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Monday, April 25, 2016

Give Hope to the Hopeless

Luke 4:18-19 

The people of Pleasant Grove UMC are on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit empowers us to do it.  Say it with me:
·       “I am on a mission from God
·       to tell people about Jesus
·       and the Holy Spirit empowers me to do it.”

            A few years ago, a device became popular that has revolutionized travel--the GPS.  No longer do you have to ask for directions.  You can just enter an address and a friendly voice will give you turn by turn instructions from where you are to where you want to go. 
            I bought my first GPS back in 2007.  It was very handy.  I even used it to visit my sister when she lived in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  I just programed in her address and the GPS took me right there.  After a couple years, I decided to get a new GPS.  So, I gave my old GPS to my Mom, who was planning a trip to see my sister who had moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Raleigh, North Carolina.
             I wanted to make it easy for my Mom, so I put my sister's address in the GPS before Mom left on her trip.  After a couple of hours, Mom stopped to get some gas and use the restroom.  She turned off the car and went in a convenience store.  When she came back out to the car, the GPS had reset to the home screen.  So Mom looked up the recent entries and found the one that said, "Lisa's House" (Lisa is my sister).  So Mom selected "Lisa's House" and was very proud that she'd figured it out all by herself without having to call her son for help.  Well, after about an hour of driving, Mom was concerned the GPS was giving her the wrong directions.  So she called me and said, "I think something went wrong. Maybe I missed a turn or something."  I said, "It doesn't matter Mom.  If you miss a turn, the GPS will recalculate and give you new directions.  Just follow the GPS's instructions and you'll be OK."  Well, she did for another 30 or 40 minutes and then called back, "I still don't think this is right.  I seem to be going south when I should be going north."  So I guided her to look up the map on the GPS and we figured out what happened.  Mom and selected my sister's old address from Ft. Lauderdale, which was still saved in the GPS!  The GPS was giving her directions to Florida, not North Carolina!  Mom had wasted about 2 hours going in the wrong direction!
Every now and then, it's good to reflect on whether we are heading in the right direction.  Back in 2011, Pleasant Grove UMC determined the three primary goals we believe God wants us to focus on are:  1) give hope to the hopeless, 2) build new relationships, and 3) help our community.  Our mission and these three goals should guide everything we do at Pleasant Grove.  So I want to spend some time over the next few weeks looking at each of these goals.  My hope is to remember our goals and reflect on our attitudes so we can make sure we are all going in the right direction.
Today I want to reflect on our first goal – Give Hope to the Hopeless.  As we consider this, listen to Jesus words in Luke 4:18-19.  Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus explained why he came: 

Luke 4:18-19
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

Jesus Gives Hope to the Hopeless
Isn’t that amazing!  Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless.  He made it clear from the very beginning of his ministry.  He said in Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… He has anointed me…” In other words:  God set me apart and empowered me for this special task.
What task?  “…to bring Good News…”  Jesus didn’t come to bring judgment or to scream “God is angry!”  “God sent [Jesus] into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)  What an amazing, uplifting message! 

Let’s look at the context our scripture reading (Luke 4:18-19).  It is very near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Luke 4 begins with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness prior to his ministry.  Then in verses 14 & 15, Jesus begins his ministry by teaching in Galilean synagogues and his reputation starts growing rapidly.
In Luke 4:16 it says, “When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.”  Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown and he was going to preach in his hometown church.  This tells us a couple things.  First of all, he is speaking to church people.  Usually we read about Jesus out preaching in the community or in people’s homes; he is usually with sinners and non-church people.  In this story, Jesus is speaking specifically to church people.  And Jesus is speaking to the church people he grew up with.  He knew them and he knew their hearts.  He also loved them.  He is about to speak the Truth in love they need to hear.
Luke 4:18-19, the scripture he read was the same passage we read, though he read it from Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6).  Then he is ready to begin his sermon.  Verse 20 says, “He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down.”  I used to think when it said he “sat down” it meant he was done, but I was wrong.  It really meant was Jesus was about to start preaching.  In those days Rabbis sat down to teach. 

The Sermon
Verses 20b-22 say, All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”  22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
It’s fascinating to watch this scene unfold, to see how the people are reacting to Jesus’ sermon in real-time.  As a preacher, I’m always wondering how my sermon is being received by you.  I’m looking out at you wondering what you are thinking.  Here in these verses, we are getting the play by play of how Jesus’ sermon is being received. 
At first, they are delighted in their hometown boy.  “Boy, he’s a good preacher!  We raised him right.  Can you believe how graciously he speaks?  That’s our boy! No wonder his ministry has been doing so well!”  Everything would have been fine if he’d stopped right there, but Jesus had to cross the line.  In verse 23, we find the pivotal word.  It reads, “Then he said…”  The word “then” is the turning point of the whole story.

Verse 23-27, ““You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.  25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”
The Jews of Nazareth in Jesus day were engaged in a great debate: Should they teach Gentiles in nearby gentile cities about God or should they keep separate from them because they were “unclean” people.  The Jews of Jesus day believed they were God’s chosen people, beloved more by God than any others.  Surely, they were God’s favorites.  Jesus addresses this attitude directly in his sermon.  Jesus recalls another dark time in Israel’s history from the OT when Elijah was prophet.  It was a time when Israel rejected God, so God took His mercy to the Gentiles.  
I want to make sure you understand something:  Neither your nationality nor your church membership entitles you to God’s favor.  Being a “good person” does not earn you God’s mercy.  Jesus came to offer hope to those who humbly recognize their hopelessness rather than those who think they are somehow specially favored by God. 
That’s what Jesus told the religious Jews of Nazareth.  In fact, Jesus had the audacity to imply they were actually in a worse spiritual state than the Gentiles!  It made the people in the synagogue so mad, they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff! 

The Gospel is Not for “Good” People
Notice what Jesus said (verse 21), “The scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day.”  In other words, it’s been fulfilled just now.  What has been fulfilled?  Good news has been preached to the poor, release to captives, blind will see, oppressed set free…  Jesus just proclaimed this message to the synagogue people.  In other words, Jesus was saying these good church people were all of these things—poor, captive, blind, and oppressed.  It was not “should we good people reach out our merciful hand to help those poor, unfortunate Gentiles…”  It was that the good Jews of that synagogue were no better than the Gentiles and just as poor, captive, blind, and oppressed.  Wow!
Here we are 2,000 years later.  The Church in America finds herself full of people who are trying to be good.  In fact, we’ve become so good, that we often no longer feel comfortable being personally involved in ministry to the poor, imprisoned, blind, oppressed sinners of our community.  Oh, we might give a little money to help, but don’t ask me to be personally involved.
 Why do we have this us and them mentality?  The Truth is:  We are them and they is us! 
 Goal #1 – Give Hope to the Hopeless
Jesus came to bring hope to the hopeless.  Let us, therefore, go out and give hope to our brothers and sisters as we receive hope ourselves. 
In the movie “Finding Nemo,” there is a moment when a school of fish are caught in the net of a commercial fishing boat.  At first, they are all frightened and each individually swimming in all different directions trying to escape the net, but it is hopeless.  They are trapped.  Then little Nemo has the solution.  He tells them to all swim together.  And so the whole school of fish swim downward together.  The net begins to go back down into the ocean.  Up on the surface, the fishing boat strains to pull up the net and then the beam holding the net breaks under the tremendous force of the whole school of fish swimming together.  The net opens and all the fish go free.  In the same way, when we all strive for the same goal together, God can do amazing things through us to bring hope to the hopeless.
What are some ways we could “swim together” and bring hope to the hopeless?  Some things we are already doing: our sack lunch program provides meals for hungry kids over the weekend when they are out of school.  Through Family Promise we house homeless families in our church for a week.  But what else could we do?  What about some ongoing ministries?
              My purpose is not to tell you what you should do, only to get you thinking about the possibilities.  I also have another purpose.  I want you to reflect on your attitudes. Giving hope to the hopeless is a principle we members of PGUMC seek to live by.  It should guide the way we minister, the policies we make, the way we worship, the way we think and everything we do.  I challenge you to reflect on your own attitudes and actions.  Are you truly committed to giving hope to the hopeless?  What needs to change in you so we can all swim together and give hope to the hopeless? 

Christ came to give hope to the hopeless.  If you find yourself in a hopeless situation, there is good news for you today.  Jesus came to give you hope.  No night is too dark.  No battle is too hard.  No situation is too hopeless.   No chains are too strong with Jesus by your side.  Jesus invites you to come to him today and lay down all your burdens before him.  Let him take control of your life and you will find hope you never knew before.  Then, you will be inspired to do the same for others--to give hope to the hopeless.

Monday, April 18, 2016

On A Mission From God

Acts 1:6-8
So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

            I am on a mission from God!  Now you say it:  “I am on a mission from God!”
            Do you believe that?
Jesus empowers his followers to successfully complete the mission of the Church and he gives us a plan for how to accomplish it.  The mission of the Church is to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Acts 1:8 gives us a plan to accomplish the mission.  Jesus said, “You will receive power… And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere…”
            I want you to notice something about this passage.  Jesus is trying to re-focus his followers on their mission.  They were so caught up in worrying about all their problems.  Notice in verse 6 it says, the apostles “…kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
            Israel was only about the size of New Jersey and they had almost always been subject to domination by foreign empires like Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome.  As God’s chosen people, they yearned for God to intervene with supernatural power on behalf of Israel.
            Jesus tried to help his people see that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom where love of God and love for your neighbor is what really matters.  In the Lord’s Prayer, he taught them to pray, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”  So the Kingdom Jesus seeks to usher in is a kingdom where the will of God is done on earth the same way it is done in heaven. 
The religious leaders of Israel rejected Jesus’ Kingdom and crucified him.  Now Jesus was asking his disciples to carry on his mission—even if it meant a similar fate.  They were afraid and overwhelmed with the mission at hand.  How could they carry on Jesus’ mission?  The disciples yearned for Jesus to personally fix all the problems in their world.
            People today are also yearning for something.  In our community and even in our nation, people are yearning for something.  Some yearn for our nation to turn their hearts back to God.  Some yearn for our community to be more prosperous.  Some yearn for a government that is more responsive to the wants of the people.  Some yearn for a church that is energized and growing.  Sometimes, we look around at the mess around us and we think, “The only way for things to turn around is for Jesus to come back and intervene with supernatural power.”  We are a lot like the disciples in verse 6 who kept asking, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” 
            We might ask the question like this:  "Lord, has the time come for you to free the United States and restore our kingdom?" Or we may ask  Lord, has the time come for you to free Whitefield County and restore our kingdom?"  Or we may ask  Lord, has the time come for you to free Pleasant Grove and restore our kingdom?"

Tell People About Jesus
            Jesus understands our anxiety, but he wants his followers to shift their focus.  He answered his disciples question by saying, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times [i.e. when Jesus will return and set up his Kingdom]...” 
One Day, Jesus is going to come back, but Jesus doesn’t want us to wait around and do nothing in the meantime.  Jesus wants his followers to stop focusing on the obstacles between us and the Kingdom of God and focus on the mission.  And so he states a plan of action to start working on, “Be my witnesses…  Tell people about me everywhere…”  And he even goes on to give them steps to follow—start in Jerusalem, then spread out to Judea, then go on to Samaria, and then expand to the ends of the earth.
            In the midst of the struggles of daily life with the problems of the world looming around us, it’s easy to feel like we can’t make a difference.  Jesus gives us a clear mission to focus on and a plan of action so we don’t get bogged down in worrying about all the tertiary problems around us.  It’s not complicated.  The mission is:  Make disciples of Jesus Christ.  How do we do it?  “Be my witnesses…  Tell people about me everywhere…”
            I am on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus!  Now you say it:  “I am on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus.” 

Empowered by the Spirit
            I used to think, “How can I make a difference, Lord?  I’m just one person.”  Perhaps you ask that question sometimes too.  “How can I make a difference?”  Do you realize, you are a powerful tool for Jesus Christ!  Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  The Bible tells us that every person who believes in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior has the power of God living in them.  That power is the Holy Spirit.  It is the actual Spirit of God living inside you.  It enables you to understand what Jesus wants you to do.  It enables you to be a faithful witness who wins people to Jesus because of the things you say and do.  It enables you to do amazing things!
            I am on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives me the power to do it!  Now you say it:  “I am on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives me the power to do it!”
            Jesus’ wisdom just amazes me sometimes.  He doesn’t let his Disciples off the hook and he doesn’t let us off the hook either.  When we say, “Lord, when are you gonna come down here and fix this mess for us?”  His response is, “Don’t you worry about that.  You just get out there and be a witness!”  For some reason, he doesn’t want to fix everything by himself (though he definitely could).  Jesus wants us to work at it.  There must be a lesson for us to learn in our participation.  Maybe our participation is part of the healing process—for us and for the world—kind of like spiritual therapy.  We have to do our part. 

            Be a witness.  You don’t have to beat people over the head with a Bible.  A witness is someone who tells people what they've seen.  Have you seen Jesus do something in your life or at your church?  Then tell someone.  You don’t have to go to Africa.  Start right where you are.  Tell your spouse.  Tell your children or grandchildren.  Tell your neighbor.  Tell your co-worker.  Simply tell them what you know.  Have you experienced Jesus’ love?  Tell someone. 
            Now say it again:  “I am on a mission from God to tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives me the power to do it!” 

Now get out there and do it!!!

If you haven’t experienced Jesus in your life, then maybe you need help opening your eyes to see him.  I’d like to talk with you about that.  Seriously.  Send me an email or call my church office.  I want to talk with you—in private and confidentially.  I bet together we can discover some amazing things Jesus has done, is doing, or is going to do in your life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The ABC of How to Be a Christian - Guest Blogger David Crawford

Well here we are, the Sunday after Easter.  What a trip we’ve been on since our Ash Wednesday Service a little over 45 days ago.  I hope the season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter have strengthened your relationship with God.  I hope that you have taken time to pray and meditate on the sacrifice our Lord and Savior made on our behalf.  I hope you are ready to rise up to the challenge of being a follower of Christ.  A Christian.
Now more than ever, after the Lent and Easter season, you shouldn’t have to think too hard to figure out why 2.2 billion people have decided to follow Christ and strive to live life the way He did.  He fed us, He healed us, He taught us, He entertained us, water into wine, that’s pretty entertaining, but the best reason of all is that He loved us; enough to die for us.  So it is no wonder we feel an allegiance to Christ.  But how do we honor Him and our calling to follow Him.  How do we BE Christians?   
God answers prayer in the strangest ways.  When Chris asked me to speak, the first thing I did to prepare for the message was to pray for a topic.  Two days went by, and on my way to church Wednesday night I heard The Jackson Five singing ABC.  I was singing along with Michael and the rest of the family when it dawned on me, that was it, the ABCs of being a Christian.  
Many of you may have heard of the ABC of becoming a Christian.  A - Admit you are a sinner.  B - Believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died for your sins.  And C - Confess your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Has anyone heard that before?  If you were at VBS a couple of years ago I know you heard it, because we sang a song that was almost word for word the same.  Anyway, I was thinking that most of us here have already admitted that we are sinners, if you haven’t, well, you are, and so am I.  Most of us believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for our sins in order to save us.  And most of us have confessed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  So, I didn’t want to go over all that again.  Of course if there is someone here today that would like to know more about how to become a christian, please see me following the service.  But what I wanted to talk about today is how to BE a christian, not how to BECOME a christian.  Thus the A, B, Cs of being a Christian, and we begin with the letter A.

Letter A: Attend Church Regularly
When you became a Christian, you began an authentic personal relationship with Jesus. However, it is important to also have authentic connections with other Christians.
In a fireplace, many logs burn together creating heat and energy, but a log by itself quickly dies out.  Most of us have been in a place where we desire or need encouragement and support, what better place to find it than in the family of believers.  To take the fire metaphor one step further, to keep a fire going we rely on logs and coals already lit to light the logs that are not yet on fire. Sometimes you coming to church isn’t about keeping you on fire for God, but rather helping start a fire in someone else.  You might be the hot spot that sets someone else ablaze.   Don’t miss out on the blessing that comes from being used by God because you failed to show up.  And, one last spark from the fire symbol, do you know how much easier it is to keep a fire going versus starting a brand new one?  Well I can tell you it’s 73.9% easier to keep a fire going than start a new one.  Of course 33.7% of statistics are made up on the spot.  It takes a lot of work to get to a point where you are living the life a Christian is expected to live.  Finding time to pray, to study God’s word, to act on your faith, and to help others is not easy.  And if you start giving up time and replacing it with something else, it will be even harder to reclaim that time.  Acknowledge that all days belong to God, but especially Sunday.   He only lets us borrow the time we have anyway.  It’s not like the days are ours, I mean, we don’t even belong to ourselves. We need the fellowship of other believers to keep our faith vibrant and growing, and other believers need you and me to keep their faith vibrant and growing.  
Proverbs 27:17  As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  We need each other to stay sharp, and remain useful to each other and for the purpose of God’s work.
So “A” Attend Church Regularly
Letter BBe Of Service To Others:
            So how do we serve others?  Helping serve food at a shelter?  Dropping some change in a bucket outside the drive thru at McDonald’s?  Taking your old, but gently worn items to the Salvation Army?  Yes, yes, and yes.  But the goal we strive for as Christians is that our service be motivated by our love for each other.  And this is not always easy. God’s actions were motivated by love when He sent His Son Jesus to us.  Jesus’ actions were motivated by love as He walked among us and eventually carried a cross for us.  We strive to be like Jesus, to walk His walk and talk His talk, therefore our actions of service should also be motivated by love.  But what are some other motivators that might cause us to serve if not out of love?
How about guilt?  I have been motivated to action before because I felt guilty about my lack of action in the past.  Because I didn’t do lunch for the elementary schools, family promise, clean up day, walk to Emmaus, or whatever it was last time, I guess it’s my turn, so I’ll do it just so I won’t feel guilty about it.  I have acted out of guilt before, and I bet I’m not alone.  But guilt is not good for you.  Guilt weighs heavy on you, and God doesn’t want us weighed down with guilt.  Jesus even offered to carry our load, whether it’s grief, worry, guilt or whatever.  Come unto me all ye who labor and I will give you rest.  Serving others out of guilt is a temporary fix for an aching Christian soul.  Serving out of guilt is not the same as serving out of love.  
How about peer expectations?  If I don’t show up I’ll hear about it next time I see “so and so”.  Or, it’s my job, so I better be there.  I’m the chairperson of the committee, I have to be there.  If I don’t show up, how will that look?  If this is the motivation for service then we’ve acted out of expectations from my peers, not love.  While it’s true we need to support, motivate, and challenge each other, we are not here to impress each other.   The expectations we should be  trying to meet are those set by our Lord and Savior, because by meeting those expectations we are serving God.  Serving out of peer expectations is not the same as serving out of love.
How about the eternal scorecard?  If I do this and this and this and that and that and that then I’ll build up a bunch of points for my Heavenly Gate Score Card.  Even though we know this isn’t how it works, sometimes we are motivated because we think we’re banking bonus points in the heavenly grade book.  That’s not love.
How about love?  Here’s when I think I’ve acted out of love.  When I want to do something that will make me happy, but I hear or see someone else needs something, and I realize that me helping them will make them happy, so I do it for them without begrudging the time or experience I deny myself.  For example:  On a Sunday evening, when I would like to be replacing my camper’s city water connector, but I know that there is a congregation at Providence Ministries that would like to hear music at their evening service, I realize that the excitement and happiness, and joy of hearing music will enhance their worship experience, so instead of repairing my camper, I go, out of love.  Because of my selfish human nature I cannot go out of true love on my own.  I can go solely out of love only because God first loved me.  I can go out of love because God so loved the world He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, that I might not die but have life eternal.  I can go out of love only because the Holy Spirit can work within me and create within me the capacity to deny my selfish nature and act out of love.  
Does this happen often?  Not as often as I wish it would, but it seems to happen more often as I practice my faith and as my church family challenges me, inspires me, encourages me and holds me accountable to the choice I made when I accepted Christ as my Savior.  And the craziest thing about acting out of love, is when I do get around to working on my camper, it is even more rewarding because I remember the experience of sharing God’s love, and I find myself more relaxed, more focused and at peace.

Letter C - Converse with God
            Today we take the word converse to mean something along the lines of “engage in conversation”.  And it does mean that.  But it came from the French word converser (cone-vehr-say) meaning to: “live among, and be familiar with”.  And that came from the Latin conversari (cone-where-suh-ree) meaning “to keep company with”.  I have discovered the more I pray, the more I converse with God, the less it becomes about spending a specific time set aside for talking to and listening to God, and the more it becomes about keeping company with God, and being familiar with God.
    Now I’m not saying that you should do away with your set aside special prayer time.  I need that time, you need that time, I think God enjoys spending that specific special time with us.  But conversing with God also implies keeping company with God, and because God is always with us:
Joshua 1: 9  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
1 Corinthians 3:16  Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?

            I would think it strange, rude and awkward if we just ignored God except for our special time of prayer.  Can you imagine how awkward it would be if I followed you everywhere you went through every moment of your day and you never said a word to me?  If I never spoke to you?  Don’t you think God might have a few words of wisdom for you throughout your day that might make things go a little more smoothly, more nicely, more, oh I don’t know Godly?  We are keeping company with God because we are Christians.  Here’s an example of how I like to think I keep company with God.  I know a person, no, it’s no one here, no they’ve never gone here, you don’t know them and I’m not answering clues about who they are, so there.  And this person is a beautiful person, but their personality and my personality don’t mix well.  It is not as easy for me to be around this person as some other people.  When I see this person coming, though I might be tempted to duck down and retreat, I am keeping company with God.  And God says, “Now David, you go over there and say hi to this person.  You look them in the eye and give them your attention for a few minutes, this person is my child, and I love this person.”  And then I say to God, “But I don’t think they saw me, it’s good, I can just go over here and…...oh yeah, I know what you’re going to say, “Remember Jonah”, and yes I do, alright, thanks God, here I go”.  And I go, and I’m always glad I did.
Another really cool part of the french meaning is, “to be familiar with”.  So to converse with God is to be familiar with God.  But I want to look at it not as  being familiar by getting to know God better, but rather being familiar meaning being yourself around God.  Just doing what you do, being who and whose you are and at the same time acknowledging God’s presence by conversing with Him.  You might be alone washing dishes, guess what, God has experience cleaning dirty vessels.  You might be working in your shop, guess what, God has some experience with building materials.  You might be driving alone down the road, God has traveled more miles than we can imagine.  You can be you, just doing what you do, and God wants to be there with you; smiling when you have small successes, laughing with you when you make silly mistakes, directing you so you don’t make the same silly mistakes as often,  holding you when your eyes fill with tears, and strengthening you when your body is weak.  
Now, I know I started this with how to be a Christian, and I have talked a lot about God.  But what Jesus wanted for us more than anything was for us to love our heavenly Father, as Jesus loved His heavenly Father.  That is what following Christ will do, it will take us on the path to eternal life with God.  Being a Christian is about trying to live our life the way Christ lived His.  And if we A-Attend Church Regularly...B-Be of Service to others….and C-Converse with God, then we are moving in the right direction.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell... Openness

Matthew 27:51 – At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 

In ancient Jerusalem, the High Priest was the only person who could approach God in the holiest place of the Temple.  A curtain kept everyone else out.  However, Jesus granted full access to God’s presence to anyone who wants it when he died on the cross for our sins.  At his death, an earthquake split the Temple curtain completely in two.  Now everyone may come into God’s presence through Jesus Christ.

We changed the code to the church door recently.  Please call the church office if you need it.  Does anyone remember when we started locking church doors?  It must have been before I was born in 1974.  Doors have been locked for as long as I can remember.  I have talked to some older church members who remember times when church doors weren’t locked.  People could come in whenever they wanted.  It’s kind of sad that those days are gone, isn’t it?  Today, we even keep the church doors locked when the office is open.  People have to ring a doorbell so the church secretary can check to see if it’s safe to let them in.  That’s the world we live in—a place where we need to keep our homes, our cars, and even our churches locked up tight.
I think some churches go too far though.  I was driving the other day and missed my turn.  I saw a church and decided to turn around in their parking lot, but I had to slam on the brakes as I turned in because they had a chain across the entrance.  I almost hit the chain with my car!  There were two entrances to that church parking lot and both were chained off!  I guess they really don’t want people in their parking lot!  Now what does it say to people that you chain off the parking lot of your church? (And no, I checked and that church was not out of business.) 
We try to strike a good balance at Pleasant Grove UMC.  We recognize the unfortunate necessity of keeping our doors locked, but we also wish to be as accessible as possible.  Our code lock is a good compromise.  The code lock helps us to keep the building secure and also allows us to grant access to trusted people.  Furthermore, we can change the code from time to time just in case the code may have gotten into the wrong hands. 
Now, we are never going to be as secure as a bank and I don’t think we should.  We’re not a bank.  We are a church.  Our goal is to be reasonably safe and secure, while still offering access.  Access is vital.  I mean come on, the slogan of the United Methodist Church is:  “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.”
Seriously, Pleasant Grove is not some exclusive place where only a few families or a small group of leaders have access.  Everyone is welcome.  Everyone is encouraged to participate.  Everyone is invited to come.  While we will do our best to keep our facility secure, we must also insist on an attitude of openness.  PGUMC is for everyone, just as Jesus is for everyone.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell… 

Remember, God loves you and so do I!