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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Summer Fishing Tips

Matthew 4:19 - Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

Summer is a great time to go fishing (for people).  The sun is out.  The surf is up.  You're heading to the beach.  Nobody knows you there, so if you mess up and make a fool of yourself, who cares!  So get out there and cast your nets and see what you bring in!  Here are some fishing tips to try this summer as you fish for people.

Summer Fishing Tip #1 (for fishers of men):
While buying groceries or souvenirs on summer vacation, ask the cashier: "Where's a good place to go to church around here?" You might learn a good place to worship the Lord while you're away from home. Or it might lead to a conversation about the Lord with the cashier.  Maybe, you just plant a seed.  Maybe, you make a friend and invite them to come to church with you. Good follow up questions could be:  "Oh cool.  Do you go there?" Or "Are you active in a church nearby?"  This is an easy, friendly way to introduce the subject of Christ.  You could share how much it means to you to spend time with Him each week in worship.  Who knows how God may use it.  You could even say, "Would you go go with me (or my family)? It would make me feel more comfortable since I don't know anyone there."  Remember, fishing is a art, not a science.  So just go with the flow.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Graduation Sermon

Introduction
            It’s amazing how fast the years go by.  One minute you're a kid excited to be starting preschool or kindergarten and it seems like it will be an eternity before you graduate high school.  But the years go by so fast and before you know it you've gone through elementary school, middle school, and high school and your graduating.  Then maybe you've finished college and gotten your first job or you're getting married or having kids and then your own kids are graduating high school!  The older I get, the faster it seems the years go by!
            This is the time of year high school students graduate and begin a new phase of life as young adults.  They are excited and maybe a little apprehensive about what lies ahead.  Parents are proud, but also full of bitter sweet emotions--seeing their babies grow up, happy and excited for them, but also maybe a little worried and sad to let them spread their wings and leave the nest.
            Today, I want to share something for parents and graduates to comfort and encourage you in this transition.  However, it's not just for graduates and parents.  It's for everyone who if we has ears
to hear.

Psalm 16:7-11
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.  8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.  11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Praise God!
            Can we just take a moment and, as the Psalm suggests in verse 7a, just praise the Lord for all He has done?  Parents, you've survived changing dirty diapers and crying babies, the terrible twos (when your precious angel baby turned into a diabolical demon child)!  Somehow, you managed to keep food on the table and the bills paid when there never seemed to be enough money to make ends meet!  You taught them to drive and they didn't crash a die in burning ball of flames!  You survived boyfriends and girlfriends and arguments over prom dresses and makeup.  And, through it all, you had the joy and pleasure of holding this precious life in your hands and nurturing them and learning from them and being challenged by them because they are so much like you and yet so distinct from you!
            Graduates, you managed to grow from a baby who had to learn to use the toilet to learning the ABC and how to write and math and algebra and geometry and maybe calculus!  And you survived history and English literature and writing essays and countless pop quizzes and finals and SATs.  And you managed to deal with parents who love you so much but just don’t really fully understand your life and the new times we live in!
            Can we all just pause for a moment, just to praise God for being with all of us every step of the way!  Just close your eyes (or keep them open and look up to the heavens) and shout "Thank You God!  You have been so good to me!"

You Know What to Do
            And if you’ve been walking with the Lord, if you’ve let Him be with you through it all, He's now incorporated into your heart—into everything you are, the way you think, the way you act.  You don’t even have to think about it, any more than you have to think about breathing or making your heart beat.  Have you ever noticed that when you go to sleep, you don't have to remember to breathe?  It's just keeps happening.  And you heart keeps right on beating.  And the Psalmist says, “Even at night while I sleep, my heart instructs me.”  If you've let Jesus into your heart, his Holy Spirit instructs you every step of the way, and you don't even have to think about it.
            Graduates, as you go off to your next adventure, you take with you all you have learned from school, from your parents and teachers and friends and your church.  It’s part of who you are now.  You need not worry about the unknown that may await you.  You’ve prepared.  Our thoughts and prayers go with you, but not only that.  A part of all that has loved you and nurtured you and cared for you goes with you. It is now part of who you are.
            Parents and family, friends and loved ones, church, you have invested in your young ones so faithfully.  Your wisdom and experience goes with them, as does the Lord.  So take heart and have faith.  Do not worry or be anxious (it wouldn’t do any good anyway).  But in everything give thanks and praise to God for what He has done and give your cares and concerns to the Lord in prayer.
            We can all go forth with confidence, thanking the Lord for all we have shared with one another, trusting that each graduate has the wisdom and character to make the right choices in the days to come. 

Verse 8-9 – Keep your eyes on the Lord. 
            Keep your eyes on the Lord.  Remember what you have learned.  Remember the Lord and His ways and what He has done for you.  For you!  And so walk with Him.  You will grow and mature.  Your faith may change as you gain more knowledge and wisdom, but faith need not be shaken.  Only let your childish ideas grow up and change if needs be, but never lose your childlike faith and trust in Jesus.

Verse 10 – For God will never abandon you. 
            God will never leave you or forsake you.  Never.  “For God loved you so much, He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save it.”  And Jesus went so far to save you as to lay down his life for you on the cross.  And so, Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.  He goes with you!
            This is a promise that gives hope and assurances to graduates and parents and to all who truly trust in the Lord!  For nothing—not even death—can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.  So take courage and rejoice!  All of you!  For if God is for us, who can ever be against us?

Verse 11 – “You make known to me the path of life…”
            We had five high school students from my church graduate this year.  I’ve known each of them for many years.  I met Rachel Ward when she was only 10-years-old (one year younger than my youngest daughter is now).  She has worked in the church nursery for several years, loving kids and serving the Church.  I'm so proud of the caring and thoughtful young woman she's become. 
            JC McDonald was also about ten when I first met her.  I will always remember how she invited me to come to her elementary school to for a special program to show pastors what they were learning.  She is also a fine young lady. 
            Twins, Meredith and Ward Barber, started coming to my church when they were in middle school.  They wanted to join the church along with their mother and older sister.  So we had a crash course in what it means to be a Christian and they made their professions of faith and joined and then came back a few months later to go through our formal confirmation classes.  I was a chaplain for Ward's middle school football team.  I was at many of the Beta Club and Honor Society meetings with Meredith because two of my children were also in those programs.  I'm so proud she is now graduating as valedictorian of her high school. 
            I had the privilege to help sponsor Will Maddox to attend a Chrysalis weekend spiritual retreat.  Two years ago, Will's family lost their home to a fire in the middle of the night.  Will's sister had to leap to safety from the second story window.  She survived, but with a broken pelvis.  And Will was such a caring big brother to her while she was in the hospital and as she recovered through physical therapy. 
            I have been a small part of each graduates' life, and part of their family, to some degree for many years.  Everything I’ve taught in my sermons and in our conversations and what our church has offered them was founded on God’s Word, the Bible, and intended to steer them safely down the path of life.  (Not just this life, but True Life, Eternal Life.) 
            These graduates' parents, who brought them to church each Sunday, wanted the same for them as I have--that they would know the love of God and trust Jesus and have eternal life.   I hope they have listened to us and taken to heart what we’ve offered.  If so, it is part of who they are and will steer them down the path of life, if they obey.
            The Word of God, the Bible, is readily available to each graduate and to us all.  Most people have many copies of the Bible (if you need a Bible contact me and I will give you one).  The Bible it is readily available on the internet at biblegateway.com, on your smart phones, you can even listen to the Bible on an app while you are driving in your car
            And these words of Scripture are the Living Word of God—the Word of Life.  They are a conversation with your Creator.  They can continue to steer you down the path of life if you will listen to them.  But will you?
            I started reading my Bible every day when I was a senior in high school.  Each night, before I went to bed, I would read one chapter.  However, when I went to college, I faced a dilemma.  My first year in the college, I lived in a dorm with a room mate.  And my first night there, I found my self laying in the bed thinking, "Am I gonna pick up my Bible and start reading?  My roommate's gonna think I'm some sort of Bible-thumping, religious fanatic."  And then I saw my roommate reach over and grab his Bible and start reading!  So my dilemma was solved and I continue my habit of reading a chapter of scripture from the Bible every night until I read through the entire thing.

Challenge
            Graduating from school is a momentous transition.  It is a great time for graduates to start a new and healthy spiritual habit.  It's also a great time for their parents to do the same.  Actually, anytime is a great time to start a new and helpful spiritual practice.  So I would like to issue a challenge--to parents, to graduates, to everyone--why not start reading a chapter from your Bible each night.  And cut yourself some slack.  You're probably not going to understand everything you read and that's OK.  Reading the Bible is not about getting and understanding more information.  It's about spending time with your Creator--the one who designed you and breathed life into you and Who loves you and desires more than anything to spend time with you and be loved by you.  When you pick up your Bible and read, you are in the presence of God and His words pour into your heart and become part of who you are without you even knowing it.  Then, no matter where you go or what you do, as the Psalmist says, God will counsel you in your heart, make known the path of life, and fill you with the joy of His presence and the eternal pleasures of His right hand.
             Will you take the challenge to read one chapter of your Bible each night before you go to bed?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Eight Years

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord.
“They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
 
This summer, Lord willing, I will reach an interesting milestone.
Eight Years.
Eight years I will have served as the pastor of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.
Eight years I have lived in the home in Cohutta we affectionately call "Mullis Farm".
Eight years is also the longest I have ever lived in one place in my whole life.
As a child, I was born in Prince Fredrick, Maryland.
I lived five years in a little white house in North Beach, Maryland
a few blocks from the Chesapeake Bay.
We moved to Silver Springs, Maryland where I lived in the shadow of Washington D.C.
for a year and a half.
Then we made the exodus south from Maryland to Georgia
and lived in a home in Macon for three and a half years.
Then we moved to another school district in Macon
where we lived on Vinson Avenue for
Eight Years
until I graduated high school and moved to Marietta, Georgia to attend college.
A dorm room for one year.
A small apartment with college roommates for one year.
Married the woman I love in 1994 when I was twenty-years-old. 
Moved to another small apartment for a four year stint.
Graduated college and moved to another small apartment in Lithia Springs, Georgia.
Our first child was born.  A chubby little boy with OCD who liked to sort things.
I answered the call to ministry as an itinerant United Methodist pastor in 1999.
 
i·tin·er·ant
(adjective)
definition:  traveling from place to place
 

Our family called yet another apartment in Lithia Springs home for two more years
while I was a youth minister and associate pastor.
We had another child.  A curly headed brunette girl.
We moved to Griffin, Georgia and lived in an old church parsonage for two years.
Then we moved to another church and parsonage in Forsyth, Georgia
where we lived for five years.
We had our third child, a blonde-headed girl with a sunny personality.
Then, in the summer of 2010, I was appointed the pastor of
We moved from middle Georgia to northwest Georgia.
With a housing allowance provided by the church,
we purchased a house out in the country in a place called Cohutta.
It was the first house I ever owned. 
It was the first time I could paint the walls whatever color my wife wanted or
build a chicken coop in the backyard
or raise a hog or turkey for food
or own a herd of dairy goats
or hand-build a log cabin in the woods behind the house
or have as many dogs and cats as a I wanted
without the permission of a landlord or the church trustees.
On June 24 this year, Lord willing, it will have been
Eight Years
since I moved to this beautiful community.
I will then enter into unknown territory for me.
I've never done this before,
never lived in a place beyond eight years,
but I have thoroughly enjoyed the last
Seven Years, Three Hundred and Twenty Six Days
I have lived here so far.
I have met wonderful people, gotten to know them, built some deep relationships,
felt welcomed and loved, faced challenges and adversity, overcome,
raised a family, grown as a person,
loved a congregation and my community
for longer than most United Methodist pastors have the privilege
(5 years is the average in my denomination)
and I have been part of God's amazing kingdom work here so far.
I am ready!
and I am excited!
to see what it's like to live and serve God in a community beyond
Eight Years.
This is going to be another exciting adventure as I walk with my Lord.
I would love for you to be part of the adventure!
 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Go Serve

Introduction
            Jesus told his disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)  In other words, I will make you into the kind of people who attract more and more people to be part of God's Kingdom.  Jesus spent three years giving the disciples on the job training, and then in in Matthew 28:19-20, he commanded all his followers:  “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”  This is an essential element of the Christian faith; not optional. We might think following Jesus is about being better people, getting more discipline, finding hope, salvation, or peace.  All these are benefits of following Christ, but Jesus said he wants to make us fishers of men.  He didn't say he wanted to make us better people.  He said, "I will make you fishers of men."
            It scares some people to think about telling others about Jesus.  Perhaps you get the image of a Jehovah's Witness going door to door trying to force their religion on people.  But that's not what it's about at all.  Fishing for people is not as hard or scary as you think.  It is simply saying what Jesus means to you. 
            This week, I used Uber for the very first time.  It was an easy way to get to and from the airport in San Antonio.  The Uber driver was friendly and we talked for the twenty minute ride to the hotel.  He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was a pastor.  That got us on the subject of religion and he showed me a picture of Jesus he kept on the instrument cluster of his dash. He said, "I love Jesus.  One time I had someone accuse me of worshipping an idol because I have the picture and they thought it was Buddha, but it's Jesus!"  He went on to say he didn't believe in idols.  He said, "I don't believe a statue--something people make with their own hands--can do anything for you.  They have no power."
            I agreed and then I shared how we are made in the image of God.  We talked about how humans are uniquely different from all creation--even animals--because we have the ability to think and reason and the free will to choose our actions.  We are the image of God; the only ones authorized by God to represent Him and Jesus helps restore that image that is broken by sin.
            Now, I didn't get in that Uber driver's car with a prepared "Jesus-pitch."  I was just looking for a ride, but God gave me the opportunity and I took it.  He brought a middle eastern Uber driver in Texas and an American Pastor from Georgia together for a twenty minute conversation and steered us onto the subject of faith.  So I went with it.  How about you?  When and how could you talk about Jesus?  How could you cast your fishing nets out and fish for people?
            The process for making disciples at my church follows is the same pattern Jesus used in the
Bible.  1) It all start with relationships.  I didn't have a deep relationship the Uber driver, but I built on the small relationship we had and went with it.  Sometimes, the deeper your relationship, the greater your opportunity to invite someone to Jesus.  2) Next, people come in through a gate to see Jesus (an opportunity to come to church and be with Jesus).  3) Then we go deeper; we move from a conversation or an interest to a commitment.  4) We go out and serve.  And it doesn't end there.  The cycle continue as we build more relationships, invite more to come in, go deeper, and go out and serve.  And it goes on and on.
            Here’s an example on how Jesus invited Levi (A.K.A. Matthew, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew) to be his disciple:

Luke 5:27-32
27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent."

Nobody Likes Tax Collectors
            Nobody likes tax collectors.  That's true today (I hope you all got your taxes filed last month!).  Tax collectors were even more despised in Jesus' day and here's why.  The Israelites were conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire.  The Jews, as God chosen people, didn't like being ruled by a foreign, heathen nation.  And they especially didn't like having to pay taxes to them.  What made it worse was the Romans recruited Jews to collect the taxes from their own neighbors and the Romans might say to the Jewish tax collector, "You have to collect $10,000 from this neighborhood for us." (I'm just making up the numbers here as an example.  These figures have no historical value.)  They say, "Now, you have to pay us $10,000 for this neighborhood, but you can collect as much as you want.  You pay us $10,000 and you keep the rest."  So the unscrupulous Jewish tax collectors would often collect 2 or 3 times as much taxes as they were supposed to and pocket the rest as a huge profit.  They were getting rich at the expense of their own countrymen and they used the Roman soldiers to enforce their extortion.
            Levi (A.K.A. Matthew) was one of those hated tax collectors.  And Jesus invited him to be a disciple.  And Matthew left it all and follow Jesus, to be a "fisher of men."  Matthew wasted no time to start fishing.  He started right away.  He held a banquet for Jesus and invited all his friends to dinner.  You see, fishing for people doesn't have to be complicated.  It can just be a dinner or a hiking trip or a conversation during an Uber ride.
            Matthew's dinner relays an important principle about fishing for people.  Sometimes new converts, new followers, new church members are poised as much or more than anyone else to introduce their friends to Jesus.  Don't wait until you feel you've "matured enough" or got some training.  Just do it!  Do it now!  Do it from the very beginning.  If a tax collector can do it, so can you. 
            You have a unique ability to fish that no one else has.  Think about it.  I'm a preacher and have been one for eighteen years.  Almost everyone I know is already Christian (and probably a member of my church) or a preacher somewhere else.  I've already overfished my waters, but you have a rich fishing whole to tap into.  So go fish!

Go Serve
            And that brings me to our key idea today:  We grow when we go!  Let’s face it, we usually start out with Jesus for less than noble reasons.  Maybe we started coming because someone dragged us to Jesus (like our parents or spouse).  Or maybe we came because we were desperate and we thought maybe Jesus could help. 
            I knew a man once who was quite honest about it.  He said he started coming to church because his father was very sick and he promised God he would start going to church every Sunday if God made his father better.  His father got better, so the man started faithfully attending church.  Now, his faith grew much deeper as a result, but it started out as a bargain he made with God. 
            I became a Christian at the age of eight for the very self-serving reason that I wanted to go to heaven and avoid hell.  My children's pastor explained it very clearly to my 8-year-old ears: We have sinned and the consequences of sin is death, but Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins.  If we trust Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we go to heaven.  If we reject him, we go to hell.  Well, that was an easy choice for me.  I chose Jesus (and heaven).  Now, my faith has grown so much deeper than that in the last 36 years.  But it was a selfish, petty thing in the beginning.
            And that's the way it is for many of us.  We start very shallow, but as we go deeper with Christ, his love inspires us and overwhelms us.  We feel the (sometime troubling) conviction to serve.  The Holy Spirit gives us all the ability to serve.  And each of us is uniquely positioned to serve in ways that no one else can--because of our personal life experience, our abilities, and our connections.  If we don’t serve, the Body of Christ will not function correctly; the mission will suffer.  So we take a leap of faith and serve.  And, glory to God, there is nothing like fulfilling your God-given role.  It is a blessing to those you serve and it is twice the blessing for you.
            One of the things I hear people ask most is: "How do I know what God wants me to do?  If I just knew what my calling was, I would be glad to serve."  Well, I have an answer for you.  Thanks to the wonder of the internet, there is a simple and easy way for you to explore how the Holy Spirit has gifted you so you can find ways to serve that fulfill God's calling for you.  Click this link to complete a free, short survey that will indicate what is your spiritual gift(s) and explains what they mean and how you might use them to serve.

Challenge
            Throughout this series of messages, I've tried to challenge you to be a fisher of men (or women).  I challenged you to choose three people you can mentor this year (pray for them, help them, be a friend to them, and encourage them).  I also challenged you to consider how you could go deeper in your relationship with Jesus this year (such as joining a Bible study or Sunday school, commit to daily Bible reading, etc.).  Today, I want to add one more challenge.  How could you serve?  God gave you a specific spiritual gift so you can serve in the body of Christ, the Church.  Take the spiritual gifts assessment to find out your gift and then use it to go serve.  Now, go serve!