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Showing posts with label Christian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian. Show all posts

Monday, November 14, 2022

Are You Having An Identity Crisis?

Introduction
In the movie “Finding Nemo”, a clown fish named Marlin goes on a frantic search and rescue mission to save his son Nemo who was captured by a scuba diver and put in a dentist’s fish tank.  Marlin meets a blue reef fish named Dory who saw the address on the diver’s mask and knows where they took Nemo.  Unfortunately, Dory has short term memory loss.  She can’t remember her own name, let alone the address P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sidney.

The plot is a clever twist of a common theme in  many movies and TV shows.  It’s the
“Who Am I?” plot, in which a lead character has amnesia and can’t remember who they are. 
It’s an identity crisis.

Life is not a movie, but people do have an identity crisis in real life when they don’t know
they belong to God.  God’s Word reminds us our identity is greater than the superficial things of this world.  Our true identity is in Christ.

1 Peter 2:4-12
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
    chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.”

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has now become the cornerstone.”

And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble,
    the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Who You Are in Christ?
“You are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple…” (verse 5)  The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was the most important place on earth to Jews in New Testament times.  They believed it was where God’s Spirit dwelled on earth.  Some had even come to idolize the Temple.  But Jesus reminded people God’s Spirit is not confined to the Temple.  In fact, people who put their faith in God through Jesus are the real residence of God’s Holy Spirit.  Therefore, Christians together make up the true Holy Temple.  What an honor and privilege!

Further more, verse 5 says “You are his holy priests…”  A priest is someone who intercedes to God on behalf of people on earth.  A priest prays for people and performs religious rituals that help people find healing and wholeness and forgiveness and purification so they can reconnect and be at one with God.  In the Old Testament, only one a certain tribe from the twelve tribes of Israel could be priests.  And even within that tribe, anyone who had a blemish or a defect was disqualified.  Only perfect people could be priests.  So for example, if you were born without a finger or lost eye in accident, you couldn’t serve as a priest.  But when we put our faith in Jesus, it is different.  We are all priest of God Most High—even if we aren’t perfect—because Jesus makes us whole.

Verse 9 says, “You are a chosen people…”  In the Old Testament, only Israelites were consider the chosen people.  Everyone else was a Gentile.  And in Jesus’ day, Jews believed only Jews were God’s chosen people.  But Jesus shows us that anyone who places their faith in Christ is God’s chosen.  So we could paraphrase verse 10 to say, “Once you were nobody; now you are God’s somebody!”  In Christ, everybody is somebody special.  Sinners become saints.  Heathens become priests.  The lame are made whole.  The blind can see and deaf can hear.  Those who were damned become holy.  This is what it means to be Christian. 

Why I Am Methodist
There are many different denominations of Christian churches in our world.  I believe God uses them all to serve a special purpose.  Communities need Baptists and Presbyterians and Pentecostals and Methodists.  

Unfortunately, when a church struggles with an identity crisis, it may begin to look around at what all the churches are doing.  They may think, "Well that church is on fire and really growing.  They must be doing something right.  Maybe we should just copy what they are doing."  Sometimes individuals have them same identity crisis.  They forget who they are or for some reason aren't happy with their life.  They look around at some other people who seem to have their life all worked out.  The temptations, the easy fix, is to just try to copy someone else.

The trouble with both of these quick fix situations--for a church or and individual--is that God created us the way we are for a reason.  God made the Methodist church Methodist for a reason to fulfill a specific need in a community.  God made you as an individual for a specific reason.  If you try to copy someone else, you won't be you and something important God wanted to give the world will be lacking.  The same true in the case of a church.  If my church just tries to copy some other church, we won't be who God wants us to be.

I am a Methodist minister, but I was not always a Methodist.  I grew up going to Baptist churches.  My grandparents and parents were Baptists and so I was a Baptist.  I started attending a Methodist church when I was 18.  My girlfriend (now my wife) and I started attending Wesley United Methodist Church in Macon, GA with her friend Laurie Stewart.

Now, I was skeptical when I started with the Methodist church.  The Baptist churches I attended as a kid taught me to be wary of churches that were overly ceremonial and ritualistic.  These, they warned, were superstitious innovation that were not necessary or biblical.  So I was concerned when the first thing I saw happen in the Methodist worship service was acolytes lighting candles on the altar table.  I eventually learned that this wasn't some magic ritual, it was a symbol to remind us that Christ, the Light of the World, is with us when we worship in church and that His light goes back out into the world as we leave (symbolized by the acolytes carrying the flame from the candles out at the end of the service).  Churchgoers follow the light out back into the world.  This is a tradition that teaches us about our faith and our purpose as followers of Christ.

I learned that the Methodist church is a church that values tradition.  We have many.  We believe we can learn from the traditions of Christians who've gone before us and wrestled with the Bible and with the Christian faith.  These tradition help us be better Christians today and help preserve the hard lessons of those who've gone before us.  But Methodist are not only a church that values traditions.

We also value reason.  Jesus told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).  So Methodist use the brains God have us to understand Him and how we should live.  Our intellect helps us to mature in the faith Jesus gave us.  And our intelligence keeps our traditions from becoming superstitions.  We understand that Jesus is not literally in the candlelight on our altars.  The candles are symbols for our minds to interpret.  And sometimes our reason also concludes that some tradition have outlived their usefulness and we can change them.  At other times, reason leads us to know a tradition is wrong and needs to be changed.  Methodist value tradition and reason.

Methodist also value experience.  Our relationship with God is not merely intellectual.  It is an personal experience that includes feelings and emptions and an actual relationship with God.  our relationship must be more than intellectual--just as a relationship with another person must be more than intellectual in order to be real.  So we experience God as a relationship and we learn about God and our faith through personal and communal experiences.

Methodist value tradition, reason, and experience.  However, Scripture is the foundation of all our beliefs and practices.  We understand that our experiences and feelings are limited and very subjective. We may have feelings of great love for someone today, but tomorrow we feel quite irritated with them.  And then the day after that, we may feel great love once more.  That is the subjective nature of experiential feelings.  Traditions change, reason may evolve, and experience is subjective, but the Word of God in Holy Scripture is always the same.  The Bible is an anchor that keeps our faith from floating away into the oblivion of our own human subjectivity.  Methodist have always been a people grounded in Scripture and we must always be so if we are to be true to Christ our Lord.

Thankfully, Methodists are not a group who accept Scripture blindly as fundamentalists often do.  No, Methodist read Scripture intelligently--seeking to understand the historical and cultural contexts.  We use our reason to mine the depths of God's Word.  We use traditions to remember the lessons of God's Word.  And we experience God through the lens of what Scripture teaches us is true about God.

Tradition, reason, experience and Scripture are all distinctive parts of the Methodist way of Christian living.  They are some of the reasons I am a Methodist and I think our way of following Christ may be helpful for you too.   But there is another distinctive features of Methodism that is important for our world.  I will share some of these in the coming weeks, but I want to end with one more thing today.

The Methodist church is a sacramental church.  We believe that Jesus gave the Church some sacred ceremonies that He uses to help His people.  For instance, we typically celebrate Holy Communion once a month in a Methodist church because we believe it is a sacred and special ceremony Jesus told His followers to practice.  

We call it Holy Communion while many other denominations prefer the term The Lord's Supper.  We prefer Holy Communion because of the notion of communing with Jesus.  You see, some denomination would prefer to call Holy Communion an ordinance, while we call it a sacrament.  An ordinance is something you are supposed obey (sort of like a city ordinance).  So some denominations practice the Lord's Supper primarily out of obedience to the ordinance Jesus gave that they such celebrate the meal.  Methodists, on the other hand, celebrate Communion as a sacrament.  We believe it is a sacred moment when God is actually doing something.  So yes, we practice Communion out of obedience, but also because God does something.  We base our believe that God does something on several passage from the Bible where God acted through the celebration of Holy Communion.  For instance, the understanding of the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) was illuminated when Jesus broke the bread of Holy Communion. 

Methodists believe Holy Communion is sacred, but we also believe it is accessible to anyone.  We practice an "open table" where anyone can receive Holy Communion even if they are not a mmber of the church or even if they are young children.  We believe God is infinitely sacred, but He is not something that must be kept separate from people.  Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross--shedding His blood to purify us--God has torn the veil that separates us from in two.  We can come boldly into his presence and so we do this symbolically by welcoming everyone to His table in Holy Communion.  It is a beautiful sacrament that nourishes the spirit just as food nourishes the body.  God impart grace to help His people through the celebration of Holy Communion, and we want everyone to receive this blessing if they are willing.

I hope you will follow this series as I continue over the next few weeks to discuss the identity of the Methodist people and what I believe we have to offer the world.  Perhaps, you may also discover your identity and maybe even choose to be a Methodist Christian as well.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Year of Jubilee - Nothing to Lose

Introduction
Today, I’m excited to start a new series of sermons about the Year of Jubilee in the Bible.  This series grew out of questions that came up in our Thursday morning Bible study as well as some of my own questions from my person study time in God’s Word.

What is the year of Jubilee?  I’m glad you asked!  In ancient Israel in the Bible, you probably know they had a Sabbath Day. Every seventh day, the people were supposed to rest and worship the Lord—no work.  Most people don’t realize, that is where we get our modern idea of the weekend—thank God! 

Most people know about the Sabbath Day.  Not a as many of people know in ancient Israel they also took a Sabbath Year.  Every seventh year, they were suppose to take a year off—no farming.  Even the livestock and wild animals in Israel got a year off.  It was a year of rest! (Wouldn't that be awesome!)

God took care of His people.  He provided enough harvest in the sixth year to feed them all the way through the seventh year and even until the harvest on the eighth year.  Pretty amazing!  You might say, “That’s impossible!”   But remember, the Bible also says, God fed the Israelites with manna for forty years while they wandered in the desert after they left Egypt. So, providing enough food to get the people through one year was no problem for the God of Israel. 

You might think having a whole year off every 7 years was crazy or impossible (or awesome).  But it gets even better.  And that’s what brings us to the Year of Jubilee we read about in Leviticus 25.

Leviticus 25:8-13
“In addition, you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. 10 Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. 11 This fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you. During that year you must not plant your fields or store away any of the crops that grow on their own, and don’t gather the grapes from your unpruned vines. 12 It will be a jubilee year for you, and you must keep it holy. But you may eat whatever the land produces on its own. 13 In the Year of Jubilee each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors.

The Year of Jubilee
The Year of Jubilee happened every 50 years in ancient Israel.  The name “Jubilee” comes from the Hebrew word for “ram’s horn” because the 50th year was announced by the blowing of a shofar—a ram’s horn trumpet.  Why a ram’s horn?  The Jubilee begins on the Day of Atonement with a call to repentance.  Rams were sacrificial animals in the Old Testament.  Perhaps you remember the story of when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  Abraham obeyed and took Isaac up on Mount Moriah.  Just as he was poised to take his son's life, the Angel of the Lord stopped him and showed him ram with its horns caught in a thicket.  The ram became a substitutionary sacrifice for Isaac.  Rams were sacrificial animals to cover the people's sins.

So at the Jubilee, the ram's horn was blows to call people to repent and receive rest, release, and restoration.  The took a year off from work to rest and worship and celebrate the goodness of God with their friends and family.  They were released from all their debts and anyone who was a slave was released from slavery.  Everyone was restored to their original state of fortune.  Slaves were restored to freedom.  Anyone who had sole their family land had it returned to them.  It was as if "control, alt, delete" was performed on the Israelite society and everything was reset to normal again.

Well, what’s this got to do with us today?  I’m glad you asked!  According to the Gospel of Luke,
when Jesus started his ministry, he preached in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and Jesus announced the greatest Jubilee of all times! 

Luke 4:17-19

17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:  18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

Jesus is the Great Jubilee
Do you hear the Good News words of Jubilee? Rest! Release! Restoration!  Jesus is called the “Lamb of God”.  A male lamb is a ram.  So Jesus is the sacrificial ram.  He is the ram’s horn, the shofar, announcing the greatest year of Jubilee—the year of the Lord—when there will be rest. release, and restoration.

There will be rest.  Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, "COme to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest..." 

And Jesus came to release all who trust in Him from bondage to sin and to anything else that coptivates us, for no one can serve two masters.  Therefore, all who follow Jesus as Lord must be set free!  If Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed!

And Jesus came to restore us to a right relationship with God and our neighbors.  Those who follo Christ learn to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love their neighbor as themselves.  Our sins are washed away and we are made right with God and nothing stand in the way of our at-one-ment with God.

If you’ve not already done so, I beg you to repent of your sins and turn to Jesus today!  For then you will begin to experience the greatest Jubilee of all time where there is rest, release, and restoration.

Christians Have: Nothing to Lose
To become a Christian, you surrender to Jesus and die to your own selfish desires.  You proclaim:  “I am no longer my own, but yours, Jesus!”  And so, the Christian embodies Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

If you’ve already died, what do you have left to lose?   What’s the worst that can happen?  If your life on earth ends, you go to be with Jesus in Heaven where there is no more sin or sickness or suffering or death!  We will gather around the throne of God and worship and experience the eternal harmony He promises the faithful who trust Christ as Lord.  

To live on earth is better for the Lord’s Kingdom because you can keep learning the lessons God wants you to learn as you glorify His name and serve Him here on earth.  To die is even better for you, because you go home to the eternal reward that awaits all His faithful.

What a freeing reality—if you think about it.  What have you got to lose?  Nothing! You’ve already won!  Jesus won the victory!  And we are set free!  Hallelujah!

Christians experience so much worry and anxiety in this life when we forget that we've already won.  There's nothing to worry about.  Jesus has already won the victory.  We are on HIs side, so we've won too!  It is only our worldly ways of thinking that make us feel we've something left to worry about.

My Freedom as a Pastor
I’ve served as pastor of Pleasant Grove Methodist in Dalton, GA for 12 years!  That’s amazing!  It's been a great 12 years.  The longer I serve, the more I realize I won’t be at my church forever.  I don't know how long I have left at Pleasant Grove.  I would like to stay on until my daughter graduates high school in 2025, but only if my church feels like I’m the right guy for the job.  

I believe I am the right guy for the job.  We have some important things to do over the next few years.  We are working through disaffiliation for the United Methodist denomination, which will take a year. Then, we will be working through either joining a new affiliation or getting setup as an independent congregation.  Either way, there will be a lot of work to do.  I believe my experience at Pleasant Grove gives me a unique ability to lead the congregation through these important years. 

In whatever time I have left at Pleasant Grove, I feel more and more like I have nothing to lose.  I'm not concerned with making everyone like me.  My number one commitment at Pleasant Grove always has been and always will be the Kingdom of God. Whatever I do, I do it for the Lord.  Why not go for broke?

It's not about me.  It never has been.  It never will be.  Ultimately, it's all about what's best for the Kingdom of God.   So that's always what I'm working for.  Everything else is expendable. Chief among the expendable things is me.  I take the Bible serious when it says in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

My faith says, even if I lose my very life for the sake of Christ, Jesus will raise me to new life.  Even if I wear myself out trying to lead my church, God can restore and revive me.  So, I have nothing to lose.

My role here at Pleasant Grove is to be a shepherd.  I try to lead my church in the right direction.  If I think there’s danger around the corner—some cliff they might fall off—I do my best to guide them along a safe path.  If wolves come in to attack , I’m not gonna run away.  I’ll do my best to protect.  All along the way, I’ll be my church's biggest cheerleader because I believe Pleasant Grove is the best church in this whole community and I want everyone to come join us.

So my thinking is, let’s go for broke together.  Let’s give it all we’ve got for the Kingdom of God!

What Do You Have To Lose?
It’s amazingly freeing when you feel like you have anything to lose!  The most powerful people in the world are those who know they have nothing to lose.  That's how Christians were able to transform their world against all odds.

What about you?  What do you have to lose?  Are you still trying to cling to your life?  Jesus said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Luke 9:24)  

If you keep clinging to your life and the things in your life because you think they are yours and you’ve got to protect them, you’re gonna lose them.  If you cling to your relationships, to your children, to your possessions, your dreams, or anything else, you will lose them.  You will stress yourself out with worry and anxiety, you will sacrifice things you shouldn’t sacrifice, you will cause heartache and disappointment in yourself and others, and at the end of it all, you will lose them anyway.

The alternative is to give all to God through Christ--to die to yourself and trust in Jesus to raise you to a new kind of living.  It is to live in the Year of the Jubilee, where there is rest, release, and restoration.

Don’t you want that peace and freedom in your life where you don’ have anything to lose?  What's stopping you from turning to Jesus and accept His call to repent and believe and experience the rest, release, and restoration He wants to give you today?  Why don't you turn to him right now?

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 4 - When All is Lost

Introduction
A long time ago, in a land far away… 

The Egyptians feel threatened by the growing numbers of Hebrews in their land. 
The Egyptians have forgotten how the Hebrew, Joseph, saved Egypt from starvation. 
They have forgotten the contributions of the Hebrew people to the greatness of Egypt. 
Most of all, the Egyptians have forgotten the One, True God the Hebrews worship. 

Attempting to weaken the Hebrews, the Egyptians treat the Hebrews cruelly, 
forcing them to serve as slaves. But God continues to bless the Hebrews 
and they thrive and multiply. 
Pharaoh, the leader of the Egyptian empire, hatches a dark and evil plan. 
Every male child born to a Hebrew family is to be drowned in the Nile River. 

Now we hear the tale of how one Hebrew family copes when 

Things Fall Apart... 

Exodus 2:1-10
About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. 2 The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. 3 But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. 4 The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.

5 Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. 6 When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. The little boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This must be one of the Hebrew children,” she said.

7 Then the baby’s sister approached the princess. “Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” she asked.

8 “Yes, do!” the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother.

9 “Take this baby and nurse him for me,” the princess told the baby’s mother. “I will pay you for your help.” So the woman took her baby home and nursed him.

10 Later, when the boy was older, his mother brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her own son. The princess named him Moses, for she explained, “I lifted him out of the water.”

A Dark and Evil Time
I can’t even imagine the devastation for these Hebrew mothers.  Remember Pharaoh’s decree from Exodus 1:22, “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.” I can't imagine being a Hebrew mother with a baby growing in your belly for 9 months, becoming so intimately attached, and so fearful for your baby.  They must have prayed that their children would be born girls.  And I can't imagine the terror for these mothers when they birthed baby boys.  What could they do?  Pharaoh had absolute authority.

I can’t imagine any mother facing the impossible decision to "abort" their child.  In China for several decades, the government had a policy that limiting families to only one child and because of cultural pressures that the child be a healthy male, women often felt forced to give up a child (either through abortion or adoption) because the child is not what they expect (China's "one child olicy" ended in 2015).  Even in America, young mother's who do not plan for a pregnancy (or who for whatever reason feel they are not ready or able ot care for a child) will often seek an abortion.  According to the latest statistics I could find, there were 862,320 abortions in 2017 (according to Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.[1])  I'm not judging the women who has face the terrible decision about whether to abort a child or put it up for adoption.  I don't know what they are going through; I can't even imagine how difficult that must be.  I pray for God's mercy and grace in the midst of what must be an incredibly overwhelming and devastating choice.  

Moses' mother faced that choice due to an enforced condemnation of every male baby born to a Hebrew mother.  One wonders, how did the Egyptians enforce Pharaoh's edict?  I can imagine young Hebrew mothers trying to hide their babies, but how do you hide a crying baby? Eventually you’re going to be found out. Maybe a neighbor turns you in (for money or favors from authorities).  That would be a horrible environment to live in too, one where your neighbors and friends and maybe even family are the same ones who are condemning you.  And so eventually, a mother would be found out and I guess Egyptians soldiers showed up at your door to enforce the death of your child. And what would the punishment be for trying to hide your child? Maybe you are tortured? Maybe your whole family is tortured and/ killed? I don't know, but it must have been terrible punishment in order to convince a mother to cast her child into the Nile River. 

Moses' mother manages to keep her baby hidden for three months, but eventually, she is found out (or about to be discovered) and so, she does the only thing she feels like she can do.  She makes a basket and covers it in pitch and tar so it will float, she puts her baby in the basket, and she sets it afloat on the river.  This story has been told thousands of times.  It’s hard to separate fact from fiction.  I've heard some tales having Moses' mother or sister caring for the child each day to keep him safe.  But that's not what the scriptures say.  What do the Scripture say?  They say. “She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.” (Exodus 2:3-4) 

I imagine this almost as a mournful ceremony. If the evil Egyptian authorities say you have to throw your baby in the Nile River, then (I suppose) this is the most loving a mother could do it.  Perhaps, decorate the vessel with flowers and send the child of with lamenting songs as it floats away on the river, probably thinking you will never see him again.  Technically, Moses' mother has done what Pharaoh required.

In the midst of this hopeless situation, when all seems lost, Pharaoh’s daughter finds the child.  Have you ever considered that not all Egyptians agreed with Pharaoh evil, genocidal plan?  Pharaoh was a cold-hearted sociopath, but that doesn't mean all Egyptians were.  In fact, I would venture to say most Egyptians weren't.  Most people have compassion in their heart--especially for babies.  We tend to lump all people together into one group, forgetting each person is an individual.  We may think all "black people" or "white people" or "Hispanics" are all the same and we assign stereotypes to them.  We even lump groups like politicians all together, assuming they are all the same.  But that's not what God sees.  God sees us all as individuals.  And the Egyptians were all individuals.  Unfortunately, they had to obey Pharaoh--he was an absolute monarch.  Or did they?  Apparently, Pharaoh's daughter took a chance and disobeyed her father's edict and rescued the Hebrew baby boy.

Rescued Through Baptism
The Hebrews were in a dark and evil time in Egypt.  But God was working to rescue them.  And we will find that water plays a key role in the full story of how God rescued His people. 

In the story today, we see Moses being rescued from the river. He was lovingly placed in the river (in a basket) by his mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter rescues him and he starts a new life in Pharaoh’s court.  He was given a new life.  He started out as a boy condemned to death, but was rescued through the water for a new life as a royal prince in Pharaoh's court.  Later, the Book of Exodus tells the tale of how the Hebrew slaves escape the Egyptian army when Moses parts the Red Sea and the Hebrews walk across on dry ground to start a new life on the other side as free people, God's holy nation.  Did you know these are both symbols of what God wants to do with you and me? God wants to rescue us from the hopeless consequences of our sin and give us a new life as free, holy, sons and daughters in His royal Kingdom.

Just as Moses’ mother had no choice but to put her baby in a basket on the Nile river, we are hopelessly separated from God by our sin. No mater how badly we want to be free, to be washed clean, we are cannot affect the change ourselves. We are slaves to the sinful nature.   Thankfully, Christ died on the cross to set us free. Jesus is our Moses who delivers us from slavery to sin.  And what is the mark of our deliverance? What ceremony do we celebrate to mark the beginning of a person’s life as a Christian? We celebrate Baptism. 

Baptism marks the beginning of a Christian’s new life as they follow Jesus as Lord.  We use water to symbolize being cleansed of the stain of sin – as when we wash the baby’s head with sprinkled water Baptism also symbolizes dying with Christ and being raised to a new life – as when we submerge a person under the water in baptize a lift them up to start a new life as a born-again believer.  Baptism is and outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace-work God does for us—cleansing us of sin and recreating us as a new, holy person.

Here is what the Word of God, the Holy Bible, says about people who repent of their sin and choose to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord. 1 Peter 2:9-10: “…you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

Closing/Invitation
I want you to know something.   No matter what you did in the past—no mater how horrible you feel your sin was—God can forgive you and give you a fresh start. You may feel like your sin was so bad it is unforgivable. It isn’t. God can and will forgive you, because of what Christ has done on the cross. Through the blood of Christ, God’s grace washes away your sin.  

If you ask God to forgive you, He will and you can make a fresh start.  What’s more, He will fill you with His Holy Spirit to help you live a new way as His adopted son or daughter.  God puts it this way in the Message paraphrase of Ezekiel 11:19—He says, “I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new spirit in you. I’ll cut out your stone heart and replace it with a red-blooded, firm-muscled heart. Then you’ll obey my statutes and be careful to obey my commands. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!”

Is that what you want? You can have it today. Turn to God, pray, and receive His grace. 



[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/number-abortions-u-s-drops-lowest-they-became-legal-nationwide-n1055726

Monday, August 17, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Episode 1 - Sun, Moon, and Stars

Introduction

A long time ago, in a land far away…

God’s chosen people live in Canaan.

A teenager named Joseph was full of God’s Spirit,

Which made him dream and showed Joseph the meaning of the dreams.

The dreams revealed a glorious future, but also great trouble,

Because even when God has great plans in store for us,

Things Fall Apart.

Joseph was gifted by God and loved by his father,

But Joseph was also young, spoiled, and arrogant.

His brothers hated him.  Their father, Jacob, loved Joseph more than them.

He showered Joseph with praise, cuddled him, and gave him special gifts,

Like the custom made, multicolored coat, Jacob had made just for Joseph.

The borhters hatred of Joseph was fueled by jealousy and by Joseph’s own egoism.

He never missed and opportunity to rub his status as the “golden child” in their faces.

But dark days were coming, because even for God’s people,

Things Fall Apart…

God's Salvation Story
It’s a story that goes all the way back to the beginning of time.  I’m not talking about the story of Joseph—that’s just one series of stories in the midst of the The Story—the story of God’s salvation of humanity.  No, I’m talking about, the story of how things fall apart.  Things have been falling apart since Genesis.  For God created a perfect world and He made a perfect Garden and He made people to be perfect and that’s why He gave them the ability to choose how they would live in this perfect world—because that was the only way to allow them the ability to love.

Love is always a choice.  It must be a choice.  You cannot will someone or force someone to love.  They must choose to love of their own free will.  That is the only way real love can exist.  And God loved His creation.  And God loved the people He made to be stewards of His creation.  And God hoped His people would love Him too.  But God could not make them.  He would not make them.  For He wanted their love—if they chose to love Him—to be genuine. 

And to start with, the first humans did love God.  They obeyed Him when He said, "Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of God and evil."  But then Satan, that crafty, deceitful, shamefully evil serpent slithered into God’s garden and tempted the first woman.  And she ate some of the fruit God told her she must not eat. And she also gave some to her husband and he ate.  And so that day they chose to love themselves and their own ambitions more they they loved God.

That was the first time things fell apart.  Sin entered the world. 

God’s perfect world became corrupt.  His people became corrupt. You can read all the stories in the Bible.  Cain killed his brother Able and then people became more and more wicked until the only solution was for God to wash the whole earth clean with a flood.  He started over again with a man named Noah.  But even then, things fell apart.  Even as God actively works to save the world from sin, things fall apart—right up to this very day.

Who among us haven't experienced our plans falling apart during the COVID-19 pandemic?  I think everyone has.  It's almost impossible to plan.  School was supposed to start back nea the beginning of August, but then COVID cases surged adn they decided to push the start date back to August 31st.  However, we are now experienced enough to know that's just a target date.  We know things can change, because we live in uncertain times and things fall apart. 

But where was I?  Oh yes.  The story of Joseph, a bright young man with a bright future.  But things fall apart... 


Genesis 37:9-13, 18-21

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”

 

10 This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” 11 But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant.

 

12 Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the sheep at Shechem. Get ready, and I will send you to them.”

“I’m ready to go,” Joseph replied.

18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

21 But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

Fallen Red Wood Tree

Have you ever made really good plans, only to see them fall apart? I had some awesome plans to take my daughter to see the red wood forest in California.  It was to be a special trip in honor of her turning thirteen.  We were to fly out to Portland Oregon and spend several days driving down the Pacific coast and stopping in to see the redwood forest.  Then we would end our trip in San Francisco before flying back home.  The flights and hotels were booked and we were supposed to leave the last week of March.  And then COVID-19 shut everything down. a week or two before our trip.  Things fell apart.

If God’s plans fall apart, why are we surprised when our plans fall apart?  We delude ourselves if we think anything is guaranteed.   

Joseph’s brothers hated him and planned to kill him.  Reuben secretly planned to save Joseph.  He had a plan.  He hated Joseph too; but it’s one thing to hate someone.  It’s another thing to kill them.  Rueben didn’t want that.  Reuben had a plan to save Joseph, but it fell apart. 

Genesis 37:23-36

23 So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.[c] 27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces[d] of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.

29 Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered that Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief. 30 Then he went back to his brothers and lamented, “The boy is gone! What will I do now?”

31 Then the brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood. 32 They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message: “Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?”

33 Their father recognized it immediately. “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. 35 His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave[e] mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianite traders[f] arrived in Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard.

Who’s to Blame?

What a terrible waste!  Joseph was just about the same age as my daughter, who just started her first semester of college.  I think of my daughter—so young, so smart, so full of potential with a bright future ahead f her.  That was Joseph. God’s hand was upon him.  He was going to do great things through Joseph.  Then, this happened.

Who’s to blame for it all?  His brothers are to blame—for sure.  Their murderous actions were pure evil.  You should never hate someone.  Do you see where it leads?  I don’t care how much you hate someone, you should never murder. 

Even so, Josephs brothers aren’t the only ones to blame.  Let’s be honest.  Joseph’s father is to blame too.  Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons.  And he didn’t even try to cover it up.  If Jacob had loved his sons all the same and treated them fairly and equally, they wouldn’t have been so jealous they wanted to see Joseph dead.

And what about Joseph?  Doesn’t he share some of the blame too?  Didn’t he relish being his dad’s favorite son?  Didn’t he go out of his way to rub it all in his brother’s faces?  I’m not saying any of this justifies what Joseph’s brothers did.  However, I hope you can see everyone shares at least some of the blame for the way things fall apart.  We all share some of the blame because we all sin and sin corrupts the world and leads to this kind of suffering for everyone, everywhere.

God still has a plan for Joseph.  God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  When things fall apart, God is still in control and He is still at work.  Some how, some way, God takes things that fall apart and turns them into something beautiful.  However, in order to see if and how God redeems this broken story, you’re going to have to come back for the next episode next week.

 

The Mosaic of Life 

Some of the most beautiful art is created with mosaics.  A mosaic is a picture or pattern produced by arranging together broken pieces of tile or glass.  It takes incredible vision and artistic ability to make the most intricate mosaics, which may consist of millions of tiny broken pieces.  However, the results are stunning (as you can see in the picture above).

 

Our lives are like the broken pieces of a mosaic in the hands of God.  We see our plans falling apart.  We see only broken pieces, but God has a vision and plan.  He uses even the brokenness to make something indescribably beautiful.

 

God had a plan for Joseph. God has a plan for you.  And it doesn’t matter if you:

·       Messed up with your kids like Jacob

·       Struggle with jealousy like Joseph’s brothers

·       Are arrogant and proud like Joseph

·       Or anything else.

 

If your plans fall apart and you don’t know where to begin putting the pieces back together, trust God. God has a plan for you and nothing can thwart His plans.  Even if everything falls apart, God can put it back together in ways you can’t even imagine. 

But you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to trust God.

You will be tempted to either give up or try to glue the pieces back together yourself.

It won’t work.  Only God—through Jesus Christ—can redeem your broken life and broken plans.

And when He does, it will be more beautiful than you can ever imagine.

Do you trust Him?  Will you let Him?

 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Have a NEW Mind!

Copyright April 28, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Romans 12:1-3

Introduction 
           I was in the choir room with the choir warming up for our anthem just a few minutes ago.  Sarah asked if anyone had accidentally picked up her reading glasses from the piano.  Kathy, who'd just been sitting at the piano and was holding a pair of reading glasses in her hand said, "No.  I promise. these are my reading glasses."  Kathy's sister, Sally, said, "Uh, Kathy.  You have a pair of reading glasses on your head!"  Sure enough, she did!  And they were the exact same style as Sarah's!  Kathy Said, "I'm losing my mind!"  We all had a good laugh.
            We use that expression, "I'm losing my mind," as a bad thing.  But the truth is, if we follow Christ, we are losing our old mind and Christ is giving us a NEW mind.  And that's what I want to talk about today. 

Romans 12:1-3
1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Explain the Passage
          The Apostle Paul gives us the image of a sacrifice placed on an altar.  At the time Paul wrote, animal sacrifice was a common religious practice—for both Jews and Gentiles.  A living animal was usually placed on an altar, its throat cut so the blood would drain out along with the animal’s life.  Then the animal would be butchered, cooked over fire, and eaten, or completely incinerated with fire.  As you can imagine, it was a startling thing to behold—something that left a lasting impression.  The point is a sacrifice was complete and irrevocable.  Right?  You can’t make half a sacrifice.  You can’t make a sacrifice and then take it back.  It’s an all or nothing proposal.  (At least for the animal!)
            But Paul turns the tables on us.  He invites us to leave the animals alone.  Instead, he urges us to put our life on the altar.  Give your own body—all that you are—as a living sacrifice.  It’s not human sacrifice he is asking; it’s self-sacrifice.  It’s surrendering all that you have and all that you are to the will of God.  It’s an “all-in” whole-hearted proposition that is true worship—truly pleasing to God—and it changes everything.
            It’s what Jesus did for us, you see.  Christ gave himself completely for us on the cross.  He didn’t just do some good things.  He didn’t just preach some great sermons.  Jesus gave everything.  He was whole-heartedly committed to God’s plan of salvation for you.  He willingly sacrificed his entire life for you—even when it meant dying on a cross.
            And Christ’s sacrifice makes it is possible for us to be made NEW!  We can have NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, a NEW purpose in life, NEW peace and joy and confidence, and ultimately the promise of eternal life with a NEW heaven and a NEW earth.  But in order for the NEW to come, we have to let the old die.  In fact, we have to trust Jesus enough to place our old self—our old ways of thinking and living—on the altar as a sacrifice.  For when you sacrifice our old life, Jesus will make you NEW!

Thought Transformation
The key verse for us today is verse 2a – Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Most of us grow up copying the behavior and customs of the world.  We do the things people around us do because we think the way they do.  In fact, if we ever see someone who acts or thinks in a way that in noticeably different, we might even call them weird.  I know when I was in high school, I had a few friends who lived out their Christian beliefs very faithfully.  At the time, I thought they were very weird because they didn’t act and talk and think the way most high school students did.  They stood out.  They were “weird.”  At the time, I thought they should just “copy the behavior and customs” of everyone else.  Now I see they were the minority that was really doing what God wanted.  Now I wish I had been part of that minority when I was in high school.  Now, I am—or at least I am striving to be—because I am striving to let God transform me into a NEW person.  So what if it makes me different.  So what if it makes me weird.  If it makes me more like Christ, great!
We all need to let God transform the way we think.  Romans 12:3 says, Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”  So let’s apply this wisdom and think clearly and honestly about ourselves.
First of all, you are not the center of the world.  Regardless of what the unbelieving world insinuates, the world doesn’t revolve around you.  You are not entitled to “Have it your way.”  Your own personal happiness is not the chief goal in life.  In fact, if you faithfully follow Christ and live for God the way He intended for you, you will definitely need to give up some things you want.  It is a sacrifice.  (Remember how our scripture said to sacrifice yourself to God?)  Following Christ means letting go of our selfish desires, our self-centered motives, and serving others instead of ourselves.  This is tough for many people, but we need to let God transform our way of thinking.
Some people think too highly of themselves.  Others struggle with thoughts that they are not important or that they are not good enough.  That’s why I like Romans 12:3 so much.  It addresses both misunderstandings.  It says, “Be honest in you evaluation of yourself.”  And the Truth is, (though you are not the center of the world) you are very important to God.  God deeply loves you.  He has been working out your salvation since the beginning of time.  He cared enough to send Christ to die for you.  God wants you to be part of His mission to save the world.  That’s pretty impressive.  You must be important!  So if you struggle with low self-esteem, let God transform the way you think.  You are precious to Him.
Do you struggle with shame or guilty?  God has promised He will forgive you if you ask.  No matter what you’ve done—how big or how small—God will forgive you.  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Shame and guilt can cripple us.  It makes us hesitant in our relationship with God and others.  Shame and guilt are constant burdens that weigh us down and slow us down in our spiritual life.  They sap the joy God wants us to have.  They can make life weary and full of worry.  So if you struggle with shame or guilt, let God transform the way you think.  The truth is, forgiveness is available through faith in Christ.  And if you believe, God does not think about your sins anymore.  They have been washed away.  God says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”  If you asked God to forgive you, He has.  Now it’s time for you to let go of your thoughts of shame and guilt.  Let God transform the way you think.
Some of you may struggle with doubt.  The unbelieving world says this world is all there is.  Since science cannot verify the existence of an afterlife, they reject the idea as a fantasy.  Since they cannot see God, they reason He is just a myth.  But faith helps us see that there is more to life than just what you can see and hear and taste and touch.  Faith helps us to know that Truth is more than just facts and figures.  Faith helps us to see there is always hope even when all seems to be lost.  Faith helps us to know that the future is ultimately in God’s hands and so, there is nothing to fear.  Faith helps us to hear God’s still small voice leading us down the right path.  Faith helps us to feel God’s presence when we need assurance that everything is going to be alright.  Even if we lose this life, God has another waiting for us in Eternity.  And all the wrongs of this world will ultimately be made right one day.  It’s OK to have questions.  It’s OK to have doubts.  Sometimes they lead us to deeper understanding and faith.  But if your doubts control you or keep you frozen with fear, maybe it’s time to let God transform the way you think.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Take hold of the power, love, and self-discipline God wants you to have.  Let Him transform the way you think. 

Conclusion
            As I close, I join with the Apostle Paul and plead with you, give your bodies to God as a holy and living sacrifice.  Don’t hold anything back.  Surrender yourself completely to the Lord and He will transform your mind.