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Showing posts with label Forgiveness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Forgiveness. Show all posts

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Madness of Lust


Introduction
The definition of madness:  the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.  Another definition is: extremely foolish behavior.  Or it could be defined as:  a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.  Some synonyms for madness are:  insanity, mental illness, derangement, stupidity, lunacy, irrationality, bedlam, mayhem, chaos, pandemonium, and turmoil.

Sin is madness.  God created a perfect world and He said it was good. Then, as the crown jewel of all creation, God create people.  He created them male and female and He said they were very good.  In the beginning, there was no sin in the world.  Everything was good and perfect and in harmony with God.  But then, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and taste the forbidden fruit and sin entered into the world.  Paradise was lost.  Darkness befell the earth.  Evil and disorder and death became rampant.  And all creation groaned.

The world we live in is not what God intended.  Every one of us has a spiritual illness, a form of madness, the madness of sin.  Over the last two months, I’ve shared about some of the basic forms of sin that plague humanity:  gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, wrath, and envy.  These basic sins are the root causes of all the evil we see in the world. They lead to disorder and darkness we know all too well in our world today.

I have one more basic sin to share with you today:  lust.  Lust is a psychological force producing intense longing for an object or circumstance.  Lust can take any form such as the lust for sexuality, love, money, or power.  There is a scene in the classic movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” where Willy Wonka invites everyone indulges in their candy coated fantasies as he sings about "pure imagination".  You can see expressions on each characters face that look a lot like lust.  Is it coincidence or intentional that the song is about using your imagination to intensify your longing for the good things in life?  That is much of what lust is: using your imagination to idolize the object for which you lust.

Matthew 5:27-30
27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Come On Jesus, Is Lust Really that Bad?
Do we literally have to cut out our eyes or cut off our hands if we lust?  Thank God, no!  Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  Hyperbole is a technique of speech whereby the speaker over exaggerates to make a point.  However, Jesus is serious that lust is a very serious sin.  Our thoughts lead to actions.  When we lust, it changes our thought patterns, which science shows can actually change your brain chemistry.  And your brain chemistry can change your behaviors.  Our thoughts lead our actions.  When we look at someone differently, we treat them differently--even if it's only in our subconscious.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s changed our priorities about sex.  I am a child of that sexual revolution.  I did not live through the 1960s, but my parents did and I was born in 1974.  Over the last 45 years of my life, I have seen the world's ideas about sex change drastically.  Some of those changes have been positive, but many have not.  One consequence has been that our culture now places sex up on a high pedestal.  Sex has become a sort of idol.  The popular mindset is that sex is regarded as one of the chief aims of life.  Our movies, our music, our television shows, and commercials lead us to believe that the norm should be that everyone is having sex all the time and in all places.  Something must be seriously wrong with us if we are not having lots of incredible sex all the time.  And for anyone to deny themselves or anyone else sex would be the worst kind of atrocity.  This is the common popular view of sex in our culture and it is a lie.  The Truth in God's Word is that sex is good and important, but it is not everything (like the world tried to say).  

Given our cultures fixation on sex, it is no wonder that lust has become rampant in our society.  We think about sex all the time.  Men and women lust after each other.  55% of married men and 25% of married women say they watch porn at least once a month.  The porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC.  Lust is a huge problem in our society and it is destroying us.

So if  lust is such a serious problem, what must we do?

Accept God’s Grace for Your Past
The very first step with any sin is to repent as soon as we recognize it is a problem within us.  If you struggle with lust, turn to good, ask for forgiveness, and ask Him to help you be rid of it.  When it comes to lust, people often feel great shame.  They might feel, “God could never forgive me for this…”   

But the Word of God tells us God can and will forgive any sin.  We know how serious God is about wanting to forgive our sins because Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God is personally invested in your struggle with sin and that includes all sins, even lust or sexual sin.  Through faith and repentance, we can be forgiven. You don’t have to live with shame, guilt, and fear because of your sexual sin. Turn to God and allow Him to cleanse you of your sin.

There are some things the people of this age need to know--things you need to know. First of all, lust is a terrible sin, but it is no more terrible than any other sin. It is the Enemy, Satan that evil villain, who sneaks up and whispers lies in our ears so that we get so mixed up about sex.  One lie that Satan has told many over the ages is that sex is bad and shameful.  This became the prevailing opinion in society during the Victorian period and it lingered into the first half of the 20th century.  People saw sex as dirty and unspeakable.  It was only to be used as an unfortunate means to make children.  It was a lie that even the church accepted and promulgated.  However, it was a lie.  It is not found in Scripture.  (This is why is is so imperative that the Church base it's teachings upon the Holy Bible and not human opinion!)  Scripture says God created sex and that it is good and beautiful and holy and sacred and powerful.  Really?  In the Bible?  Yes!  There is a whole book dedicated to sexuality--the Song of Solomon (AKA the Song of Songs).

And what I believe happened is there were many people who knew somehow in their heart that sex couldn't be so bad; they knew this because God created us and He created sex good and it's in our DNA.  And so the Devil slips in and whispers, "You know sex isn't bad.  The church is lying to you."  And finally enough people get fed up with the half truth of society and start believing the half truth of the Devil and they have a "revolution" that now says sex is good, but they go too far and we get what we have today which says something like, "Sex is more important than everything else."

So now people have to possible problems they may find in their hearts.  On the one hand, there are many people who struggle with lust who feel so ashamed, they can't tell anyone and they may even fear God can never forgive them.  They struggle with their lust in secret, afraid someone might find out and that God hates them.  Some find their situation so dark, they contemplate suicide--some even do commit suicide--because Satan is always whispering in their ear, "God could never love you; no one can."  Others, fed up with their feelings of guilt and shame and inability to break free from their lust,believe a different kind of lie.  Satan sneaks up to them (often through a world that idolizes sin and sexuality) and whispers, "You've been lied to.  There's nothing wrong with lust.  You just need to come out of the shadows and proudly own your sexuality.  Be loud and proud!"  And so many in our day and age come to the conclusion they must violently reject any teaching or teacher who says lust is bad.  They embrace their sin.  And to be sure, there is a great feeling of relief in this.  It is liberating as they come out of hiding for the first time and find that there is a world of people willing to embrace them.

God is something so much better!  God embraces us just as we are--sin and warts and all--but He also brings healing and wholeness.  We don't have to settle for the half truths and lies of the Devil that says revel in your sin.  God says, I will restore you to the wonder of my original sacred design.  It is a more difficult path to follow, but it is infinitely better and leads to eternal life.  Embracing our sin leads to death and destruction.  And Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, "“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  Choose the narrow way.

Live by God’s Grace Today through the Power of the Holy Spirit
When we repent, God forgives us immediately.  However, the path to healing takes time.  I currently have a broken bone in my foot.  It only took a single moment to break the bone.  And I went to the doctor the same day.  However, the healing will take many weeks, maybe months.  I have to follow the doctors orders in order to get well.  The same is true of our spiritual brokenness.  It takes time to heal, but God does heal it as we follow His treatment plan.  Through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, fasting, silence and solitude, etc., God begins to change us.  As we commit daily to be nourished by God’s Word, as read, study, spend time with God in the Bible, the HOly Spirit begins to sanctify us.  As we serve others, we begin to turn away from our selfish lustful pursuits and get out of ourselves by serving others.  

But there is one more thing that is essential in dealing with the sin of lust.  You must seek accountability from the community of faith.  Secrecy breeds sin; transparency fosters healing.  This is especially true when it comes to lust.  Lust makes us want to hide our sin in the shadows, because the light eats it away.  So we have to bring it out into the light.  Now, I understand you don't want the whole church knowing your embarrassing sin, so I don't recommend you tell just anyone who might go blabbing your business all about town and on social media.  However, you should find a pastor or trusted Christian friend or mentor who can pray with you and talk with you on a regular basis and hold you accountable.  We often fail to make progress with lust (or any sin really) because we try to handle it all on our own.  But sin and temptation are too heavy for us to carry all by ourselves.  That's why we need the Church; there is more strength when we work together as the Body of Christ.

And for some, lust and pornography, sexual addictions are every bit as strong as a drug addiction.  And there are groups like celebrate recovery and Sex Anonymous (that operate just like Alcoholics Anonymous) that are effective in helping sex addicts find sobriety from their sexual addictions.

Invitation 
I invite you to taste the sweet life in God’s Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is neither sexual repression nor promiscuous indulgence.  It is so much more.  It is right down the middle of God's Truth.  It is Good.  It is Holy.  It is Sacred.  It is True.  It is living life through all eternity just the way God made us to be, in His wonderful presence, the Source of Life and True Love and Joy and Peace.



Monday, February 11, 2019

The Madness of Gluttony


Luke 5:29-31
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.

Introduction
The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus because he ate with sinners collectors.  I guess they didn’t realize they were sinners themselves.  I’m glad Jesus ate with sinners, because it means he will eat with me.  We are all sinners.  Sin is madness.  It is a form of insanity.  It destroys our lives, hurts people we love, a damages the world around us and yet we continue to do it because we are all a little insane.  

My wife and I watch a documentary recently about a serial killer.  Everyone (including us) said, “That person is pure evil!”  Perhaps it is because the madness in a killer is so obviously unnatural. we have no trouble calling them monsters or evil or insane.  Meanwhile, the same madness resides in all of us in a thousand smaller ways that are less obvious.  We are all consumed with the madness of sin.

And you know, most people know they are sinners.  Not many claim to be perfect.  And we don’t have a problem saying we need to be forgiven our ‘sins’.  But often, we use the word sin in a generic, blanket form without much real consideration of what specific sins we struggle with.  The trouble is you can’t address a problem unless you really know what the problem is.

So, in this series of blogs, I want to look at some of the basic sins that plague people.  My hope is we will recognize some of the specific ways we struggle with sin, so that we can repent and ask Jesus to forgive us and begin to heal us.

In the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, several kids take a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  Each child's character flaws are revealed.  These character flaws  serve as a jumping off point for us as we consider the fundamental sins all people struggle with.

The Madness of Gluttony
Augustus Gloop wasn’t a bad kid; he was just enslaved by his appetite.  Augustus was a glutton.   Gluttony literally means to "to gulp down or swallow.”  (Just like the sound the word makes…)  Gluttony is over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink.  It can also apply to other common forms of over-indulgence too—binge watching netflix, buying too much clothes, or hoarding.

Now, food is not bad.  Jesus ate with sinners.  Many places in the Bible command us to feast.  And eternal life is often described as a great feast.  So the problem is not food or eating or even feasting.  Gluttony is a spiritual problem where we try to substitute food for God.

4 Basic Forms of Gluttony
There are four basic kinds of gluttony. The one we may be most familiar with is the gluttony of quantity. This is where eat too much. Have you ever had a craving for something salty? I have. And I went to look in the pantry to see if there was something there to satisfy it. Victory! There was a bag of Doritos! It was exactly what I was craving. And the first three or four or five doritos were the most heavenly treat. But I didn't stop at five. I kept going even after my craving was fulfilled. Even after my body started to say, "Ok. You really don't need any more." I kept chasing the pleasure the first few Doritos gave me even after they stopped giving pleasure. That is the gluttony of quantity and it is an epidemic in America.

Another form of gluttony is less recognizable. It is the gluttony of quality. It is demanding delicacies instead of being satisfied with what you have. This is like the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness in the book of Exodus. God delivered them from slavery from Egypt and, even though they had no food of their own as they wandered, God provided manna from heaven so they would have something to eat. But instead of being thankful, the Israelites complained, saying,"We are so tired of eating this manna. We always had plenty to eat, back when were slaves in Egypt..." That's insane!  But people still do this today.  Have you ever known someone who just can't be happy with the food they are served?  They always complain: "This food has too much pepper or not enough pepper... or it's too spicy or it has too many onions or not enough onions." Whatever it is, they act like the food just isn't good enough for them.  They don't realize they are a kind of glutton because they think, “I’m not asking for too much.  All I want is a meal that is properly prepared, properly spiced, properly cooked, and properly presented.”  Then when all care has been made to serve the perfect plate, the quality glutton exclaims in exasperation, “Oh my!  That is far too much food!  I could never eat all that!”  The results are this kind of glutton is a nightmare to hosts and waiters, and furthermore they never really satisfied themselves.  How sad.

The third kind of gluttony is the of when to eat.  It is people who eat before the proper time.  Tehy eat because they may feel, “I can’t wait! I must eat it now!”  Do you remember Esau from the Old Testament.  He returned from a day hunting in the fields and he was very hungry.  He finds his brother cooking a pot of stew and Esau has to have food right away.  He can't wait another minute.  He is so hungry, he trades his inheritance for a bowl of stew!  Some people just can't say no to food.  It is their master and that is a kind of gluttony.

There is also the gluttony of why.  Have you ever found you don't even know why you are eating?  You are just mindlessly eating and you have no good reason.  You not eating because you are hungry and need energy.  You aren't sharing a meal with your friends or family.  It's not even a special occasion and you're celebrating.  You're not even eating to enjoy a good gift from God.  you're just mindlessly putting food into the emptiness of your soul.  This is the gluttony of why.

Gluttony is a terrible problem in America.  It leads to all kinds of health problems like obesity, cholesterol and high blood pressure.  These have become epidemics in our country.  But these are the symptoms.  The root problem is gluttony, which tries to fill a void it cannot fill.  It is a cliche to say, but it's true.  Everyone has a God shaped hole in our soul.  Only God can fill that void and make us whole.  But we try to fill that void with so many other things--including food.  And food brings a certain amount of pleasure, satisfaction, and filling.  However, it is never complete and so we just keep filingoursleves with more and more and find ourselves less and less satisfied with all kinds of terrible side effects.  n the end, food controls the glutton and makes him a slave.

The opposite of gluttony is not abstinence.  It is moderation.  Food is a good gift from God.  He wants us to enjoy it.  But God wants us to enjoy it in the right way.  The things we turn into sin don't usually start out bad.  They start with good wholesome things, but we twist them and misuse them in ways contrary to God's design.

The Solution to Gluttony
First of all repent and seek God’s forgiveness.  The very first step in solving any problem is recognize you have a problem.  We want to crinkle our noses at other forms of sin that society holds in contempt--murder, adultery, drug abuse, etc.  But gluttony is just as bad and can have just as many ill effects on society and individuals as any other sin.  And ultimately, gluttony seperates us from God as much as any other sin.  So we must recognize gluttony as the evil it is, repent, and turn to God for forgiveness and healing

Second, to break the power of gluttony, we have to find nourishment in something greater.  It's not enough to just buckling down and use our will power.  That may work for a time, but it doesn’t address the real problem and it will usually fail at some point.  The problem is, we are trying to fill a void in our life with food (or something else) that only Jesus can fill.  There is a real void there.  But food cannot satisfy it.  Understand this is a spiritual battle, not just a physical one.  This is not just about going on a diet or trying to reach a certain weight.  We have a real void in our life and we need Jesus to fill it.

Isaiah 55:1-2
 “Is anyone thirsty?    Come and drink—even if you have no money!
    Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?  Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

When your appetite makes you feel empty inside, seek to fill that emptiness with Jesus instead of food.  Maybe that sounds hokey, but I’m serious.  The truth is, you’re not going to die if you don’t eat right now.  So, let your hunger pains be a reminder to spend time with Jesus.  Go to him in prayer.  Say, “Lord, I feel empty inside.  I’m so hungry.  Fill me Lord.” Meditate on the goodness of God.  Imagine yourself sitting around the table with Jesus, being filled not only with food, but more importantly with His love and goodness. Drink it all in.  Be filled.  Be full.  And wait for the right time to eat and then eat only what is right to eat and with the right attitude.

Third, seek accountability.  We are not meant to fight our battles alone.  We need partners in this.  Having a good friend or a spiritual advisor can be very helpful.  In some cases, a Christian counselor is really what’s needed if gluttony has taken the form of a food addiction.  When we struggle with gluttony, we need someone to hold us accountable.

Fourth, live in God’s grace.  Even if you never overcome this habit, God still loves you.  Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  You don’t have to lose weight in order for God to love you.  You don’t have to do anything for God to love you.  He already does.  Always has.  Always will.  He only wants you to work on your gluttony for your own sake.  He want you to be healthy and happy and as fully alive as you can be.  He wants you to actually enjoy food instead of being a slave to it. So, don’t be so hard on yourself.  God isn’t.

Closing
I invite you to consider your own life.  Do you struggle with gluttony?  Ask the Lord to reveal the truth and turn to Him for forgiveness and help and healing.  Focus on some ways you could allow the Lord to fill the void inside that you've been trying to stuff with food or drink or something else.  How could prayer, study, meditation, or worship be used to help you experience the true presence of Christ that satisfies all our deepest longings?

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Faithfulness


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 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