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Showing posts with label Discipleship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Discipleship. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

We Are Samson


Introduction
You know, when I was a kid around 4 or 5 years old, my favorite superhero was the Hulk.  I was the third in my family, so when I was 4 or 5 years old, my sister was 4 years older than me and my brother was 8 years older than me.  So I think the Hulk was the perfect – I didn't think about it at the time.  Now looking back and reflecting on it, I realize I was the weakest in the family, right.  I mean I couldn't do anything and they were smarter than me, older than me, bigger than me, stronger than me.  They could pretty much make me do whatever they wanted, and plus I had a terrible temper at the age of 4 or 5, and they were controlling of me and i couldn't do anything about it and it just frustrated me to no end.  To be able to just get angry and turn green and to have muscles pop out of your body, your eyes turn red, and to scrunch your muscles and have your clothing burst off of you, that would be awesome!  I would've loved to do that when my brother was sitting on top of my chest and tickling me.  It would've been awesome.

In the Bible, there is actually a famous character, a hero of the scripture, who was a real life strongman.  His name was Samson.  His full story runs for three chapters, from Judges Chapter 13 all the way through 16, and he was an amazing, interesting person. He was so strong that one day he was on his way to a party and a lion jumped out of the bushes and attacked him, and he wrestled the lion to the ground with his bare hands and grabbed it by the jaws, and ripped its jaws open and killed the lion.  That's how strong he was.  Now another time, some Philistines in a village made him very angry and in order to get revenge, he went out and he captured 300 foxes, and he tied their tails together and tied torches to their tails, and lit the torches on fire and sent the foxes running through his enemies' farm and destroyed their fields, caught everything on fire.  Now I don't even know how you do that.  I don't even know how you catch 300 foxes to start with, let alone tie their tails together.  That's a fascinating story.  Of course, the people that owned those farms were very angry.  So they came to his village and with an army of 3,000 soldiers and said, "You give us Samson or we're going to destroy you!"  And so, what do you think the leaders of the village did?  Well, they took Samson and they tied his hands behind his back, and they sent him on out there to face the soldiers.  As soon as Samson saw the army, he ripped off the ropes binding his hands.  He didn't have any weapons so he looked down on the ground and there was the skeleton of a dead donkey.  Samson reached down and grabbed the jawbone and he killed a thousand of the soldiers that were coming to deal with him.  The rest of them ran off.  So that's an amazing feat!  I don't know how in the world you do that.

One time, Samson snuck into one of the Philistine cities and he visited with a lady for the evening. Some soldiers came to her house and planned to ambush Samson when he came out in the morning, but Samson knew they were out there.  So in the middle of the night about midnight, he snuck out a back window and he went to go leave the city.  Well, the problem was, it was a walled city and at night, they closed the gates so you couldn't get in or out.   So Samson got to the gates and saw they were locked and closed, and so what did he do.  He's the strongest man in the world.  He just walked up to the gates and he ripped them off of their foundations, and he carried them up a hill and threw the gates down and he went on home.  This is an amazing man filled with God's strength.

Now Samson wasn't strong for no reason at all.  God had a purpose for giving him his strength and Samson was born in a very difficult time in Israel's history.  It was in the period of the Judges.  Judges 17:6 tells us how it was. It says,  "It says in those days, Israel had no king.  All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

Now Israel didn't have a king.  They didn't have a monarch.  They didn't have a king and queen to start with.  The reason was because they didn't need one.  God was their king.  God was directly their king.  So God had given them the law and God had delivered them from Egypt and slavery, and he said you don't need a king.  I'll be your king and you just follow, and you ask Me what to do.  What better king could you possibly have than God?  I mean He's not the kind that's going to let power go to his head.  He's not going to use you or abuse you, or anything.  He's going to be a good king.  But it says they had no king.  And I never thought about this,before studied for this message.  They had no king.  Not only did they not have an earthly king, but they didn't treat God as their king either.  You know, God was their king, but they didn't listen to him.  Now if the king tells you to do something, you better do it, right, because there's going to be consequences if you don't.  So these people didn't do what the king did.  What did they do?  It says they did whatever seems right in their own eyes.  They did whatever they wanted to, regardless of what their king, God, said.  They had no king.  They had no earthly king and they weren't allowing God to be their king.  So they were in a real mess and that sets the stage for the story of Samson.  This is when Samson was born.  The part of the story I want to read today is in Judges Chapter 13 in Verses 1-5.  

Judges 13:1-5
1Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years.
2 In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children. 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 So be careful; you must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food. 5 You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.”

The Nazirite Vow
Now notice this baby (who was to Samson) would be a Nazarite from birth.  What is that?  In Numbers Chapter 6, we read what a Nazarite is.  The Nazarites were a very special, holy order among the people of Israel.  Normally, a person would say I'm going to dedicate maybe the next year of my life to God.  I want to be a Nazarite and so I'm going to do nothing in the next year but serve the Lord and do everything for him.  However, some people, and Samson was one of them, would decide to be a Nazarite for their entire life.  Here we have this baby that's about to be born and God says this child is going to be super special.  He's going to be a Nazarite his entire life.  Now Nazarites had certain rules they had to follow that showed everyone they were holy, that they were specially set apart by God.  Number 6 tells us the regulations.  First of all, they were not allowed to have anything that was produced by the grapevine.  It wasn't just wine, it was anything.  They couldn't have any wine.  They couldn't have vinegar, because vinegar also comes from the grapevine, couldn't have any grape juice, (no Welch's for Samson).  They couldn't eat grapes, couldn't have any raisins, nothing at all coming from the grapevine.  And because Samson was so special, not even his mother was allowed to have any of those things while she was pregnant with Samson.  So none of those elements, molecules, chemicals, whatever went into his body even in his prenatal form.  Nazarites were not allowed to have anything at all that was intoxicating.  And of course, this is the one that you know about Samson if you've heard the stories before:  a Nazarite was not allowed to cut their hair for the entire time of their vow.  So if you were a Nazarite for 1 year, you weren't allowed to cut your hair for a year.  Here's the thing, you couldn't even brush your hair as a Nazarite because if you brush your hair, it pulls out some of your hair, right.  Now Samson was to be a Nazarite for his entire life.  So from the time he was born, he never cut his hair and I assume never brushed his hair.  (Some people think Samson kind of looked like one of those Rastafaris from Jamaica with the dreadlocks because what happens to your hair you don't ever brush it, it gets matted up and turns into dreadlocks.  And that makes sense because if you read it says he had seven locks of hair.  How in world do you have seven locks of hair?  Well, I guess if they've all matted together into dreadlocks maybe you'd have seven of them, and seven is the perfect number.)  And the Nazarite was not allowed to go near any dead body, was not allowed to go to a funeral.  Even if their mother or their father, or their grandparents died, brother, sister, they weren't allowed to go to the funeral because they couldn't be around a dead body.

Nazarites made a promise, a special vow that they were set apart for God.  Samson was set apart to be that way his entire life.  So you would think Samson would be a particularly holy person, wouldn't you?  He would be like a monk, right?  Well, that was what he was supposed to be.  This is the key that you don't need to miss: Samson is a symbol for what Israel is supposed to be.  You know, Israel, the whole nation was supposed to be a holy, royal priesthood.  That's why they had all these funny laws in the Old Testament about what they could eat, and what they couldn't eat, and how they were supposed to live, and all their festivals, because God was trying to make this whole nation to live in such a way that they were strange.  He wanted all the people around them to look at them and say, "That's a peculiar people.  There's something different about them."  Israel was supposed to be God's holy people.  Their whole purpose was to be to point toward the holiness of God.  They were set apart as a royal, holy priesthood for God, and that's what Samson was his whole life.  He was a symbol for the whole nation of Israel.  And here's the most important point today:  if you believe in Jesus Christ, if you dedicated your life to follow him your whole life, we are supposed to be a holy people.  We are supposed to be a royal priesthood and our whole purpose in life is the point people toward our holy God.  Now we do that maybe a little bit different than they did in the Old Testament (and please don't start thinking you've got to not cut your hair!).  But how do you live your life?  The various ways you live should point people to God. 

Samson’s Tragic Shortcomings
Now Samson, you would think, was a very holy person.  However, he had some tragic shortcomings.  If you read those chapters, you will see a man that doesn't look very much like a holy person.  Let me tell you some of his shortfalls.  First of all, he was incredibly spoiled and incredibly rude to his parents.  If you read the way he talked to his parents, if I ever said that to my mom, she would've slapped me until my head turned around backwards!  Samson was disrespectful to his parents.  

He was also a gambler.  You know, the story where Samson killed the lion?  He killed the lion and he went to the party.  A week later, he came back to the another party and as he's on the way, he says "I'm going to pull off and see the dead lion.  now remember, a Nazarite wasn't' supposed to be around any dead bodies, but he says "I'm going to go see this carcass of this lion that I killed".  Inside the carcass, he finds honey bees.  They made a nest inside this lion carcass.  so here's this holy man who's not supposed to touch any dead bodies, not even go to his parents' funeral, and he decides to eat some of the honey out of the dead carcass!  Gross!  he goes to the party and he comes up with this strange riddle about what  he's done.  He tells the men at the party like says, "I bet you you can't answer my riddle."  So he's gambling.  He says, "If you can't answer my riddle, you have to give me 30 new sets of clothes.  If you figure it out, then I'll give you 30 sets of clothes."  Well, the men go to Samson's fiancĂ©e and she tells them the answer to the riddle.  She betrays Samson and he ends up losing the bet.  So he's lost now in his whole gamble.  

Now most people would say all right, I learned a lesson.  I'll never do that again! But instead, what does Samson do?  Well, he's short tempered and violent so he goes out and he says fine.  He goes to another Philistine village and he kills all the people in the village and he takes their clothes and gives them to cover his bet!.  So not only is he a gambler and rude to his parents, he's also violent, he's short tempered, he's a murderer and a thief.  That's your holy man for you.

Another time, Samson spent the night with a prostitute.  That doesn't sound very holy.  Samson had a terrible weakness for women--pagan women.  Although Samson was born into the world to deliver the Israelites from their Philistines oppressors, Samson always seemed to fall for Philistine women.  , He never chose women with good character who loved God.  If he didn't choose women of good character, he must've had something else in mind.  His first wife was a pagan Philistine woman.  We already heard she betrayed him and cost him an expensive bet.  Their marriage only lasted a few days and then she married someone else.  Then he fell in love with another pagan woman, one they made a movie about, "Samson and Delilah."  Another pagan Philistine woman who didn't believe in the Lord God of Israel.  She wasn't a woman of very good character either.  She betrayed Samson for money.

You know and if you read the story of Samson and Delilah (it's in the 16th chapter of Judges), You think: "Samson, you're just not very smart!"  Delilah comes to samson and she says,  "Tell me what's the secret of your strength.  How could people subdue you?"  Well, that ought to be a red flag right there, but he's so dumb!  He tells lies to her and I think he said something like, "If you tie me up with a bowstring that had never been used before, then I won't be able to break it."  She ties him up with these bowstrings and the Philistines come in and Samson breaks loose.  You would think he learned his lesson and put her aside, but he doesn't.  He keeps her and she keeps nagging him to tell her how to subdue him.  That would be your clue this is not the woman for you, but Samson's a fool.  He just keeps right on going.  How many times do you think she tricked him?  Four times she tricks him and finally on the fourth time, he actually told the truth and said, "If you cut my hair, I'll be as weak as any man."  So she cuts Samson's hair and the Philistines capture him.  Fools repeat the same mistake over and over.  Samson was a fool.  He was captured and the Philistines.  They gouge his eyes out and they make him a slave.  They chain him to a gristmill and make him grind the grain in the dungeon.  So the strongest man in the world ends his life chained to a gristmill, milling out grain for the pagan prison.

Now what a tragic story! What a terrible waste of potential!  I mean imagine if Samson had followed God's call in his life.  He could've led the Israelites to freedom!   He could've changed the world.  Instead, he used his great powers for his own selfish indulgence.  God still used Samson despite his failings.  He did kill a lot of Israel's enemies.  He was a constant bother to the Philistines--a thorn in their side.  Even in his death, he killed Philistines.  Because Samson was a slave, the Philistines thought they would make sport of him.  They were having this big feast in the temple of Dagon and they took Samson out of the dungeon and (I guess) they made him dance for them or something.  They're like, "Ha, ha, ha!  You were killing all of us and look at you now!  You're weak and you're blind, and you're in chains, and we've beaten you!"  However, Samson hair had grown back a little bit.  So after he gets done dancing or whatever, he puts his hands on the pillars supporting the roof to rest.  And as he's leaning against the pillars, he prays, "Oh, God, strengthen me one last time."  He presses with his amazing strength against the pillars and the entire roof of the temple collapses in on the party.  It kills 3,000 people!  God used Samson, but can you imagine what God could've done if Samson had cooperated with God?  Who knows?  We'll never know because Samson didn't fulfil his noble, holy, God given from birth calling. 

Now I told you that Samson was a symbol for the holy people of Israel.  They followed the same pattern throughout their entire history.  They never seemed to really fulfill the holy calling God had given them.  Samson is also a symbol for Christians because Christians are called to be holy.  We're called to be set apart and special for God.  We're called to be a royal priesthood.  

Our Connection
The Apostle Peter in 1st Peter 29 says it this way.  For you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession.  He's talking about those who believe in Jesus Christ; we're incredibly strong.  We are the strongest force the world has ever known.  Of course, we are powerful because we have great influence as we are united in our beliefs and in our desire to reach out and change the world.  When we work together, nothing can stop us.  

The Christians in the New Testament were a tiny minority in a world that was completely turned against God, a world that was so turned against God, they crucified the son of God.  The earliest Christians were a tiny minority and it seemed like everybody wanted to kill them, and yet they were so powerful they were able to change the whole world.  The Roman Empire that crucified Jesus converted to Christianity within 300 years.  That's amazing!  That's more amazing than anything Samson did and we are part of that royal priesthood.  

We have faith and power and influence in our society.  Unfortunately, we are oftens like Samson.  We waste our power.  We don't use our power for good.  We get distracted.  We lose our focus.  We live our lives chasing after our own dreams and our own indulgences.  We use our influence and our power and the freedom that God gave us for our selfish pursuits.  We need to remember.  We need to learn the lesson of Samson and not waste our power, not to waste our God given opportunity.  We need to speak up, not be silent, to share about our loving savior, to encourage our community, to live up to the principles of God.  We need to speak up and be united in our voice, but at the same time, we also have to be careful how we speak because so often those Christians who are not silent speak in a voice that is judgmental and is mean and pushes people away.  So when we speak, we have to be careful that we speak the truth uncompromisingly, but we speak it in love. We are Samson, but let us decide to be a better Samson than the one we see in Judges.

So as I close, I want to invite you to see the power of God.  You don't have have long hair.  You don't have to follow all those rules of a Nazarite.  God set us free from all of that, but He set us free so that we could be holy.  He set us free so that we could make disciples of Jesus Christ and continue to change the world as Jesus started 2,000 years ago.  So I invite you today to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God--the same Spirit that made Samson the strongest man who ever lived and makes you incredibly strong to live your life today.  Perhaps you have never decided to follow Jesus Christ.  You never decided to let him be your Lord and savior.  I invite you today to pray and ask him to be your Savior.  Perhaps today, you have been a Christian for some time, but you have not been empowered.  You never felt the power.  If you have felt the power, you use it for something less than holy.  So today, I invite you to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and to use it for God's purposes.  Use your Christian power wisely.  We are Samson!  Amen.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Go Deeper

Introduction
            Jesus is Lord. What does Lord mean? It means He is sovereign. It means what he says goes. You do it. You don't talk back. It’s not a discussion. You don’t make excuses.  And it’s not that Jesus' followers obey grudgingly. Some leaders wield authority like a whip. Nobody likes them. Nobody respects them, but they have the power and you better comply or you’re going to a pay a heavy price. I had a boss like that when I was a teenager.  He often made poor decisions and didn't lead well, but you had to follow his orders or you would be punished or lose your job.  The company he worked for is no longer in business.
            Jesus is not like an overbearing boss.  Jesus’ authority is well earned.  He's a wise ruler.  He does what's best for the whole Kingdom and he cares about each individual.  He loves and serves his people.  He even died on the cross for us.  When he gives a command, he isn’t telling you to do anything he hasn’t already done. And Jesus' true followers (true believers) willingly and enthusiastically obey the Lord.
            Jesus commands his followers: “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I promise I will be with you even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  We are supposed to make disciples. Jesus made our lives better or he’s in the process of making our lives better. We feel forgiveness and grace and love and peace. We’re learning to live with wisdom and make better decisions. We’re finding healing and he’s breaking the chains that bind us.  It’s a process of healing and part of our process is reaching out and sharing what we’ve found with others and inviting them to come in and meet Jesus too.
            Making disciples is part of the healing process for us, but how do you do it?  Making disciples is a cycle that goes all the way back to Jesus.  If you study his life and ministry, you see four main principles at work that form a continuous cycle.  First, you start with friends (it all starts with relationships). Make friends and second, you invite people to come in (get them to Jesus anyway you can!).  Next, you and your friends go deeper (and that's what my discussion will focus on today).  Then, you go serve.  We see this whole cycle in Jesus ministry and it is the example we still follow.  Let's look again at how Jesus invited his first disciple to follow him.

Luke 5:1-11 
1 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Key Idea
            The key idea for us today is in verse 4 - “…Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your
nets to catch some fish.”  Peter (also known as Simon or Simon Peter) didn’t really believe he was gonna catch any fish. He’d already tried.  He'd already called it quits and was washing his nets.  And then a carpenter/preacher urged him to try again.  And he did!  Why?  Why go to the trouble after a long and fruitless night and after you've already started packing it in?
            Well, it could be that Peter respected Jesus as a rabbi.  Maybe, he respected the position enough to just do what the rabbi said.  There’s a certain amount of deference you give to people just because of their position.  But I think there was more to Jesus and Peter's relationship and I think that's why Peter was willing to humor Jesus and let the nets down one last time in deeper water.
            More than likely, this wasn’t Peter’s first encounter with Jesus. Jesus and Peter already knew each other. Jesus had probably visited Peter before. Maybe he’d bought some fish from him. Peter had heard some of Jesus’ preaching. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus had had dinner with Peter before, maybe even prayed with him.  And because of the relationship/friendship Jesus already had with Peter, Peter was willing to humor Jesus (a carpenter) when he gave fishing advice to a professional fisherman.
            If you have a good relationship/friendship with someone, they will humor you about this whole Jesus thing. Play that card if you need to. Do whatever it takes to get your friends in to see Jesus (remember the two friends in Luke 5:17-26 who dug a hole in the roof of a house and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus from the ceiling because they couldn't get in the door for the crowd?).
            Peter already knew Jesus, but he had to go deeper if he was really going to see the power of Christ, if he was really going to have his life changed forever. Peter had a choice. He could have stayed safe, stayed a fisherman all his life. Jesus invited him to go deeper, but he could have declined. It was his boat.
            I'm glad he agreed to take a chance and go deeper.  Look at all he would have missed if he hadn't.  Think of all the lives he saw touched by Jesus.  Think of all the miracles and healings he saw.  He even walked on water!  (Sure, it was only a few steps before he started to sink, but still I've never done that!)  And yes, Peter made some blunders along the way.  He said some stupid things.  Jesus had to reprimand him once, saying "Get behind me, Satan!"  Peter even failed miserably when he denied Jesus three times, but Jesus forgave him.  Peter would have missed all that if he'd refused to let down his nets in deep water one more time.
            What will you miss if you stay in the shallow end of the church where you feel safe and unchallenged?  Jesus is calling you to go deeper, my friends. He says, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”  What miracles and power are you going to miss if you stay in the shallow water?

Going Deeper
            You have to go deeper. Maybe you already go to church and that's good. But you have to go deeper or else all you will ever get is some great music, a few prayers, and a mediocre sermon. If you really want to see the power of Christ, you’ve got to go deeper. If you really want to find peace and healing and forgiveness, you’ve got to go deeper. If you want Jesus to change your life, you’ve got to go deeper. And I have to tell you, if you really want to find eternal life, you’ve got to go deeper.
            I can hear some people objecting now: “Wait! What? I thought salvation was a free gift and we didn’t have to do anything to earn it.”  Yes, that's true.  That's what Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches.  You don’t earn salvation.  It is a free gift from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.   However, Jesus becomes your Savior when he becomes your Lord.  Remember what is a Lord.  A Lord is sovereign. What the Lord says goes. You do it. You don't talk back. It’s not a discussion. It’s a command to be followed without reservation. And Jesus is a Lord who sacrificed his own life to save you. If he’s your Lord, you’ll do what he says.  Faith is following and trusting is doing, because Jesus is Savior and Lord.
            In Matthew 7:21, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  A disciple follows their Lord wherever he leads. A true disciple eats with Jesus, walks with Jesus, serves with Jesus, and sleeps where Jesus sleeps.  A real disciple fishes where Jesus says to fish.  A disciple is all in—100%.
            Now, Jesus may not expect you to jump in whole hog from the very beginning.  He is a patient Lord.  First he preaches the truth.  Then he gets your boat.  Then he says, go a little deeper and let down your nets.  Then he says, "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men."  Ultimately, Jesus invites us to leave everything behind and come be his followers.  He starts off easy, but as you see the power and love of Christ is real, Jesus calls you to go deeper. It's how he makes disciples.  It's how we truly become "fishers of men".
            We have to go deeper and we have to invite our friends to go deeper with us. Not all at once.  Maybe the first step is just to come to church one Sunday and hear the Good News.  You start off by seeing what this religion thing is all about.  And maybe you see the people following Jesus aren't so bad after all.  They have a lot of hope. There's a sense of peace and joy in their hearts and they really do care.  And maybe you decide you don't mind hanging around them.  But there's got to be more. 
            So next you go deeper. Maybe you decided to go to Sunday school or join a Bible study to really start seeing what the faith is all about.  Then, you go deeper still. You start contributing to the church offering and it feels good to be invested in Jesus' mission.  Or maybe you go deeper still and decided to practice the biblical principle of tithing--giving 10% of your income to church.  There are many way's to go deeper in the faith.  You can serving as a volunteer.  You could go on a mission trip.  You could sing in the choir, serve in the nursery, help with children or youth, teach a class...  The opportunities are endless.  But if you're going to continue to following Jesus and grow, you've got to go deeper.  And an essential part of going deeper that Jesus commands of all his followers is to go out and make disciples--to be fishers of men.

Challenge 
            I want to repeat the challenge I've issued for the last two weeks:  Pick three people you could mentor.  Pray for them.  Be a friend.  Help them and invite to church.  But I want to add to the challenge this week.  I challenge you to go deeper in your faith with Jesus.  What could you do to go deeper with Christ?  Do you need to pray to invite Jesus to be your Lord and Savior and become a Christian?  Do you need to join the church?  Maybe you need to recommit your life to Christ because you've been slacking off.  You could also go deeper by starting to read your Bible every day or setting aside 15 (or more) minutes to pray everyday.  You could go deeper by joining a Sunday School class or Bible Study, volunteer to help with children or youth ministry or sing in your church's choir or praise band.  An excellent way to go deeper is by attending a spiritual retreat like The Walk to Emmaus or Chrysalis.  These are all specific things you could do to go deeper (and I challenge you to commit to something specific).  How might Jesus be calling you to go deeper as his disciple?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Come In Through the Gate

Introduction           
In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said, 13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”  And in John 10:9 Jesus said, “I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved."
Looking back over my life, I am so thankful to the many people who helped me find THE GATE, Jesus Christ.  There was my Mom who took me to church as a child (and I know it wasn't always easy to take four kids to church who didn't always want to go).  There was my Grandma who instilled a deep respect for the Bible, the Word of God.  And as an angry young teenaged boy needing a father figure, there was my Karate instructor, Jeff Carmichael, who invited me to go to church with him.  As an 18-year-old getting ready to graduate high school, there was a girl named Laurie Stewart who I didn't even know, but she was my girlfriend's friend and had invited her to church; in turn, my girlfriend, Kelly (who is now my wife), invited me to that church--Wesley United Methodist Church on Harley Bridge Road in Macon, GA.  I'm so thankful to all of these people and others who invited me to come in through the doors of a church and meet with Jesus.  Each one influenced my life and the man I am today.
            Jesus told his disciples, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)  And after his resurrection, Jesus commanded his followers--and us--to make disciples.  This is our mission, but how do we do it?  What are the steps? 
            Jesus demonstrated how we make disciples by the way he made his own.  Jesus started with only 12 followers.  He befriended each of them and invited them to come and be his disciples.  More and more people began to follow Jesus as people invited their friends to come meet Jesus.  Here's the pattern: 1) Start with friends (it all starts with relationships).  2) Invite people to come in through a gate.  3) Go deeper.  4) Go serve.  Today, I want to share about coming in through a gate.

Luke 5:17-20
17 One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus.

18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, 19 but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

21 But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

22 Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 23 Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[d] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

25 And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!”

Jesus Has Power!
            Jesus has amazing power.  He has the power to forgive sins and the power to heal (in the story it is the same thing).  Isn't it interesting that Jesus tells the paralyzed man, "Your sins are forgiven."  Yeah?  So what?  He can't walk, Jesus, and you're focusing on his sins?  If Jesus is focusing on forgiveness, maybe it's a clue to us all how important forgiveness is.  We worry about the looming problems of sickness, financial problems, who are we gonna date/marry, our career, our kids...  We are so wrapped up in these because we think they are the priority and Jesus says, "Your sins are forgiven."  Now we could get angry at the Son of God because he seems to misunderstand what's really most important in life, or... we could take a second look at our priorities and consider if maybe we are looking at things all wrong.  Maybe sin is the real problem.  Maybe the solution to our other problems is getting our lives back in alignment with God's will.  Maybe it's true for our friends too.  Matthew 6:33, "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."
            Jesus says to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven."  This really bothers the Pharisees and teachers of religious law because only God has the power to forgive sins.  That's true.  But Jesus is God and to prove it he heals the man's paralysis as well.  I mean, anyone can say "Your sins are forgiven," but only God can tell a paralytic to stand up and walk and actually have him do it.  You see, Jesus has power!  He has the power to heal the lame and forgive sins.  He has the power of God!  And Jesus has the power to change your life.  But will you let him?  Will you come in to see Jesus?  And will you bring your friends to see Jesus so he can change their lives too? 

Key Idea
            The key idea today is in verse 18-19. “Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”
            Whatever it takes, you’ve got to come in and see Jesus so he can change your life.  And if you're going to follow Jesus' command to make disciples, you've got to bring your friends to come in and see Jesus too. 
            The paralytic's friends were desperate to get their friend in to see Jesus.  They knew Jesus had the power to help.  Unfortunately, the door to Jesus was blocked by the crowd.  But they weren't going to let that stop them.  They climbed up on the roof and dug a hole to make a new door!  Whatever it takes, bring your friends to come see Jesus.
            At my church, we understand how hard it is to get people to come see Jesus.  As Jesus said, the road to destruction is wide and many people travel it.  But the gate to God's Kingdom is narrow and few choose to enter.  So, we try to make as many opportunities as possible--as many figurative gateways or doors for people to come in to meet Jesus.  Some of the gates we offer are:  Sunday Worship, lunch groups, Wednesday night dinner and study time, Rock Solid Children ministry, Youth, Sunday school, Bible study, the Elizabeth Circle, Chrysalis, and the Walk to Emmaus.  We also sponsor special events like vacation Bible school, Super Bowl Sunday, community Easter egg hunt, truck or treat, model train exhibit, etc.  These are all great ways for people to come in and they are excellent opportunities for the disciples of our church to bring friends to see Jesus.
            That being said, sometimes you just gotta make a new door! Like the paralytic's friends who climbed up on the roof to dig a hole and make a new door to get their friend in to see Jesus, sometime you might have to make a new door to get your friends in to see Jesus.  What could you do?  What new event, program, Sunday school class, Bible study, etc. could you help start that would get your friend or others to come in and see Jesus?


Challenge
            I'd like to repeat the challenge I made last week.  I challenge you to pick three people you can pray for, help, encourage, and mentor for the next year.  Discipleship all starts with relationships.  Pick someone to whom you can be a friend and help along.  Invite them to come in and see Jesus.  Carry them in on a mat if you have to!  Cut a whole in the roof and lower them down (not really, but create a new opportunity for them to come if you have to).  
            We can all probably think of someone who influenced us, encouraged us, invited us to church, prayed for us, or helped us along life's path.  Someone who made a real positive difference in your life.  Aren't you glad they cared enough to help you?  Why don't you "pay it forward" by helping someone else in the same way?  That's what it means to make disciples, to be fishers of men.
            In closing, I want to read a letter I wrote to thank someone who made an eternal difference in my life.  Maybe you would like to write a similar letter to someone who helped you.  You don't have to give to them; you can if you want, but just writing the letter will remind you how thankful you are and may encourage you to do the same for someone else so they can come in and see Jesus.

My Letter

Dear Children’s Church Helper,

You probably don't know me, but when I was 8-years-old, you used to help lead children's church at Pine Forest Baptist Church in Macon.  This was in the mid-80s.  Anyway, I’m sorry to say I don’t even know your name.  You see, I was just a kid and I only attended your church for a few short years.  But I do remember going to children’s church.  I didn’t really know any of the other kids, but you had a friendly smile that made me feel welcome.  I could tell you had a special joy in your heart and I’m so glad you shared it.  I wish I knew your name, because I’d really like to get in touch and let you know how much your efforts as a children’s church volunteer meant to me.

The Old Chapel of Pine Forest Baptist Church in Macon, GA
In children’s church, all the kids would gather in the old white chapel while the adults worshiped in the main sanctuary.  I’m sure it was a task to keep all the kids under control and focused, because we didn’t always want to be there.  But y’all did your best to help us have fun and learn something.  We would sing songs like: “Father Abraham” and “Do Lord, Oh Do Lord, Oh Do Remember Me” and “I’m in the Lord’s Army.”   Then, we would listen to a Bible story.  One Sunday, you told us about heaven and hell and about how Jesus came to save us from our sins so we could live with him in heaven.  You said we needed to let Jesus into our heart.  I knew I believed in Jesus and I knew I was a sinner and needed to be forgiven and to let Jesus in my heart.  But I was a shy kid and was afraid to say anything to anyone.

Y’all used to have an altar call at the end of children's church every Sunday and you would sing the old invitational songs like "Just as I Am" and "Earnestly, Tenderly, Jesus is Calling".  Well, I felt Jesus calling me to invite him into my heart during children's church in that old chapel while you were singing.  There was just something about your tenor voice and the way you seemed transported as you sang “Come home!  Come home!  Ye who are weary, come home!  Earnestly tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling Oh sinner come home!”  Even as a kid, I could feel it.

It took 3 weeks for this shy 8-year-old to get up the nerve, but I finally answered Jesus’ invitation to come home.  I walked to the front of the chapel while you sand and someone took me aside to pray to receive Christ in the good ole Baptist way.  I became a Christian that day and I’ve known ever since that one day I will be with Jesus in heaven.  And I’m so thankful I walk with him now.  Thank you for the part you played in my salvation.

You changed the course of my life.  I'm 44 now and I try to live my life for Jesus every day.  My faith in Christ carried me through some rough years as a teenager and the struggles of young adulthood.  But Jesus never let me down and led through it all.  I’ve been a Methodist minister for the last 18 years.  So, I just wanted to say thank you.  Thank you for giving yourself to the kids who attended children’s church.  There’s no telling how many eternities you altered, but I’m so thankful you altered mine. 

I hope you’re doing well and will always be willing to invite someone to church or just pray with them or tell them or show them God's love.  And whenever you have a chance, invite them to let Jesus come into their hearts.  Maybe they will, just like I did.

Sincerely, You're Brother in Christ,

Reverend Chris Mullis

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fishers of Men

Introduction
            I am always so thankful when people come to my church to worship.  I know there are other things they could do on a Sunday morning.  If it is rainy, they could stay in and stay dry and lounge around the house.  If the weather is pretty, they could go out side and enjoy it.  So I'm always thankful to those who chose to come to church.  And I know that it makes God smile too.  He appreciates it every time a person chooses to come worship.  In fact, that's why He created us.  He designed us to worship and when we worship God, we fulfill one of our basic purposes in life.
            However, you may be ask “What’s in it for me?  What do I get out of worship?"  I'll tell you.  If you want to grow closer to God, if you want the assurance of eternal life, if you want to find real peace, forgiveness, and joy, if you want true fulfillment in life, you have to worship God.  Through worship, we align our wills with God.  Jesus' disciples worship.
            Jesus originally chose 12 people to be his disciples.  He spent 3 years training them.  Then, before he returned to heaven, Jesus sent his disciples out with an important mission to recruit more people to follow Jesus Christ.  The disciples went out and got to work.  They told people about Jesus.  They invited them to worship and follow Christ' teachings.  The Church (Jesus' followers) grew exponentially--despite great persecution and opposition from powerful people.  The mission continued throughout the centuries.  The work continues through churches like mine today.  But how do we make disciples?  What are the steps? 
            The Gospel shows how Jesus made disciples.  We live in a different day and age, but the
process is very much the same.  We still make disciples the same way Jesus did.  You invite a friend to come see Jesus.  Then, you go deeper.  Then you go out and serve.
            Over the next four weeks, I'll be discussing the disciple making process based on Jesus' method we use at my church, Pleasant Grove United Methodist.  Today I’ll start at the beginning of the process.  It all starts with friends.  Making disciples starts with relationship.  Usually, people hear about Jesus and His Church from people they already know. 
            That's how it began for me.  Even though I'm a pastor now and was appointed to my church by my Bishop, I first came to church because of a friend.  As a child, I went to church because my mother took me.  As a teenager, I went to church with my friends.  My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) invited me to attend Wesley United Methodist in Macon, GA.  She was going with her friend.  I started going with her.  And that started me down the road to being a disciple of Christ.  How about you?
            Let's look at the story of how Jesus invited the first disciples to follow him. 

Luke 5:1-11 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Key Verse
            The key verse for today is Luke 5:2 – “He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets.” 
            He noticed…  Among the crowds of people pressing around Jesus, he noticed two empty boats and the fishermen who were washing their nets.  Speaking from experience, I can tell you that when you are speaking in public, it can be hard to notice every individual people.  There's only one of me speaking up on stage and there may be hundreds in the congregation.  How can you notice what's going on with every individual.  However, despite the massive crowd surrounding Jesus, he noticed two empty boats and the fishermen washing their nets and decided to be part of their lives.
            Did you know Jesus cares about you and what’s going on in your life?  He notices when you are struggling with a tough problem.  He notices when you bow your head to pray.  He notices when you come to church to worship to focus on God, despite the many other important things vying for your attention.  And despite the fact that everyone wants Jesus' attention and help and forgiveness and grace, Jesus notices and cares about you.  He's never too important or too busy or too overwhelmed to notice you.
            The Gospels are full of stories where Jesus noticed and cared.  He noticed the woman at the Well--someone everyone scorned because she had lived with five husbands and was now living with a man who wasn't her husband.  Jesus notices and cared and gave her living water (John 4). 
            Jesus noticed the demon possessed man in graveyard--someone everyone had given up on.  He couldn't be trusted to live among society, so they tried to chain him up in the graveyard, away from town so he wouldn't hurt himself or anyone else.  And he would break free of the chains.  People just wanted to forget about the man, but Jesus noticed and cast out the demon and told him to go tell his family everything the Lord had done for him (Mark 5).
            Jesus noticed the woman in the crowd who couldn’t stop bleeding.  For twelve years, she'd tried every doctor, every treatment, every medicine, everything and nothing had worked.  Finally, in desperation she tried to come to Jesus for healing.  Unfortunately, there were so many crowding around, she couldn't get to him.  So she thought, "If I can just get on my hands and knees and crawl close enough to touch the hem of his robe..."  And she did and she was healed.  And even though crowds of people were pushing and bumping into him all around, Jesus noticed power had gone out from him and he spoke to the woman (Luke 8).
            Jesus noticed a sick man lying on a mat near the pool of Bethesda--someone who’d given up hope.  It was said the first person to get in the spring when the water started bubbling would be healed, but he was too slow.  Being very sick, he was slow and others always beat him the water.  For thirty-eight years he'd been sick.  And then Jesus noticed him and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  Instantly, the man was healed! (John 5).
            Jesus noticed the leper--who everyone thought was too disgusting to touch.  He was forced to live in quarantine because he had a contagious skin disease and everyone was afraid of him.  Jesus noticed him and toughed him and healed him (Luke 5).
            Jesus noticed Matthew the tax collector--someone everyone hated.  Jesus noticed him and said, "Follow me and be my disciple."  And Matthew did!  And he even invited Jesus and a bunch of other sinners to come eat dinner at his home.  He started inviting others to follow Jesus before he even knew what he was doing as a disciple himself!
            Jesus ministered to thousands of people, but he noticed and chose 12 people to really focus on.  They became his closest friends.  He invited them to be his disciples.  And because they were committed, Jesus poured himself into them.
            Who do you notice? Life is busy. People are pressing in all around you and everything seems so important. But in the midst of the chaos, who do you notice? Who do you notice that needs a friend? Who do you notice that needs help? Who do you notice that needs Jesus? 
            There is a guy who comes to my church named Jeremy. Jeremy struggles with a severe
Jeremy
anxiety disorder.  It's hard for him to be in crowds and his disorder is a troubling disability.  I first met Jeremy a few years ago when he called my church office after hours and left a message on our voicemail.  He said he was interested in talking to someone about the Methodist Church.  He'd been reading about it in a book and wanted to learn more.  My church secretary got the message and noticed something about it that made her think it might be important.  She passed his name and number on to me and said I might want to follow up.  So I called Jeremy and we started talking over the phone.  Eventually, we got together for lunch a few times.  Then, Jeremy got up the nerve to visit my church.  After a few moths of regular attendance, Jeremy rededicated his life to Christ.  He is now involved a weekly men's luncheon, serves as an acolyte, and sometimes even helps serve Holy Communion and sing in the choir.  Jeremy invites everyone he meets to Pleasant Grove.  His mother eventually joined too and his nieces come regularly to our Wednesday night youth and children's programs.  This is an amazing testament to the power of Jesus working in the life of a man disabled by an anxiety disorder.  You can watch a video of Jeremy's testimony here.
            Jeremy and I have become good friends.  I asked him, "Jeremy, why did you call Pleasant Grove?  I mean, I know you were interested in the Methodist Church, but there are several of them in the area.  Why did you call my church?"  Jeremy said, “I called a bunch of Methodist churches, but you were the only one who called back”  I'm glad we noticed Jeremy, because everyone else missed out.  The people you notice can be a huge blessing to you. We are always more blessed than the ones we try to bless.
            People often tell me they don't feel qualified to talk to people about Jesus or invite them to church.  “I feel like I don’t know enough to yet to make disciples," they say.  No one ever really does.  I don't and I've been a pastor for 18 years.  The disciples weren't qualified either, but they didn’t wait.  They started immediately “fishing” for new disciples.  Notice, they didn’t wait until they “graduated”.  They got “on the job training”, meaning they were learning as they were doing.  That's how disciples always learn--including you and me. 

Challenge
            Do you want church to mean something?  Do you really want grow closer to God, have the assurance of eternal life, find true peace, forgiveness, and joy?  Do you really want fulfillment in life?  Then you’ve got to be a disciple.  Jesus said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  I challenge you to follow Jesus.
            Disciples find a way to come in and get plugged in with His other disciples at Church.  I challenge you to make a specific commitment to come for worship each week.  I would love to have you worship with me and Jeremy and all the disciples at Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton.  Or, find a church near you.
            Worship.  Join a small group, Sunday School or Bible study.  Be part of a men’s or women’s group, a group of young adults.  Get involved with serving.  Join the choir or volunteer with youth or children.
            And this is absolutely critical:  Be “fishers of men”.  Inviting others to come in to see Jesus and go on this journey with you is absolutely critical.  It's not optional.  It's one of the most important ways you grow in your faith and without it, you cannot really grow the way Jesus wants you to.  I want to challenge everyone to pick 3 people to really focus on of the next 12 months.  Jesus picked Peter, James, and John (and the other disciples) and poured himself into them.  He loved them, encouraged them, nurtured and mentored them.  He developed and deployed them.  Who are 3 people you can mentor, pray for, and help?  You see, it’s not enough come sit on the sidelines and be a spectator.  Jesus wants followers, not fans.  He wants disciples who come learn to be fishers of men.