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Showing posts with label Evangelism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Evangelism. Show all posts

Monday, May 13, 2019

"You've Sinned, but I Still Love You" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but you should)

Introduction
This is the third in a series called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should).”  And I want to emphasis that last part in parenthesis “(but you should)”.  You see, some people think you can’t say certain things in church, but these are things you absolutely should say, you must say, if you are to be the Church that Jesus Christ established.

You see Church is a funny thing.  On the one hand, the Church was established by Jesus Christ in the Bible as the gathering of all who believe in Him, who are wholeheartedly committed to the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world.  On the other hand, church is also a cultural phenomenon…  White, southern church culture…

Many in the world today are sick and tired of the church, by which they are (not necessarily) talking about the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament; they are usually talking about the church culture that (often) has little or nothing to do with the Church Jesus Christ established.  There are often a lot of weeds mixed in with the wheat of the Church and it can be really hard to tell the difference. 

I’ve mentioned two things already that some people think you can’t say in church, but you really should—“I’m broken,” and “I’m on fire!”  I want to add one more today.  Some people think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  Some people think you can’t say that in church, but you really should.  I think you absolutely must, because it is an essential part of being the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament.  It follows the example of Christ.

Luke 15:1-7
1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Explain
The religious leaders of Jesus day didn’t like that Jesus quite often hung around with people they deemed sinners.  They believed sin was like a contagious disease, that just being in the presence of a sinner you could catch the disease of sin.  Jesus, who was the Son of God, tells a parable (actually three parable, because the whole the chapter is) about how God sent him to save a world full of sinners.  Jesus came to save the people the religious leaders deemed sinners who were unworthy and that no respectable person would associate with.  Jesus even came to save the religious leaders who are sinners too (but are blind because think they aren’t sinners).  The point of all this for our purposes today is this:  Jesus came to save sinners because He loves us. You see, Jesus was basically saying to the whole world, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”  

You migt think it strange in the parable that the shepherd would leave the 99 good sheep to search after just one sheep.  But Jesus is saying we are all sheep who have strayed off the path of righteousness.  If the shepherd (Jesus) didn't come and find us, there would be no 99 good sheep.  Every sheep has wandered off the path at some point, and the shepherd brought them back.  How hypocritical, then, for the 99 to complain if the shepherd goes off searching for another lost sheep.

Everything Jesus said and did—including how he died on the cross—was a way of saying, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”  Romans 5:8 sums it up for us, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

But many people today think you can’t say that in church, but you absolutely should; you must if we are to be the Church Jesus Christ wants us to be. 

Why Do People Think You Can’t Say It?
Some people today are just like the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus day.  They think going to church is all about being a good, respectable person and following all the rules.  They always try to do the right thing (even if doing the right thing is sometimes more about keeping up appearances than pleasing God) Furthermore, they often confuse God’s rules for holy living with what society says is the right way to live.  So they can often do some very terrible things—segregation, neglecting the poor, etc.—all in the name of being a good person who follows the rules.  So they think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  They don’t love people who have sinned.  They’re ok with being judgmental and pointing out how people sin, but they don’t love sinners (they may say it with their lips, but they don’t really love them in their heart).  There have always been self-righteous judgmental people in church—all the way back to Jesus time.  And Jesus came and pointed those Pharisees out.  He told them, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  Unfortunately, the religious leaders didn't want to hear that and so they crucified him.

But because the church throughout history has so often been full of self-righteous, judgmental people, we’ve come to a place today where there are so many people in our world (and even in the church) who err in a whole different way.  There are many who have concluded that you can’t even say, “You’ve sinned” anymore.  There are so many people who say, “The Bible says ‘judge not, lest ye be judged.’”  And so they’ve concluded that Jesus doesn’t even want us to tell people they’ve sin (because that would be judging).  A lot of people say nowadays, Jesus just wants us to love people (and leave the whole part about sin out).

And so it’s come to a place where the world we live in just says you should welcome everyone and just accept them for who they are.  We’re not allowed to tell people, “You’ve sinned” anymore.  And we see all kinds of behaviors accepted by our culture that the Bible deems unacceptable and even repulsive to God.  Is that how Jesus treated people? (pause…)

How Jesus Loved People
There should be no doubt that Jesus loved people.  He proved his love by dying for us on the cross; not because we deserved it, but because we desperately needed it and Jesus loved us.  So his example is worth following.  Here’s how Jesus loved people.  He loved people enough to go be with sinners-even eat with them.  He did this, even though it put him at odds with the self-righteous religious leaders.  He was willing to leave 99 “good” sheep to go find the one foolish sheep that got himself lost.  At the same time, he never pretended the sinners he sought were not lost, were not sinners.  For example, once a woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  They dragged her int the city square and asked Jesus, "The Law of Moses says we should stone her.  What do you say?"  Jesus said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."  Then he stopped and began writing in the dirt.  We don't know what he wrote, the Bible doesn't say.  Some have speculated he began writing out all the sins the people in the crowd had committed.  At any rate, everyone in the crowd began to drop their stones and walk away.  When everyone was gone, Jesus asked, "Woman, has no one condemned you?"  "No, my Lord," she said. "Then neither do I.  Go and sin no more."  (John 8)

Recently, the local news showed some surveillance video of a vigilant school bus driver who saved a child from a terrible accident.  The bus had stopped to let a child off and the video shows the bus doors opening and the child is about to run down the steps out the door.  But the bus driver suddenly slammed the doors shut and grabbed the child's shoulder and yanked him away from the door just as a speeding car wooshed by the bus doors.  Apparently, the car driver got impatient with the bus driver and sped around the right side of the bus just as the doors of the bus were about to open.  If the bus driver had not been paying attention and stopped the child, the child would have certainly been killed or terribly maimed.  What would you have done?  I think we would have all screamed and reached out to stop the child if we were in that situation.  That is, in a sense, what we are doing when we tell someone they've sinned (or their about to sin).

The Bible teaches us that sin is terrible.  It destroys your life.  It destroys other people’s lives.  It destroys the world.  And God hates sin, so it destroys a sinners relationship with God, who is the source of life and love and peace and hope.  To refuse to tell someone, “You’ve sinned” is not much different from refusing to scream, “Watch out! You’re about to walk out in front of a speeding car!”  It’s actually worse, because the consequences of sin are eternal.  So if we truly do love someone, we must say, “You’ve sinned.”  To do otherwise is not loving at all, but terrible and hateful.

At the same time, we must never forget the last part of the statement:  “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  We must never forget we’ve all sinned.  We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.  You’ve sinned.  I’ve sinned. And your sins are no worse than mine.  I have no reason to think myself better than you and you’ve no reason to think yourself better than me or anyone else. 

Conclusion
So don’t ever neglect to say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  That’s who were are—the Church—and that’s what we say and how we live.  It’s not optional.  It’s what Jesus does for us and what we are called to do for the world.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Summer Fishing Tips

Matthew 4:19 - Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

Summer is a great time to go fishing (for people).  The sun is out.  The surf is up.  You're heading to the beach.  Nobody knows you there, so if you mess up and make a fool of yourself, who cares!  So get out there and cast your nets and see what you bring in!  Here are some fishing tips to try this summer as you fish for people.

Summer Fishing Tip #1 (for fishers of men):
While buying groceries or souvenirs on summer vacation, ask the cashier: "Where's a good place to go to church around here?" You might learn a good place to worship the Lord while you're away from home. Or it might lead to a conversation about the Lord with the cashier.  Maybe, you just plant a seed.  Maybe, you make a friend and invite them to come to church with you. Good follow up questions could be:  "Oh cool.  Do you go there?" Or "Are you active in a church nearby?"  This is an easy, friendly way to introduce the subject of Christ.  You could share how much it means to you to spend time with Him each week in worship.  Who knows how God may use it.  You could even say, "Would you go go with me (or my family)? It would make me feel more comfortable since I don't know anyone there."  Remember, fishing is a art, not a science.  So just go with the flow.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Go Serve

Introduction
            Jesus told his disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)  In other words, I will make you into the kind of people who attract more and more people to be part of God's Kingdom.  Jesus spent three years giving the disciples on the job training, and then in in Matthew 28:19-20, he commanded all his followers:  “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”  This is an essential element of the Christian faith; not optional. We might think following Jesus is about being better people, getting more discipline, finding hope, salvation, or peace.  All these are benefits of following Christ, but Jesus said he wants to make us fishers of men.  He didn't say he wanted to make us better people.  He said, "I will make you fishers of men."
            It scares some people to think about telling others about Jesus.  Perhaps you get the image of a Jehovah's Witness going door to door trying to force their religion on people.  But that's not what it's about at all.  Fishing for people is not as hard or scary as you think.  It is simply saying what Jesus means to you. 
            This week, I used Uber for the very first time.  It was an easy way to get to and from the airport in San Antonio.  The Uber driver was friendly and we talked for the twenty minute ride to the hotel.  He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was a pastor.  That got us on the subject of religion and he showed me a picture of Jesus he kept on the instrument cluster of his dash. He said, "I love Jesus.  One time I had someone accuse me of worshipping an idol because I have the picture and they thought it was Buddha, but it's Jesus!"  He went on to say he didn't believe in idols.  He said, "I don't believe a statue--something people make with their own hands--can do anything for you.  They have no power."
            I agreed and then I shared how we are made in the image of God.  We talked about how humans are uniquely different from all creation--even animals--because we have the ability to think and reason and the free will to choose our actions.  We are the image of God; the only ones authorized by God to represent Him and Jesus helps restore that image that is broken by sin.
            Now, I didn't get in that Uber driver's car with a prepared "Jesus-pitch."  I was just looking for a ride, but God gave me the opportunity and I took it.  He brought a middle eastern Uber driver in Texas and an American Pastor from Georgia together for a twenty minute conversation and steered us onto the subject of faith.  So I went with it.  How about you?  When and how could you talk about Jesus?  How could you cast your fishing nets out and fish for people?
            The process for making disciples at my church follows is the same pattern Jesus used in the
Bible.  1) It all start with relationships.  I didn't have a deep relationship the Uber driver, but I built on the small relationship we had and went with it.  Sometimes, the deeper your relationship, the greater your opportunity to invite someone to Jesus.  2) Next, people come in through a gate to see Jesus (an opportunity to come to church and be with Jesus).  3) Then we go deeper; we move from a conversation or an interest to a commitment.  4) We go out and serve.  And it doesn't end there.  The cycle continue as we build more relationships, invite more to come in, go deeper, and go out and serve.  And it goes on and on.
            Here’s an example on how Jesus invited Levi (A.K.A. Matthew, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew) to be his disciple:

Luke 5:27-32
27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent."

Nobody Likes Tax Collectors
            Nobody likes tax collectors.  That's true today (I hope you all got your taxes filed last month!).  Tax collectors were even more despised in Jesus' day and here's why.  The Israelites were conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire.  The Jews, as God chosen people, didn't like being ruled by a foreign, heathen nation.  And they especially didn't like having to pay taxes to them.  What made it worse was the Romans recruited Jews to collect the taxes from their own neighbors and the Romans might say to the Jewish tax collector, "You have to collect $10,000 from this neighborhood for us." (I'm just making up the numbers here as an example.  These figures have no historical value.)  They say, "Now, you have to pay us $10,000 for this neighborhood, but you can collect as much as you want.  You pay us $10,000 and you keep the rest."  So the unscrupulous Jewish tax collectors would often collect 2 or 3 times as much taxes as they were supposed to and pocket the rest as a huge profit.  They were getting rich at the expense of their own countrymen and they used the Roman soldiers to enforce their extortion.
            Levi (A.K.A. Matthew) was one of those hated tax collectors.  And Jesus invited him to be a disciple.  And Matthew left it all and follow Jesus, to be a "fisher of men."  Matthew wasted no time to start fishing.  He started right away.  He held a banquet for Jesus and invited all his friends to dinner.  You see, fishing for people doesn't have to be complicated.  It can just be a dinner or a hiking trip or a conversation during an Uber ride.
            Matthew's dinner relays an important principle about fishing for people.  Sometimes new converts, new followers, new church members are poised as much or more than anyone else to introduce their friends to Jesus.  Don't wait until you feel you've "matured enough" or got some training.  Just do it!  Do it now!  Do it from the very beginning.  If a tax collector can do it, so can you. 
            You have a unique ability to fish that no one else has.  Think about it.  I'm a preacher and have been one for eighteen years.  Almost everyone I know is already Christian (and probably a member of my church) or a preacher somewhere else.  I've already overfished my waters, but you have a rich fishing whole to tap into.  So go fish!

Go Serve
            And that brings me to our key idea today:  We grow when we go!  Let’s face it, we usually start out with Jesus for less than noble reasons.  Maybe we started coming because someone dragged us to Jesus (like our parents or spouse).  Or maybe we came because we were desperate and we thought maybe Jesus could help. 
            I knew a man once who was quite honest about it.  He said he started coming to church because his father was very sick and he promised God he would start going to church every Sunday if God made his father better.  His father got better, so the man started faithfully attending church.  Now, his faith grew much deeper as a result, but it started out as a bargain he made with God. 
            I became a Christian at the age of eight for the very self-serving reason that I wanted to go to heaven and avoid hell.  My children's pastor explained it very clearly to my 8-year-old ears: We have sinned and the consequences of sin is death, but Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins.  If we trust Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we go to heaven.  If we reject him, we go to hell.  Well, that was an easy choice for me.  I chose Jesus (and heaven).  Now, my faith has grown so much deeper than that in the last 36 years.  But it was a selfish, petty thing in the beginning.
            And that's the way it is for many of us.  We start very shallow, but as we go deeper with Christ, his love inspires us and overwhelms us.  We feel the (sometime troubling) conviction to serve.  The Holy Spirit gives us all the ability to serve.  And each of us is uniquely positioned to serve in ways that no one else can--because of our personal life experience, our abilities, and our connections.  If we don’t serve, the Body of Christ will not function correctly; the mission will suffer.  So we take a leap of faith and serve.  And, glory to God, there is nothing like fulfilling your God-given role.  It is a blessing to those you serve and it is twice the blessing for you.
            One of the things I hear people ask most is: "How do I know what God wants me to do?  If I just knew what my calling was, I would be glad to serve."  Well, I have an answer for you.  Thanks to the wonder of the internet, there is a simple and easy way for you to explore how the Holy Spirit has gifted you so you can find ways to serve that fulfill God's calling for you.  Click this link to complete a free, short survey that will indicate what is your spiritual gift(s) and explains what they mean and how you might use them to serve.

Challenge
            Throughout this series of messages, I've tried to challenge you to be a fisher of men (or women).  I challenged you to choose three people you can mentor this year (pray for them, help them, be a friend to them, and encourage them).  I also challenged you to consider how you could go deeper in your relationship with Jesus this year (such as joining a Bible study or Sunday school, commit to daily Bible reading, etc.).  Today, I want to add one more challenge.  How could you serve?  God gave you a specific spiritual gift so you can serve in the body of Christ, the Church.  Take the spiritual gifts assessment to find out your gift and then use it to go serve.  Now, go serve!

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?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Special Letter - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

Matthew 4:19 – Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

In a recent study on Wednesday night at my church, we were challenged to write a letter to the person who led us to Christ.  I want to share mine with you:
 
Dear Children's Church Volunteer,

            When I was 8-years-old, you helped lead children's church where my family worshiped.  I’m sorry I don’t remember your name.  I was just a kid then and I only attended for a few years, but I remember going to children’s church.  I didn’t know the other kids, but you had a friendly smile that made me feel welcome.
            I’m glad you shared your joy for the Lord.  It probably wasn’t easy to keep all the kids under control, because we didn’t always want to be there, but you did your best to help us have fun and learn something.  We sang songs like: “Father Abraham” and “Do Lord” and “The Lord’s Army.”   Then, we would listen to a Bible story.  One Sunday, you told us 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 hearts.  I believed in Jesus and I knew I was a sinner who needed to be saved, but I was too shy to say anything.  So I didn’t.
            You didn’t give up though.  You invited the kids to ask Jesus into their heart every Sunday.   You would sing the old invitational songs like "Just as I Am" and "Earnestly, Tenderly, Jesus is Calling".  I felt Jesus calling to me 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.  I knew Jesus was calling.
            It took three 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 sang and someone prayed with me to receive Christ.  I became a Christian that day and I’ve known ever since that one day I will be with Jesus in heaven.
            Thank you for the part you played in my salvation.  You changed the course of my life.  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.  He has been with me as a parent and preach and lead my congregation.  Jesus leads me through it all and has never let me down.  So, 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 glad 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 come home to Jesus.  Maybe they will, just like I did.

Aren’t you thankful for all the people who witnessed to you, prayed for you, helped you, and encouraged you?  Jesus wants you to do the same for someone else.  He wants us to be fishers of men.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…
Remember, God loves you and so do I!



 

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