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

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Beautiful Mind

Introduction
Mother Teresa once taught, “Christ has no body now on earth, but yours; no hands, but yours; no feet, but yours. It is your eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out to the world; your feet with which he must walk about doing good; your hands with which he blessed humanity; your voice with which his forgiveness is spoken; your heart with which he now loves.” 

Mother Teresa’s words are a poignant reminder to all who follow Christ as Lord that we the Church Christ established to serve as His physical presence on the earth.  When we are faithful, Christ’s love spreads and the world becomes a better place.  

If we are to represent Christ well, we must be faithful to His teachings and way of life.  For great harm is done whenever people misunderstand Christ’s teachings or intentionally misuse Christianity to further their own selfish agendas.  Therefore, it is imperative that we study and do our best to be faithful.

We enjoy so many blessings today because of the work of Christ’s Beautiful Church over the last 2,000 years.  Consider these blessing we enjoy and even take for granted today that came into being through the work of Christ’s Church: 

  • Sacrificial Love as the highest virtue
  • Charitable giving
  • Humility as a virtue
  • Peaceful protest
  • Nonviolent resistance
  • Abolishment of slavery
  • Equal rights for women
  • Civil rights
  • Public Hospitals
  • Care for orphans
  • Child abandonment laws
  • Court Appointed Attorneys
  • Religious Freedom 

Today, I want to address one final blessing we have received from the Beautiful Church--the blessing of intellectual learning. 

1 Corinthians 2:13-16
13 
When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. 14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For,

“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts?  Who knows enough to teach him?”  But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

Christianity and Education
When the Church is faithful to Christ, we take on the mind of Christ and we help enlighten the world with God’s wisdom and knowledge.  The Church caused the advancement of medicine, science, better government, wisdom, and education. 

In our day and age, there is a misconception that science and learning stand against Christian religion.  That is an unfortunate misunderstanding that has been perpetuated by ignorant people.  Jesus himself stated in Matthew 22:37 that the greatest commandment of all was to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” 

Jesus, as a 1st century Jew, came from a religious background that valued education and learning.  Jewish children were taught to read the Torah from an early age.  Many could recite the first 5 books of the Bible from memory and make logical arguments about their teachings.  

Jesus’ first followers were Jews that valued education. They spread their love of learning to the Christian Church--even as it spread out beyond the Jewish community to more and more gentiles.  The Christian faith always included a love for learning, because Christ’s followers believed their faith was logical and knowing God required Christians to study and learn. 

Even though the earliest Christians were mostly from the lower classes of society that tended to be uneducated, these believers were required to learn.  In order to join the early church, new converts were often required to attend 3 years of classes in the Christian faith before they were fully initiated into the Christian Church.  

One of the great attractions of the Church to common people was the opportunity to receive an education.  Education was not commonly available to the average person in ancient times.  The Christian Church valued education as a road to deeper understand of and devotion to God.  Therefore, the Church believed all people should be able to receive an education and worked diligently to provide educational opportunities for everyone—rich and poor alike. 

The earliest Christians began as a small minority in a sea of other religions that were often hostile to Christianity.  However, the early Christians refused to use violence to defend themselves or advance their cause.  Instead, Christians said, “Let’s debate the issues and let group with the most compelling arguments stand.  And over the course of 2 centuries, more and more people in the ancient Roman world—from all walks of life—found the Christian’s ideas most compelling.  And so, in the face of violent persecution, and a myriad of competing religious ideas, Christianity rose to prominence as more and more people were won over to the Christian Church by the reasoning of Christian arguments about faith in Christ.

The early Christians knew what they believed and why they believed it and they lived out their beliefs even in the face of persecution, torture, and death.  For they believed because they knew what Scripture said:

Romans 8:37 – “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.”

1 John 4:4 – “You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”

The early Christians could willingly embrace the loss of property, freedom, and even their life because they really did believe something greater was already won for them--the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal live.  This world had nothing for them.  Their hope was in the coming Kingdom of God.

 

Christians and Scripture
Christians as a people of the Book, highly valued reading and writing.  They set about recording the life and teachings of Christ, which was no small task in the ancient world.  Today, we take for granted our access to the Holy Bible.  Most Americans have multiple copies as well as access to the Bible through the internet and a computer or smartphone.  We forget the tremendous cost expended to preserve the Bible for us. 

The printing press, which automated the book printing process, was not invented until 1436.  So for 1,400 years, all books had to be copied by hand—word by word, letter by letter.  The cost of materials  and labor to manufacture a book in the first few centuries after Christ’s birth was incredible.  The cost to reproduce just one Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—was the equivalent of 30 years of wages for the common person.  How much money have you earned in the last 30 years?  That's how much one Bible would cost to produce in the first few centuries of the Church.  Consider that for just one moment...

The early Christians valued Scriptures so much they set their hands to copying them so that future generations would have these sacred words to guide our minds and our faith in what we need to know to be faithful to God through Jesus Christ.  They sacrificed the time, resources, and energy to preserve God's Word because they knew this Word holds the key to wisdom and life and eternal life. 

Early Christians were even willing to die in order to protect their sacred texts.  Two female deacons of the early church, Catalina and Micoclius, were arrested and interrogated by Roman authorities who demanded they give up their sacred texts to be burned.  Catalina and Micoclius refused to tell where the books were hidden and were therefore put to death (Bullies and Saints by John Dickson). 

One might think it a waste of human life that these two women would sacrifice their lives for the sake of a book.  However, you must understand these early Christian really believed with all their hearts what their book said—that Christ has already won the victory.  The main purpose of this life is to further the purpose of Christ coming Kingdom.  We who follow Christ have already died to our selfish ambitions, and to die a physical death for Jesus is only to begin our eternal life in Christ heavenly Kingdom.  These are not just words.  They are Truth.  Early believers were willing to sacrifice their life for the cause of Christ's Kingdom with the sure and certain knowledge that what was to come was far better than this life.

When you hold your Bible, I want you to remember the hundreds of thousands of Christians who dedicated their lives and livelihoods to preserving the words of these texts so you can read them today.  It was a tremendous sacrifice they willingly made. 

The early Christians efforts were not limited only to Christian texts.  They also believed other important documents of classic learning should be preserved as well.  The reason we know so much about philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, (as well as other important ancient texts) is because the early Christians preserved their ideas by copying their texts and teaching their philosophies through the centuries.

Christians love for learning flourished even more after the Roman Empire officially converted to Christianity.  With the support of the Empire, Christians were able to establish great institutes of learning that helped advance government, science, medicine, writing, wisdom, philosophy, and mathematics.  Ironically, the so called “dark ages”, which modern enlightenment thinkers like to blame on the Christian Church, was not caused by the Church.  Rather, it was caused by the collapse of civilization with the fall of the Roman Empire and its Christian institutions of learning. 

Christian Scientists
Christian education and love for learning inspired scientific discovery throughout the ages.  In fact, the most influential scientist during the enlightenment period were Christians.  Their love of God and desire to know Him and His creation inspired them to delve deeply into scientific investigation to discover the mysteries of God’s universe.  A list of Christian scientists included such lauded scientific pioneers as:

Galileo Galilei, who discovered the earth revolves around the sun.

Robert Boyle, who defined elements, compounds, and mixtures and the first gas law.  Boyle said that a deeper understanding of science was a higher glorification of God.

Isaac Newton was a passionate Christian who spent more time on Bible study than math and physics. Newton profoundly changed our understanding of nature with his law of universal gravitation and his laws of motion; invented calculus; built the first ever reflecting telescope; showed sunlight is made of all the colors of the rainbow.

Michael Faraday was a devout member and elder of the Sandemanian Church. Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction; discovered the first experimental link between light and magnetism; carried out the first room-temperature liquefaction of a gas.

Werner Heisenberg was a Lutheran with deep Christian convictions and the primary creators of quantum mechanics who formulated the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Louis Pasteur was a Christian, a biologist, microbiologist and chemist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. 

These scientists and countless others believed deeply in Jesus Christ and were faithful members of His Church.  Their love of learning and the drive to search the mysteries of God’s creation were not deterred, but rather enhanced, by their faith in God.   

Conclusion
The Christian faith challenges us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  God gave us our intellect as a tool to help us know Him better and to bring His heavenly Kingdom upon the earth.

Therefore, let us not shy away from learning.  But let us join with Christians from throughout the centuries who have helped make our world a better place by promoting education and intellectual pursuits for the glory of God.  Let us rebuke the slanderous idea that the Church is only for the ignorant and unlearned.  Let us show the atheist that true knowledge comes from God through Christ. Furthermore, let us be eternally grateful to God and His Church for the incredible contributions over the centuries that have made our world a better place. 

Communion and Welch’s Grape Juice
I want to end my message with a true story about a man named Thomas Bramwell Welch.  Welch (1825-1903) was a British–American Methodist minister and dentist. He pioneered the use of pasteurization as a means of preventing the fermentation of grape juice.  This grape juice, which millions enjoy today, was not practically available before Welch use pioneered a way to pasteurize it (using an adapted method created by Louis Pasteur).  Prior to Welch and the advent of refrigeration, grape juice would turn to wine within a few days due to natural yeast found in the air.  

During the 1800s and early 1900s, churches were fighting against an epidemic of alcoholism and encouraging Christians to abstain from drinking alcohol.  However, at Sunday morning communion services, the Church had no option but to use alcoholic wine for their sacrament.  Welch wanted to provide the Church with a non-alcoholic option for the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Welch's grape juice, pasteurized to prevent fermentation, was the solution.  When sales to churches were low, the graoe juice was made available for general use to the public for secular consumption.  Sales skyrocketed and Welch's grape juice is one of the most common brands available in grocery stores today.  However, the grape juice we love so much, was originally intended for sacred use.  

In my church, we use grape juice for Holy Communion.  Whether it uses real wine or Welch’s grape juice, the red color of the beverage is a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us, shedding His precious blood to atone for our sins.  The sacrament also reminds us that Jesus is here with us in spirit even now.  His presence nourishes us and strengthens us to be His Church, joining with the countless saints who have gone before us.  When we are faithful to Jesus--the Way, the Truth, and the Life--we are the Church, Jesus physical presence on earth.  

So, let's be His feet going. 
Let us be His hands serving. 
Let us speak His words of truth.
Let us offer His grace, love,  and forgiveness.

 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Guest Blog: 4 Ways to Stay Grounded as a New Immigrant to the US


The community around Pleasant Grove Methodist Church is home to a large immigrant population.  I am proud of the diversity in our community.  One of my church's 3 main goals as we share the love of Jesus is to build new relationships.   We would love to build a new relationship with you.  We invite you to come join our church family and experience the unique advantages of being part of our church.

I'm pleased to share a guest blog by Jason Lewis that highlights the importance of community and how participation in a local church can benefit immigrants.

About our Guest Blogger: Jason Lewis is a personal trainer by day and the primary caretaker of his mom after her surgery. He writes for StrongWell.org and enjoys creating fitness programs that cater to the needs of people over 65.

4 Ways to Stay Grounded as a New Immigrant to the US

Traveling to a new country is a big step. Now that you’re in the United States, what’s next? You might feel unsure about how to reach out to others or where to find support. Immigrating can be challenging emotionally and culturally, but there are ways to stay grounded while adapting to your new home.

Find New Community

Connecting with other people is the best way to start feeling more comfortable in the US. You can form friendships and learn about your new home by reaching out to the community. A great way to find friends and support is by joining a local church like Pleasant Grove United Methodist. Attending services and forming fellowship with those who share your beliefs supports your spiritual path in life. The church can also offer a social platform that helps you feel less alone as you navigate your new country.

Nurture Your Connections

Missing your loved ones left behind can be a complicated feeling. While moving to the US offers you new opportunities, it also means being far away from those you love. Fortunately, technology makes it simpler than ever to reach out even if you’re thousands of miles apart. From video chatting to updates via social media, finding ways to stay in touch with your friends and family is an excellent way to boost your mood anytime you feel stressed out or homesick.

Help Family at Home

One of the positive impacts of immigrating to the US might be the opportunity to support your family back home. In fact, the United Nations highlights the importance of these remittances for people living below the poverty line all over the world. If you’re able to offer financial support to your loved ones, you may feel more empowered and less homesick. After all, if you moved to the US to help support your family in India, that fact could help you adjust to your new routines and responsibilities. When the time comes to send money to family, avoid prepaid cards or sending cash, and instead opt for a transfer service that delivers funds on your timeline. A platform like Remitly makes it easy to send funds home to India, and you’ll never pay more than $3.99 for a transfer.

Build a Professional Network

Many people choose to immigrate to the United States for professional and personal opportunities. If your profession is the reason for your move, building your network could help you achieve your goals while you develop deeper skills in your field. In fact, Pew Research notes that the number of immigrant workers who hold high-skill jobs is increasing in the US. From collaborative projects to conventions (online or otherwise) and even attending social events with co-workers, there are countless ways to strengthen professional connections. You never know what opportunities might come up when you have the right contacts in your field.

Making the decision to immigrate to the US is a big step, but it’s also a chance to change your life, learn new things, and make connections that could be instrumental in building your new life. Taking these steps to become more connected in your new home while keeping in touch with your roots is a great way to build on your past while looking to the future.

Photo via Pixabay

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Guest Blog: Church Can Nurture Your Soul and Your Health

About the Author: Jason Lewis is a personal trainer by day and the primary caretaker of his mom after her surgery. He writes for StrongWell.org and enjoys creating fitness programs that cater to the needs of people over 65.


Many people quit going to church as adults. Having children and full-time, challenging jobs can certainly make it difficult to get up early on weekends and attend to one’s spiritual needs. 

But, as we grow older, many people rediscover their faith. Doing so comes with many blessings. Church not only nourishes the spirit, it gives you social support, no-cost services, and a framework for mindfulness. Here’s a guide to nurturing your heart and soul through church, presented by Pleasant Grove Methodist Church. 

Social networking

Many seniors find that their social circle has narrowed. The death of a spouse and other family and friends makes that circle smaller. Meanwhile, children move out of the house and are busy with families of their own.

Where do you go to restore your social network? Gyms may be unappealing, especially if the clientele is generally younger. Church, on the other hand, is a good place to connect with folk of all ages. And you may already know some of the people there — especially if you find a church in your neighborhood or go with a friend. Of course, if you get a group of like-minded churchgoers together who want to improve their physical health, getting together and utilizing a program like SilverSneakers (which is offered through certain Medicare Advantage programs) can be a good way to socialize and get in a little exercise at the same time.

Additionally, many churches offer Sunday School programs and Bible studies that meet in small groups. These small groups offer a way to network with other people and make friends and associates.

Having a strong social network is one of the keys to good health. When we engage with other people, we feel a sense of purpose. When our lives are rich in purpose and other people, we have good reasons not to get depressed or resort to drinking or drugging.

Services extend beyond worship

Churches are strong in providing support to their members. For instance, if you need help getting to church, most churches will assign someone to give you a ride.

Church ministers and priests also offer informal counseling services. For people of faith, these conversations can be as comforting and potentially more useful than secular counseling. Your minister, for instance, may identify passages of the Bible that help you understand what you are going through and how to deal with it.

Churches also provide a wealth of entertainment. Many churches hold picnics, field trips, concerts, films, and sports activities for every age group. You can do everything from watch a movie to pick up a game of volleyball at your local church.

After Sunday morning services, coffee is served in most churches, and this is a great time to meet other people with whom you have at least one thing in common: your shared belief system. Some churches even have single groups of all ages that allow you to network with other people of your faith and possibly find romance.

Mindfulness

You’ve probably been hearing about mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of living fully in the moment, letting go of past pain and anxieties about the future. Many healing regimes include mindfulness therapy.

The goals of mindfulness are in sync with the goals of most religions. Religion teaches us to be grateful for what we have, as does mindfulness. Religion teaches us not to nurse grudges, as does mindfulness.

It can be difficult to make ourselves focus on the here and now, especially if we’re going through a transition as life-changing as addiction recovery. But taking even a few minutes a day to be mindful of all we have in the present moment - and especially all we have to be grateful for - can help us feel more at peace with ourselves, our surroundings, and our circumstances.

In conclusion, church is a great blessing to many seniors. Growing old may come with wisdom, but it can also come with decreased mobility and decreased energy. Having a strong support group, such as is offered in church, can go a long way toward helping us deal with the trials and temptations of old age.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay. 

Monday, July 6, 2020

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends


Today, I'll finish studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS. 
So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things.
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope.
Jesus Power Helps Us Live Forever.  
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Helps Us Be Good Friends.

John 15:12 says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.

Jesus also said that everyone would know we are Christians by our love.  He didn't say they would know we are Christians by the way we dress or how we speak or where we go to church or even by the stances we take on political issues.  He said, they will know we are Christians by the way we love each other.

It is essential that Christians love each other and stick together.  You cannot live out your faith in  People were created to be together.  One of the hardest things during this pandemic is the isolation.  We were not meant to be stuck at home all by ourselves.  We were not meant to be unable to hug or even shake hands. (That's why it is so awkward when we get together and we don't know whether we should or not.  We need some form of social greeting that doesn't require physical contact, but we also need physical contact.)  God designed us to be together.
Jesus all by yourself.

Think about it.  When Jesus came as the Son of God, filled with the power of God, he didn't need any help to fix the problems of the world.  He could have snapped his fingers and fixed them all by himself.  But he didn't.  Instead, he chose 12 disciples to work with him. It would have been easier to do it alone.  Why get 12 people together with all their problems and personality conflicts.  You know, James and John were brothers; you know how siblings can be.  One time I was driving with my two daughters when they were younger and the older one screams, "Dad!  She breathing!"  And I said, "Thank God!  That means she's alive!"  (What she meant was, she's breathing too loud and it's getting on my nerves!")  Don't you know James and John were probably always getting on each others nerves--not to mention the 10 other disciples.  Why would Jesus put himself through all that?  Why not save the world all by himself?  I guess it was essential for the work to be done together as a group effort.

Jesus established the Church to be a family of believers united to support one another with friendship as we tell the world about Jesus.  We see several pictures of the church working and living together in divine unity--especially in the book of Acts.   

Acts 2:42-47
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

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.

Light in the Darkness
The early Christians were vastly outnumbered.  Most of the people around them did not believe in Jesus or even care to show love, kindness, or goodness.  This small group of Christians—only about 5,000 people in a city of over 200,000 was a bright light in a dark, dark world.  “This small band of believers needed to stick together and support each other.”[i]

Maybe it was easier for there earliest Christians to stick together than it is for us.  There wasn’t a pandemic on the loose.  Or was there?  COVID-19 isn't the first pandemic the world has faced.  There have been many plagues that have ravaged the world in former times--bubonic plague, the black death, and others that we can't even name.  Many of these were far deadlier to humanity than COVID-19.  I was watching a documentary the other day and they said the black death killed as much as 80-90% of many of the community it struck.  Can you imagine?  That would be horrible!

The early Christians had deal with these devastation.  They stuck together through them.  In fact, many scholars believe that the way they stuck together through the various plagues contributed to the rise of Christianity throughout the world.  It contributed in two ways.  First of all, Christians survived the plagues at higher rates than non-Christians.  Think about it. when everyone around you is dying and people were frightened, they would hide in their homes and abandon their friends and family.  Christians didn't abandon each other.  And because they cared for one another--even being willing to die for each other--they had a better chance of surviving sickness than others who had no on to care for them.  A second reason plagues helped Christianity become more prominent is because non-believers saw how the CHristians love one another, and even how they reached out to care for and love non-Christians.  In the face of death, when everyone was abandoning each other, Christians stuck together and even cared for others who were not Christians.  And this showed non-believers the Christians faith was authentic; and many non-believer began to believe.

Today, Christians have many more tools to help us stick together.  Even though we have been told to isolate ourselves, we have phones.  We can so easily call one another to check on each other.  We also have text and email.  In a few seconds, we can send a message to someone.  We have programs like Zoom, where we can all gather in a virtual room for a video conference where we can see and hear each other.  And this is not even mention social media and how it can be used to help us stay connected.

Are we using our technology to stay connected?  Is sticking together as the family of Christ a top priority in our lives?  What are you doing to stay connected?  What will you do in the days ahead?

Alone, Christians are vulnerable.  When Christians stick together, we are unbreakable.

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends
Since Jesus wants us to be good friends, His Holy Spirit helps us to be good friends.  If we are willing to follow the Spirit’s guidance, we can make friends, be friends, and bring our friends to Jesus.  Let me give you 5 simple tips about how to make good Christian friends.[ii]

First of all, pray about it.   Pray for God to show you who should be your friends.  Yo never know whom God may place in your path today who needs a friend.  And you never know how that friendship may grow and bless you.  Pray that God would send you people to befriend.  And also pray about the depth of the friendship. Not all friends are created equal.  Some will be more casual and some will be deeper relationships.  And you need to know the difference and know that it's alright to have different kind of friends.  Pray for the wisdom to know what kind of friends you have.  And of course, pray for your friends.  Pray God will bless them and care for them.  And pray that your friendship will grow.

Second, be honest. Don't try to pretend to be someone you are not.  Just be yourself.  Your true friends will accept you for who you are.  Be authentic and have integrity.  And tell your friends the truth, even if it is a hard truth.  They might not like it at first, but--if they are a true friend--they will appreciate your honesty and see that you offer it in love.  My friendship with my best friend began 24 years ago when we worked together in a youth program.  He was the youth director and I was a volunteer in the program.  He asked for feedback from all his volunteers about his job performance.  I thought he was doing a terrific job, but also saw a few things he could do better.  I praised him, but also offered my constructive criticism.  Eddie really appreciated my honesty and told me some time later that it showed him I was a true friend.  That friendship grew from that point on and has lasted through many good times and hard times until we are now more like brothers than friends.  Honesty is the foundation of the best friendships.

Third, be selfless.  It’s not about you. We tend to befriend people we enjoy being around, but it would be self-centered if that were the only thing that made up our friendship.  Ultimately, friendship is about selflessly giving to your friends.  Jesus said, "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)  Great friendships are build when both friends give selflessly expecting nothing in return.

Tip number four:  be vulnerable.  Vulnerability creates an instant connection. When we open up with our friends, we put ourselves in their hands and a true friend takes that responsibility seriously.  They appreciate that we have trusted them and they will also trust us.  Being vulnerable helps weave your life into your friend's life.  Now, it is important to remember tip number one when you begin to open up to your friends.  Remember, friendships come in different levels.  Friends must earn each other's trust to go to deeper levels of vulnerability.  Pray to know your friendships.  Don't be completely vulnerable with someone who hasn't earned your trust.  That isn't wise.  But then only way to earn trust is to be given a chance. So, start opening up slowly and move to deeper levels as a friend earns your rust.

Lastly, have fun!  Fun is more than entertainment.  We bond with our friends as we have fun together.  It helps to weave the chords of our lives together.  You don't have to be having fun all the time.  But having fund together has to be part of the equation.  It is something that makes friends truly friends.  That's one of the reasons why it is so essential that church members get together regularly for fun and fellowship.  It's not just something extra we do--like being in a social club.  Fun and fellowship weaves together our lives and bonds us as one body--the body of Christ.

Make a Friend.  Be a Friend.  Bring a Friend to Christ.
Now when it comes to making friends,  you must both reach in and reach out.  I suggest that most of your friends should be people who have the same deep core values as you.  Therefore, if you are a Christian, seek strong Christian friends; they will help encourage you to follow Christ and grow in His love (and you will do this for them too).  Your Christian friends will be the people you can count on the most.

However, we should also reach outward to non-believers.  Jesus gave us a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We can only do this as we reach out to be friends to non-Christians.  When we have a solid foundation of Christians friends to keep us strong and on the right path, we can be confident to be friends to even those who don't share our same values.  In doing so, we can grow and learn and we can help our new non-believing friend grow and learn too.  And perhaps our friends may see the special faith we have and desire to pursue it as well.  Then they will grow to a deeper level of friendship as they learn to share our faith.

So, make a friend. Be a friend.  And bring a friend to Christ.  How will you be a friend this week?




Monday, June 1, 2020

Ekklesia 3 - Called out of the World


Introduction
I’ve felt like an outsider almost my whole life.  I never had any resentment about it—it was just the reality for our family when I was a kid.  My parents were both born in Georgia but met and married in Maryland.  So, I began my life as an outsider in Maryland, a child of two outsiders from Georgia.  Eventually, we moved away from Maryland back to Georgia.  In Georgia, I felt even more like an outsider.  In Maryland, kids teased me because I had a southern accent.  (I guess I picked it up from my parents.)  When we moved to Georgia, kids at school said I talked like a Yankee.  Some of the kids in my school in Macon had such thick southern accents, I couldn’t understand what they were saying! 

In all, I attended five different elementary schools and, each time, it reinforced the fact that I was an outsider—the new kid on the outside of a circle of friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  It was just the way it was and I didn’t know any better and didn’t resent it.
 
Then, after high school, I moved to Marietta to attend college.  Metro Atlanta was very different from Macon, and again, I felt like an outsider among people who had lived in the Atlanta area their whole lives.  They would talk about the different towns and roads and places assuming everyone knew where they were—and most everyone did (accept me, the outsider).  But that was OK, because by then I knew how to make it as an outsider—a stranger in a foreign land, as they say. 

After college, I worked for a small textile mill in Griffin—a small town where everybody knew everybody and everyone in the mill knew everybody else, and probably had for their whole life.  Except for me, of course; I was the outsider—that new college kid who thought he was smarter than everyone else. (That was their opinion, not mine, by the way.  I deeply respected their vast experience and just wanted to learn from them. I didn’t think I was better than anyone, but some perceived me that way simply because I had a college degree.)

And then I answered the call to ministry as a United Methodist minister.  And guess what?  United Methodist ministers are reappointed to new churches every so many years (the average is about 5 years in each congregation)!  So all together, I’ve lived in twelve different homes in my life and I have attended 10 different churches.

Now, the more I have matured in my Christian faith, the more I see the benefit of my life as an outsider, because one of the great truths is Jesus came to call Christians to be “outsiders” in this world.

John 15:18-19
18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

Called Out of this World
As we think about the purpose of Church, we have to remember that Christians are a “called out” people.  The Greek word for Church in the New Testament is Ekklesia, which literally means “the called out people”.  The Church is not a building.  The Church is a group of people who have been called out of something old into something new--called out of darkness into light, out of shame into nobility, called out of the world into the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps it has been easier for me than for most to accept that Christians are outsiders in this world because I have never felt “at home” in this world.  My faith in Christ has assured me that feeling is OK because this world is not our home. 

Philippians 3:20 says, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”

You see, being a Christian isn’t a sentence to be an outsider forever.  It only means being an outsider in this world.  But it means being an insider in God’s Kingdom.  Hebrews 13:14 – “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

But many Christians struggle with being “outsiders in this world.”  There are too many things we like about this world.  Hank Williams Jr. once sang a song, “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.  If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I’d just as soon stay home.”  How about you?  If Heaven ain’t a lot like the place you call home, would you still want to go?  Are you more a part of this world or of God’s Kingdom?  These are critical questions to consider.  Remember, all the things of this world will soon melt away, but the Kingdom of God will stand forever (see 2 Peter 3:10-12).

The Purpose of the Church
It’s important to always keep in mind that Christians are not just called out of, but we are also called into.  We are called out of the world, but we are called into God’s Kingdom.  And this reveals one of the essential purposes of the Church.  The Church is the place Christians gather together into a community--a community of faith, God's Kingdom on earth.  Right now, it's just an outpost of God's Kingdom.  One day, it will be God's full Kingdom on earth when Jesus comes to reign in power and might.  Until then, we need a place where the faithful can gather.  The Church is that place.

No one can make it in this world completely alone.  We’re not made that way.  It doesn’t matter how much of a loner you are, you cannot live in complete isolation from other people.  Everyone (and I mean everyone) needs to be part of a group of people.

Christians do not live out our faith alone.  We need each other.  Jesus, the Son of the living God, called together a group of 12 people.  Don’t you think Jesus, God in the flesh, imbued with all the power in the universe, could have saved the world all by himself?  He didn’t need the help of 12 flawed, feeble mortals to do His work.  However, he chose these broken men to be together because being together is essential to the Christian life.

Part of the purpose of Church is for us to be together.  Because if we are called out of the world and we don’t gather together, then we’re just alone; and being alone is a death sentence to your spiritual life.  I want everyone reading this to understand me clearly.  If you are trying to live as a Christian all alone, all bv yourself without a group of other Christians, you will die spiritually.

Now, don’t get me wrong, gathering as a “church” doesn’t have to look like it has traditionally looked in America.  Obviously, we’ve been learning a new way to do “church” through online worship for over two months.  Church could also be a group of men gathering for lunch at a restaurant for encouragement, accountability, and cooperation in the mission of the Church.  Church could also be gathering in your living room or outdoors at a campground.  But it’s not just gathering; it’s not the same as getting together with your family or friends for a cookout.  We gather for some specific reasons.  What are they?

The Church Gathers for Important Reasons
Here are some of essential reasons we must gather.  Now, I’m still praying about this and studying.  I don't know that I have this all worked out and organized.  A lot of this is me just thinking out loud.  But here’s what I think are some of the essential reasons Christians must gather together.

Worship.  Obviously, we can worship privately as individuals.  We can also worship online as we are doing in many churches during the COVID 19 pandemic.  Some people may prefer to worship online as we are today.  For others, being together in one room worship God with other people enhances the worship experience. We feel God presence more compellingly when we are in a group.

Learning and growing.  There is a certain amount of learning and growing that can be accomplished online.  We are learning that we might actually be more effective in some ways when we teach online.  The jury is still out.  If online learning is as effective as onsite learning, then why have we not yet abolished school classrooms and gone completely to online learning for public education as well as college courses.  Right now, these are options, but most students and teachers still believe being physically present in a classroom is essential for proper education.  I mean, do you want to be operated on by a surgeon who only took online classes in medical school?  I believe onsite learning in small groups, Sunday school classes, and Bible studies is essential in the church.  We are learning, however, that the right combination of online and onsite learning may be better than either one alone.

The Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism.  Jesus commanded the Church to perform two sacred ceremonies—Baptism and Holy Communion.  These can only be celebrated when a community of Christian believers are gathered together in person.  Some are celebrating online/virtual communions and I don't fault them; Christians long to celebrate Holy Communion and this is something many are trying to get by during a global pandemic.  However, I would say it's not really true Communion.  It is a stand in.  True Holy Communion must be celebrated as we gather in person. 

Cooperation for the sake of the mission.  Together, as a church, we are a team.  Christians are more effective when we work together.  We can do more as a group than we can do individually.  I’m good at some things, but not everything.  You are better at some things than I am.  When we get together, I add the things I'm good at your good things and the good things of everyone else in the church and it adds up to great things.  When we all pool together our time, our talents, our perspectives, and our resources for the sake of the Christ’s mission, we can accomplish greater things than we could ever accomplish alone.

Finally, there is fellowship.  And this is huge.  Sometimes, fellowship doesn't get the respect it's due.  Cynics may say a church that focuses on fellowship is just a social club.  That's not fair.  Fellowship is vital to the Christian faith.  People who don’t meet together regularly to fellowship in person will grow apart.  And if a church is going to work together as a team, weathering trials and tribulations, we have to know each other, trust each other, and long for each other.  We have to be one as a family—brothers and sisters in Christ.  I just don’t see how a Church can go to the depths of relationship building, working together on our great mission, and being the community of faith Jesus calls us to be if we don’t get together regularly in person all in the same space.  We can manage it for a time, but eventually we would grow apart.  Over the long term, we have to be together to be one in Christ to do the things the Church is called out of the world and into the Kingdom to God to do.  Fellowship is essential.

Closing
I want everyone reading this to seriously contemplate how you are called to be part of the Church.  Over the next month, we will slowly begin to resume onsite gatherings at my church, Pleasant Grove.  Is God calling you to be here. If you don’t live close enough, is God calling you to be in a church near you?  Please understand, that doesn't necessarily mean you need to worship in a traditional church building.  You could worship online at my church on Facebook on Sunday and then meet with a solid group of Christian friends for coffee on Monday morning and get the "in person" portion of Christian relationships you need.  Is God calling you to do that?

Jesus came to call you out of darkness into light, to call you out of shame into a noble purpose.  He came to call you out of a broken world of sin into God’s glorious Kingdom of eternal life.  Won’t you hear His voice today and start to follow Him?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Ekklesia 2 - Called Out of Shame


Introduction
It has been 10-11 weeks since we had a regular, onsite worship service at Pleasant Grove.  In fact, all over the world, it has been months since congregations have gathered in the sanctuaries for worship.  Does this mean we are no longer the Church?  Absolutely not!

In fact, during these crazy times, the Church may be more active doing God’s work than ever before.  I have been busier than ever doing Zoom meetings, making phone calls, and learning new technology.  I’ve had to become a medical expert, media expert, Bible expert, statistical expert, sociological expert… (not really, but I've been learning about and using tools in all of these categories and more…) I've been doing a daily devotion every morning on Facebook Live for almost 2 months.

I’ve been very busy!  In fact, I’ve hardly taken a real day off since his all began.  Even on my days off, I’ve been emailing, fielding texts and phone calls, and just thinking about ministry stuff.   One day soon, for my own personal health and well-being, I’m going to have to take some time off to just unplug from everything.  I’ll be turning my phone off, my computer off, everything off and you won’t be able to get hold of me.

Believe it or not, you’ve been busy too.  It may not feel like it, but you have.  Have you been staying at home? Doing nothing? Your sacrifice is for your own safety and the safety of others. That’s sacrificial love and it’s work. I’ve talked with people this week who haven’t left their homes in over 2 months! Wow!  That takes a toll.  Have you been living by faith? We like to know what the future holds and what our schedules will be.  However, we are living in a time when everything that used to be considered stable is up in the air.  The school calendar, sports schedules, vacations, camps are all being postponed and we don't know when they will be "normal" again.  Faith is the bedrock of the Christian faith and we're having to live by a lot of faith right now.  And it's tiring.

Others are considered “essential workers” who must bravely go out--sometimes to the very places everyone else is asked to avoid.  I know you're tired.

The New Testament Church dealt with and worked around plagues and persecutions.  They couldn't always meet in their usual ways or the ways they wanted because to do so might get them arrested and tortured or killed.  They had to be creative with Church, just as we are having to be creative during this COVID 19 pandemic.  We could learn a lot from their experience.

Today, I want to continue our message series “Ekklesia” about the purpose of the Church.  What is the Church?  What is our purpose?  The Greek word for Church used in the New Testament is Ekklesia.  It roughly translates “the called out ones.”  The Church that Jesus established is composed of people who are called out of darkness into the light, called out of shame into nobility, called out of a fallen world into God’s Kingdom.  Now, when we talk use the word "church" today, we think of a building.  Driving down the road, we might say, "Oh!  Look at that pretty church!" (Meaning the building).  But when the New Testament uses the word Church, it is referring to the congregation.  So as I am talking about Church in these messages, I am trying my best to use Church to refer to the people gathered in a Christian congregation.

The Church is a group of people who’ve been called out of something old into something new, something ugly into something beautiful, something shameful into something noble.  I want to read from God’s Word.  In this passage, I want you to imagine that you are a Gentile (because unless you were born a Jew, you are a Gentile.)

Ephesians 2:11-22
11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. 
[How does it feel good to be called an outsider?]
You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 
[How does it feel to be called a heathen (an uncivilized person who lacks morals, and enemy of God)?] 
12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. [How does it feel to be hopeless?]
13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Where Does God Live?
Throughout the ages, people have built temples for their gods.  They wanted to control them…

The One True Living God the Bible tells us about, cannot be control and He does not need a building.  Acts 7:48 says, “The Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands.”  And Isaiah 66:1 says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Could you build me a temple as good as that?  Could you build me such a resting place?”

And yet, when God liberated the Jews from slavery in Egypt, they lived in tents as they traveled toward their new homeland.  And so, the God of the Universe, who made Heaven and Earth, humbled Himself and lived in a tent among His people.  God’s tent was called the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle was where the people worshiped God and where God ministered to a guided His people.  God appeared in the Tabernacle as a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Whenever the Spirit of God moved, the Israelites packed up the Tabernacle Tent and moved with God.

When the Israelites settled down in their new homeland in Israel, they built houses.  And God continued to live among His people in a Temple made of stone—like the way His people lived.  People revere their Temple. It was the most impressive building in their city.  People traveled from all over the world to worship in the Temple.

But because people are full of sin, no one could come completely into God’s presence, whether in the Tabernacle or the Temple.  Gentiles, sinners, and women were not allowed to enter either place of worship.  People with any kind of illness or deformity were also not allowed.  Only Jewish men in good standing were allowed inside, close to God.  And of those men, only those who were priests were allowed into the Holy of Holies close to God.  And of those priests, only the high priest was allowed into the Holiest Place in the presence of God—and that was only once a year on the Dy of Atonement after strenuous preparation and purification. 

These exclusions were not because God didn’t want to be near His people.  To the contrary, the fact that the God of the universe would choose to live in a building at all is proof that God did want to be near His people.  However, sin separates us from God.  The presence of God consumes sin like a blazing hot fire consumes dry leaves.  It was mercy that caused God to keep people at arm’s length; it was for their own safety!

But then an amazing thing happened!  God took on human form and came into the world as Jesus Christ—the Son of God!  And God lived among His people as a man! And 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”  Now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be completely absolved of all sin!  So, there is now absolutely nothing at all that can separate us from God.  As Romans 8:38-39 says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Church – The Temple of God
So as we consider the purpose of the Church, we understand that the Church is where God lives.  The Church is where we meet with God, commune with God, worship and adore God, and receive God's guidance.  The Church is the Temple of God.  However, we must also understand, the Church is not a physical building.  The Church is the people.  Which people?  The Church is those people who have faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  Remember, in my message last week, we read Matthew 16:17 where Jesus said to Peter, “and upon this rock [i.e. the rock of this faith] I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”


And now is Ephesians 2:20-21, the Scripture says, “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”

And 1 Peter 2:5 says, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.”

Once again, we are not talking about this building—this physical building or any physical structure.  If the church building in your community no longer existed, there would still be a Church as long as Christians gathered for the Lord's purposes.  The purpose of a physical building is simply to provide a convenient space to do the things the Church is called to do.  At my church, Pleasant Grove, they started out in the early 1800s meeting under the shade of a pleasant grove of trees (that's where the name Pleasant Grove comes from.)  As time went on, the congregation decided it would be easier to have church if the built a roof to shelter them from rain.  And as time went on, their building structures evolved to meet the church's ministry needs.  However, it was always about the peoplee and ministry, not the buildings.  Church is the people, bot the building.  Actually, if the physical building ever hinders us from being the Church God calls us to be, we should abandon the building.  

Jesus actually said as much about the holy Temple in Jerusalem in his day.  In Matthew 24, we find Jesus and his disciples walking through Jerusalem and the twelve disciples are admiring the beautiful buildings with sentimental hearts and Jesus says, "A day is coming soon when not one stone of all these wonderful buildings will be left upon another."  And he was blasted by his enemies because he said, "Tear down this Temple and I will rebuild it again in three days."  Now, it had taken decades to build the Temple.  There was no way one man could rebuild the Temple in only three days.  What did Jesus mean?  Well, Jesus was crucified and buried for three days and then he rose from the grave and established the Church--the new Temple of God.   It is not a physical building; it is a people who believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Closing
We will look more at the purpose of the church next week.  But I want to close for now.  And as I close, I want to invite everyone to truly consider:  Are you the Church? Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah (the Chosen One), the Son of the Living God? (You can’t be the Church without this faith.) 

You have been called out of shame, but you have to start walking (by faith) out of that shame into the noble life God has for you—a life where you are the living stones of God’s Holy Temple and you are His holy priest. Do you want to leave shame behind? I pray you do and I'm praying you will.