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Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

kings and queens

A scientist had a meeting with God and said, "God, we can now make clones and create human life and I think we can take care of ourselves and don't need you anymore."  God said, "OK, but before you go, let's have a contest to see who can make a human out of dirt the fastest."  The scientist looked down at the dirt and grabbed a handful and said, "OK, let's do it."  But God said, "No.  You go get your own dirt."

God spoke and the whole universe was created.  He made everything we see (and even what we can't see).  That's why God owns it all and is Master of it all.  Our relationship with God is not a democracy.  We don't get to vote on whether He rules.  He rules because he owns it.  And you can't move to the moon if you don't like it, because God owns that too.  

All throughout the Bible, God is called Lord.  We don't use that word much today in America, because we live in a democracy.  A lord is one having power & authority over others because they own the property and/or are superior to all others.  God is Lord because He owns it all--including you and me.  Furthermore, God is superior to all others; there is no one better qualified to rule.

A king rules, but also has the right to appoint others to rule with him.  Today, I want to discuss how God--the King of kings and Lord of lords--chooses special people to be kings and queens in His Kingdom.

1 Peter 2:8-9
8“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.

The Stumbling Block and a Chosen People
The other day, I came in from the garage to wash my hands in the basement bathroom.  I've walked down that hallway a million times and could easily do it with my eyes closed.  That's why it didn't bother me that the lights were off and I had to walk walk down the hall in the dark.  So I was walking along in my own little world not paying much attention, when bam!  I tripped over something.  Someone had left a book bag in the middle of the hallway floor.  You don't expect there to be a stumbling block like that in your pathway.  Who leaves a book bag in the middle of the hallway?
That's how Jesus came into our world.  1 Peter 2:8 says Jesus is a stone that makes people stumble..."  He caused the Roman Empire to stumble 2,000 years ago.  They were going along thinking everything was fine. They thought, “We rule the world! No one can stop us!"  Caesar thought he was a god and owned the whole world.  And then Jesus, the Son of God, came and showed everyone different.  The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day thought, “We are better than everyone else!” The Pharisees tried to prove they were holier than everyone else by follow the absolute letter of God's Law in the Torah.  They thought their righteousness would earn God's favor and bring about the reign of the Messiah.  And yet, when Jesus, the Messiah, actually came, they rejected him.  He was their stumbling block too.  Jesus is a stumbling block for people today as well.  People today try to live their life the way they want without any regard to God's will; they indulge their own selfish ambitions, but Jesus trips them up.  

Throughout history and even today, people stumble because they “do not obey God’s word.” (vs. 8) What is God’s Word?  Some say that God's Word is the Bible.  The Bible is God's Word, but people can use the Bible to say anything they want.  (The Pharisees tried to use God's Word to reject Jesus Christ, the Son of God.)  Jesus is God's Word.  However, few people really know who Jesus is and what he actually said and taught.  Many people today want to make Jesus into some mythical figure who loved everybody and carried around baby lambs everywhere; but they never look into the Bible to see who Jesus, the Word of God, really is and what he taught.

We find God’s True Word when we go to the Bible to see Jesus.  You can't just use the Bible to justify your actions or as a weapon against other people.  You have to read the Bible while listening obediently to what God says through Jesus Christ.  You have to humble yourself.  Jesus’ true followers hear and obey God’s Word.  1 Peter 2:9 says those who hear and obey God’s Word are special.

We are special because we are chosen by God.  God specifically selects people who listen and obey.  Of all the people in the world, God passes over some of the most talented, wealthiest, mor obvious choices, and instead intentionally selects people willing to be humble and listen and obey His Word.

We are also special because we are royal priests.  Many people get excited about news of the royal family in England--what they say, how they dress, who they are marrying.  (I never understood this because they are not my royal family.  No disrespect intended, but I'm an American and I don't see the fascination for Americans.)  God's Word says Jesus' followers are royal.  That's something to get excited about!  And it says we are a royal priesthood.  What does a priest do?  They pray for people, heal people, forgive sins, bring wholeness, and help people connect to God.  Well, if you listen and obey the Word of God, you are a priest.  You can pray for people, heal people, forgive sins, bring wholeness, and help people connect with the One True God!  That's pretty special!

But there's more.  We are special because we are a holy nation.  Together, all the followers of Christ are God’s special nation (or Kingdom).  And we are God’s very own possession.  You know, people take care of the things they own.  If you rent a house or a car, you should take care of it.  But if you own the house or the car, it is even more special to you and you will pay special attention to caring for those things you actually own.  And no one is more qualified or capable and guaranteed to take car of their possessions than God.   God takes care of His stuff so He's gonna take care of you.

Luke 22:28-30
“You have stayed with me in my time of trial. 29 And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right 30 to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

3 Important Lessons
There are three important lessons I want you to hear from Jesus' word in Luke 22:28-30. 

Number 1. Stay with Jesus – We are God's Kingdom, His royal priesthood, but we still live in enemy territory. Most of the world still does not yet obey God’s Word. They were so threatened by the Lord, they crucified Him.  Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Do you trust Jesus enough to stay with him, even when there’s trouble?

Number 2. Share the Royal Feast – Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and He invites his followers to eat and drink at His table in His Kingdom. The greatest example of the Kingdom Feast available in the world today is the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion, the Eucharist).  You should partake of it often.  For in doing so, we sit at the table with the King and we remember what He did for us and how it changes everything and we also see how to live and find the strength we need to do it.

Number 3. We are kings and queens – Jesus said we will sit on thrones and rule the twelve tribes of Israel.  Who sits on a throne?  Kings and queens sit on thrones.  I have much more I want to say about what it means to rule as a king or queen in God's Kingdom and I will next week.  However, for today, I just want you to know and be encouraged that Jesus says you are a king or a queen.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Faithfulness

Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them. 
The Holy Spirit is a powerful force.  It is the very power of God that was with God and was God creating the universe filled with trillions upon trillions of stars and planets and galaxies—so much that it would take you 27.4 billion years to travel from one side of it to the other if you could travel at the speed of light.

And when you have faith in Christ, the power of God’s Spirit takes up residence in your soul and begins to work His creative power in your life.  However, our powerful God is not a monster or a tyrant.  He will not force change upon you—even though He knows it’s for your own good.  He only grows change within you as you cooperate with His love and nurture the spiritual fruit He wishes to give you.  Like a garden—when tended and nurtured—the Fruit of the Spirit grows steadily within you until you reap a bountiful harvest.  The Apostle Paul wrote:

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I want to talk to you about faithfulness today.  According to Wikipedia:  “Faithfulness is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something, and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances.  It may be exhibited by a husband or wife who, in a sexually exclusive marriage, does not engage in sexual relationships outside of the marriage.”  However, when we speak of faithfulness—as a fruit of the Holy Spirit—we are speaking of faithfulness in a relationship that is even higher than that of marriage.  We are primarily focused on faithfulness to God through Jesus Christ.  Our faithfulness to God leads us also to be faithful in all our other relationships, because doing so is an expression of our faithfulness to the Highest Power.

Before we were ever faithful, God was faithful to us.  He created us with the purpose of sharing His love—of living a life in loving relationship with God and each other.  Boy have we messed that one up.  The history of humanity has been a continual history of turning our backs on God and each other.  Yet God has been faithful to us, even when we have been totally unfaithful to Him.  Ultimately, God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, in love to reconcile us to Him.  Yet we were unfaithful and murdered the Son of God on a cross.  Yet still, God didn’t turn His back on us.  Christ rose on the third day and continues to offer God’s love and forgiveness to all who repent of their sin, turn to God, and trust in Christ.  Through faith we have eternal life—but we have something even greater; we have a living, loving relationship with the God of the universe who is always faithful and challenges us to be faithful.

Faithfulness in Uncertainty
God calls us to remain faithful even when we don’t understand.  Faith, almost by definition, implies a degree of uncertainty.  We sometimes use expressions like "taking a leap of faith" to describe faithful obedience.  We even use a simple exercise to demonstrate faith—a trust fall—where you close your eyes and fall backwards into the arms of a colleague you trust (it can be an unnerving experience).  Faith implies that we don’t have all the answers, that sometimes we are walking through life in the dark and cannot see the way, but we are trusting in God’s faithfulness to get us through.  Even when we hurt, even when losses come that are too deep to fathom, even when we don’t understand and just want to give up, faithfulness means we just keep trusting God and walking through the darkness towards His voice.

We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some; we have enough to get started and we will get enough as we walk to continue walking the road of faith.  There are many who read the Bible and lament, "I don’t understand it."  It is true that there are many things in God’s Word that are very hard to understand.  However, there are also many things we read that are very clear and it’s not the things I don’t understand about the Christian life that disturb me most.  I am far more disturbed by the things I do understand.  For then I feel the Holy Spirit convicting me:  “Will you be faithful?  Will you obey?  Will you do what you know you should do?"

The Faithfulness of a Church Member
In the United Methodist Church, we try to spell out the ways we promise to be faithful to God when someone decides to become a member of the church.  Many feel church membership is no longer important.  "Why should I join as a member of a church?" They say, "Isn't that like joining a club?  It sounds so exclusive!"  And our culture reflects this devaluing of church membership more and more.  It mirrors the general aversion to commitment that runs throughout our society.  People ask some of the same kinds of questions about marriage.  "Why should I get married?"  They ask.  And for all practical purposes, it seems they have a point.  In our times, an unmarried couple can do just about everything a married couple can.  They can fall in love, live together, have sex, have and raise children together.  So many ask, why should they bother with marriage?  I would argue marriage is essential.  Here's why.  Through marriage, a man and a woman stand before God and witnesses and promise to love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, until death.  And until you make those promises to each other, the relationship can only go so far.  Until your partner knows that you are all in, 100%, completely committed to the very end, your relationship cannot go to the deepest levels.

And much the same is true of church membership.  You can attend a church and never become a member.  For most practical purposes, you will look and act just like a member.  You can attend, worship, sing in the choir, volunteer, and even serve in some official positions.  However, your relationship with God and the other members of the church can only go so far until you fully commit.  Until you stand before God and the whole church and promise to be 100%, all in, sold out to the mission of the church, you can only go so deep.  And so, I encourage everyone who really wants to go to the deeper levels in their spiritual journey to prayerfully consider joining a church as a member.

The very first step to becoming a member of my church Pleasant Grove United Methodist church) is to become a Christian.  You cannot be a member of our Church unless you are a Christian—meaning you have repented of your sins and placed your whole faith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for your salvation.  So we ask potential church members some questions in front of the whole church to help them profess their faith in Christ.  We ask:
  • Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
  • Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
  • Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?  

Local Church Membership
Having become a member of God’s “Holy Catholic” Church (that is the universal church that is made up of all believers in Christ from all places and in all times), now one makes a commitment to be faithful to a local congregation of the church.  So we ask potential members a few more questions about how they will be faithful to the local congregation.  We ask:  "As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"

Are you faithful to pray?  I recommend everyone should pray five times a day.  Say a prayer to start your day when you wake up and a prayer before you go to sleep.  That's two prayers.  Add to this a prayer to bless your food before every meal (which for most is three times a day) and you have five prayers.  But don't stop at just five prayers.  Live a live of prayer.  Throughout your day, say a breath prayer whenever you think about it (a breath prayer is a short prayer you can say in one breath).  So as you are sitting in traffic, aggravated by the person in front of you for going too slow, breathe out, "Lord Jesus help me to be patient."  As you pass an accident on the side of the road, pray, "Father, please help that person who is hurt."  When someone asks you to pray for their mother who is having surgery on Tuesday, right then as they are asking in your own mind pray "Holy Spirit, take care of their mother this Tuesday during her surgery."  In this way, you can be more faithful to pray.

Are you faithfully presence at church?  We need to be together with other Christians for worship, study, fellowship, and service.  This is best done in a local congregation.  Do you attend church weekly.  My own practice and what I encourage everyone to adopt is to miss no more than five Sundays of worship per year.  Does that seem excessive?  I don't think it is.  Last week I was talking with a South Korean pastor who explained that Christians in Korea have church 7 days a week.  On work days, thousands of Christians come in to the sanctuary as early as 5:00 AM for an hour long prayer service before they go to work.  It's no wonder that a great revival is taking place in South Korea, home of the largest Christian church in the world--Yoido Full Gospel Church--with 480,000 members.

Are you faithful in your giving?  The biblical standard is to offer 10% of your income God through the local church.  So if you earn $30,000 per year, you would give $3,000 to the church each year.  The church in America struggles to do all the good God calls us to do because we simply don't have the funding we need.  That problem would be instantly solved if every Christian would simply be faithful to give the tithe.  Maybe you are willing to jump straight into tithing.  But could you grow more faithful in your giving?  If you are only giving 1% right now, could you be more faithful to give 2-3%?  make it a goal to grow a little bit every year until you reach 10%.  And if you are already giving 10%, don't just sit back and fold your arms and say, "I've given all I need to give."  What was Jesus' standard for giving?  He said give it all.  Remember, he said if some ask you to carry their back for a mile, go an extra mile with them.  If someone demands your coat, give them your shirt also.  That sounds a lot like 100% giving to me.  Now, what you give is between you and God.  And no one at my church--me or anyone else--is going down the list checking to see who gives what or ranking people by their giving status.  That's between you and God and our church is all about grace.  Jesus doesn't want your money.  He wants your heart.  For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.  I just want to encourage you to be faithful in your giving.

Are you faithful to serve.  Some people think, "Well I give a lot of money so I don't have to serve."  Members who join Pleasant Grove UMC promise to do both.  It's not either or; it's both and.  Faithful members give and serve.  So remember the words of Galatians 6:9, "So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up."

Are you a faithful witness?  A witness is simply someone who tells what Jesus has done for them.  A witness invites others to come and see what Jesus is doing in there church.  Are you a faithful witness?  How many people have you talked to about Jesus?  How many have you invited to church this year?  If you haven't invited anyone, what does that say about the faithfulness of your witness?

Repentance and Call to Faithfulness
If we are honest, we all see how we have fallen short in many of the areas in which we promise to be faithful.  It breaks my own heart to think of the ways I fall short and fail God who has been so faithful to me.  In particular, I struggle in the area of faithful prayer.  Don't get me wrong, I pray all the time, because I am a pastor.  I pray several times during the Sunday worship service.  I pray to open Bible studies, Sunday school classes, in prayer meetings, and with those who are sick or in the hospital.  Where I struggle is in praying when I am not operating as a pastor.  I think it's because I pray so much on other occasions.  I just get tired.  However, I have asked the Holy Spirit to help me be more faithful in this area of my life and I'm working on it.

How about you?  Can you be honest with yourself and God?  Can you confess where you have not been as faithful as you should?  Do you faithfully renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?  Do you faithfully accept the freedom and power God gives you every day to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves ?  Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and serve him as your Lord? Are you faithful pray, be present at church, to give, serve, and be faithful witness?

Perhaps God is calling you repent today.  Maybe you need to commit your life to Christ and becoming a Christian for the very first time.  Maybe you need to find a local church where you can join and become a faithful member.  Maybe you need to admit that you have not been faithful to the membership promises you’ve already made.

Even when we are unfaithful, God is still faithful.  In 1 John 1:9 it says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Perhaps today, you would like to pray the following confession to God and ask the Holy Spirit to help you be more faithful.

Prayer of Confession
"Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen."

And now, I offer this prayer on your behalf:
Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

Monday, April 9, 2018

What About Church Brings Me Joy & What Breaks My Heart?

Watch the Lamb
            East Cobb United Methodist Church in Marietta, GA was the first church my wife and I joined as adults.  We were newly married and looking for a church home while attending college.  We attended ECUMC and the choir performed a song for Easter called, "Watch the Lamb".  (You can watch a powerful rendition of the title song, "Watch the Lamb here.) 
            "Watch the Lamb" tells the story of a Jewish man taking his children and a sacrificial lamb to Jerusalem for the annual Passover sacrifice.  He instructs the children to watch the lamb so that it doesn't run away.  The family arrives in the city just as Jesus, the Lamb of God, is being led away to be crucified.  The father is pressed into service by Roman soldiers to carry Jesus' cross (because Jesus is to weakened by the beating they gave him).  Simon of Cyrene (the father and the man Matthew 27:32 names as the man who carried Jesus' cross) is changed forever when he witnesses Jesus, the Lamb of God's, crucifixion.  He ends the song by telling his children again to watch the Lamb, but now meaning the true Lamb, the true sacrifice, Jesus.
            The song touched me deeply as a young adult seeking to follow Christ and we joined East Cobb UMC shortly after Easter.  I'm thankful for East Cobb and how they were a home and a beacon of light for Kelly and I in that critical stage of life.  Ever since, I have tried to watch the Lamb and follow him wherever He leads.
            Jesus died on the cross and rose on the third day.  Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus gave his disciples an important mission to go into all the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19).  Then, he gave them the Holy Spirit to empower them to succeed.  And even though those early Christians met stiff opposition, they began to multiply.  The book of Acts tells their story.  Here is a snap shot of that early church. 

Acts 4:32-35
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

The Church Was Not and Is Not Perfect
            Acts 4:32-35 is an example of the New Testament Church at its best.  Some people are tempted to think the early church was perfect and look back through the lens of nostalgia and think if we could just go back and be like them it would solve all out problems.  This is a na├»ve point of view.  The New Testament Church was far from perfect.  Yes, they were growing exponentially despite persecution.  However, the church was made up of imperfect people and therefore imperfect itself.  There were politics, lies, and deceit.  They often disagreed about doctrinal issues.  They were still figuring out what Jesus meant by all his teachings and how their faith was to be lived out authentically.  One of the Church's most important leaders, Peter, had to be called on the carpet by Paul because Peter was more worried about what some people might think of him than actually doing the right thing (see Galatians 2:11-14).  So the Church never has been and still is not perfect, even though it was established by the perfect Lamb of God. 

A Thought Provoking Question
            One of my church members, DJ Seifert, is enrolled in a course called Leadership UMC.  He is one of only three people from my district chosen to attend this course for people noted for their passion for Jesus and potential to serve as leaders in the Church.  A few weeks ago, they invited the participant's pastors to attend a weekend retreat with the participants.  They asked a question that really got me thinking.  They asked: “What about the Church today brings you joy and what breaks your heart?”   That’s what I want to share with you today.  However, before I can answer that question, we need to consider what the church is.
            When we use the word church, we often mean a place or a building we go to attend religious services.  But that is not the true sense of the word church.  The Church (with a capital C) is the Body of Christ on Earth.  1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”  Jesus is not dead.  He is alive and he ascended to heaven.  But he has not abandoned this world.  His ministry here continues through the believers of his Church.  We are his physical presence here on earth to the world, His body. 
            The Church is Jesus’ chosen instrument to carry on his mission to make disciples.  Jesus did not make an alternate plan.  This is it--the Church.  So, like it or not, the Church (with all it's imperfections) is Jesus' plan to change the world.
            Some say the Church in America is dying.  I don't believe it.  It is true that attendance is declining at church services across North America.  However, the Church will never die.  The Church will always be here until the day Jesus returns in the clouds as promised (Acts 1:11).  Church buildings may close, church services may discontinue (at least as we have known them in our lifetime), but the Church (with a capital C) will never die.  Wherever there are people who truly believe in Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him, they will gather together for prayer, study, fellowship, and shared service (as described in Acts 4:32-35).  And wherever this happens, there is the Church.

What About the Church Brings Me Joy?
            There are many things I enjoy about church.  Sunday worship is my favorite time of the week.  I love feeling the Spirit of God move as we sing the songs of our faith.  However, the thing that brings me the most joy in the Church is seeing people’s lives changed for the better. 
            God changed my life forever for the better.  As a child, my life was not on a good trajectory.  If I had continued on the path I was headed, I would have ended up in a very dark place.  Many of the friends who walked that path with me ended up in that dark place.  Some are not even alive anymore.  But, praise God, Jesus saved me and set my feet on a new path.  As I've followed Him, I have found meaning, peace, and joy.
            And since I am so thankful that Jesus graciously took a  retch like me and turned his life around, I love seeing Him do the same for others.  Sometimes it happens in very dramatic ways--like the prodigal son in Jesus' parable in Luke15:11-32.  More often than not, it happens in more subtle ways.  Sometimes the hardest cases are not those who have made an obvious mess of their lives.  The most challenging turn arounds are for those who think they are already good people who have it all together and do the right thing.  They are more like the self-righteous, unmerciful "good" son in the prodigal story and the Pharisees and religious leaders who crucified Jesus.  But I have had the joy of seeing even some of these lives changed by my Lord and Savior.
            Part of the joy of seeing a person's life changed by Christ includes watching people find their calling.  The Holy Spirit gives each of us a special gift to help serve the Body of Christ.  It is a wonder to behold when a person discovers their gift and start using it.  I love helping people identify their gift and find a place to put it to good use.

What About the Church Breaks My Heart?
            As I said before, the Church is not perfect and so there are also things in the church that disappoint me.  Like many others, I dislike the politics, the petty squabbles, and the ugliness that sometimes happens within church congregations.  However, what really breaks my heart is all the people who are missing out on the joy that can only be found when you're truly engaged in Christ's Church.
            My heart breaks for those who aren't here.  Church attendance is down across our country for many reasons.  Many have stopped coming because they are more focused on the things that disappoint them about the Church than the Lamb who makes the Church holy.  Others are too interested in the things of this world which choke the desire for the authentic spiritual connection Christ's offers through His Church.  Some grew up have never having come to church or establish the spiritual habit of gathering together with the Body of Christ; they don't even know what they're missing!  Others, who once came, have fallen away.  And then there are also those who come to church, but who are not really engaged.  They attend church but aren't really present; and these too are missing out on the fullness of what Christ has to offer and it breaks my heart.
            My heart is especially broken today for the many young adults who are not in regular worship at my church (or others).  We have at least 25 young adults (aged between 18-30) associated with my congregation who do not regularly attend my church.  This is the age when I experienced so much spiritual growth and it troubles me that others in that age range are absent when so many important, "course of your life" decisions are being made.  Consider some of the decisions you make in your young adult years:  what (if any) college to attend, whether to stay in college or drop out, who to marry, having kids, choosing a career, deciding what you really believe about God, where to live, who to live with...  These are big decisions and people will live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.  And it breaks my heart that these years are also the years most young adults drift away from the Church when they need the Church's spiritual guidance the most.

Go to Church and Invite Someone to Join You
            The Church is not perfect, but it is the Body of Christ.  It is where we come to watch the Lamb of God.  It is where we see people’s lives changed forever for the better as they grow closer to Christ.  It is where we are changed forever—if we will let Jesus’ love into our heart.  I would like to invite everyone reading this to come to Church.  If you live near Dalton, GA, I'd love for you to come to my church--Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.  If not here, then find a church where you are.  There are many great options available.  Find one near you.  If you think traditional "church" like we've been doing it in America isn't for you, think outside the box and find some way to plug in to Church with a capital C.  Get together with a group of Christian believers to pray, study the Bible, fellowship, and serve together.  It is absolutely critical.
            And if you are already attending and active in church, praise God!  I commend you!  Keep at it.  Now, invite someone to join you.  This is absolutely critical too.  It's not an option for believers.  It's what Jesus commanded us to do.  It is the purpose of the Church.  Jesus said, "Go make disciples..." (Matthew 28:19-20)  So invite someone to church!  And then another and another and another...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Young Jesus in the Temple

During lent and March Madness, I've been encouraging everyone to make a 3-point shot by focusing on 3 things: prayer, study, and service. Last week, we talked about prayer. Today, I want to talk about study.  Jesus prayed, but he also studied.  He grew up in a Jewish family that studied the Scriptures in synagogue every week.  And this morning, I want to read an enlightening story about a time Jesus was 12-years-old and his family took him on a special trip to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Luke 2:41-52
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. 43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.
45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. 46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”
49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant.
51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.
52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.

Lost and Found
Have you ever lost your child—even for a moment?  My wife and I lost our daughter Grace once while we were shopping at JC Penny. We were talking to my wife's cousin when Grace, who was 2 or 3-years-old, wandered off unnoticed. She was only gone for a moment before we discovered her hiding in a rack of clothes. It's was an awful feeling while we searched for her frantically. I can't imagine how Mary and Joseph felt when they couldn’t find Jesus for 3 days and they had no idea where he was.  It must have been terrifying!
This story reminds me that we are all God's children. We all, also, have been lost and God searches for us frantically until He finds us. Perhaps the best place to get found is in our Father's house. However, because of Jesus, God can find us anywhere, even if we are far, far away from His house.
There is a lot that could be said about this passage, but let’s zoom in on verse 49.  When his parents scolded Jesus for causing them to search frantically for him, he said, “Why did you need to search for me?”  Jesus supposed his location should have been obvious to his parents.  His character, his interests, his very DNA dictated where he would be.  “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Let’s look closer at that statement.

Jesus said, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  
Jesus was committed to study.  Even as a young boy, Jesus was determined to study the scriptures, listen to religious teachers, and ask questions.  He was an exceptional student.  His love of learning continued throughout his life.
Study is essential to the Christian faith.  Christians are Jesus’ disciples.  The word disciple literally means “student.”  You can’t be a student without study.  If we are going to be disciples who follow Jesus, we must study.
Study establishes our faith, helps us grow, and equips us to serve.  Luke 2:52 tells us, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God.”  If study was important for Jesus, we should study too.  But where should we study?

Jesus said, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?  
In other words:  “Didn’t you know where I would be studying—in my Father’s house?”  Jesus studied in the Church. Jesus was God, but he never separated himself from the Church.  Jesus studied in synagogues and the Jerusalem Temple all his life. These were the Jewish versions of a local church.  The scriptures tell us Jesus attended synagogue every week to teach and study (see Luke 4:16, 31, John 18:20, and numerous other inferences in the New Testament).  He set an example for us.
Jesus transformed the world.  He ushered in God grace and forgiveness and salvation.  And Jesus established the Church to be his bodily presence on the earth.  Matthew 16:18 – “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
If Jesus didn’t believe in organized religion, he could have easily done away with it.  Instead, Jesus reformed organized religion by forming the Christian Church.  Throughout the New Testament, the Church acts as the representative of Christ in the world.  It is where disciples came to study and grow in the faith so they could go out to serve and spread the Gospel to the whole world.  The Bible tells us the Church is essential.  Ephesians 1:23 says, “And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”  And 1 Timothy 3:15 says, “…the household of God, which is the church of the living God, [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”
Today, the Church continues to fulfill Christ’s plan.  The Church guides our understanding, checks our pride and misapplication of knowledge, encourages and motivates us, equips us to serve, and sends us out on a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ to change the world.
We have several ways you can get involved in study at my church:
  • We are studying THE STORY, by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee on Wednesday nights and Thrusday mornings. The book, which reads like a novel, takes students through the whole Bible in chronological order from beginning to end. We read one chapter a week and then gather together to watch a video about the chapter and discuss it. I invite you to read along with us and come to the study if you live nearby.
  • One of the easiest ways to study is to join a small group or Sunday school class.
  • Another great way to study at our church is in our youth or children’s ministry. Here, our awesome ministers and volunteers teach the Bible in a relevant, age appropriate ways. EVen if you are not a child or teenager, you can volunteer!  You will be helping out and learning all at the same time.
  • Or perhaps you would like to start a new study of your own. Leading a study is one of the best ways to learn. The teacher or leader or facilitator almost always learns the most in a study as they prepare for the class each week.

There is one final, but critical point I need to make:

Jesus said, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?
Study is About Relationships–Christian study is focused on building a relationship with God and each other.  Remember, Jesus said the first and second greatest commandments are:  “Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbor.”  (Matthew 22:36-40)
So the Christian’s study must be more about transformation than mere information.  What good is it to know a lot about Jesus if you don’t know Jesus?  What good is religious information if it doesn’t transform who you are and the way you live?
I know a man who has a motorcycle, but he's afraid to ride it. He knows all about the bike and how it works. He is constantly customizing the bike to make it the best, safest, coolest bike possible, but he never rides it because he is afraid to leave his house. What good is all his knowledge and work on the bike if he never rides it?
When Christians study, our goal is to have a real relationship with God and His people.  It is more than the satisfaction of a curiosity or fascination with an interesting topic.  Christian study is meant to deepen our relationship with God—to know Him better, to understand His will for our life, to marvel in His glory, and be part of His people. What good is it to know all about Jesus if we don't know him. What good is it to know all about the Gospel if we never go out to share it with someone else and help change the world?

In summary, there are three points I wanted you to glean today. First, study is essential to the Christian faith. Second, Jesus gave us the church to help us study. And finally, Christian study helps us build a relationship with God and His people so we can go out and help change the world. Will you be a disciple—a student follower of Jesus?  Will you make a commitment to study—not just so you can be a know-it-all, but so you can know Jesus and his love?