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Monday, February 26, 2024

The Choice: Narrow vs. Wide Gates

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I was very tired.  I worked outside in my garden all day Saturday and I was physically tired.  I went to bed early.  I fell asleep fast.  But I woke up just a couple hours later with this sermon and you on my mind.  In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said we all have a choice to make.  Listen to what He said. 

Matthew 7:13-14
13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

The Way of Eternal Life
Jesus used gates and roads as a metaphor for eternal life and eternal damnation.  The narrow gate and difficult road represents the way of life that leads to eternal life in heaven.  The narrowness of the gate represents the exclusive nature of the path to eternal life.  Jesus is the only way to eternal life.  Jesus explicitly said so in John 14:6 - “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So, some will not go to heaven because they either reject Christ or never deliberately choose Him.  Jesus said the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult.  Living a life that adheres to Jesus' teachings requires self-discipline, sacrifice, and a willingness to go against the prevailing norms and values of society. This path is not the easiest, but it is the one that leads to true life.

Jesus wants everyone to have eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  (I want that for you too!)  But the reality is:  the gate is narrow and the road is difficult and few people ever find it. 

The Highway to Hell
Most people choose the wide gate and take the highway to hell.  It's the route that seems easiest and most convenient, requiring little to no sacrifice or change.  It aligns with our natural desires and the immediate gratification of our wants without considering the long-term consequences.  

And besides, it’s the road most people choose.  You don’t even have to think about it.  You just go along with the crowd.  It requires no discipline, no self-examination, no repentance or transformation. 

Yeah, it’s easy; it’s convenient; and it offers the false promise of freedom.  But it’s a lie!  While the gate is wide and the path is easy, it leads to spiritual death, separation from God, and eternal punishment in Hell. 

And I woke up last night full of sorrow and concern for the multitudes of people traveling on the
highway to hell and for the very few who choose the narrow, difficult road to heaven.  
I lay in my bed thinking about how I may have failed to do my part to encourage others to choose the right path–the one that leads to Heaven.  I lay there thinking about everyone who would be sitting in my congregation  or watching online the next morning to hear this sermon, as well as everyone who might read it on my blog.  And I thought about how so many think you are walking on a path that leads to eternal life in heaven when you are not.  Maybe you think you're going to heaven because:

  • You were baptized as a baby, (or as an adult), or
  • You go to church, or
  • Your parents or grandparents were great Christians, or
  • You believe God exists, or
  • Because you’re a good person, or
  • Because you just believe everyone goes to heaven.

Listen to me.  No.  Don’t listen to me; listen to Jesus.  Jesus says it right here in our Scripture.  “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

Few Ever Find It
Most people think it’s so easy.  They say:  Just be a good person.  Go to church if you want to.  Be nice.  You’ll go to heaven.  But Jesus says:  “The gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

You see, the idea here is, you can have good intentions and still miss the gate to life.  You can’t just casually walk through life assuming you’ll stumble through the right gate.  No sir.  You might still miss it.  You may think you went through the right gate but realize too late you chose the wrong one.  If you want to be one of the few people who find the gateway to eternal life, you better get serious about it.  You better study it so you'll recognize the right gate and the right path when you see it.  you better choose wisely.

People get serious about all kinds of things in this life.  They’ll work hard to achieve goals like:

  • Athletic achievements
  • Educational Achievements
  • Finding a mate to spend their life with 
  • Building a successful career,
  • Home ownership
  • Health and wellness
  • Travel and adventure

Perhaps you can think how you have strived for some of these in your own life.

People plan and save and study and invest themselves in all kinds of things–some things that are good and important.  But the most important thing, the thing that will literally last for all eternity, so many people approach carelessly, as if this most important thing just happens automatically.  Few things worth having just happen automatically.  You have to be committed and strive for it.

How to Find the Narrow Gate
If you really wanted to be a winning athlete, you would intentionally train to succeed.  You might practice daily to get good, maybe workout to grow stronger; you might even change the way you eat to become healthier and fuel your body. 

There are things you can do to help you be one of the few who finds the narrow gate Jesus says leads to eternal life.  And I suggest everyone be dedicated to spiritual training.

  1. Repent and seek forgiveness - Acknowledge your sins and mistakes, repent, and seek God's forgiveness. This process of turning away from sin is crucial in finding the narrow gate.  You will never find the gate until you decide to start looking.  And repentance is the the first step.

  2. Commit to Live for Jesus - Jesus chose you.  But you have to choose Jesus.  You have to consciously decide to be His disciple–to apply Jesus' teachings in your daily life, including loving your neighbor, forgiving others, practicing humility, and serving those in need.

  3. Join a faith community - Being part of a church or a spiritual community provides support, accountability, and encouragement as you strive to live a life that reflects Jesus' teachings.  Worship together.  Study together in a small group.  Serve together.  Jesus and the original Twelve Disciples worked together as a group.  If Jesus and the Twelve needed to be in a group, what makes you think you can do it alone?

  4. Read the Bible - Regularly reading and studying the Bible helps you understand God's principles and Jesus' teachings. This knowledge is foundational to discerning the narrow path.  It’s the only way you are going to know which gate to go through and which path to follow in life.

  5. Pray - Prayer is a powerful way to communicate with God, seek His guidance, and express your desire to follow Him. It aligns your heart with God's will.  Prayer is the heart of walking on the right path with Jesus. 

Some of you are already doing these things.
Some of you need to do better.
Some of you need to take a good hard look at your life and recognize, you’re just blindly walking through life along with everyone else, and you don’t even realize you are traveling on the highway to hell.
You better wake up now, before it’s too late and you find yourself suffering for all eternity!


Monday, February 19, 2024

Living the Golden Rule: A Deep Dive into Matthew 7:12

This is the 19th sermon I have preached from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.  Leave it to a preacher to turn Jesus' one sermon over 19 sermons!  Actually, this is not unlike what the Twelve Disciples would have done.  Jesus preached this Sermon on the Mount as an overview of His core teachings.  Then, the Twelve would have gone town to town to share His lessons, explandning upon them much ass I have in this series.

The sermon today is based on just one verse.  And I bet it is one most of you have memorized.  Can you guess it?

Matthew 7:12
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

It’s So Simple
Can you think of a time when someone treated you kindly and it left a lasting impression upon you?  I remember many.  One time when I was about 12 years old, my karate instructor started coming to pick me up for classes a few times each week.  My mom was a single mom with 4 kids and couldn't always get me to class.  So Jeff Carmichael picked me up every week.  I felt bad because I knew it was extra time and gas for him to come get me.  I offered to pay for his gas and Jeff said, "No.  Don't pay me.  One day you will have a chance to help someone else.  Whenever you do, you'll be paying me back."  I've always remembered that and tried to live it out.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It’s so simple, many are taught the golden rule in Kindergarten.  It’s so simple, almost every world religion teaches some form of “The Golden Rule”. 
Judaism 16th century BC: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow-man. This is the entire Law, all the rest is commentary.” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id)
Hinduism 15th century BC: “This is the sum of duty. Do not unto others that which would cause you pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5, 1517)
Buddhism 6th century BC: “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do unto others.”  (The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18)
Islam 7th Century AD: “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”  (Hadith 13, The Forty Hadith of Imam Nawawi)

It would seem the concept of treating other people with the respect, dignity, and kindness you would want for yourself is a universal law for all humans everywhere.  But if that’s true, it raises some questions.

But Why?
First of all:  Why should we treat people the way we want to be treated?  For what reason?  There have been many people throughout history who have rejected the Golden Rule in favor of something we could call The Law of the Jungle where only the strong survive and the weak are culled from the heard.  Why should we value and treat weak, less talented, less beautiful, less intelligent people with the same dignity and respect we want?  And what about people who act like animals and do despicable things?  Why shouldn’t we treat them like animals since they act like animals?

There may be some self-serving reasons to treat others well.  It could earn you a better reputation or open opportunities or encourage others to treat you well.  If you scratch someone else's back they may scratch yours.  So, it might benefit you to do good unto others.  The only problem with these motivations is sometimes it will not benefit you.  What then?  Does that give you an excuse to break the Golden Rule?  Not according to Jesus and the Holy Scripture.

All Humans are Sacred Works of Art
The Bible gives a reason to follow the Golden Rule that’s outside humanity all together and firmly grounded in the divine nature of God.  Genesis 1:27 says “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  We are created in God’s image.  Every human being is a sacred, image of God.  And therefore, every person should be treated with dignity and respect—the way you would treat a priceless work of art.

Suppose several priceless works of art like Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh or the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper by Leonardo de Vinci were were inside a burning building.  Wouldn't you want people to do everything they could to rescue the masterpieces from being destroyed?  And it wouldn't matter if the building that housed them were a beautiful museum or a shack in a swamp.  The value of the art inside the building is not diminished by the type of building they're in.  We would want to save them either way.  The same is true of every human being.  Each one has sacred worth because they bear the priceless image of God--a divine image that should be treated with dignity and honor regardless of the shell that holds it.

When we treat people poorly, it's a denial of the divine image within them.  This kind of behavior doesn't just harm the person on the receiving end; it also impacts our relationship with God. It's a form of disrespect to what God has created and valued.  It reduces our interactions to something less than human.  We become less than human.  When we treat others like animals, we become animals ourselves.  When we treat any part of creation without respect for the Creator who made it, we degrade ourselves.

Jesus said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”  They bear the sacred image of God just like you do.  God loves people.  He loves everyone.  And if we love God, we should love what He loves.  We can’t see God, but we can see people.  How can we say we love God (when we can’t even see Him) if we don’t love the people God made (that we can clearly see)?  One of the ways we express our love to God is by loving the people He made in His image. (And also by take good care of all His creation.)

That’s not just something Jesus said.  It’s something Jesus did.  He treated everyone with dignity.
He valued and included children in his ministry—welcoming them in his presence when adults tried to push them away.  He spent time talking with the Samaritan woman at the well and revealed his true identity as the Messiah to her.  He was even kind to the thief on the cross who was dying in agony next to him at the crucifixion—welcoming him into Paradise.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Follow the Golden Rule?
The Golden Rule is so simple and universal.  It’s been known by cultures all over the world for over 3000 years.  And if people would just follow this simple rule, the world would be a much better place.  So why doesn’t everyone just do it?

The answer is summed up in one simple, 3 letter word: SIN.

God created us to love Him and to love each other.  But our SIN is we love ourselves more. We are selfish.  We want to be in control and do things our way.  And when we want something, we are willing to go against God's laws and moral principles and His purposes in order to get what we want.

This SIN is captured in the creation story in Genesis when the Serpent tempted Eve to breaks God’s command and eat the forbidden fruit.  The Serpent promised the fruit would make Eve like God.  And that’s often still the temptation--that if we  bend God's rules a little, we will receive some benefit, some reward, that is better than what what we have when we obey God.  God's way is always the best way, but we think we can do better by cheating the system.

Lenten Challenge
Today is the first Sunday in Lent.  Lent is a season of 40 days leading up to Easter.  It is a time when Christians refocus their spiritual lives.  Some may give up something as a form of self-denial to draw them closer to Christ.  Others commit to do something positive to live out their faith more authentically. 

Perhaps, for Lent this year, you could simply make an intentional effort to follow Jesus’ Golden Rule to treat others the way you would like them to treat you (in every circumstance).  I challenge you to do it as a spiritual practice.  Maybe you could even keep a journal every day.  Prayerfully keep track of the different interactions you had and how you did or didn’t follow the Golden Rule in different situations.

Closing Invitation
In closing, I must say you will always struggle with the Golden Rule until you surrender completely to God and become a Christian.  There will always be a reason to bend or break it until you finally surrender control of your life to God.  Jesus is Lord.  Surrender and let Him be your Lord.  Perhaps you would like to do that right now.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Ask, Seek, Knock

As we transition from the sacrament of infant baptism, a symbol of new beginnings and divine promise, we're reminded of our own spiritual journey. Baptism invites us into a life of asking, seeking, and knocking, a theme we'll explore further in today's sermon.  Open your hearts to the transformative power of faith as we remember the teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount and consider how they speak to us at every stage of our spiritual journey.

Slides – Matthew 7:7-11
“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.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

Ask, Seek, Knock
Jesus says:  Ask, Seek, Knock.  When it comes to the most important things in life—like your goals, your dreams, your family, your physical and spiritual well-being—you have to have humility, commitment, and persistence.  God requires it for the deepest blessings of His Kingdom.  It’s not because God is stingy.  He wants to reward you.  But your cannot handle the deepest blessings of God’s Kingdom” until you are ready for them.  Asking, seeking, knocking prepares you to receive what God wants to give you.

Wise parents do the same thing with their kids.  They don’t just give whatever their kids ask for.  Just because your 7-year-old son wants to drive a car, you don’t let them.  You might set them in your lap and let them drive around an empty parking lot for fun, but a 7-year-old is not ready to drive on their own yet.

Good parents encourage their kids to persist and develop and prove they are responsible before they give them something for which they aren't ready.

Fred Stokes
I’m pumped about our guest speaker for Super Bowl Sunday next week.  Fred Stokes, is a former defensive end who played for the Washington Redskins (now known as the Washington Commanders).  His life exemplifies Jesus lesson about asking, seeking, and knocking.  Fred grew up in poverty in rural Georgia and faced numerous challenges early in life. This fueled his desire to ask God for a better life and success.

Stokes went to college at Georgia Southern University.  He was not a highly touted prospect for the NFL, but he sought to improve, to make his mark, and to achieve his dream, despite the odds being against him.

Stokes was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the twelfth round of the 1987 NFL Draft. However, his early years in the NFL were marked by injuries and limited playing time. But He didn’t give up.  He persistently “knocked” at the door success despite the setbacks.

Stokes' perseverance paid off when he joined the Washington Redskins. He became an integral part of the team's defense and played a key role in their 1992 Super Bowl victory. The door of success finally opened for him.  Stokes' journey from a challenging childhood to a Super Bowl champion is a testament to determination, hard work, and faith. It illustrates how asking for a better life, seeking it through relentless effort, and knocking on the doors of opportunity, despite obstacles, can lead to success and fulfillment.

Jesus said “Keep on asking…”  Asking emphasizes humility.  We ask for help.  It’s a recognition that we need something.  We don’t know how to do something.  We are lost and need directions.  We’re not strong enough.  We’re worried and need peace and comfort.  And so we have to ask for help.  I hate to ask for help.  I’ve always been very independent and I just want to be able to do it myself—and I can do most things myself.  But Jesus has taught me over the years to get over it.  I need to ask for help.  He has a sense of humor too, because He made me a pastor and it’s my job to ask people for help…  God wants to give you deeper blessings than you can even imagine.  So, keep on asking.

Jesus said, “Keep on seeking.”  You’ve got to get out there and do your part to actively pursue God’s will and wisdom.  It's not just about finding answers but about growing closer to God.  It is often as we seek and pursue God that we build the spiritual muscles we need to hold the blessing God intends to give us. 

Jesus said, “Keep on knocking.”  Knocking represents persistence in our spiritual pursuit.  Don’t give up if the door doesn’t open right away.  Keep on knocking.

Have you ever had that awkward moment when you go to someone’s house and knock on the door and they don’t answer right away.  I used to deliver pizzas back before everyone had GPS.  You would get the address, look on a map, and then go out to find the house and deliver the pizza.  Sometimes the address wasn't clearly marked on a house.  You might be 95% sure it was the right house, but you would knock on the door and not know until someone answered the door.  Sometimes you had to knock two or three times before the came to the door.  It was awkward, but you couldn't just leave. Your job was to keep knocking until your delivered the pizza to the right person.  When it comes to the blessings of God's Kingdom, you have to keep on knocking with that same persistent determination.  It is good to know that Jesus is knocking on your door too.  In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears me and opens the door, I will come in and we will share a meal together."

God is a Good, Good Father
Jesus calls God our Heavenly Father, and compares Him to our earthly parents.  Most earthly parents—even the poorest examples—know how to give good gifts to their kids.  They feed them, shelter them, clothe them.  Although people are flawed and sinful, our heavenly Father is perfect love and full of wisdom and power.  He knows what we need before we even ask and has all the power of the universe at His disposal.  He will bless you, but you must get ready first.  So keep on asking, seeking, knocking so you will be ready.

Slide – Holy Communion with Guided Meditation
We had the privilege of sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion at my church Sunday.   Here is a meditation I guided them through.  Perhaps this will be useful for your too.
Relax with your eyes open and contemplate the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Breathe deeply as we rest in God’s grace.  Inhale peace.  Exhale any distractions.
Reflect on the grace of Jesus' invitation to us, an invitation to ask, to seek, to knock.

On the night Christ gave Himself up for us,
He shared His last meal with the Disciples before the crucifixion.

The Bread:  He took the bread, broke it, and asked the Lord to bless it.
Then He gave it to His Disciples and said, “Take and eat.  This is my body given for you.”
In the quiet of this sacred time, present your requests to God.
Ask Him for what you need.
Let the bread of Holy Communion remind you of God's readiness to provide everything you need.

The Cup:  After the meal, Jesus took the cup, raised it to heaven, and asked the Lord to bless it.
He gave it to His disciples and said,
“This is my blood, which confirms the New Covenant between God and His people. 
It is poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins."
Take a moment to meditate on what it means to seek God.
Imagine yourself drawing closer to the heart of Jesus,
seeking His wisdom and presence in every aspect of your life.

Receiving:  Envision yourself knocking on the door of God’s kingdom.
Feel the door of God’s blessings opening to you, inviting you into a deeper communion with Christ.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

5 Decades of Faith - A week of reflections as I turn 50

Playing my Grandma's organ in Ohio, late 70s
This week I turned 50.  So for the whole week, I intentionally reflected on the lessons I've learned along the way while contemplating some of my favorite music from each decade.  I originally posted these on social media over the course of 5 days.  I've compiled those posts here on my blog so I can keep them and to share with anyone who is interested.

Late 70s, playing a toy guitar I got for Christmas
The 1970s - 
"Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce.  Jim died Sept 20, 1973--just 5 months before I was born when he was only 30.  As I turn 50, I think of the many  who died too young.  I am thankful for every year I've had.  It's been a great life so far and I want to make the most of all the time God gives me. 
Following his tragic death in a plane crash, Jim's song surged and became one of the top tunes of 1974.  It ranked ahead of other memorable songs like "The Joker" by Steve Miller Band, "Rikki Don't Lose that Number" by Steely Dan, "Radar Love" by Golden Earing, and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John.  What's one of your favorite songs from the 1970s?

5ish years old
Here's another of my favorites from the 70s - "All Right Now" by Free. 

One of the songs that helped kickoff the Jesus Music revolution that would eventually become to contemporary Christian music we have today. "Little Country Church" by Love Song was released in 1972, but I had never heard it until 2023. I have thoroughly enjoyed rediscover some of the older CCM from the 70s.

The 1980s - "The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley.  This song, released in 1984, stands out from my preadolescent years when I spent a lot of time at Lake Tobesofkee where my parents sold concessions to crowds of tanning teenagers packing the beaches.  The song felt nostalgic--even before I understood nostalgia.  I sensed life passing by too fast. Today quickly becomes a memory we will cherish or regret.  Whenever I hear "The Boys of Summer", I remember listening to the radio in Mom's car driving to the Lake in the mid-80s.  Other notable songs that almost made the cut were "Africa" by Toto and "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics.  What were some of your favorite songs from the 80s?

1989 - HS Freshman
Here's one I almost chose - "Africa" by Toto. It charted as the number 3 song of the 80s. I never even really knew what the song was about, just always liked it. I read this week the song was written by a man who had never been to Africa but was impressed by a romanticized view of it from a TV documentary and tried to write a song about it. It almost didn't make it onto the album.

1985 Ford Escort
We rolled around in a Renault Alliance. Don't let the commercial fool you. It wasn't a great car. But my dad did deliver new papers in it, until he smashed it into a bull who escaped a pasture and wandered across the road in the dark of night. The tip of one horn came right through the windshield and almost impaled him.  Mom drove an old Chrysler, then a Ford station wagon, until she got a Ford Escorts.  It eventually got smashed at the end of the decade. During a terrible downpour, my mom pulled off to the side of I-475 in Macon, GA to wait it out because we could hardly see.  Another car hydroplaned off the road and hit us from behind.

Kelly in the late 80s or early 90s with
a member of her favorite boy band.
My future  wife's taste in music in the late 80s and early 90s was a bit different from mine. She'll have to tell you their name. I cannot bring myself to utter it.

Another one of my favorites from the 1980s was "I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner. As an immature boy not paying close attention, I interpreted the song as a romantic love song. But listen closely and you will see the Love the song writer describes is deeper than just romance. He wants to know what real love is--something spiritual. Mick Jones even talked about that when he said the lyrics came to him at 3 in the morning from what he described as a "higher power".

The 1990s - 
"Jesus Freak" by DC Talk.  The 90s were a decade of tremendous growth and change in my life.  In 1990, I was I was a self-absorbed and rebellious 10th grader learning to drive who hardly even believed in God.  By 1999, I was married, graduated from college, working 40 hours-a-week as an engineer, and accepting the call to full-time ministry as a Methodist minister.  There are so many songs that flood my memory from the 90s.  Pop was in full swing. Mariah Carey began her meteoric rise to fame.  Rap and hip hop became mainstream, with almost every artist including a line or two of rap in their songs.  Meanwhile the grungy sounds of alternative rock from hits like "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "Loser", and "Black Hole Sun" were all over the airwaves.  In the middle of the decade, contemporary Christian music experienced a revolution as DC talk released their album "Jesus Freak" that took Christian culture by storm.  The title song even found it's way onto mainstream radio and MTV.  "Jesus Freak" was an anthem for many young Christians like me who wanted to break away from what we perceived as the stale, "churchy" faith of our parents' generation and engage the world in a more radical and relevant way.  Christian music changed in 1995 and got much better (IMHO).  My faith also changed radically throughout the 90s. In 1991, I started reading the Bible every day.  In 1992, I started attending church every Sunday
with my future wife.  In 1994, a crisis of faith greatly deepened my belief in God.  In 1995, I joined a young adult Sunday school class.  In 1996, I attended the Walk to Emmaus, which made my relationship with Christ more vividly personal.  I found I was proud to bear the label "Jesus Freak", a derisive term from the 60s and 70s used to disparage people intensely devoted to Jesus (remember the line from Elton John's song "Tiny Dancer" - "Jesus freaks, out in the streets, handing tickets out for God...")  Scoff at me if you want.  I proudly accept the title Jesus Freak.  Jesus gave His life for me.  He has changed my life forever for the better.  I will gladly be called names and suffer for the mission He gave all His followers to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you."  The culture of the 90s was often about living an alternative lifestyle.  EVERYONE was doing it.  LOL.  Think about that....  In the midst of it, "Jesus Freak" screamed in grungy, rappy, hardcore lyrics that ironically mimicked the "alternative" style of the non-sensical anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and said quite sensibly: Christianity is the original and only authentic alternative to the world.  I wanted to be part of that.  I am part of that.  Don't let the polite smile and clergy collar fool you.  I'm a hardcore freak.  Come join me.

Lacey was our first pet. She showed up on Kelly's door step in 1992. The owner saw Kelly holding her a few weeks later in the yard and asked for the cat back. Kelly was heart broken. She went to the owner's house and offered to buy Lacy. When she arrived, the owner had Lacey locked in a bathroom and said she didn't even want the cat. Lacey went back home with Kelly that day. She was there when Kelly and I married. She moved in with us in our first apartment in Marietta. She helped us study through college and seminary. She was there for the birth of all three of our children. She was the sweetest, most trusting cat. She lived a long happy life. We will always remember her.

Alanis Morissette was an iconic sound of the mid-90s (who BTW turns 50 in June) with songs like 
"Ironic".  "You Were Meant for Me" was released by Jewell in 1996. Jewel turns 50 in May this year.  The Dave Matthews band pumped awesome songs like "Ants Marching".  

Dec 18, 2000. Kelly's college graduation.
I was so proud of her. She finished nursing school
while also raising Gavin. I don't know why
I was staring so awkwardly. Probably just a bad photo.
Then again, I was only 26, was the father
of a 2-year-old, and had just accepted
the job as interim youth director at our church.
I was feeling a little overwhelmed. I was in
charge of 6 volunteers and 30+ youth. I
had to plan a ski trip for everyone in 1 month.
The first meeting I had with my six volunteer youth
counselors who were nearly twice my age immediately
devolved into a shouting match between
two factions vying for control of the group.
One of the counselors (unbeknownst to me at the time)
had wanted the job the church gave me.
Oh, and I was still working full-time
as the director of quality assurance in a textile mill
and had two more months to go on that job.
So, on second thought, maybe I was
just as zonked as I look in this photo.
LOL. 2000-2005 was crazy, but
God brought us through it.
The 2000s - 
"You're Beautiful" by James Blunt (who turns 50 this month).  Released in 2004, it topped charts in 11 different countries and hit #1 on Billboard on March 11th of 2006.  It was also used frequently at weddings, which may be why it sticks out to me (I mostly listened to contemporary Christian music during the 2000s).  I attended or officiated several weddings featuring the song.  A passive listen leads people to choose it for nuptials because of the smooth vocals and sentimental sounding lyrics.  Ironically, Blunts says the song is about a time he caught a glimpse of his ex-girlfriend on a subway platform in London, her arm around another man he didn't know existed.  He said, "‘You’re
Beautiful’ is not this soft romantic f***ing song. It’s about a guy who’s high as a f***ing kite on drugs in the subway, stalking someone else’s girlfriend when that guy is there in front of him, and he should be locked up or put in prison for being some kind of perv.”  Life can be like that if you don't pay attention.  So many casually pass the years without reflecting on what it's all about.  They naively misinterpret the deeper meaning based on shallow surface currents that drag them along with everyone else. Part of my purpose is to wake people up.  What do the lyrics of your life song sing?  What's it all about?  And what are some of your favorite songs from the first decade of the new millennium?

2001 Youth Summer Beach Trip
2000-2005 were a whirlwind.  I accepted the position of interim Youth Director of Lithia Springs UMC in December of 2000.  By June 2001, it became permanent and I was also appointed Associate Pastor.  I was in charge of 30+ youth plus volunteers.  It's not that I didn't have any experience.  I had 4 years of
One of the 300+ youth working at River of Life
experience with youth groups as a volunteer in 2 different churches.  I had served under two different and very capable youth directors.  But I was only 26 and had a young child at home, and was attending seminary.  Our church hosted 300+ people every summer for River of Life, a community out reach project with 10+ youth groups from around
Leading my last youth summer camp at LSUMC
the state who came to do home repairs. And I was in charge of coordinating it all.  I had lots of help (thank God), but I was the coordinator who had o make sure everything came together.  It was a blast and a blessing to our community and everyone involved and I learned so much from the experience.

In 2002, our second child was born--a daughter, Grace.  In 2003, I was appointed as a student pastor of a small church in Griffin, GA - Highland UMC. 

"Meant to Live" was released by Switchfoot in 2003.  But it didn't hit my radar until the last half of the decade.  I loved Switchfoot's grungy, crossover songs, reminiscent of DC Talk from the mid-90s.

In 2004, I earned my black belt in Tang Soo Do, and began teaching a Christian Martial Arts program called "The Method".

In 2005, I graduated seminary and was commissioned as a a probationary Elder in the United Methodist Church.  I was appointed as the full-time pastor of Mt. Zion UMC in Smarr, GA.  They welcomed me with a "pig pickin'" my first Sunday.  It was delicious!

We had our third child, Abigail, in 2007.  In 2008, I finally completed all the steps to be ordained as and elder in full connection in the UMC.  In 2009, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel to see the Holy Land where so much of the Bible takes place.  Here's a Picture of me standing on the steps on the Temple Mount in front of the Dome of the Rock. Inside the Dome (which non-Muslims have not been able to enter for the past few years) most people believe is the spot where the Jewish holy of holies from the Jewish Temple of Jesus' day was located.

2010 Mullis Family Vacation
The 2010s -
 "Time" released by Jessica Campbell Waterman in 2013.  I was appointed senior pastor of Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton, GA in 2010.  The decade saw the infusion of social media, smart phones, and digital music.  Streaming music gradually replaced radio airplay as a significant factor in music success in the 2010s.  In addition, I now often preferred to listen audio books and podcasts.  Furthermore, I've been blessed to meet and interact with a number of incredible artists and song writers.  Jessica performed at my church numerous times in the middle of the last decade.  She was a delightful person and extremely talented musician.  She often brought other great artists like Carolina Story and Hannah Miller with her.  

Leading worship at
a church campout 2011
Sharing about her song "Time", Jessica said: “I believe that working through the tough and interesting dynamics of relationships can actually be the thing that bonds two people together. As we go through life, we are forced to go through ups and downs and time allows us to grow more wisdom as we try to make the most of out of life and the relationships we are in, whether that be family, work, or a spouse.”

2019 with Heather Petero & friends
Others talented local artists such as Earl Bracken, Tom Brown, and Heather Petero, Artist and Instruction also frequented our church.  Our own music minister, David Crawford, is a wonderful musician and songwriter.  Changes in the music industry has diversified tastes.  With so much variety, it feels there are actually less options that everyone will recognize as an anthem for a decade.  I could've chosen familiar songs from Adelle, Ed Sheren, or Taylor Swift or any number of other popular artists.  And though I'm familiar and even like many of the popular songs released by celebrity artists in the 2010s, I hardly listen to pop stations anymore.  When I choose to listen to music, I
Gavin's high school graduation 2016

choose my favorites from the past or musicians I know or independent artists I've discovered through the internet and streaming media (like Amanda Cook).  What are some of your favorites from the 2010s?

In the 2010s, we also saw our kids growing up and becoming adults.  Gavin Graduated high school  in 2016 and college in 2020.  Grace graduated high school in 2020.  We now only have Abigail left at home.

2024 My 50th birthday party at the bowling alley
The 2020s -
If you made it this far, thank you for reading all the way through my 50th birthday reflections.  We now come to the contemporary, post-pandemic era 2020-2024. My selection today is "Firm Foundation" by Cody Carnes, released in 2022.  This song captures so much of my sentiment for the past 4 years.  It's an anthem of faith and reassurance.  Amidst the uncertainties of the past four years for our world and for me personally, the lyrics guide me to reflect what Christ brought me through for five decades; how He helped me overcome tremendous obstacles with supernatural power; how He blessed me richly with great friends, a wonderful wife, and an amazing family.  Christ has been my firm foundation and He's never failed me yet and He won't fail me now or in the decades to come.  So I will continue to honor and glorify Him, assured I am a precious child of God.  With gratitude, I will invite others to be part of His family all the ways I can.  Thank you again for you friendship and well wishes this week.  You are each special to me in your own unique way.  What are some of your favorite songs of the 2020s?  A couple more great songs from this decade I've enjoyed (and sung with our church praise band) are "Holy Water" by We the Kingdom (2020) "
God is in this Story" by Katy Nichole (2023).

Oh, and I started a YouTube ministry in 2021 - Grow and Be Fruitful with Pastor Chris.  Check it out!