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Monday, May 13, 2019

"You've Sinned, but I Still Love You" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but you should)

Introduction
This is the third in a series called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should).”  And I want to emphasis that last part in parenthesis “(but you should)”.  You see, some people think you can’t say certain things in church, but these are things you absolutely should say, you must say, if you are to be the Church that Jesus Christ established.

You see Church is a funny thing.  On the one hand, the Church was established by Jesus Christ in the Bible as the gathering of all who believe in Him, who are wholeheartedly committed to the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world.  On the other hand, church is also a cultural phenomenon…  White, southern church culture…

Many in the world today are sick and tired of the church, by which they are (not necessarily) talking about the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament; they are usually talking about the church culture that (often) has little or nothing to do with the Church Jesus Christ established.  There are often a lot of weeds mixed in with the wheat of the Church and it can be really hard to tell the difference. 

I’ve mentioned two things already that some people think you can’t say in church, but you really should—“I’m broken,” and “I’m on fire!”  I want to add one more today.  Some people think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  Some people think you can’t say that in church, but you really should.  I think you absolutely must, because it is an essential part of being the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament.  It follows the example of Christ.

Luke 15:1-7
1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Explain
The religious leaders of Jesus day didn’t like that Jesus quite often hung around with people they deemed sinners.  They believed sin was like a contagious disease, that just being in the presence of a sinner you could catch the disease of sin.  Jesus, who was the Son of God, tells a parable (actually three parable, because the whole the chapter is) about how God sent him to save a world full of sinners.  Jesus came to save the people the religious leaders deemed sinners who were unworthy and that no respectable person would associate with.  Jesus even came to save the religious leaders who are sinners too (but are blind because think they aren’t sinners).  The point of all this for our purposes today is this:  Jesus came to save sinners because He loves us. You see, Jesus was basically saying to the whole world, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”  

You migt think it strange in the parable that the shepherd would leave the 99 good sheep to search after just one sheep.  But Jesus is saying we are all sheep who have strayed off the path of righteousness.  If the shepherd (Jesus) didn't come and find us, there would be no 99 good sheep.  Every sheep has wandered off the path at some point, and the shepherd brought them back.  How hypocritical, then, for the 99 to complain if the shepherd goes off searching for another lost sheep.

Everything Jesus said and did—including how he died on the cross—was a way of saying, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”  Romans 5:8 sums it up for us, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

But many people today think you can’t say that in church, but you absolutely should; you must if we are to be the Church Jesus Christ wants us to be. 

Why Do People Think You Can’t Say It?
Some people today are just like the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus day.  They think going to church is all about being a good, respectable person and following all the rules.  They always try to do the right thing (even if doing the right thing is sometimes more about keeping up appearances than pleasing God) Furthermore, they often confuse God’s rules for holy living with what society says is the right way to live.  So they can often do some very terrible things—segregation, neglecting the poor, etc.—all in the name of being a good person who follows the rules.  So they think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  They don’t love people who have sinned.  They’re ok with being judgmental and pointing out how people sin, but they don’t love sinners (they may say it with their lips, but they don’t really love them in their heart).  There have always been self-righteous judgmental people in church—all the way back to Jesus time.  And Jesus came and pointed those Pharisees out.  He told them, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  Unfortunately, the religious leaders didn't want to hear that and so they crucified him.

But because the church throughout history has so often been full of self-righteous, judgmental people, we’ve come to a place today where there are so many people in our world (and even in the church) who err in a whole different way.  There are many who have concluded that you can’t even say, “You’ve sinned” anymore.  There are so many people who say, “The Bible says ‘judge not, lest ye be judged.’”  And so they’ve concluded that Jesus doesn’t even want us to tell people they’ve sin (because that would be judging).  A lot of people say nowadays, Jesus just wants us to love people (and leave the whole part about sin out).

And so it’s come to a place where the world we live in just says you should welcome everyone and just accept them for who they are.  We’re not allowed to tell people, “You’ve sinned” anymore.  And we see all kinds of behaviors accepted by our culture that the Bible deems unacceptable and even repulsive to God.  Is that how Jesus treated people? (pause…)

How Jesus Loved People
There should be no doubt that Jesus loved people.  He proved his love by dying for us on the cross; not because we deserved it, but because we desperately needed it and Jesus loved us.  So his example is worth following.  Here’s how Jesus loved people.  He loved people enough to go be with sinners-even eat with them.  He did this, even though it put him at odds with the self-righteous religious leaders.  He was willing to leave 99 “good” sheep to go find the one foolish sheep that got himself lost.  At the same time, he never pretended the sinners he sought were not lost, were not sinners.  For example, once a woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  They dragged her int the city square and asked Jesus, "The Law of Moses says we should stone her.  What do you say?"  Jesus said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."  Then he stopped and began writing in the dirt.  We don't know what he wrote, the Bible doesn't say.  Some have speculated he began writing out all the sins the people in the crowd had committed.  At any rate, everyone in the crowd began to drop their stones and walk away.  When everyone was gone, Jesus asked, "Woman, has no one condemned you?"  "No, my Lord," she said. "Then neither do I.  Go and sin no more."  (John 8)

Recently, the local news showed some surveillance video of a vigilant school bus driver who saved a child from a terrible accident.  The bus had stopped to let a child off and the video shows the bus doors opening and the child is about to run down the steps out the door.  But the bus driver suddenly slammed the doors shut and grabbed the child's shoulder and yanked him away from the door just as a speeding car wooshed by the bus doors.  Apparently, the car driver got impatient with the bus driver and sped around the right side of the bus just as the doors of the bus were about to open.  If the bus driver had not been paying attention and stopped the child, the child would have certainly been killed or terribly maimed.  What would you have done?  I think we would have all screamed and reached out to stop the child if we were in that situation.  That is, in a sense, what we are doing when we tell someone they've sinned (or their about to sin).

The Bible teaches us that sin is terrible.  It destroys your life.  It destroys other people’s lives.  It destroys the world.  And God hates sin, so it destroys a sinners relationship with God, who is the source of life and love and peace and hope.  To refuse to tell someone, “You’ve sinned” is not much different from refusing to scream, “Watch out! You’re about to walk out in front of a speeding car!”  It’s actually worse, because the consequences of sin are eternal.  So if we truly do love someone, we must say, “You’ve sinned.”  To do otherwise is not loving at all, but terrible and hateful.

At the same time, we must never forget the last part of the statement:  “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  We must never forget we’ve all sinned.  We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.  You’ve sinned.  I’ve sinned. And your sins are no worse than mine.  I have no reason to think myself better than you and you’ve no reason to think yourself better than me or anyone else. 

Conclusion
So don’t ever neglect to say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  That’s who were are—the Church—and that’s what we say and how we live.  It’s not optional.  It’s what Jesus does for us and what we are called to do for the world.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Guest Blog by Abigail Mullis

Today, I want to share my daughter's short story where she won 1st place in her district for sixth grade in the Georgia Young Author's Contest.  I hope you enjoy!
It will all be Okay
Sitting on the lake shore the wind blew threw my hair. I breathed in the salty air of Lake Martin. I pulled my knees to my chest and looked out onto the water. This was great, complete silence.

“Eloise,” Mama said, startling me as she touched my shoulder.

“Mama,” I said turning around.

“It’s time for dinner, darling.”

I turned away. “I’m not hungry,” I muttered angrily.

She slowly sat down next to me and looked out onto the lake. “It’s hard for me too, you know.”

I stood up and walked away from her, off to the old tree house. I ran my hand along the the dusty wood ladder, not touched for years. I climbed and then sat on the old platform. The wind rustled through the old oak’s leaves. Shh, it calmed. Then Charlie came climbing up the ladder. Just another person interrupting my peace.

“Eloise,” Charlie said as he sat down next to me. “Why are you so angry? This was gonna happen no matter what you did or said. I thought you would have suspected this. I always thought you were the smart one.”

“But why? Why do we have to go? Why can’t we just stay here forever?” I asked turning to my older, wiser brother.

“We ran out of money, we can’t pay the mortgage without Dad.”

I sighed. “Why, did he have to go?” I asked.

“I don’t know, no one knows,” he replied.

“But, I don’t want to leave,” I protested.

“No one does, Eloise. We love this place, this house, this yard, this lake, but that’s just how things work.”

I slowly stood up and climbed down the ladder. “Well, Aunt Marion's place better be good.”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Charlie laughed as he followed behind.

I climbed in the car and took one last look at the beautiful house that held all of my amazing memories. Right in this moment I felt like crying. I could remember Dad picking me up and throwing me in the lake every summer. It was our tradition on the first day of summer break. Charlie patted my back. “It’s okay sis,” he comforted.

“Say goodbye,” Mama bellowed and we drove off. We were half way down the road when I heard her whimper and let out a small sob. “You know the one thing I won’t miss about that house is how you guys tracked in mud in the summer,” she half laughed, half cried as she tried to lighten the mood.

“That’s the thing I’ll miss most,” I heard Charlie muttered.

The rest of the drive it was dead silent until the radio accidentally started blaring If you like pina coladas, and gettin’ caught in the rain, if you don’t like yoga, and you have half a brain… it sang. We laughed hysterically, but soon the song was over and the mood returned. A few minutes later our car pulled into the driveway of an old, scary looking house. Moss and ivy grew up it’s sides. Out of the old front door walked a woman with a tight gray bun and a short yellow sundress. Mama opened the car door.

“Amy!” the woman yelled stretching out her arms and running towards Mama.

Mama got out the car and gave Aunt Marion a big hug. “Thank you so much, Marion!”

“Anything for my niece!” she exclaimed. “Now, don’t let those kiddos stay in the car, I want some sugar!”

Mama pulled us out of the car and into Aunt Marion's arms. Aunt Marion pulled us away and I stared at Charlie, he was wearing the same confused expression as me. “You are both so big!” she smiled. “Oh, Charlie! You’re practically a man! Now, your mother told me you were a senior, now is that right?”

“Yes, mam’.”

“Oh! I would never forget my Eloise! What a pretty name! Now let me guess, you’re head of the class, now aren’t you? You always were a smart cookie!”

I looked away and didn’t answer. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be home, with Dad.

“Well, that’s okay then. Why don’t you come in for some milk and cookies?”

“Yes, of course. How could anyone turn that down?” Mama replied as she followed Aunt Marion inside. She turned and looked at me with a sad expression but I could hardly tell because I was looking at my shoes.

We followed her inside and into the kitchen. It was much nicer and cheerful on the inside than it was on the outside. The kitchen was a bright yellow with pictures of fruits hanging on the walls. I hardly ate any cookies, I just wasn’t hungry with all of this on my mind, on my heart. After a little while I went up to what was now my new room. It was beautiful but I couldn’t be happy here. I sat down at the bay window and looked out into what was my new yard. I heard someone come into the room. Standing in the threshold of the door was Charlie.

“You need to be nicer to our hostess,” he said leaning on the door frame.

“I don’t like it here. I wanna go home,” I said looking back through the window.

He came over to me and sat down. “I know you don’t like it now, but I promise that you’ll get used to it.”

“I never got used to Dad being gone.”

“I don’t think we ever will,” he said.

My dad had died in a car accident the year before and nothing was the same without him. Mama tried to make due but it just wasn’t the same. We could hardly make enough money and we tried very hard to keep the house but we all knew we would have to give it up.

“Well I have to go check out my room,” he said as he stood up.

“What am I gonna do when you graduate?” I asked.

“You’ll do what you’ve always done and push your way through.”

I stared out the window until it was dark, I even skipped dinner, but I just wasn’t hungry.

Aunt Marion walked into my room a few minutes past dark. She knocked on the door but didn’t even wait for a reply before coming in and sitting next to me. I pulled my knees to my chest and turned to her. “Yes,” I said sassaly.

“I know it’s hard.”

“Do you really?” I scowled.

“Yes. My mother died when I was six. I had to live my whole life without her.”

I untightened my face.

“It’s hard to go through your life without a mother, especially when you’re a young woman yourself. She never got to see me graduate, or get married, or have children of my own.” She stopped and looked out the window. “She never got to help me through my problems growing up.” She looked as if she was about to cry.

“I’m so sorry,” I said letting my legs down. “Do you mind me asking how she died?”

“She died giving birth to my little sister. My father was never the same after she died, just as your mother isn’t the same as she used to be. I’m afraid however that he turned very mean after her death. He didn’t talk to us, I felt like he didn’t even like me. All he did was sleep all day and drink all night.” She sighed and turned towards me. “So, yes, I know how hard it is, but without my mother you wouldn’t have your grandmother, and you wouldn’t have your mother, and you wouldn’t even be here.”

“Grandma was that little sister?” I asked. She had never been able to tell me these things since she had died when I was only two.

Aunt Marion nodded. She held out her clamped hands to me and slowly opened them. My mother gave this to me, and now it’s yours. To let you know that it will be better even if that hole in your heart is never filled.” In her hands was a locket. She clipped it around my neck and I slowly opened it to see a picture of Aunt Marion’s whole family. On the other side there was a picture of a little girl that looked a lot like Aunt Marion. I smiled.

“Thank you.” I said.

She smiled back and walked to the doorway and the turned around. “Oh, and next time please eat your food, your mother is very worried about you,” she laughed.

Monday, May 6, 2019

"I'm on Fire!" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but you should)


Introduction
I’m preaching a series of sermons called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should)”.  And I want to emphasize that last little part that’s in parentheses – (But You Should).  You see these are things that a lot of people think or feel you shouldn’t say in church, but you absolutely should.  Don’t ever let someone convince you not to say these things in church.  You must say them.  Even more, you must live them out.  They must be a core part of who you are.  Genuine Christianity is not about being respectable or dignified.  Do you think if the trumpets of Heaven blew with a mighty blast and the roof of this sanctuary were ripped away and the Holy Presence of God descended upon us that anyone would remain dignified, reserved, and respectable?  No.  You would probably turn into a blubbering idiot either fearing for your miserable life or else be overcome with immense love and admiration for your God.  But none of us would be respectable or dignified.  But there are still many who feel going to church means you must be respectable and dignified and that you can’t say certain things in church.  And I say that’s ridiculous. 

Last week, I shared how a lot of people think you can't say, "I'm broken" in church.  But I say, you you should; you absolutely should.  It's essential, because Jesus came to heal the broken.  And if you ain't broken, Jesus can't fix you.  The truth is, we're all broken.  We just need to admit it, repent, and let Jesus heal us.

I’ve got another one today:  “I’m on fire!”  Now what does it mean to be on fire in the church?  I’m talking about people who are full of passion and fire for the Lord.  A lot people are annoyed or afraid of people who are on fire for the Lord.  They just want everyone to come to church and sit down and be quiet—to be dignified and respectable and not stir up any controversy.  Just be a good boy or girl.  But Jesus wants us all to be on fire.  I know this because it’s foretold throughout the Bible.

John the Baptist foretold it in Matthew 3:11.  He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  And Jesus said in Luke 12:49 - “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!"  And then, in Acts 2:1-4 we see how the Church was filled with the Holy Spirit’s fire.

Acts 2:1-4
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The Church on Fire
Pentecost is an annual Jewish festival.  It is also the day Christians celebrate the birth of the Christian Church.  This year, Pentecost falls on June 9.  In this story, the faithful followers of the resurrected Jesus (which is the Church) were all gathered in the Temple in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit set them on fire.  I don’t mean that they were literally set ablaze.  What I mean is the Holy Spirit filled them with passion and power to serve the Lord.  The passion and power were so vibrant it even looked as if tongues of fire were dancing above their heads.  And these people began speaking in other languages so that anyone who was gathered in the Temple from all over the world could hear these “on fire” Christians sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ in their very own language. 

Acts 2:13 says, “Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”  Isn’t that a typical response of many religious people who are frightened or annoyed when they see someone else in worship who has a little too much passion for God?  They start scoffing and say, “They’re just showing off,” or “They’re mentally unbalanced,” or “They’re just a religious fanatic.”  Some people think you can’t say “I’m on fire!” in church.  But I say, you should; you must!  Because the Church Jesus established is filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit!

“Awe come on, preacher!”  You say, “That’s just stuff that happened in the Bible.  That don’t happen anymore.”  Is that so?  Are we not the same Church today as they were then?  Is not the same Jesus still our Lord?  Are not those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior still filled with the Holy Spirit?  Is not the Holy Spirit that fills us the same Holy Spirit that filled these believers in Acts Chapter 2 on the Day of Pentecost?  I say it is.  God has not changed.  The only thing that’s changed is your belief. 

Some think God and power and miracles and real faith was something that happened long ago.  Some think God is some distant deity who lives far away and is not actively involved in our world anymore.  I say, "No sir!  He is here, right here, right now." I say God still pours out His Holy Spirit fire on anyone who does not pretend to be too dignified and respectable or uninterested to receive Him.  We are called to be a Church full of people who gladly proclaim, “I’m on fire!”

What Does It Mean to Be On Fire?
We can see what if means to be on fire in the church.  All we have to do is look at these believers in Act 2.  There are three main things we see.  

First of all, these “on fire” Christians loved God with all their heart, all their mind, all their soul, and all their strength.  They were wholeheartedly and completely committed to Jesus Christ.  And why shouldn’t they be?  The religious leaders in Jerusalem arrested their Jesus, brutally beat him, crucified him, and buried him.  But on the Third Day, Jesus Christ rose from the grave!  And everyone who truly believes Jesus Christ is no longer dead, realizes there is nothing in this world more important than following Jesus Christ with your whole heart.  These believers may have been afraid the religious leaders who killed Jesus would try to kill them.  But they didn’t let that fear keep them away.  Their faith in Jesus Christ was more important than anything else.

Second, we see that these “on fire” Christians in Acts loved their neighbor as themselvesFor as soon as the Holy Spirit set them on fire, they began to preach the Good News about Jesus Christ to everyone around them.  Some might think they would be angry and retaliate.  Some might wonder that they didn’t scream, “You killed my Lord Jesus and you’re gonna pay!”  Some might think they would use the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn up the wicked religious leaders of Jerusalem for their terrible rebellion against God.  But they didn’t do any of that.  Instead, they realized we are all broken sinners who deserved to be burned up by the fire of God, but instead God loves us and sent His Son to save us, not destroy us.  And so these on fire Christians in Acts 2 use the power of the Holy Spirit to speak in all the languages of the people gathered for worship in Jerusalem so that everyone can hear and understand that Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation.  They speak, because they know God has loved them and they offer the same love to everyone—even their enemies—hoping that all will repent of their sins and turn to God and be forgiven and become “on fire” Christians just like them.  And many of them repent and turn to Jesus.  Acts 2:41 says 3,000 new people repented of their sins and started following Jesus Christ that day.  It is incredible what happens when a few Christians get set on fire!

And there is a third thing we see.  Slide – These “on fire” Christians became a family.  Acts 2:42-47 says:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You see, their fellowship—their being together, learning together, praying together, working together, worshiping together, eating together—became the most important thing in their life.  And their love for one another was proof to everyone, everywhere that there was something special and powerful happening.  And more and more people started turning to Jesus Christ to be saved.

Say "I'm on Fire!"
So don’t ever let anyone discourage you from saying “I’m on fire!” in Church.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would set you on fire—set us all on fire—that we might be filled with passion and power to be true believers of Jesus Christ—the continuation of the Church described in the book of Acts.

Monday, April 29, 2019

"I'm Broken" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but should)


Introduction
I asked my Facebook friends to post some things you can’t say in church.  Some of their responses were funny.  Others were more pointed.  One person said, "You can't say I don't like BBQ in church."  Haha.  I would add as a methodist you can't say you don't like fried chicken.  That might get you excommunicated!  Another person said, "You can't say Christians annoy me."  Something to think about.  But I had a lot of other responses that went something like this, "You can't say, “I’m not OK.  I need help. I’m fighting depression. I’m lonely. I feel alone.  You can't say things like that in church.”  I can see why some people might think that.

Jesus said some things in church that almost got him thrown off a cliff!  What did he say?  Let’s see.

Luke 4:16-30
14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
23 Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.
25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”
28 When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, 30 but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.

The Hometown Boy
After being tempted in the wilderness while he was fasting for 40 days and forty nights, Jesus began his public ministry.  He wsa filled with the Holy Spirit and doing amazing things all throughout the Galilean region.  He taught regularly in their churches (They didn't call them churches; they called them synagogues, but they were the Jews churches.)  And everyone was amazed at his miracles, his teaching, and his wisdom.  His fame grew rapidly.  So then he goes down to his hometown church in Nazareth.  It was sort of like a homecoming and you can be sure everyone was proud to welcome back their famous hometown boy who had gone out and made a name for himself.  And they hand him a scroll with the word of Isaiah, and he used it to preach his message.  And the first part sounded so good.  He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

That sounds great and at first everyone seems pleased and proud of their hometown boy.  They’re amazed how he’s grown up so well.  But then he has to go on and mess things up.  What did he say?  In essence, Jesus said he couldn’t do any miracles in his hometown because they were too proud.  It seems they weren't really in the frame of mind to admit they had any problems or were broken in anyway.  They were filled with pride.  Jesus was their boy.  They weren't thinking about their shortcomings, only their virtues.  In their hearts, I imagine they're even taking some of the credit for his power and miracles; I mean, he grew up in their town going to their church.

Jesus was able to do miracles all throughout Galilee—even among foreigners and outcasts the good church people of Nazareth looked down on.  But he says he won’t be able to do any miracles for the church people in Nazareth.  I think it's because they were too proud.  Maybe, they even thought they were better than everyone else Jesus ministered to and didn't even realize their pride was the very thing that makes them broken.

It’s a common problem in many churches today.  You see, a lot of people think you can’t say “I’m broken” in church.  I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way, a lot of people going to church started thinking you have to pretend like you’ve got it all together.  (I’m not saying this is right or the way you should act, but a lot of people do).  People started worrying what other people in the pews might think about them.  Some people wanted others to think they were good people who had it all figured out.  Others felt like the worst thing in the world would be for others to find out their dark secrets.  Nobody wanted others to realize they struggled with sin, or loneliness, or depression, or financial problems.  People started covering up their doubts and struggles and less attractive personal flaws.  Instead, they would plaster on a big bright church smile to hide the brokenness underneath.

A lot of people think you can’t say “I’m broken” in church.  But really, we should.  We must say, “I’m broken.”  It’s essential.  It’s the only way we have any hope of Jesus fixing our brokenness. 

Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor,
                                                   to release captives
                                                   to make the blind see 
                                                   to set the oppressed free.

If your not poor or captive or blind or oppressed (or you could add any other form of brokeness), then Jesus didn't come to bring any Good News for you.  If you’re already “fine”, Jesus can’t do anything for ya.  If you ain’t broke, He can’t fix ya.  But the truth is:  none of us are “fine” and all of us are “broken”.  We just have to let go of our pride, take off our masks, and admit it to Jesus and each other. 

A Broken and Repentant Heart
King David is a famous “hero of the faith” in the Bible.  David is famous for defeating the giant, Goliath, with only a sling and a stone when David was only a boy.  David is known as “a man after God’s on heart” and the greatest king of Israel.  Jesus came from the line of David.  But David was not perfect.  In fact, one time he even got another man’s wife pregnant and then had the man killed to cover it up.  (Now how would you like to admit that one in church?)

But David realized he was broken and he earnestly repented and God forgave him.  Here’s what David prayed, a prayer so true God preserved it for thousands of years for us in His Holy Bible in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.  You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”

Take Off Your Masks
God will not reject us if we let down our guard and admit we’re broken.  In fact, that’s exactly what He requires of us—to come to Him with a broken and repentant heart.  We must come to a place where we are more concerned with what God thinks and stop worrying what anyone else in thinks.

And here’s the amazing thing:  when we stop worrying so much about what people think and just learn to be authentic, the people who really matter will love us even more.  When we admit our brokenness and are just honest about who we are, our relationships are so much deeper and more meaningful. 

So don’t ever be afraid to say “I’m broken” in church.  Pleasant Grove is a place where we all realize and freely admit, “We’re all broken and Jesus is helping us put the pieces back together.”

Monday, April 15, 2019

Whose Side are You On? part 2 - Jesus


Introduction
When life is hard, we long for a Savior to come and rescue us.  We hold out hope amidst the darkness that somehow, someday our Savior will come.  But when He comes, will we recognize Him?  Will we receive Him?  Will we truly trust Him?  Will we know that He is not only our Savior, but our Lord?  Will we see He doesn’t come to be on our side, but rather, to invite us to be on His side?

Last week, we met a man from the Old Testament named Joshua who encountered the commander of the Lord’s army as Joshua and the Israelites prepared to attack the fortress, Jericho.  Joshua asked, “Are you on our side or on their side?”  The angel answered simply, “No.”  As if to say, “You aren’t even asking the right question.”  It is not that God is on our side or on someone else’s.  God is Yahweh, the great I AM.  He is who He is and we were made to worship and adore Him.  We are called to be on His side, for His side is always right and His side always wins in the end.

The name Joshua means, “God Saves”.  Today, we hear the story of another man poised to enter a different city.  This story is from the New Testament.  It is Jesus as he prepares to enter Jerusalem on the day we’ve come to call Palm Sunday.  Jesus is another way Jews said the name Joshua (kind of like we call some people John and other people Juan and others Jan).  But like Joshua, Jesus also means “God Saves”.  Listen to the story.


Matthew 21:1-13
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”
This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!
10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

The Donkey
Just prior to entering Jerusalem, the Gospels tell the odd story of how Jesus sends his disciples to confiscate a donkey and it’s colt to ride into Jerusalem.  When bystanders see them untying the young donkey, they understandably concerned.  “Hey, why are you stealing that donkey?  That’s not yours!”  But the disciples say what Jesus told them to say, “The Lord needs it.”  Jesus is not just a prophet.  He is not just a Rabi or a preacher.  He is not just a healer or a kind man or an advocate for justice.  Jesus is not just a king.  Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  He is the Son of God come to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  When your Lord comes and says He needs your donkey, you yield.  And that’s what the bystanders did. 

The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell us the colt had never been ridden before.  Now think about that for a minute.  If someone brought you a donkey and told you it had never, ever been ridden before, and then I said, “Alright, hop up on there and take him for a ride…”  I’d say, “You’re crazy.  I ain’t stupid.”  Unless you’re a rodeo cowboy, I don’t think most people would want to break their neck on some wild, untrained donkey.  But Jesus hops right up on it and the thing doesn’t buck and fight and kick.  Why?  Because John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  When the Creator of the universe decides to ride into Jerusalem on an untrained donkey, one that's never been ridden before, even the dumb donkey knows you say, “Yes sir!” and give him the best ride he can give.

The People
And off Jesus goes, riding into Jerusalem.  And everyone is excited and cheering.  They’re waving palm branches, which was a sign of victory and peace.  They’re also spreading their clothes out across the road, which was a symbolic way of saying, “We submit to be ruled by you! Even if you walk all over us, we are your subjects and you are our king!  We'll do whatever you say!”  Everyone’s praising God and singing hosannas.  They’re Savior had come!  And they even called him king, but were they really willing to follow Jesus as their Lord? 

Apparently not. Their actions over the next week show they didn't t really submit to the Son of God.  They wanted the Messiah to come be on their side.  They wanted Jesus to drive out the Romans and restore their glory so they could live their lives the way they wanted to live.  But Jesus comes in and starts by—not driving out the Romans—but cleanses Jerusalem’s own Temple--flipping over the money changers tables, driving out all the buyers and sellers, disrupting their way of life, saying "My Father's house is supposed to be a house of prayer,but you've turned it into a den of thieves!"

And then, through the whole next week, Jesus doesn’t do what the people wanted him to do.  They want a Savior to save them from the Romans.  But Jesus didn’t come to do what they want him to do.  Jesus came to do the will of God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.

The leading priests and elders starts asking, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” (Matthew 21:23)  Jesus finds the sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors are more willing to accept his authority than the religious leaders.  Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is being taken away from the ruling authorities in Jerusalem and given to the weirdos, outcasts, and sinners who repent and accept the Savior as Lord.

The Pharisees and good people of Jerusalem want Jesus to defeat the heathen Romans so they don’t have to pay taxes and tributes to them anymore.  But instead, Jesus keeps showing the good people in Jerusalem they're not really any better than the heathen Romans.  In fact, in a lot of ways, the heathen Romans and the hated Samaritans are actually closer to the Kingdom of God than the good people of Jerusalem.  He preaches, “Everything [the religious leaders and Pharisees] do is for show.” (Matthew 23:5)  He says they are blind hypocrites heading for destruction and anyone who follows them will end up being destroyed with them.

Rather than rallying the troops to fight for Jerusalem, Jesus actually grieves over the city.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” (Matthew 23:37)

When the disciples marvel at all the incredible buildings and architecture in Jerusalem, Jesus tells them it’s all going to be destroyed.  “Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Matthew 24:2)  And in the end, the Messiah would judge people not according to their position or possessions or power or where they live, but according to three things:
  1. Whether they truly have to the Spirit of God in them (Matthew 25:1-13)
  2. How they used the blessings God gave them to be fruitful (Matthew 25:14-30)
  3. And whether they cared for people who were in need (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus came to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  The people called him their messiah and king, but it was only lip service.  When he proved he would not do things their way, they turned their backs.  You see, for the people of Jerusalem, it was never really about following God.  God was a just a means to an end--their end.  They were never on God’s side.  They just wanted God to come be on their side so they could get what they want.

Jesus comes to each of us just like He came to Jerusalem.  We have the same decision to make.  Do want want Him to be on our side?  Or are we truly ready to be on His side?  Sure we all say we want to be on Jesus side, but then He starts tearing down the idols in our hearts and flipping over our way of living.  He challenges our sins and then I’m not so sure we might not want start crying out with everyone else in crowd on Good Friday, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Or we might be like his disciples who all abandoned him in fear and ran away.  Or we might be like Peter who boasted he would die for Jesus, but then denied even knowing him three times.  Or we might be like Judas who agreed to betray Jesus, hoping to get a better deal from someone else. We might do all these things.  We have done all these things at one time or another.  But who will truly recognize Jesus as Lord?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

9 Acts of Service


Service is an attitude of the heart, but it is an attitude that's lived out through tangible acts.  Here are nine practical kinds of service you can give throughout life. (These are based on Richard Foster's book, The Celebration of Discipline.)


  1. Secret service. We are all given many opportunities to serve in ways that no one else sees. There is great blessing in secret acts of service, whether large or small.
  2. Small acts of kindness. We don’t always have to do big, important stuff. Bringing someone a drink, cleaning up a spill, giving someone a ride, stopping by the store to pick up some milk for your spouse. Nobody is too important to do the menial tasks of life. And those who think their time is too important to be wasted on small acts of kindness may think too highly of themselves. 
  3. Guarding someone’s reputation. There is real wisdom in the old adage: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Be someone who builds up others instead of tearing them down. Don’t participate in gossip and urge others to stop as well. 
  4. The service of being served. Many people are like Peter, who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. Don’t steal someone else’s blessing by refusing to let others serve you. 
  5. The service of common courtesy. In our fast-paced, socially disconnected age of technology, common social customs are even more important. Be polite. Remember to say “please” and “thank you”. Hold the door open for ladies and your elders. Be sure to RSVP promptly when requested. Don’t be rude by neglecting common courtesies as outdated. 
  6. The service of hospitality. Hospitality is making people feel welcome and comfortable and seeing that their basic needs are met—especially when they are away from their home. Don’t get so caught up in the details of hospitality that you lose sight of making people feel loved. 
  7. The service of listening. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is just to listen. Give people your undivided attention. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus. You don’t have to have the right answers. Just listen and care. Listening to others also quiets and disciplines the mind to listen to God. 
  8. Bearing one another’s burdens. It is a great act of service to
    offer care and compassion when others are going through troubles. Send a sympathy card. Offer a meal. Sometimes we don’t know what to say. That’s ok. Just say you don’t know what to say, but that you care. Sometimes, I’ll that’s needed is to be there and say nothing at all. 
  9. Sharing the Word of God with one another. We are all part of the Body of Christ. It’s not just pastors and Sunday school teachers who hear from God. God speaks to us all and moves in all our lives. When we keep it to ourselves, we cheat the rest of the world. One of the greatest gifts of service can be simply to share what God is doing in you or saying to you with others.