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

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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

Great Books to Read
Copyright March 24, 2015 by Chris Mullis 
 
Proverbs 18:15 – “Intelligent people are always ready to learn.  Their ears are open for knowledge.”

            I did not like school when I was a kid.  Even though I made good grades, it was boring to me.  I couldn’t wait to finish school so I didn’t have to go anymore.  However, my Mom told me, “You should never stop learning.  You should try to learn something new every day, even after you are done with school.”
            Now that I am grown and finished with my formal education, I find I still want to learn.  I enjoy science and history.  I like to learn new skills and understand how things work.  I also enjoy listening to audiobooks and find it is an excellent way to learn.  At the end of this article, you will find a list of some of the best books I’ve read that I recommend to you (in no particular order).
The Bible – Whether or not you read any other book, please read this one.  Sadly, only 19% of church-going Christians report they read their Bible every day yet we watch an average of 5 hours of TV a day.  I challenge you to pick up your Bible and start in Matthew and read at least one chapter a day.  It will take about 5 minutes a day and you will read the entire New Testament in one year.  It’s time every Christian rediscovers the Bible and makes a commitment to read it.  Of course, I’m no expert and certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

God loves you and so do I!
 

 

 

 

 

 
Unlikely Angel by Ashley Smith – The captivating story of Ashley Smith, a recovering drug addict, who was abducted and held hostage in her apartment in 2005 by Atlanta courthouse killer Brian Nichols.  Perhaps you remember the headlines that gripped the world, but you need to read the amazing story of how God changed everything for Ashley.
 
As We Forgive by Catherine Larson – This is an excellent book that examines forgiveness and reconciliation.  Retelling the stories of survivors of the Rwandan genocide who learned to forgive and reconcile with the very people who committed the atrocities.  This is a book that everyone should read to understand the amazing healing available through Christian forgiveness.
 
Is God Anti-Gay by Sam Allberry – Everyone is talking about gay marriage and public opinion is shifting on the issue.  What does God say?  In this very easy-to-read and understand book, Allberry (a pastor who struggles with same-sex attraction) teaches God’s position on the issue according to the Bible.  This is an excellent book that almost anyone can read and it is very timely for what is going on in our world.
 
Heaven is for Real by Lynn Vincent and Todd Burpo – I did not like the movie very much, but the book is excellent and thought provoking true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven.  He survives and begins talking about his experience to his parents.
 
The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller – This book fundamentally reshaped the way I think about this famous passage from Luke 15.  Jesus told this story more for the “good” people of the world than for those who have strayed.
 
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – This Christian classic is an intellectual read, but Lewis does a masterful job explaining what Christianity is at its most foundational level.  If you can handle a heavier reading, this is a great book to read.
 
 1493 by Charles Mann – This is not a religious book and it’s long and it may not be for everyone.  However, this is a great book if you love history like me.  The book examines the dramatic ways our world changed as a result of Columbus’ discovery of the new world.  Everything from our food to where we lived was forever altered by what Mann calls the “Columbian exchange.”  It shifted my understanding of how our modern globalized world came into existence.

Endurance by Alfred Lancing – Another history book, Endurance chronicles the saga of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton's survival for over a year on the ice-bound Antarctic seas.  The book made me think, “If this crew could survive this harrowing adventure, I can survive any struggle that may come my way.”
 
 Unbroken by Laura Hillderbrand – The riveting story of Olympian and WWII war hero Louis Zamperini’s life.  The book was recently made into a blockbuster movie, but the movie only scratches the surface of Zamperini’s life and leaves out critical portions of how Louis came to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade and latter spent his life facilitating a Christian Camp for troubled boys.  Do yourself a favor and choose the book over the movie.

 
More Great Books I Would Recommend:
·       Soul Detox by Craig Groeschel
·       The Peacemaker by Ken Sande
·       Words to Eat By by Ina Lipkowitz
·       Killing Jesus by Martin Dugard and Bill O’Reilly
·       Developing the Leader Within by John Maxwell
·       Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
·       Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley
·       The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
·       Dune by Frank Herbert
·       Deliverance by James Dickey
·       The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Bob DeMoss and Rebecca Alonzo
·       The Unchurched Next Door by Thom Rainer
·       When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box by John Ortberg
·       Alter Ego by Craig Groeshcel
·       The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
·       One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
·       Enough by Adam Hamilton
·       Radical by David Platt
·       The Pastor by Eugene Peterson
·       Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman
·       Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent
·       Crazy Love by Francis Chan
·       Leaving the Saints by Martha Beck
·       Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur
·       Patriotic Fire by Winston Groom
·       Plan B by Pete Wilson
 

 

Monday, March 23, 2015

3. Get Rid of Distractions

Copyright March 16, 2015 by Chris Mullis
John 2:13-16

Introduction
            Life is hectic.  There are so many demands on our attention.  Work demands our attention.  Telephones ring.  Kids need to be fed and shuttled to and from school and practice.  The church and PTA need volunteers.  We have appointments to make and deadlines to meet.  All these distractions make it difficult to focus on what’s really important.
            God knew our lives would be hectic.  That’s why He gave us a special day to rest and worship—the Sabbath Day.  In the beginning, the Sabbath was on the seventh day—Saturday—for on the seventh day of creation in Genesis, God rested.  But Jesus rose from the grave on a Sunday, which came to be called “The Lord’s Day.”  And it didn’t take long for almost all Christians to choose Sunday as their primary day for worship.
            So we come here to the “Sanctuary,” a place that is safe and holy, a place designated to worship God.  We seek to forget the cares and concerns of the world for a time and focus on Christ.  And as we do, we hope to find some clarity about what’s really important in life so we go back out into the hectic world centered and balanced once more.
            Many things distract us—things that aren’t really important, things that lead us astray, things that might be good, but just are not right for us at this time.  Most of us don’t take time to examine our lives close enough to determine what our priorities are.  So today I want to focus on getting rid of distractions in your life and focusing on the priorities God has set for you.  Let’s go to the Bible and look at a time when Jesus got rid of the distractions in the Temple.

John 2:13-16
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.
  • Jews all over the world in Jesus day dreamed of going to the Passover celebration in the Jerusalem Temple.  People came from all over the world.  It was not uncommon to have over 2 million people in the holy city for the Passover.  Throngs of people hoping to worship God on this sacred occasion.  Yet when they arrived,  they found a ruthless system designed to exploit them.  Every man 20 years and older had to pay a Temple tax, which was about a day and a half’s wages for the average man (roughly $150 by today’s standards) [i].  The money was used for the upkeep of the Temple and ongoing construction projects.  That’s not so bad.  It did take money to maintain the Temple.  But it got worse, because the tax couldn’t be paid in foreign money. The Roman, Greek, and Egyptian coins most people carried had to be converted to Temple money—the Shekel.  There were money changers stationed all over the Temple for this purpose and each one charged for their services.  What it all boiled down to is it could cost you an additional $100 just to change your money to the right currency!  It angered Jesus that such a heavy burden was laid upon these already poor, working class people.
15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
  • As if the exorbitant fees of the money changers weren’t bad enough, it got even worse.  You see, most people visiting the Temple would need to sacrifice an animal during worship.  If you were poor, you could buy a pair of doves to sacrifice for about $100 if you bought them outside the Temple (or you could bring your own).  But all animals had to be inspected by the Temple authorities to make sure there weren’t any blemishes (and it cost $25 to get the inspection).  And (who would’ve guessed) almost all animals bought or brought from outside the Temple would inevitably fail inspection.  Not to worry though.  You could buy a replacement inside the Temple—at an additional cost.  The same pair of doves that cost $100 outside the Temple cost $1,875 inside the Temple[ii]! (And you thought the markup on movie theater popcorn was bad!)
  • And of course all this buying and selling and the inevitable arguments and angry people being ripped off was an unbearable distraction to worship.  And it took place in the Temple in the court of the Gentiles—which was the only place Gentiles were allowed to worship God.  Jewish people had other places to worship, but Gentiles only had this raucous outer courtyard in which to pray.  Jesus was filled with righteous anger and he chased everyone out.
Distractions and Purpose
            Our world is full of distractions and if we’re not careful, our lives can become consumed with things that have little or nothing to do with why God put us here.  Like the noisy, busy money changers and livestock sellers in the Temple, these distractions rob us of our time and money—something of which we already have too little.  Perhaps it’s time to purify our lives just as Jesus cleansed the Temple.  You have to decide:  Do you want to waste your precious resources on things that ultimately aren’t important or do you want to spend your time and money on things that really matter?
In 2002, Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in California, wrote an amazing book called The Purpose Driven Life that lays out the 5 main purposes for your life.  If you aim for these, you will do things that matter and you will find great fulfillment as you live out God’s purposes for your life: [iii]     
1.     You were made to worship God.  You weren’t put here for your own pleasure.  You were  How much of your time and money do you spend worshipping God? put here to glorify God, to love Him, and to be amazed by Him.

2.     You weren’t meant to be alone.  You were made to be part of God’s family, where you are loved, accepted, encouraged, and held accountable.  You need good people in your life and they need you.  How much of our resources are devoted to relationships with the family of God, the Church?

3.     You were created to become like Christ.  You are here to learn and improve your character.  This life is an incredible training program to prepare your soul to be the image of God.  Don’t pretend to be perfect.  Be real about your shortcomings and be willing to work on them.  How hard do you train to become more like Christ?

4.     You are here to serve.  Even Jesus said he came into the world to serve and not to be served.  How much more true it is for you!  It might seem counter-intuitive to find happiness by serving others, but you were designed to serve; and in doing so you will find great fulfillment.  How much of your life is devoted to serving other?

5.     You were made for a mission—to tell people what Jesus has done for you.  Jesus commanded us to do this and promised to help.  You don’t have to be a preacher or Sunday school teacher to do it.  You just have to be honest and share your experience.  If Jesus has changed your life, tell people.  If he hasn’t changed your life (or if you don’t think he will), why are you even here? 

Examine Your Life
            I think Rick Warren nailed it with these five purposes.  Maybe you don’t agree, but have you ever really examined your life to see what it’s all about?  What on earth are you here for?  You have a purpose.  What is it?  And are you doing things that move you closer to your goals or distract you from them?
Most people never take the time to consider these things.  They just float along the river of life, going wherever the current leads.  It’s sad to think of all that could be accomplished if people would just wake up from their slumber and start living out their purpose.  If only people would come alive and choose to live for a higher purpose, the world would be forever changed.

            The violence Jesus demonstrated as he cleansed the Temple often disturbs people.  It upsets our image of Jesus as a meek, peaceful holy man.  We like the Jesus who gently welcomed children and carried lambs in his arms.  Who is this Jesus who angrily chased the money changers from the Temple while cracking a whip? 
            When it comes to things that distract us from God and thus do damage to our soul, we need to be more like the Jesus carrying the whip than the Jesus carrying the lamb.  The story conveys the seriousness of distractions.  They need to be dealt with now.  Chase away those things that rob your life of significance.  Turn over the tables of anything that keeps you from God’s purposes.  Drive away the animals that cannot help you fulfill God’s plan.  Reject a fallen world that tells you to get in line with everyone else that’s wasting their life.  Turn instead to the Lord who created you who wants to free you to live a life full of meaning.  For if you don’t you will surely spend your whole life doing things that don’t really matter and will have no lasting value.  You will come to your end full of regrets, wondering how time slipped away so fast, and lamenting that your life didn’t really matter much.
 Challenge
            Thus far in this series, I have given you 2 challenges:  1) Start in the Gospel of Matthew and read one chapter every day and finish Matthew by Easter.  2) Last week, I challenged you to make a list of all the things you typically do and your motives. 
            Today, I give you a new challenge to help you purify your life.  This week, I want you to prayerfully consider your priorities.  What are you trying to accomplish in life?  What’s your purpose?  Write down the 5 most important purposes of your life.  (A form is included at the bottom of the blog to help you.)  And then for each one, write down things you can do that will help you fulfill those purposes.  Then pray and ask God to help you make these top priorities in your life—the things to which you devote the majority of your time, money, and resources.  Then zealously get rid of anythings that distract you so you will have enough time to do more important things.

Invitation
            The most important thing you can do to start is ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.  If you haven't done that already, why don't you do that today?  Pray to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you for your sin and for trying to do things you won way.  Ask Jesus to come be the Lord of your life--to be in charge.  And ask Him to lead you and help you follow Him from this day forward.

I Challenge You!
Step One.  List the 5 Most Important Purposes of Your Life:
 
Purpose 1 _____________________________________________________________________
 
 
 
 
 
 
Purpose 2 _____________________________________________________________________
 
 
 
 
 
 
Purpose 3 _____________________________________________________________________
 
 
 
 
 
 
Purpose 4 _____________________________________________________________________
 
 
 
 
 
 
Purpose 5_____________________________________________________________________
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Step 2.  Now, go back and under each purpose list some things you can do to help you fulfill each purpose.
 
Step 3.  Pray and ask God to help you make these top priorities in your life—the things to which you devote the majority of your time, money, and resources.


[i] William Barclay – The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of John Colume 1 revised edition; page 109
[ii] William Barclay – The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of John Colume 1 revised edition; page 109
[iii] Based on Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life