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Monday, November 28, 2016

Following the Star, part 1

Matthew 2:1-2
1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 

Introduction
            Advent and Christmas are seasons of signs and symbols.  We decorate our homes, our trees, our church, our community.  Even stores and public buildings maintained by non-Christians adorn their spaces with signs of the seasons—stars, angels, trumpets, and Santa Clause (who was a Bishop in the Catholic Church many centuries ago, St. Nicolas).
            All these signs have meanings for those who are wise enough to see.  I hope you will take the time to notice the signs of the season and seek to understand their meaning more clearly.  But what about life?  Does God still give us signs—the way He gave a star to the Wisemen to guide them to Bethlehem and the baby Jesus? 
            Over the next few weeks, I hope to share some of my experience in sensing God's signs and guidance so that you might better sense His signs to you and find the divine guidance you need in your life.

A Critical Question
            To begin, each person must answer a crucial question for themselves. Does God give us signs?  Well, not everybody believes in God.  Some people are atheists—they don't believe God exists—and so they obviously don't believe God gives signs because they don't believe in God.  But what about religious people?
            Religious people (who believe is God) fall somewhere along a spectrum between two extremes.  There are superstitious people who see everything as a sign or supernatural event.  Every time it rains, every time a bird lands on a window sill, every time the phone rings, it is a supernatural act of God (or the Devil).  I had a youth pastor once who we paid $8,000 per year.  He was paid monthly, so his monthly pay check came out to $666.66!  He was like, "Hey, can y'all do something because I just can't accept a pay check with the number of the beast on it."  So we paid him twice a month, which came out to $333.33, which is a really good number (like the Trinity).  Now there wasn't really anything to the numbers.  It was just a coincidence.  But some people are very superstitious and see supernatural signs and event in everything that happens!
            On the other end of the spectrum, there are deists who believe God is not involved at all in human events.  They use the analogy that God is like a watch maker who designed the machinery of creation with all the laws of nature as the gears; God wound up the machine like you would wind up a watch and then He stepped back to let it run all by itself, never more stepping in to interfere.  So the deists believe God does not give signs at all or even intervene in human affairs in any way.  Another variation of this is people who believe God acted in biblical times, but no longer does.
            So we have the two extremes—deism and superstition.  As with most things though, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Either extreme will lead you astray.  The Truth is, God is not a micromanager.  He is not like a puppeteer up in heaven holding the strings to every person's life and every event on earth.  He is not standing over us controlling every choice we make and every thing we do.   We are not robots.  God gives us free will.  We can choose to love Him or not love Him.  We have the choice.  That was the kind of creation God wanted—one that could move and act independently of His interference, for that is the only way real love and real relationships can exist.
            On the other hand, God is not a distant, uninvolved spectator either.  Read your Bible. God was actively involved throughout the Bible. He performed miracles. He intervened. The New Testament is full of stories and eyewitness accounts of God supernaturally influencing the affairs of the world on a very intimate, personal scale.  The very foundation of the Christian faith is the direct intervention of God's power over the natural law of death.  Jesus was crucified, buried in a tomb, and on the third day God rolled the stone away and Christ rose from the grave.  That is not natural!  That is a supernatural occurrence made possible by the direct intervention of God.  If we don't have that, we have nothing.
            And I think there is an important Truth the modern Church needs to hear—especially the Methodist Church (which tends to be so fixated on rationalism and intellectuality that we want to explain away everything with science and logic; we are so hesitant to talk about miracles and divine power). There is an important Truth you need to hear this morning. The Truth is that the Holy Spirit is still as alive and as active and as involved today as He was during biblical times.  Read the Book of Acts and see how the Holy Spirit moved and empowered people. Acts is the story of the New Testament Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the mission of Christ to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  It is said the book of Acts is the only unfinished book of the Bible.  It is unfinished because we are the Church and we are still on the mission and we are still writing the story.  We are still the Church of Acts!  And the same Holy Spirit that empowered them, that opened prison doors for Peter, that healed the sick and the lame and the blind and the deaf, that saved the lost and changed the world, is the same Holy Spirit that is living and moving and breathing in our Church today.  What's changed?  Nothing!  The only thing that's changed is the way we think and believe.  Maybe we need to change our thinking and realize the Spirit's power is still in us.
            Each person has to decide what they believe, for what you believe affects what you see and how you interpret the signs around you. Do you believe God can and does give signs to guide us? Or do you believe God does not bother to speak to us anymore as he did in the New Testament?  I want you to know that I believe God does still give us signs to guide us if we are willing to look for them.

Seeing the Signs
            In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
            Do you want to know God’s will for you? I mean do you really care what God wants you to do with your life? What about your day? Do you care what God wants you to do today?  Many people go through life missing all God’s signs, because frankly, they’re not that interested in what God wants them to do. 
            The Wisemen in the East saw the star, but what about all the Jewish scholars in Jerusalem?  They had the Old Testament and their job was to focus on God and His teachings and to interpret His will.  Why didn’t they see the star? Why did a bunch of foreigners from a totally different religion have to travel thousands of miles to find the new “King of the Jews”? Could it be that the Jewish teachers and Jewish King Herod were too wrapped in their own selfish pursuits to look for or even care about what God was trying to do (at least until it threatened their own self-centered plans)?  So are the vast majority of people in our world today. We are too busy chasing our own dreams to see God’s vision for us and so we walk right past the signs God puts in our path.
            If you want to see the signs God gives you, you have to know God’s will; yearn for it like a the dry Southeast is yearning for water during this drought. As Jesus said, you have Ask, Seek, and Knock.
            You have to Ask to know God’s will. Make it your daily prayer. “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life? What do you want me to do today? What do you want for my family? What do you want for my church?”  I once saw a child ask their mama for a candy bar in the grocery store.  Have you ever seen this happen?  Mama said "No!", but that wasn't the end of it.  The child fell on the floor, kicking and screaming, "I want a candy bar!  I want a candy bar!  I want a candy bar!"  That's the passion we need when we ask God to show us His will.  (Maybe we need to be a little more mature about it, but that's the passion and commitment we need.)  
            You must Seek God’s will for you through the Scripture.  Study the Bible and see what it says. It teaches us all how to live. There are some parts of God’s will that apply to all of us the same. Look in your Bible to find God’s will for us.  And as you study the Bible, you will also hear God revealing things just for you.  The Church can help you test what you hear God saying and help clarify God’s word to you. Then, the Church can help hold you accountable to God’s will for you.
            You must Knock on the door of Heaven if you want to know God’s will. But when you ask, seek, and knock, God will open the door for you and you will begin to see the signs He gives to guide you.

Closing
I must confess that I’m no expert in seeing and following God’s signs.  Sometimes my eyes and ears are just a little cloudy.  However, I started diligently Asking, Seeking, and Knocking when I was 18 years old.  So, following God’s will for me and my family has been my number one focus for 24 years.  I started out by reading my Bible every day.  Soon God led me to my wife, my church, my family, and ultimately to my ministry.  So I have some experience with this.  I hope my experience will help me share something of value with you over the next few weeks as we consider how God shares signs to guide us through life.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Perfect Them in Love

Introduction
            The people of Pleasant Grove UMC are being the body of Christ.  Click here to watch Jeremy, Allie, and Sara share how Jesus is blessing them at PGUMC.  They are growing in faith, hope, and love thanks to Jesus Christ.
            1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” Faith, hope, and love are the core components of the promise we—as a congregation—make to people who become members of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. We promise to “...do all in our power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”  In my previous two blogs, I talked about how we can help increase faith and confirm hope in others. Today I want to consider the greatest virtue—love.  

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

The Greatest is Love
            Perhaps you remember a brash, young boxer who used to boast, "I am the greatest!" Mohamed Ali was possibly the greatest boxer of all times and his ability to boast and talk trash was even greater than his boxing ability.  However, true greatness, the greatest greatness, the only greatness that will last is love.
[Slide – Love is patient and kind…]
            Love is not a warm fuzzy feeling. The love the Bible describes is very different from the love we hear about from the world in movies and love songs. Love is what we do for one another when we act sacrificially. Love is full of patience & kindness.  love honors others.  Love protects, trusts, hopes forgives, and reconciles.  Love gives to others sacrificially.  Jesus is the greatest example of love.
            When I look at the way Jesus loved people and when I read how 1 Corinthians 13 describes love, I don't read anything about how another person makes you feel—how they give you goose bumps or make you tingle or how happy they make you feel.  The Bible teaches us love is what we do for others even if we get nothing in return.

Perfection
             John Wesley believed we could reach perfection in this lifetime. Wesley caught a lot of flack from theologians who scoffed at the idea of perfect people. People today might be skeptical of his assertion too.  Obviously, people are far from perfect. Even mature, faithful Christians—well advanced in years—still sin (if only in the sense that they occasionally make mistakes). Can we really be perfect?                         We may not be perfect in the sense that we never make mistakes, but, with God's help, we can reach the point that everything we do is perfectly motivated by love.  Perfect love does not mean we will never make mistakes. It means everything we do is motivated by love for God and love for our neighbor. Thus, even when we make a mistake, when it is motivated by love, the Holy Spirit can take our mistakes and turn them into good.
            I once gave my wife a Mother's Day gift I thought was perfect.  I was so proud of myself.  It wasn't a last minute gift.  I planned it weeks in advance.  I knew Kelly liked Tervis' insulated water cups and I found out you can make a customized Tervis.  So, I got online and designed on with a picture of our family and the message: "We Love You, Momma!"  I was so excited for Kelly to open the gift, thinking she would really love it.  When she opened it, she said, "You misspelled my name.  I spell it Mama."  Well, I felt terrible, but we had a good laugh because Kelly is a gracious, patient, loving person and she knew it was the thought that counts and that I had honestly tried out of love to honor and appreciate her.  To this day, we will occasionally have a laugh when we call Kelly Momma instead of Mama.  Even when we make a mistake, God can use it for good when it is motivate by love.
            Your goal as a Christian should be to grow in love toward perfection.  You should aim to reach perfection (in love) before you leave this world. Hope for it. Train for it. Work for it. Strive for it.

The Holy Spirit Enables Us
             The Holy Spirit empowers us to grow spiritually. When we open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit, we can mature as Christians. We can grow in the fruits of the spirit—love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We can grow in faith, hope, and love when we let the Holy Spirit work in us.
            We don’t cause the growth. It comes from God. Suppose an eight-year-old child decides they don't like being eight and want to be sixteen.  So he closes his eyes and grits his teeth and concentrates as hard as he can on being a sixteen-year-old.  Can he make himself sixteen?  Of course not.  That's absurd! Only God can make a child grow.  However, there are things a child can do to cooperate with God's power and open themselves up to the healthy growth God wants to give. They can eat their fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep at night, pay attention in school, learn to obey their parents, etc.  These are things that will help a child mature over time.
            Similarly, you cannot make yourself grow spiritually.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that. However, there are some things you can do to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and open yourself up to growth.  You can pray daily and worship with other believers every week.  You can study your Bible and learn God's ways and will for your life.  You can serve others.  You can give of your time and money.  You can celebrate Holy Communion (we share Holy Communion at Pleasant Grove UMC the first Sunday of each month).  You can look to a groups of trusted Christians friends to hold you accountable.  These are things that will open you up to the growth the Holy Spirit wants to work within you.  Over time, you will mature and grow in your faith, hope, and love.  One day, you may find everything you do is motivated perfectly by love.

Conclusion
             We perfect one another in love by loving one another. Love gives birth to love.
Jesus gave the ultimate example. You see, it is not that we loved God. God first loved us. While we were still sinners, Jesus came and died for us to forgive us our sins. His love inspires true love in us.
God reached out to us in love—even though we didn't deserve it. And because He loves us, we can love Him. We can also love one another, because He loves us all. Even the worst among us is loved by God and can be loved by us if we allow the Holy Spirit to move in us. And when we love the unlovable, it can change them.
            We perfect each other in love by loving each other. Even when your brother or sister doesn't deserve love, love them anyway. This is our promise to each other. It is also how we perfect each other in love. For your love—freely offered—is the hope that love will grow in others. Love gives birth to love.
            So, brothers and sisters, I implore you to increase one another's faith, confirm one another's hope, and perfect one another in love all for the glory of God!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Confirm Their Hope

Introduction
            1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  Faith, hope, and love are also the core components of the promise we—as a congregation—make to each other at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.  When someone becomes a member of our church, we promise to “...do all in our power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”  This is what we promise to do for one another.
            Last week, we considered how we can help increase faith in others by the the way we speak and act and by our very presence in people’s lives.  Today, I want to focus how we confirm hope.

Ephesians 4:1-4

1Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

Hope and Fear
            Hope is the opposite of fear.  Fear is the expectation of evil.  Hope is the expectation of good. There’s a lot of fear in our country right now. Some are afraid because people are protesting and causing disturbances after this week’s election.  Others are afraid the new president is not fit for the job, that he doesn’t have the temperament or wisdom or experience to lead our nation.  Some are afraid of the policies Trump might implement.  Some are afraid individuals or groups might use Trump’s harsh rhetoric as an excuse to be violent to minorities or other disenfranchised groups.  A Muslim woman in Louisiana told police she was attacked and robbed by two male Trump supporters after the election.  Later she admitted to police she made up the entire story.[i]  One woman’s fear drove her to concoct a lie. Other people’s fear may cause them to generalize what that one woman did and say that’s what all Muslims will do.
            Fear is the opposite of hope. Fear is the expectation of evil. Fear makes people act irrationally. Fear often brings into reality the very thing it dreads.  
            Hope is the opposite of fear.  Hope is the expectation of good.  Hope gives people the benefit of the doubt. It believes the best about people, hoping they will fulfill our expectations.  Hope expects things will turn out alright in the end, that it won’t be as bad as you thought, that maybe it might even be better than you expected.  Hope leads people to treat others with love and patience and grace. Hope enables us to forgive, to reconcile, to rebuild broken relationships, to overlook faults and to escape the chains of worry and anxiety.
            Hope is the opposite of fear. Hope is the expectation of good. Hope often brings into reality the very good it anticipates.  “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space.  Invite one to stay.”  (May Angelo).  At Pleasant Grove, we are called (and we promise) to confirm each other’s hope.

Confirm Their Hope
People hope there really is something to this Christian faith we preach.  How do we confirm that for one another?  We confirm one another’s hope by the way we act and treat one another.  Ephesians 4 names the behavior that is worthy of our faith.
            How can we confirm hope?  Ephesians 4:1-4 tells us.  We are to be humble and gentle.  We can show patience, making allowances for faults. People are not perfect. They make mistakes. Sometimes they just have annoying habits or don’t do thing the way you would.  We are all different and have different ways. Who is to say who’s right and who’s wrong? Does it really matter?  
            Thank God Jesus wasn’t so critical of people they had to be perfect to come near him. He accept all.  For his twelve Apostles, Jesus chose a few smelly fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot (who hated tax collectors), and a bunch of other riff raff that didn’t amount to much by society’s standards. Somehow they all had to get along. Thank God, Jesus was a very patient man. We should follow his example. 
            Ephesians 4 also says we confirm hope through unity and peace. We are to be united in the Spirit, bound together with peace. I want to tell you something the pastors of my community have been doing as a result of the recent OneCry Revival we had in September. We’ve been meeting together for lunch on Mondays every 2 weeks—Baptists, Methodists, Church of God, Whites, Blacks, Hispanics.  This week, a couple of the Hispanic pastors said that they had never felt such love and unity with the white pastors of our community. They said they are truly thankful to God for what He is doing to bring our communities together. There is great hope for what God is doing to break down racial barriers in our community. So while many in our country are fearful about the racial divide in America, we are hopeful that God will bring us together in peace and unity.  What will you choose? Fear or hope?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd
Some people don’t believe God exists; and if He does, they fear God is angry or uninterested in them.  However, the Christian hope is that Jesus really does know and love us.  In John 10:14 He said, “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own sheep, and they know me…”  What an incredible hope!  That God—in Jesus—not only knows us, but loves us and was willing to lay down his life for us so that we can have eternal life.  This is the greatest hope we have.
How do we confirm this great hope in each other? Again, it is by the way we treat others. Here are some practical things you can do: 
  • Share encouraging words with people. Tell them how much you appreciate them, the gifts you see in them, how you’ve noticed spiritual growth in their lives. 
  • Send someone a card, note, or letter.  In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to stay connected and encourage people! Send an email. Share messages on Facebook. Send a text message to someone to pray for them or share a verse of Scripture. 
  • Another thing you can do to confirm hope is to honor people before others. Tell their parents, friends, employers how much you appreciate them. 
            People hope there really is life after death. 1 Corinthians 15:19-20 “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”  How do you confirm eternal life—something you have never seen?
            Well, some have seen.  I've heard stories from people (some in my own congregation) about people dying asnd being brought back to life by a doctor.  SOmetimes, they tell amazing stories of things they witnessed on the other side.  If you have a witness about this, share it and help confirm someone's hope!
            Sometimes our hope, in and of itself, is enough to confirm eternal life for others. When we hope, we press on through the hopeless trials of this life knowing there is hope waiting beyond the grave.  As Romans 5:4 says “And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”  How you endure hardships can help others find hope.
            Finally, you can confirm hope by sharing ways you have seen the resurrected Jesus. You may not have seen Jesus in bodily form, but you can share some powerful moments in your life when it was as if Jesus were there with you. You can tell others how Jesus has made a difference in your life. You can share how Christ has given you a reason for hope instead of fear. You can make a difference. Your hope can be contagious.  An epidemic of contagious hope is what our world desperately needs right now.

Jeremy’s Story (Watch Jeremy's Testimony Here)
            A met a young man abuot a year ago named Jeremy Ptak.  Jeremy called the church and left a message.  He was interested in the Methodist church and wondered if someone could call and talk to him about it.  I called.
            Jeremy had lots of questions about Methodism and the way we worshiped and believed.  I tried to answer his questions.  I also invited Jeremy to come to church and he enthusiastically accepted.  He said he needed a ride and I was glad to offer one.  All week, Jeremy was excited come to church, but the day of church, he canceled saying something had come up.  We tried again the following Sunday with the same result.  Each week, Jeremy would start out excited for church on Monday, but back out over the weekend.  Finally, I asked Jeremy why and he shared his struggle.
            Jeremy struggles with severe social anxiety.  He gets really nervous around crowds.  He worries that people are looking at him and talking about him and he gets really nervous and overwhelmed.  He takes medicine to help, but the medicine also makes him very tires; it's a difficult balance between anxiety and depression without enough medicine and having no energy with too much medicine.  (To watch Jeremy's testimony, click here.)
            Jeremy didn't give up and eventually was able to come to Bible Study on Thursday mornings, dinner on Wednesday night, and even Sunday school and worship on Sundays.  Jeremy gave his life to Christ when he was younger, but he wanted to recommit himself to Christ; so, we prayed for him to do that.  Jeremy wanted to do the official ceremony in church and become a member of Pleasant Grove.  So I gave him a challenge.  I said, if you come to church on Sunday four times, then we will have a ceremony in church where you recommit your life to Christ and join as a member.  Jeremy completed the challenge and joined the church in May.  Praise God!
            The people of Pleasant Grove UMC helped confirm Jeremy’s hope in Jesus Christ.  They confirmed his hope by giving him a ride to and from church.  They confirmed his hope by the way they welcome him, just the way he is.  
            Jeremy still has struggles.  Sometimes Jeremy has to miss church because he is having a bad day or because his medicine has made him too tired.  Jeremy dips chewing tobacco to help calm his nerves and sometimes he has to get up and walk out of the sanctuary to take a break.  The people of Jeremy's church accept him and his struggles.  They confirm Jeremy's hope in Christ by the way they make allowances for his faults, by the way you love him, encourage him, and help him through his struggle.
            In turn, Jeremy is helping confirm our hope as well. I am inspired by Jeremy’s story. I think if he can press on through his own struggles, maybe I can endure mine too. How about you? Doesn’t Jeremy’s story give you hope? Do you—like me—see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Risen Lord, the Savior of the world, at work in Jeremy’s life?

Closing
            Jesus is not dead! He is alive and He is moving in our world. Do not fear. Be filled with hope.  What can you do to increase faith and confirm hope in others? What practical thing does Jesus want you to do?  Why not get started today?


[i] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/muslim-student-reported-trump-inspired-attack-admits-made/story?id=43442471

Monday, November 7, 2016

Increase Their Faith

Introduction
            1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us, Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  Faith, hope, and love are essential and Christians seek to grow these fruits through membership in the local church. New members of United Methodist congregations vow to support the church with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.  Then, the congregation promises, "Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”
            Today, we will begin a new 3-week series on these 3 promises my congregation makes to our new members to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.  Today, we will consider our promise to increase their faith. Next week, we will look at the promise to confirm their hope.  We will finish the third week with a consideration of how we can perfect them in love.

Hebrews 11:1-2
1Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. 2Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

Faith
            Faith is the reality of what we hope for.  The Greek word Hebrews uses for faith means:  conviction, persuasion; faith is that of which you are convinced.  The idea is almost as if our believing in something makes something a reality.
            Psychologist say much the same thing. For instance, if you have a job interview and don't believe in yourself, don't believe you are qualified, don't believe you have as good a chance as any other candidate, then your lack of faith will come through in the way you interview for the job. You will not present a good image of yourself. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will probably not get the job. If you believe in yourself, it will come through to your potential employers.
            Our faith in Christ—real faith—changes our perspective on life. It gives life meaning.  Because of faith, we know life is bigger than us; we know it's not all about us and our happiness.  Because of faith, we have purpose.  A purely scientific worldview tells us we are just animals.  Faith convinces us we are more and thus we can do more than survive and we can even live sacrifically for the sake of others.
            Our faith persuades God is for us and not against us.  So many religions though out history have sought ways to appease the gods, to earn divine help, or to manipulate gods into doing what the people want. People made sacrifices or performed rituals intending to manipulate god(s) into helping people.  What kind of god(s) is that?  A god who can be tricked is not God who can be relied upon.  A god who must be appeased is not a good god, but a bully.  A god who requires us to earn love, doesn't offer real love.  Real love, the kind the human heart craves, is unconditional; it doesn't have to be earned.
            I am so grateful our faith in Jesus tells us God loves us despite all our shortcomings, failures, flaws, and sins. God loved us even when we blatantly reject Him, fight against Him, and try to kill Him. And the extent of God’s love is this: He laid down His life on the cross for our sins to save our souls. And through God’s infinite power, Jesus rose to conquer sin and death! Oh the infinite wisdom, power, and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, our Savior, our God!
            Our faith in Jesus means we have something to live for and even something to hope for when this life is over. 
            Our faith is not a fairy tale. It is more than just positive thinking that makes our lives better. There is a God who loves us. There is meaning and purpose in ours lives. This is reality. Jesus is Lord. Jesus does save us when we trust in him. There is life beyond the grave. God will right all the wrongs of our world. There will be justice and mercy for all according to God’s infinite wisdom. 

Increasing Faith
            We who are members of Pleasant Grove have been both blessed and a blessing. We have been blessed by God, but also by the saints who've gone before us. I can think of many I have met at my church over the past six-and-a-half years.  I think about a gentle lady named Ann Brookshire.  The first time I remember meeting Ann was in the hospital.  Ann needed a kidney transplant and she often struggled with health problems as she waited for one to be available.  However, Ann handled her illness and waiting with patience and grace.  Her example increased my faith and the faith of many.
            I think of Joanne Oxford, one of the first "At-home" members of our church I met when I came to be the pastor here.  Joanne was so sweet and easy to talk to.  I enjoyed our visits and they increased my faith.
            I think also of Dick Mellema.  Dick suffered from the effects of a stroke he'd had years ago that debilitated him.  Dick didn't do anything grand here at Pleasant Grove, but he was here and his very presence gave us a chance to exercise our faith and Christian love.
            There are other saints still living that encourage us by their words, their deeds, and sometimes just their presence. I know you can name a few who have made a difference in your life.  Look around you; you will see saints if you take time to notice. A saint is not someone who is perfect. A saint is just a sinner saved by the grace of God. We are all sinners and saints if we have faith in Jesus Christ
            Just as we have been blessed by the saints around us, we can also be a blessing to others. We can help increase their faith. By our presence, our words, and our deeds, we can help people see the reality of Christ. We can be the evidence of what they hope for. We can demonstrate that life is not in vain, that they matter, that they are loved, that they have a purpose, that even in spite of trials and in the midst of pain and struggle and grief and sickness and even death, there is victory.  And one day, the glory we find in Christ will make every trial we faced here pale in a comparison.  So members of the household of faith, remember your promise to increase one another's faith. Speak, act, and be the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Saying Thank You...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

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Philippians 1:3 – Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.

     I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has taken time to read my blog. I've had 24,503 views since my first post back in April of 2015. I'm very humbled so many would take time to read about my thoughts, sermons, articles, and such.  
           This month, we will enjoy the great celebration of Thanksgiving. It’s a time when we celebrate the bounty of God’s blessings to us and remember to be thankful. Many people fail to be truly thankful. There are some who don’t say thank you at all. Other people say thank you all the time, but don’t really mean it. 
            I spoke with a gentleman once who said something unusually honest. He revealed that he struggles with being thankful for his employees. He said, “Why should I tell them thank you for doing a good job? To me that seems dishonest. They get paid for what they do and that is their reward. I do tell them ‘thank you’,” he said, “but the real reason I say thank you is because I want to encourage them to continue doing a good job. I’m not really thankful; I’m really just trying to manipulate them into doing a good job—if I’m really honest about it. And that is not really being thankful, is it?” 
            No, saying “thank you” does not necessarily make you a thankful person. Sometimes we say thank you so much it looses its meaning. Being truly thankful requires the realization that we have received a gift. 
            So as you celebrate Thanksgiving this month, don’t just make it your goal to say thank you more often; and don’t just settle for recognizing how many things you have to be thankful for either. Instead, reflect on how each blessing has been a gift from somebody. Reflect on the ways God has answered your prayers. Be thankful even on the ways He has given you a gift by not answering your prayers. Make it your goal to actually be more thankful. That way when you say “thank you”, it will be more than just words that fall from your mouth. “Thank you” will be a living prayer that flows from a grateful heart. 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…
 
God loves you and so do I!