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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Come to Me

            God reveals Himself to His people through Jesus Christ.  When we look at Jesus, we see God, the Father.  Yet not everyone sees God in Jesus.  Even miracles cannot convince some people.  What truly helps us to see God in Jesus is humility.  When we humble ourselves and admit we are not as wise as we think, we begin to hear the voice of God calling us. 
Do you realize how much you need God?  Have the worries and burdens of this life weighed you down enough to see him yet?  Listen, oh people, for the voice of God to you today.

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.”

An Invitation
            Jesus offers an invitation.  He does not invite just anyone.  In this passage, He invites only a particular kind of people—those who are weary and carry heavy burdens
We are an “inclusive” people and so we imagine Jesus would invite all people.  Jesus wants to save all people, but there are many people who do not want to be saved.  The frustrating Truth is there are many people who do not really believe they need to be saved.
In Jesus’ time, there were whole towns who rejected His ministry.  Jesus cursed the towns of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because they saw Jesus perform miracles and yet still refused to turn to God.  It was primarily the cripple, poor, and outcast that saw Jesus as the Savior they desperately needed.  Very few of his early followers were the rich, influential, people of means.  The frustrating Truth is people who feel like they can handle life by themselves rarely come to Jesus.  It is those who are “weary” and carry heavy burdens that recognize their desperate need of a Savior and come to the Lord.

The Weary
            Are you weary this morning?  There are many things that can make us weary.  Sometimes health problems can make you weary.  We saw this in Jesus time; that is why healing stories were so much a part of Jesus’ ministry.  It is frustrating and scary when your body breakdowns.  It reminds you so quickly how fragile life is and that you are not really in control of very much.  We pray for healing, but sickness can be a blessing because it can brings us closer to Jesus.
            Some people are weary because they are too busy.  We live in a world where we must go, go, go!  We try to pack so much into our lives and into our family’s lives that we are run ragged.  We are tired physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  We are stressed by our fear of failing.  We never feel like we have enough time, money, or fulfillment in life.  The only hope is that all this business finally brings a weary person to their knees so they can hear Jesus' voice calling them to surrender it all to Him.
            Some people are weary because the world is such a dark place these days.  We fear our children and grandchildren’s will not know the world we grew up in—the prosperity, the kindness, the freedom, the values, the communities we have come to cherish.  We don’t want our world to fall apart and we don’t want our children to suffer in a dark future we cannot fend off or control.  Some are weary with worry about the future.  Perhaps in our weariness we will turn to Jesus.
            Some are weary because they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.  Like an alcoholic who keeps drinking even though he knows it is destroying him and those he cares about, we keep making the same mistakes again and again—disappointing our friends and family.  At first, we thought we could change on our own, but experience has worn us down to admit we are trapped in our bad behavior.  We are ashamed of our mistakes and tired of our failures.  Praise the Lord!  We are better off than most because Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary…"
            What about you?  Are you weary?  Perhaps you are weary for another reason.  There are a thousand ways this world can make you weary.  I could never name them all, but you know your heart.  You know why you are weary.  Rejoice, then, for Jesus invites you to come to him!

The Heavy Laden
            Are you carrying a heavy burden?  There are many heavy burdens we must carry in this life.  It is a heavy burden to be a parent in this world.  Just the typical responsibilities are heavy enough: assuring your kids’ basic needs are provided—food, shelter, clothing, education,  extracurricular activity—sports, band, social life (parents in America today are some of the busiest people on the planet.  We have so many worries for our kids.  We worry about their physical and mental well-being.  We worry about their future (will they be prepared for life and will the world they inherit be worth living in).
            Caring for children is not the only heavy burden.  Being responsibility for any other human being is a heavy burden.  Often children grow up to take on the burden of carrying for their parents (and the parents are burdened because they have become a burden to their children).
            In the business world, we can be responsible for the welfare of employees under our leadership.  We feel the burden of caring for them and enabling them to provide for their families.  We carry an especially heavy weight when we must fire an employee for one reason or another.
            Being a leader in the church can be a heavy burden.  Think about our HR committee.  They must oversee the staff of our church—people they love and consider brothers or sisters in Christ.  Yet they must also relate to our staff as “employees.”
            I think of Andy Andrews, the chairman of our Trustees Committee, who has the responsibility of overseeing our church facilities (and dealing with the dreams and expectations of hundreds of church members who care deeply about this property and the ministries of our church).
            Another heavy burden so many Americans carry is debt.  The average American household has $132,086 of debt—$15,310 of it in credit cards![i]  Debt piles up.  In the beginning, it is only a small payment.  However, as debt rises, it consumes more and more of a family’s income until it can seem impossible to bear.
            Perhaps the heaviest burden to carry is guilt and shame.  There is nothing worse for a person than to bear the guilt and shame of having wronged another person (or worse) having wronged God.  It is a terrible burden to feel unforgiven.
            What about you?  Do you carry heavy burdens?  Rejoice, then, for Jesus invites you to come to him!

The Yoke of Christ
            Jesus said, “My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.  It is an image of the Christian life.  It might seem an odd image—the idea that we are like animals wearing a yoke and pulling a cart.  You might think, “Forget that!  Who wants to have a yoke around their neck?”  Well, as you have seen, you already do.  Life is heavy load to pull and we are not free of the weight of it as long as we take breath.  If you are breathing, you have yoke around your neck.  The only choice you have is which yoke you wear and who is pulling with you.
            Jesus said, “My yoke is easy to bear…”  A yoke is made of wood.  An especially good yoke is customized to fit a particular animal.  First the yoke is made to the general size and shape to fit any animal (say an ox).  Then, a yoke can be made more comfortable by a carpenter who carves the lines and curves of the yoke to fit exactly over an individual ox’s neck and shoulders.  In this way, the yoke is now customized for that individual animal and will not fit on any other animal as comfortably as it fits the particular animal for which it was made.
            Remember, Jesus was a carpenter.  It is quite likely that some of his work as a carpenter was to customize yokes for oxen in his day.  I could imagine this saying in our scripture would have made a nice slogan for the sign over his carpenter shop.  Can you imagine it?  "My yoke is easy to bear..."
            When it comes to the yoke of life, Jesus has one that is custom made just for you.  We go through life trying to fit ourselves into all the roles this world tells us we are supposed to be.  We try to be like the people we admire (or that the world tells us we should admire).  We try to keep up with the Joneses, but we our last name is not Jones.  However, Jesus has a life that's custom made just for you.  If you are weary, if the heavy burdens of your yoke is chaffing you, go to Jesus and exchange it for the yoke he made just for you.  It is light and easy to bear.
            There is another thing about a yoke.  It is made for two.  In life, you don’t pull the weight all by yourself.  You pull it with someone else.  Who are you pulling with in this life?  It may be that you've been yoked with the wrong people.  
            Our church secretary's daughter was visiting the church office this week and we were talking about this sermon.  She thought a yoke was just something inside an egg!  When I showed her a picture of the yoke and said how Jesus said we were yoked, she said, “You better like who you are yoked with.  What if you're yoke to someone ugly!” Haha!  That'll preach!
            Some of us are yoked with the wrong things or people.  And the things or people we're yoked with are pulling in the wrong direction or not pulling at all.  That's not good.  You better make sure you're yoked to the right person.
            Some might think the right person to yoked with is your wife or husband.  That's would be better than being yoked to the world, but it's still not the answer.  Your should be on the team with your spouse, but your spouse is just a person and sometimes they fall.  If your primary reliance is on your spouse, they're going to let you down.  Sometimes they don't pull their weight and sometimes they fall--and when they do, they could drag you down with them.  Don't rely on them to do what only Jesus can do.  
            Jesus said, “…the burden I give you is light.”  He should know.  He is pulling it with you.  People will let you down, but Jesus won't.  Jesus never stumbles and falls.  Jesus always pulls his weight.  Jesus can help you pull any load or carry any burden because he's doing it with you and he has the strength to carry anything--even a cross.

            “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  I invite you to come to Jesus and find rest.  Go him, take off your burdens and lay them down before Jesus.  Bow your head in prayer right now.  Tell him your troubles.  Give them to him and let them go.  Put on His yoke and go forth in peace.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Lessons from the Fire

Isaiah 43:1b-3a

            We had a fire last Sunday at Pleasant Grove UMC.  Our church van was parked under the breezeway between our gym and the promise building and it caught on fire (or was set on fire--it's still under investigation).  The van was destroyed and the promise building sustained smoke and water damage and there is no power to the building.  It was a sad loss, but I am very thankful no one was hurt.  It could have been much worse.  I'm very thankful to God who watched over us and I'm thankful to everyone who has helped us work through the aftermath of our fire.
            It's been a hectic week, but I’ve still had time to think about what God would have me say this Sunday—the first Sunday after the fire.  There are some lessons we can glean from the experience I want to share, but before we get to that, hear the Word of God to us this morning from Isaiah 43:1b-3a.

Isaiah 43:1b-3a
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

The Meaning of the Passage
            These words of Isaiah were given to God's people in Judah, foretelling their future.  They were to face a terrible tragedy.  Their kingdom, their capital city, and the Temple were to be destroyed.  All the people of Judah would be sent away from their homeland into captivity.  Yet God promised to be with them through it all and to bring them back.
            However, this prophecy looks even farther into the future.  It also speaks about our time.  It tells us that God will be with people who follow Jesus faithfully.  Though we face persecutions, trials, and tribulations because of our faith in Jesus, God says, “I am with you.  Don’t be afraid.  I have called you, by name.  I will sustain you through whatever troubles you face for the sake of my Son, Jesus—whether it be a fire, social upheavals, friends that turn their backs on you because of your beliefs, persecutions, suffering, sickness, even death.  None of these can really harm you, because I—the Lord, Your God—am with you.”
            Let me share three lessons we can learn from the fire.

First of all, the fire teaches us the Church is not the building.  It is the people.
            I am as guilty as anyone of saying, “I’m going to the church.”   We all do it.  We talk about the “church” as if it were a building.  But the church is not a building.  The church is the people. 
            Whenever the New Testament talks about the church, it uses the word to refer to the followers of Jesus, not the building.  For instance:
  • Acts 8:3 – “But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church…”  See, it wasn’t a building he was trying to destroy; it was believers who were spread all over the place.
  • Acts 12:5 – “…while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.”  You see, a building can’t pray for someone.  Only people can.  The church was the people.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “You are God’s building.”
  • 1 Peter 2:5 says, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.”

            So, fire may destroy our van or our building, but it cannot destroy the church, because the church is the people.  We are God’s people—we who believe and follow Christ.  And God says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
            I think seeing our beautiful van scorched and ruined, and seeing the Promise Building damaged and temporarily out of service—though painful—can be a helpful reminder that the church is not a building or a van.  The church is the people—you and me.  And if for some terrible reason these buildings were completely gone, we would still be the church.  I think of our ancestors who started this church over 150 years ago.  They had no building.  That is why the church is called Pleasant Grove, because all they had was the shade of a pleasant grove of trees under which to worship.  The church is not a building; it's the people.

The second lesson we learn is about spiritual warfare.
            This fire is a vivid reminder that we are in the midst of a spiritual war. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
            The fire was very suspicious.  The van had not been driven in two weeks.  Vans don’t just burst into flame all by themselves.  Was it arson or was it just a freak accident?  Investigators don’t have a definitive answer yet.  However, I can tell you—regardless of whether or not a person set the van on fire—it was a spiritual attack by Satan.  
            Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), but I am not afraid of the Devil.  For my God is mightier than the Devil.  My God is the “Holy One of Israel.  My Savior.”  And He has already defeated the Devil!  And yet, this attack reminds us how critical it is to, as Ephesians 6:13 says, “…put on every piece of God's armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.”
            Friends, don’t be blind.  There is a spiritual war going on all around you.  You can’t see it and Satan doesn’t want you to see it.  He would rather you be consumed by all the distractions of this world—entertainment, football games, food, travel, selfish gain.  You are an easy target when you are distracted.  Let this fire be a stark reminder of the stakes of this spiritual war.  Wake up!  Be vigilant!
            Ephesians 6:14-18 says,“Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  And Verse 18 (so critical) says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”
            Prayer is so critical!  It is the most powerful weapon in spiritual warfare.  Prayer helps us be vigilant so we aren't caught off guard by the Enemy.  Prayer puts us in the right frame of mind for the spiritual fight.  Prayer shows us the battle plan so we know what to do and when.  Prayer calls upon all of heaven's support so we don't get overwhelmed by the dark forces all around us.

The third lesson is what all this tells us about the future.
            I think our Youth Minister, Amy Harris, said it best.  Here’s what she told me.  She said she was with her kids last Sunday watching them load our burned up church van on a flatbed truck to haul it away.  She said, “God must be about to do something really big.”
            Church, I believe God is about to do something really big at Pleasant Grove.  A different kind of fire was started last Sunday.  I’m not talking about the one that burned up the van and damaged our building.  No sir.  I’m talking about a revival fire God is kindling in our hearts.  It’s a purifying fire that compels us to turn away from our sins and truly get our hearts right with God.  It consumes all that is unworthy in us until we are wholly committed to our Savior’s Church.  This fire is a burning desire to put Jesus Christ first and foremost in our lives.  It’s a fiery passion to serve Him by loving each other and our community like we never have before.  It’s an eternal fire the Devil and his minions can never put out.
            God is about to do something big at Pleasant Grove.  It’s a fire that can spread throughout our community.  Can you imagine it?  Can you imagine—not just our church—but all churches in our community on fire for God?  Can you imagine Christians who are so committed to Jesus that stand out so much from the crowd that everyone gives glory to our God—even those who don’t yet believe?  Can you imagine people becoming Christians because of your testimony?  Can you imagine marriages being saved, people being freed from addictions, finding true joy and peace and salvation?  
            I can see it; and I see the Devil trembling in fear at the thought  of it.  I believe it is why our Enemy is trying to disrupt and discourage us, but I won’t let him!  Will you?  Join with me in praying that God would fight our Enemy!  Join hands with me!  Let us be united together in our determination to follow Jesus with our whole hearts and discover what He is about to do!

Good Friday Leads to Easter
            I am reminded of another time when a terrible tragedy preceded God doing something really big.  In fact, it was the biggest tragedy ever and the biggest thing God ever did.  On a day we have come to call "Good Friday," humanity nailed the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to the cross. It was the darkest day in human history.  Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead to defeat the Devil forever and free all humanity from the power of sin!  It was the biggest event in all human history.
            If God can take an act as evil as the crucifixion and turn it into something good, I know He can take our fire and turn it into something good.  As Romans 8:28 says, "All things work together for those who love the Lord."  Church, I believe the fire only shows that God is up to something big at Pleasant Grove.  Get ready!  It's time to get on board with God!  Don't get left behind!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Green Light

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

James 4:7 – So humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

            “It’s the green light.”  He said. 
            “What do you mean?”  I asked my friend, Ken.  Ken Stephens was an experienced Methodist minister who served a church a few miles down the road from mine.  He was patient, faithful, and wise from years of ‘fighting the good fight’ in the Lord’s Kingdom.
            Ken and I and a number of other pastors in Forsyth, Georgia were planning a community-wide mission event.  Unfortunately, we had experienced some minor setbacks in our plans.  It was nothing major, but enough to make some of us less experienced ministers question if we were doing the right thing.  Was God trying to tell us we were off track?  Were we doing the right thing?
            “It’s the green light.”  Ken repeated.  “When Satan sees the Church working together and doing the will of God, Satan feels threatened.  He doesn’t like it.  So, he tries his best to disrupt and discourage God’s people.  But that’s the green light for the Church.  It tells us we are on the right track.  We are making the Devil nervous.  So we’ve got to press on.  The Devil’s telling us to stop, but God’s giving us the green light to go ahead.”
            I never forgot Ken’s advice.  Whenever I know I am doing the right thing, I don’t let Satan discourage me with his minor disruptions.  Now, I just see these as the green light.  They are confirmation that I am on the right track.  If Satan is fighting us, it is only confirmation that we are on the right track.  So I pray for God to chase the Devil away and I ask other prayer warriors to join with me, knowing if we resist the Devil, he will flee from us (James 4:7). 
            Satan cannot stand against us.  Through Jesus, we have already won the victory.  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…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!