Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.LoveLivesAtPGUMC.org Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.

Monday, January 21, 2019

What is Courage?


2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Introduction
God has been leading me to preach a message about courage for quite some time now.  He first spoke to me about it last spring when I went to San Antonio, TX to see the Alamo.  In 1836, about a hundred Texas and Tejano soldiers were stationed at an an old Spanish mission church that'd been repurposed as a makeshift army garrison.  The held the fort for 13 days against an overwhelming Mexican force.  In the end, the soldiers bravely gave their life defending Texas independence.  Almost all the soldiers in the Alamo were killed or executed.  Their fight took great courage.

Then, last week, I was in New York City to visit the 9/11 memorial.  Again, the Holy Spirit touched my heart about courage as I viewed the exhibits of that tragedy and remembered the firefighters running toward the burning buildings to sae people while everyone else ran away.  But the most courageous demonstration to me was a voice message a flight attendant left for her family.  She called from the last plane, the one that crashed in a Pennsylvania field because the passengers decided to bravely fight back against the hijackers.  The flight attendant called her family, refusing to cry or promise that she would be ok.  All she could say was she was ok for the moment and that she loved her them and that she was sorry and that she hoped she would see them again.

This message has been planned since last spring. Today is the day you are reading it.  I believe God brought it to your attention for a reason.  I pray you will hear His Word to you today.


What is courage?
Google defines courage as the ability to do something that frightens one.  Some people think courage is the opposite of fear.  Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, you cannot have courage without fear.  The opposite of courage is not fear.  The opposite of courage is timidity.  Timidity is shying away from what you must do.  2 Timothy 1:7 says God doesn't give us a Spirit of fear and timidity.  So if you have a spirit of timidity, it didn't come from God.  We are to be bold and courageous.

The Source of Courage
Courage is not something limited only to Christians.  Many people of all different nations and religions have demonstrated incredible courage through throughout the ages.  Some people draw courage from a sense of duty.  Maybe, a soldier has taken a vow to protect his country and his people; and even though they are frightened of death, they may do their duty even if it cost their life.  Their sense of duty gives them courage.  Others may draw courage from a stoic resignation.  They determine that their fate is sealed.  It is what it is and there's nothing they can do to change it.  So they resolve to face their destiny courageously. 

Christians sometimes gather courage from these sources as well.  However a Christian can draw courage from greatest source of all--our faith in Jesus Christ.  Throughout the Bible, we find courage from God's promises to HIs faithful people.

“If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
We can face any fear we have knowing that God is with us and can help us overcome any obstacle.

"Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)
God has promised to overcome our enemies.  We don't have to fear.  We can be bold and courageous knowing God fights alongside us.

"Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that.” (Luke 12:4)
Christians have eternal hope in Jesus Christ.  The worst thing that can happen to us is we die.  Some would say, "Yeah, well that's pretty bad."  But death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it is not the end.  Death will come for us all, eventually, but Christians have a hope that goes beyond death.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
Hebrews reminds us that this life, this world and all the things in it are not our goal.  All that we see in this physical world will pass away one day.  But those who trust in Christ have the promise of eternity; and nothing can take that away from those who believe in Jesus Christ.  We can courageously face even death, because our hope transcends the grave.

True Christianity is Radical
There is a halfhearted, lukewarm Christianity in this world that won't offer much hope or courage.  It's a kind of Christianity with the chief aim to make this life better.  It seeks mostly to enhance a person's enjoyment of this life and this world and the things in it.  It promises to help us get ahead at our job, have a happy home, be healthy, and remain safe.  It's a kind of halfway Christianity that doesn't really put Christ first, but instead adds him on as a extra.  The individual is always first and Jesus is only their as an enhancement.  

But this kind of religion won’t do you much good.  It offers little courage.  Half hearted Christianity cannot save anyone.  Christ has to be absolutely first.  Jesus must be Lord if he is also to be your Savior.  You must surrender it all to him and you must give yourself as a living sacrifice.  Giving yourself to completely Christ can be very scary, but you've got to have courage to do it.  It is the only way to truly have eternal life and eternal hope.

Four Steps Towards Courageous Living
I want to give you some practical steps to lead you toward more courageous living.
  1. Embrace your fears. Avoiding fears actually makes them stronger and scarier.  You would think running away would save you from your fear, but it doesn't.  You can only run from your fears for so long.  Eventually, it will catch up to you.  It's better to face your fears now, than fret over them as you vainly try to avoud them.  God ahead and step outside our comfort zone and begin to truly live.
  2. Just do it. When it comes to doing things you fear, the longer you wait in hesitation, the more time your mind has to make the monster bigger.  I once did a team building exercise at a Christian camp.  I had to put on a safety harness attached to a rope that was held by an experienced guide.  Then I had to climb up a very tall telephone pole atop which was a small platform.  Once standing on the platform, I had to jump a short distance and grab a trapeze bar.  Now, remember, I was safely secured by my harness and rope.  If I fell or missed my mark, my guide would safely lower me to the ground.  And yet, it was still very frightening.  I was able to overcome my fear and make the leap, successfully grab the trapeze bar, and then be lowered to the ground.  However, I watched many people who went before me hesitate.  They thought, was they weren't ready.  They would go in a minute.  But the longer they waited, the harder the jump seemed.  They gave their mind time to think about their fear and the fear grew and grew.  The best way to handle the challenge was just do it.  The distance and the danger and challenge never grow smaller the longer you wait.  However the fear usually does grow bigger the more you hesitate.  So just do it.
  3. Pray.  I don’t just mean pray when you must face to face your fears.  You shoudl do that too.  We gain courage as we pray in the face of our fear.  But what I really mean is practice a life of prayer. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer helps us know God is right here with us in every moment. It is much easier to be courageous when we know God is standing beside us. You have to pray daily so your awareness of God’s awesome presence becomes stronger than your fear of the monsters may have to face.  Pray daily.  Pray deeply.  Pray diligently.
  4. Finally, practice makes perfect. You can practice courage. Start with relatively small things. Challenge yourself to be brave in a safe, controlled environment.  Do somethings that you are afraid of.  Are you afraid to talk to someone you don't know.  Take a friend and go out to eat and try to engage your waitress in a short conversation; or go further and talk to someone at a nearby table.  There are all kinds of ways you can practice facing your fears in small doses so you will be better prepared to do it fully if the need ever arises.  Such exercises can be a kind of spiritual discipline to help you rely more and more on God’s strength to overcome timidity.

Our Eternal Hope is in Christ
Titus 3:4-7 – When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.[a] He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

There is eternal hope in Jesus Christ, but you won’t find eternal hope in half hearted, lukewarm Christianity.  Christ has to be absolutely first in your life.  So many are trying to find hope and fulfillment and satisfaction in a career, romantic relationships, family, friends, politics, a car, a house, clothes, money, or possessions.  You can find a type of fulfillment in these, but it is not lasting and it will eventually fail to fulfill the deepest eternal longings in your soul.  Only a relationship with God through Jesus Christ can truly satisfy your deepest longings.  And that only comes when you lay it all down at the altar of God, and offer yourself up as a living sacrifice:
“Lord Jesus!  I give You my life--wholeheartedly.  Take me.  Use me for whatever purpose you wish.  Fill me up or pour me out.  Let me suffer or let me be happy.  Put me to work or lay me aside.  Give me whatever you want or take it all away.  I freely and wholeheartedly surrender it all to Your pleasure and disposal.  I trust You.  I am Yours and You are my Savior, Redeemer, and King.  Amen.”

Maybe you tried to live this way before and failed. Maybe you’re scared you might fail again. But you have to have courage and keep trying and not give up.

Maybe giving yourself to Christ wholeheartedly is scary.  But you've got to do it. You’ve got to have courage.  Take a leap of faith.  Trust in the Lord.

I'm praying for you.  God bless.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The State of the Communion Address


Introduction
Taking a que from the tradition in our country for the President to make an annual State of the Union address, I have started making an annual State of the Communion address to my congregation.  I want to share a few highlights from our ministry together in 2018 and share our vision for 2019.  But first, let’s hear the Word of God and remember our purpose as Christ’s followers. 

Matthew 28:18-20
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

We Have  A Mission
In this passage, Jesus reminds his followers of three essential ideas.  First of all, Jesus is Lord.  He says he’s been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  In other words, everywhere.  He has the right to command everyone and everyone ought to obey.  This is even more true for anyone who claims to follow Jesus (to be a Christian).  Obedience is not optional.  It’s essential.

Second, Jesus gives his followers an important command—go and make disciples of all nations.  We are to tell people about Jesus Christ and urge them to follow Jesus as Lord.  New disciples (followers) are to be baptized—a sign that they have made a complete new start as a new person committed to following Jesus.

Third, we are to teach new disciples Jesus’ commands, his way of life, and encourage them to obey Christ as we ourselves obey him. So there is growth as disciples.  We don’t stay as baby Christians—we grow in our faith and our obedience and communion with God through Jesus Christ.

The Church is not a social club.  It’s not a place we come to be entertained by beautiful art or good music or an engaging message.  The Church is the body of Christ on a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ and teach them to obey the Lord of heaven and earth.  It’s an important mission.

At Pleasant Grove, Our Mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We have three over-arching goals as we do that.  They are 1) Give hope to the hopeless, 2) Build new relationships, and 3) Help Our Community.  These are the goals we focus on as we make disciples of Jesus Christ. 

4 Reasons Why I love Pleasant Grove
I’ve been the pastor of Pleasant Grove for more than eight years now.  Eight years is the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life.  My family and I have loved it here so far.  Everyone has been so kind to us.  I want to share briefly about four reasons I love Peasant Grove.

First of all, Pleasant Grove is big enough to do a lot of good ministry.  I have served smaller churches where we struggled to have the people, facility space, and resources to serve God the way we needed to.  Pleasant Grove has lots of capable, willing people, an abundance of facility space, and the resources to do great ministry.

But another reason I love Pleasant Grove is we are still small enough to have a sense of intimacy.  I have been to larger churches and they have their own kids of strengths, but you can lose the sense of intimacy our church members have with one another.  We know each other’s names.  We have time to talk to each other, care for each other, get to know each other.

And because of that, there’s another thing I find really meaningful at Pleasant Grove—the way people love one another here.  We are all different.  We come from different backgrounds.  Some have lived in this areas their whole lives; others are new comers to the area.  Some are older; some are younger. However, I’ve witness a deep caring and unconditional kind of love here.  You accept people who are different.  You love them despite their struggles.  You accept people as they are, but also help them grow in Christ to become who God wants them to be.  I see this Christ-like love in the people of Pleasant Grove all the time, and it makes my heart smile!

But there’s another thing I love about Pleasant Grove.  The people here are always willing to learn, change, and grow.  As long as I’ve been with you, you’ve always been willing to try new ideas, new music, and new ways of doing things.  You’ve embrace new people, new leaders, and new technology.  I know change hasn’t always been easy, but you’ve had the courage to try and and open hearts to embrace whatever works to further the Kingdom of God.  And that blesses my heart.

Highlights from Last Year
Let me share some highlights from our ministry last year.  Last year, we started using a new model for planning events.  Susan Cooksey and Sherry Dickson teamed up to co-lead a planning team of volunteers worked so well to plan many excellent activities to help us make disciples as we give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.
  • We had an excellent Super Bowl Sunday with the barefoot kicker from Tennessee, Ricky Townsend, as our guest speaker.
  • The youth served an excellent steak dinner for Valentine’s Day so that everyone could enjoy a special meal with their special someone. 
  • Near the end of 2017, we hired a new children’s minister, Ashten Webb. In 2018, she did a great job getting to know Pleasant Grove and leading our children’s program. We had several very successful children’s activities. 
  • We hosted a community Easter egg hunt, with over 200 people attending. 
  • VBS was one of the best organized I can remember, with as many as 50 kids attending. Our volunteers had a fun working it and we got great feedback from those who came. 
  • Trunk or Treat is always a huge hit in our community and we had about 800 people attended this year. Plus, we did some things to help minister to those who came—more than just give them candy and a hotdog. We invited them to church, gave them a pamphlet about community resources in our area, and also a newsletter with a Gospel lesson and information about our church.

One of the things I was very pleased with last year, was how many of our events built on previous events. For example, our movie nights over the summer and our summer bouncy blowout lead into VBS. People from VBS were invited to our Wednesday nights kids program. Each event led into the next one and helped build momentum.

New People
Since our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, one of the most exciting things for me has been to see so many new people coming to Pleasant Grove.  Since last summer, we’ve had at least 27 new people start attending PGUMC regularly.  And they’re also getting involved.  Many of these have started attending Bible study, Sunday school, Wednesday dinner and youth & children’s programs.  Many of our newest people have even gotten involved to help plan some of our events like trunk or treat.  Here are some of the statistics:
  • 12 new people joined our church last year
  • 3 people were baptized – Finley Rebecca Ward, Amaya Childers, & Brooks Blalock
  • 3 people gave their life to Christ through a public profession of faith – Abigail Mullis, Amaya Childers, & Walker England
  • Six members of our church died last year and went on to glory.  It’s never easy to say goodbye to people we love at Pleasant. However, we can find comfort in knowing they are at Home with Jesus in heaven now.  And we can celebrate the way they helped shape our church.  So, we are thankful for the six of our saints who passed away in 2018:  Patricia Pellom, Dot Kuhne, Arnold Locklear, Jerry Albertson, Ann Brooker, & Don Douglas. 

Looking Forward to 2019
We have a lot to be thankful for from the past year.  And we also have a lot to look forward to in the coming one.  We’ve already made a great start for 2019.  Susan Cooksey and Sherry Dickson and the planning team did some great work in November planning the activities we want to do this year.  We already have event coordinators and a list of volunteers for each program.  And Sunday, we bathed each event in prayer.  Now, we need to continue to pray for the teams who are planning them.  Hanging on the walls, you see what we are working toward and who is helping with each event.  Pray for them and support them.  It’s gonna be a great year!

And invite people to come!  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  All these events are opportunities to invite people through the door of our church, to feel the love we all feel here, and to meet the Lord Jesus Christ who fills our hearts with love.  My hope for our church in 2019 is that we will see even more new people coming and getting involved and growing in Christ.  I want us all to look for ways to invite more new people to come.
  
Another hope I have for the people of Pleasant Grove in 2019, is more spiritual growth.  Everyone needs to grow in Christ—whether you’re new to Pleasant Grove or you’ve been here a while.  Many people want to grow in Christ.  Many people resolve to grow in Christ.  But growth doesn’t just happen because you make a resolution.  Growth comes through practicing. Practicing the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study, fasting, and service help nurture the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control become more abundant as we practice and grow in Christ.  So, I plan to teach a series on spiritual disciplines and encourage you to practice them more.  The series will start on Wednesday night, January 23rd.  I hope you will come and invite a friend.

One of the spiritual disciplines is service.  We grow in Christ as we serve.  Pleasant Grove is a very outreach oriented church.  We like to serve and help people.  We are going to continue our focus on that through outreach projects like building wheel chair ramps.  We will also help our community by offering meals for high school groups like football teams and bands and bereavement meals for people who’ve lost a loved one.  Further more, we will continue to serve snack packs to hungry kids at Pleasant Grove Elementary, using funds we’ve received from grants.

In the past, Family Promise was one of the great opportunities we had to serve.  The biggest blessing of working with Family Promise was the opportunity for hands-on service to the needy who struggle financially.  However, for several years Family Promise had shifted their focus away from housing homeless families in church buildings.  This was better for families, but also eliminated hands-on service opportunities for churches.  At the end of last year, the directors of Family Promise decided to disband and let other charitable organizations like the City of Refuge and Greater Works take over. 

We will miss partnering with Family Promise in our community.  However, we are still committed to serve the needy and we’ve increased our outreach budget so we’ll have the funds to do it.  Since Family Promise has disbanded, we were able to shift the funds we were using to support them directly to our outreach fund.  We can use these funds to do more to help the needy directly instead of passing the buck to outside organizations.  Furthermore, we’ve committed to send a feeding team to the City of Refuge four times this year – Feb 7, May 2, Aug 1, Nov 7.  Kay Denson will be coordinating the effort, but it will take everyone’s help to prepare and serve food.  Our job will be to feed needy families as they come to the City of Refuge to learn about Jesus.  So, we will regain the hands-on service opportunities we lost when Family Promise changed their focus from housing homeless families in our church and we will be doing a great service to help the needy and help our community.

One final thing I need to report is we need to pray for our United Methodist Church.  Our denomination has a special General Conference coming up February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri.  This may be the most significant General Conference our denomination has ever had since its inception in 1968.  Representatives from all over the world have been studying issues about human sexuality and will meet at the General Conference to debate and vote on the issue.  One proposal is to maintain the UMC's traditional teaching that God designed sex to be enjoyed only within the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman.  Another proposal seeks to redefine marriage within the United Methodist Church to include same-sex unions as well open ordination as pastors or deacons to "self-avowed, practicing" homosexuals.  This is a serious issue and the United Methodist Church is not of one mind on the subject.  Many within the United States want to see the church change and be more inclusive of gay people.  Others wish to offer grace to those who struggle with sexual sin, but hold to a biblical view of marriage and human sexuality.  Either way, there is a serious threat that as many may leave the United Methodist Church based on what is decided.  This is not just something that affects other churches in other places.  This is something that could affect Pleasant Grove UMC directly.  We need to be in prayer for our United Methodist Church.

Answer the Call in 2019
If you are a member of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, I encourage you to pray for our church and our denomination.  Furthermore, I would ask you to pray that God would show you:
  • How you can invite others to join with us at Pleasant Grove
  • How you can grow in your own faith through spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship, study, and service
  • And pray for those who will be coordinating events and leading ministry at PGUMC
If you are not a member of Pleasant Grove but are attending regularly, I invite you to consider going deeper in your relationship with God by becoming an official member of the church.

If you live nearby, but are not active in a church, let me invite you now to come see what Jesus is doing in our lives at Pleasant Grove.  I invite you to come grow closer to God here as we grow with you.

If you live too far away to come to Pleasant Grove regularly, I invite you to find a good Christian church where you live where you can partner with other believers to grow in Christ and servce the Kingdom of God.  

May God bless you and lead you in the 2019.

Pastor Chris Mullis
Senior Pastor, Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church



Monday, December 31, 2018

Covenant Prayer


Preface
Christmas has come.  We’ve celebrated the birth of Christ, but we are still waiting for him to come again as he promised.  The birth of Christ is only part of the story.  The story continues and is marked at every turn by commitment and sacrifice.  Every good thing worth having comes through commitment and sacrifice.  Listen to the extended story of Christ’s birth and childhood.

Slides – Luke 2:21-42
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.

Introduction
Many people want their spiritual life to be spectacular—to be filled with passion and miracles and signs and wonders.  They want worship to always be special; maybe that’s why so many only attend church on Christmas or Easter.  People want spirituality, not religion; they want to feel God’s love, but they don’t want to practice religious disciplines.  But that’s not the way things usually work in real life.  We don’t usually have a spectacular spiritual life if we don’t practice the daily commitment of religious discipline.  Furthermore, the signs and wonders of God’s intimate and powerful presence in our lives usually happen when we are in the midst of our daily spiritual habits. 

Mary and Joseph were just ordinary people like you and me, but the Bible also describes them as godly people.  They prayed.  They worshiped.  They study God’s Word.  They were committed to their religious duties.  It was in the midst of this religious life that the Angel appeared to Mary and the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus.  It was in the midst of a godly religious life that the Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to remain committed to Mary, for she was pregnant with the Son of God.  And after the child was born, we see Mary and Joseph continued their religious duties.  They circumcised Jesus when he was 8-years-old, they followed the purification rites according to the Law of Moses, they continued their regular religious duties and even traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem every year. They also trained Jesus to be a faithful Jew.  By the time he was twelve and they took him to the Temple in Jerusalem, he had been studying the Bible (The Torah actually, which was the jewish Bible) and practicing his religion faithfully and knew the Word of God as well as the religious scholars.  Practice makes perfect; that's true in you spiritual life as well as anything else.  And it was true for Jesus too.

In our text this morning, we also see the religious commitment of an old man named Simeon.  He was righteous and devout.  And there was a widowed prophet named Anna, who was 84-years-old.  It says, “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”  A very “religious” woman, but her determined, daily commitment to religious practice (and also Simeon’s) led to a spectacular, once in a lifetime spiritual experience.  They both get to see and hold and pray with and bless the baby Jesus.

Things Worth Having
Things worth having are worth waiting for, working for, fighting for, and never giving up on.  The biggest, most important blessings in life come through commitment.  We celebrate the special moments of life—when a youth graduates from high school, a young couple get married, the birth of a child, etc.  We flood Facebook and Instagram with pictures capturing these special milestones.  But these moments in and of themselves are nothing if not bathed in deep, daily commitment.  It is not the marriage ceremony or the pictures that matter; it is the love that the bride and groom have for each other that compels them to remain by each other’s side in good times and bad time, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health their whole life long.  We anticipate the glorious birth of a child with a young couple, but the true glory is in the old women and men like Anna and Simeon who have lived a life of deep commitment and sacrifice, raising children and grandchildren, serving their friends, their church, their community. 

Covenant Prayer
Over the last month, I’ve shared about many different kinds of prayer.  We can experience some very special and intimate spiritual time with God through many different types of prayer.  I want to share one more.  It is called covenant prayer.  A covenant is an agreement.  It is a promise between God and His people.  Throughout the Bible, God has promised to care for His people.  And God calls His people to be committed in our relationships too--with people and with God.

A relationship can only go as far as our commitment to one another.  That’s why a man and a woman decide to get married and promise to love each other until death.  It assures the couple they can trust each other at the deepest, most vulnerable levels of life because they can trust their partner will not abandon them no matter what. 

The same principle applies in our spiritual lives.  If you want a deep spiritual life, if you want to experience the spectacular power and loving presence of God in your life, you’ve got to be deeply committed to God.  If you want real answers to the deep questions of life that go beyond those trite clich├ęs, you’ve got to be deeply committed.  If you want true healing from terrible scars, freedom from heavy chains, or true hope in the midst of hopelessness, you’ve got to be truly committed to the Healer, Liberator, and Source of all Hope.  Why would God cast His pearls before swine who would only trample them in the mud and then break out of the pen to run away to some other field?

Our deep commitment to God is an essential act of prayer that opens up true and deep communion with the One who makes life worth living, who brings answers to our most important questions, who shows us questions we never even thought to ask, and grants us true peace as we walk through life in the midst of His perfect will.

How Will you Be Committed in the Coming Year?
Our Covenant Prayer with God encompasses many areas.  There is the covenant of holy obedience.  God is the rightful ruler of all.  He deserve our obedience, not because of anything He has done for us, but because He is Lord of all.  Will you make a covenant to put obedience to God above yoru family, you nation, your career, everything?  Will you obey even if it makes you look strange or cost you?

There is the covenant of time.  We you make your time with God your first priority?  Prayer, worship, study, and service are important but not necessarily urgent.  There are always other commitments that try to steal your time, claiming to be more urgent that your devotional time.  And the truth is, the sky is not going to fall if you skip church or your prayer time or reading your Bible.  However, over time, we grow weak as we neglect the important religious exercise of prayer, study, worship, and service.  You will always reap what you sow.  And for years, decades, centuries, Americans have been neglecting these critical elements of religious life.  That's why we and our families and our communities have grown so spiritually weak.  Will you make a covenant with God to be faithful with your time?

There is the covenant of place.  We all need to worship, study, and pray in private.  But we cannot only do these in private.  We must also be part of a community of faith.  You cannot be a Christian only in private.  Christianity is a communal experience.  Will you make a covenant to be part of the Body of Christ--to worship and serve the Lord in the Church?  Where will that be?

There is the covenant of preparation. Will you covenant to come to worship prepared to be in the presence of the Lord?  So many people complain, "I don't get anything out of worship when I come to church."  Often times, those are the same people who stayed up extra late on Saturday night and who barely made it to worship on Sunday, who came in late, who sat in the pew the whole time thinking about what they would do for the rest of the day.  They weren't prepared to worship the Living God and they weren't fully present while they were here.  No wonder they didn't feel fed.  Do you realize, in worship, you are in the presence of the Lord of the universe.  He is so deep we cannot fathom Him, so infinite our finite minds cannot comprehend Him--even if we spent years preparing to visit with Him.  And yet, we do so little to prepare to meet Him!  We should at least begin preparing our heart on Saturday evening, get to bed on time, rise early on Sunday with plenty of time to spare, and be prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit's assistance the whole time to prepare us to meet our Lord in worship.  Will you make a covenant with God to be prepared to meet Him regularly?

There is the covenant of resources.  Jesus said, where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.  What you spend your time, energy, money, and resources on show what are your priorities.  Will you make a covenant to put God first with your financial giving, your time, and your other commitments?  For what you are truly committed to makes all the difference in what you receive spiritually.  We receive our greatest blessings through commitment and sacrifice. 

Your Covenant Commitments for 2019
I invite you to consider your covenant commitments for 2019.  I pray you will be fully committed, willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God, and thus receive the full blessing God wishes to grant you.  

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Prayer of Adoration

Introduction
Throughout the season of Advent, we’ve been studying prayer.  Prayer is so much more than we might have thought.  We can pray and ask for God’s help--help with our lives, help for those we love.  That is a type of prayer--intercessory prayer or petitionary prayer.  But there is more to prayer than just that.  Prayer can be meditating on Scripture. It can be reflecting and examining your day.  Prayer can be celebrating Holy Communion or worship or other responsive readings or traditional prayers.  Prayer can be surrendering to God and allowing Him to change us.  At its heart, prayer is spending time with God as a child spends time with a loving parent.  And when we do, the Father shares His love with us and teaches us and molds us into His perfect image.

On this Christmas Eve, as we celebrate the precious baby that was born in a manger, I want to tell you a little about another kind of prayer.  It’s called The Prayer of Adoration and it is a fitting lesson as we pause to remember and adore the Christ-child born to save the world from sin.

Slides – Luke 2:1-20
1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Adoration a Baby is Natural
Can you imagine those shepherds that night standing before the baby Jesus, adoring him.  And later the wise men also came from the East to bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They gave their gifts and adored the baby who was born to be king of the Jews and Savior of the whole world.  We don’t know how many others might have laid their adoring eyes on the baby--whispering sweet “goo goos” to him or lovingly cradling him in their arms.  It seems everyone wants to come see a newborn baby.  We can probably imagine what it was like for them to adore baby Jesus.  If we have ever seen a newborn child or held a tiny little infant, light as a feather, if you’ve ever seen those tiny little hands grasping your finger while looking up at you with bleary eyes (seeing everythig for the very first time), then you know something of the wonder of those who gathered around the manger to adore the baby, Emmanuel, God with us.  

I saw a new mother post a picture of her baby on Instagram—her very first child.  Her caption read, “I never knew I could love someone so much.  How is this possible?”

Isn’t it strange that we would be so captivated by a baby?  A baby doesn’t do anything except be “cure”; however, people still adore babies.   To behold a baby brings us joy and wonder and hope.  Babies have the power to fill our hearts with love and it’s not a selfish kind of love; it’s the kind of self-sacrificing love that would make a complete stranger risk their life to save a baby.  

God designed us to adore little babies, to love and protect them.  It is an innate part of our character to love little babies this way.  No one has to teach us.  And so it was that God came into our broken world as a tiny little baby.  And the shepherds came--men who I’m sure were rough and tough from surviving the cold winter nights while protecting their flocks from wild animals and ruthless thieves.  They came and were overcome with wonder and awe at the sight of a little baby in a manger.  They adored him.


Stumbling Blocks to Adoration
We, too, are invited to come and adore Jesus.  Adoration is an act of prayer and it’s actually what we were designed to do.  God created us to love Him and be loved by Him.  All creation praises Him and we are the creations crowning glory.

To adore is as natural to the human spirit as breathing, but we don’t always adore God as we should.  There are several reason we get distracted and don’t adore Him as we should.

We are in too much of a rush.  We are always so busy doing doing “important things” we don’t slow down enough to notice all the amazing signs of God’s presence all around us.  I wonder how many people in busy Bethlehem failed to notice the young couple Mary and Joseph and their newborn baby.  And even of those who stopped in to take a quick look, how many took the time to really soak in the wonder of it all and to turn their hearts to adore the glory of God who is the giver of life.  I also wonder how often we fail to slow down enough to notice the glory of God all around and lift up a prayer of adoration to God.

We often fail to adore God, because we are stuck worshipping idols.  When I say we worship idols, I don’t mean some statue we bow down to.  An idol is anything that takes the place of the one true God, anything you turn to for the fulfillment that only God can give you.  We can make an idol out of money, power, our career, our church, even our spouse or our kids.  Many of the things we adore are good things, but they are bad for us when we seek fulfillment from them that we can only get from God.  Idolatry is dangerous for us and for the things we worship.

So we have to slow down and we have to focus our adoration on the One who truly deserves it.  He is the One who made us.  He is the source and sustainer of our life.  He is the God who loves us and daily blesses us with signs and wonders designed to turn our adoring hearts upward toward Him.  But we have to slow down and turn our eyes away from the blinking distractions of our noisy world in order to take notice of the subtle beauty and wonder of the Lord of all creation.  He is the One who came down from Heaven and was born in a tiny manger for us to adore.  He is the One who walked among the sick and lonely and poor, who spoke in parable that only those with ears could hear.  He is the One who died on a cross to save the world.  He is the one who bore a cross, the symbol of a lost cause, and turned it into a victory worthy to love and adore.

Steps Along the Path of the Prayer of Adoration
We out to continually give thanks and praise to God.  Thanks is adoring God for what God has done for us.  Praise is even more wonderful; it is adoring God simply for who He is without any regard for what He’s done for us.  Praise is selfless adoration of the Lord.  We can give thanks.  We can praise Him.  We can magnify Him.  To magnify is to try to exaggerate how wonderful God is.  We sometimes brag and exaggerate how great we are, but I bet you can never over-exaggerate how wonderful God is.  Give it a try.  I bet you can’t over-exaggerate how wonderful God is!

In his book Prayer, Richard Foster recommends we start with simple things in adoring God.  Rather jump right to the grand and cosmic scale of how wonderful God is, look at a baby.  How wonderful is the God who would create human life and cause it to begin in a tiny little child--so fragile and yet fully formed and amazing.  Don’t analyze and study, just be amazed at the miracle of life and adore the One who created it.  As we regularly adore God as revealed in the little things, we train ourselves to see and adore God everywhere.  As we become more filled with wonder about God, we can begin to thank and praise and magnify Him.

Adore Him
This Christmas, I pray you will slow down and refocus.  See the baby Jesus in the manger, born to save the world.  Adore him.  For He is God.  It is what you were born to do.

The Prayer of Rest


Introduction
Advent is the season where we get ready for Christmas.  It’s also the season we remember that Jesus is coming again and so we work to be ready for that Second Coming.  We prepare our soul through prayer and fasting and worship and study and service.  Advent is nearly at an end.  Christmas is in two days.  Are you ready?  It’s been a long, busy season.  We’ve worked hard.  We’ve studied many types of prayer.  I’m looking forward to the Christmas break when we can rest a bit.  We need rest.  I need rest.

Part of prayer is learning to truly rest in God, even in the midst of chaos.  So today, let me share about what is known as the prayer of rest.

Matthew 11:28-30
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Jesus Invites us to Rest in Him
Who couldn’t use a little more rest?  As children, we often fought our parents when they tried to make us take a nap.  (When I became a parent, I learned how blessed it could be to make your child take a nap--because it gives you a moment to rest too!!!)  As adults, there always seems to be too much to do and never enough time to rest.  Some people would kill for a little extra nap time!  I have Good News!  God wants you to rest!

When God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, He established a holy rhythm for life.  There were six days to do the ordinary work of life and then the seventh day was a special day to rest.  It is was a wonderful gift God gave to humanity--a special day just for rest, to leave off from the stress and strain of regular work and just enjoy sweet communion with God who is the source of life.

But people, who are overwhelmed with sin, always strive to gain more, more, more.  God wants to give us rest, but if we rest, we might miss out on some of the “more” that we desperately want.  We say we want rest, but when we have the choice between entering into the Lord’s rest or chasing after more (more money, more fun, more stuff, more more more), we usually choose “more” over rest.  If we are honest and if we really think on the matter, we realize our lack of rest is most often the result of our own choices and priorities in life.

In the midst of this, Jesus invites us to rest.  “Come to me,” he says, “And I will give you rest.”  In other words, be my disciple (follow me, pattern your life after my ways instead of your own or the world’s example), and I will give you rest.  Again, the choice is before us.  We can choose His way that leads to rest, but we most often choose a different path that keeps us from rest. 

Sabbath, rest, means to rest in God.  It is trusting in Him to take care of things without giving in to the nagging impulse inside that says we’ve got to make something happen.  Sabbath rest is not so much “being lazy and doing nothing or sleeping all day”; it is letting go and trusting God to handle it (or else doing what He tells us to do according to His plan).

3 Ways to Practice the Prayer of Rest
The first practice is solitude, something I spoke about last week.  Solitude is going off to be by yourself.  Solitude can help you worry less about what others think, but it can also help you stop trying to be in control everything.  When you voluntarily step away from all your normal work and interactions with people, you have to let go.  We may think the world cannot survive without us; everything is going to fall apart if we’re not there to keep the train on the tracks.  Is that really so?  Are you so important the world cannot survive without you?  Who do you think you are?  (Pause…)

Last January, me and my whole family came down with the flu.  I was not able to go preach or lead worship at the church I pastor.  Thankfully, my worship leader and choir leader volunteered to lead the service without me.  They told me to stay home and rest and recuperate.  They designed a prayer service with special music and different people from our congregation leading prayer.  They designed and lead it completely without me.  People loved it and told me how meaningful it was for them.  It was so well-received, we decided to do ti again this year (not get the flu, but the service!).  Furthermore, that same day, I was scheduled to lead a planning meeting where we planned all the activities for the 2018 year.  I was supposed to lead the meeting.  Thankfully, two ladies from my church stepped up and led the meeting.  With the help of other leaders in the church, they planned all the activities for the calendar year.  And it all turned out great!  We had a great 2018 year full of wonderful programs.  And it all got planned without me (maybe because I wasn't there).

Step away from things.  Go off by yourself for a time--a few hours, a few days.  Rest in the Lord.  Meditate on this eternal truth:  One day you will not be here anymore.  Do you think the world will not go on without you?  Of course it will.  And it will go on with you for a little while if you leave it alone and take a rest.  In fact, things may work themself out just fine without you (with God’s help instead of yours).  It may be that your absence is what is really needed in order for God to work it out.

Silence is another way to practice the prayer of rest.  What I mean by “silence” is not so much refusing to speak or make noise.  What I mean is to silence your striving and grasping and manipulative control of people and situations.  You have to silence the inner turmoil within your mind that worries frantically, “I have to do something!”  No.  All you need to do right now is rest.  Be still and know that God is in control.  He doesn’t need any help from you.  Quiet your mind and let God rebalance you. If and when He want you to get involved, He will show you.  Then you will be a peace in your soul and better able to resume your work according to His priorities.  But here’s the thing, you can’t hear God’s still small voice guiding you until you silence all the other worrisome voices loudly urging you to “Go! Go! Go!”

A third way to practice the prayer of rest is reflection.  Through reflection, you take time to stop your work, rest, and intentionally reflect on your life.  You consider:  Who am I?  What is my purpose according to God plan?  You make time to reflect on God’s glory, what He has done for you, and His incredible power and ability to hold the whole world together.  You empty your mind of all the things you have to do and instead consider the wonder of God and rest in His love for you and the reasons He gave you life.

Caution!  (Don’t Be A Pharisee)
The Pharisees in Jesus' day were militant about the Sabbath.  They believed you could not break it because God said so.  Jesus came along and drove them crazy, because he kept doing things like healing people or picking corn on the Sabbath and they said it was against the law.  Jesus said something different.  He said the Sabbath was made to serve man not man to serve the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is God's gift to us, not something we do for God's sake.

Sabbath is different for every person.  Exodus 20:8-9 says, “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.”  I added the italics to the word ordinary because I want to point out that everyone works in different ways and we need rest from our ordinary work.  Most people work all week long and then rest on the weekend.  I'm a pastor.  My most important work day is on Sunday, a day everyone else considers a Sabbath.  And I also work by serving God through religious activity.  That is my ordinary work.  So when I rest, I like to do something different--maybe build some furniture or work on a car.  That is restful for me, even though it may be very physical.  Resting for me often means not doing "church" stuff.  For you it will probably be different.  You need to take a break from your ordinary work routine and do something dedicated to resting in God.

Maybe, you want to take a vacation.  Great!  But be sure it's a resting vacation.  Sometimes we work so hard trying to pack more, fun, more memories, more, more, more into our vacations, they are anything but restful.  Just slow down, take it easy, and rest.

Closing
Jesus invites you to rest.  He says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Notice that Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you.”  A yoke is a tool to help oxen do work by pulling a loaded cart.  So following Christ still means you will work.  The difference is, the work will fit you so well it won’t seem much like work at all.  On behalf of Christ, I invite you to come to him and rest.  Lay your burdens aside and take his yoke upon you.  Enter into the prayer of rest.