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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

Get Ready for Mother's Day!
Copyright April 27, 2015 by Chris Mullis 

            Mother’s Day is coming soon—May 10th.  Have you thought of a gift to give your mother?  I saw my mom this weekend and I decided to give her Mother’s Day present a little early this year since I won’t get to see her on Mother’s Day.  I gave my mom a cedar trellis I made—the kind you put in your flower garden for climbing plants to scale.  I hope she enjoys it. 
            It can be a challenge to find a good Mother’s Day gift if your mother is anything like mine.  My mom already has everything she needs and her walls and shelves are crowded with pictures and knickknacks.  Maybe your mother is the same way.  Whether or not your mother needs anything, what she really wants is to know that you care.
            The Bible offers a great idea for a Mother’s Day gift.  It’s something that would make a great Father’s Day gift too (June 21!). 

Proverbs 23:24-25
24The father of godly children has cause for joy.
    What a pleasure to have children who are wise.
25 So give your father and mother joy!
    May she who gave you birth be happy.
            It is a delight to parents when their children walk with the Lord.  It brings joy, peace of mind, and the satisfaction that parents fulfilled one of their most important responsibilities—to shepherd their children into a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, parents agonize when their children wander in spiritual apathy.  I can’t count the times I have counseled with, prayed with, and fretted with mothers and fathers who were worried about their children’s spiritual well-being.  This is especially heartbreaking for parents of grown children who do not share their parent’s devotion to the Lord.  That’s why I think one of the best gifts you could give your Mother is to go to church with her this Mother’s Day.  What a wonderful chance to honor your mother.  It is something she will cherish far more than any knickknack you could buy.
            Even better, if you really want to give your Mother a precious gift, make a commitment to deepen your faith.  If you are not attending church regularly, make a commitment to attend regularly for the next six weeks.  If you are already attending, find a Bible study, a small group, or a Sunday school to attend.  If you are already doing these, find one way you can serve—being the hands and feet of Christ.  Not only will these things bring joy to mother’s heart, they just might bring joy, peace, love, and eternal life to you.
            Mothers, tell your sons and daughters what you really want for Mother’s Day this year.  Sons and daughters, share this gift with your Mothers and Fathers.  I think it’s the best gift you could give.  Of course, I’m no expert and certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell… 

God loves you and so do I!


Monday, April 27, 2015

I Have a NEW Heart!

Copyright April 21, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Ezekiel 36:25-27

            I love springtime!  It is my favorite time of year.  I love the weather.  I love the longer days.  But most of all, I love seeing earth spring forth into NEW life.  Trees are budding.  Flowers are blooming.  It is a glorious thing to behold. 
With spring, come caterpillars feeding to prepare themselves to transform into butterflies.  Abigail has a “pet” caterpillar in a jar.  She named him Larry.  Larry has already built a cocoon. Soon Larry will transform into a butterfly (or more likely a moth).  It’s such a pleasure to behold the excitement of a child studying this process—to see it through their eyes.  Abigail also has a “pet” worm, but it won’t build a cocoon. I was joking with Abigail and asked if her worm was going to turn into a butterfly too.

“No!  Worms don’t turn into butterflies!”  She said, “That’s the difference between worms and caterpillars!”
Wisdom from the mouth of an 8-year-old.  The difference between worms and caterpillars: God doesn’t turn worms into butterflies.  Do you have the faith to let God transform you into something NEW?  Are you a worm or a caterpillar?
            If you have faith in Jesus Christ—if you trust him with life and your eternity—God will transform you into a NEW creation.  He will give you NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, and a NEW purpose in life.  Today I want to talk about God’s promise to give us a NEW heart.  Let’s look back into the Old Testament at the words of the prophet Ezekiel written over 500 years before Christ was born. 

Ezekiel 36:25-27
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

Explain the Passage
            Ezekiel lived during the Old Testament period of our faith.  We usually forget what a blessing it is to live in our time as opposed to Ezekiel’s time.  You see the whole character of life transformed when Jesus rose from the grave.  He ushered in a NEW Covenant between God and humanity. 
            In the Old Covenant, people were given rules (Laws) to help them avoid God’s judgment.  God said: If you obey my laws, I will be bless you.  If you disobey my laws, I will punish you. (summary of Deuteronomy 26:1-46)  That was the agreement.  The problem was most people only followed the rules to avoid punishment and receive a blessing.  There was very little sense of actual right and wrong—it was mostly about reward and punishment.  People didn’t necessarily want to do the right thing.  They just wanted to be blessed and avoid the God’s wrath.  Following the law was just a mechanical thing people did.  It was not motivated by love.
            Prophets used to lament this lack of love in people.  Perhaps the prophet Isaiah said it best in Isaiah 29:13, “And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.”

            When Jesus rose from the grave, He ushered in a NEW agreement (a NEW Covenant).  In the New Covenant, love is the only rule.  St. Augustine described Christianity this way.  He said, “Love God and do whatever you want.”  You see if you love God, you can do whatever you want because you will only want to do the right things if you truly love God.  In the NEW Covenant, Jesus offers us a NEW heart that loves God and sincerely desires to do good and not evil.
And all this is what Ezekiel predicted.  Five hundred years before Christ came, Ezekiel prophesied:
·      Vs 25a – “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.  Your filth will be washed away…”  Since Jesus paid the price for our sins when he died on the cross, we who trust in Christ have been cleansed.  Our sins are washed away!  And how is it that we commemorate this cleansing by Jesus when a person decides to become a Christian?  We sprinkle people with water when we baptize them.
·      Vs 25b "…and you will no longer worship idols.”  An idol is not necessarily a statue.  An idol is anything that takes the place of God in our heart.  Money can be an idol.  Power can be an idol.  Sex or your job or your family can become idols in your heart.  In the story of creation found in Genesis, the forbidden fruit was an idol for Adam and Eve because they desired it more than they wanted to obey God.  You see, there has always been this crazy tendency within the human heart to replace God with something else.  It is the primal sin.  And God promised through Ezekiel, that one day we would stop doing this.  And here’s how God accomplishes this in us.
·       Vs 26 – “I will give you a new heart… a tender, responsive heart.”  Ezekiel dreamed of the days we live in right now!  We live under the NEW Covenant—when we can receive a NEW heart from God—one that wants to do the right thing and no longer wants to do evil!  Because Jesus died and rose from the grave, you can have a NEW heart! 

A NEW Heart
            Christ gives us an amazing opportunity!  We can have a NEW heart!  And here’s what it looks like: 
·       Vs. 26 – “…I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”  [Some of you may have been hurt, betrayed, or disappointed so that your hearts have grown cold.  You can’t trust anymore.  You’re afraid to feel.  It’s like your heart has become cold and stony.  Your cold, stony heart isolates you from further pain and disappointment, but it also keeps you from experiencing life, love, and relationships in their fullness as God intended.  Ultimately, your cold, stony heart separate you from God—the source of life.  If you go on living with your cold, stony heart, you’re going to die spiritually.  But you don’t have to.  If you trust Jesus, he will give you a NEW heart that is tender and responsive.
·       Some of you have dirty, filthy hearts.  Even though you look nice on the outside, on the inside you harbor evil thoughts, selfish desires, and unkind attitudes.  You know this is not the way you should be, but you don’t know how to change.  Jesus can wash away your filthy heart and give you a NEW, clean heart.
·       Some of you are not so bad.  If fact, you’ve spent most of your life trying really hard to follow all the rules.  Your parents taught you right from wrong and you’ve tried to lived up to everyone’s expectations.  Sure you’ve made mistakes along the way (who hasn’t?), but overall you’d say you’re a pretty good person.  But I’ve got news for you:  More than anyone else, Jesus wants to give you a NEW heart.  You see, no matter how “good” you are, you can never be good enough.  If you’ve been trying to get along in life by simply following the rules, you have misunderstood God’s intention for you entirely.  God doesn’t want you to follow the rules.  God want you to do what’s right.  (And following the rules and doing what’s right are not necessarily always the same thing.)  You see, you (just like everybody else) need a NEW heart—one that is guided by God’s Holy Spirit, one that has His laws written upon it, one that always knows intuitively how to do the right thing at the right in the right way.  You need a NEW heart. 

            Do you trust Jesus to give you a NEW heart?  You see, faith is the key that unlocks the power of Christ to transform you.  That’s the difference between a caterpillar and a worm.  A caterpillar and a worm both crawl around on the ground.  But only the caterpillar builds its own tomb, seals it, and waits to see what God will do.  And what looks like the end for the caterpillar, God’s sees as a butterfly. 
            Are you a worm or a caterpillar?  Do you trust God enough to let your old heart die so Jesus can give you a NEW heart?  Would you like to go on living with your old heart (which is not really living at all, just existing), or would you rather trust Jesus to give you a NEW heart and a NEW life—true life?
            God invites us all to trust in Jesus and receive a NEW heart.  That is your choice today.  How will you choose?  Are you a worm or a caterpillar?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Daughter's Speech About Cohutta Elementary School

I had to share this speech my daughter, Grace, wrote.  Not only am I proud of my daughter (who won the award for best speech among all the 7th graders of her school), but I am also very thankful for Cohutta Elementary School, which is the subject of the speech.  I find it remarkable that a 7th grade middle school girl has such fond memories of her elementary school and would select it on her own as the topic of her middle school speech.  Cohutta Elementary School is truly an awesome place!

(A speech given by Grace Mullis for the Modern Woodmen Speech Contest in 2015)

Landmark: “an event of discovery marking an important stage or turning point in something” (quoted from the Oxford Dictionary).

Our lives are made of landmarks.  They may not be anything special in the eyes of others; but to those they affect, they are a colorful masterpiece of memories and milestones.  These landmarks could be as little as the old swing set in your yard you used to play on as a kid, to something as big as the house you’re raised in.  Our landmarks are tattooed onto our souls.  They may fade and memories may blur and run together, but they’ll always be there—an old friend just waiting to remind us of how we got to today.  Our landmarks shape us, develop us, and we wouldn’t be the people we are now without them.

I moved to Cohutta, GA in 2010.  As we winded around old country roads, I watched the faded yellow lines against the grey pavement and I wondered where in the world are we going?  I lazed away the summer until school started back, then began attending Cohutta Elementary.  It was clean, homely, and filled with caring and committed staff.  And the other kids that had grown up together welcomed me right into the Cohutta family.  From the “Clapout” on Friday mornings (a weekly event in which students are recognized for their aptitudes) to eating ice cream at recess on a warm spring day, going to Cohutta was simply… enjoyable.

We, the students, also had exceptional teachers.  They were understanding and did their best to prevent and solve student conflict—fabricating a more positive learning environment.  The staff greatly encouraged creativity and helped each student reach their cognitive goals.  I felt like teachers truly strived to mentor and educate their individual pupils in order to instill in them a lifelong love for knowledge.  I, along with the rest of the student body, was told time and time again that we were loved.  It was clear the school's capital priority was student growth and happiness.

Cohutta Elementary also has a rich history.  Cohutta, GA was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1832-1838.  The word Cohutta originates from the Indian word meaning foggy or foggy weather.  The front of the building used to be marked by a totem pole signifying the town’s deep Native American roots.  Cohutta started as a school for all grades.  It was the first accredited high school in Whitfield County.  This was crucial because any student wishing for a college diploma increased their chances of getting one by graduating from an accredited high school.  The first school house was built in 1886.  It was only three rooms, but it was torn down in 1910 and a new structure replaced it.  It too was later torn down to make way for a bigger, better building.  Sadly, it was burned down as well as the school that replaced it.  The fifth building, and the school I attended, is still standing and I hope it remains that way for many years to come.

Cohutta Elementary is truly the spotlight of the community.  It’s where I met one of my best friends, where I learned life lessons I’ll never forget and made bonds that will never be broken.  It’s where I was made into an individual with passions and goals.  Cohutta Elementary was… is… and forever will be a landmark in my life.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I've Been Made NEW!

Copyright April 13, 2015
Galatians 6:14-16

            My wife, Kelly, went shopping together last night.  I got a new pair of shoes and she got a new smart phone phone.  Her old iPhone finally bit the dust and wouldn't turn on anymore.  I'm so proud of her.  She finally ditched the iPhone and opted for the better android system with a brand new Samsung Galaxy s5!  So she's is learning how to use a new phone today and I'm wearing a new pair of shoes.
            There’s just something about getting something new.  Isn’t there?  Doesn’t it feel great to own a brand new smart phone or put on a new set of clothes?  And who wouldn’t love to sit behind the wheel of a brand new car? (You can even buy air fresheners scented with that “New Car” smell to trick into the good feelings that come from owning a new car.)  There’s just something great about new things.
            Of course, lately the thing that has been in vogue in home decor is the “distressed.”  Do you what this is?  It’s where you take a new piece of furniture and rough it up so it looks like it’s an old piece of furniture.  There are all kinds of pointers on how you can do this.  One method calls for you to use a chain to flog the wood until it is sufficiently “distressed.”  All this reminds me of a fashion trend for denim jeans when I was in high school.  It was the style to wear jeans with holes in them.  So some kids I knew would actually buy a new pair of jeans and cut holes in them.  Then they would wash over and over again to give them a worn appearance.  Clothing stores caught on pretty quick and soon were selling their own jeans that came already tattered.  Most parents were just dumbfounded with the whole thing! 
            But you know what I think’s really cool.  It’s when you take something old and make it new again.  There’s nothing like a classic car that’s been restored to be like new!  Or how about a piece of truly beautiful and interesting antique furniture?  I recently had the privilege of refinishing an old phonograph.  This is one of those old wind-up record players back from before they invented radios.  This particular phonograph was built in 1917 and has been in my family all my life.  It existed as a dilapidated piece of junk with chipped wood and broken parts. But it always fascinated me and I had the chance to bring it back to life.  Now it is NEW again and it is beautiful to me. 

            I think my love of making old things new springs from my understanding of what Christ has done for me.  You see, Jesus is making me NEW.  Ever since the day I gave my life to Christ, He has been renovating me.  He has been changing the old person that I was into the NEW person He wants me to be.  And that’s what I want to talk about with you today, because it is far more important than classic cars or old furniture.  I want to share how you can be made NEW. 
The Bible teaches that what marks a person as a Christian is they have been made NEW.  They have new desires.  They have a new way of thinking.  They have a new purpose in life.  And these changes are so real and dramatic in a person’s life, that the best way to describe them is to say, “They are a NEW person.”  Jesus even used the term “born again” as if to say the person they used to be was dead and they have been born again—a new person.
            Over the next few weeks, we will study what it means to be made NEW by God.  Let’s start today by looking at Galatians 6:14-16.

Galatians 6:14-16
14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.

Exegete the Passage
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to Christians living in a city called Galatia to bolster their faith in Christ.  Some false teachers were confusing them they by teaching the Galatians needed to believe in Christ and…  I.E. Believe in Christ and be circumcised.  Believe in Christ and follow the Jewish law… 
This is false because no external thing we do can save us.  It is only Christ who saves us and to tag on any additional stipulation as a requirement for God’s grace is an offence to the absolutely free gift of God’s grace.
The Galatian Christians were often persecuted for not being circumcised by both Jews and Romans.  You see, Roman authorities officially recognized and allowed for the practice of the Jewish religion; whereas, Christianity was not sanctioned and often severely persecuted.  Circumcision was the religious mark of a Jewish person.  Some thought that by being circumcised they might fall under the Jewish umbrella and thus be protected from persecution from both Jews and Romans.  Couldn’t these Christians just go along with the crowd, be circumcised and keep being good Jews?
We face similar temptations in our own time.  Though we aren’t pressured to be circumcised, we are pressured to be like everybody else around us.  Most non-Christians will tolerate Christians so long as we don’t cause a fuss (as long as we remain pretty much like them).  But if we really become a NEW person and take a stand on something that is contrary to popular opinion, we face ridicule and ostracizing.  For instance: we do not support gay marriage because it is clearly contrary to biblical teaching.  However, popular opinion disagrees with biblical teaching.  An active, growing, and vocal majority in our country advocate for gay marriage.  And when Christians refuse to go along, when we stand on solid biblical teaching, we are ridiculed, ostracized, and possibly even penalized.  There is a great temptation among many Christians to avoid all that and just “go along with the crowd.”
Paul says, “No!  All you need is to believe in Christ.  All the other stuff doesn’t matter.  Religious ceremonies can’t save you.  The approval of others can’t save you.  All that really matters is that you believe in Christ.  For when you do, you will be transformed into a new creation.”  The key verse for us is - 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.
A NEW Allegiance
When you truly believe in Christ, it means you have chosen to follow Him.  You have become His disciple.  Disciples forsake everything else and choose to follow their master.  You think about the Disciples we read about in the New Testament.  They left their homes, their jobs, their families, everything to follow Jesus.  And Jesus transformed them into new people. 
In the same way, when we chose to follow Jesus, we put Him and His teaching above all else in our lives.  Jesus said, If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).  Jesus is not advocating a life of hate--especially for your family.  The point is:  Our love and devotion for Jesus must be so strong, so committed, that it surpasses all our other commitments.  It means, that we will always choose to follow Christ even at the expense of these other natural, familial obligations. And the truth is, when you give your heart to Christ, you will actually become a better father, mother, husband, wife, son or daughter or friend.  You will become a better person, because when you choose to believe and follow Christ, he transforms you into a New Person. 
A NEW Creation
            What does it mean to be made NEW?  I will be talking about this over the next few weeks in worship.  But let me just give you a summary today.  When Jesus makes you NEW, it  means you will have a heart.  Your desires will change.  The sinful, selfish things you used to desire, will be replaced by things that are good, wholesome, and fulfilling.  You will find peace because your heart will desire things that are good for you, things you were originally designed to have.  And God will give you the desires of your heart and you will be fulfilled.
            When Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW mind.  He will help you a new way of thinking where you see yourself and others as He sees you—as the beautiful, unique, wonderful masterpieces He created.  Instead of seeing your flaws and weaknesses as mistakes, you will start to see them that God has transformed them into your greatest attributes--for in your weakness His glory shines through most clearly.  False pride will disappear and be replaced by a true knowledge of who you are and who you belong to.  You will find the confidence that comes from being a child of God.
            When Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW purpose.  Jesus will give direction to your life.  You will find a true sense of purpose, knowing that your life matters.  You will no longer chase after meaning in your days—jumping from one cause to another, and losing your identity every time your life’s purpose changes.  You will have an eternal purpose that transcends your age, gender, where you live, or your station in life.  It will be a purpose that brings everlasting rewards you will celebrate for all eternity.
            Lastly, when Jesus makes you NEW, He will give you a NEW eternal destination.  You see, those who have not been made NEW are dying.  They are headed down a road to destruction.  Their destination is eternal separation from God, the source of life.  It is a Hell of eternal torment, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But those believe in Christ, whom Christ makes NEW, have a NEW destination.  They will have eternal life in heaven with God and all His saints.  It is a glorious place of eternal joy where there will be no more sickness or sadness or death.  All the injustices of this world along with the worries and suffering and evil will be swallowed up and forgotten forever in the wondrous glory of God.           

            If you would like to experience all these good things, why don’t you decide to follow Christ today?  Don’t cling to your old life any longer.  Let go of the past and embrace the glorious NEW future Jesus wants you to have.  Pray to Jesus and ask to be His disciple today and He will make you NEW. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Born Again - 3 Ways of Grace

I had the privilege of preaching to a Spanish speaking congregation who meats in the chapel of my church.  Here is the message I preached through a translator on April 12, 2015.  They were very gracious host and I look forward to having their pastor preach at Pleasant Grove UMC on May 31st.

Copyright April 8, 2015 by Chris Mullis
John 3:1-8, 1 Peter 1:3-4

          I believe we are all part of the   If you believe in Jesus Christ, if He is your Lord and Savior, you are my brother or sister.  I know this is true because Christians are born again.  So even though you and I have different parents on earth, our heavenly Father is the same.  I want to read the place in the Bible where Jesus first said the phrase “born again.”  Then I want to talk about being born again, and 3 main ways we experience God’s grace. 
same family, regardless of what church we go to or what language we speak.
t is such a privilege to speak to you today.  I love to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ any chance I get.  Thank you for welcoming me today. 

John 3:1-8 (NIV)
1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

The key verse for us today is John 3:6 (NLT) – Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.

Prevenient Grace
            Humans can reproduce human life by having children.  I have three children.  My oldest is in the 11th grade.  Lord willing, he will graduate high school next year.  He will be an adult soon.  But I still remember when he was a baby.  I remember when he took his first steps.  I was not there, I was in my class at seminary, but my wife got it on video and I watched it that night when I got home. 
            Soon my son Gavin was learning to speak and then to read and to add and subtract.  He was also learning about Jesus.  We took Gavin to church from the time he was a baby.  It took some time for him to mature enough to be ready, but when he was 10-years-old, he was “born again” when he decided to follow Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  Now he is almost an adult and he continues to grow in strength and wisdom and faith.
            Praise God!  All of my children have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  My youngest daughter just turned 8-years-old.  She was born again last summer at Vacation Bible School.  She is still young, and doesn’t understand everything about being a Christian, but she understands enough and she is growing—both her body and her spirit.
            I love each of my children.  I loved them even before they knew it.  Even when they were babies and couldn’t understand anything, I took care of them.  I loved them.  This is like one of the ways God’s grace works for us.  He loves us even before we know it.  Long before we ever think about God, He is already thinking about us. 
You see it was nearly 2,000 years ago that Jesus came to earth and lived, died on the cross, and rose from the grave.  You weren’t even born yet, but God was already thinking about you.  He was thinking how you would struggle with sin.  He knew how you would feel ashamed for things you had done or things you left undone.  He knew how your sin would separate you from Him and He didn’t want that.  So He sent His son, Jesus, to die for you to pay the price for your sin and to rise to new life so you could also be “born again.”  He did all this before you ever had a single thought.  That’s how amazing God’s grace is.  It comes before anything we do and is already starting to make a way for us to be born again.  In my church, we call this Prevenient Grace.  It is the grace of God that draws us to God and prepares us for salvation.

Justifying Grace
            But at some point, we become aware of what God has done for us—just like my daughter last summer who finally was old enough to understand what Jesus did for her and wanted to be a Christian.  At some point, you start to understand that Jesus is alive and he can change your life and that he deserves your complete devotion.  And if you ask to be his disciple, he will let you and you will be “born again.” 
            This new birth is not a result of human effort.  It is a birth that comes from the Holy Spirit.  1 Peter 1:2 says “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”   And verse 3 says, It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.”
When you are born again, you become a new person.  2 Corinthians 5:17 – “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
When you are born again, all your past sins and mistakes are washed away in a flood of God’s grace.  1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”
When you are born again, you are adopted as God’s very own son or daughter.  1 John 5:1 – Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God.”
And along with these honors comes the inheritance of eternal life.    1 Peter 1:4 says, “We have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” And John 3:16, “...everyone who believes in [Jesus] will not perish but have eternal life.”
The moment you say “yes” to Jesus, you are “born again” by God’s grace.  In my church, we call this Justifying Grace.  It is the undeserved grace of God that justifies us—or makes us righteous in God’s sight.

Sanctifying Grace
            What happens after a person is born again?  Well, what happens to a child after it is born?  A child begins to grow.  Soon they are crawling, then walking, then talking, then running, then playing soccer.  Then they become teenagers and make their parents crazy.  Then maybe they go to college or start working, get married, have children of their own.
            The same is true of Christians that are born again.  We start to grow in our Christian faith.  We do not stay the same as we were when we were “born again.”  “Instead,” as Ephesians 4:15 says, “we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”
            If you are the same today as you were when you first became a Christian, something is wrong.  If you saw a baby who still looked like an infant, but was 5 years old, wouldn’t you think something is wrong?  You would think, “What has happened to this poor child that has kept it from growing up?”  Sometimes, I look at some Christians and I think, “What is wrong with this poor Christian?  They were born again (maybe 5 years ago), but they have grown very little in their faith.  They haven’t learned anything about what the Bible says.  They haven’t put their faith into practice.  They haven’t changed the way they live—they still live like the people outside the Church who aren’t Christians.  They haven’t been a witness for Jesus—telling people what he has done for them.  Even worse, they don’t love people the way Christ teaches us to love.”
            It’s OK to be a baby Christian right after you are born again; everything is still new.  But we shouldn’t stay like babies for long.  But how do you change?  It is the grace of God that helps us to grow—to become more and more like Christ.  In my church, we call this Sanctifying Grace.  It is the grace of God that perfects us—that helps us grow more and more like Christ.
You see, you can’t make yourself grow.  You can’t work harder and make yourself perfect.  Only God’s Holy Spirit can change you.  Can you imagine a little child who wants so badly to grow up?  He says, “I don’t want to be a little kid anymore!  I want to be like my big brother (or big sister)!”  And so this little child closes his eyes and grits his teeth and stiffens all his muscles and tries to make himself grow up.  It won’t work—no matter how hard he tries.  Who makes him grow?  Isn’t it God who makes the child grow?  The child can do some things to help the process.  He can eat good food to make his muscles stronger.  He can go to school and learn.  He can make sure to get enough sleep at night.  These are all things that help, but only God can make him grow.
It is God who makes your spirit grow too.  It is His Spirit that helps you to change.  Maybe you were born as a very selfish person, but with God’s help you can grow out of it and become more like Christ—caring more about others than yourself.  Maybe you are too shy to tell people about Jesus, but God can help you grow into a great evangelist.  Maybe you don’t know much about the Bible, but God can help you learn and grow into a Bible teacher or a pastor.  It is God that makes you grow.  He can make you grow into whoever He wants you to be.  But you have to let Him.  You have to cooperate with Him.  You have to follow the steps He gives you.  You have to listen to your pastor who was put here to guide you.  You have to study your Bible, which is God’s Holy Word.  You have to worship God and listen to His voice.  These are all things that help.  If you cooperate with God, He will make you grow.

            I do not know you very well.  I don’t know where you are in your Christian journey.  Maybe you are not a Christian yet.  But God’s grace has brought you here.  God was already thinking about you before you ever thought about Him.  He has been working many things out to bring you here today.  Maybe He has been protecting you from danger or illness or trouble, so that you could come here today and hear the Gospel.  Maybe—because God loves you so much—He has allowed some bad things to happen to you in order to turn your heart to God. 
If you are not a Christian, why don’t you become one today?  You can be born again!  You can become a new person!  All your sins can be forgiven!  You can put your past behind you and start all over—with a new beginning, and a life full of possibilities!  Don’t put it off.  No one knows how much time they have left in this world.  You must be born again in order to see God in heaven and avoid His punishment.
Maybe you are already a Christian.  You were “born again.”  God’s grace has washed away your sins through the blood of Christ.  Just as he died and rose again, you have died to your sins and risen to a new life—a Christian life.  You are born again.  I am so happy for you!  You are my brother or sister in Christ!  But have you been growing?  Are you doing things that help you grow?  Are you cooperating with God’s Spirit?  Are you letting Him make you more like Christ?  Are you letting Him change you?  Or are you’re the same today as you have always been—still just a baby in Christ?
It’s time for you to make a choice.  You need to say, “I don’t want to be a baby Christian anymore.  I want to grow up.  I want to be more like Christ.  Lord, help me to be more like Christ.”  Maybe it’s time for you to start studying your Bible more.  Maybe it’s time to be more regular in your church attendance.  Maybe it’s time for you to ask your pastor how you can serve your church.  Maybe it’s time to be a witness for Jesus at your school or where you work or with your family and friends.  Doing things like this will help God change you into the person He wants you to be—to be more like Christ.  Ask God to help you grow.  Let Him help you change.
Where ever you are in your journey with Christ, I hope you will take at least one step forward today.  If God has spoken to you today, I urge you to talk to your pastor, Isabel.  She loves you very much and wants you to know Jesus and to grow.  She is the person God has chosen to be your shepherd.  She can help you know what to do next.


Wanted: Faith - Dead or Alive?

Copyright April 7, 2015by Chris Mullis
James 2:1-17
What is faith?  A nun who works for a local home health care agency was out making her rounds when she ran out of gas. As luck would have it there was a station just down the street. She walked to the station to borrow a can with enough gas to start the car and drive to the station for a fill up. The attendant regretfully told her that the only can he owned had just been loaned out, but if she could wait he was sure it would be back shortly.
Since the nun was on the way to see a patient she decided not to wait and walked back to her car. After looking through her car for something to carry to the station to fill with gas, she spotted a bedpan she was taking to the patient. Always resourceful, she carried it to the station, filled it with gasoline, and carried it back to her car.
As she was pouring the gas into the tank of her car two men walked by. One of them turned to the other and said: "Now that is what I call faith!"
            I want to talk about faith today.  Listen to what God’s Word says about faith in James 2:1-17.

James 2:1-17
1My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. 11 For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.

12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Salvation is by Faith Alone
            As most of you know, I live way up in “North” Cohutta—way out in the country almost to Tennessee.  It is especially beautiful this time of year.  It takes me about 20 minutes to get home from the church, but I don’t mind.  It’s beautiful, stress relieving drive.  The other day, I was driving home, enjoying the greenery and flowers that are beginning to spring forth.  The sun was getting low, painting the sky a glorious orange yellow.  The sky was clear, the weather was mild, and I had the sunroof open so I could enjoy it all.  Just about that time it hit me—the rotten stench of a dead animal on the side of the road.  It entered in through the sunroof, swirled around the interior of my car, and found its way up my nostrils.
            Somewhere, along the roadside lay the rotting carcass of an animal.  Once it had been a living, breathing organism—perhaps a raccoon or a possum, a rabbit or a squirrel.  But now, it was just a dead, stinking corpse.  There’s a big difference between something that’s dead and something that’s alive.  The same is true of faith. 
We Christians like to talk about faith.  It is the hallmark of our religion.  In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul systematically described God’s plan for salvation.He started by describing humanity’s condition—that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (3:23) and that the consequences of our sins is physical and spiritual death (6:23).
 I once had a Muslim friend who I shared the gospel with.  He got hung up on this idea that everyone has sinned.  He didn’t see himself as a sinner.  “Chris,” he would say, “I never hurt anyone.  I don’t steal; I don’t murder.  I won’t even kill a spider if it gets into my house.” 
“But Nadeem,” I used to say, “surely you realize that you’re not perfect.  You tell little white lies or get jealous or say something that intentionally offends somebody.  Even if you only sin a little, you have fallen short of God’s glory.”
Sometimes we Christians are like Nadeem.  We try so hard to be “good.”  Sometimes we begin to think we really are “good.”  We come to church every Sunday; we give our time and money.  We do all these “good” things.  But all it takes to make you a sinner is one violation of God’s law.  For in our scripture lesson, James plainly says, “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” (James 2:10)
Even something as simple as looking down on a poor person or showing favoritism or loosing your temper or being jealous or gossiping makes you guilty before God and the consequence of even these little sins is still death.
Luckily, Paul goes on to describe God’s plan for saving humanity from this inevitable death through the gift of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for each of our sins.  In Romans 10:4, Paul says that all who believe in Christ are made right with God.
The theological term for this doctrine is justification by faith.  From time to time, Christians stray from this doctrine.  We begin to think we can earn God’s favor by doing good things.  But we can never do enough to work our way into God’s Kingdom.  Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us, 8God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
In many ways, this doctrine of justification by faith is very liberating.  It means that we no longer have to feel guilty when we mess up and fall down in our Christian walk—for God’s forgiveness cleanses us of our sins (Acts 13:38).  It means we don’t have to worry about whether or not we have been good enough to earn salvation—for we can’t earn salvation; it’s a free gift that cannot be earned.  It means that being a real Christian is not about following all the rules and being a good person.  No, we are Christians because we are saved by God’s grace when we believe in Jesus Christ. 

Living Faith
On the other hand, this doctrine of Justification by faith has led many Christians to be lazy or worse—to cling to a faith that is as dead as the road-kill we pass on our Georgia highways.  I know people who can explain in great detail exactly how God achieved salvation through Christ.  They can quote you scripture that neatly lays out the intricate details of sin and salvation and can even relate back to Old Testament prophecies.  But you know what, that doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you aren’t living what you believe.
I love how James put it in 2:19-20, 19Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! 20Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless?
What an eerie and powerful image.  I imagine the wretched demons down in the depths of hell trembling and shaking.  They know all about God’s plan to save humanity through Jesus Christ.  They know all about the doctrine of justification by faith (I’m sure they could even explain it better than our most prestigious theologians).  They also know who God is and who His son Jesus Christ is.  They tremble in fear and dread the day of the Lord because they have rejected Him as their Lord and they know their punishment is coming.
Yes we are saved by faith, but not a dead, complacent, do-nothing faith.  The faith that saves us is powerful and alive.  It changes who we are and how we act and even how we think.  
We cannot cheapen faith.  A person who has faith in God, trusts in God.  A person who has faith surrenders his life to God.  A person who has faith gives up everything and turns to God and says, “I am Yours!  Do with me what you will.  Show me how You want me to live; send me where You want me to go; tell me what You want me to say and I will do it.”   
You say you believe.  Well show me what you believe.  “Well, I know that I’m a sinner and Jesus died on the cross for me…”  No, I didn’t say tell me what you believe.  I said show me. 
Do you really believe that Jesus is the Son of God? That he really did die on a cross for your sins and for the sins of the whole world?  Do you really believe that he came back to life and is alive now? And that he’s going to return on judgment day?  Well, if you believe all that, then that ought to lead you to do something?  Does your faith lead to action?  Or is your faith dead—like the twisted carcass of an animal lying on the side of the road?
These are difficult times for our world.  The last thing we need is a bunch of Christians walking around clinging to a dead, complacent, do-nothing faith.  What we need are Christians who are willing to stand up and live their lives for Christ.  What we need are Christians who proudly proclaim their faith in Christ, not just with their mouths, but also with their actions and with their money and with their votes and with their sacrificial service to their community. 
Look, right here in this community we have the opportunity.  We have children who need to be taught the basics of the faith, the basics of Christianity, the basics of the Bible.  Public schools aren’t allowed to do it.  The government can’t do it.  The TV, the radio, the movies, the video games sure aren’t gonna do it.  If the Church doesn’t teach them something of lasting value, then nobody will. 
I shudder to think of this nation in 20 or 30 years if the Church fails to teach the children of this generation, the future of our nation, what living for Christ is all about.  I tremble to think of what this community will be like in 10-15 years if we don’t teach our children what being a Christian is all about.
But we have a chance to make sure the future is bright.  In Matthew 5:13, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…”  Have you ever thought about what that means?  To be the salt of the earth?  Think about the qualities of salt.  Salt can be used as a preservative.  Before the modern use of refrigeration, people used salt to cure meat and keep it from spoiling.  You can still buy salt-cured ham in the grocery store.  (I made some of my own salt-cured ham last week.)  In the same way, Christians who truly have a living faith have a preserving influence on society.  Our commitment to love and holy living keeps the world from slipping into total godlessness.  Can you imagine how fast our country would slip into moral chaos if our Christian influence was suddenly and completely removed?  But that’s not going to happen, because I believe in you.  And I believe your living faith is going to compel you to do something to make the world a better place.
But that can only happen if your faith is alive.  Is your faith dead or alive?  Let us pray…
Dear Father, revive within us a living faith that we may live a life of love and service to others.  May our lives be pleasing to You and bring goodness to our communities. May our Christian faith add flavor to life just as salt adds flavor to food.  And may You receive all the honor and glory for it all.  Amen.