.

Jesus answers their fear by saying it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to make a mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea.  (At another time in Matthew 17:14-21, he was even more dramatic, saying faith the size of a mustard seed could move a whole mountain!)  Which do you think is harder:  moving a mulberry tree, a mountain, or saying “I forgive you?”

It takes faith.

What is Faith?
What is faith?  I really liked what Refroe Watson said in his sermon last Sunday about faith.  He said, “Faith is belief that you’re willing to act upon.  Belief is believing your child can drive.  Faith is being in [the car] while they drive.  That’s what faith is.”

Faith is when your trust exceeds your fear.  One time as a very small child, I climbed up in a tree and when I looked down, I got scared and froze up.  I couldn’t climb down.  Now, I was only three or four years old so I wasn’t really that high up; but for a small, frightened child it seemed way up!  So my Dad came out and grabbed hold of me (I was just barely above his shoulders) and he said, “I’ve got you.”  But I was scared and I was clinging to that tree with a death grip!  When my Dad said, “Let go.  I’ve got you,” I didn't let go.  So he’s trying to pull me off the tree and I’m hanging on with all my might!  It wasn’t until my faith in my Dad’s ability to hold me exceeded my fear of falling out of that tree that I was willing to let go and let him pick me up out of that tree and set my feet safely back on the ground again.

Faith makes you act.  Fear makes you freeze.  When your faith exceeds your fear—even by an amount as tiny as a mustard seed—you can move mountains.  Now unfortunately, some people treat faith as if we’re just supposed to sit back and trust God to do everything for us.  But that’s not what it says.  Faith doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing, waiting for God to do all the mountain moving by Himself.  Faith means we trust God can move that mountain—maybe even through us—and so we figure it out and get it done if that’s what God wants.  We raise some money, hire a construction crew, and we get to work moving that mountain because God told us to and we want to obey and we believe Him when He says it's possible.

How Much Faith is Enough?
So the question today is: “How much faith is enough?”  The short answer is, “Just a tiny bit more faith than your fears.”  When your faith outranks your fear even by the tiniest amount, you move.  You trust.  You act on your trust.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid or you don’t hurt; it only means your faith is stronger than your fear.  And even a little bit is enough to overcome.

Now, if your faith it starts to fade, you might give up.  Some battles we fight take a long time and your faith has to sustain you through the long battle.  So faith needs to be nurtured and grown.  You must fortify your spirit with more and more faith every day.  The battles you face today may be tiny compared to the ones that still lie ahead.  So now is the time to build your faith so it will be stronger than your fears tomorrow.  How do you build it?

5 Ways to Grow Your Faith:
  1. Ask God for more faith. God will answer this prayer.
  2. Fast and pray. Jesus told his disciples to do this (in so many words) when they lacked the necessary faith to cast a demon out of a child.  Fasting and prayer can increase your faith power.  Fasting doesn’t have to be some super discipline reserved for monks living in a monetary. Try this: Eat dinner tonight, then skip breakfast and lunch tomorrow while drinking lots of water and a few cups of juice,.  Then break your fast by eating dinner tomorrow evening. You will be hungry, but you shouldn’t be overwhelmed with hunger. During your fast, try to focus on praying for more faith. (Note: please don’t attempt this if you are sick or unhealthy or diabetic. Talk to your doctor.) 
  3. Read God’s Word. The Bible is full of faith inducing stories of real people who trusted God and experienced His faithfulness.  Reading their experiences can fortify your own faith.  However, we must read the Bible with faith, not cynicism.  Cynicism is like a leech that sucks our faith away.  Reading the Bible with a seed of faith can make the seed take root and flourish.
  4. Worship. Devoting time to adore God—especially surrounded by other people in the community of faith—is a powerful faith growing experience.  Their is something contagious about being together in a group to honor God and sing His praises.  Your faith builds up mine and my faith builds up yours as we forget our problems for a moment and focus more on the magnificence of God.
  5. And finally, act on the faith you have. As we step out in faith, we prove God’s trustworthiness. We start with small steps. As our faith increases, we can trust more and take bigger steps of faith. Faith starts out as a mustard seed, but then it grows into a very large plant.  The mustard plant that grew in Jesus country he said grew so large birds could make nests in its branches.  That's the way with faith.  When we step out and start with the faith we already have, we find our faith begins to grow and grow until it sustains our whole life.
May God give you enough faith to over come your fear.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Kindness


Introduction
Today, I want to briefly finish up our Transformers series about the transforming power of the spiritual gifts.  Just as my fictional childhood heroes, The Transformers, could transform from robots into cars, the Holy Spirit transforms us when we trust Jesus Christ and follow Him as Lord.  The Spirit makes us a new creation.  We die to our old sinful ways of living and we become new people.  And the Holy Spirit gives each of us a special ability that we can use to serve and help transform the world.  Listen to the Word of God.

Romans 12:6-8
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Kindness
Kindness.  You probably know what it means to be kind.  But I want you to understand more specifically what this gift of kindness is, from the biblical perspective.  When I think of kindness, I think of a sweet, friendly person who is very nice.  But Paul has something deeper in mind when he says the Holy Spirit gives some people the spiritual gift of kindness.  The word Paul uses for kindness in Romans 12:8 is eleeo and it means divine compassionate mercy.

Eleeo, the Greek word for kindness, is used in other places in the Scriptures.  It's almost always translated mercy and used to describe the mercy Jesus shows people by healing and forgiving sins.  For instance, in Matthew 9:27, two blind men begged Jesus to heal them crying, “Son of David, have mercy on us.” And because of their faith, Jesus healed them. And it is used in Romans 11 to describe how God has mercy on all people who repent, forgiving their sins and welcoming them as His very own people.

All Christians are to be kind—showing divine, compassionate mercy.  Jesus has been so merciful to us!  In divine mercy, He laid down His life on the cross that our sins can be forgiven and we can make a brand-new start and inherit eternal life as daughters and sons of God.  In turn, shouldn’t we also show compassionate mercy to others?

We should all be kind.  However, the Holy Spirit supernaturally enables some believers with the ability to feel and understand the tormented suffering of others so that they can offer God merciful kindness.  When others suffer physical, mental, emotional, social, or spiritual distress, people with the gift of kindness are like the hands of Jesus bringing forgiveness, healing relief, and hope for a better tomorrow.   They have the extraordinary ability to sympathize with those who are suffering.  They often cry with others and feel compelled to share in their pain.  Their heart forces me to console them and help them find relief.  People with the gift of kindness show mercy willingly and cheerfully.  They are glad to do it just as Jesus was glad to pay the ransom for our sins. 

Has the Holy Spirit enabled you with the spiritual gift of kindness?  How could you use it to help His Church transform the world?

Let me end with one more Scripture.  This time from Ephesians 4:31-32.

Ephesians 4:31-32
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Now, go out and show kindness--the divine, comppasionate mercy of God--to one another.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Leadership

Introduction
The Transformers was one of my favorite cartoons and toys when I was a kid in the 80s.  Optimus Prime was the leader of the Autobots, the heroes of the story who fought for good and to protect the people of Earth.  Optimus Prime was a robot who could transform into a tractor trailer.  He was one of the strongest Transformers, but he was also a wise and noble leader who always put the good of others before his own.  I mention Optimus Prime's leadership, because I want to talk about the transforming spiritual gift of leadership today.

You see, when a person chooses to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives them a special talent to serve in the Church and help transform the world.  Romans 12:6-8 teaches that some receive the gift of Prophecy, others the gifts of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, or Kindness.  But today, I want to talk about the spiritual gift of leadership.

I am an elder in the United Methodist Church.  That’s the technical term in the United Methodist Church for someone who has been fully trained, examined, approved, and ordained as a minister to lead a Methodist church.  It’s sort of ironic for me to think of myself as an elder.  On the one hand, my kids would agree; they think I’m old!  On the other hand, at 45, I’m still younger than most other United Methodist pastors.  Most United Methodist pastors are between 55-70 years old.  But the world elder to describe a Christian minster comes from the Greek word presbyteros used in the New Testament.  In the early New Testament Church, the leaders of various congregations were called presbyteros or elders.  They were people the Holy Spirit equipped with leadership.  Often, elders were older people with more experience.  But we also see examples of young people leading the church, like Timothy whom the Holy Spirit equipped to be an elder in the Church.  So age is not what’s critical for leadership.  What’s important is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to the Word of God.

1 Peter 5:1-4
1And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

Caesar’s Leadership vs. Christ’s Leadership
Immediately we see some important aspects of Holy Spirit inspired Christian leadership that set it apart from worldly leadership.  In the ancient world during New Testament times, world leaders were very different from Christian leaders.  Caesar, the emperor of Rome, was the ultimate example of a non-Christian leader.  Caesar lorded his position over everyone in his kingdom.  His power led him to think he was a god and that everyone was put on earth to serve him.  Caesar even expected people to die for him; sometimes for frivolous reasons.  Gladiators in the Roman Colosseum were forced to fight each other to the death for the amusement of the Caesar.  People obeyed Caesar out of fear of death.  Now let’s contrast leadership in Caesar’s kingdom to the leadership of Jesus in the Kingdom of God.

In God’s Kingdom, Jesus is Lord.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  John 1:2-5 tells us, “[Jesus] existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.  [Jesus] gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”  If anyone is worthy of worship, honor, total devotion, and absolute obedience, it is Jesus (not Caesar).  And yet, Jesus did not use his position to “lord it over” his people the way Caesar did.  Instead, Philippians 2:6-8 tells us “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

In other words, Caesar's leadership was about glorifying himself.  Jesus' leadership was to humble himself.  Caesar made his kingdom do what was best for Caesar.  Jesus always did what was best for the Kingdom.  Caesar indulged his own privileges as the leader.  Jesus gave up his privileges for others.  Caesar made everyone serve him.  Jesus served everyone else.  Caesar made others die for him.  Jesus died for everyone else so they could be forgiven and have eternal life.

Lead Like Jesus
1 Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  If you follow Christ, you have the potential to lead.  Every Christian is a leader is some sense.  You might not think you are, but you are.  If you are a parent, you are leading your children.  If you are grandparent, you are leading your own kids as well as your grand kids.  If you are a young person, you are influencing your friends.  If you go to church, you are leading someone  doesn't go to church but knows you do and thinks you are an example of how a Christian lives.  Are you leading them well or poorly?

If you are a Christian, you are leading someone.  So, we all have a flock (so to speak), whether it is our kids, grand kids, our friends, our coworkers, or our neighbors.  As 1 Peter 5:2-3 says, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.


The Spiritual Gift of Leadership
The Holy Spirit gives some people the special ability to lead.  God has always used special leaders to guide His people.  He used Joseph to save his family and the Egyptians from starvation during a 7-year famine.  Then, God used Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt.  And God used Joshua to lead His people into the Promised Land.  Without godly leaders the masses would not get anything done.  Just like in these Old Testament stories, the Holy Spirit of God raises up leaders today to lead in the Church.  Could leadership be your spiritual gift?  Well, let’s see.  Here are some traits of leaders.  Do you have any of these?

Leaders See Where Everyone Needs to Go – God gives leaders a vision for where He wants His people to go and enables those leaders to get people to follow them there.  Think of Moses.  He was just out in the wilderness tending a flock of sheep and he saw a burning bush.  God spoke from the bush and told Moses, "Go lead my people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land."  You might not think you are a leader.  You might say, "I'm not a leader!  I can't do that!  No one would listen to me!  Besides, I no good a getting in front of people and talking!"  Funny, that's exactly what Moses said.  And we all know he was a leader.  He led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt!  So maybe you are a leader, if you see where everyone needs to go and feel God calling to you to lead them there.

Leaders Garner Loyalty – You can’t lead if no one will follow.  Someone with the spiritual gift of leadership earns people’s respect, trust, and loyalty.  Do people listen to your opinion and want to follow you?  Do you know how to garner their respect?  Then you’re probably a leader.  Now, be careful to love the people and build their loyalty, because they might have to follow you through some difficult terrain.  There may come times where they question why they are still following you because they don't understand.  So build their trust now and it will pay off later.

Leaders Are Usually A Few Steps Ahead – Imagine a tour group led through a museum by a tour guide.  The tour guide is probably walking a few steps ahead to show everyone where to go.  The guide is leading the group.  Leaders are usually out in front showing the way.  They have seen where everyone needs to go and now they are showing the way.  Therefore, leaders are usually the first ones to arrive and an event.  They may also be the last ones to leave, because they're making sure no one get's left behind.

Leaders Are Able to Delegate – It’s impossible for leaders to do everything that needs to be done.  It’s not that a leader thinks they are too good to do something.  There’s just too much to do and the leader has other things to do that only the leader can do.  A good leader knows they need help and also knows the people they lead need to be involved.  So a gifted leader learns what are people’s abilities and plugs them in in the right ways.  Giving people something to do helps everyone move forward and be more effective and develops each individual’s abilities.  It even raises up new leaders within the team.

Leaders Overcomes Resistance – Most people just want to remain comfortable, right where they are now.  They are wary of change and afraid of the unknown.  If a leader is doing their job, they are probably leading people out of their comfort zones toward a new and better place, but that doesn’t mean people will go willingly at first.  They will resist.  And there may also be resistance up ahead from the forces of darkness that don’t want God’s people to be on the move.  So a leader has find strength from God to overcome resistance from within and without in order to lead God’s people forward.

Leaders Are Able to Make Quick Decisions and Be Decisive – Sometimes, there is time to sit and ponder a decision and some very important decisions require a lot of time and study.  However, the pace of leading God’s people is often so fast that there just isn’t time to agonize over every minor detail for a long time.  Leaders always follow God's leading and know when it is important to go slow and when to make a quick decision and move fast.  A leader surrounds themselves with lots of wise and conscientious people and listens to good advice.  In the end, the leader makes a decisive decision and loyal people follow them wherever God is leading them.

Is God calling you to lead?  If He calls you to lead, the Holy Spirit with supernaturally enable you to lead.  Don't neglect the gift of the Holy Spirit within you.  Be faithful.  "Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.  Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.  And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor." (1 Peter 5:2-4)

A Prayer for Godly Leaders
"Lord, God Almighty, lead us forward.  Raise up godly leaders among your people to guide us where you want us to go.  There are many among us who are afraid to lead or don't know or think they can.  Fill them with Your Holy Spirit to impart the gift of leadership.  Help them to trust You, to follow you, and so to lead the ones You have placed in their care.  That Your Name may be glorified and Your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen."


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Giving


Introduction
We’ve been studying how the power of God transforms all believers through the Holy Spirit so that we in turn can help transform each other and the whole world.  The Holy Spirit everyone who follows Christ as Lord a special gift.  Romans 12:6-8 tells us tells us the Holy Spirit gives some the gift of Prophecy, others the gift of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, or Kindness.  Today, we will consider the spiritual gift of giving.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

Giving Transforms Lives
When I was 21 years old, I started volunteering as a youth counselor at East Cobb UMC in Marietta.  We had a wonderful Youth Pastor, Eddie Bradford, who did a wonderful job.  I was there as a volunteer to just hang out with the kids, build relationships, and offer encouragement.  The kids seemed to respond well and I was truly blessed to be with them.  The youth of that church, like most, took several trips every year--a ski trip in the winter, a beach trip in the summer and a few camping retreats throughout the year.  It was a great time for each kid to spend focused time building relationships with each other, the youth pastor and volunteers, and of course God.  The youth's parents paid a fee to cover the cost of their trips and of course the youth pastor was on the church staff so his cost was covered.  However, I was just a poor, broke and starving college kids.  My parents weren't even able to help me pay for college (I was working my own way through) so I had no money for youth trips.  Some of those trips could cost between $300-500.  Thankfully, there were a number of generous sponsors at East Cobb UMC who anonymously paid to cover the cost of any youth or counselor who couldn't pay for a trip.  Because of their giving, I was able to go and build deep relationships with the youth and with God.  I was never even able to thank those donors, because their giving was intentionally anonymous.  But look at what a fruitful investment they made.  I have been a minister now for 20 years and those early youth trips were a large contributing factor to my decision to follow this path.  So all the lives my ministry has touched is an extension of the financial gifts of those donors at East Cobb.  Their investment has born more fruit than they could have ever imagined when they gave.  Even my family has been dramatically effected, because all three of my kids and my wife grew up engaged in a parish ministry setting.

Every Christian is Called to Give
Every Christian is called to give.  It is built into the very identity of the Christian faith.  Jesus paid the ultimate price by dying on the cross in our place.  Christ gave his life to save us from sin and death and to offer us enteral life with God.  We become a Christian when we surrender to God.  We admit we are sinners who desperately need the saving grace of God.  We repent of our sin—primarily, the sin of thinking and acting as if our life belonged to us when, in fact, our life belongs to God because He made us and gave us a purpose.  So we repent and give our life to Jesus, God’s one and only Son.
  
Jesus talked about money a lot; more than prayer, sin, heaven, or hell.  He talked about money so much because he knew how much people value money.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21).  In other words: if your heart truly belongs to Jesus (because you’ve surrendered your life to him), then the things you treasure most deeply (including your money) will devoted to him too.  A quick test to see how much you “treasure” Jesus is too look at your finances.  What do you spend your money on?  How much is yourself?  How much is others?  How much is given directly to the things that really matter to Jesus?

The biblical standard for giving is 10%.  That means if you earn $50,000 per year, you would give $5,000 to Jesus through the Church.  This is called a tithe.  It was a law in the Old Testament and Jesus confirmed that people should tithe (Matthew 23:23).  I encourage all of you to tithe for two main reasons. 

First of all, it will bless the Church.  If every family here at Pleasant Grove gave a tithe we would have no trouble paying off our mortgage and paying our bills, and we would have plenty left over to do all kinds of incredible, life changing ministry—to kids, youth, adults, even seniors.  The simple fact is, the Church cannot reach it’s full potential because all of God’s people do not give what they are supposed to give.  That’s just the simple Truth.  But there’s another reason you should tithe. 

It will bless you.  Giving the tithe is a spiritual disciple every bit as important as prayer, reading your Bible, attending worship, and serving.  You cannot grow the way God wants you to grow if you are not giving. Period.

So, if you aren’t giving 10% of your income to God through His Church, I encourage you to start.  Maybe you don’t think you have the faith or money you need to jump right into 10% giving.  Then start with a lesser amount and work your way there.  Don’t just talk about it.  Make a plan.  How will you work your way to 10% giving?  How long will it take?  One year?  Two?  Five?  Make a plan and then implement it.  Perhaps you could start with 3% or 5% and gradually work your way up to 10% in a year or two.  It can be done.  I know it, because Kelly and I started tithing when we didn’t have any money—in our early 20s when our combined income was probably less than $15,000 a year.  The good thing about tithing is when your income is small, your tithing is small.  If your income is only $10,000 per year, your annual tithe would be $1,000 per year (or $83 per month or $19 per week).  As your income increases, your tithe will increase; but by then tithing will already be part of your habit and you won't have to struggle with it.

Christians are called to begin with a tithe, and then go further.  Just because you are already giving 10% of your income doesn’t mean you cross your arms and proudly exclaim, “I’m done!  I don’t have to give anymore.”  Remember what the old hymn says?  “Jesus gave it all!  All to him I owe!”  Therefore, always look for how you can give more to Jesus.  You will find it is a great blessing to give.

The Spiritual Gift of Giving
All Christians are called to give.  However, just like some Christians have the gift of music or the special ability to preach, other Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit with the special ability to give in order to help transform our world.  Those with the spiritual gift of giving have a special ability to understand the material needs of others and then give generously beyond the normal standard to meet those needs.
A giver’s basic motivation is to live frugally and save as much as they can so they can give as much as they in order to help others. Givers take special delight in figure out needs that most people overlook and then meeting those needs.  Givers delight to find less expensive ways to do things, so that the Church gets the most bang for their buck.  A giver’s family often thinks they are cheap—too concerned about counting pennies—but the people to whom they give think they are extremely generous.  Saving resources brings a giver almost as much pleasure as giving them, because they regard saving as the key that opens the door to even more resources. They seem to be able to accumulate savings, even in hard times.  Lastly, most givers prefer to stay out of the spotlight.  They often give anonymously in order to avoid recognition.  Their reward is knowing God’s Kingdom is thriving because of their gift.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Givers
Spiritually gifted givers have some great strengths to offer God’s Kingdom.  They tend to avoid impulsive spending.  They understand authority and expect to be held accountable and diligently hold others accountable.  They are usually hard workers with conservative values.  They often like to be personally involved in the lives of the people in whom they've invested.  Givers manage their money well and hardly ever spend more than they make or incur debt.  Givers love to motivate others to save and to give generously.

However, with those strengths come some weaknesses givers should avoid.  Sometimes a giver’s efforts to conserve resources can degenerate into being “cheap.”  They might sacrifice quality for quantity or even miss a good opportunity altogether because they are unwilling to spend.  Spiritually gifted givers sometimes come to care more about the money than what the money can do for God’s work.  So, givers need a strong prayer life to know what God is doing and also the faith to give when God calls them to spend on His Kingdom work.  Pride can become another great weakness for givers.  They may become proud of their great resources and their ability to influence with their money.  If offended, givers may resort to withholding their giving as a weapon, letting their feelings interfere with God-given opportunities to give.  Furthermore, givers sometimes get too focused on one issue they see as a priority and ignore other issues that may be important to others or may be even more important to God’s Kingdom work.

Do You Have the Spiritual Gift of Giving?
Do you have the spiritual gift of Giving?  Do you have a knack for saving money—both by putting it away and also by getting a good deal?  Do you enjoy helping others more than spending on yourself?  Are you a hard worker with integrity, able to be held accountable for the way you use the resources God gives you?  Are you using your spiritual gift to have the greatest impact possible for the Kingdom of God?  As we get ready to close, I want you to pray about it.

As we close, I want to share one more story.  When I was a young minister—about 26-years-old and just starting out in the ministry.  I left a good paying job as the director of quality assurance at 1888 Mills to work as a youth director at a small church.  Our first child, Gavin, was just a baby.  Part of my job was to lead worship for our church’s youth group.  I had an old guitar that was barely adequate.  It seemed like it broke a string just about every time I played. Then I’d have to stop the service and take 5 minutes to put anew string on and retune (and you just couldn’t get it tuned right in that type of situation).  One of my volunteers, Eddie, called me and said, “Chris, meet me up at guitar center today.  I want to buy a guitar and I want your advice…”

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Encouragement


Introduction 
We’ve been studying how the power of God transforms all believers through the Holy Spirit so that we in turn can help transform each other and the whole world.  The Holy Spirit everyone who follows Christ as Lord a special gift.  Romans 12:6-8 tells us tells us the Holy Spirit gives some the gift of Prophecy, others the gift of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, or Kindness.  Today, we will consider the spiritual gift of encouragement.  The Word of God tells us how to encourage one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:14
14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

Encouragement
Preaching is so enlightening for me.  I learn so much.  Today’s message is a perfect example.  I’m 45-years-old and in all this time, I never really thought very deeply about encouragement.  But preparing and preaching a sermon challenges me every week to look deeply into things I otherwise would have taken for granted.  The concept of encouragement is a perfect example.

What is encouragement?  The Greek word the New Testament uses is parakaleo.  Some versions translate it exhort.  Exhort is an outdated word people don’t use much anymore.  (I always have to look the word exhort up to remember what it means).  So a lot of new translation use the word encouragement.  But encouragement seems too easy that just makes me think of cheering someone on.  Cheering people on is only part of what the New Testament means when it talks about encouragement.  The spiritual gift of parakaleo (or exhorting or encouragement) is much more broad than just cheering people on and making them feel better. 

Parakaleo/exhorting/encouraging means to invite, invoke, beseech, call for, comfort, or intreat.  It's a kind of encouragement, but it's more like what a good football coach does.  Think of a football team with all the players having different personalities and problems.  Each player needs a different kind of “encouragement” from their coach.  One player is being lazy and needs the coach to bark at them, “Johnson!  Get off your butt and get to work!”  Another player is discouraged because they made a stupid mistake.  The coach says to them, “Shake it off Taylor.  Forget about it.  You’ve got this.”  Another player has a serious injury and is out of the game and the coach kneels with them and comforts them, “Don’t worry about it.  We’re gonna get you fixed.  You’ll be as good as new by next week.” 

A good coach “encourages” each player according to exactly what they need.  But always, a good coach is also thinking about the bigger picture and leading the whole team in their mission.  His words and actions are meant to drive the team forward toward victory.

Well, football is great, but the Church is on a mission from God.  We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the whole world.  And for this purpose, the Holy Spirit has given some Christians the special ability to encourage “the team” (the Church).  The gift of encouragement is the ability to inspire, admonish, embolden, and support others so that they are strengthened in resolve, faith and spirit.  The gift of encouragement is not so much about making people feel better as cheering them on in the right direction to do what God is calling us to do.  It is a motivational type of encouragement.

You want to know something really cool?  In the New Testament, the Greek word for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete.  It’s the Greek word for Helper or Encourager.  So if you have the spiritual gift of encouragement, you are doing the very work of the Holy Spirit of God!  That’s just cool!  It’s like you’re a little holy spirit walking around getting people fired up to do God’s work!

Slide – Tips for Encouragers
Now let me give a few tips for all the little holy spirits in the room—the encouragers and exhorters. 

First of all, get to work!  We need you!  We need you to offer your encouragement.  All Christians ought to try to encourage one another.  But those who have the spiritual gift of encouragement can have a powerful influence on the Church.  Your words and actions get us fired up.  They motivate us to do the Lord’s work.  So speak up.  Offer your encouragement.  It really makes a difference!

Second, ground yourself in the Word, the Bible.  God gives some people the ability to teach—to offer facts and figures and knowledge about God’s story in the Bible.  (We talked about the spiritual gift of teaching last week.)  But exhorters/encouragers are practical teachers who emphasis getting things done rather than just knowledge for knowledge's sake.  Teachers says, “This is how you should live.”  encouragers says, “I will help you to do it.”  So encouragers need to know the Bible so they can help people live the Bible’s teaching.  (One of the best partnerships is between Teachers and encouragers.  The Teacher shows the deep meanings of the Bible to the encourager and then the encourager helps people put it all into practice to accomplish God’s mission.)

Third, plug in to ministry.  Find ways to put your encouraging gift into practice.  People with the spiritual gift of encouragement make great counselors, Sunday school teachers, pastors, deacons, people who visit shut-ins or people in the hospital.  If your spiritual gift is encouragement, get some training in one of these ministries and then get to work!
  
Lastly, go deep.  Be careful that your encouragement is more than just superficial cheeriness.  You know what I mean?  Yes, sometimes people just need a cheerful word and smile.  But other times, they need a kick in the butt!  And if they need a kick in the butt and you just give them a cheerful word, you’ve not helped.  You might have made the situation worse.  So make sure your encouragement caries the full strength of this remarkable gift.  Let God lead you to be honest and truly helpful as you provoke people to be all that God wants them to be.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Teaching

Introduction
We’re in the midst of a series of sermons about the transforming power of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  When we believe in Jesus and choose to follow Him as Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us.  And the Holy Spirit gives each of us a gift—a special ability—to use to serve God in the Church and help transform our world.  Romans 12:6-8 teaches about seven of these spiritual gifts:  Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, and Leadership.

As we’ve gone through this series together, I’ve been remembering the transforming robot toys I played with as a boy—the Transformers.  I would watch the cartoon series on TV after I got home from school.  Then I would play with the Transformer toys my Mom gave me.

I’m not a little boy anymore.  I’ve grown up (somewhat!).  And so has the Transformers series.  The What started out as simple cartoon drawings on TV has grown up into sophisticated CGI movies on the big screen that look so realistic you can hardly tell the difference between what’s real and what’s animation.  The toy makers at Hasbro, the creators of the Transformers, are marketing geniuses.  They know that all those little boys from the 1980s (like me) have grown up into men who now have a little money to spend at the movie theater.  And they have adapted their Transformers into a movie format that appeals to men my age who want intense action and realistic graphics paired with the toys we played with as kids.

Unfortunately, though the graphics have matured quite a bit, the movies is still very childish.  They have paper-thin plot lines filled with cheesy one liners (that might sound cool to a boy, but) are kind of silly.  They are full of pretty girls, cool cars, and action packed sequences, but there’s no real meat or substance.  The Transformers are not going to win an Oscar anytime soon.

But what’s all this got to do with the transforming power of Jesus?  I’m glad you asked!  Our faith has to grow and mature much better than the Transformers series has. Listen to the Word of God.

Hebrews 5:12-14
12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Growing into Mature Christians
This Scripture makes it clear that we are to grow and mature as Christians.  Our growth is more than just our outer appearance.  Our mind and spirit must mature.  Thankfully, God has given some the spiritual gift of teaching to help us grow and mature.

Teaching is the God-given ability to clearly communicate the truths and applications of the Bible in such a way that others will learn.  People with the spiritual gift of teaching might say things like: “I enjoy research.”  “I tend to analyze everything.”  “I love to read and study.”  “I enjoy helping others to learn.” 

Spiritually Gifted Teachers
Spiritually gifted teachers have a passion for God’s Word.  They love reading and learning the Bible and then sharing what they learn with others.  They believe in the transforming power of Scripture, because they’ve seen it in their own lives and they want others to experience it too. 

Spiritually gifted teachers know what to teach.  They focus on the Bible, because they know Scripture is the Living Word of God and the foundation of all Christian belief and practice. 
Therefore, they favor the Wisdom of God in Scripture of the teachings of man.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they will only ever teach the Bible by reading it line-by-line.  A gifted teacher knows how to mine God’s Truth in the Bible and teach it in ways that the average person can understand and use in their everyday life. (They might even use silly toys are props to make their lessons more memorable!)

Spiritually gifted teachers know how to communicate ideas in organized manner.  They are always thinking, “How can I get people to understand and remember this?”  One of the great challenges for teachers is keeping their lessons simple.  For themselves, they love to go into the deep end of the pool of God’s Word.  They are fascinated by all the interesting facts and ideas they find there.  But the best teachers realize, not everyone has their same passion for the little “details”.  If they overwhelm their students, they won’t get anything out of their lesson.  And so gifted teachers find creative ways to make their lessons deep enough to provide real meat, but simple enough that average people can get it.  And one of their greatest joys is seeing people “get it”.

Spiritually gifted teachers hate when Scripture is twisted or misused.  They want sound teaching because they know people are easily misled.  And they know the damage that is done when people follow bad teaching.  That’s why they are so diligent to do their very best to teach well and found their teachings upon the eternal Truths of God in the Bible.  And it really disturbs them when they see other teachers spreading false teachings that twist and corrupt God’s Word.  Also, they do their best to counteract false teachers who would deceive.

We Need Spiritually Gifted Teachers
The Church needs gifted teachers.  Americans in the 21st century do not know the Bible.  Although 85% of people in America own a Bible and 51% can’t name the 4 Gospels, 60% can’t name 5 of the 10 commandments.  My church is struggling to find a Young Adult SS teacher.  When people don’t know the Truth of God’s Word, they are susceptible to the Enemy.  If the Church doesn't teach, they will simply believe what the world tells them.


Are You Learning, Growing, and Maturing?
Hebrew 5:12 – You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.

Weekly worship is a god way to start and get a general teaching.  In my church, I work very hard to make sure I give a good lesson each Sunday in my sermon.  If people are willing to give up their Sunday morning to come hear me, I want to make sure the time is meaningful to them.  It is difficult though because I have so many different kinds of people coming with widely varying spiritual maturity.  Some people come needing to be fed the milk of very basic teachings.  Other come needing a steak of more advanced lessons.  But I can only give one message to them all.  I do my best, but I encourage everyone who want to learn, grow, and mature to go deeper.

One way you can go deeper is to study on your own.  Pick up your Bible.  Read it and pray about it and ask God to speak to you and teach you as you study.  There are many helpful resources available to help you go deeper as you study on your own.  I recommend The Story by Randy Frazee or the great resources at Disciple Dojo,  But if you really want to grow and mature, you really must go even deeper.

It's crucial that you study God's Word with other people in a small group.  Join a Sunday school class or Bible study.  You will never learn all you need by studying by yourself.  Working with other people will give you questions and insights you never thought of while encouraging you to keep to keep at your studies and not give up.  Plus you will be learning the way the Twelve Disciples learned from Jesus--together.  The Christian faith was always meant to be lived out together in a community, right from the very start.  So commit to grow and mature through worship, reading, and study--on your own and with others.