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Monday, November 11, 2019

Questions about Forgiveness


1 John 1:9
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Introduction
People were designed to live in harmony with God and each other.  Unfortunately, sin destroys these relationships.  Sin separates us from God and each other.  Sin tears our world apart.  It corrupts everything—from our relationships to the very nature of the world around us.  The glorious Good News of Jesus Christ is that the blood He shed on the cross atones for our sin.  We can be forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus.  As 1 John 1:9 says, if we confess our sins to Jesus, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

I've been asking people to submit questions about Christianity.  A couple questions came in about forgiveness.  And I want to address those today.

First Question:  If you are asking for forgiveness, can you only go to God or do you need to go to the other person and say out loud what your sin is?
This is a great question.  We know from Scripture that God is merciful and quick to forgive.  Jesus’ death on the cross assures our forgiveness by God.  But what about people?  Will they forgive us too?  Should we seek to be forgiven by the people we offend?  Many might like to avoid seeking forgiveness from people as that could be very awkward and painful.  Can't we just ask God to forgive us and be done with it?

Let me start this answer with a parable.  Suppose you are backing out of the driveway from your friend’s house and you accidentally run over his mailbox.  You didn’t mean to.  It was an accident.  But still, your friend’s mailbox is ruined and it was your fault.  What should you do?  Should you:
a. Feel guilty and beat yourself up about it for the rest of your life. 
b. Ask God to forgive you and then forget about it. (If your friend ever asks you about it, just say, “Oh yeah, I ran over your mailbox. But it’s OK because I asked God to forgive me and He did.”)
c. Make a donation to to your church for the amount it would have cost to fix your friend’s mailbox.
d. Apologize to your friend and pay to have a new mailbox put in.

I hope it's obvious to everyone that the answer is "d".  

I know. This is a very simple situation and issues about forgiveness and relationships are often far more complex.  I could write a whole series about issues related to confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation (and maybe I will one day).  

Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."

Jesus taught it’s very important to be reconciled with the people we’ve wronged.  Jesus also said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (The Golden Rule, Matthew 7:12).  If someone had sinned against you the way you sinned against this other person, what would you want them to do to you?  Would you want them to come confess their sin and seek your forgiveness and make it right?  If so, then that’s a strong indication you should also go to the person against whom you’ve sinned and confess your sin and ask forgiveness and seek to make it right.

Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbor.  If asking forgiveness will help the person you wronged, then you should go to them and confess and seek forgiveness and try to make it right.  However, you should only do this after much prayer and reflection; perhaps you should speak with a wise counselor or pastor first.  Ask God whether this is really going to help the other person.  Remember, this is about doing the right thing or the other person.  It’s not about assuaging your own guilt or winning some reward for yourself.  It’s about helping the other person and making it right.  And sometimes, going to ask forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged will do the more harm than good.  If this is the case, you should not go to the person for forgiveness.  If asking forgiveness would bring more harm than good, it may be better to pray for them and hope they forgive you in their own time because it might make them less unhappy, not because it does anything to help you.

As for how all this affects your relationship with God, God has already forgiven you through Jesus Christ.  God still loves you even if you are unable to be forgiven by those you’ve wronged in this life.  However, don’t let God’s forgiveness and grace be an excuse to selfishly avoid doing the right thing for the people you’ve wronged in this life when it’s in your power to do better.

God’s Question for You – Is there anyone to whom you need to apologize?  Is there anything you can do to make right a wrong you’ve done?

Next Question:  We get forgiveness when we ask for it.  Will our sins be hashed out again when we get to heaven?  Is there an actual judgment day?
Another great question.  The Bible teaches that one day everyone will have to make an account for the way they’ve lived in this life.  Everyone—Christians and non-Christians—will face this judgment.  Let me share what Scripture teaches.
Revelation 20:12 gives a vision of the final judgment before God.  It says, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” And verse 13 says, “And all were judged according to their deeds.”  And verse 15 says, “And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

You want to make sure your name is in the Book of Life.  How do you make sure your name is in the Book of Life?  This is part the glorious Good News of Jesus Christ.  Jesus death on the cross opens a way for us to be forgiven of all our sins and have our name recorded in the Book of Life.  For everyone who surrenders to God, repents of their sin, and follows Jesus Christ as Lord shall be saved.  Their names are recorded in the Book of Life.  And at the final judgment, when God judges the living and the dead, He will find all your sins have been washed away.  Your sins will be no more because Jesus Christ already paid the price for all your sins.  You will be washed and clean and spotless before the Lord.

Now, that doesn't mean you should live however you want in this life and sin as much as you like because you know all your sins will be forgiven in the end.  No!  That is not the way people who follow Jesus as Lord ought to live (or want to live)!  We should follow the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us more and more into His likeness, so we treat people the way Jesus treats people, so that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our mid, and all our strength, and love our neighbor as our self.

Furthermore, I want to tell you, Christians will face a kind of judgment too.  In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, the Apostle Paul explained how Christians will be judged in the final days.  You can think of this judgment for Christians as a performance review at work.  We will be evaluated for the work we've done for God’s Kingdom in this life.  This will help determine how we will be rewarded in eternity.  The work we've done in this life will be presented to God.  Any work that was frivolous and useless will be burned up like straw or wood in a fire. Those deeds that were pure and worthwhile (whether in whole or in part) will pass through the fire like gold, silver, and precious stones.  The impurities will be removed and the good of all our deeds will be refined like gold in a furnace. 

Scripture names some of the rewards that await people who serve the Lord faithfully in this life:
  • The Soul Winners crown for leading people to Jesus.  
  • The Victors Crown for those who persevere and refuse to give up during persecution.  
  • The Crown of Glory for those who pastor well Christ's "flock". 
  • The Crown of Life for martyrs who were killed for their faith.  
  • The Crown of Righteousness for looking with anticipation for the Second Coming.

And so, Scripture teaches that everyone will be judged on the Last Day.  Those who rejected Christ will go to eternal punishment.  Those who followed Christ as Lord will enters into eternal life with Jesus where their will be no more suffering or pain or sorrow or death.  And Christians will be rewarded for every faithful deed.

God’s questions for you – Is your name written in the Book of Life?  (In other words:  Have you surrendered to God, repented of your sins, and chosen to follow Jesus as your Lord?)  How will the things you do in this life be judged by the Lord on at the Last Judgment?  Will they be found useless like hay burned up in a fire?  Or will He find gold and silver because you were faithful in this life and worked hard to show the love of Christ to everyone around you and you lead people to Jesus?




Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Afterlife

Revelation 21:1-8
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Introduction
Revelation 21 gives us a vision of God’s ultimate plan for humanity and all of creation.  Most people are only thinking “What’s next?  What happens after we die? Will I go to heaven?”  But God’s plans are much grander and far reaching.  Ultimate, God will restore the original vision He began when He created the world in Genesis 1.  God will create a new heaven and a new earth, for old heaven and earth will pass away.  And the great shout of Revelation 21:3 will come true: “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  God’s redemption is not just for people.  God will redeem all the animals, the trees, the plants… All creation will be renewed.  We will live in peace and harmony with all the earth—just as it was when God first created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden to live without any fear or shame or suffering.  And Isaiah 11:6 foretells, “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.”

I had several questions asked about heaven and the afterlife and I want to address those today.  And I think it is especially appropriate today as we celebrate All Saints Sunday, the day we honor and remember our loved ones who’ve gone to heaven to be with the Lord.  For all who are truly Christian--who believe in and follow Jesus Christ--are saints.  We are perfect in God's sight, because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross.

How does God decides when to call people to heaven, young or old?
God is sovereign. That means God has absolute authority and absolute right to do whatever He decides.  First of all, this is because He made us.  Secondly, He rescued us when we were already dead because of our sin.  The only thing enabling us to draw a single breath is the providence and protection of God.  So God has two reasons to claim absolute sovereignty over us.

That being said, God allows us the freedom to live autonomously.  In other words, we get to make our own decisions.  We can choose to live a clean, healthy life, which tends to lead to a long life.  Or we can smoke and drink and eat two pounds of bacon every day for breakfast and cake for dinner and never force our bodies to exercise.  That will probably lead to poor health and an early grave.  It’s your choice; God gives you the freedom how you want to live.  Furthermore, others have a choice too.  People choose to get drunk and drive and crash into innocent people causing untimely deaths.  Big corporations sometimes choose to pollute our earth, favoring short term profit over the long-term environmental health of our planet.  How many cancers and tumors and other life-ending health problems are the result?  Our world is broken because of sin. 

Sometimes, God calls a person Home to heaven.  Sarah Brooker, a godly member of my church, may be an example of God specifically calling a saint Home to be with Him. Sara was a woman who lived a full life and touched so many; a lady who fulfilled God’s will for her life to the last day.  A lady who wanted to go to heaven for the last ten years, but who faithfully endured the sorrows of this life and declining health for the sake of Christ until Jesus finally said the job was done.  Then, and only then, when she realized her work for the Lord was done, she laid her head back and the Lord called her Home.

But we need not assume that every person who dies was personally chosen by God to die at that moment.  That’s a wrong way to think.  God can choose when a person goes to heaven, but more often than not I think it is our own decisions (or the decisions of others around us).  We need to be extra careful when we claim God is the one naming the day and hour of every single person's death.  I’m not going to blame God for the man who dies of a heart attack when that man was repeatedly warned about his unhealthy eating habits, high cholesterol, and lack of exercise.  I’m not going to blame God for the death of a young girl hit by a drunk driver.  Do you see where I’m going with all this?  Let’s stop making God the scape goat for all our suffering and death.  Let’s take responsibility here.  God created the world.  But then we took over and we’ve been ruining this place for thousands of years by our own rotten choices.  I’d rather blame anyone than God for all these tragedies.

And to the original question—how does God decides when to call people to heaven?  I think He doesn’t have to make that decision very often.  I think we usually make it ourselves, in one way or another. And sometimes, when God does specifically call an individual Home, I believe it's an act of mercy.

God’s question for you is:  What do the decisions you make in your life say about when you will be going to heaven?

What do Methodist believe about The Rapture?
The rapture is a term some Christians use to describe a future event when Jesus calls all Christian believers who are alive, along with the resurrected dead believers, up to "the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air".  It is based on 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.”  Some Christian denominations place more emphasis on the rapture and the End Times than others.  My Grandma was more and more interested in eschatological studies, including the rapture, the older she got.  She  hope her and her husband would be spared the pain of death and separation.  She saw the world around her becoming increasingly evil and longed for Jesus' return.  She hopes she and her husband would live to see the day He came back and they would be raptured to meet Him in the air.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  She died in 1994 and my grandpa died five years latter in 1999.

Methodist don’t have an official doctrine about the rapture (or many other End Times concepts) other than what we say in the Apostles’ Creed:  we believe Jesus “will come again to judge the quick and the dead.”  We know Jesus is coming again.  It plainly says it in Scripture.  Most Methodists believe and accept the concept of a rapture, but we tend not to be as concerned with the End Times.  We are more concerned with the present.  We want to live our lives for God now, sharing the love of Christ with as many as we can as often as we can in as many ways as we can.  We believe if we do this, we will be ready whenever and however the end comes.

God’s question for you:  Are you ready if Jesus comes for you today?

Will I recognize my family in Heaven?
Yes.  In fact, I believe you will recognize them better then than you ever did here on earth.  1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

Here on earth, we recognize people by mostly by their physical appearance.  My older brother and I look pretty similar and sound even more alike.  Over the phone, we can almost be indistinguishable.  Back in the day before everyone had caller ID, I would often call my mom and she would think she was talking to Nelson.  And being he practical joker I am, I would just go with it and pretend to be my older brother.  And I could make it several minutes before I would laugh and let my mom know who it really was.  My brother used to do the same thing when Mom would mistake him for me.

That will be no mistaken identities in heaven.  Just as God sees into your soul now, we will be able to see deeply into the core of those we love when we get to Glory.  We will see and be seen this way.  And just like Adam and Eve who were naked in the Garden of Eden but were unashamed, we will have nothing to hide in eternity.  We will gladly be completely open and vulnerable, so that people can see who we really are, and we will not be ashamed.  Yes.  We will recognize our loved ones, even better than we know them now.

God’s question for you is:  How do you recognize your family and friends today?  Do you see them mostly for how they look or what they do for you?  Could you look at them in a deeper way and recognize something in them you’ve missed before?

What am I supposed to get out of Holy Communion?
First, Holy Communion is an opportunity to do something Jesus asked you to do.  Think of someone you love who has died.  Suppose they asked you to do something just before they died.  Something simple, a simple ceremony that you should do often to remember them.  Wouldn’t you do it?  Well, Jesus, whom we love, said "take and eat and drink in remembrance of me."

Second, Holy Communion is a chance to commune with all the saints (all believers of Jesus Christ), both living and dead.  As we gather around the Lord’s Table to remember Him and His sacrifice, so to do all the saints gather with us.  How this happens is a mystery, but we allude to it every Sunday as we recite the Apostles’ Creed:  We believe in the communion of saints.

Third, Holy Communion is a chance to commune with Jesus Christ.  Jesus is not dead; He is alive.  And He is with us as we celebrate communion.  Yes, I know Jesus is with us always; but through Holy Communion, He can open our hearts in a special way so we can experience His presence with us.  I encourage you, as you take Holy Communion, to seek to know Christ’s presence with you as you kneel at the altar to pray.

Fourth, Holy Communion is a sacrament God uses to pour His grace into our lives.  Grace is God’s undeserved love and favor.  Through Holy Communion, God strengthens and equips us to live as His people.  Just as food nourishes your body, God’s grace imparted through Communion nourishes your spirit in a special way that you can live as His people.

Conclusion
I hope it has been helpful to ponder the questions with me.  May God bless you.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Questions about Jesus, Baptism, and the Bible


Matthew 7:7-8
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Introduction
Jesus appreciates people who seek answers.  Christ do for those who don't care, but those who seek, find.  Over the next few weeks, I will answer several questions about religions, heaven, forgiveness, and even racism for people who are seeking answers.  Let me start with a few general questions people have asked about the personality of Jesus, baptism, and the Bible.

Does Jesus have a personality?  Does Jesus have a sense of humor?
Let me start the answer with two points:
1)  People are made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27 – “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

2)  Jesus is God. John 1:1 “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word [Jesus]  was with God, and the Word was God.”

So, people are made in God’s image. We reflect His character the way a mirror reflect our face.  We are God's mirrors.  Granted, because of sin, our ability to reflect God's perfect character is broken; however, just as a shattered mirror still reflects an image (albeit distorted and imperfect), we still reflect the image of God (although imperfectly).  People have personalities because God has a personality. People have a sense of humor because God has a sense of humor. 

Furthermore, Jesus was fully God and fully human. This is a mystery. However, it is an essential element of understanding Jesus's character. Jesus was simultaneously God in every way and also human in every way. Jesus was the perfect example of what humanity was design to be.  Therefore it must be true that Jesus has a personality and a sense of humor.  The stories from Jesus' life also bear this out.  The first miracle Jesus performed was at a wedding party--a place of joy and celebration--and he made wine, which is a substance people use to enhance joy at a party.  It seems reasonable that Jesus was at the wedding to party and celebrate with everyone else.

People were drawn to Jesus because he was a real person with an attractive personality.  He had emotions just like the rest of us.  He experienced, sorrow, and anger.  Jesus even showed humor in many of his parables.  We often miss his joke because there is a cultural divide (have you ever watched a comedian from another country and scratched your head because they didn't seem funny, even though everyone else was laughing?  Ever struggled to find humor in British comedy?  There's a cultural divide that affects humor.)  An example of humor is the irony in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.  We usually miss the humor, but Jesus' original listeners would have caught the ionic humor.

So yes, Jesus had a personality and humor.  An important question for you is this:  do you know Jesus as a person with a personality? Is he a real person to you or is Jesus just a historical figure or a picture you've seen in a stained glass window?  The main point of the Christian faith is that Jesus is not dead, but alive and he wants to have a real personal relationship with you.  He wants you to talk to him like you would to a real person, because he is a real person.  And he must be a real person to you or your religion is just not enough.

What is the difference in immersion and sprinkling as it relates to baptism?
Ephesians 4:5 says, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”  Jesus commanded his followers to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Baptism is how we initiate people into the Christian faith, the family of God, the Church.  There is only one baptism, but it can be celebrated in different forms.

Baptism by immersion is when we "dunk" a person entire body completely under the surface of the water.  It can be done in a baptismal pool, a river, a lake, or any large body of water.  Baptism by immersion is a beautiful ceremony that symbolizes how a person who becomes a Christian has died to their old sinful ways and has been raised to new life as a new creation in Christ.  The person is symbolically buried as they dipped below the water's surface and raised to new life as they are lifted back up.

Another method of baptism that is more common in my Methodist church is sprinkling.  Through sprinkling, the pastor dips their fingers in a bowl of water and sprinkles a few drops of water on the person's head.  Sprinkling as has deep symbolic meaning.  In the Old Testament when God chose the Israelites to be His people, He had His priest sprinkle them with blood and water in a purification rite.  God claimed the Israelites as His very own people, a royal priesthood set apart as holy.  As we sprinkle a person with water through holy baptism, we recognize that God has chosen and purified them to be part of His holy people, the Body of Christ.

Another method of baptism that we see less often in my part of the world (but that is just as valid) is pouring.  Through pouring, a ladle or pitcher is used to pour water over the head of the baptized.  This method recalls how God pours out His Holy Spirit upon those who are baptized into the Christian faith.

In all these methods, we recognize baptism as the sacred ceremony Jesus command us to practice that God uses to pour His grace into our lives.  God does not save us through baptism, but He marks us as His own people and gives us help to grow in the faith.  We want as many as are willing to receive this special help God offers through baptism.  God can and does offer His full assistance regardless of the amount of water we use.  (It has been said that the minimum amount of water necessary for a valid baptism is only three drops--one each for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).  The amount of water used is not important; faith is what matters.

But why do Methodists (and many other Christian denominations) baptize infants?  Infants are not old enough to understand what God is doing or have faith.  However, their parents (or Christian sponsors) are and they bring their child seeking the assistance of God and the support of the Christian community to raise their child until the child is old enough to understand and have faith for themself.  

Infant baptism is not explicitly recorded in the New Testament.  This is because almost everyone in the New Testament became a Christian as an adult convert from another religion.  When an adult became a Christian they were baptized.  In some places, like Acts 16:31-33, the Scripture says a person was converted and baptized along with his whole household.  The text doesn't say who belonged the household, but this could have included children (possibly even very young children).
It wasn't long though (by the late first century) that Christian parents began having children who they wanted to raise within the Church from the very beginning.  They wanted to mark their children as God's chosen as infants.  Obviously, it is more practical to baptize infants by sprinkling than by immersion.  As Christianity spread worldwide, it became much more common for people to be born into Christian families that wanted to initiate them into the church as infants.

Infant baptism is one of the longest ceremonies we practice in the Christian church.  I don't mean that the service is very long.  Let me explain.  When parents bring me an infant to baptize, I sprinkle water on the child's head and God claims the child as His own and pour out His grace ot help the parents and community of faith raise the child to accept Christ for themself one day.  When the service is over and the parents leave, the sacrament of baptism is still proceeding; it is not over yet.  The infant's baptism will not conclude until the day the child grows up enough to understand and accept faith in Christ for themself.  Then they will come back to the church (maybe not even to me or my church; it could be another) and confirm their faith in Christ as heir Lord and Savior.  It may be 10, 20, even 50 years after the water was sprinkled on their head.  And it is in the moment that they confirm their own faith that the baptism that began in their infancy is finally complete.  So infant baptism in a very long ceremony that could take a decade or more to finish.

One more thing I must state, because I encounter this misunderstanding so often.  Many people confuse christening and baptism.  Sometimes people refer to infant baptism as christening.  So they will sometimes tell me, "I was christen as a baby, but now I want to be baptized as an adult."  If you were christen with water as an infant, you were already baptized.  Christening is one part of the baptismal ceremony.  It is the point in the baptism when we give the child their Christian name.  A long time ago, parents didn't not officially name their child until their baptism.  Then, during the ceremony, the priest asks, "What is the Christian name you give this child?"  And the parents would reply, "Bobbi Sue".  The act of naming the child is christening.  Then the infant is baptized by sprinkling water on it's head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  God pours out His grace on the child, the parents, the sponsors, and the community of faith that the child may grow up in the Christian faith and one day accept it for him or herself.  God has baptized the child and there is no need to ever do it again.  In fact, as a Methodist minister, I am forbidden to re-baptize a child.  To do so would not make sense.  Sense God is the one who baptizes, to re-baptize would like claiming God didn't do it right the first time.  An initiation only needs to happen once.  We can confirm the initiation or remember the baptism, but we don't re-baptize.

Is the Bible the Word of God to humans or is it humans’ words about God?
I suspect the root what's at the root of this question is the concern (or challenge) about the Bible's divine inspiration and/or reliability. This Bible is inspired by God and it is reliable.

To answer the question (and underlying concerns), I should start by saying the Bible is (in a sense) both God's Word and humans' words about God. Hear me out. The Bible is a collection of the stories about people's experiences with God. It was written by many different people over thousands of years. However, the Bible is inspired by God. What we have in the Bible is exactly what God wants us to have and He uses the Bible to speak to us.

Different parts of the Bible were written in different ways. Exodus 32:18 says God inscribed terms of His covenant with Israel (summarized in the Ten Commandments) with His very own finger. In most places, though, the Bible was not written directly by God. It was written by people. Sometimes God dictated a prophecy directly to a prophet and said "Go say this!" or "Write this down and don't you change it!" But the majority of Scripture was written by regular people whom God inspired. People are flawed, and sometimes their flaws sneak into Scripture. (Example, sometimes people in the New Testament mix up quotes from the Old Testament).  Furthermore, peoples cultural ideas are not necessarily good or perfect (or even Godly) just because they are in the Bible.  However, God uses flawed humans (and their ideas) to communicate His Word to people.  As one old expression goes, "God can draw straight lines with a crooked stick."

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the most important way God communicates with people today.  God inspired people who wrote the Bible and He also inspired the people who collected and compiled it.  Everything we need to to lead us to faith and salvation is within the Bible's sacred pages.  It is the primary source of all Christian faith and practice.  It is different from all other books in that God speaks directly to us through it when we read it—even to you personally.  You can certainly find help from many other books, but none of them can speak to you the way God can speak to you through the Bible if you read it through eyes of faith and an obedient heart.

Conclusion
I always appreciate receiving questions.  you can email me more at ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com and I will try to answer them.  Let me conclude with a few questions for you to ponder and answer for yourself.
  • Do you have a real, personal relationship with Jesus? He is a person with a personality. You can talk to him and relate to him as such.  You must.  How could you delve deeper into a real relationship with the person, Jesus?  Will you?
  • Have you been baptized? Baptism is the initiation ceremony of the Church, the Body of Christ.  Jesus commanded us to be baptized and through baptism, we receive the grace of God through the Holy Spirit to continue to grow in our faith.  I would love to baptize you if you are willing.  If you live far away, I encourage you to seek a Christian community of faith to baptize you.
  • Do you read the Bible in order to let God speak to you? Do you study it with others?  The Bible is the Word of God.  It is the primary way God speaks to His people.  Are you listening?  Are you reading?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Jesus' Questions for You


Introduction
My hope for this message series was to answer your questions about God and Christianity. 
But so far, I’ve only received on question (and I answered that one a couple weeks ago.
So even though I’ve offered you a chance to write your questions on the tear off in the bulletin and announced it from the pulpit each Sunday (and I’ve also sent out numerous emails and solicited questions on Facebook), I haven’t received any other questions.

But as I prayer about your lack of questions, Jesus laid something else on my heart.  Jesus said, “If they don’t have any questions for you, I’d like to ask them a few questions."  So that’s what I’m gonna do today for the sermon.  Since you haven’t asked any questions, Jesus has some questions for you.  The first question comes from Mark 8:27-29.

Mark 8:27-29
27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”

Who Do You Say I Am?
Jesus actually asks his disciples two questions in this passage: “Who do people say I am?”  And “Who do you say I am?”  Jesus asks you the same questions this morning.  Who do people say that I am and who do you say that I am?  These are critical questions.  Your answers will influence everything you do in this life and even eternity.


Almost everyone has some opinion about Jesus.  In America, you would have to live under a rock to have never heard something about Jesus. So, who do people say that Jesus is?  A prophet?  A revolutionary?  A truly gifted religious leader? A fictional character people made up?

Most people, unfortunately, have a very inaccurate idea of Jesus.  Their notion of Jesus is just what they've picked up from popular opinion or myth.  Perhaps they have some vague ideas that he is loving and nurturing or merciful and forgiving, but they aren't necessarily clear of what all this entails.  Unless people read and understand the Bible—both the Old and the New Testaments—they probably only know of the popular image of Jesus, an image that is woefully inadequate.

CS Lewis once wrote that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.  Lewis argued that when people claim Jesus was just a good man, they disregard what he said about himself.  Lewis claims we must listen to what Jesus said about himself in the Gospels.  Jesus claimed to be the Son of God who was going to die on the cross and rise from the dead to save humanity from sin and grant eternal life.  Now if Jesus was just a good man, he was lying when he claimed to be the Son of God, Lord, and Savior.  Furthermore, thousands of people in his day (including his closest friends) died because they believed him.  Therefore, if Jesus was lying, he was anything but a good man.  He was actually evil if he was lying.  Or another option was that he believed his own lies; which means he was a deluded lunatic, not a good man.  The other option left to us is that Jesus was really telling the truth and he is indeed Lord.

What Jesus really cares about is not what other people say about him.  What he really wants to know is: “Who do you say he is?”  That’s what really matters.  You can’t control what other people think and do.  But you can make up your own mind—and you must decide about Jesus.  Who is Jesus to you? 

I’ll tell you who Jesus is to me.  Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, the Messiah, my Savior!

The second question Jesus asks you today comes from Mark 4:35-40

Mark 4:35-40
35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”
39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?
Again, Jesus ask two questions; but this time the two questions are really the same thing asked two different ways.  Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?

Maybe we should cut the disciples a little slack.  We have the benefit of looking back on the story already knowing a lot more about Jesus than the disciples had figured out by the 4th chapter of Mark.  They were still getting to know Jesus.  We’ve already heard the end of the story.  We’ve heard about all his other miracles—healing the sick, driving out demons, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, raising the dead, and (most important) rising from the grave himself.  Also understand this: if you’ve been a Christians for more than three years, you’ve been walking with Jesus a lot longer than the disciples did.  Jesus was only on earth with His disciples for three years.  If you’ve been a Christian longer than that, you’ve already got more experience with Jesus than they did. 

And that’s why Jesus wants to ask you the same questions today. 
Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?
Storms come in all our lives.  They may not include wind and rain.  They may include: health problems, financial troubles, losing your job, grief over the death of a loved one.  Sometimes our fears aren’t even brought on by actual events.  More often, we worry about things that haven’t even happened yet, things that might never even happen.  What if my son/daughter gets hurt?  What if I get sick?  What if I never find someone to marry?  What if my marriage doesn’t work out?  What if I lose my job and can’t pay my bills? 

We worry because of sin.  It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.  For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”  I always thought the reference to "sweat of your brow" was talking about how hard work will be.  But a study of ancient middle eastern phrases shows that when they used the phrase "the sweat of your brow" they were almost always talking about worry and anxiety.  Think about how Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was praying that God would take the cup of suffering from him if it was possible and he was sweating like drops of blood from his brow.  Because of Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden, ancient farmers would always worry that their crops would fail because of drought, or pestilence, or failure to thrive and so they and the people they loved would starve to death.  It was a a very real possibility in an agricultural society.  And though today, in America, few will starve to death because of a crop failure, we still worry that we will lose our jobs or something else terrible will happen.

Worry and anxiety was a curse humanity received because of Adam's sin in the garden.  Praise be to God, Jesus came to set us free from the curse.  That’s why the angels who announced Jesus birth said, “Do not fear!  I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:10-11)  That’s why Jesus could say, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  (Matthew 6:31-33)

Just a few minutes ago, Jesus asked each of you, “Who do you say I am?”  And many of you affirmed with me, “Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, the Messiah, my Savior!”  If Jesus is your Lord, the Son of God, the Messiah, your Savior, then:
Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?
If Jesus can calm a storm on the sea of Galilee, if He can rise from the grave, don't you trust Him to take care of you and your problems?

Jesus’ Questions
What has been bothering you lately?
Is Jesus asking you to do something?  (Forgive someone?  Answer a call to do something for Him?  Serve in some way?)
Are you worrying about something that might happen (but probably won’t)?  
Are you struggling with worry and anxiety?
Are you going though a very real and difficult storm in your life?

I want you to set aside your worries and concerns for just a moment and answer Jesus’ questions for you this morning. 
Answer His questions first and then pray about what’s bothering you.

Jesus’ questions for you this morning are:
Who do you say I am?
Why are you afraid? 
Do you still have no faith?


Monday, October 14, 2019

The Face of God

The Face of God

Can a man see the face of God and live?
Maybe. I think I've seen it. I know I have.

He is reflected in people all around the world. He is a wise old man, but also a man in the prime of life, full of vigor.  He looks like me, but also like those who are very different. He is in the caring hands of a mother with her child and in the wondering infant too. 

He is the compassion of a stranger who becomes your friend. And in the hard but honest counsel of a sister you deeply trust.

He is there, too, in the teenager trying to find out who they are, and in the man who finally knows. 

We can see Him in creation and in creating. 
We feel Him when our hearts sing and when they hurt because of love.

God's face shines forth "for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer", but He was also the lonely One who never married, because you are His heart's one, true desire and He is still waiting. It is crucial we recognize Him in both.

The compassion of a healer, a generous gift, a smile that brings hope, a calming word, forgiveness, truth, sacrificial love:  all these show the outlines of His face.

He is with me as I read His Holy Word, right there, so close, looking right over my shoulder. And the clearest description I read is of the Man choosing to die on the cross for people who don't deserve it--even me. And then again in the empty tomb.

Monday, October 7, 2019

How Much Faith is Enough?


Introduction
I'm writing a series of blogs based off your questions.  If you have a question, send me an email to ReverendChrisMullis@hotmail.com.  I will try to answer your questions over the next several weeks.

My question this week came from my church's Facebook page.  "How much faith is enough?"  That’s a great question and Jesus addressed it with his disciples.

Luke 17:3-6
“3 So watch yourselves!  If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”
The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you!

Forgiveness is Hard
My younger sister is only two years younger than me. We argued a lot when we were kids--mainly because she was a pesky little brat and I was perfect. (That's sarcastic humor. It's ok to laugh.)  Sometimes when we fought, my mom would make us apologize and forgive each other. Did your parents ever make you do that?  Well, my sister and I knew we had to obey our mom, even if we didn’t want to.  So, we would scrunch up our faces and say threw gritted teeth, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”

The disciples weren’t little kids, but Jesus told them to forgive and they knew it would be hard.  It’s one thing to forgive someone once, but Jesus said forgive them even if they wrong you seven times in one day and ask forgiveness.  (By the way, Jesus was using the number seven as a figure of speech.  He didn’t mean seven was the limit and you didn’t have to forgive a person on the eighth time.  Jesus meant you got to keep on forgiving people for as many times needed.)

The Disciples weren’t sure they had the faith to forgive people like that.  I mean it’s one thing to forgive something petty—like the childish things my sister and I argued about as kids.  However, Jesus didn’t say only forgive people the little things.  We’ve got to forgive them even when the offence is very serious and hurtful.  It takes a lot of faith to forgive like that and the Disciples weren’t sure they had enough faith for forgiveness like that.

Jesus answers their fear by saying it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to make a mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea.  (At another time in Matthew 17:14-21, he was even more dramatic, saying faith the size of a mustard seed could move a whole mountain!)  Which do you think is harder:  moving a mulberry tree, a mountain, or saying “I forgive you?”

It takes faith.

What is Faith?
What is faith?  I really liked what Refroe Watson said in his sermon last Sunday about faith.  He said, “Faith is belief that you’re willing to act upon.  Belief is believing your child can drive.  Faith is being in [the car] while they drive.  That’s what faith is.”

Faith is when your trust exceeds your fear.  One time as a very small child, I climbed up in a tree and when I looked down, I got scared and froze up.  I couldn’t climb down.  Now, I was only three or four years old so I wasn’t really that high up; but for a small, frightened child it seemed way up!  So my Dad came out and grabbed hold of me (I was just barely above his shoulders) and he said, “I’ve got you.”  But I was scared and I was clinging to that tree with a death grip!  When my Dad said, “Let go.  I’ve got you,” I didn't let go.  So he’s trying to pull me off the tree and I’m hanging on with all my might!  It wasn’t until my faith in my Dad’s ability to hold me exceeded my fear of falling out of that tree that I was willing to let go and let him pick me up out of that tree and set my feet safely back on the ground again.

Faith makes you act.  Fear makes you freeze.  When your faith exceeds your fear—even by an amount as tiny as a mustard seed—you can move mountains.  Now unfortunately, some people treat faith as if we’re just supposed to sit back and trust God to do everything for us.  But that’s not what it says.  Faith doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing, waiting for God to do all the mountain moving by Himself.  Faith means we trust God can move that mountain—maybe even through us—and so we figure it out and get it done if that’s what God wants.  We raise some money, hire a construction crew, and we get to work moving that mountain because God told us to and we want to obey and we believe Him when He says it's possible.

How Much Faith is Enough?
So the question today is: “How much faith is enough?”  The short answer is, “Just a tiny bit more faith than your fears.”  When your faith outranks your fear even by the tiniest amount, you move.  You trust.  You act on your trust.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid or you don’t hurt; it only means your faith is stronger than your fear.  And even a little bit is enough to overcome.

Now, if your faith it starts to fade, you might give up.  Some battles we fight take a long time and your faith has to sustain you through the long battle.  So faith needs to be nurtured and grown.  You must fortify your spirit with more and more faith every day.  The battles you face today may be tiny compared to the ones that still lie ahead.  So now is the time to build your faith so it will be stronger than your fears tomorrow.  How do you build it?

5 Ways to Grow Your Faith:
  1. Ask God for more faith. God will answer this prayer.
  2. Fast and pray. Jesus told his disciples to do this (in so many words) when they lacked the necessary faith to cast a demon out of a child.  Fasting and prayer can increase your faith power.  Fasting doesn’t have to be some super discipline reserved for monks living in a monetary. Try this: Eat dinner tonight, then skip breakfast and lunch tomorrow while drinking lots of water and a few cups of juice,.  Then break your fast by eating dinner tomorrow evening. You will be hungry, but you shouldn’t be overwhelmed with hunger. During your fast, try to focus on praying for more faith. (Note: please don’t attempt this if you are sick or unhealthy or diabetic. Talk to your doctor.) 
  3. Read God’s Word. The Bible is full of faith inducing stories of real people who trusted God and experienced His faithfulness.  Reading their experiences can fortify your own faith.  However, we must read the Bible with faith, not cynicism.  Cynicism is like a leech that sucks our faith away.  Reading the Bible with a seed of faith can make the seed take root and flourish.
  4. Worship. Devoting time to adore God—especially surrounded by other people in the community of faith—is a powerful faith growing experience.  Their is something contagious about being together in a group to honor God and sing His praises.  Your faith builds up mine and my faith builds up yours as we forget our problems for a moment and focus more on the magnificence of God.
  5. And finally, act on the faith you have. As we step out in faith, we prove God’s trustworthiness. We start with small steps. As our faith increases, we can trust more and take bigger steps of faith. Faith starts out as a mustard seed, but then it grows into a very large plant.  The mustard plant that grew in Jesus country he said grew so large birds could make nests in its branches.  That's the way with faith.  When we step out and start with the faith we already have, we find our faith begins to grow and grow until it sustains our whole life.
May God give you enough faith to over come your fear.