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Monday, October 30, 2017

What is a Saint?

Introduction
            One of the most popular holidays in America is Halloween.  And why shouldn't it be?  It's great!  You get to dress up in costumes and have all kids of fun; and there's free candy!  What's not to like?
            What most people don't know is that we wouldn't have Halloween without a lesser known Christian holiday called All-Saint Day on November 1st.  Halloween (AKA All Hallows Eve) is the night before All Hallows Day (AKA All Saints Day), the day we honor and remember all the Christian saints who have gone to Heaven to be with the Lord.
            In my church, we often recite The Apostles' Creed to remind everyone what we believe.  There are two statements in the cred that are confuse people.  First we say, "We believe in the Holy Catholic Church."  However, we are not saying we believe in the Roman Catholic Church.  The word "Catholic" means universal.  We believe in the holy universal church that is made up of every person who calls Jesus Lord and Savior--regardless of which denomination they belong to or which local church they attend.  The Holy Catholic Church is the universal church of Christ that has existed throughout all time and we believe in that Church.
            A second statement in the Creed that is little understood is this:  "We believe in the communion of saints."  Many people struggle to know what that means.  What is the communion of saints?  Even more basic, what is a saint?  And the answer to that inquiry is the theme of this blog.  So let us start our investigation by going to the Word of God where Revelation describes a scene of the saints gathered for worship in Heaven. I will make some of my own comments (in italics) about the passage as we read through it.

Revelation 7:9-17
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
    and from the Lamb!”
            Notice the parallel here between this scene in Heaven and the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday a week before his crucifixion.  In both stories, there are palm branches.  In both stories, people are praising Jesus.  On Palm Sunday, the people had high hopes for what Jesus, the Messiah would do for them.  They believed Jesus would drive out the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom according to their worldly wishes.  When Jesus did not fulfill their expectations because his plans were different, the people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus and crucified him.  But in this vision of Heaven in Revelation, the people know who Jesus really is and they submit to his plans as Lord rather than expecting him to conform to theirs.  They worship Jesus in spirit and in truth for who he really is.  He is the Lamb of God! 
            Notice also, that the saints are clothed in white robes.  They are innocent.  We will see as we continue to read that their innocence--their white robes--is not a result of their own holy character; it is possible because of what the Lamb has done.
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
    and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
    forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
             The Greek used for "great tribulation" could also be translated "great suffereing" or "great ordeal". This life is full of suffering--both in good times and in bad times. Of course we know there is suffering when we go through trials, when we face sickness or someone we love dies. But there is often suffering in good times as well, for prosperity often makes us lazy and apathetic and leads us away from God--and this is another kind of suffering, maybe even worse because it so sinisterly leads us astray from the source of true joy.
            We see here why the saints who have died and gone to Heaven are innocent and wear white robes.  It is possible because they have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, that was shed on the cross.

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
    and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
    will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
    they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
    will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
    And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
            The saints worship and glorify Jesus because all the suffering is over.  True goodness has come.  The saints have the reward graciously given to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ the Lamb of God. 
A Saint Isn’t What You Might Think
            There is some confusion about saints, probably because of the way the Roman Catholic Church has put some saints on a pedestal.  The Roman Catholic Church has a whole process for determining who is a saint.  They base their decision on a rigorous investigation of a person's life.  Roman Catholics are venerated as a saint only if they lived a particularly virtuous life and have at least miracles associated with them.  If Roman Catholic authorities determine a person to be a saint, then people can pray to them and ask them to intercede for them with God.  So in the Roman Catholic tradition, for instance, people can pray to St. Mary or St. Teresa.
            There are serious problems with this way of thinking and practicing the Christian faith.  First of all, it is not biblical, for the Word of God clearly teaches that no one is good; all innocence is brought by God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."  Therefore, it is preposterous to consider any person a saint (or even more saintly) based on the virtuous life they've lived.  No one can be called a saint because of their own actions.  As Isaiah 64:6 says, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags."
            More important, why would we want to pray to a saint when we can pray directly God?  We do not need anyone--on earth or even in heaven--to intercede for us.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord of Lord, the King of Kings, our friend, our redeemer, our brother, our Savior himself interceded for us to God.  Who could possibly be better than him?  Hebrews 10:21-22 – "And since we have a great High Priest [Jesus Christ] who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him."  Why would we choose an inferior person to intercede for us when we already have Jesus? 


What, Then, Is a Saint?             Saint is the word the New Testament writers most often used to describe Christians—the people who believe in and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  In the King James Version, the word "Christian" is only used 3 times by New Testament writes to describe the people who follow Jesus.  Instead, they used the word "saint" 62 times.  Today, we call Jesus followers Christians, but in the New Testament they called them saints.  So, quite simply, a saint is a Christian.
            The Greek word for saint means set apart, separate, and holy.  As I have described in previous blogs (look here), holy means different and set apart for a special purpose.  Saints are chosen to think different, act different, look different, sound different, and be different from the world.

Communion of Saints
            In Revelation 7:9-17, we see the saints are gathered around the throne of God worshipping the Lamb.  When we gather on earth to worship, we join with them.  We call this worshipful gathering of all the saints--living here on earth and living in eternity--the communion of saints.  It's part of what we claim to believe when we recite the Apostles' Creed. 
            Isn't it a wonderful thought to reflect that we are one with the saints in glory--including the heroes of our faith and our loved ones who trusted in Christ and are know with him in heaven--as we worship God!  If there was ever motivation for regular Sunday worship, it is the idea that we gather together with our friends and loved ones and all the saints in glory to worship God each Sunday in the Holy Catholic Church.  Do you miss your loved one?  Then come to worship and know that they are with you in spirit.  You may not be able to see them or touch them in a physical sense, but they are living and worshipping God just as we are!  And there is even more...
            In Hebrews, the Word of God tells us the saints are cheering us on as we live our life for Christ in this world.  Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."  The crowd of witnesses cheering us on are the saints in glory.
            This past week, I had the privilege of cheering on one of my church members, Kate Roberts, as she competed in a high school cross country race.  We stood along the side of the race route and cheered for Kate and the other runners as they ran.  I hope our cheering offered encouragement to the runners as they pushed their bodies to the limit.
            Long distance running is as much a mental struggle as physical.  As you run, your muscles begin to complain to your mind, "What are you doing to us?  Why are you doing this?  This is hard!  Just stop!  Give up!"  And your brain is saying, "No!  I'm gonna keep going!  Don't give up!  I can do this!"  And since it is a long distance run, you have quite a lot of time to have this internal conflict between your brain and your body.  And it has always encouraged me, when my body starts to wear me down with it's unending complaining, when I pass a group of spectators on the side of the race route who are cheering and shouting things like, "You're doing great!  Keep pushing!  You can do this!  Don't give up!  You're almost there!"  It gives me the encouragement I need to keep going.
            It's a beautiful image for the life of faith for it is a long distance run, not a sprint.  And there are a lot of tough hills to climb in this life and a lot of time to contemplate the internal conflicts within your spirit.  One voice says, "This is too hard!  Why are you doing it?  What's the point?  Why don't you just give up?"  And you just keep going, trusting that you can make it, that it's important, that there is a point to all of this struggling and hard work.  Isn't it good to know that as we run this race, the saint--both living on earth and those in glory--are cheering us on saying, "Don't give up! You're doing great!  Keep pushing!  You can do this!  You're almost there!"  And isn't it wonderful encouragement to know in that crowd are heroes from the Bible like Noah who had to build and ark, and Abraham who had a son in his old age, and Joseph who overcame slavery, and Moses who was floated on the Nile river as a baby, and even Christians who were tortured or killed because they believed in Christ?  And doesn't it inspire awe to know even your loved ones whom you have lost from this life are there cheering you on saying, "You can do this!  I made and you can too! Don't give up!  Keep pushing!"  That is the communion of the saints. 

The Take Home
            Let me give you a few take homes as I close.  Number one, you are a saint if you trust in Jesus.  You don't have to be perfect.  You don't have to be someone like Mother Teresa.  You don't get one of those white robes because you are particularly virtuous. You are saint because Jesus shed his blood for you.  If you trust Him with your whole heart and follow Him as Lord, he washes you white as snow and you become one of his saints.
            Number two, always remember:  we are one congregation with the saints in glory worshiping God together.  Don't miss out on the chance to gather with the saints on a regular basis for weekly worship.  Do you miss your loved ones who have passed away from this life to the next?  Do you admire the saints that have gone before you?  Then gather with them each week in the communion of the saints as we worship the one who redeems us from our sins and unites us in the hope of eternal life.
            Number three:  the saints are cheering you on throughout your life; be encouraged.  When you feel down or discourage, when the great struggles of life make you want to quite, imagine the saints cheering you--the Christian heroes from the Bible and history, and even your loved ones.  Hear their voices encouraging you and don't give up.  You can do it!
            Lastly, I want to give you the invitation.  If you have not already done so, join the ranks of Jesus' saints today.  You don't need a church committee to investigate your life and approve of you.  All you need is to bow your head and pray: "Lord, forgive me of my sins.  Wash me clean with the blood you shed on the cross.  I give you my life.  I will follow you all my days.  Amen."  Pray this from your heart and let the Holy Spirit help you live it and Jesus will give a white robe and call you saint.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Grace - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

John 1:16 – From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
            I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be labeled as “graceful.”  Clumsy?  Yes.  Forgetful?   Sure!  Graceful?  No.  I’m so awkward I can manage to fall up a flight of steps.
Never-the-less, one of my favorite words in the Christian vocabulary is Grace.  Grace is often used to describe the charming way people carry themselves (or the lack thereof as they trip and stumble through life).  However, grace has a more significant meaning for Christians as we walk with Christ.  Grace is the undeserved aid God lends to help us, save us, renew us, and set us apart as His holy servants.  Regardless of how elegant or clumsy we are, the spiritual virtue of grace within comes from the Holy Spirit.  Just as the Father, through Jesus Christ, forgave our sin and continues to forgive our clumsy blunderings through life, the Spirit enables us to offer the same grace to others.  God’s grace encourages and inspires us to never give up, because we know we are loved and that God is on our side. Grace motivates us to do our very best—not because we fear God’s wrath, but—because we love God and want to serve well to show it.  Even if we fail or fall, we believe God still loves us and appreciates the effort.  We believe in grace with our whole heart and believers offer grace to others because we have been given so much ourselves.  It’s amazing to see how grace motivates and inspires and gives birth to more and more grace—and grace is a beautiful thing.  We could all use a little more grace.  We should all offer a little more to others.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Sound Different

Introduction
            I will never forget the first time I said "I love you" to Kelly.  She was only 16 and I was 18.  We'd only been dating for a short time.  I walked her to her door after on of our date and said good night and then it just came out, "I love you."  I said ti as much out of habit as anything (that's the what we said when we told each other good night in my childhood family).  There was an awkward pause... and Kelly did not reciprocate.
            Back in the car on the drive home, I was kicking myself.  Why did I say that?  It wasn't appropriate because we hadn't been dating long enough and I didn't really mean it; it just slipped out.  When I got to my house, the phone rang and it was Kelly.  She said, "I think I should explain why I didn't say I love you back.  Those are very important words to me and I don't use them lightly.  I think you should really know that you love someone before you tell them "I love you.""
            Now that sounded different--so much more mature and honest than most 16-year-old girls I knew at the time.  And it impressed me that Kelly had a deeper understanding of love and was willing to stand up for what she believed in and to call me and explain.
            Well, we are supposed to sound different than the world.  You see, long ago, God chose you to be holy different--to think different, to act different, to look different, and to sound different.  How You Sound--what you say--is serious business.  Proverbs 18:21 says, "The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences."  Proverbs 15:4 says, "Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit."  And Proverbs 12:18 says, "Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing."  And listen to what Jesus said about the power of what holy people say. 

Mark 11:22-25
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

In the Passage, Jesus Implies 3 Ways Holy People Will Sound Different.
            First, holy people have faith to speak and move mountains. Holy people use their words to change lives and change the world. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. looked around and found a world full of racial discrimination and segregation. It seemed like an impossible mountain to move, but King knew it was not right and he was a Christian leader, a holy man. So King began to speak and what he said sounded different from everyone else. He urged non-violent protest. He spoke about how segregation and racial bigotry was hurtful not just black people, but also to white people and oppressors. King preached that we all need healing--even those who are mistreating others.
            Holy people don't just sound different when they speak out on momentous social justice issues.  Mountains are moved in small ways every day.  David Crawford is the music minister of our church.  Not only is he talented, but he also has a Christ-like attitude that blesses so many people in so many ways.  David started attending my church decades ago when Tom Dickson invited him to come.  Tom's invitation was just a small thing, but it has made a world of difference for everyone David blesses at my church is linked to Tom's invitation.
            Holy people pray.  Philippians 4:6 says, "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done."  When others get made, get sad, get worried, get discouraged, holy people pray.  Negative emotions produce more negative emotions.  Worry and stress produce more worry and stress.  Everyone gets to talking and dwelling on their worries and stress and all the negative emotions just get worse and more intense.  But holy people sound different.  Holy people pray and God gives them peace.  And peace gives birth to more peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers…”
            Holy People forgive.  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he looked down at the soldier gambling for his clothes and said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  Holy people sound different because they forgive.
            On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof gunned down 9 Christians in a church in Charleston, SC.  The relatives of the slain had a chance to speak directly to the gunman at his first court appearance. One by one, those who chose to speak did not turn to anger. Somehow—by the grace and power of God—they were able to speak life even in the presence of the man who brought death to their loved ones.  [i]Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “I forgive you,” she told him. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
            Forgiveness sounds different. It brings healing—first of all to you. Bitterness will poison you from the inside out. Holding a grudge will tear you apart and damage all your other relationships.   Forgiveness helps you heal and move on to the brighter future God want to give you.


Are You Ready to Sound Different?
            Thankfully, most of us will never experience the tragedy of our loved ones being gunned down in a church prayer meeting.  But there are still some practical things that everyone can do to sound different than the world.  First of all, get in the Word f God.  Your conversations are not scripted.  They are spontaneous.  It's not practically to measure every word you're going to say and how you say it.  Most of what you say just comes from your heart.  Jesus said, "What you say flows from what is in your heart." (Luke 6:45).  So fill your heart with God's Word.  Dig into the Bible so that you are more and more like Christ in your heart.  Then everything you say will flow from your Christ-like heart and you will sound different and holy.
            Second, refuse to use abusive or vulgar language.  Don't try to tear people down in order to make yourself feel better or right.  There is already too much of that going on in our world.  Holy people should sound different.  Refrain from cutting remarks or trolling on Facebook.  Refuse to gossip or talk about people behind their backs.  Instead of texting or emailing, call or visit and talk to people directly. 
            Third, encourage people with love and grace.  Be kind.  Be positive.  The world has enough negativity and darkness.  Sound different.  Speak light, not darkness.  Speak life, not death.
            Fourth, use your words to invite people to church.  People need to be in the church.  We need Jesus and we need each other.  The Church is the place Jesus chose for his holy people to gather.  Let us gather as many here as we can. 
            Some will say, "But I've already asked everyone I know."  Jesus told a parable about that--the parable of the great banquet.  A master sent his servants to invite people to a great banquet.  One by one, all the guests made excuses why they couldn't come.  So the master sent his servants out saying, "Go out into the highways and byways and compel everyone you can so that my banquet may be full.”  It may be that the people you are asking just don't feel they need to be in church.  But there are many others out there who realize they're in desperate need.  So go.  Invite them!  They may be different from you, but different is OK.  Jesus loves different.  In fact, God chose us all to be different and holy.  So build some relationships with different people.  Invite them to lunch.  Get to know them.  And invite them to church.
            Are you Ready to Sound Different?  Good!  Because God wants you to be holy different--to think different, to act different, to look different, to sound different, to be different.  You are His holy people, a royal priesthood set apart for His special purposes to go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ to build His Kingdom.  Amen.


[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/06/17/forgiving-dylann-roof-is-taking-a-heavy-toll-on-those-left-behind-but-theyre-not-giving-up/?utm_term=.411ff81dd2f0

Monday, October 16, 2017

Look Different

Introduction
Long ago, God chose you to be Holy and Different.  Christians are meant to Think Different, Act Different, and today I want to share that we should Look Different.  Of all the sermons in this series, I was concerned about this one the most.  Why did God want me to talk about how Christians should look?  I was concerned so I spent a lot of time praying and meditating on this subject.  And I thought about the different ways different Christians have looked and dressed over the years.  And to make things easy, I’ve compiled a few slides showing how Christians can look different. Maybe you would like to choose one of these looks?



You could choose the monastic look of the monk or the nun.






You could choose the 16-17 century clerical stylings of Jonathan Edwards or John Wesley.





Or maybe you would like the more contemporary look of the Christian t-shirt or contemporary music star Colton Dixon's frohawk.








Or you could opt for a more glamorous televangelist hairdo.







Or if that's not hardcore enough, you could go with the crazy street preacher look.






Or if you're really into hats in church...
 
 
 



With "No Shave November" fast approaching, there's even a handy guide for Christian beard styles:
Maybe, if we really want to know how Christians look different, we should just go to the Word of God for advice.
 
Matthew 5:14-16
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Jesus’ Fashion Advice
            Jesus didn’t give much fashion advice.  he did talk about the Pharisees fashion statements once.  The Pharisees liked to dress in elaborate robes ordained with boxes called phylacteries that held tiny scrolls of scripture.  They liked to be noticed and to look "holy," but Jesus warned they were like white washed tombs, beautiful on the outside but, on the inside, full of dead men's bones.
            In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus said you shouldn't worry about what you will wear; He said the lilies of the field are better clothed than anything King Solomon ever wore (and Solomon was the richest man who ever lived).
           In Matthew 5:14, Jesus gives a few images of how we are to “look.” It has more to do with our character, but it can affect the way we look too.  The images he uses are:  light, a city, and a shining lamp. 

Christians Shine
            Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit and have an inner light that shines.  There something special about them that transcends clothes, age, or even the world’s standards of beauty.  Our inner lights leads us and even gives light to others, but in order for the light to shine, you have to open yourself up to the Holy Spirit.  You have to listen for what the Spirit is trying to say and then obey--even if it's uncomfortable or challenging.  When you cooperate with the Spirit, you become more like Christ.
            You will find you also give light to others.  Christians are called to be a witness.  When someone joins as a member of my church, they promise to support the church with their prayers, the presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.  Obviously, being a witness means telling people what Jesus has done for you.  But even if you don't say anything, people see the way you live.  If you are a Christian, someone is watching to see what you will do whether you know it or not.  And if you let the Holy Spirit lead you, it will lead others as well.
            There's something else about that shining inner light.  Jesus said it can't be hidden.  He said we shouldn't try to hide it anymore than we should try to high the light of a lamp.  I'm so thankful I live in America--a land where we have the freedom to live as a Christian without concerns about our safety.  That was not the case for the earliest followers of Christ and it is not the case for many Christians who live in places like North Korea, China, and Africa today.  Many Christians have to worship in secret and try to keep their faith hidden.  Can you imagine the burden of that?  How do you keep your faith in Christ secret when it causes you to shine like a lamp or a city on a hill?  I'm so glad Christians in America don't have to hide our light.  And I think we ought to try and shine as brightly as we can in honor and memory of those who didn't have this privilege.  How dare we disrespect those who suffer for Christ by taking our shining privileges for granted?
 
Christians Gather Together
            I have discovered I am truly country person at heart.  I always thought I was and never would have called myself a big city kind of person.  However, before I moved to Cohutta, Georgia, I always lived in a city or a town.  Every place I've lived my whole life was populated enough that you could walk to a store within 5 or 10 minutes.  Now we live in the country and it takes a minimum of 15-20 minutes to drive to the nearest store.  It would take an hour to walk.  I guess that's the definition of country to me and I like it.  I like the way it's quite and peaceful out in the country; there's fewer people.
            But Jesus said Christians are like a city on a hill.  A city is a large human settlement.  By definition, cities are a gathering together of lots and lots of people.  And that tells you something about how Christians look.  Christians gather together in groups.  You can't have a city with just one person and there are no solitary Christians.  Christians must come together. 
            Think of the two most important ceremonies in the Christian Church.  The two sacraments that Jesus commanded his followers to practice are Baptism and Holy Communion and you can't do either of them by yourself.  You must gather together with other believers to experience them.  Christians look different because we are always gathering together with other Christians to worship, to study, to serve, to grow, to hold on another accountable, and to just share life. 

Christians Have Scars
            I have this old truck I've been tinkering with--a 1978 Ford F350.  I love the truck I call "Dry Bones."  It used to be a dump truck.  They say farm truck live a hard life, but the life of a dump truck is just brutal!  You can see the scars from that tough life in the rust that covers her.  But it's the rusty old worn out look that I like most about Dry Bones.  It reminds me so much of the Christian life.
            You see, Jesus comes to us when we are broken and beat down by the consequences of our sin.  He loves us, despite our ugliness, and he redeems us and gives us a new life.  That's what I think about when I see my Dry Bones truck.  It was just a worn our dump truck discarded and forgotten, but I'm bringing it back to life and making it cool.  People stop me all the time and tell me, "Man, I really love that truck."  And they love it, not because it's shiny and new.  They love it because of the old rusted, worn out look.
            Dry Bones is a good picture for how Christians look different.  Christians have scars.  Even Jesus had scars.  In fact, the risen Christ often showed his people his scars to prove it was really him.  "Look," he would say, "Here are the scars where the nails pierced my hands.  Here is where the spear pierced my side."  Jesus scars are not an ugly thing anymore.  Now, they are a badge of honor that shows what he did for us--how much he loves us.
            Christians have scares too--scars left by sins others did to us and sins we inflicted on ourselves.  But a scar is not a live wound.  It is a wound that has been healed.  And if Jesus is healing you (that who Christians are--those who Christ has healed and/or is healing), you will have the scars to prove it.  And your scars aren't an ugly thing; they are a badge of honor that glorifies God and shows what Christ has done for you.  Don't be afraid to show your scars--to say, "Here.  Here is where Christ healed me form my sin."  Our scars tell our story.
            But some might say, " I don’t have any scars.  I’ve always been in the church"  Well, your scars might be smaller, but they're still there.  One of the godliest people I know is Sara Brooker.  She is known thoughout our church and even the community as a true saint.  Sara's been in church pretty much her whole life and will tell you she can't really remember a time when she wasn't a Christian.  But she will also be the first to tell you, she has struggled with sin and wishes she were more Christ-like.  And I'm always thinking, I can't think of a more Christ-like person on earth, but she sees she falls short.  If Sara has scars, then we all do.  Don't be afraid to show your scars so others can see how Jesus has healed you. 

 "Yeah, But How Do Christians Dress"
            If you were reading this blog to find out how Christians should dress, I will leave you with to scriptures to help you out. 
Luke 12:35Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast.
1 Peter 5:5And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
            So, be dressed for service and dress yourself in humility.  There.  That's your Christians fashion advice. 

Conclusion
            Remember, God chose you long ago to be different, to be holy.  God chose you to think different, act different, and look different.  You should like a city on a hill shining for all the world to see so that the world may glorify God who chose you and made you holy different.  Are you ready to look different?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Act Different

Introduction
            Long ago, God chose you to be Holy and different--to think different and to act different.  Thoughts and actions go hand in hand.  The way you think about things changes the way you act.  But sometimes, the way you act can change the way you think.  Today I want to share how God's Holy people are supposed to act different than the rest of the world.  Listen to what the Word of God says. 

Ephesians 4:17-32
17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Characteristics of Ungodly People
            The Ephesians passage list some characteristics of ungodly people.  It uses the word "Gentiles", but in the context Gentile just means anyone who doesn't follow Jesus Christ.  Gentiles are the ungodly and the passage begins saying they have a dark mind.
            The recent violence and terrible tragedy in Las Vegas has been on everyone's mind.  We don't understand why someone would shoot all those people.  They are still investigating to find a motive.  The shooter doesn't seem to fit any of the usual profiles.  So far as authorities can tell, he wasn't an Islamic terrorist, a white supremacist, a radicalized black lives matter protester, or anything else.  All we know is his actions prove he had a dark mind.  And we say, "How can anyone doing something like that?  I would never do something like that!"  But we must recognize, the same darkness that was in that man is in every human heart.  We are sinful, fallen creatures.  We may never pick up a gin and shoot someone, but we do other things that hurt people that don't make any sense because we are broken inside.  Christians are those who admit we are broken beyond repair and desperately need Jesus to heal us and save us. 
            The ungodly have a dark mind and hard hearts and they have closed their minds against God.  They refuse to let Him be Lord and continue to seek their own selfish designs.  Ephesians says they have no sense of shame, live for pleasure, and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
            The point Paul is making is not to say how bad the ungodly are and compared to Christians. Paul is saying this is how you once were, but now Christians aren’t to be like that anymore. We are to be different.


Christians Act Different             Ephesians tells how Christians are to act different.  Christians are to stop telling lies.  We have to be honest with each other, even when the truth is awkward or difficult or goes against generally accepted beliefs.
            And the passage says "Don’t let anger control you.  Notice, it doesn’t say don’t get angry, but don’t let your anger control you.  Anger is a natural emotion--especially in the face of evil and injustice like we saw in Las Vegas.  Anger can motivate you to act when you need to act, but don't let anger control you.  Do loose you temper and let anger make you do or say something you shouldn't.
            And the passage says to quit stealing.  Work hard and give.  Notice, it's not enough just to stop stealing.  Christians act different by going even further and being generous, which is actually the opposite of stealing.
            Christians should be different because we don’t use foul or abusive language.  Now, if you've grown up in church or among polite people, you might shake your head in agreement.  Don't cuss.  But Christian differentness is so much more than refraining from profanity. 
             Saturday morning, I stopped by Ace Hardware to pickup something I needed for my "Dry Bones" truck (which I was entering in a car show at Grove Level Baptist Church).  I don't have time to tell you all about Dry Bones, but here's a couple pictures.  (Maybe I can share the story of Dry Bones at another time.)
            Anyway, as I checked out, the cashier asked if that was my truck outside.  "Yes ma'am," I said. 
            "Do you mind of I come out and take a look at it?"
            "Sure." I said and we went out and she looked it over.  She immediately exclaimed, "Man!  That's cool as heck!"  Only, she didn't say heck.  So we were walking around it and got to the back tailgate where there is this big wooden cross and she repeated, "Man! That is cool as heck!"  (Only she didn't say heck."  And then she looked over at me and saw I was wearing a Christian t-shirt, my Pleasant Grove church hat, and a cross necklace.  And she said, "And your a Christian."
            "Yes ma'am."
            "And you go to church."
            "Yes ma'am."            "And I just cussed in front of you."
            And I said, "Yes ma'am, but don't you worry about it.  I'm not offended and God loves you."
            I don't think God is too terribly upset with that lady for her choice of words.  It's a small thing.  On the other hand, I had a Christian who was a member of a church I used to pastor years ago make some abusive remarks on a Facebook post Saturday afternoon.  The ironic thing is she considers herself a ultra-devote Christian which is why she blasted the UMC and people who attend it because she thinks we aren't "holy" enough.  And I think God was much more disappointed in her comments than He was with the fact that the lady in Ace used a 4-letter word to express her admiration of my truck.
            Act different.  Speak life and hope as verse 29 says:  “…Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”  Verse 31 hints at what real foul language is.  It says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”
            We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard. We have acted like ungodly people at one time or another. However, the Word of God teaches us to let the Holy Spirit of God invade our hearts and change us so we act different.
            Verse says, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  Christians act different. We are kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.  Some will say, "Yeah, but I know some non-Christians who are kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving."  The difference is why Christians act these way.  We are different because Jesus Christ acted that way toward us first.  Christians act different because of what Christ did for us when we didn't deserve it.


Christians Act Different Because We Never Give Up
            Good people will eventually run out of goodness within them.  Christians never will because our source of goodness is not us--it is beyond us; it is in our eternal Lord, Jesus.  In Christ, there is always hope. 
            The symbol for Christianity is the cross.  The cross is not a decoration or piece of jewelry.  The cross is an instrument of torture and death.  Our Founder was crucified on it.  And everyone--including Jesus' closest followers--thought it was over and done and all hope was lost.  They saw him die; they saw him put in the tomb.  But then on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave.  There is always hope!  And everytime we look at a cross, we are reminded--the is always hope!  Never give up!
           The Holy Spirit works within Christians to change us and make us act different.  You don’t have to change all at once.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the great degree you feel you need to change your actions to live up to Jesus' example.  Remember, following Jesus is a journey.  You make it one step at a time.  Don’t get overwhelmed and give up, just let the Holy Spirit change you little by little, day by day, and soon you will start to look back and see just how far you’ve come.  Trust Jesus to take you from the person you are now to the person God wants you to be.

Are You Ready to Act Different?
            Spend time talking to Jesus.  Is Jesus your Lord? Your all in all?  Is He the most important priority in your life?  When Jesus is your all in all, you think different and act different.  When Jesus is your all in all, there is a fire down deep in your bones that drives you to love God and love your neighbor.  You might get tired sometimes, but then the Lord fills you with new energy, and renewed drive, and bold courage, and relentless ambition, and Holy Ghost power, and Spiritual energy, and YOU GET OUT THERE AND CHANGE THE WORLD!  Pray to the Lord today and tell Him you want to follow Jesus from this day forward and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you and lead you.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Serving - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

            I don’t really like shopping for clothes.  I know there are some people who do.  There are those who have a really good time browsing through store after store, trying on clothes, picking out the ones they like, and spending their money.  Those people are crazy!  
            Shopping is not for me.  It’s just draining.  I can work hard all day outside in the hot sun doing something I enjoy and not get tired, but I’m exhausted in less than an hour if my wife makes me go shopping.  
            Something similar happens when people serve in the church.  You serve with more passion and dedication when you serve in ways you enjoy, but serving becomes a chore when you serve in ways God hasn’t gifted you or when you have a bad attitude.
            God gives every Christian special abilities so we can serve others.  A person is truly blessed when they discover their gifts and learn how to use them to serve.  There is no greater joy than serving others in ways God designed you to serve.  It is a double blessing because you are blessed and so are the people you serve.
            However, there is another vital factor at work—your attitude.  A bad attitude can spoil the blessing of any act of service—even something you normally enjoy.  I sometimes see this when people serve out of a sense of obligation rather than love.  People often feel guilty because they think they ought to serve in some way, but they don’t really want to or aren’t able.  They may serve anyway, but they do it grudgingly.  Other times people refuse to serve and resent having been asked to do something they couldn’t or wouldn’t do.  Either way, there is a bad attitude afloat and it stinks worse than dirty sock left in the backseat of a hot car.
            This is not the way God wants it to be.  God sent His one and only Son to redeem us from guilt and shame.  The last thing God wants to do is guilt us into serving.  God asks us to serve so we can be part of the rich blessings He plans to give—both to those who serve and those who are served.  And God wants us to serve—not because we feel we have to, but—because our heart is overflowing with love and gratitude for Christ.  God gives us the freedom to decide how we serve so we can serve out of love and with a cheerful heart. 
            The Word of God tells us to have a cheerful heart.  One verse in particular comes to mind.  Although the context of this verse is financial giving, the same principle applies to our gifts of service.    2 Corinthians 9:7 – “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”” 
    I encourage you to give your time, your talents, your treasures, (everything really) with a cheerful heart.  Don't miss the joy, the blessing, the wonder of cheerful service for it is a sweet, sweet aroma to the Lord.  It is the way the Church was meant to be.  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!