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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Real Love

Introduction
            Advent is the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas when Christians prepare to celebrate Christ's birth, but it is also a time we focus on preparing for Jesus' second coming.  The first time, Jesus came as a harmless little baby.  But the second time, Jesus will come as a conquering King ready to separate the good from the evil. 
            Thankfully, God loves us so much and wants us to be ready.  That’s why He sent Jesus to first time—to get us ready.  Jesus shows us how we need to live and he already atoned for our sins.  Aren't you glad Jesus came the first time so we can be ready when he comes the second time?
 
John 3:1616 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Real Love
            There are many popular songs written about love and love is a common theme in books, television, and movies.  However, real love, the kind of love Jesus shows and wants us to have, is so much deeper than the love the world promotes.  Mother Teresa said, "Love, to be real, must cost.  It must hurt.  It must empty us of self."
            I see a lot of expressions of real love in our congregation.   Real love is 12 people from our church joining with a team from Grace Presbyterian to feed over 100 needy people at the City of Refuge last Monday night.  Real love is Kevin Roberts there coloring a picture with a little girl and Tanya Brooker tutoring a child on their math homework before the food was served.  Real love is when our church secretary, Angela, can’t sleep at night because she’s tossing and turning in the bed at 3 AM thinking about what we can do with poinsettias to show the love of Jesus—and she comes up with the Poinsettia Challenge. 
            Real love is Susan Cooksey—a retired teacher—going over to Pleasant Grove Elementary School each week to help out and see how our church can be a blessing to the school.  Most people retire and throw their hands up in praise, "I'm done!  I don't have to work any more!  I've done my time.  Now I can sit at home and collect a retirement check."  In stead, Susan continues to go to the school and work as a volunteer to help teachers and students, because that's what real love does.
            Real love is a Jason and Andrea Denson going through over 2 years of preparation and training and paperwork and praying and hoping and crying and hoping and crying and hoping some more before finally flying over to China to meet their new daughter.  Real love is their son, Jace—who’s been the baby of the family getting all the attention for almost a decade—welcoming his new sister into the family with open arms.  He willingly shares his family with his new sister.
            Real love is James and Mary Greenway taking clothes over to the residents who lost everything in an apartment fire in Dalton this weekend and praying with them to bring peace in the midst of a tragedy.  Real love is Amy Harris spurring our church to sponsor 20 families who have a loved one in prison so they will have Christmas presents and leading the youth to host a Angel Tree Party for the families yesterday.  Real love is someone from our church going to visit a friend in prison because they’re struggling with addiction and mental illness and they did a terrible thing, but Jesus still loves them so we do too. 
            Real love is a parent who sacrifices the time, the money, their life, gaining gray hairs through nights of worry and praying and shedding tears of joy and sometimes disappointment.  Real love is a spouse who cares for their husband or wife as they slowly fade into dementia.  Real love never giving up even when it hurts so bad you just want to die.
1 John 4:19 – We love each other because he [God] loved us first.
            Even though humanity had turned their backs on God, God still loved us and sent Jesus.  We didn't deserve any help, any mercy, any love, but God showed loved us and showed mercy and helped us anyway.  And oh how great is the extent of God's wonderful love!  He sent his one and only son.  He could have and should have come as king treated to a palace and glory with everyone serving him.  But Jesus didn't come to be served.  He came to serve others.  He showed what real love is and he said:

John 15:13 – There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
            Jesus showed us what real love is.  Every day, Jesus laid down his life by the way he served and put others before himself.  And ultimately in the end, Jesus literally laid down his life when he died on the cross for our sins.  1 John 4:10, "This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." 



Get Ready and Follow Jesus
            Jesus loves us with real love and he want us to love him so we will be ready.  Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love me, obey my commandments." And what were his commands?  Let me distill it down to 4 basic truths.
 

·       Command #1 – Repent.  The first sermon Jesus preached was "Repent for the Kingdom of God is near."  In other words, your day of reckoning and judgment could happen at any moment.  God is about to separate the good from the bad and reward each accordingly.  So you better turn away from your wrongdoing and turn to God.
·       Command # 2 – Trust Jesus.  You have to turn away from your evil ways and trying to do what you want and trust and follow Jesus' way.  Do you trust Jesus enough to give up what you want and work for what he wants?  That is the only way to be ready to meet him face to face when he comes again.  That is the only way to find eternal life.
·       Command # 3 – Love.  Jesus said to love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  John 15:12, Jesus said, "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you."  What does that mean?  It means you lay down your life.  It means life stops being about you.  It’s about serving others and loving them the way Jesus did.
·       Command #4 – Go.  In  Matthew 28:19, 20, Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations…  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you…"  That’s what I what I try to do everyday by the way I live and even as I write this blog.  I want you to become a disciple of Jesus, because I love you and I want you have eternal life in the Kingdom of God with me. 
 
Are you ready to meet Jesus when he comes again? I hope with all my heart you will obey these commands so you will be ready, because I want to meet you one day in eternity.  Let's plan to get together then and go for a walk down the golden streets beside the crystal sea.  If you've never become a real Christian--one who has repented, believed in Jesus, received his forgiveness, and committed to follow Him--why don't you ask God to receive you into His Kingdom today.  You can use the following as a guide as you pray to God.

A Prayer to Become a Christian
"Father, I'm so sorry for trying to do things my way.  I repent.  I surrender my life to You.  Forgive me for what I've done and help me to follow Jesus from this day forward.  Help me to love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And help me to love everyone I meet the way You love them.  Show me how I can tell people what Jesus is doing for me.  Thank You for saving me!  Now help me live for You for the rest of my life.  Amen."

If you prayed to become a Christian today, I would like to here from you.  Please email me at ReverendChrisMullis@Hotmail.com so I can pray for you.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Real Peace


Introduction
            Advent--the four weeks leading up to Christmas--are a season of waiting as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth.  However, Jesus said he would come again to bring a New Heaven and  a New Earth.  Advent is also to prepare so we will be ready when Jesus comes.  No one knows the day or our of Christ's return for the world; it could be in the next moment or in a thousand years.  However, everyone can be sure Christ will come for them individually in their life time--for no one escapes death and when we die we will each see Jesus face to face.  Will you be ready?  Can you be at peace with your inevitable personal encounter with the second coming of the Son of God?  now is the time to prepare so you can have real peace.

Luke 2:(8-12,) 13-14
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
   and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

A Fear Evoking Sight
          Verse 14 is the key verse I want you to consider.  The angels sang, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
            It is no wonder the angel started his message by saying, “Don’t be afraid!”  It would be quite frightening to see an angel appear in the middle of the night.  The shepherds were prepared to protect their sheep from wild animals and thieves, but what do you do with an angelic being?  And then it was not just one angel, it was a whole army from heaven!
            Peace?  Really? And army is designed for fighting and killing and war.  They come bearing weapons.  And this army is a host of angels!  That is not the kind of thing that makes me think of peace!  So the angel assured them toey came to bring peace and there was no need to be afraid.
            How freeing and exciting it can be when we witness something of amazing power and majesty and also know we have nothing to fear.  I think that may have been how Jesus felt.  Remember the time a terribly fierce storm arose while he and the disciples were out on a boat?  The disciples are afraid for their life, but Jesus is asleep.  You see, he had nothing to fear from the storm.  His only concern was the cross he would be nailed to one day.  So he could enjoy the storm--marveling in the power and wonder of it or let the wind and wave and thunder sing him to peaceful sleep. 
            Are you afraid of the thunder?  What if you were absolutely certain the storm would not harm you?  Could you then just watch and enjoy the thrill and beauty of it all?  What about life?  What about the eventual end that awaits us all? 

Real Peace
           Real peace is knowing Jesus is Lord of all and submitting to Him.  Surrender to him is the source of true peace.  When the armies of heaven come, the only ones who need to fear are those who fight against them or who are enemies of God.  But Jesus forgives everyone who truly surrenders and accepts him as Lord.  Those, he saves. 
            Surrender means trusting in God’s way, not ours.  And we have to accept that God’s way is not our way.  Things will have to change.  We have to find peace with the changes God brings as He rights all the wrongs in our world and our lives.

            You can have real peace because of what Christ has already done for you.  The Bad News is we have all sinned and fallen short of God's glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  No one can be good enough to earn God's love or favor.  And unfortunately, the consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).  So, anyone who tries to win God over by the things they do is bound to fail miserably.  Not only will you fail miserably to bring peace and order and fulfillment to your life, you will also live in fear of as an rebellious enemy of God.  That is the Bad News, but the angels came to bring Good News and here it is!
            The Good News is God sent Jesus to be born as a human being, to live as one of us (but without sin), and to die to cover the consequences of our sin.  So we don’t have to be guilty or ashamed or afraid.  God, through Jesus Christ, has already done everything that needs to be done.  As Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”
            Now, that doesn’t mean we do nothing.  First of all, we have to surrender.  The war is over.  God has won.  He offers forgiveness and reconciliation to all who surrender.  Second, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a master who went away on a trip.  He put the servants in charge until his return.  Now the servants must decide if they are going to do the Master's will or if they will just goof off until the Master returns.  What will the Master find His servant's doing when He returns?
            Over the next few weeks, many of you will receive guests in home for the holidays.  Many of you are preparing for your guest even now--cleaning, vacuuming, mopping, washing, putting things away.  But what if you're guest showed up a few days early?  Would you be ready?  Or would you be ashamed your guests would find your home in disarray with things still out on the counter your didn't want them to see?  It would be better if we all just kept our homes clean all the time so we would have nothing to be ashamed of if a guest came unexpectedly.
            Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour when he will return (he doesn't even know himself, only God knows).  Therefore, we should always strive to always have you life in order, to be doing the things Christ asks his followers to do.  That way we will have nothing to fear and we can have real peace.  So live your life in such a way that people always know you love them and nothing is ever left undone or unsaid that need to be done and said. 


Let There Be Peace on Earth             Real Peace starts with you and spreads to those around you.  It starts with the choice you make today, right now.  It continues with the choices you make as you start each new day as you choose to follow Jesus’ plan instead of your own until Jesus’ plan is your plan.  It spreads as you share the Good News and love of Jesus with everyone around you.  Before you know it, peace spread further and further as more and more surrender to the true Lord of Heaven and Earth.
            United Methodists have a wonderful Hymn in our hymnal written by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson.  Here is an excerpt about the song from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-let-there-be-peace-on-earth.

Jill Jackson shared the story of how the song was written:  “When I attempted suicide [in 1944] and I didn’t succeed, I knew for the first time unconditional love—which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”  This realization was followed by years of exploring her spiritual nature and her relationship with God.
In 1955, Jill wrote the lyrics for “Let There Be Peace on Earth” while her husband wrote the melody. The song was introduced at a retreat for a group of young people.  Sy Miller wrote about the effect of the song: “One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment—‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’—helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.
“When they came down from the mountain, these inspired young people brought the song with them and started sharing it. And, as though on wings, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ began an amazing journey around the globe. It traveled first, of course, with the young campers back to their homes and schools, churches and clubs.”
Miller noted that the song was then shared in all 50 states at school graduations, PTA meetings, holiday gatherings, celebrations of Brotherhood Week, Veterans Day, Human Rights Day and United Nations Day. Kiwanis clubs sang it, as well as 4-H clubs, United Auto Workers, the American Legion, etc.  The song was taped, copied, printed in songbooks and passed by word of mouth. Eventually it spread overseas, sung by Maoris in New Zealand and Zulus in Africa.  The song has been recorded by a host of vocal artists including Tennessee Ernie Ford, Pat Boone, Johnny Mathis, and Harry Connick Jr.
It received the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge for “Outstanding achievement in helping to bring about a better understanding of the American Way of Life.” The National Conference of Christians and Jews has also honored the composers with the Brotherhood Award.  In 2009 Random House published “Let There Be Peace on Earth” as a children’s book.

            All this from a song written and sung at a retreat for a bunch of kids.  It’s amazing how Real Peace can spread when you and I make a choice to let the peace of Jesus live inside our hearts and share it with everyone we meet.  Will you make that choice today?  Pray about it as you listen to these words of the song:

Let There Be Peace on Earth
(#431, The United Methodist Hymnal)
Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me.
Let There Be Peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be!
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now.
With every breath I take, let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally!
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Real Hope

Introduction
            It's never easy to wait, but waiting implies you have hope.  Over the Thanksgiving break, I found I was waiting with hopeful anticipation for my son to make it home from college in Huntsville.  I was looking forward to seeing and spending time with him.  It was a similar feeling we had with each of our children as we waited for them to be born.  The pregnancies were a long wait--nine months--but they were full of an expectant hope.  We knew they would result in great joy when the waiting is over.
            Advent--the four weeks leading up to Christmas--are a season of waiting as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth.  However, Advent is also a reminder that we are waiting for Christ's second coming and that we are to prepare so we will be ready when he comes.  As we wait, as we prepare, let's consider if our waiting includes real hope.
          
 Luke 2:25-35 25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
    as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
    and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” 


Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
            As I read that passage about Simeon meeting the baby Jesus, a song comes to mind that we often sing--not at Christmas--but at patriotic times.  It goes, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”  The song is the Battle Hymn of the Republic and it speaks of the second coming of the Lord, but it also echoes Simeon's sentiments as he held baby Jesus in the Temple.
            Simeon was a man of hope.  When he looked around, he saw a broken world.  However, Simeon believed God would not leave the world a broken mess.  Simeon hoped for a Savior and the Holy Spirit ensured Simeon he would not die until the Messiah came. Simeon believed.  His hopeful words to Mary and Joseph reveal the kind of Savior Messiah Jesus is.
            Simeon said the Savior Messiah was "...prepared for all people" and "a light to reveal God to all nations."  Simeon was a Jew, a child of Abraham, God's chosen people.  However, Simeon testified that the Messiah was not just for the Jews; He came to give light to all people from every nation and race.
            Simeon said the Messiah Savior was "the glory of Israel".  Many religious people today like to say the Israelites are "God's chosen people."  But what were they chose for?  Was it simply to enjoy God's special treatment at the expense of others?  Were they chosen to get a pass to do whatever they like?  No.  Israel was chosen to be a light that reveals God to all nations.  Jesus is the glory of Israel because he is the fulfillment of their purpose.  Jesus is THE LIGHT that reveals God perfectly to all nations.
            Jesus was born and lived a perfect life to show us the way.  Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins.  Jesus rose from the grave to conquer the power of sin and death.  Jesus ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God to rule in glory.  However, the story doesn't end there.  We believe Jesus will come again. 
            As the Disciples watched Jesus ascend to Heaven in the first chapter of Acts, a man robed in white appeared before them and proclaimed they would see Jesus return in the clouds just as they had seen him ascend.  Christians profess our faith in this second coming even in the 21st century as we recite the Apostles' Creed.  We say: "...He will come again to judge the living and the dead."
           The second coming of Christ will occur in two senses.  First, Jesus will come in a communal sense.  As he ascended in the clouds, so he will descend again for the whole world to see.  This will be his final second coming and it will be for the whole world all at once.  We don't know when Jesus will come again in this way.  We wait with expectant hope for Jesus to come and finally fix all that is broken in our world, but we don't know if it will happen in our lifetime.  We have been already been waiting some 2,000 years and it has not happened yet.  It could be another 2,000 years before he comes; however, it could also be within the next few moments.  "No one knows," as Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, "the day or hour these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."
            However, we can also think of Jesus coming in another sense, in a personal sense.  Jesus also comes for each of us personally.  His personal coming happens many times and each of us can be sure he will come for us individually in our lifetime--for no one lives forever.  Every person is going to have to face Jesus at some point.  Again, we don't know if this will be today, tomorrow, or years from now, but you can be sure you will not escape it any more than you can escape physical death.  Jesus is coming.  Is your heart full of hope as you wait or are you filled with dread at the thought?  Your answer depends greatly on how you prepare.

Real Hope Brings Peace
            Real hope in Jesus Christ brings peace.  Simeon's greatest hope was to see the Christ child before he died.  His hope was fulfilled and he was able to die in peace.  What a blessing!  Oh that we could all find a peace like Simeon’s because we place our hope in Christ.  Christ came to bring the Good News that all who trust and follow him as Lord and Savior shall not die, but have eternal life.  Jesus didn't come to condemn us, but to save us.  Everyone who has faith in him shall be saved, but those who reject Jesus have already judged themselves to be unworthy of God's grace.
            How awful it would be to achieve your life's ambition only to find it was empty and worthless and unfulfilling.  Perhaps that is the definition of hell.  There are many in our world who place their hope in all the wrong things:  money, careers, power, or people.  They strive, sacrificing their time, their families, their health, their lives, working their fingers to the bone all in the hope that their idols--their little gods--will bring them real satisfaction and fulfillment.  Some work their whole life chasing these false hopes.  Others release their dreams only to find them empty and so start to chase something else in hope that it will do the trick.  Nothing will bring real peace except a relationship with Christ.  He is the only real hope we have. 
            My hope as a minister of Jesus Christ is that everyone will realize their misdirected hope before it is too late, before they waste even one more ounce of time and effort on them.  My hope is that we will all come to Jesus and lay down your dead hopes before him.  Place your hope in Jesus and you will find peace.  Even when you come to the end of your life, you will be able to say with Simeon, "Now I can die in peace."

Real Hope Can Be Painful
            Our hope in Christ does not exclude trouble and suffering.  We still live in a broken world and Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Sometimes we face resistance and trouble because we trust in Christ; the world opposes Christ and those who follow him.  Sometimes we have pain simply because life in a broken world can be hard.
            Simeon’s words to Mary are very telling.  He said at the end of verse 35:  “And a sword will pierce your very soul.”  Mary, as the mother of the Messiah Savior, was not spared suffering.  She faced perhaps the worst suffering a mother can ever face.  Even though her son was perfect in every way and did nothing but love and help people, she watched him despised, rejected, denied, betrayed, arrested, disrespected, tortured, and ultimately murdered on a cross.  No parent should ever have to witness the death of their child, let alone in such a cruel and unfair manner.  Yet Mary's greatest pain turned out to be her greatest glory--the salvation of the whole world.  Death was defeated!  Eternal life opened to all!  Jesus rose in glory!
            Sometimes real hope also includes the promise of real pain, but our hope is God will redeem all our pain and not an ounce of it will be wasted.  Our hope is that our most painful wounds will—like Mary’s—turn out to be the source of our greatest victories in the end.  So we join with the Apostle Paul's hopeful proclamation of faith, "Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later." (Romans 8:18)

Real Hope is Always With Us
            Our hope in Christ insures that any pain and suffering we experience in this life is infused with a sense of expectant hope.  It is like the pain of child birth.  It is said that giving birth is the most painful experience the human body can endure.  I was with my wife at the birth of each of our children and I can testify that what I saw looked intensely painful indeed!  However, the pain of giving birth is also infused with hope.  You know it will end in great joy as you meet your child for the first time face to face.  So the greatest pain of life culminates in its greatest joy.  So it is with the greatest sufferings we face in this life.  Have faith that our great suffering will culminate in the great joy of seeing Christ face to face.
             Also, have faith you do not go through any of it alone.  For Jesus said, "It is good that I go to be with the Father in Heaven.  For if I go, the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) will come and live inside you."  So the Holy Spirit of God lives inside every person who truly trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  You do not walk through this life alone.  When you are facing your toughest battles, understand that Jesus is right their with you--living inside you--giving you strength to press on with real hope.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What If Churches Were More Like Football Stadiums?

The Satirical Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Matthew 2:10-12 – 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

            The Wisemen traveled from far, far away to come worship the Savior who was born king of the Jews.  They counted it an honor and privilege to go to such great lengths to see baby Jesus and offer their precious gifts.  Oh that we all were as determined to worship Christ as were they.  
            I am always pondering ways to get more people in church to worship the King.  Football is king in the south.  People go to great lengths to see their favorite team play.  Millions flock into overcrowded stadiums each weekend.  Maybe what football stadiums do will work for the church.  You think?

What if we sold expensive tickets for admission?
            Attending church is free.  Sure, we take up an offering, but
it’s totally voluntary.  Maybe that’s the problem.  The cheapest ticket you could buy for the Nov. 10 Auburn/Georgia game was $189/seat (and that was in the nose bleed section).  Good seats on the home side of the 50 yard line were closer to $800-900/person.  So you couldn’t get your family of 5 seats at the game for less than $945.  With prices like that, our church could generate at least $100,000 per service in ticket sales alone.  The only problem I see here is determining which are the best seats in the House.  Most people want to sit up front and close to the action at the game, but usually on the back row in the church service. 

What if we made people pay for their programs?
            We hand out church bulletins for free and they usually end up in the trash or left in the pews after the service.  Last year’s Superbowl program sells online for $17.99 + tax and it’s a collector’s item.  Churches are tax exempt, so you’d still get a bargain if we sold ours at a comparable price.  We could earn thousands from program sales.  (Now we just need to figure out concessions—Holy Communion maybe?) 
Since people are dying to pay these exorbitant prices to squeeze into cramped stadium seats to watch sweaty athletes chase each other, surely they will flock to our church to sit in comfortable cushioned pews in a beautiful sanctuary to worship the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins.  Our sanctuary will be packed and our parking lot won’t be able to handle all the cars.  So…

We’ll need to charge for parking.
            People will pay $7 to park at the SEC championship game, but that’s 10 blocks away.  They’ll have to pay $40 dollars or more to get reasonably close.  Perhaps the church can be generous and just charge $20 for a spot in our lot and subcontract out the rest to nearby businesses.  Those parking lots will only cost $5-10 depending on how far away they are.

What if a church service was as long as a football game?
  No one will pay football prices for a 1 hour church service.  That’s just dumb.  The average football game last 3 hours (even though the ball is actually in play for only about 11 minutes).  People deserve to get what they pay for, so we’ll graciously extend the worship service to 3 hours.  Preachers need a lot more time to go deep anyway.  Think how fast we will be able to cure the biblical illiteracy and moral decline in our nation when we commit so much time, energy, effort, and money to worshiping and learning about Christ in church.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the satirical Truth as far as I can tell…
Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Is Your Faith For Real or For Looks?

Introduction
            I'm so thankful to Frank and Kaye Fetzer, Jean Coker, and Amy Harris and the youth of Pleasant Grove UMC who came out last week to decorate our sanctuary to get it ready for Christmas.  After they got all the decorations out and on the tree, the youth made their own Christmas decorations for the youth room.  They had some clear Christmas ball ornaments that they were painting or filling with colored sand or glitter.  They made some very creative and colorful ornaments.  However, it struck me how the ornaments are so fragile and really aren't useful for anything other than decorations.  As you read this blog, I would like you to think about your faith in Jesus and ask the question:  is my faith for real or for looks? 

John 16:1-4
1 “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.


The Persecution of the Early Church
            Jesus didn't want his disciples (or us) to be caught of guard when trouble and persecution came; so he warned them.  A day was coming when his followers would be expelled from the synagogues.  This also meant they would be excluded from their social connections.  Buying and selling and getting along in the world would be very difficult.  In addition, Christ's early followers could find their property being seized without cause and they would have no recourse to fight it.  Jesus never said being his disciple would make life in this world easy.  To the countrary, the early Christians faced arrest, torture, and even death simply because they claimed Jesus was the Messiah who died and rose again.  As early as the seventh chapter of Acts, we see the first Christian martyred for his faith.  Stephen was stoned to death for simply bearing testimony about Jesus death and resurrection.  Immediately after, all the Christians in (except the Apostles) were driven out of Jerusalem.  Can you imagine having your property seized and people telling you to leave town or die?


Real Faith Sustains
            Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith.”  Christ wants his followers to have real faith, not merely faith that looks good.  So I want to share some characteristics of real faith.  First off, real faith sustains you when troubles come.  Stephen’s real faith gave him peace and courage.  Even as he was stoned to death, he showed real faith and courage.  He looked into heaven and saw Jesus and asked God to forgive the ones who were murdering him.  Stephen's faith can encourage us even today when we face troubles.            The early Christians who were driven out of Jerusalem were not silenced; they spread Christianity everywhere they went.  Instead of whining and complaining about how they were mistreated, they were faithful to Jesus' Great Commission; they made new disciples of Christ wherever they were driven.  So the very trials they faced spurred them to grow God's Kingdom because they had a real faith that sustained them.
            Not all trouble comes from people.  American Christians do not usually face the same persecution as the early New Testament Church.  however, we face sickness and hardships and grief and other troubles.  Do you have the kind of faith that will sustain you when the troubles of life come or is it as fragile as a Christmas ornament hanging on a tree?


Real Faith Isn’t Always Pretty
            Christmas decorations bring back some sweet memories.  I remember how my family decorated the Christmas tree when I was a child.  My poor parents had four children so their were lots of raggedy homemade Christmas ornaments on our tree.  The first year they might look decent, but as years went my our paper snowmen and macaroni creations became more and more ragged.  Yet, to throw them away would be sacrilegious!
            There are a lot of sweet sentiments we associate with Christmas time.  The secular world has embraced Christmas for some of its prettier values.  They especially like the idea of Christmas miracles, notions of peace for all mankind, and love.  However, the world's understandings of these concepts is often quite shallow.  Real faith is so much more than a sweet sentiment. 
            Consider what Christmas really commemorates.  Christmas celebrates God coming into our world to save us from our sin.  "Of course, preacher!  Everyone knows that!"  But dig a little deeper into the ramifications of that statement.  God (the Almighty who made the universe and everything that is) came into our world.  That alone is amazing.  But why did He come?  To save us.  That's great too!  But if the God of the universe had to come to save us, that means we needed saving from something very terrible.  Yes, terrible indeed.  It is sin that threatens to destroy us and our world and it lives inside our very soul. 
            So you see, this is incredibly serious stuff--so much deeper than the secular world wants to talk about.  the Good News Jesus brought includes convicting us of our sin and calling us to repent.  The world today loves the idea of the sweet baby Jesus in a manager, but most don't want to think of Jesus (or his followers) preaching about conviction of sin and repentance.  The world's ideal is to just let people be who they are and do what feels good; you know, follow your heart.  But real faith recognizes Jesus is Lord.  His way is the right way.  We need to repent of the sin of following our own heart; instead, we need to give our heart to Christ and follow Him.
            The secular world also likes the idea of peace that Christmas brings to might.  But the peace Jesus offers in not the kind of peace the world thinks of.  So often to the world, peace means just keeping everything the way it is and not upsetting anything or anyone; worldly peace avoids conflict at all costs.  That is not the same peace Jesus offers.  Jesus came to turn the whole world order on it's head.  He came to bring down the high and mighty and proud and powerful; and he came to lift up the humble, the poor, the forgotten, and the oppressed.  You see, there are many things that are not right in this world.  Jesus came to rock the boat, to tip the boat completely over, and to make everything that is wrong right.  Jesus' kind of peace is not too appealing to our broken world that wants to stay the same.  That's why they crucified him. 


Real Faith is Rooted in Christ
            Something many people asked themselves this time of year: are we going to have a real Christmas tree or a fake one. The fake trees are easier and last longer. You have to water a real tree and it might shed needles all over your floor, but a real tree looks so nice and smells so good.
            Of course, it's not really accurate to call any tree you cut down out of the forest and drag inside your a home a "real tree.  A “real” real tree is rooted in the earth and draws nourishment through its roots to stay alive.  Real faith is rooted firmly in a real relationship with Jesus Christ from which it draws nourishment to sustain it. John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
            Is your faith firmly rooted in Christ?  Do you worship him regularly in church? Do you talk to him everyday through prayer?  Do you listen to him by reading scripture? Do you walk with him through service? Do you commune with him often though the Lord's Supper? These are the ways to have a living relationship with Christ that will nourish real faith.


Real Faith Challenges You
            Sentimental Christmas images on our Christmas cards imagine us sitting by a cozy fire, beautifully decorated for Christmas with stockings hanging on the mantle.  We sit and sing carols and a doze on our comfortable couch.
            However, real faith starts as soon as we step outside our comfort zone.  It’s hard to grow your faith from inside your own safe bubble.  Jesus said, “Go make disciple of all nations..."  Go is more an attitude for believers than a geographical location. Some will go to Vietnam, the Philippines, Africa, or El Salvador. Others will simply go next door to their neighbor or coworker or relative.  Bit we all must go, even if it is uncomfortable or awkward or scary. Going is not optional, it's a command.  How does your faith challenge you to get outside your comfort zone?

So, Is Your Faith For Looks or For Real?
            My sanctuary is all decorated.  Your homes are or will be decorated soon.  Decorations are for looks.  They are fragile and that’s ok; they don’t have to be very durable.  They’re just for looks. 
            But what about your faith?  Is your faith in Jesus just for looks or is it for real?  Will it sustain you when the troubles of life come?  Will it hold fast when people oppose you or persecute you?  Is your faith in Christ alone—even if the whole world abandons his teachings?  Is your faith rooted deeply in a real, daily, intimate relationship with the living Savior, or are you only following a dead man you’ve heard about from a book or in church.  Does your faith challenge you to step outside your comfort zone to GO where Jesus sends you and do what he asks of you—even if it’s hard?  Does your faith give you strength to obey? 
            These are the thing I challenge you to contemplate as you prepare for Christmas over the next few weeks.